Is 420 Stainless a Good Knife Steel? (Not A Super Steel…)

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At A Glance
420 Stainless Steel is a commonly utilized, budget-friendly option in the knife industry, valued for its high corrosion resistance, durability, and hardness. Despite not being the top choice for high-performance knives, 420 Stainless Steel is often used for everyday items and blades, such as cutlery, surgical tools, and custom knives. While its edge retention and wear resistance may not be as strong as higher-grade steels, its advantages include affordability, ease of sharpening, toughness, and aesthetic appeal. Additionally, a variation of this steel, known as 420HC, offers improved wear resistance and edge retention. Overall, 420 Stainless Steel presents a good balance between cost and functionality for those seeking a versatile and cost-effective knife material.

420 stainless steel has been a popular choice for knife enthusiasts and manufacturers for quite some time, mainly due to its affordability and reasonable performance. This type of steel is part of the 400 series of steels, which are known for their high corrosion resistance and easy sharpening. As a martensitic stainless steel with a lower carbon content compared to its counterparts, 420 steel offers a balance between cost and performance, making it an attractive option for budget-conscious buyers.

Although 420 steel may not be the top choice for knife aficionados seeking the highest quality materials, it does provide some valuable properties that make it suitable for general everyday use, such as its corrosion resistance, durability, and ease of sharpening. However, knives made of 420 stainless steel may not hold their edge as well as those made from higher-end steels, and may require more frequent sharpening.

It’s vital for potential buyers to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of 420 stainless steel when considering a new knife. While it might not be the ultimate blade material, its affordability and decent performance make it a worthy option for those seeking a functional and cost-effective addition to their collection.

420 Stainless Steel Overview

420 stainless steel is a type of [martensitic stainless steel](https:// often used in products where corrosion resistance and edge retention are important. While not as high-performance as some other types of stainless steel, it offers a good balance of durability, toughness, and corrosion resistance at an affordable price point.

One notable characteristic of 420 stainless steel is its relatively high chromium content at around 13%. This high level of chromium contributes to the steel’s corrosion resistance and makes it a popular choice for applications where rust vulnerability is high, such as diving knives and certain types of cutlery.

When it comes to edge retention, 420 stainless steel is known for being a somewhat softer steel, which means it can lose its edge more quickly compared to other types of stainless steel. However, this softness also makes it relatively easy to sharpen, making it a popular choice for low-entry knives and other cutting tools that require regular maintenance.

In terms of toughness, 420 steel is not easily damaged when subjected to heavy use or stress. This strength makes it suitable for a variety of applications, including cutlery and surgical tools, where durability is vital.

An added benefit of 420 stainless steel is its attractive appearance. The steel’s shiny, silvery finish is quite eye-catching and looks great in both cutlery and knives, adding to its appeal as a material for knife production.

In summary, 420 stainless steel offers a balance of corrosion resistance, edge retention, toughness, and aesthetic appeal at an affordable price. While it may not be the top-performing steel on the market, it is a reliable option for a wide range of applications where durability and corrosion resistance are key considerations.

Chemical Composition

Carbon Content

420 stainless steel has a carbon content ranging from 0.15% to 0.4% which provides hardness and strength to the steel. However, it’s important to note that a higher carbon level may decrease strength. This steel can still be useful for knives when treated properly. The 420 steel is a popular choice for budget knives, cutlery, and cutting edge applications like surgical tools due to its high corrosion resistance, strength, and hardness properties.

Some other elements present in the composition of 420 stainless steel are:

  • Chromium: Present at a 12% level, chromium provides sufficient corrosion resistance for various environments.
  • Silicon: Although not mentioned in the search results, silicon may be present in small amounts to help improve the overall composition of the steel.
  • Manganese: Manganese is another element found in 420 stainless steel, but the specific amount is not provided in the search results.
  • Nickel: There is no mention of nickel content in the search results for 420 stainless steel.
  • Phosphorus: The presence of phosphorus in the steel might be essential to improve the overall composition, but there isn’t any specific information available in the search results.
  • Sulfur: The sulfur content in 420 stainless steel is limited to 0.03% at most, which helps maintain the balance of the steel’s chemical composition.

In conclusion, the relatively low carbon content in 420 stainless steel, combined with chromium and other elements, allows it to offer hardness and corrosion resistance properties suitable for use in knives and other cutting tools.

Properties and Performance


420 stainless steel is known for its outstanding hardness with a Rockwell Hardness (HRC) of 49-53. This level of hardness is achieved through proper heat treatment, which provides the steel with notable strength and toughness.

Edge Retention

While 420 stainless steel is a popular choice for knife makers, its edge retention capabilities may not be as impressive as other higher-end steels. Depending on the heat treatment process, the steel’s lower hardness affects its edge retention. However, it remains an excellent budget steel option for those prioritizing affordability.

Corrosion Resistance

One of the main advantages of 420 stainless steel is its high corrosion resistance, which results from its chemical composition, making it suitable for cutlery and outdoor tools. High-quality corrosion resistance is especially important in humid environments where rust and corrosion can easily form.

Wear Resistance

420 stainless steel provides decent wear resistance. The presence of 0.46% carbon in its chemical composition improves hardness and wear/corrosion resistance, ensuring that the steel maintains its integrity over time when exposed to wear.


The toughness of 420 stainless steel is another crucial factor for knife users. This steel is robust and less prone to breakage or chipping, making it a reliable choice for knives and other tools that undergo frequent, heavy use. Additionally, its toughness makes it fairly easy to resharpen, providing a good balance of desirable traits for knife steel.

Sharpening and Maintenance

Ease of Sharpening

420 stainless steel is considered a relatively soft steel, making it easy and simple to sharpen. Even a wet stone can be used to sharpen knives made from this material, and it will not require a significant amount of time. With proper care and maintenance, keeping a 420 stainless steel knife sharp shouldn’t be overly demanding.


In terms of machinability, 420 stainless steel can be a bit tough to work with, but it offers a good balance of hardness and toughness. This steel holds an edge well and is easy to sharpen once it becomes dull. As a result, it is a popular choice for budget-friendly knives and has found use in the manufacturing of cutlery, custom knives, scissors, and surgical tools, just to name a few applications. The high corrosion resistance and wear resistance of 420 stainless steel contribute to its versatility and ability to withstand regular use.

Provided that the user takes good care of their 420 stainless steel knife, it should remain a reliable and durable option for numerous tasks. While it may not be the hardest steel on the market, its ease of sharpening, machinability, and affordability make it a popular option for many.

Comparing with Other Steels


420HC is an upgrade of the 420 steel, containing higher carbon content, resulting in improved hardness and edge retention. It’s still considered a budget choice for knives, but offers a good balance between affordability and performance.


440C is a popular stainless steel known for its high hardness and good corrosion resistance. It’s often used in folding knives and other tools, as it holds an edge well and is relatively easy to sharpen. It is considered a mid-range steel with better performance compared to 420HC.


8Cr13MoV is a Chinese stainless steel that offers good balance between hardness, edge retention, and corrosion resistance. It’s a popular choice for budget knives and is comparable to AUS 8 in terms of overall performance.


AUS 8 is a Japanese stainless steel that provides a good balance between toughness, edge retention, and corrosion resistance. It is easy to sharpen and is often used in folding knives and other everyday carry tools. AUS 8 is a mid-range steel with performance similar to 8Cr13MoV.

1095 Steel

1095 is a high-carbon steel known for its durability and toughness. This non-stainless steel is commonly used in fixed-blade knives and is preferred for its outstanding edge retention. However, due to its high carbon content, it is more prone to rust and requires more maintenance compared to stainless steels.


154CM is a high-quality American stainless steel, known for its great edge retention, corrosion resistance, and toughness. It is considered a premium steel, used in high-end knives and tools, and offers better performance compared to 440C and 420HC.


D2 is a semi-stainless, air-hardened steel with high chromium content (12%), making it more stain-resistant than carbon steels. Its excellent wear resistance and edge retention make it a popular choice among knife enthusiasts. However, D2 is not as tough as other non-stainless steels like A2.


S30V is a premium stainless steel known for its high edge retention and corrosion resistance. This high-end steel is often used in folding and fixed-blade knives. It offers better performance than most stainless steels, including 440C and 154CM.


N690 is a high-quality stainless steel with excellent corrosion resistance and edge retention. This steel is primarily used by European knife makers and is known for its durability and ease of sharpening. N690 offers performance comparable to S30V.

Applications and Uses

Budget Knives

420 stainless steel is a popular choice for budget knives due to its high corrosion resistance, strength, and hardness at an affordable price. This steel provides a balance of performance and durability, making it suitable for everyday use and beginner knife enthusiasts.

Diving Knives

In diving knives, 420 stainless steel is prized for its corrosion resistance, a crucial feature when knives are exposed to saltwater and other harsh underwater conditions. The steel’s ability to maintain its edge and resist rust make 420 a popular material for diving knives.

Surgical Instruments

The 420 stainless steel’s high corrosion resistance and good hardness also make it ideal for surgical instruments like scalpels and needle valves. It ensures that these tools remain sharp and reliable in a constantly sanitized and moisture-rich environment, contributing to overall safety and efficiency in medical procedures.


Daggers require a strong, sharp, and sturdy material to maintain their effectiveness and durability. 420 stainless steel meets these requirements and is often used in crafting daggers due to its ability to hold a sharp edge and resist corrosion.


While not as common as in other applications, 420 stainless steel can be utilized in the manufacturing of swords. Its high strength and hardness allow the blade to maintain its edge, while the corrosion resistance ensures its longevity. However, swords made from 420 stainless steel may not provide the same performance as those made from high-end materials, making them more suitable for casual collectors and enthusiasts.


Scissors need to remain sharp and effective over time, and 420 stainless steel offers suitable properties for this application. Its corrosion resistance and durability make it a reliable material for scissors, ensuring that they remain functional and long-lasting.


420 stainless steel is a popular budget-friendly option in the knife industry due to its high corrosion resistance, strength, and hardness. It is commonly used for cutlery, surgical tools, and custom knives. However, it is considered a low-end stainless steel when compared to higher-grade steels, which offer better performance and durability.

In terms of its suitability for knives, 420 stainless steel is a decent choice for everyday items and blades. It has been widely used for making cutlery, craft scissors, and surgical equipment. However, it may not offer the best performance when it comes to edge retention and wear resistance.

An improved version of 420 stainless steel, known as 420HC, is also available. This steel offers better performance because of its evolved chemical composition. It is still considered a low-end stainless steel but offers slightly better wear resistance and edge retention than regular 420 steel.

In conclusion, 420 stainless steel is not the best option for high-performance knives. However, it is an excellent choice for everyday use and budget-friendly knives. Its versatility and good corrosion resistance make it suitable for various applications, and it remains a popular option for knife makers and users alike.

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.”