15N20 Knife Steel – A Review Of Its Qualities & Uses

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15n20 steel has become a popular choice for knife enthusiasts and blacksmiths alike, particularly when it comes to creating high-quality Damascus blades. Produced by the European company Bohler, 15n20 steel boasts a chemical composition that includes 0.75% carbon and a significant amount of nickel, which is highly sought after by Damascus knife makers. This unique combination improves the steel’s hardness, wear and corrosion resistance, while maintaining adequate strength for a variety of applications.

Not only is 15n20 steel tough and easy to heat treat, but it also exhibits remarkable toughness when used at HRC 61-62, allowing it to resist chipping effectively. The steel’s primary use in bandsaw blades for sawmills speaks to its durability and adaptability. Moreover, the nickel content in 15n20 steel gives it an edge over other steel types, as it resists acid etching, maintaining a shiny appearance even after prolonged use.

As an affordable and versatile material, 15n20 has earned its place among knife makers and collectors. Its unique characteristics make it an ideal choice for crafting Damascus blades, while also serving as a reliable stand-alone option for various cutting implements.

15N20 Steel Composition

The 15N20 steel composition is specifically designed for knife blades, offering a balance between toughness, edge retention, and workability. This steel is composed of various elements, with two of its most notable features being its carbon and nickel content.

Carbon Content

The carbon content in 15N20 steel is essential for its hardness and edge retention properties. Carbon, an integral element in the steel’s structure, enables the steel to achieve high hardness levels during heat treatment processes. The carbon content in 15N20 steel is similar to that of AISI L6 tool steel, contributing to its excellent edge retention and toughness.

High Nickel Content

15N20 steel contains a high nickel content, which significantly contributes to its corrosion resistance and toughness. Nickel acts as a stabilizing element in the steel, preventing it from becoming too brittle and improving its overall resistance to wear and corrosion. Additionally, the high nickel content makes this steel visually appealing, as it resists acid etching and maintains a shiny appearance.

In summary, the 15N20 steel composition provides a balance of toughness, edge retention, and corrosion resistance, making it ideal for knife blades. Its high carbon and nickel content contribute to these desired properties, ensuring excellent performance in various applications.

Properties of 15N20 Knife Steel

15N20 knife steel is known for its unique chemical composition and properties, making it an interesting choice for knife makers. In this section, we’ll explore key aspects of 15N20’s performance, such as edge retention and sharpness, toughness, and wear resistance.

Edge Retention and Sharpness

15N20 steel exhibits decent edge retention due to its high carbon content (0.75%). Although it’s not on par with some high-end stainless steels, 15N20 performs satisfactorily for most applications. The steel can achieve a maximum hardness of 61-62 HRC, providing a sharp edge that requires only occasional maintenance. This quality makes 15N20 suitable for kitchen knives, where sharpness is crucial for precise cuts and efficient food preparation.


One of the standout properties of 15N20 knife steel is its toughness. The steel is often compared to AISI L6 tool steel, offering strength and durability, even without the presence of chromium. This level of toughness is ideal for blades that need to withstand impacts and resist chipping or cracking, such as hunting and fishing knives, as well as some sword applications.

Wear Resistance

Although 15N20 might not measure up to high-performance stainless steels in terms of wear resistance, it still delivers adequate performance for various cutting tasks. Its carbon content contributes to increased wear resistance, which is an essential attribute for popular knife types like skinners and drop points. Considering its overall properties, 15N20 knife steel may not be the best choice for heavy-duty camp knives or tools that require exceptional wear resistance. However, it remains a viable option for users seeking a balance between toughness and edge-holding capabilities.

Heat Treatment and Processing

15N20 knife steel is popular for its excellent blend of toughness and wear resistance. To achieve its optimal performance, the steel undergoes a proper heat treatment process, which involves critical steps such as quenching and tempering.


Quenching is the process of quickly cooling the heated steel to achieve its desired hardness. For 15N20 steel, the hardening temperature typically ranges between 1450-1550°F. Heat the steel to just above its non-magnetic state (around 1550°F) for at least 5-10 minutes, and then rapidly cool it in a quenching medium such as oil or water. Quenching 15N20 steel helps increase its overall hardness and ensures a fine grain structure.

To avoid any form of deformation, you may want to carry out a forging simulation at 2000°F (1095°C) for 30 minutes, followed by air cooling. Ensure that the steel cools down evenly during the quenching process to prevent any potential warping or cracking.


Tempering is a crucial step in the heat treatment process, as it helps strike a balance between the hardness and toughness of the steel. Once the quenching process is complete, you should temper 15N20 knife steel to enhance its overall performance and durability.

To temper the steel, heat it to a lower temperature than the hardening temperature (typically between 300-600°F) in increments of 50°F and hold at each temperature for about an hour. The process can be performed multiple times, depending on the desired balance between hardness and toughness. For example, higher tempering temperatures will result in a more ductile and less hard blade, while lower temperatures will yield a harder but more brittle blade.

By following this heat treatment process, a 15N20 knife can achieve optimal performance, with a fine balance between hardness and toughness. Make sure you adhere to the suggested temperatures and timings to get the desired results for your 15N20 steel knife.

Damascus Steel and Pattern-Welding

Damascus steel is a type of steel characterized by distinctive patterns on the surface of the metal. This pattern is achieved via a process called pattern-welding, which involves layering and folding different types of steel to create unique patterns and improved properties.

Creating Contrast

The key to achieving the beautiful patterns in Damascus steel is to create contrast between the layers of steel. This is usually done by combining high carbon steels like 1075, 1080, 1084, or 1095 with 15N20 steel, which has a high nickel content. The 2% nickel in 15N20 steel gives it a higher contrast when etched with ferric-chloride, making it an ideal choice for creating the bright layers in Damascus patterns.

The process of pattern-welding typically involves layering these two types of steel together, heating them in a forge, and hammering them into a single piece. The stacked steel billet is then folded multiple times, with each fold effectively doubling the number of layers in the billet. This process is repeated until a desired number of layers is achieved, often resulting in hundreds or even thousands of layers. The final product is then ground and polished to reveal the stunning patterns.

Some popular patterns in Damascus knives include:

  • Random patterns, which occur naturally as the steel layers are folded
  • Ladder patterns, formed by filing grooves into the surface of the billet before folding
  • Twist patterns, created by twisting the billet before folding

Ultimately, 15N20 steel plays a crucial role in the creation of Damascus blades, allowing for the distinct patterns seen in these exquisite knives.

Applications and Uses

15N20 steel is known for its versatility, making it suitable for various applications. The material’s properties, such as its toughness and edge retention, allow it to be an ideal choice for different types of knives and cutting tools.

One primary use for 15N20 steel is in the manufacturing of kitchen knives. It is favored because it can be easily sharpened while maintaining excellent edge retention. Chefs and home cooks appreciate this steel for its cutting performance and durability.

Swords are another application where 15N20 steel is employed. The steel’s composition contributes to its toughness, which is essential in crafting durable and sharp swords that can withstand substantial impacts.

In the fishing industry, 15N20 steel is commonly used for filleting knives. These knives require a sharp edge and corrosion resistance, properties that this particular steel can provide. Fishermen find these knives efficient for processing their catch quickly and accurately.

Woodworking tools are another area where 15N20 steel proves its worth. The toughness and wear resistance of this steel make it suitable for crafting various woodworking tools such as chisels and planer blades. Woodworkers appreciate the ability of these tools to maintain their sharpness, even after extended use.

In conclusion, 15N20 steel is an excellent choice for a wide variety of applications, including kitchen knives, swords, fishing tools, and woodworking equipment. Its properties make it an ideal material for crafting durable and efficient cutting tools that can serve their purpose for extended periods.

Comparison with Other Steel Grades

15N20 vs 1095 Steel

15N20 steel is known for its high nickel content which enhances its toughness, while 1095 steel has a higher carbon content making it harder and more suitable for heavy-duty applications. Here’s a brief comparison between the two steel types:

  • Hardness: 1095 steel has a higher carbon content (0.95%) which makes it harder than 15N20 steel (0.75% carbon content). This means that a 1095 steel knife will hold its edge longer, but it might also be more prone to chipping.
  • Toughness: 15N20 steel, with its high nickel content, is more resistant to chipping and cracking. This makes it suitable for more delicate applications, such as skinning or filleting knives.
  • Corrosion resistance: Both 15N20 and 1095 are not stainless steels and can develop rust if not maintained properly. However, the nickel in 15N20 provides a slight advantage in corrosion resistance.
  • Ease of sharpening: Both 1095 and 15N20 steels can be sharpened relatively easily, but 20N20 steel with lower hardness and higher toughness might be easier to sharpen due to these properties.

15N20 vs 1080 Steel

1080 steel is another carbon steel with a similar carbon content to 15N20 but without the additional nickel. Here’s how they differ:

  • Hardness: 15N20 and 1080 steel have similar hardness levels due to their comparable carbon content. However, the nickel in 15N20 can lead to slightly more toughness.
  • Toughness: The lack of nickel in 1080 steel can result in decreased toughness compared to 15N20 steel. This means that knives made from 1080 steel may be more prone to chipping or cracking under heavy use.
  • Corrosion resistance: Both 15N20 and 1080 steel have poor corrosion resistance, and knives made from these steels will need proper maintenance to prevent rust. The nickel in 15N20 can provide some advantage over 1080 steel in terms of corrosion resistance.
  • Ease of sharpening: Both 15N20 and 1080 steel can be sharpened fairly easily, but due to its slightly higher toughness, 15N20 steel might be easier to maintain an edge.

In conclusion, 15N20 steel can be considered a good choice for knives when toughness and resistance to chipping are important factors. It can be compared to both 1095 and 1080 steels, each with their respective advantages and disadvantages. When choosing the right steel for your knife, consider your intended usage and priorities such as edge retention, toughness, and corrosion resistance.

Knife Making and Manufacturers

15N20 is a popular high carbon steel used by both custom and mass-production knife makers for its durability and ability to forge beautiful Damascus patterns. Its high nickel content creates a visible contrast when combined with other high carbon steels, like 1084, making it a favorite choice for blacksmiths and artisan knifemakers.

Some manufacturers, such as Jantz Supply, offer 15N20 in various dimensions suitable for different knife designs. They cater to both professional and novice knife makers, providing a cost-effective and versatile material for knife making.

Besides 15N20, several well-known knife steel manufacturers produce a wide variety of steel types for different applications. These companies include Crucible (S30V, S35VN, CPM-3V, CruWear, CPM-M4, 154CM), Carpenter (CTS-XHP, CTS-BD1N, Maxamet), Hitachi (White #1, Blue Super, ATS-34, ZDP-189), Uddeholm (AEB-L, Elmax, Vanax, Vanadis 4 Extra), Bohler (M390, N690, K390), and Sandvik (12C27, 14C28N).

15N20 steel is easily heat treated, allowing knifemakers to achieve high hardness or toughness as per their knife requirements. According to the Alec Steele Co., heat-treating 15N20 involves heating it to 1500°F (816°C), just above the critical temperature, before quenching in warm oil. The steel can then be tempered twice using 350°F (177°C) for high hardness or 400°F (204°C) for enhanced toughness and flexibility.

In summary, 15N20 knife steel caters to a diverse range of knife makers and manufacturers, from custom to mass-produced blades. With easily available dimensions, heat-treating options, and the ability to create appealing Damascus patterns, it is a versatile and popular choice for the industry.

Maintenance and Care


15N20 steel is known for its toughness and durability, which means it remains sharp for a longer period. However, like any other knife, it will eventually require sharpening. When the time comes, it’s important to use a proper sharpening method and tools. You can choose between using a whetstone, sharpening rod, or a manual knife sharpener.

  • Start by wetting your whetstone or sharpening rod with water or honing oil.
  • Maintain a consistent angle between the blade and the sharpening tool, usually around 20-30 degrees.
  • Move the blade evenly across the tool, ensuring you sharpen both sides equally.
  • For a whetstone, start with a coarser grit, then progress to finer grits, finishing with a polishing stone if desired.
  • For a sharpening rod, use moderate pressure and work in a sweeping motion to cover the entire blade length.
  • For a manual knife sharpener, follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for angle and pressure.

Rust Prevention

Although 15N20 steel knives have excellent resistance to corrosion due to the high nickel content, they are not entirely immune to rust. To keep your 15N20 steel knife in pristine condition, follow these rust prevention tips:

  • Clean: After every use, clean your knife with warm soapy water and a soft cloth. Make sure to dry it thoroughly afterwards.
  • Oil: Apply a thin coat of food-safe mineral oil to the blade after cleaning and drying. This will help to preserve the steel and prevent rust from forming.
  • Storage: Store your knife in a dry and well-ventilated area, away from moisture or humid conditions. Use a knife block or sheath to protect the blade when not in use.

Following these simple steps will ensure your 15N20 steel knife retains its sharpness, stays rust-free, and continues to serve you well in the kitchen or out in the field.


15N20 steel is undoubtedly a good choice for knives due to its properties and performance. This low alloy carbon steel is high in nickel, which contributes to its toughness and makes it a popular choice for creating Damascus blades, pattern-welded blades, big-size saw blades, and filleting knives.

The addition of nickel in 15N20 steel provides an increase in toughness, making it a durable option for knife makers. Its remarkable toughness is further enhanced when combined with other steels, such as 1095 carbon steel, in the manufacturing of Damascus knives.

In comparison to other knife steels, 15N20 maintains a good balance of hardness and brittleness. As a result, knives made from this steel have an excellent edge retention and are easier to sharpen than some other high-alloy steels.

In summary, 15N20 steel offers a combination of toughness, edge retention, and ease of sharpening that makes it a preferred choice for many knife makers. Its versatility in the creation of various types of blades showcases its adaptability and strength. So, when considering a knife made from 15N20 steel, you can be confident in the quality and performance it will deliver.

When you visit a merchant by clicking a link on this site we may make a commission on anything you buy (at no additional cost to you).   Affiliate programs and affiliations include, but are not limited to Amazon Associates and the eBay Partner Network.”