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Knife Steel 101: Types, Properties, and Choosing the Best Knife Steel

best knife steel


Welcome to our knife site, the ultimate destination for all things knife-related. We cover everything from detailed overviews of knife steel characteristics to recommendations for custom knife makers. Today, we are pleased to present our feature article: ‘Best Steel for Knives’.


best steel for knivesIn the production of a knife, great attention must be given to the selection of steel used for the blade. Blade steel, along with edge geometry and design, is a critical factor that determines the performance of the knife. 

The quality of the steel used in manufacturing a knife is dependent on the alloy used, which is typically a combination of carbon and iron with other elements added for specific applications. 

Additionally, the varying types of additive elements and techniques of rolling and heating the blade can result in different types of steel. When selecting a type of steel for a knife blade, several key properties must be considered. 

So In this post, we’re going to tell you about the best steels for knife manufacturing and how they can impact performance.

types of steel

Factors to consider when choosing the best knife steel for manufacturing

When choosing the best knife steel for manufacturing, several factors must be considered to ensure that, the knife meets the intended use and performs well. Here are some of the critical factors to consider:


Hardness implies the blade’s ability to resist deformation when subject to stress or any forces applied.  The hardness of knife steels is immediately connected with strength and is normally measured using the  Rockwell hardness scale.  The hardness of the steel affects how well the blade retains its edge. Harder steel tends to hold an edge longer but can be more challenging to sharpen. On the other hand, softer steel is easier to sharpen but may require more frequent sharpening. At the same time, hard steel blades can be brittle and tend to chip or even shatter under impact.

knife steel chart


Toughness is the blade’s endurance against cracks or chips when subject to abrupt stress or impact. Tougher steel can withstand heavy use without chipping or breaking. Mind that chipping is a major hazard for any knife. This factor is especially important for knives used in outdoor or survival situations.

knife steels chart

selling custom knivesCorrosion resistance

 Depending on the intended use and environment, the blade may be exposed to moisture and harmful elements that can cause rust and corrosion. Corrosion resistance represents a metal’s aptitude to stand against corrosion or rust caused by factors like moisture or salt. Corrosion resistance is because chromium forms a “passive film” of chromium oxide, which prevents further corrosion. Without the passive film, rust forms which tend to flake off and the steel continues to corrode. More chromium means that the passive film on the steel surface is more complete and better at preventing corrosion. There is no fixed limit at which a certain amount of chromium is enough to prevent corrosion, it depends on the environment. Stainless steel is often chosen for its corrosion resistance. However, not all stainless steel is created equal, and some grades of stainless steel are more corrosion-resistant than others.

knife steel

Wear resistance

Wear resistance implies that the steel is able to survive impact from wear of various types. It might be abrasive wear when harder particles impact a softer surface, or adhesive wear when wear debris or grit migrate to a foreign surface. Although wear resistance mainly depends on steel’s hardness, the particular chemistry of the steel is also a substantial factor. Steel with high wear resistance tends to last longer and require less frequent sharpening. However, higher wear resistance can also lead to decreased toughness, so it’s important to strike a balance between wear resistance and toughness.

custom hunting knives

Edge retention

Edge retention indicates how long the blade remains sharp enough to perform intended operations. There is no prescribed set of standards to measure edge retention and user evaluations of it will often be subjective.  When comparing steels with constant hardness, edge retention depends on the amount and type of carbide in the steel. More carbide and harder carbide provide better edge retention. You should keep in mind that, in endeavoring to have the best of your blade, you will always have to face a trade-off. Balancing a knife’s strength with toughness, or toughness with edge resilience, can be a challenging task. Making a blade extremely hard may pose a risk of its losing toughness and chipping at sudden impact. On the contrary, making your blade very tough may result in its struggling to hold its edge well. It’s all about your intended knife use: how exactly you’re going to use your knife shall define an optimal combination of various factors in the blade steel.

Edge geometry

When it comes to edge retention, edge geometry is another factor to consider because the type of steel chosen will indirectly impact the sharpening angle, and choosing an incorrect sharpening angle will lead to a decrease in the life expectancy of your knife.

steels for knives

Cost of steel

The cost of the steel can vary significantly, and more expensive steel does not necessarily mean better performance. The intended use of the knife should be weighed against the cost of the steel to determine the best value. For example, a high-end chef’s knife may require a more expensive steel to achieve the desired performance, while a utility knife used for everyday tasks may not require such an expensive steel.

Manufacturing constraints

The manufacturing process can also affect the choice of steel. Some steels may be more difficult to work with or require specialized equipment, which can increase manufacturing costs. The intended manufacturing process should be considered when selecting the steel.

best knife steel

Video credit: Knife Steel Nerds.

Common Knife Steel Types and Their Characteristics

There are many types of steel used for making knife blades, each with its characteristics and properties. Here are some of the most common types of knife steel and their characteristics:

Carbon Steel: Carbon steel is a popular choice for knife blades because it is relatively easy to sharpen and holds a sharp edge well. It is also tough and durable. However, it is prone to rust and requires more maintenance than stainless steel.

High-Carbon Steel: High-carbon steel is similar to carbon steel but the difference is that it contains a high percentage of carbon, which makes it tough, durable, and able to hold a sharp edge well. However, just like regular steel, it is also more prone to rust and requires more maintenance than stainless steel.

Stainless Steel: Stainless steel is an alloy of iron, carbon, and other elements that resist corrosion. It is easy to maintain and requires little upkeep, making it a popular choice for kitchen knives. However, stainless steel may not hold an edge as well as high-carbon steel.

Tool Steel: Tool steel is a type of steel that is designed for use in cutting and shaping tools, including knives. It is extremely tough and durable and can hold an edge well. However, it can be more difficult to sharpen than other types of steel.

Powder-metallurgical steel: PM steel is a type of steel that is made by mixing different types of steel powders and then sintering them. It has a fine, even grain structure that makes it strong, durable, and able to hold an edge well.

Damascus Steel Damascus steel  is a type of steel that is made by layering and forging multiple types of steel together. It has a distinctive pattern and is known for its strength, durability, and ability to hold a sharp edge.

These are just a few examples of the many types of knife steel available. When choosing the best steel for a knife, it is important to consider the intended use of the knife and the properties of the steel.


Knife Steel Chart

Choosing the right knife steel depends on what you prioritize in a blade. This chart categorizes common knife steels, highlighting their key properties, advantages, and uses:

Category Steel Type Properties Advantages Common Uses
High-End Steels CPM-S90V, CPM-M4, ZDP-189 Exceptional Edge Retention, High Hardness – Stays sharp for long periods – Excellent for slicing and delicate tasks
– Premium knives – Kitchen knives – EDC for precise cutting
High-End Steels CPM-10V, K390, CPM-S30V Very Good Edge Retention, High Toughness – Balances sharpness with some flex – Good for demanding outdoor use
– Heavy-duty knives – Bushcraft knives – Hunting knives
Mid-Range Steels 154CM, D2, N690, VG-10 Good Edge Retention, Decent Toughness, Corrosion Resistant (Some) – Versatile option for various tasks – Offers a balance of properties
– Everyday carry (EDC) knives – Camping knives – Pocket knives
Mid-Range Steels 52100, AEB-L, 14C28N Good Toughness, Decent Edge Retention, Affordable – Strong and durable for hard use – Easy to sharpen at home
– Work knives – Survival knives – Budget knives
Budget Steels 440C, AUS-8, 8Cr13MoV Lower Cost, Decent Corrosion Resistance – Affordable option for general use – Easy to find and maintain
– Beginner knives – Utility knives – Multi-tools

Consider your priorities:
For extreme sharpness and precise cutting: High-end steels like CPM-S90V.
For a balance of sharpness, toughness, and corrosion resistance: Mid-range steels like CPM-S30V or VG-10.
For durability and affordability: Mid-range steels like 52100 or budget steels like 440C.

knife steel chart

Best Steels for Knives: Ultra High-End Steel Types

This section delves into the realm of ultra high-end steel types, showcasing the pinnacle of materials used in knife manufacturing. It highlights the exceptional qualities these steels possess, such as unparalleled hardness, edge retention, and corrosion resistance, making them the top choice for enthusiasts and professionals seeking the ultimate in performance and durability.

CPM S110V steel


CPM S110V steel is renowned for its remarkable edge retention and wear resistance, setting a high standard in the premium steel category. Engineered with a unique blend of elements, including vanadium and niobium, this steel offers exceptional toughness and resistance to corrosion, making it an ideal choice for high-end knives that demand the best in performance and longevity. It is also worth noting that its advanced properties can make sharpening a challenging task, requiring more effort and specialized tools to achieve a fine edge.

CPM S110V steel knife

Spyderco Military Folding Knife 4″. CPM S110V seemed the logical choice for the blade given its reputation for long-term edge retention and rust resistance.

CPM S90V steel


CPM S90V steel is a top-tier choice for knife enthusiasts, offering an exceptional balance of wear resistance and edge retention, thanks to its high vanadium content. While it commands a premium price, its performance in maintaining a sharp edge and resisting abrasion is nearly unmatched, rivalling that of CPM S110V. However, users should be prepared for the challenge it presents in sharpening, necessitating advanced techniques and tools for proper maintenance.

CPM S90V steel knife

Benchmade 535-3 BUGOUT Folding Knife. Blade material: premium CPM S90V super steel.

M390 steel


M390  steel is a highly regarded super steel that employs third-generation powder metallurgy technology. It boasts a rich composition of chromium, molybdenum, vanadium, and tungsten, delivering outstanding corrosion resistance, exceptional hardness for superior wear resistance, and excellent sharpness and edge retention. Compared to steels like S90V, M390 is somewhat easier to sharpen, making it a preferred choice for those seeking both high performance and maintainability in their cutting tools.

M390 steel knife

Microtech Socom Bravo Folding Knife. Bohler M390 steel blade.

M398 steel


M398 steel is an advanced modification of the well-regarded M390 stainless steel, achieved by enhancing the vanadium and carbon content. This adjustment results in an even higher level of wear resistance and edge retention, surpassing its predecessor. The increase in vanadium and carbon not only improves the steel’s hardness but also its ability to maintain a sharp edge over extended periods of use. M398 steel, with its refined composition, stands out for those who prioritize cutting performance and durability in their tools.

M398 steel knife

Shirogorov Limited Edition RJ Martin Knife. Böhler M398  steel blade.

ZDP-189 steel


ZDP-189 steel is a highly advanced supersteel known for its significant carbon and chromium content, which ensures an exceptional degree of hardness and superior edge retention. This composition, however, makes sharpening ZDP-189 quite challenging due to its extreme hardness. The steel’s high chromium content, approximately 20%, primarily forms carbides with carbon, leaving less free chromium available for corrosion resistance. While ZDP-189 offers outstanding wear resistance and maintains a sharp edge for a prolonged period, its susceptibility to corrosion is higher compared to other stainless steels, making it essential for users to consider proper care and maintenance.

ZDP 189 steel knife

Rockstead SAI-T-ZDP Japanese Folding Knife. ZDP-189 steel mirror finish blade. With proper maintenance, Rocksteads are known to keep a sharp edge for 2-3 years.

Elmax steel


Elmax steel, produced by Bohler-Uddeholm, is a high-performance super steel that combines chromium, vanadium, and molybdenum, offering an impressive balance of wear resistance and corrosion resistance. This steel is distinguished by its ability to perform similarly to high carbon steels in terms of edge retention and ease of sharpening, despite being stainless. Its well-rounded attributes make Elmax highly regarded as possibly the ‘best all-around’ knife steel, suitable for a wide range of applications where durability, edge holding, and maintenance ease are paramount. The unique composition ensures that knives made from Elmax steel are not only long-lasting but also capable of withstanding harsh conditions while maintaining a sharp edge.

Elmax steel knife

Heretic Knives Custom Colossus OTF AUTO. The blade is made from Elmax stainless steel.

CPM-20CV steel


CPM-20CV is a premium grade steel produced by Crucible Industries, often compared to the renowned M390 steel by Bohler-Uddeholm due to their similar compositions. It is characterized by its exceptional combination of high wear resistance, outstanding edge retention, and good corrosion resistance, attributes that stem from its high chromium content, alongside vanadium and molybdenum. This steel is designed to offer the best of both worlds, providing the toughness and durability needed for high-performance cutting tools while ensuring the blade remains sharp and resistant to the elements. CPM-20CV’s balanced properties make it a preferred choice for premium knives and cutting instruments where superior performance and longevity are critical.

CPM 20CV steel knife

Gerber Savvy Folder. Premium CPM 20CV steel.

Premium Steel Types: Choose One of The Best Knife Steel

In the realm of premium knife steels, CTS-XHP, CPM M4, CPM S35VN, and CPM S30V stand out for their exceptional qualities. CTS-XHP is celebrated for its balanced combination of hardness, corrosion resistance, and ease of sharpening, making it a favorite among enthusiasts for everyday carry knives. CPM M4 is revered for its extreme toughness and superior wear resistance, ideal for heavy-duty cutting tasks. CPM S35VN takes the revered qualities of its predecessor, S30V, and enhances them with increased toughness and ease of sharpening, offering a near-perfect balance of strength, edge retention, and resistance to corrosion. Lastly, CPM S30V is lauded for setting the benchmark in high-end performance, with its pioneering use of vanadium carbides ensuring both high hardness and outstanding durability.

CTS-XHP steel


CTS-XHP is another new knife steel with very good hardness and edge retention. A better edge retention results in a more strenuous sharpening. Also, a higher corrosion resistance contributes to a bigger risk of chipping.

CTS XHP steel knifeSpyderco Techno 2 Pocket Knife. Stonewash finish CTS-XHP stainless blade.

CPM M4 steel


A high-efficiency tool steel with excellent toughness and edge retention indices among carbon steels. Crucible’s patented Crucible Particle Metallurgy process provides an exceedingly homogeneous, stable, and grindable product featuring outstanding levels of abrasion resistance and toughness.

CPM M4 steel knife

Benchmade – Bailout Axis Knife. The blade is made of CPM-M4, a super steel, which a corrosion-resistant.

CPM S35VN steel


A superior version of the S30V steel. A finer grain structure and small quantities of niobium improve machine processing properties, toughness, and ability to sharpen. Arguably, the ultimate in ‘mainstream’ knife steels with superb edge retention, toughness, and stain resistance.

CPM S35VN steel knife

Zero Tolerance 0452CF; Pocket Knife 4.1”. Knife designer Dmitry Sinkevich. CPM S35VN steel blade shows amazing toughness and resistance to edge chipping, with improved edge retention.

CPM S30V steel


This steel has excellent edge retention and withstands rust with ease. It is normally used for high-end pocket knives and expensive kitchen cutlery. The steel is highly regarded for the fine balance of edge retention, hardness, and toughness.

CPM S30V steel knife

Buck 841 Sprint Pro Knife. The CPM S30V stainless steel blade.

Top-quality Knife steels: High-End Steel Types

AUS 10 steel


A step up from AUS-8, this Japanese steel boasts improved corrosion resistance and better edge retention, thanks to its higher carbon and vanadium content. While AUS 10 offers great toughness, it remains fairly easy to sharpen to a keen edge, striking a balance between durability and maintenance ease.

AUS 10 steel knife

Schrade Adder, 1182521 Satin AUS-10, FRN neck knife.

154CM steel


A relatively hard steel that has fine edge holding, an excellent level of corrosion resistance (despite having less chromium), and decent toughness good enough for most uses. This steel is also relatively easy to sharpen and used in many premium pocket knives.

154CM steel knife

Bear OPS Small Bear Song VIII Butterfly Knife. Satin-finished, bayonet blade made from 154CM steel.


ATS-34 steel


The Japanese counterpart to the 154CM steel (see above) has very similar characteristics. Good edge retention and fair rust resistance have made it popular with knife makers.

ATS 34 steel knife

Dew Hara DH-60B knife. ATS-34 steel blade.

D2 steel


D2 steel is a high-carbon, high-chromium tool steel distinguished by its excellent wear resistance and edge retention. It is considered “semi-stainless” due to its 11% to 13% chromium content, offering moderate corrosion resistance. Despite being harder and more challenging to sharpen than many steels, its durability and ability to maintain a sharp edge make it a popular choice for demanding knife-making applications.

D2 steel knife

Kershaw 2076 Strata KVT Pocket Knife. Made from wear-resistant D2 high-carbon steel.


VG-10 steel


Very similar to 154CM and ATS-34 steels, with a bit more chromium to increase rust resistance and a relish of Vanadium to make it a bit tougher than these two. Relatively hard and easy to sharpen.

VG 10 steel knife

Real Steel Huginn EDC Wild And Pocket Knife. Blade Material: VG-10 steel.

H1 steel


The expensive Japanese stainless steel is believed to be the ultimate in corrosion resistance (basically does not rust). However, edge retention is (predictably) poor. Good for diving but, of course, not for every day carrying knives.

H1 steel knife Spyderco Tasman Salt 2 Pocket Knife. Ultra-corrosion-resistant H-1 steel blade.


N680 steel


A relish of nitrogen (0.20%) and a dollop of chromium (17%) ensure this steel’s exceeding rust resistance. This fine-grained steel can take a very fine edge.

Bohler N680 steel knife

Trauma First Response Tool: 3.4″. Blade Material: Bohler N680 Stainless Steel.

N690 steel


This high-end stainless steel has the edge holding of D2 with less toughness and better corrosion resistance. The durable, wear-resistant, hard knife steel is common in many premium knives.

N690 steel knife

Amare Knives Paragon Slip Joint Knife. Bohler N690 steel provides a hard blade with excellent wear resistance.

Mid-Upper Range Steel Types

440C steel


A decent all-round stainless steel commonly used in many mass-produced pocket knives. Fairly tough and wear-resistant, this steel features excellent stain resistance. Has fair edge retention and corrosion resistance, while can be sharpened pretty easily.

440C steel knife

Bohler N695 steel


An improved version of 440C, this stainless steel is used in many survival knives. A softer steel as compared to most other available higher-end steels, it is similar to VG-10.

N695 steel knifeThe popular Boker Arbolito Hunter knife. The blade is made of Bohler N695 stainless steel.


AUS-8 steel


The Japanese alloy is slightly more resistant to corrosion than 440C but less hard. Has similar toughness but poorer edge retention, while being easy to sharpen to a razor edge.

AUS 8 knife steelCold Steel OSS Double-Edged Fighter fixed blade knife. Japanese AUS 8A stainless steel blade.

CTS-BD1 steel


A vacuum-melted stainless steel comparable to AUS-8 and 8Cr13MoV. A relish of chromium imparts better corrosion resistance. Is easy to sharpen but has poorer wear resistance than similar high-carbide steels.

CTS BD1 steel knifeSpyderco Polestar Liner Lock Knife. Blade of American-made CTS BD1N stainless steel.

8Cr13MoV steel


Comparable to AUS-8 but features a bit higher carbon content. Easy to manufacture and being a part of the CR13 series, rich in carbon and chromium, it is used for kitchen knives and home scissors.

8Cr13MoV steel knife

Cold Steel 62K1 SR1 Lite Folding Knife. Blade of affordable 8Cr14MoV steel.

14C28N steel


This Swedish stainless steel is considered an upgrade to their 13C26 steel with the intent of achieving better rust resistance by adding some nitrogen. A fair mid-range steel that can be made very sharp.

14C28N steel knife

Real Steel Knives H6 Plus Folding knife 3.75″. Blade of Sandvik 14C28N steel.

Low-Mid Range Steel Types

440A steel


Very similar to 420HC but with a bit more carbon which provides increased wear resistance and better edge retention but poorer anti-rust qualities.

440A steel knife

Boker Magnum Eternal Classic. The knife blade is made of satin-finished 440A steel.

420HC steel


Generally deemed as the ultimate of the 420 steels, 420HC is similar to 420 steel. An increased rate of carbon makes 420HC harder than 420 steel. If properly heat treated it can be honed to fine edge retention and corrosion resistance. A lower-mid range steel that has become quite popular due to its affordability and superb corrosion resistance for the price.

420HC steel knife

Leatherman FREE T2 Multi-Tool Pocket Knife. Blade Material: 420HC Steel.

13C26 steel


A version of the AEB-L steel was originally developed for razor blades. Comparable to 440A steel, however, a higher carbon-to-chromium ratio makes it a bit harder at the cost of rust resistance. In the real world, the two steels tend to perform quite similarly.

13C26 steel knife

Buck Bond Arms Liner Lock Folding Knife. The blade of the knife is made of Sandvik 13C26 steel.

1095 steel


This standard carbon steel (about 1% carbon) has low corrosion resistance and average edge retention. However it features high toughness – that is, this steel withstands chipping, and is easy to hone to a very sharp edge. Also, this steel is moderately priced in terms of production. 1095 is popular in heavy-duty and hunting knives facing more roughness than a typical EDC knife.

1095 steel knife

TOPS Knives Steel Eagle 107E Fixed. 1095 Carbon steel Blade.

Low-End Steel Types

420J steel


A low-end steel that is still fine for many general-use applications. A low carbon content (below 0.5%) results in a softer blade and poorer edge retention. However, it is generally tough, and highly stain resistant but poorly resistant to wear and tear. This steel is typically used in budget mass-produced knives.

420J steel knife

K.I.S.S. Folding Pocket Knife with Frame Lock 5500. The knife blade is 420J stainless steel.

AUS-6 steel


The Japanese counterpart to the 420 series steel. This low-quality soft steel has low carbon content but features a fair corrosion resistance index.


AUS 6 steel knife

Hattori SAN-GECKO Limited Edition GECKO-11 Blue Bowie Hunter. AUS-6 Molybdenum/Vanadium stainless steel blade.

Popular Applications For Different Types Of Knives

The best knife steel for a particular application depends on several factors, including the intended use of the knife, the user’s skill level, and personal preferences. Here are some examples of knife applications and the recommended types of steel:

Kitchen knives: Kitchen knives are used for food preparation and require steel that is corrosion-resistant and able to hold a sharp edge well. Stainless steel, such as 440C or VG-10, is often recommended for kitchen knives.

Outdoor/survival knives: Outdoor/survival knives are commonly used for camping, hunting, skinning, and cutting. They require steel that is tough, durable, and able to withstand heavy use. High-carbon steel or tool steel, such as 1095 or D2, are often recommended for survival knives.

Pocket knives: Pocket knives are used for everyday carry and require steel that is easy to sharpen and able to hold a sharp edge well. Stainless steel or powdered steel, such as S30V or S35VN, is often recommended for pocket knives.

Tactical/military knives: Tactical/military knives are used for combat and other military applications such as self-defense. They require a steel that is tough, durable, and able to pierce effectively. High-carbon steel or tool steel, such as 154CM or CPM-S30V, are often recommended for tactical/military knives.

Hunting knives: Hunting knives are used for skinning and field dressing game. They also require steel that is tough and durable. High-carbon steel or Damascus steel is often recommended for hunting knives.

These are just a few examples of knife applications and the recommended types of steel. When choosing the best steel for a knife, it is essential to keep your intended use in mind and make sure that the type of knife steel corresponds with other factors such as toughness and wear resistance.

Manufacturing Considerations

There are some important manufacturing considerations for knife production, which can impact the decision on which knife steel to choose. best knife steel

Machinability of different knife steels: Different steels have varying levels of machinability, which is the ability to be cut, drilled, or shaped with ease. Some steels, such as stainless steel, can be more difficult to machine due to their toughness and hardness. Manufacturers must consider the machinability of the steel when selecting the appropriate type for the intended knife.

Heat treatment requirements: Heat treatment is a critical step in the manufacturing process that affects the steel’s properties and ultimately, the knife’s performance. Different steels have varying heat treatment requirements to achieve the desired properties. Manufacturers must follow the correct heat treatment process to achieve the desired performance of the knife.

Compatibility with different manufacturing methods: The manufacturing method used can also affect the choice of steel. Some steels may be more compatible with certain manufacturing methods, such as forging or stamping, than others. Manufacturers must consider the intended manufacturing method when selecting the appropriate steel for the intended knife.

Corrosion resistance requirements: Corrosion resistance is an important consideration for knives that will be used in environments where they may be exposed to moisture, such as in outdoor or kitchen settings. Stainless steel is often the go-to choice for knives that require corrosion resistance, although other types of steel can be coated or treated to improve their resistance.

Surface finish requirements: The surface finish of the blade can affect the knife’s performance and appearance. The manufacturing method used can affect the finish, and some steels may require additional steps, such as polishing or sandblasting, to achieve the desired finish.

By considering these manufacturing considerations, knife manufacturers can select the appropriate steel and manufacturing method for the intended knife and produce high-quality knives that meet the needs and preferences of their customers.

FAQs section

What’s the difference between stainless and carbon steel?

Stainless steel contains more chromium, making it more resistant to rust and corrosion compared to carbon steel. However, carbon steels often have superior edge retention and can be sharpened to a finer edge. The  choice between stainless and carbon steel  often boils down to the specific requirements of the user and the intended application of the knife.

Why is heat treatment important for knife steel?

Heat treatment  is a controlled process that changes the microstructure of the steel. It can significantly affect a knife’s performance in terms of hardness, toughness, and edge retention.

Are harder steels always better?

Not necessarily. While harder steels can retain an edge longer, they may also be more brittle and prone to chipping. It’s a balance between hardness and toughness.

How does blade thickness impact a knife’s performance?

Thickness can influence a knife’s strength, weight, and cutting ability. A thinner blade may slice better, while a thicker blade might be more robust and durable.

How often should I sharpen my knife?

It depends on the steel type and how frequently you use the knife. High-quality steels may retain an edge longer, but always  sharpen your knife  when it starts to feel dull to maintain optimum performance.

What’s the significance of Rockwell Hardness (HRC)?

HRC is a measure of a steel’s hardness. While a higher HRC often indicates better edge retention, it might also mean the steel is more brittle.

Is there a ‘best’ steel for kitchen knives?

Different tasks might require different steels. For instance, a  chef’s knife  might benefit from a harder steel for edge retention, while a filleting knife may need more flexibility.

Does price always indicate the quality of knife steel?

While higher-priced knives often use premium steels, it’s essential to research and not assume that a higher price always means better quality. Other factors like brand, craftsmanship, and design also play a role in pricing.

Can I use a single type of steel for various tasks?

While some steels are versatile, specialized tasks might benefit from specific steel types. For instance, a dive knife would benefit from highly corrosion-resistant steel, while a bushcraft knife might prioritize toughness.


In conclusion, selecting the right kind of knife steel is crucial to producing a high-quality knife that performs well and meets the intended use of the knife. If the correct type of steel is not used, it can lead to several manufacturing defects and even design flaws, which can impact how the knife performs in the field. Therefore, it’s important to consider the choice of steel because it affects the knife’s performance, durability, how it’s manufactured, and maintenance requirements.

Author: Aleks Nemtcev | Connect with me on LinkedIn


PM stainless steels American Society for Materials.

Elmax SuperClean Uddeholm

ZDP-189 Hitachi Metals Ltd

M398 Microclean Bohler

Bohler M390 Microclean Data Sheet

CPM S90V steel: Crucible Industries

CPM S110V steel: Crucible Industries


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  • Marek

    Hello, I am currently looking for a premium pocket knife, but I don’t plan to use it solely as a shelf ornament. I’ve been eyeing products from Kansept and WE Knife made with CPM 20CV steel, but they also have more attractive versions made with Damascus steel. This got me thinking: which is better? Damascus steel or CPM 20CV powdered steel? I’m also wondering if modern Damascus steels are just “decorative” or if they really are “super steels.”

  • Abdullah Sinan Yazıcıoğlu

    Hello, first of all, thank you very much for your explanations. I am a professional fisherman. I throw a longline. I often go to the sea by boat. I also bait longlines before I go. These baits are octopus, cuttlefish, and sometimes fish. Can you recommend a narrow-barreled pocket knife or knife that I can use that will not rust me? Blade length 8 8.5 9.0 9.5
    Maybe, of course, it would be better if it doesn’t shake my economy, I asked for a lot, but I’m sorry, I respectfully wish you good luck.


    For professional fishermen requiring a durable, rust-resistant pocket knife, consider a model with a blade length between 8-9.5. Ideal choices include stainless steel or high carbon stainless steel blades, both known for their corrosion resistance and ease of maintenance. High carbon stainless steel offers superior edge retention. Look for handles crafted from synthetic materials, providing a firm grip even in wet conditions. Budget-friendly options exist without compromising on quality or functionality. Brands like Spyderco, Benchmade, and Victorinox offer models meeting these criteria, balancing cost and performance effectively.

  • Leo Biggart

    5 other

  • Boza

    I am a passionate knife enthusiast with a collection of over a hundred pieces. I also own a “Tormek T8” knife sharpener. I’ve noticed that while I can sharpen some knives to what is said to be ‘shaving sharp without soap,’ others, despite my efforts, cannot be honed to such a fine edge. Before experiencing this myself, I believed all could be equally sharpened, with the only difference being the blade’s durability.
    My question is, am I mistaken, or is it true that knives made from inferior steel quality cannot be perfectly sharpened? Your response would be greatly appreciated, so I don’t persistently struggle expecting the same sharp edges from all types of steel.
    Best regards.


    Dear Boza,
    The ability to sharpen a knife to a ‘shaving sharp’ edge depends significantly on the quality of the steel. Not all steels are equal; they vary in carbon content, alloying elements, heat treatment, and grain structure, all of which influence a knife’s hardness, toughness, and wear resistance.

    Inferior quality steel may lack the necessary hardness or have an uneven grain structure, preventing it from attaining or maintaining a fine edge. On the other hand, high-quality steel with proper heat treatment can achieve a much finer, durable edge. It’s not just your sharpening technique; the steel’s inherent properties are pivotal.

    Therefore, you’re correct in assuming that not all knives, especially those crafted from lower-quality steel, can achieve the same level of sharpness as their higher-quality counterparts. Adjusting your expectations and sharpening your approach to different types of steel will provide better results and less frustration.

    Best regards, Noblie Custom Knives.

  • Luis José caballero

    They do not comment on Cpm 45 steel vs. please provide information.

  • Paolo Codini


  • EdgeLover88

    Fantastic breakdown of knife steels! As a long-time knife enthusiast, I’ve had the chance to handle knives made from various types of steel, and I can attest to the differences in performance. For those just starting out in the knife world, this is a valuable resource. Do have you had any experience with the newer super steels hitting the market? How do they compare in your opinion?

  • Kis Dániel

    The goal is flexibility and high hardness, with as little carbon content as possible.
    For example, can carbon be replaced with tungsten?
    Why is carbon important? Carbon makes steel brittle. Molybdenum is recommended, it increases toughness.

  • Mehmet Yakup uçar

    Thank you for your information.

  • Oliver Spencer

    What is the best steel to use for knife making? That’s a lot of details. Can you just answer the question directly?


    The best steel for knife making often depends on the purpose. Stainless steel, such as 440C, is prized for its corrosion resistance. Meanwhile, high carbon steels like 1095 are favored for their sharpness and edge retention, though they can rust if not cared for. The «best» choice really depends on individual needs and preferences.

Related materials
If no power equipment is available, this can be done with files if the piece of steel has not yet been hardened. Grinding wheels, or small belt sanders are usually what a beginner uses. Well equipped makers usually use a large industrial belt grinder, or a belt grinder made specifically for knife making. Pre-polish grinding on a heat treated blade can be done if the blade is kept cool, to preserve the temper of the steel. Some knife makers will use a coolant mist on the grinder to achieve this.
Although to a beginner it might seem that a quality blade is everything required to make a knife a perfect cutting tool, the reality is a bit more complicated. The grind is an aspect often overlooked by knife owners, and every true knife lover has to understand how the grind impacts the use of a knife. The word ‘grind’ stands for the shape of knife’s blade and depicts how exactly the blade is made thin enough to cut with it. Explore the different edge types, their properties and strengths, to better understand how to have the best of your knife.
In the production of a custom knife, great attention must be given to the selection of steel used for the blade. Blade steel, along with edge geometry and design, is a critical factor that determines the performance of the knife.
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