420HC Knife Steel – Is It A Good Option For Your Blades?

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Last updated on August 30th, 2023 at 01:03 am

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420HC knife steel is an evolution of the 420 stainless steel, which has been widely utilized in the knife-making industry. Known for its low cost and easy maintenance, 420HC has become a popular choice for cutlery, custom knives, scissors, and surgical tools. Its relatively low carbon content allows for improved hardness, wear, and corrosion resistance, while still maintaining adequate strength.

The properties of 420HC steel make it suitable for a variety of applications. For example, it is often used in hunting, diving, and fishing knives due to its rust-resistant nature. As a budget-friendly option, it tends to appeal to knife enthusiasts and professionals alike who are looking for a durable and reliable steel without breaking the bank.

My Favorite Knife That Uses 420HC Steel

420HC Steel Composition

Carbon Content

The 420HC steel contains 0.46% carbon, which plays a significant role in enhancing its hardness and wear/corrosion resistance. However, it is essential to note that a high amount of carbon content can decrease the steel’s overall strength.

Chromium

This steel comprises 13% chromium, which is responsible for providing corrosion resistance properties. The presence of chromium in 420HC steel ensures that it can withstand exposure to various environmental elements without rusting or tarnishing.

Manganese

Although the manganese content is not explicitly mentioned in the search results, it typically plays a role in improving the hardenability and tensile strength of steels. Manganese also helps in maintaining the steel’s structure during heat treatments.

Silicon

Silicon is generally included in steel compositions to deoxidize the molten metal and refine its grain size. It can also improve the overall strength, toughness, and hardness of the material.

Molybdenum

Molybdenum may be present in small amounts within steels like 420HC to enhance hardenability, strength, and toughness. It helps the steel maintain its properties even when exposed to high temperatures.

Vanadium

While not specifically mentioned for 420HC, vanadium is known to enhance the steel’s grain structure and improve its strength, hardness, and wear resistance.

Nickel

Nickel may be found in small amounts within certain steel compositions. Although it isn’t referenced explicitly for 420HC, it can contribute to the material’s overall toughness and corrosion resistance.

Phosphorus

In general, phosphorus may be found at low levels within steels like 420HC. Phosphorus contributes to the material’s hardness, but excessive amounts can lead to brittleness and decreased overall performance.

Sulphur

Sulphur may also be present in trace amounts within 420HC steel. While it can improve machinability, excessive sulphur content can lead to negative effects on the material’s overall strength, ductility, and weldability.

Properties of 420HC Steel

420HC steel is a low-end stainless steel produced by Latrobe, a steel company based in the US. It was made as a modification of 420 steel which is among the oldest steel types out there. The main difference between 420 and 420HC is that the latter contains more carbon, hence the name High Carbon. This steel is often used in various knives including hunting, diving, and fishing knives due to its properties. In this section, we will discuss the properties of 420HC steel including edge retention, sharpening, corrosion resistance, wear resistance, toughness, and hardness.

Edge Retention

When it comes to edge retention, 420HC doesn’t hold an edge very well. The increased carbon content in 420HC steel gives it slightly better edge retention than regular 420 steel. However, when compared to higher-end steels, it can lose its sharpness more quickly.

Sharpening

One of the positive aspects of 420HC steel is that it is easy to sharpen. The softer nature of this steel allows for quick and simple sharpening, even for those without much experience. This makes it an ideal choice for people who may not be skilled in maintaining knife edges.

Corrosion Resistance

420HC steel has a good level of corrosion resistance due to its stainless steel composition. This makes it suitable for situations where rust resistance is important, like hunting, diving, and fishing knives. However, it is not the most corrosion-resistant steel available; there are other options with better corrosion resistance for more specialized applications.

Wear Resistance

The wear resistance of 420HC steel is considered moderate. It will not wear out as quickly as some lower-quality steels, but it does not compare to the wear resistance offered by high-end steels. Nevertheless, for general-purpose knives and everyday use, the wear resistance offered by 420HC is acceptable.

Toughness

The toughness of 420HC steel is quite good. Its moderate hardness and stainless steel composition allow for a decent level of impact resistance. This makes it suitable for knives that might be subjected to heavy use or more demanding applications, such as hunting and fieldwork.

Hardness

When subjected to quality heat treatment, 420HC stainless steel can achieve a hardness as high as RC 56-59 HRC. The standard hardness rating of this steel, however, is 55HRC. This level of hardness is sufficient for many applications, but it is considered to be on the lower end of the scale compared to some other knife steels.

Heat Treatment and Hardness Levels

Rockwell Hardness

When it comes to 420HC steel, heat treatment plays a crucial role in determining its hardness levels. Heat treatment is a process used to alter the physical and mechanical properties of steel, making it suitable for various applications. For 420HC steel, the HC stands for high carbon, which means that the steel has a higher carbon content than other 420 series steels. This added carbon allows for good hardenability through heat treatment.

420HC steel has become popular among knife makers thanks to its balance between affordability, corrosion resistance, and toughness. The hardness levels of 420HC steel are typically tested using the Rockwell hardness scale (HRC). An optimum heat treatment process can result in 420HC steel achieving a hardness of approximately 55 HRC according to a datasheet from Alpha Knife Supply.

The Rockwell hardness test measures the resistance of steel to indentation. A higher HRC value indicates greater hardness and increased wear resistance. 420HC steel’s attainable hardness of around 55 HRC puts it in a league of suitable materials for knife blades and other cutting tools. However, poor heat treatment can negatively impact the quality of the steel, making it too hard, too soft, or difficult to sharpen, among other potential issues as mentioned by Blade HQ.

In conclusion, the heat treatment of 420HC steel significantly affects its hardness levels, which in turn impact the performance and durability of the resulting knives and cutting tools. The Rockwell hardness test is a common method of measuring hardness, with properly treated 420HC steel achieving an approximate hardness of 55 HRC.

Comparisons with Other Steels

420HC vs 440C

420HC is a basic stainless steel containing a low carbon content. It holds an edge well and is easy to sharpen. In contrast, 440C has a higher carbon content and chromium level, resulting in better edge retention and corrosion resistance. However, it can be more challenging to sharpen.

  • Edge retention: 440C > 420HC
  • Corrosion resistance: 440C > 420HC
  • Ease of sharpening: 420HC > 440C

420HC vs S30V

420HC steel is economical, easy to sharpen, and offers decent corrosion resistance. On the other hand, S30V steel boasts better edge retention and durability. Consequently, the latter is more expensive and slightly more challenging to sharpen.

  • Edge retention: S30V > 420HC
  • Durability: S30V > 420HC
  • Ease of sharpening: 420HC > S30V

420HC vs 1095

While 420HC is a stainless steel, 1095 is a carbon steel often used in traditional knives. While 1095 provides better toughness and edge retention, it lacks corrosion resistance compared to 420HC.

  • Edge retention: 1095 > 420HC
  • Toughness: 1095 > 420HC
  • Corrosion resistance: 420HC > 1095

420HC vs 8Cr13MoV

Both 420HC and 8Cr13MoV are budget steels with comparable properties. 8Cr13MoV is a higher carbon-content Cr stainless steel, having a slight edge in retention and corrosion resistance. However, both are easy to sharpen and hold satisfactory edges.

  • Edge retention: 8Cr13MoV ≈ 420HC
  • Corrosion resistance: 8Cr13MoV ≈ 420HC

420HC vs AUS-6

420HC and AUS-6 share similarities in carbon content, resulting in comparable edge retention. Nevertheless, the AUS-6 contains additional vanadium content, enhancing its corrosion resistance.

  • Edge retention: 420HC ≈ AUS-6
  • Corrosion resistance: AUS-6 > 420HC

420HC vs AUS-8

AUS-8 is a Japanese steel that provides superior edge retention compared to 420HC. Although it has better corrosion resistance, AUS-8 may be moderately more challenging to sharpen.

  • Edge retention: AUS-8 > 420HC
  • Corrosion resistance: AUS-8 > 420HC

420HC vs VG-1

VG-1 is a high-carbon stainless steel with excellent edge retention and corrosion resistance compared to 420HC. However, it is typically much more challenging to sharpen.

  • Edge retention: VG-1 > 420HC
  • Corrosion resistance: VG-1 > 420HC

420HC vs VG-10

VG-10 is a premium Japanese steel acclaimed for its edge retention and corrosion resistance, outperforming 420HC in both areas. However, it is more expensive and requires increased effort to sharpen.

  • Edge retention: VG-10 > 420HC
  • Corrosion resistance: VG-10 > 420HC

Read More: VG-10 vs SG2

420HC Knives and Cutlery

420HC steel is a popular choice for knife and cutlery manufacturing due to its balance of hardness, toughness, and corrosion resistance. Let’s take a look at some of the top knife brands that utilize this steel in their products, which include Buck Knives, Gerber Knives, and Kershaw Knives.

Buck Knives

Buck Knives, an American classic, utilizes 420HC steel in many of its knife models. One such model is the Buck Knives 112 Ranger, featuring a 3-inch clip point blade with a sharp edge and excellent wear resistance. The 420HC stainless steel contributes to the knife’s durability and edge retention, making it an ideal choice for everyday tasks and outdoor adventures.

Gerber Knives

Gerber Knives is another trusted brand that uses 420HC steel in their knife production. A standout example is the [Gerber StrongArm Fixed Blade Knife](https://blade protection), known for its reliable performance and versatility. The 420HC steel used in the StrongArm enhances its overall toughness and corrosion resistance while providing a sharp cutting edge. This knife is designed to excel in various survival tasks, making it a favorite among adventurers and outdoor enthusiasts alike.

Kershaw Knives

Kershaw Knives, known for their innovative designs and quality materials, also employ 420HC steel in the construction of some of their knives. The Kershaw Chive Pocket Knife is a popular example that features a 1.9-inch blade with impressive edge retention and corrosion resistance, thanks to the 420HC steel. This compact, everyday carry knife is perfect for various tasks, from opening packages to slicing fruits and vegetables.

In conclusion, 420HC steel is a solid choice for knives and cutlery, with brands like Buck, Gerber, and Kershaw utilizing it in their respective products. The knives made from this steel exhibit a balance of edge retention, toughness, and corrosion resistance, making them great companions for various tasks, both indoors and outdoors.

Applications of 420HC Steel

420HC steel is a versatile material used across a variety of industries for its unique properties, such as hardness, corrosion resistance, and affordability. In this section, we will explore its most common applications in different tools and equipment.

Hunting Knives

420HC steel is a popular choice for hunting knives, due to its combination of toughness and ease of sharpening. Its good corrosion resistance ensures the blade will withstand harsh weather conditions and resist rust, which is essential when spending time outdoors. With the ability to be hardened to a Rockwell hardness of 56-59, 420HC steel can hold a sharp edge and deliver reliable performance in demanding situations.

Outdoor Knives

The strength, durability, and corrosion resistance characteristics of 420HC steel make it a preferred option for outdoor knives. These knives, including survival and camping knives, require materials that can endure the challenges of a wide range of environments. The toughness of 420HC steel helps the knife maintain its edge and overall functionality, even under rough and constant use.

Fishing Knives

Fishing knives require steel that does not corrode easily due to continuous exposure to water and moisture. 420HC steel’s corrosion resistance makes it an ideal choice for crafting fishing knives, which need to maintain their sharpness and durability under demanding conditions.

Surgical Tools

In the medical sector, surgical tools demand materials that offer reliability, precision, and hygiene. 420HC steel is often used for surgical tools due to its optimal combination of corrosion resistance, hardness, and affordability. Since these tools must be easily disinfected and rust-resistant, 420HC’s stainless steel properties meet these requirements for consistent performance and longevity.

Scissors

Scissors crafted from 420HC steel provide users with a long-lasting, sharp cutting edge. The hardness of this steel ensures that it remains sharp and efficient in cutting through various materials. Its good corrosion resistance property also ensures that scissors crafted from 420HC steel can withstand the test of time without succumbing to rust and other signs of degradation.

Needle Valves

Finally, the manufacturing of needle valves benefits from the use of 420HC steel. With its stainless steel properties, these valves perform well in maintaining stability and resisting corrosive substances often found in the various industries they serve. Given these attributes, 420HC steel proves to be a valuable choice for crafting needle valves that can cope with harsh environments while delivering reliability.

Budget Considerations

When choosing a knife made from 420HC steel, it’s important to keep budget considerations in mind. This steel is known for being affordable while still maintaining a certain level of quality. In this section, we will discuss both the affordability and quality aspects of 420HC steel knives.

Affordability

420HC steel is an attractive choice for those on a budget, as it offers a good balance between cost and performance. Since 420HC is a low-end stainless steel, it is often found in more affordable knife models. This is a result of its lower production cost compared to powder metallurgy steels. Choosing a 420HC steel knife can help save money without necessarily sacrificing the ability to handle everyday cutting tasks.

Quality

While 420HC steel is considered a budget steel, it offers decent qualities that should not be ignored. It has a medium level of carbon that enhances its hardness and wear/corrosion resistance. It is also a popular choice for various applications such as cutlery, custom knives, scissors, and surgical tools.

However, it’s essential to have realistic expectations regarding the performance of 420HC steel knives. They will not compare to premium tier steels in terms of edge retention, toughness, and corrosion resistance. Having said that, for day-to-day use or as a first knife purchase, 420HC steel can provide an adequate level of performance with the added benefit of being easy to sharpen due to its softer characteristics.

Conclusion

420HC is a popular steel choice for knives, cutlery, and other tools due to its balanced combination of hardness and corrosion resistance. It is a significant evolution from its predecessor, 420 steel, offering an overall better performance for knife users.

The martensitic grade of 420HC, with the “HC” denoting high carbon content, enables hardening through heat treatment—a crucial feature for knife enthusiasts. This hardening process increases the overall hardness levels, making 420HC a reliable choice for various knife types. Moreover, the 13% chromium composition in 420HC provides excellent corrosion resistance.

While 420HC steel might not match the performance of higher-end stainless steels such as 440, it still offers a softer yet more rugged option for knife users. This makes it a popular choice for various applications, including hunting and fishing blades, survival and outdoor knives, and even budget options for beginners.

In summary, the versatility and balanced performance of 420HC steel make it a preferred material for crafting different knife types. Its ability to achieve high hardness levels while maintaining corrosion resistance properties ensures that those who choose 420HC steel knives will enjoy a durable and reliable tool for various tasks.

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.”