m390 vs ELMAX – Which Makes Better Blades?

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At A Glance
M390, developed by Austrian steel company Bohler, is a martensitic chromium steel known for excellent corrosion and wear resistance, commonly referred to as a “super steel.” On the other hand, ELMAX is a high chromium-vanadium-molybdenum alloyed steel from Swedish manufacturer Uddeholm, designed for high wear resistance and good corrosion resistance. M390 excels in hardness, corrosion resistance, and edge retention due to its higher carbon, chromium, and vanadium content. It offers superb edge retention, but it’s relatively challenging to sharpen. Conversely, ELMAX stands out in toughness, resisting chipping and cracking, making it ideal for heavy-duty tasks. It’s also easier to sharpen than M390. While M390 is typically more expensive due to its superior performance characteristics, ELMAX is a more budget-friendly alternative.

Top Rated Knives

The selection of blade steel is a crucial aspect to weigh when selecting a knife. M390 and ELMAX are two widely employed blade steels that often become a point of comparison. In this exploration, we will evaluate M390 and ELMAX with respect to their composition, hardness, toughness, corrosion resistance, edge retention, and ease of sharpening to identify which one offers superior performance for knives.

The vast spectrum of materials utilized in knife-making can be a challenging maze to navigate, both for seasoned aficionados and novices alike.

To help break down this subject, this piece will undertake a detailed comparison between two frequently chosen knife steel types: Bohler’s M390 and Uddeholm’s ELMAX.

We will be analyzing their makeup and comparing them in terms of composition, hardness, toughness, corrosion resistance, edge retention, and ease of sharpening to establish which one excels in the realm of knife-making.

Steel Background

Prior to jumping into the comparison, it is essential to understand the nature of each steel type and their manufacturing process.

M390

Bohler’s M390 is a martensitic chromium steel, highly prized for its excellent corrosion resistance and superior wear resistance. Developed by Bohler, a well-known Austrian steel company, M390 is often referred to as a “super steel” due to its impressive attributes.

ELMAX

ELMAX is a high chromium-vanadium-molybdenum alloyed steel, produced by Uddeholm, a renowned Swedish steel manufacturer. It’s designed as a high wear resistance steel that also offers good corrosion resistance, primarily used in high performance, premium segments.

Steel Composition

The first aspect of our comparison is the chemical composition of each steel.

M390

  • Carbon: 1.9%
  • Chromium: 20%
  • Molybdenum: 1%
  • Vanadium: 4%
  • Tungsten: .6%
  • Manganese: .3%
  • Silicon: .7%

ELMAX

  • Carbon: 1.7%
  • Chromium: 18%
  • Vanadium: 3%
  • Molybdenum: 1.1%
  • Manganese: .5%
  • Silicon: .8%

As seen from the composition, M390 has slightly more Carbon, Chromium, and Vanadium than ELMAX, contributing to its superior hardness, corrosion resistance, and wear resistance.

M390 vs ELMAX – Complete Comparison

Hardness

Hardness greatly influences the edge retention and wear resistance of knife steel.

M390 possesses a Rockwell hardness (HRC) of 60-62, making it exceptionally hard, leading to excellent edge retention and high wear resistance.

ELMAX has a Rockwell hardness (HRC) of 57-59, slightly lower than M390, but still offering good hardness for solid edge retention and durability.

Toughness

Toughness is a measure of a steel’s ability to absorb impacts and resist chipping.

M390 is a hard steel, which usually sacrifices some toughness. However, M390 maintains decent toughness despite its high hardness and wear resistance.

ELMAX, on the other hand, boasts excellent toughness, with a good resistance to chipping and cracking, making it ideal for knives expected to endure heavy-duty tasks.

Corrosion Resistance

Corrosion resistance determines how well the steel can resist rust and degradation.

Thanks to its high Chromium content (20%), M390 offers outstanding corrosion resistance, making it an excellent choice for knives expected to endure wet or corrosive environments.

ELMAX, containing 18% Chromium, also provides impressive corrosion resistance but falls slightly short of the corrosion resistance exhibited by M390.

Ease of Sharpening

Ease of Sharpening refers to how simple the steel is to sharpen with conventional methods. It usually inversely correlates with edge retention and hardness.

M390, given its hardness and wear resistance, is relatively challenging to sharpen. However, once sharpened, it retains its edge for an extended period.

ELMAX is also slightly difficult to sharpen due to its high wear resistance, but it is considered easier to sharpen than M390 and retains its edge well.

Edge Retention

Edge retention reflects how well a steel maintains its sharp edge during use.

Due to its high hardness and wear resistance, M390 exhibits superb edge retention, keeping its sharp edge for prolonged periods.

ELMAX also offers commendable edge retention but falls slightly short of the edge retention offered by M390.

Price

M390 is considered a premium knife steel and comes with a heftier price tag than ELMAX, justified by its high performance characteristics and excellent properties.

ELMAX, while also a high-performing steel, is generally more affordable than M390, providing a more budget-friendly alternative without drastically sacrificing performance.

Conclusion

Both M390 and ELMAX are high-quality blade steels, each presenting its own advantages. M390 is renowned for its superior hardness, corrosion resistance, and impressive edge retention, making it an excellent choice for knives expected to maintain performance across a broad spectrum of tasks. ELMAX, while slightly softer than M390, boasts excellent toughness and good corrosion resistance, making it ideal for heavy-duty knives and those expected to resist chipping and breaking.

Ultimately, the choice between M390 and ELMAX will depend on the intended use of the knife and personal preference. Both steels are excellent choices for knives and are favored by numerous knife makers and manufacturers worldwide. As always, when investing in a knife, it is crucial to opt for a reputable brand and manufacturer to fully experience the potential of the chosen steel.

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.”