5 Best Knife Steels (For The Price) – My Non-Expert Ranking

Sharing is caring!

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.”

At A Glance
M390 Steel: Known for excellent wear resistance, corrosion resistance, and edge retention. Ideal for high-end folding and fixed blades.
154CM Steel: Offers a balanced performance with good corrosion resistance, toughness, and edge retention. Suitable for EDC, tactical, and hunting knives.
S35VN Steel: An upgrade over S30V, with increased toughness, better edge retention, and easier sharpening. Widely used in high-end knives.
VG-10 Steel: A high-quality Japanese stainless steel with great edge retention and corrosion resistance. Popular for kitchen and folding knives.
D2 Steel: High carbon, high chromium steel known for hardness and wear resistance. Suitable for heavy-use cutting tools and tactical knives.

The world of knives is vast and diverse, with a multitude of options when it comes to steel materials. From kitchen knives and hunting gear to everyday carry tools, the quality of the steel will significantly impact the blade’s performance, durability, and edge retention. Understanding the differences between various types of steel helps in selecting the most appropriate one for specific tasks and preferences.

Knife steels can be classified into different tiers, ranging from low to high, reflecting their overall performance and quality. Factors such as hardness, corrosion resistance, toughness, and grindability come into play when evaluating the best knife steels available on the market. The advancements in metallurgy and manufacturing technologies have fostered innovations leading to the emergence of well-rounded, high-performance knife steels.

In this article, we will delve into the 5 best knife steels currently available, taking into account expert opinions, performance characteristics, and real-world experiences. These steels blend the key attributes that knife enthusiasts seek and provide an excellent balance of performance, durability, and value. Read on to discover what sets these remarkable knife steels apart and learn how to make an informed decision for your next cutting tool.

Understanding Knife Steel Basics

Knife steel is a critical component in determining a blade’s performance, durability, and overall quality. At its core, knife steel is an alloy composed mainly of iron and carbon, with other elements added to enhance specific properties such as hardness, toughness, and resistance to rust.

Hardness is a measure of a steel’s ability to resist deformation under stress and applied forces. Generally, the higher the hardness, the better the edge retention and wear resistance. However, overly hard steel can become more brittle and prone to chipping. Hardness is measured on the Rockwell scale – typically knife steels fall between 58-62 HRC (Hardness Rockwell C).

Toughness refers to a steel’s ability to absorb and distribute impacts without breaking or fracturing. Tough knife steels are crucial for heavy-duty tasks such as chopping and batoning. A balance of hardness and toughness is ideal; often, increasing hardness comes at the expense of toughness.

Stainless steel is a type of steel with a high chromium content, typically 10-15%, which significantly increases rust resistance. Stainless steels are popular for knives that will encounter humid or wet conditions, reducing the need for frequent maintenance. However, stainless steels can be softer and less durable than their carbon steel counterparts.

Carbon steel generally has lower chromium content, which can make it more susceptible to rust and corrosion. However, carbon steels usually offer better hardness and edge retention, making them ideal for tasks that require extreme sharpness and durability.

Other elements such as vanadium, molybdenum, and cobalt may be added to the steel alloy to enhance various properties for specific purposes. For example, vanadium improves wear resistance and promotes finer grain structures, while molybdenum increases strength and corrosion resistance.

Choosing the best knife steel depends on the intended use of the knife and personal preferences concerning maintenance, hardness, and corrosion resistance. By understanding the basic properties and characteristics of knife steel, you can make an informed decision when selecting your next blade.

Top 5 Best Knife Steels (According To Me…)

In this section, we’ll discuss the top 5 best knife steels that are popular among knife enthusiasts and widely known for their excellent properties.

Do note that I’m not making the statement that these are the most premium or highest-performing steels available. I can’t afford those.

Rather these are what I consider to be the “best” steels in that they offer excellent performance with minimal compromises, including the price.

M390 Steel

M390 steel is a high-performance stainless steel produced by Bohler-Uddeholm. This steel is known for its excellent wear resistance, corrosion resistance, and edge retention. It has a high percentage of chromium, molybdenum, and vanadium, which gives it outstanding properties. M390 steel is an excellent choice for high-end folding knives and fixed blades because of its toughness and ability to hold a sharp edge for a long time.

154CM Steel

154CM steel is a popular stainless steel used by many knife makers due to its well-balanced performance. It is an American-made steel, known for its corrosion resistance, toughness, and edge retention. The composition of 154CM steel makes it a good option for various types of knives, including everyday carry, tactical, and hunting knives. It offers a great balance between easy sharpening and edge retention.

S35VN Steel

S35VN steel is a premium stainless steel developed by Crucible Industries in collaboration with Chris Reeve, one of the most respected knife makers in the industry. It is an improvement over the popular S30V steel, offering increased toughness, better edge retention, and easier sharpening. This steel is widely used in high-end knives because of its excellent performance and corrosion resistance.

VG-10 Steel

VG-10 steel is a high-quality Japanese stainless steel, commonly used in kitchen knives and folding knives. The steel has a high carbon content, along with chromium, molybdenum, and vanadium, which gives it great edge retention and corrosion resistance. VG-10 steel is known for its ability to achieve a very sharp edge and retain it for a long time, making it a popular choice among knife enthusiasts.

D2 Steel

D2 steel is a high carbon, high chromium tool steel, known for its hardness and excellent wear resistance. It is considered a semi-stainless steel because of its high chromium content, which provides some corrosion resistance. D2 steel is widely used in various knife applications, such as heavy-use cutting tools and tactical knives. Although it can be challenging to sharpen, its edge retention and durability make it a popular choice among those who value long-lasting performance in their knife steels.

Factors Influencing Knife Steel Performance

When it comes to choosing knife steels, there are several factors that determine their performance. To make an informed decision, it’s essential to understand the key aspects that affect a steel’s overall usability and durability.

Composition: The composition of the steel, including elements such as carbon, chromium, and other alloying metals, plays a significant role in its performance. High carbon steels tend to exhibit excellent edge retention and strength due to the presence of hard carbides. On the other hand, steels with higher chromium content provide better corrosion resistance.

Heat Treatment: Proper heat treatment is crucial in determining a knife steel’s performance. This process affects the steel’s hardness, which in turn influences its wear resistance, edge retention, and sharpenability. The balance between hardness and toughness depends on several factors including metallurgy, temperature, and cooling rates applied during the heat treatment process.

Edge Retention: The ability of a knife to maintain a sharp edge during use is known as edge retention. This attribute depends not only on the steel composition and heat treatment but also on the blade’s design and grind. Steels that contain harder carbides usually offer better edge retention, but they can also be more challenging to sharpen.

Corrosion Resistance: One of the primary concerns when selecting a knife steel is its resistance to corrosion. Stainless steels, which contain a minimum of 12% chromium, are more resistant to rust than carbon steels. The trade-off, however, is that stainless steels generally have lower edge retention compared to high carbon steels.

Wear Resistance: The ability of steel to withstand wear, such as abrasion and erosion, is another factor to consider. Steels with higher alloy content, particularly those that contain elements known to form hard carbides, will exhibit improved wear resistance. Tool steels are a common example of steels with high wear resistance.

Strength and Toughness: Strength refers to the steel’s ability to withstand applied force without breaking, whereas toughness is its capacity to absorb and resist impacts without chipping or cracking. Both attributes are essential for a reliable and durable knife. High carbon, for instance, offers excellent strength, but excessive amounts can lead to decreased toughness.

Market Availability and Design: The knife market offers a wide variety of steels, each with different attributes and performance characteristics. It is crucial to select a steel that can meet the specific requirements of the intended application. In addition, the knife’s design parameters, such as thickness and geometry, can help optimize its overall performance.

Popular Brands and Their Offerings

When it comes to knife steels, there are several reputable brands offering a variety of quality options. Crucible Industries is a prime example, known for developing CPM S110V and other high-performance steels like CPM-S90V and CPM-M4. CPM-S90V is a premium-grade steel with great wear resistance, making it an ideal choice for demanding applications. On the other hand, CPM-M4 offers outstanding toughness and edge stability.

Another popular choice is Bohler, which produces the highly regarded M390. M390 is a well-balanced steel offering excellent corrosion resistance and edge retention. This steel is particularly popular among high-end knife enthusiasts.

Other notable steels include S30V and S45VN, both developed by Crucible Industries. S30V is a widely-used stainless steel, known for its hardness and corrosion resistance. In recent years, S45VN has emerged as an upgrade to S30V, boasting improved toughness and sharpenability.

Carpenter is responsible for the production of CTS-XHP, a high-carbon, high-chromium steel with excellent edge retention and corrosion resistance. This steel is considered a good alternative to ATS-34 and 440C.

For those seeking budget-friendly options, 8Cr13MoV and AUS-8 steels offer decent performance at an affordable price. AUS-8, a Japanese stainless steel, provides a good balance between toughness and edge retention. Meanwhile, 8Cr13MoV, a Chinese stainless steel, is known for its ease of sharpening and adequate corrosion resistance.

Some innovative steels include LC200N and Magnacut. LC200N, developed by Zapp, is a nitrogen-based steel that excels in corrosion resistance, making it suitable for marine environments. Crucible Industries recently introduced Magnacut, an all-around performer that offers impressive corrosion and wear resistance with no significant drawbacks.

Other unique steels worth mentioning are Elmax and ZDP-189. Elmax, produced by Bohler Uddeholm, is a popular choice among custom knife makers for its excellent edge retention and corrosion resistance. ZDP-189, developed by Hitachi, is a high-performance steel containing tungsten, vanadium, and other elements, offering exceptional hardness and edge-holding capabilities.

In conclusion, there are a vast array of knife steels on the market, each with its strengths and weaknesses. When choosing a knife, it’s essential to consider the specific requirements, preferences, and budget to find the best-suited steel for your needs.

Choosing the Right Knife Steel for Your Needs

When looking for the best knife steel for your needs, it is essential to understand the primary aspects that differentiate various steel types – edge retention, corrosion resistance, toughness, wear resistance, and ease of sharpening. Some popular types include M390 steel, H1, S30V, VG-10, and 154CM.

M390 steel is known for its excellent edge retention and corrosion resistance, making it a top choice for many high-quality knives. On the other hand, H1 steel is formulated with nitrogen instead of carbon, giving it unparalleled corrosion resistance, making it ideal for use in marine environments and salt-water exposure.

The S30V and S35VN steels are both powder metallurgy steels developed by Crucible Industries. S30V offers good edge retention, corrosion resistance, and toughness balance, whereas S35VN improves on these properties and adds better machinability and toughness. Both are considered premium steels suited for high-end knives.

VG-10 is a Japanese stainless steel known for its fine-grained structure, which results in excellent edge sharpness and corrosion resistance. It’s a popular choice in the culinary knife market.

154CM steel is known for its toughness and edge retention, and it offers good corrosion resistance due to its chromium content. 154CM is a popular steel used for knives requiring strength and durability, such as outdoor and survival knives.

A key factor in selecting the right knife steel is understanding how the steel’s composition contributes to its properties. Carbon and chromium are essential elements in most steel alloys. Carbon increases the hardness and wear resistance of the steel, while chromium adds to corrosion resistance and forms carbides, which improve wear resistance and edge retention.

It’s crucial to consider the knife’s intended function when selecting steel. For instance, EDC (everyday carry) knives require different properties compared to survival knives or kitchen knives. Powder metallurgy steels, such as M390 and S30V, are typically used for high-quality folding knives and fixed blades, while carbon steels, like 1095 and D2, can be a suitable choice for heavy-duty survival knives.

Lastly, heat treatment plays a significant role in determining steel’s performance. Variations in heat treatment can significantly impact overall performance, even in the same type of steel. Proper heat treatment can lead to a blade steel with improved strength, toughness, and edge retention.

In summary, it is essential to weigh the factors, including edge retention, corrosion resistance, toughness, and sharpenability when choosing the best knife steel for your specific needs. Be sure to consider how the knife will be used and the properties that are most important for that use case in order to make an informed decision on the perfect steel for you.

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.”