Is ATS 34 a Good Knife Steel? (My Full Review)

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At A Glance
ATS 34 is a high-quality stainless steel known for its impressive edge retention, corrosion resistance, and overall toughness, making it a popular choice for various types of knives. Despite the emergence of newer, more advanced steels, ATS 34 remains a solid option for knife enthusiasts. It is produced by the Japanese company Hitachi and boasts high carbon and chromium content, allowing it to resist wear and corrosion effectively. Despite its hardness, ATS 34 is relatively easy to sharpen and offers long-lasting sharpness. However, like other high carbon steels, ATS 34 may require more frequent sharpening than some other knife steels. In general, it is favored for its balance between performance, cost, and ease of maintenance.

ATS 34 steel has long been popular among knife enthusiasts for its balance of desirable qualities. Known for its excellent edge retention and good corrosion resistance, this steel has found its way into various knife designs – from folding knives to fixed-blade ones. Its hardness can reach up to 61HRC, making it very hard steel that maintains its sharpness for a considerable amount of time. With 14% chromium content, it boasts impressive resistance to rust and corrosion, although there are other steels with even better resistance.

In terms of sharpening, ATS 34 steel is relatively easy to work with when compared to many modern high-performance steels on the market today. Its toughness and durability make it an excellent choice for those looking for a reliable blade that can withstand demanding tasks. However, some may argue that more advanced steels have since surpassed ATS 34 in certain aspects, such as wear resistance and ease of sharpening.

In summary, ATS 34 steel remains a solid option for knife enthusiasts who want a dependable blade that offers a balance of performance features. Its capabilities in edge retention, corrosion resistance, and overall toughness make it a popular choice, despite the emergence of newer, more advanced steels in recent years.

ATS-34 Steel Overview

ATS-34 is a high-quality stainless steel, suitable for many types of knives. It is a product of Hitachi, a well-known Japanese company that produces it using high carbon and high chromium content, giving it excellent wear and corrosion resistance properties. This steel is comparable to the American-made 154CM steel, as they have similar chemical compositions.

With a Rockwell hardness of 60-61HRC, ATS-34 steel is known for its durability and toughness while maintaining a reasonable degree of corrosion resistance due to its high chromium content. This combination makes it an ideal choice for various knife applications, including kitchen cutlery, tactical knives, and folding blades.

One advantage of ATS-34 steel over other types of stainless steel is its good balance of hardness and toughness. While higher hardness levels can often lead to brittleness and reduced toughness, ATS-34 manages to have a decent toughness level even at 61HRC. This means that knives made with this steel can endure heavy usage without breaking or chipping easily.

Moreover, the composition of ATS-34 steel provides an added benefit in terms of sharpening and edge retention. Despite its hardness and wear resistance, it can still be sharpened using conventional methods. Furthermore, ATS-34 offers a high degree of edge retention, allowing the blade to maintain sharpness even after constant use. This ease of sharpening and long-lasting sharpness make ATS-34 steel an attractive option for knife users.

In short, ATS-34 is a reliable Japanese steel known for its stability, wear resistance, and corrosion resistance. With a balance between hardness and toughness, it demonstrates versatility and adaptability for various knife applications. It remains a popular choice in the knife industry due to its proven performance and ability to meet the various demands of knife users.

Composition and Properties

Composition Details

ATS 34 is a high carbon stainless steel, containing more than 1% carbon and over 12% chromium. This combination results in a steel with good corrosion resistance and wear resistance. The chemical composition also includes other alloying elements like molybdenum, manganese, silicon, and vanadium.

Here’s a detailed breakdown of the elements in ATS 34 steel:

  • Carbon (C): 1.05%
  • Chromium (Cr): 14.0%
  • Molybdenum (Mo): 4.0%
  • Manganese (Mn): 0.5%
  • Silicon (Si): 0.4%
  • Phosphorus (P): 0.03%
  • Sulfur (S): 0.03%
  • Iron (Fe): Balance

Heat Resistance

ATS 34 steel features a high hardness level, reaching up to 60-61 HRC (Rockwell Hardness) when heat treated. The inclusion of chromium and molybdenum in its composition contributes to its heat resistance, making it a suitable choice for applications where it might be exposed to high temperatures, such as in chef knives or other kitchen utensils.

Tensile Strength

The high carbon content and the presence of alloying elements like manganese and silicon make ATS 34 steel strong and durable. This results in a decent toughness even with its high hardness rating: the steel can withstand extreme forces without breaking. It is worth mentioning that ATS 34 steel is not the toughest stainless steel available, but it holds its own and offers a good balance between hardness, wear resistance, and toughness.

Performance and Applications

Cutting Performance

ATS 34 steel offers excellent cutting performance due to its high hardness and strength. With a typical Rockwell hardness of 61 HRC, this steel provides good wear resistance and edge retention. Its relatively high carbon content results in excellent sharpness and cutting ability, making it a popular choice for knife blades.

While its performance is comparable to other premium steels like S30V, M390, and VG10, ATS 34 is considered to be more affordable and easier to manufacture. However, it is important to note that like other high carbon steels, ATS 34 may require more frequent sharpening than some other knife steels, such as H1 or ZDP-189.

Knives and Tool Usage

ATS 34 steel is commonly used in the production of custom knives, hunting knives, camping knives, and fishing knives. The excellent cutting performance and durability of ATS 34 make it an ideal choice for these applications. Its wear resistance and edge retention are particularly beneficial in outdoor and hard-use environments, where a reliable and sharp tool is crucial.

Many reputable knife makers, such as Benchmade and Loveless, have used ATS 34 steel in their products. It competes with other popular knife steels such as D2, S30V, and 8Cr13MoV, offering a similar balance of performance, cost, and ease of maintenance.

Industrial Applications

In addition to its use in knives and tools, ATS 34 steel can be found in various industrial applications. Its high tensile strength, durability, and heat resistance make it suitable for use in the automotive, aerospace, and manufacturing sectors. The steel’s corrosion resistance also makes it a preferred material for components exposed to harsh environments, such as those in contact with sulfur, copper, or titanium.

Despite its many advantages and applications, it is worth noting that ATS 34 is not the most machinable steel. On the other hand, its Japanese stainless steel counterpart, AUS-8, offers better machinability while still providing excellent cutting performance and corrosion resistance.

Comparison to Other Steels

154CM and CPM 154

154CM is a popular stainless steel, known for its combination of high corrosion resistance and good edge retention. It is similar to ATS 34, but with slightly higher levels of chromium and molybdenum. CPM 154 is the powder metallurgy version of 154CM; it undergoes the CPM process to create a more uniform distribution of carbides, leading to improved toughness and wear resistance. Both are suited for various applications where a balance of corrosion resistance and edge retention is important, such as in fishing and camping.

440C Stainless Steel

440C stainless steel is another widely used option, known for its high hardness and excellent edge holding capability. It has higher chromium content than ATS 34, which gives it slightly better corrosion resistance, but it can be more difficult to sharpen. 440C is a popular choice for kitchen knives where edge retention and corrosion resistance are both important factors.

High Carbon Steels

High carbon steels, like 52100 or D2, offer excellent durability and edge retention, but they tend to be more prone to rust than stainless steels. The higher carbon content allows these steels to maintain a sharper edge longer, making them ideal for tasks requiring precise cutting. However, they are typically not the best choice for marine environments or high moisture areas, where corrosion resistance is crucial.

CPM Steels

CPM steels are a group of high-performance stainless and high carbon knife steels, made using the CPM process. These include popular options like S30V, S35VN, and S110V. This process results in a more consistent distribution of carbides and finer grain structure, which translates to improved toughness, wear resistance, and edge retention. CPM steels, such as S30V steel, are often used in high-end folding and fixed blade knives, where performance and resistance to wear are a priority.

Other Popular Steels

There are many other popular knife steels in production, offering various combinations of performance characteristics. Some examples include Elmax steel, known for its excellent corrosion resistance, toughness, and ease of sharpening; Carpenter CTS series steels, which offer high wear resistance and toughness; and ZDP-189 steel, which has an extremely high hardness and exceptional edge retention, but can be challenging to sharpen and may be more brittle. 8Cr13MoV steel is another option, providing a good balance of corrosion resistance, edge retention, and sharpenability at a more affordable price.

In conclusion, while ATS 34 is undoubtedly a good knife steel, it is important to consider other steels that offer varying performance characteristics based on specific applications and preferences. One should carefully weigh factors such as corrosion resistance, edge retention, toughness, and ease of sharpening to determine the best knife steel for their needs.

Maintenance and Care

Cleaning and Preventing Rust

ATS 34 is a good knife steel, known for its rust resistance due to its high chromium content. However, proper maintenance is still crucial to ensure its longevity. To clean the knife, use warm water and a gentle soap. Dry it thoroughly after cleaning to prevent moisture-induced rusting. Applying a thin layer of oil on the blade can also help in protecting the steel from rust and corrosion.

Compared to other knife steels, such as CPM S90V steel, ATS 34 is easier to maintain due to its rust resistance. However, CPM S90V steel offers better edge retention. When choosing the best knife steel for your needs, consider the balance between maintenance requirements and the desired performance characteristics.

Sharpening Techniques

Sharpening ATS 34 steel knives requires knowledge and skill. Despite its excellent edge retention, this steel can be somewhat challenging to sharpen compared to other steels like CPM 154. Using a quality sharpening stone or a sharpening system designed for hard steels is essential to achieve a sharp edge without damaging the knife.

Here are some key points to remember when sharpening:

  • Use a consistent angle of approximately 20-25 degrees for the entire edge.
  • Start with a coarse grit stone to remove metal, progress to a medium grit stone to refine the edge, and finish with a fine grit stone for polishing.
  • Apply even pressure throughout the sharpening process to maintain a consistent edge.

In conclusion, when properly maintained and cared for, ATS 34 steel knives can offer excellent performance and durability. By regularly cleaning and preventing rust, as well as mastering the sharpening techniques, you can ensure that your knife lasts for years to come.

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.”