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CPM 20CV Steel: A Comprehensive Guide

Written by:
Aleks Nemtcev
February 27, 2024
cpm 20cv knives

CPM 20CV steel stands as a premier material in the realm of high-performance knife steels, celebrated for its optimal blend of wear resistance, corrosion resistance, and edge retention. This guide offers an in-depth analysis of CPM 20CV, comparing its properties to other high-end steels, and provides practical advice for knife makers and users alike.

Analyzing the Composition and Properties

CPM 20CV steel’s exceptional performance is largely attributable to its unique composition and the precision afforded by the CPM manufacturing process. Key elements include:

Chromium (20%): Elevates corrosion resistance and hardness.

Vanadium (4%): Increases wear resistance and toughness through the formation of hard vanadium carbides.

Molybdenum (1%): Enhances strength and high-temperature performance.

Tungsten: Adds to the steel’s overall hardness and durability.

The synergy of these elements, combined with the uniform carbide distribution achieved through the CPM process, endows CPM 20CV steel with unparalleled edge retention and resistance to wear and corrosion. These properties make it not just a preferred choice for high-end knives but also for various industrial tools where performance and longevity are non-negotiable.

cpm 20cv

Key Properties

Wear Resistance: High vanadium content contributes to outstanding wear resistance, allowing knives to maintain sharpness over extended use.

Corrosion Resistance: Elevated chromium levels ensure excellent resistance to rust and corrosion, ideal for harsh environments or exposure to acidic substances.

Edge Retention: The uniform carbide distribution achieved through the CPM process endows CPM 20CV with unparalleled edge retention.

Toughness: Despite its hardness, CPM 20CV maintains a degree of toughness that prevents chipping and breakage under normal use.

CPM 20CV composition

A Comparative Analysis vs. Other Steels

Benchmarking CPM 20CV Against Other High-End Knife Steels. In the realm of high-end knife steels, CPM 20CV stands out for its exceptional balance of wear resistance, corrosion resistance, and edge retention. However, to truly appreciate its position, it’s crucial to compare it against other top contenders in the market. High-end steels such as S35VN and M390 are often mentioned in the same breath as CPM 20CV for their performance in premium knife applications. Each of these steels brings its unique set of properties to the table, influenced by their chemical compositions and manufacturing processes. The benchmarking of CPM 20CV against its peers involves evaluating key performance indicators such as toughness, edge retention, corrosion resistance, and ease of sharpening.

Steel Wear Resistance Edge Retention Corrosion Resistance Toughness Sharpening Difficulty
CPM 20CV High High High Medium Hard
MagnaCut Medium-High High High High Medium
S30V Medium Medium-High High Medium Medium
154CM Medium Medium Medium Medium Easy
CTS 204P High High High Medium Hard
D2 High Medium Low High Medium
ELMAX High High High High Medium-Hard
S45VN High High High High Medium
S90V Very High Very High High Low Very Hard
S35VN High High High High Medium
M390 High High High Medium-High Medium-Hard


CPM 20CV vs. S35VN

S35VN is an improved version of S30V, designed to offer a better balance between toughness, edge retention, and ease of sharpening. It incorporates niobium, which contributes to its improved toughness and wear resistance. While CPM 20CV is known for its exceptional wear resistance and corrosion resistance, S35VN is praised for its balanced properties, making it easier to sharpen than CPM 20CV and providing excellent durability and resistance to chipping.

CPM 20CV vs. M390

M390 is another ultra-premium steel known for its superb wear resistance, edge retention, and corrosion resistance, very similar to CPM 20CV in terms of chemical composition. Produced by Bohler-Uddeholm, M390 is often touted for its ability to achieve a high polish, making it popular among custom knife makers. The primary differences come down to slight variations in the manufacturing process and resulting performance in specific applications. Both steels are at the top of the spectrum for premium knife materials, with preferences often boiling down to availability, brand loyalty, or minor performance nuances.

CPM 20CV vs. MagnaCut

CPM 20CV and MagnaCut are both high-performance knife steels, but they cater to different aspects of cutting tool performance. While CPM 20CV is lauded for its exceptional wear resistance, corrosion resistance, and edge retention due to its high chromium, vanadium, and molybdenum content, MagnaCut, a newer steel, focuses on providing an excellent balance between toughness, edge retention, and corrosion resistance without relying heavily on chromium. MagnaCut is designed to offer improved toughness over CPM 20CV, making it an attractive choice for users who prioritize durability in challenging conditions.

CPM 20CV vs. S30V

CPM 20CV and S30V are both produced using the Crucible Particle Metallurgy process, ensuring fine carbide distribution. However, CPM 20CV offers a step up in terms of wear resistance and edge retention due to its higher vanadium content. S30V, on the other hand, is known for its excellent balance of edge retention, toughness, and corrosion resistance, making it a popular choice for a wide range of knife applications. CPM 20CV is often preferred when superior edge retention and corrosion resistance are needed, while S30V is favored for its overall balance and easier sharpening.

CPM 20CV vs. 154CM

Comparing CPM 20CV to 154CM highlights significant differences in performance capabilities. CPM 20CV’s chemical composition provides superior wear resistance, edge retention, and corrosion resistance compared to 154CM, which is a more traditional steel with good overall performance but lacks the advanced properties of CPM 20CV. 154CM offers decent toughness and is easier to sharpen than CPM 20CV, making it a solid choice for everyday knives, whereas CPM 20CV is targeted towards high-end or specialized cutting tools.

CPM 20CV vs. CTS 204P

CPM 20CV and CTS 204P are often considered equivalents, sharing similar chemical compositions that include high levels of chromium, vanadium, and molybdenum. Both steels provide exceptional wear resistance, corrosion resistance, and edge retention. The primary difference lies in their manufacturing companies—CPM 20CV is made by Crucible Industries, while CTS 204P is produced by Carpenter Technology Corporation. The choice between them typically comes down to brand preference or slight variations in processing and availability.

CPM 20CV vs. D2

CPM 20CV and D2 differ significantly in their approach to knife steel performance. D2 is a high-carbon, high-chromium tool steel known for its excellent wear resistance but falls short in corrosion resistance compared to CPM 20CV. CPM 20CV’s higher chromium content ensures superior corrosion resistance and edge retention. D2 is favored for its toughness and cost-effectiveness in applications where corrosion resistance is not a primary concern, whereas CPM 20CV is preferred for premium knives requiring minimal maintenance and superior performance.


CPM 20CV and ELMAX both offer outstanding wear resistance, corrosion resistance, and edge retention, making them top choices for high-end knives. ELMAX, produced by Bohler-Uddeholm, is known for its slightly higher toughness compared to CPM 20CV, making it well-suited for knives that may encounter rigorous use. The choice between CPM 20CV and ELMAX often comes down to specific user preferences and the slight nuances in performance and workability that each steel offers.

CPM 20CV vs. S45VN

CPM 20CV and S45VN are both designed for premium knife applications, but they focus on different aspects of steel performance. S45VN, an evolution of S35VN, offers improved wear resistance, edge retention, and corrosion resistance, with a particular emphasis on enhancing toughness and polishability. While CPM 20CV excels in wear resistance and edge retention, S45VN aims to provide a more balanced performance profile, making it a strong contender for users seeking an all-around high-performance steel.

CPM 20CV vs. S90V

When comparing CPM 20CV to S90V, it’s clear that both steels are designed for extreme wear resistance and edge retention. S90V, however, pushes these characteristics further due to its higher vanadium content, leading to superior edge retention at the cost of increased brittleness and difficulty in sharpening. CPM 20CV offers a more balanced approach, providing excellent wear resistance and corrosion resistance, making it more versatile for a wider range of applications. S90V is often chosen for specialized tools where cutting performance is paramount, and maintenance is not a concern.

The Crucible Particle Metallurgy (CPM) Process

The CPM process is a sophisticated steel manufacturing method that ensures a highly uniform distribution of carbides. This results in steel with enhanced toughness, wear resistance, and workability. The process includes melting, atomization, powder collection and blending, hot isostatic pressing (HIP), and heat treatment, culminating in a steel with consistent qualities.

Applications and Uses

CPM 20CV’s remarkable properties make it a favored choice for a diverse range of knife applications, from EDC knives to custom and specialty blades. Its versatility also extends to industrial applications, where its performance under extreme conditions is invaluable.

Techniques and Tips for Knife Makers

Working with this steel requires an understanding of its unique properties and the adoption of specialized techniques throughout the heat treatment, machining, and finishing processes. By following these guidelines, knife makers can maximize the performance and longevity of CPM 20CV blades, ensuring they meet the highest standards of quality and durability.

Heat Treatment and Tempering

Working with CPM 20CV steel requires a nuanced understanding of its heat treatment process to fully harness its capabilities. Heat treatment and tempering are critical steps that significantly influence the final properties of the steel, including hardness, toughness, and corrosion resistance.

Pre-Heat Treatment Preparation: Begin by ensuring the steel is clean and free from contaminants. Pre-heating CPM 20CV to a lower temperature (about 800°F to 1000°F) before the main heat treatment can help minimize thermal shock.

Austenitizing (Main Heat Treatment): Heat the steel to its austenitizing temperature, typically between 1950°F and 2150°F, depending on the desired balance between toughness and hardness. The precise temperature and time at this stage are crucial; higher temperatures can increase hardness but may decrease toughness.

Quenching: Rapid cooling or quenching follows, which is essential for achieving the steel’s martensitic structure. Quenching mediums can vary, but air or plate quenching is commonly recommended for CPM 20CV to minimize the risk of distortion or cracking.

Tempering: After quenching, tempering at temperatures between 300°F and 600°F, often in multiple cycles, relieves stresses induced during quenching and enhances the steel’s toughness. The tempering temperature and duration depend on the targeted final properties, where higher temperatures generally result in greater toughness but slightly lower hardness.

Machining, Grinding, and Finishing

Machining and finishing CPM 20CV steel demand patience and precision, given its wear resistance and hardness.

Machining: Use carbide or other hard-material cutting tools and maintain a slower feed rate to avoid overheating the steel. Regularly applying cooling fluids can help preserve the integrity of both the steel and the cutting tools.

Grinding: For grinding, opt for ceramic or diamond abrasives that can withstand CPM 20CV’s hardness. Maintain a cool working temperature to prevent overheating, which can lead to tempering of the steel and reduce its final hardness.

Finishing: Polishing CPM 20CV to a high finish requires progressively finer abrasives. Begin with coarser grits for initial shaping and gradually move to finer grits for polishing. Using a lubricant or water can help achieve a smoother finish and reduce heat build-up.

Maintenance and Care

Regular cleaning, proper storage, and occasional oiling are essential for maintaining the integrity and performance of CPM 20CV knives. Sharpening with appropriate tools and techniques will ensure long-lasting sharpness and functionality.

How to Sharpen CPM 20CV Knives for Long-Lasting Performance

Sharpening this steel requires patience and precision, given its high vanadium content and hardness. For best results:

Choose the Right Sharpening Tools: Diamond or ceramic sharpeners are highly recommended for CPM 20CV knives. These materials are hard enough to efficiently sharpen the tough steel without causing excessive wear on the sharpener.

Maintain the Correct Angle: A sharpening angle of 15-20 degrees on each side is ideal for most CPM 20CV blades, balancing sharpness and edge durability. Consistency is key to achieving a sharp, effective edge.

Use a Light Touch: Given the hardness of CPM 20CV, a gentle approach allows for the removal of metal without overheating or damaging the blade. Overheating can alter the steel’s temper, reducing its overall performance.

Finish with a Strop: After sharpening, finishing the edge with a leather strop impregnated with a fine polishing compound can refine the edge to razor sharpness. This step also helps in realigning any micro-burr formed during sharpening.

Selecting a CPM 20CV Knife

When choosing a CPM 20CV knife, consider the primary use, blade design, brand reputation, and additional features that meet your specific needs. Renowned brands like Benchmade, Zero Tolerance, Spyderco, and Chris Reeve Knives offer high-quality CPM 20CV blades.

cpm 20cv knives


Answering Common Queries: Everything You Need to Know About CPM 20CV

Is CPM 20CV steel good for knives?

Yes, CPM 20CV steel is excellent for knives, particularly for those requiring high wear resistance, superior edge retention, and excellent corrosion resistance. Its chemical composition, which includes high levels of chromium, vanadium, and molybdenum, makes it an ideal choice for premium knives, ranging from everyday carry (EDC) knives to specialized cutting tools. The steel’s performance in maintaining a sharp edge over extended use and its ability to withstand harsh environments without corroding are highly valued in high-end and custom knife markets.

Does CPM 20CV rust?

CPM 20CV is highly resistant to rust due to its high chromium content (around 20%), which exceeds the threshold for being classified as stainless steel. While no steel is entirely rust-proof, CPM 20CV’s corrosion resistance is among the best in premium knife steels. Proper care and maintenance, such as cleaning and drying the knife after use, especially if exposed to corrosive substances or environments, will further minimize the risk of rusting.

How tough is CPM 20CV?

CPM 20CV exhibits a good level of toughness for a steel with its hardness and wear resistance properties. Its toughness is sufficient to prevent chipping and breaking under normal use conditions, making it reliable for a wide range of applications. However, it’s important to note that the term “toughness” in metallurgy refers to the material’s ability to absorb energy and plastically deform without fracturing. While CPM 20CV is tougher than many other steels with similar hardness levels, it may not be as tough as some steels that are specifically engineered for maximum toughness at the expense of wear resistance or edge retention. The Crucible Particle Metallurgy (CPM) process used to create CPM 20CV ensures a fine and uniform distribution of carbides, which enhances its toughness compared to steels produced through conventional methods.


CPM 20CV steel has set a new standard in the knife industry, offering an unmatched combination of durability, performance, and versatility. Whether for professional use, everyday carry, or custom knife making, CPM 20CV provides a solid foundation for knives that excel in both function and form. Its adoption across various applications underscores the material’s exceptional qualities and the innovative advancements in metallurgical technology.

Author: Aleks Nemtcev | Connect with me on LinkedIn


Crucible Industries CPM 20CV Datasheet.

Technical information about CPM 20CV. DATA SHEET – Niagara Specialty Metals.

Powder Metallurgy

What is it Powder Metallurgy


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