M390MK Knife Steel Review – Is It Really An Upgrade?

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Last updated on July 14th, 2023 at 02:41 pm

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M390MK knife steel is a high-performance variant of M390 steel, renowned for its impressive properties that make it an ideal material for premium knives and blades. Manufactured by BOHLER-UDDENHOLM, M390MK benefits from the company’s 3rd generation technology, which has refined its composition for enhanced performance. The primary difference between M390MK and the standard M390 is the higher carbon content, which contributes to its increased strength and other desirable characteristics.

Bohler M390 steel has been adopted by various knife manufacturers due to its exceptional wear resistance and edge retention. Although it shares some similarities with other premium steels, the unique attributes of M390MK set it apart, making it a popular choice for high-end knives and cutting tools. It traces its origins to the Böhler Edelstahl GmbH & Co KG factory in Kapfenberg, Austria, well known for producing specialty steels that demonstrate exceptional durability and performance.

In the world of knives and cutting tools, M390MK steel has quickly gained a reputation for its superior properties and performance. Its high carbon content, combined with other carefully-selected alloying elements, results in a blade material that excels in edge retention, corrosion resistance, and overall durability. As a result, M390MK has become a top choice for both knife enthusiasts and professionals seeking the best materials available for their cutting instruments.

M390MK Knife Steel Composition

M390MK knife steel is a variant of the popular M390 steel, known for its excellent wear resistance and toughness. This steel is produced by Böhler, an Austrian manufacturer specializing in specialty steels that exhibit impressive performance characteristics. The primary difference between M390 and M390MK lies in the carbon content of the steel, which is higher in M390MK.

In terms of composition, M390MK steel contains a mix of elements that contribute to its remarkable properties. Key elements present in this steel include chromium, molybdenum, tungsten, vanadium, silicon, manganese, and, of course, a higher carbon content compared to regular M390.

Here is an overview of each element’s role in the steel:

  • Chromium: Provides enhanced corrosion resistance, hardenability, and wear resistance.
  • Molybdenum: Contributes to the hardness, toughness, and wear resistance of the steel.
  • Tungsten: Improves wear resistance, hardenability, and retains hardness at high temperatures.
  • Vanadium: Offers increased wear resistance and promotes the formation of hard, sturdy carbides in the steel.
  • Silicon: Enhances the overall strength and hardness of the steel.
  • Manganese: Boosts hardenability and tensile strength while promoting a fine, dense grain structure.
  • Carbon: The higher carbon content in M390MK steel significantly contributes to its hardness, wear resistance, and overall performance.

The unique combination of these elements makes M390MK a top choice for high-performance knives and cutting tools. It exhibits exceptional wear resistance, toughness, and edge retention, making it a popular choice among knife enthusiasts and professionals alike. The powder metallurgy process used in producing this steel further refines the grain structure and ensures a consistent distribution of these elements, resulting in a steel that is both reliable and durable.

Properties of M390MK Steel

M390MK is an exclusive variation of the popular M390 steel, specifically developed by Microtech in collaboration with Böhler to enhance its properties for better performance. This steel is known for its exceptional wear resistance, high hardness, and excellent corrosion resistance, making it ideal for a wide range of applications, including knife making.

One notable aspect of M390MK steel is its hardness, which helps maintain its sharpness for extended periods. The steel’s high hardness ensures excellent edge retention, allowing the knife to withstand rigorous cutting tasks without dulling too quickly. Due to its chemical composition, M390MK also offers impressive wear resistance, ensuring your knife remains durable and functional even after prolonged use.

In addition to its superior hardness and wear resistance, M390MK is admired for its excellent corrosion resistance. With 12-15% Chromium content present in the steel, it offers higher resistance to rust and corrosion than other knife steels in the market. This makes M390MK an ideal choice for knives that will be exposed to harsh environments or require constant handling, as it remains unaffected by moisture or corrosion.

Toughness is an essential characteristic in knife steel, as it influences the steel’s ability to withstand impact and stress without breaking or chipping. Despite the high hardness of M390MK steel, it still provides a fair level of toughness. While it may not be the toughest steel available, it strikes an excellent balance between hardness, edge retention, corrosion resistance, and toughness.

The unique abrasion-resistant properties of M390MK steel also make it quite suitable for processing tasks involving abrasive materials. Its chemical composition and microstructure contribute to its remarkable ability to withstand wear and tear, giving you a reliable and lasting tool.

In conclusion, M390MK steel is a remarkable material for knife making, boasting high hardness, exceptional wear resistance, corrosion resistance, and edge retention. Its balanced properties make it well-suited for various applications, providing you with a reliable and resilient choice for your cutting tools.

Heat Treatment

M390MK knife steel, a variant of M390 steel, is known for its excellent corrosion resistance, wear resistance, and edge retention. The heat treatment process is crucial to achieving these properties and ensuring the best performance of the knife.

One popular method for heat treating M390 steel is to first preheat at 1475°F (803°C) for 10 minutes, then ramp up the temperature to 2150°F (1177°C) and hold it for 30 minutes 1. Following this, the steel should be quickly cooled by plate quenching or other rapid quenching methods. Quenching is vital for the steel, as it seeks to achieve a cooling rate of at least -100°C/s for the best and most consistent results 2.

After the rapid quenching, it is recommended to further cool the steel using a sub-zero treatment with dry ice and acetone. This step helps to further harden the steel and achieve a higher hardness level, typically around 59.5 HRC 3.

The final step in the heat treatment process is tempering. Temper the M390 steel at 375°F (190°C) for two separate two-hour intervals. This process refines the microstructure of the steel, boosting its toughness and reducing any brittleness that may have formed during the previous steps.

It is important to note that the heat treatment process may vary slightly depending on the specific M390MK composition and the desired final properties of the knife steel. Always follow the manufacturer’s guidelines to ensure the best results tailored to your specific knife steel variant.

Comparison with Other Knife Steels

M390 is a high-performance knife steel known for its excellent edge retention, corrosion resistance, and toughness. It is often compared to other steels due to its balanced properties.

When compared to 52100, a classic high carbon steel, M390 is far more corrosion-resistant and has better edge retention. However, 52100 can be easier to sharpen and tends to be less expensive.

D2 and A2 are both tool steels with exemplary durability, but M390 steel holds a sharper edge for a longer time. D2 provides decent corrosion resistance, while A2 offers exceptional toughness, but neither achieve the same level of corrosion resistance as M390.

CTS-204P shares many similarities with M390, as they are both high-performance steels. They offer similar levels of edge retention and corrosion resistance, making them both excellent choices for demanding applications.

H1 steel is a stainless steel known for its outstanding corrosion resistance, particularly in marine environments. While H1 performs admirably in resisting corrosion, it lacks the edge retention of M390.

CPM 20CV is another steel that shares a similar composition and performance with M390. These two steels are often compared side by side due to their exceptional edge retention and corrosion resistance.

In comparison to 440C and 154CM, M390 steel provides better edge retention and corrosion resistance. 440C and 154CM steels are widely popular for their good overall performance, but M390 stands out for its superior performance.

N690 is another stainless steel that offers high corrosion resistance and decent edge retention. However, M390 still holds an edge longer and is generally considered a more premium steel.

Lower-end steels like 420HCAUS-8VG-1, and 8Cr13MoV exhibit a noticeable difference when compared to M390. While these steels are budget-friendly and suitable for everyday use, they lack the edge retention, toughness, and corrosion resistance offered by M390.

Lastly, VG-10 falls somewhere between the high-end M390 and more budget-friendly options. It offers excellent corrosion resistance and respectable edge retention, but M390 still outperforms it overall.

It’s important to consider both the performance and application when choosing the right knife steel. M390 is a top-tier option for those seeking superior edge retention, corrosion resistance, and toughness, but it’s essential to weigh these benefits against the cost and ease of maintenance required.

Applications and Uses

M390MK knife steel is a relatively new steel in the knife market. Its primary attributes include high wear resistance and outstanding edge retention, making it a popular choice for various types of knives and tools.

One major application for M390MK steel is in the manufacturing of knives used for outdoor activities such as camping and bushcraft. These knives, including fixed blade knives, benefit from the steel’s durability and longevity, allowing users to rely on their blades’ sharpness and strength for extended periods without constant maintenance or sharpening.

Another area where M390MK steel excels is in the construction of blades for utility and everyday carry (EDC) knives. These knives often undergo rigorous daily use and require a blade that can withstand wear and tear while retaining its sharpness. With M390MK steel, users have confidence knowing their blade will perform reliably even after repeated use.

Although primarily associated with knife-making, M390MK steel’s characteristics lend themselves well to other applications, such as the production of screws and barrels. The wear resistance and durability of this steel make it suitable for components subject to intense friction or pressure, ensuring longer service life and reduced maintenance requirements.

In summary, M390MK knife steel offers a versatile material for a wide range of applications, particularly in the areas of knife production, outdoor activities, and heavy-duty components. Its impressive wear resistance and edge retention make it a top choice for those seeking reliable performance and longevity in their tools and equipment.

Sharpening and Maintenance

M390MK steel is known for its impressive edge retention and wear resistance. However, this toughness can also make it a bit challenging to sharpen. With the right tools and techniques, it’s possible to achieve an excellent sharp edge on M390MK knives.

Start by using a high-quality sharpening stone or set of stones to help you get the best results. Some users have reported success sharpening M390 steel on Suehiro 1000/6000 grit stones, while others have opted for diamond plates to cut through the steel more efficiently. Whichever option you choose, it’s crucial to invest in a reliable sharpening system to properly maintain your M390MK knife.

When sharpening, pay attention to the angle of the edge. A consistent angle is key for achieving a sharp edge and maintaining it over time. Most M390MK knives have a factory edge angle between 15°-20° per side. Stick to this angle if you want to maintain the original edge geometry, or experiment with a higher or lower angle depending on your preference and intended use for the knife.

Once the primary edge is sharpened, it’s time to polish the blade. Polishing not only helps to remove any remaining burrs, but it also enhances the overall sharpness and edge longevity. Use a polishing or stropping compound, followed by a leather strop, to achieve a mirror-like finish. The process of polishing can be time-consuming, but it is a crucial step in ensuring optimal performance from your M390MK knife.

Regular maintenance is critical for keeping your M390MK knife in top-notch condition. Clean the blade with mild soap and water after use, dry it thoroughly, and apply a light coat of oil to prevent corrosion. Make sure to store your knife in a dry, well-ventilated area and check for signs of wear or damage periodically.

With proper sharpening and maintenance, you can ensure that your M390MK knife stays sharp and functional for a long time. By taking the time to learn the right techniques and investing in quality sharpening tools, you’ll be able to enjoy the full benefits of this high-performance steel.

Price and Availability

M390MK knife steel is a relatively exclusive and high-end option in the world of knives. Its superior properties like high wear resistance, excellent edge retention, and corrosion resistance make it a popular choice among knife enthusiasts. As a result, knives made with M390MK steel tend to be more expensive compared to those made with other, more common steel types.

You can find M390MK steel knives available on well-known online platforms such as Amazon.com and specialist knife stores like Discount Cutlery. Prices for these knives can range from $100 to over $500, depending on the brand and the specific model. High-end folding pocket knives can cost around $500, while some fixed blade options can be found at lower prices.

Though M390MK steel is not as widely available as other steels, the demand for it has been steadily increasing. This is due to its reputation as one of the best performing knife steels on the market. As more knife manufacturers start incorporating M390MK steel in their products, the supply and variety of options are expected to grow. This may also influence the price range over time, making it more accessible to a wider range of customers.

In summary, M390MK knife steel is an exclusive and expensive option that offers exceptional performance. Its availability is constantly improving, and you can find knives made with this steel at various price points on popular online platforms and specialized knife stores. Keep in mind, though, that the excellent properties it offers come at a higher cost compared to more common steel types.

Advantages and Drawbacks of M390MK

M390MK knife steel is a high-quality steel that boasts several advantages. One of its key benefits is its durable nature, which stems from a Rockwell C hardness rating of 65 RC, making it comparable to some of the hardest steels in the market such as A1045, S30V, and CRN80A. This high level of hardness translates to excellent sharpness retention and robustness, allowing the knife to maintain its edge even after prolonged use.

Another advantage of M390MK is its impressive resistance to wear. The steel’s chemical composition and production process contribute to its wear and tear resistance. For instance, Microtech collaborated with Böhler, the steelmaker, to enhance the steel properties of M390MK for better edge retention, corrosion resistance, and polishing. As a result, the steel can withstand prolonged use and maintain its performance in various environments.

However, M390MK steel has a few drawbacks. One such limitation is its machinability and grindability. Because of its high hardness, the steel can be quite challenging to work with during knife manufacturing. This challenge may result in higher production costs and lead to relatively more expensive knives.

Moreover, M390MK’s hardness can also hinder its breaking capability. The high hardness level may cause the knife to be brittle under certain conditions, potentially making it prone to chipping or breaking when improperly handled or used on very hard materials.

In summary, the M390MK knife steel offers a confident and robust blade with excellent sharpness retention and resistance to wear, making it suitable for high-end knives. On the flip side, some drawbacks, such as machinability and breakability, must also be considered when choosing a knife made from this steel.

Manufacturing Process

M390MK knife steel is a cutting-edge material known for its excellent edge retention, corrosion resistance, and durability. The manufacturing process for M390MK employs advanced powder metallurgy techniques to achieve a fine-grained and uniform structure, allowing for superior performance in many high-end knives.

Powder metallurgy is a process that transforms metal powders into solid metal components by applying heat and pressure. The production of M390MK starts with the selection of high-quality stainless and tool steel powders, including elements such as Chromium, Vanadium, and Tungsten, to provide strength and wear resistance. The powders are then carefully mixed to create the desired steel composition.

Once the metal powder mixture is ready, it is subjected to a hot isostatic pressing (HIP) process, where high pressure and temperature are applied simultaneously. This method consolidates the powders into a solid, dense, and highly homogeneous material. The result is a preform, which is then processed into an ingot through a series of forging and rolling steps.

The ingot is then further processed into billets, which are thick bars of M390MK steel. These billets can be hot-rolled, cold-worked, or machined into various shapes and sizes to serve as the foundation for high-quality knives.

An essential aspect of the M390MK steel manufacturing process is achieving the desired grain structure. This steel is distinguished by its fine and even grain structure, which contributes to its exceptional wear resistance and toughness. The powder metallurgy process plays a vital role in achieving this grain structure, allowing for a high degree of control and uniformity in the final product.

M390MK steel shares some similarities with other high-performing knife steels such as CPM-20CV and Böhler-Uddeholm M390. These steels all benefit from powder metallurgy advancements, which enable them to exhibit top-notch performance in various applications, especially in the production of high-end knives.

In summary, the use of powder metallurgy in producing M390MK knife steel facilitates a fine-grained, uniform structure that enhances its performance and versatility. This manufacturing process helps to create knives that are known for their exceptional edge retention, corrosion resistance, and overall durability.

Notable Companies and Products

The world of knife steel has witnessed the emergence of impressive alloys, one of which is the M390MK steel. This high-performance steel has garnered a lot of attention due to its excellent wear resistance and edge retention properties. Several knife manufacturers have adopted M390MK in crafting their products, and some notable examples are mentioned below.

Microtech, under the leadership of Tony Marfione, is known for producing innovative and sophisticated knives using M390MK steel. They offer a range of folding knives and fixed blades, catering to varying needs of users. Microtech’s use of M390MK enables them to deliver exceptional performance and durability. You can find various models of Microtech knives at BladeHQ, a renowned online platform specializing in knives, where a wide assortment of choices is available for enthusiasts.

Another noteworthy example is the Summit Knife Half Dome 6. Crafted with expertise, this compact knife offers versatility and utilizes Böhler M390 steel, which exhibits remarkable performance and long-lasting sharpness. Its lightweight design and easy handling have made it a favorite among outdoor enthusiasts.

Böhler M390 steel is a sought-after material in the knife-making industry, originating from the Böhler Edelstahl GmbH & Co KG factory in Kapfenberg, Austria. Known for producing specialty steels with extraordinary wear resistance, Böhler M390 is highly valued for its exceptional qualities and has become a popular choice for numerous knife manufacturers.

In conclusion, M390MK knife steel has emerged as a remarkable material in the knife-making world, and its adoption by companies like Microtech and Summit Knife showcases the confidence in its performance and resilience. The range of knives available at BladeHQ further expands the accessibility of these high-quality products to knife aficionados.

Future of M390MK Steel

M390MK steel is an innovative addition to the world of high-quality knife steel. With advancements in metallurgical processes, manufacturers continually push the boundaries of steel performance. The future of M390MK steel will likely see it gaining more traction in the industrial market as companies and consumers alike recognize its benefits.

In terms of steel consumption, it’s worth noting that as awareness of M390MK steel grows, so will its demand. The steel’s impressive wear resistance and ability to maintain a sharp edge make it a popular choice for knife makers and enthusiasts. This steel has already piqued the interest of renowned knife manufacturers like Microtech, as they announced their intentions to use M390MK steel in a recent Instagram post.

As the industrial market becomes increasingly competitive, the need for materials that offer outstanding performance and durability is paramount. With its wear-resistant qualities and ability to withstand harsh conditions, M390MK steel has the potential to become a game-changer in various sectors, including automotive, aerospace, and even construction.

In addition, future modifications to M390MK steel could lead to even more improvements in its properties. Researchers and engineers are continually exploring new ways to optimize steel composition and processing, which may result in further enhancements to M390MK’s performance.

One possible direction for M390MK steel evolution might be a focus on improving its corrosion resistance. While it is already a robust and versatile material, there is always room for improvements that could make it even more appealing to a wider variety of applications.

In conclusion, the future of M390MK steel promises growth and innovation as its reputation for quality and performance continues to spread. With the potential to impact various industries and an ongoing focus on improvements in metallurgical processes, M390MK steel is well-positioned to become a vital player in the world of high-performance materials.

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.”