M390 Knife Steel – Did Benchmade Choose Right?

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Last updated on July 13th, 2023 at 02:36 pm

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M390 knife steel has gained considerable popularity in the world of premium knives and blades, and for good reason. The steel was introduced and manufactured by BOHLER-UDDENHOLM, utilizing advanced third-generation technology to create a high-quality and durable material. Known for its remarkable wear resistance, corrosion resistance, and edge retention properties, M390 has become a go-to choice for knife enthusiasts and professionals alike.

Originating from the Böhler Edelstahl GmbH & Co KG factory in Kapfenberg, Austria, M390 steel is considered a “specialty steel” due to its exceptional resistance to wear and tear. This is primarily attributed to its powder metallurgy production process, which involves the consolidation and sintering of powdered metal. This advanced process results in a Uniform and fine-grained material, which translates to enhanced performance in knife blades.

While there are other high-quality stainless tool steels in the market, such as Elmax, S30V, and S60V, M390 stands out with its impressive combination of properties. As a result, it has become a popular choice for various premium knife applications, from everyday carry and hunting knives to chef’s knives. Overall, M390 offers a well-rounded and reliable option for anyone in search of a knife steel with reliable performance and longevity.

My Favorite Knife That Uses M390 Steel

M390 Steel Overview

M390 steel is a high-quality stainless steel produced by BOHLER-UDDEHOLM, widely recognized for its excellent properties. It is considered as one of the best stainless steels available for making premium knives and blades. M390 is part of the family of third-generation powder metallurgy stainless steels, which offers exceptional wear resistance and performance for various cutting tools.

Manufactured in the Austrian factory of Böhler Edelstahl GmbH & Co KG, M390 is known for superior wear resistance and enhanced edge retention properties. The stainless steel is composed of a balanced mix of elements like carbon, chromium, molybdenum, and vanadium, leading to exceptional hardness levels. M390 is commonly hardened and tempered to achieve a Rockwell hardness of 60-62HRC, providing a perfect balance between toughness, wear resistance, and excellent edge retention.

The popularity of M390 steel lies in its versatility and overall performance. Due to its powder metallurgy process, the steel’s microstructure is homogeneous, resulting in consistent properties throughout the blade. This allows for a more uniform distribution of carbides, granting enhanced cutting ability and corrosion resistance. The corrosion resistance of M390 is a noteworthy trait as well, making it a popular choice for knives used in harsh environments or water-related tasks.

In conclusion, M390 steel has firmly established itself as a top choice for premium knives and other cutting tools, offering a high-quality combination of hardness, wear resistance, and corrosion resistance.

M390 Steel Chemical Composition

M390 steel is a popular choice for knives due to its impressive combination of wear resistance, corrosion resistance, and edge retention. This high-quality steel is produced by Böhler Uddeholm, a leading Austrian steel manufacturer. The outstanding properties of M390 are attributed to its unique chemical composition, which includes:

  • Carbon: An essential element in knife steels, carbon contributes to the hardness and overall strength of the steel. M390 contains a relatively high carbon content, providing the steel with excellent edge retention and wear resistance.
  • Chromium: M390 features a significant amount of chromium, which enhances the steel’s corrosion resistance. Chromium forms a passive oxide layer on the steel’s surface, shielding it from rust and corrosion, making it ideal for knives that are frequently used in wet or corrosive environments.
  • Molybdenum: This element helps improve the steel’s toughness and resistance to wear, especially at higher temperatures. The presence of molybdenum in M390 helps maintain the steel’s strength and stability even when used in challenging conditions.
  • Vanadium: Vanadium contributes to the overall toughness and hardenability of the steel. It also forms incredibly hard carbides, which significantly improve the wear resistance of the steel. M390’s vanadium content helps to maintain its sharpness, even after repetitive use.
  • Tungsten: A less common but important element in M390, tungsten works together with vanadium to boost the steel’s resistance to wear and promote a more stable microstructure. This ensures that the steel can endure heavy usage without sacrificing its performance.
  • Silicon and manganese: These elements are utilized in smaller quantities in M390 steel, but they still play a crucial role in refining the steel’s grain structure. Silicon and manganese help enhance the steel’s hardness and overall strength, ensuring that knives made from M390 steel are both durable and reliable.

In summary, M390 is a high-quality knife steel with a carefully balanced chemical composition that offers an impressive combination of wear resistance, corrosion resistance, and edge retention. Its unique blend of elements ensures that knives crafted from M390 steel are durable, reliable, and maintain their sharpness even after repetitive use.

Performance Characteristics

M390 steel is known for its exceptional performance in terms of hardness, toughness, wear resistance, and corrosion resistance. This high-quality steel is a popular choice for knife makers due to its well-rounded characteristics.

Hardness: M390 has a Rockwell C hardness rating of 65 RC, which is comparable to some of the hardest steels available such as A1045, S30V, and CRN80A1. This high hardness allows the steel to maintain a sharp edge for longer periods of time.

Toughness: Although M390 is highly regarded for its hardness, it also has impressive toughness. M390 is designed to resist chipping and breaking under stress, ensuring that the knife remains durable even under heavy use2. This makes it a reliable choice for those who demand a versatile and robust knife.

Wear Resistance: M390’s powder metallurgy production process gives it outstanding wear resistance, which means that the blade can withstand abrasion and edge deformation even with frequent use3. This contributes to the steel’s long lifespan because of reduced exposure to wear and tear.

Corrosion Resistance: The amount of chromium in steel determines its corrosion resistance, and M390 contains a high quantity of chromium4. This makes M390 knives resistant to rust and staining. As a result, the steel can maintain its appearance and performance for a longer time.

In summary, M390 steel offers a harmonious balance of hardness, toughness, wear resistance, and corrosion resistance. These performance characteristics make it an excellent choice for various knife applications. The end users can expect a strong, durable, and low-maintenance knife when crafted with M390 steel.

Heat Treatment

Heat treatment is a crucial process for M390 knife steel to achieve its full potential in terms of hardness, edge retention, and corrosion resistance. The process includes preheating, austenitizing, quenching, and tempering. By properly following the heat treatment procedure, M390 can reach a high Rockwell hardness while maintaining excellent toughness and wear resistance.

The first step in heat treating M390 is preheating. Preheating prepares the steel for austenitizing by heating it to a temperature of around 1475°F (800°C) for 10 minutes. This initial heating helps reduce the risk of distortion and cracking during the austenitizing process.

Austenitizing is the main step responsible for achieving high hardness in M390 knife steel. For this step, the preheated steel is heated to approximately 2150°F (1180°C) and held at that temperature for roughly 30 minutes. This process ensures the proper transformation of the steel’s structure to achieve the desired hardness level. Some sources recommend heating M390 at around 2066°F (1130°C) for 30 minutes to achieve better hardness consistency.

Following austenitizing, the steel must be quenched to rapidly cool it down. M390 steel is sensitive to the quenching rate, requiring a cooling rate of at least -100°C/s for the best results. Different quenching methods can be used, such as plate quenching with water-cooled, forced air, or warm oil. The steel should be quenched until it turns black and then cooled in still air.

The final step in heat treating M390 steel is tempering. This process relieves stress induced by the previous steps and improves the steel’s toughness. Tempering M390 typically involves heating the steel at 375°F (190°C) and maintaining this temperature for two cycles, each lasting two hours.

In summary, properly heat treating M390 knife steel is essential for achieving optimal hardness, edge retention, and corrosion resistance. Following the recommended process of preheating, austenitizing, quenching, and tempering ensures that M390 reaches its full potential while maintaining its excellent toughness and wear resistance.

Edge Retention and Sharpness

M390 steel is a popular choice for knife enthusiasts due to its exceptional edge retention and sharpness. This high-end steel, along with its counterparts CTS-204P and CPM-20CV, is known for its superb cutting performance and durability.

Edge retention is the ability of a knife to maintain its cutting ability during use. M390 steel excels in this area, thanks to its well-balanced mix of chromium, vanadium, and tungsten carbides. These elements contribute to the formation of hard, wear-resistant microstructures that help maintain a sharp edge even after extensive cutting tasks. A study of different knives with identical sharpening and edge geometry found that M390 displayed superior edge retention compared to other steels.

Sharpness is another key factor for knife users, and M390 steel does not disappoint. Its fine grain structure allows for razor-sharp edges, while its high hardness levels ensure consistent cutting performance under various conditions. A comparison of M390 with other steels, such as S30V, shows that it has a clear edge retention advantage, further cementing its popularity among knife aficionados.

Sharpening M390 steel can be slightly more challenging due to its high hardness and carbide content. However, with the right technique and sharpening equipment, it can be honed to a remarkably fine edge. When sharpened at lower angles, M390 demonstrates excellent slicing capabilities, making it ideal for a variety of tasks.

In conclusion, M390 steel is highly regarded for its exceptional edge retention and sharpness. Its closely related counterparts, CTS-204P and CPM-20CV, also share these outstanding qualities. With proper sharpening and maintenance, knives made from these high-end steels can provide reliable and consistent cutting performance for years to come.

Advantages of M390

M390 is a popular choice for knife enthusiasts due to its exceptional combination of features. The key advantage of this steel is its sharpness retention. This is because M390 is highly resistant to wear and tear, allowing the edge of a knife to maintain its shape for an extended period. As a result, knives made from M390 steel need sharpening less frequently than those made from other materials 1(https://www.knivesandtools.com/en/ct/bohler-m390-steel.htm).

Another important characteristic of M390 is its impressive tensile strength. With a toughness rating of up to 63 HRC (Rockwell Hardness Scale), M390 outperforms many of its competitors in terms of durability 2(https://bladechasers.com/magnacut-vs-m390/). This high level of toughness means that M390 knives are less likely to break or snap under pressure, offering enhanced longevity and reliability.

One of the reasons why M390 has become a premium steel choice in the knife industry is its corrosion resistance. This makes M390 knives particularly suitable for use in various environments, including those with high humidity or exposure to corrosive substances, without the risk of damage due to rust or discoloration3(https://knifesteelnerds.com/2020/06/01/m390-steel-history-and-properties-and-20cv-and-204p/).

Additionally, M390 steel can achieve a beautiful mirror polish. This not only enhances the aesthetic appeal of the knife but also further improves its corrosion resistance4(https://knifeuser.com/m390-steel-knife/).

In terms of price, M390 may be considered a more expensive option compared to other steels. However, considering its outstanding properties, investing in an M390 knife can be seen as a wise decision for those seeking a high-quality, long-lasting tool.

Despite its higher price point, M390’s combination of strength, corrosion resistance, and edge retention make it an attractive option for those in search of a premium steel knife. By offering a blade material that is both durable and functional, M390 has solidified its position as a top choice in the knife industry.

Comparison to Other Steels

M390 is often referred to as a super steel due to its excellent combination of toughness, corrosion resistance, and edge retention properties. Let’s examine how M390 compares to some other popular knife steels in the industry.

N690: N690 is an Austrian-made stainless steel known for its corrosion resistance and decent edge retention. While N690 is a reliable choice for many knives, M390 surpasses it in terms of edge retention and overall performance. M390’s higher vanadium content contributes to the formation of vanadium carbides, which strengthen the steel and provide better wear resistance than N690.

CTS-204P: CTS-204P is an American-made stainless steel that shares many similarities with M390. Both steels offer exceptional corrosion resistance and edge retention, thanks to their high levels of chromium and vanadium. However, M390 steel has a slightly higher carbon content, which gives it a slight edge in terms of hardness and edge retention.

CPM 20CV: CPM 20CV is another American-made stainless steel that is almost identical to M390 in terms of chemical composition and overall performance. Both steels are known for their superb edge retention and corrosion resistance. There is very little difference between the two, and the choice often comes down to personal preference or availability.

Tool Steel: Tool steels, such as D2 or A2, are characterized by their toughness and ability to maintain a sharp edge. While M390 is not a traditional tool steel, it does offer similar levels of toughness and edge retention. However, M390 stainless steel has better corrosion resistance than most tool steels, making it more suitable for applications where exposure to moisture or corrosive environments is a concern.

Vanadium Carbide: Vanadium carbide is a hard compound found in steels like M390, which enhances the steel’s overall toughness and wear resistance. The presence of vanadium carbide in M390 sets it apart from other stainless steels, contributing to its reputation as a super steel.

In summary, M390 steel stands out among other knife steels due to its excellent balance of toughness, edge retention, and corrosion resistance. It can outperform many other stainless steels and even provides similar performance to certain tool steels, making it a top choice for premium knife builds.

Uses and Applications

M390 steel is a popular choice for knife enthusiasts and manufacturers due to its excellent properties and performance. Knife steel is an essential aspect of a blade’s performance, as it determines the cutting edge, durability, and maintenance requirements. M390 knife steel is a premium-grade steel that offers a combination of exceptional wear resistance, corrosion resistance, and edge retention. This makes it an ideal material for a wide range of applications and outdoor activities.

Outdoor enthusiasts and professionals rely on high-quality knives for a variety of tasks, making M390 steel a popular choice for their blades. Whether you’re camping, hunting, or participating in other outdoor activities, carrying a knife made from M390 steel ensures you’ll have a reliable tool that maintains its sharpness and functionality. Summit Knife’s Half Dome 6 is an excellent example of a knife that utilizes M390 steel as part of its design, making it a reliable option for outdoor adventurers.

M390 steel is often used in high-end small knives, which are particularly sought after by collectors and users alike. The excellent wear resistance and corrosion resistance properties of M390 also make it suitable for industrial applications, such as in the production of barrels, screws, and injection molding components. Its durability ensures that knives and other tools made from M390 steel can withstand harsh conditions and environments while maintaining their performance.

When choosing a high-quality knife for your outdoor or professional needs, it’s essential to consider the knife steel’s properties and performance. M390 knife steel provides the perfect balance of wear resistance, corrosion resistance, and edge retention, making it a dependable choice for a wide range of applications and uses.

Machinability and Grindability

When it comes to machinability and grindability, M390 knife steel offers a decent performance. This steel has been developed using advanced powder metallurgy techniques, which result in a fine-grained and uniform structure. This consistency in structure aids in both machining and grinding operations.

M390 steel has a lower machinability rate compared to carbon steels. The machinability rate of steel generally ranges from 40-80%, with carbon content playing a significant role. In M390, being a stainless steel, carbon content is not the main factor – however, its structure contributes to the machinability performance. Moreover, M390’s high wear and corrosion resistance inherently make it tougher to machine and grind.

In terms of expense, M390 is indeed pricier than many other common steels. This is due to the advanced manufacturing techniques and the inclusion of high-quality alloying elements. Furthermore, M390 steel is considered a premium material, commonly used in high-end knives and bladed tools, thus justifying its higher cost.

There are other steels with similar characteristics to M390, such as CPM-20CV. CPM-20CV is also a powder metallurgy stainless steel, offering excellent wear and corrosion resistance. However, the machinability and grindability of CPM-20CV may slightly differ from M390 due to variations in their chemical compositions and manufacturing processes.

To sum up, M390 knife steel provides moderate machinability and grindability. Its fine-grained structure, combined with advanced powder metallurgy techniques, contributes to these properties. While more expensive than other steels, M390 offers exceptional wear and corrosion resistance, making it highly valued for premium knives and bladed tools. Its counterpart, CPM-20CV, also bears similarities in terms of performance and application.

Potential Drawbacks

M390 is considered one of the best knife steels available in the market due to its combination of amazing wear resistance and corrosion resistance. However, no steel is perfect and there are some potential drawbacks that users should be aware of when choosing an M390 steel knife.

One possible drawback of M390 steel is the difficulty in sharpening. Due to its high hardness (with a Rockwell C hardness rating of 65 RC), the material can be challenging to sharpen for inexperienced users or those without proper equipment. This may also lead to increased time spent maintaining your knife. However, M390’s exceptional edge retention can somewhat mitigate this issue, as the need for frequent sharpening is reduced.

Another concern with M390 steel is its potential for chipping. While this steel has excellent resistance to wear and abrasion, it can be more susceptible to chipping under heavy use or extreme conditions, especially with thinner blade geometries. Users should avoid using their knives for tasks that might cause lateral stress on the blade, such as prying or using the knife as a lever.

Lastly, M390 is often categorized as one of the “super steels” due to its outstanding performance qualities. However, knives made with M390 steel can be expensive compared to other options. The cost of manufacturing, as well as the reputation of M390 as a high-end steel, can lead to a higher price tag for the consumer.

In conclusion, it’s important for users to carefully weigh the benefits and drawbacks of M390 steel before investing in a knife made with this material. Its exceptional wear and corrosion resistance come with some trade-offs, such as sharpening difficulties, potential chipping, and a higher price point. By understanding these potential drawbacks, users can make a more informed decision when purchasing an M390 steel knife.

M390 in the Industrial Market

Böhler M390 is a high-quality steel alloy that has gained popularity in various industrial applications. Its properties make it a top choice for knifemakers and other industries requiring durability, wear resistance, and sharpness retention.

One of the main reasons for M390’s success in the industrial market is its excellent edge retention. The alloy’s composition includes 1.90% carbon, 20.00% chromium, 4.00% vanadium, 1.00% molybdenum, 0.70% silicon, 0.60% tungsten, and 0.30% manganese. This unique combination of elements contributes to its impressive durability and resistant to wear and corrosion, making it ideal for use in high-end or limited-edition knives.

The powder metallurgy process used to create M390 steel helps produce an extremely sharp edge while maintaining its toughness. This is especially beneficial in applications like injection molding, where components require precise cuts and consistent performance over extended periods. The exceptional edge quality also means that M390 blades require less frequent sharpening, reducing overall maintenance costs.

In addition to its remarkable performance characteristics, M390 steel’s versatility makes it a popular choice among knifemakers. It is suitable for various knife styles, from folding knives to kitchen cutlery, making it a sought-after material for high-end, artisanal knives. Moreover, M390 can be polished to achieve a mirror-like finish, further enhancing its aesthetic appeal and adding value to the final product.

In conclusion, Böhler M390’s presence in the industrial market highlights its impressive qualities and capabilities. From outstanding sharpness retention to its application in diverse fields such as knifemaking and injection molding, M390 steel’s attributes and performance ensure its ongoing popularity and success in the years to come.

Maintenance and Care

The M390 steel knife is a high-quality knife known for its excellent wear resistance and corrosion resistance, making it a popular choice among knife enthusiasts. To ensure its longevity and maintain its impressive performance, proper maintenance and care are essential.

M390 steel has a hardness of 60-62 HRC, which contributes to its durability and edge retention. However, this also means it can be more susceptible to cracking if handled improperly. To prevent this issue, make sure to avoid twisting the blade or applying excessive force when cutting through hard materials.

An important aspect of M390 knife care involves keeping the blade clean and dry, especially in humid conditions. The presence of chromium carbides in the steel provides excellent corrosion resistance, but exposure to moisture over long periods can still lead to the formation of rust. It is recommended to clean the blade with a soft cloth and mild soap after each use, then pat it dry and apply a light coat of oil to prevent any moisture-related issues.

Although M390 steel knives can outperform many other types in terms of corrosion resistance, it is not as impervious to rust as H1 steel, which is specifically designed to be corrosion-proof. Therefore, it is essential to take additional precautions when using your M390 knife in saltwater environments. Rinse the knife thoroughly with fresh water after exposure to saltwater, then follow the same cleaning and oiling procedure mentioned earlier.

In summary, maintaining your M390 steel knife requires consistent cleaning, drying, and oiling, along with careful handling and awareness of potential corrosion risks in more extreme environments. With proper care, your M390 knife will continue to offer exceptional performance and stand the test of time.

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.”