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Oso Grande's Guide to Blade Steels

List of Blade Materials

The following list of blade steels is given to aid you in your understanding of the various types of steels used in knife making and their properties.

Blade steel refers to the type of steel that is used to make the blade of a knife or other edged tool, such as a sword or hatchet.  The blade of a knife can be made from a variety of materials, the most common being carbon steel, stainless steel, tool steel and alloy steel. Other less common materials used in knife blades include: cobalt and titanium alloys, ceramics, obsidian, and plastic.

Blade Steels

8CR14MoV.  A Chinese stainless steel tempered at the Rc56 to Rc58 range and used in the Tenacious, Persistence, Ambitious, Resilience, and Byrd lines of knives. Often compared to AUS-8, but with slightly more Carbon.

9CR18Mo.  A higher end Chinese stainless steel used mostly in high-end barbering scissors and surgical tools.

14-4CrMo.  Manufactured by latrobe specialty steel Co. A wear resistant, martensitic stainless tool steel that exhibits better corrosion resistance than type 440C stainless steel.

154CM.  154CM is produced by Crucible Material Corporation.  154CM and ATS34 are practically identical in composition. They were introduced into custom knives by Bob Loveless circa 1972. Both are considered premium cutlery steels for folding knives and fixed blades.

1055 Carbon Steel.  Used in swords and machetes often heat-treated to a spring temper to reduce breakage. It has a carbon content of 0.48-0.55%

1060 Carbon Steel.  Used in swords. It has a carbon content of 0.55-0.65%

1070 Carbon Steel.  Carbon content 0.65-0.75%. Used in machetes.

1095 Carbon Steel.  1095, a popular high-carbon steel for knives; it is more brittle than lower carbon steels such as 1055, 1060, 1070, and 1080. It has a carbon content of 0.90-1.03%.

A-2 Steel.  An excellent air hardening tool steel used by handmade knife makers and by speciality makers like Bark River as well. A-2 is a steel that trades wear resistance for toughness. It is used in custom made fighting knives by makers such as Phill Hartsfield, Mike Snody and John Fitzen (Razor Edge US). Performs best at about 60-61 Rc (see hardness). It contains about 1% Carbon, 1% Molybdenum, and 5% Chromium.

A-6 Steel.  This grade of tool steel air-hardens at a relatively low temperature (approximately the same temperature as oil-hardening grades) and is dimensionally stable. Therefore it is commonly used for dies, forming tools, and gauges that do not require extreme wear resistance but do need high stability.

A-10 Steel.  This grade contains a uniform distribution of graphite particles to increase machinability and provide self-lubricating properties. It is commonly used for gauges, arbors, shears, and punches.

Aogami/Blue Steel.  A Japanese exotic, high-end steel made by Hitachi. The "Blue" refers to, not the color of the steel itself, but the color of the paper in which the raw steel comes wrapped.  Aogami/Blue-Num-1 A steel with higher tensile strength and sharpening ability than blue-2. Aogami/Blue-Num-2 A steel with higher toughness and wear resistance than blue-1. Aogami/Blue-Super A steel with higher Toughness, tensile strength and edge stability than all other steels in its series.

ATS-55.  Not a widely known Japanese alloy, ATS-55 is similar to ATS-34, but with the Molybdenum content reduced and new elements added. It appears the intent was to get ATS-34 edge holding with increased toughness and decreased cost. Carbon-1.00%, Manganese-0.50%, Chromium-14.00%, Molybdenum-0.60%, Cobalt-0.40%.

ATS34.  ATS34 is produced by Hitachi Metals.  It is a high-carbon, high-alloy, stainless steel, a Japanese copy of 154-CM, preferred because it is vacuum melted, and 154 is not.  These two steels are practically identical in composition. They were introduced into custom knives by Bob Loveless circa 1972. Both are considered premium cutlery steels for folding knives and fixed blades. Carbon 1.05%, Manganese 0.4%, Chromium 14.0%, Molybdenum 4.0%.

AUS-10.  (10A) is comparable to 440C with a carbon content close to 1.10%. It is slightly tougher than 440C. 0.95-1.1% Carbon, 0.5% Magnesium, 13-14.5% Chromium, 0.49% Nickel, 0.1-0.27% Vanadium and 0.1-0.31% Molybdenum.

AUS-4.  Also designated 4A, a Japanese stainless steel, roughly comparable to 440A (AUS-6, .65% carbon), 440B (AUS-8, .75% carbon) and 440C (AUS-10, 1.1% carbon). Used by CRKT in several of their knives. Carbon-0.40-0.45%, Manganese-1.00%, Chromium-13.00-14.50%, Nickel-0.49%. Rockwell 55-57

AUS-6.  Another Japanese stainless, fits between 420 and 440A. Carbon 0.55 - 0.65%, Manganese 1.0%, Chromium 13.0 -14.5%, Nickel 0.49%, Vandium 0.1 - 0.25%.

AUS-8.  (8A) is comparable to 440B with a carbon content close to 0.75%. AUS-8 is often used instead of 440C. SOG knives uses AUS-8 extensively.  Widely used by top Specialty knife makers. The addition of vanadium fits this steel between 440A and ATS-34 in performance. Carbon 0.7 - 0.8%, Manganese 1.0%, Chromium 13.0 - 14.5%, Nickel 0.5%, Vandium 0.1 - 0.25%, Molybdenum 0.1 - 0.3%.

BG-42.  Superior knife steel. 1.15 Carbon, 0.50 Manganese, 14.5 Chromium, 1.20 Vanadium, 4.0 Molybedenum.

Carbide.  A hard, sharp carbon/iron material used where a very hard material is needed such as in machining or drilling steel. Carbide is commonly used to make the glass breaking tips found on various rescue knives.  It is also used for various knife sharpeners.

Carbon. Often found in knife blades; it takes an edge easier than most other steels, but is highly susceptible to corrosion if not properly maintained.

Chromium.   A hard, steel-gray metallic alloying element that is resistant to tarnish and corrosion. It is used in the hardening of steel alloys and the production of stainless steels.

CPM 10V Steel.  CPM 10V is a  highly wear-resistant tool steel, toughness comparable with D2 tool steel. Currently used by a few custom knife makers.  Phil Wilson uses CPM 10V and other CPM steels.  It was the first in the family of high vanadium tool steels made by the Crucible Particle Metallurgy process. Crucible engineers optimized the vanadium content to provide superior wear resistance while maintaining toughness and fabrication characteristics comparable to D2 and M2. Since its introduction in 1978, CPM 10V has become recognized worldwide and sets the standard for highly wear resistant industrial tooling. Carbon-2.45%, Manganese-0.50%, Chromium-5.25%, Vanadium-9.75%, Molybdenum-1.30% Rockwell 58-62.

CPM 15V Steel.  CPM 15V is a proprietary, extremely high wear-resistant tool steel, thanks to 14.5% Vanadium content. Found only in custom knives.  It is intended for applications requiring exceptional wear resistance. It has more vanadium carbides in its microstructure than CPM 10V and provides more wear resistance and longer tool life in those applications where 10V has proven to be successful. CPM 15V also offers an alternative to solid carbide where carbide fails by fracture or where intricate tool design makes carbide difficult or risky to fabricate.Carbon-3.4%, Manganese-0.5%, Chromium-5.25%, Vanadium-14.5%, Molybdenum-1.3% Rockwell-59-62.

CPM 1V Steel.  CPM (Crucible Particle Metallurgy) 1V is a proprietary steel, very high toughness, several times higher than A2 with and same level of wear resistance.  It is a medium carbon, high alloy tool steel which exhibits high toughness combined with high heat resistance. It is suited for hot or cold applications demanding high impact toughness that also requires moderate wear resistance. Carbon-0.55%, Chromium-4.5%, Vanadium-1.0%, Molybdenum-2.75%, Tungsten-2.15%, Rockwell 56-59,

CPM 3V Steel.  CPM 3V is a proprietary steel, very high toughness, less than CPM 1V, but more than A2, and high wear resistance, better than CPM 1V. Used by several custom knives makers and factories, including Jerry Hossom, Reese Weiland.  It makes a good choice for swords and large knives.  It is a high toughness, wear-resistant tool steel made by the Crucible Particle Metallurgy process. It is designed to provide maximum resistance to breakage and chipping in high wear-resistance steel. CPM 3V is intended to be used at 58/60 HRC in applications where chronic breakage and chipping are encountered in other tool steels, but where the wear properties of high alloy steel are required. Carbon-0.80%, Chromium-7.50%, Vanadium-2.75%, Molybdenum-1.30%, Rockwell 58-60.

CPM 9V.  CPM 9V is designed for use in tooling that encounters severe wear. It's toughness, or cracking resistance, is higher than other high-wear resistant cold work tool steels permitting it to be used in some applications where CPM 10V, D2 or high-speed steels do not have sufficient resistance to cracking. It is usually limited in hardness to about 56 HRC or lower, and is therefore not intended for applications requiring high compressive strength. Carbon-1.8%, Manganese-0.50%, Chromium-5.25%, Vanadium-9.0%, Molybdenum-1.3%, Rockwell 53-56.

CPM M4.  High speed tool steel produced by Crucible using CPM process. M4 has been around long time, lately entering custom and high end production knives. CPM M4 has excellent wear resistance and toughness. Has about 1.42% carbon.

CPM-S30V. CPM S30V (commonly referred to as S30V) was introduced by Crucible in 2002 in response to knife industry demand for a steel with more wear, corrosion resistance and toughness. It has added Vanadium for higher wear resistance and Molybdenum for better pitting resistance. It has superb edge retention because it resists edge chipping. It is on the lower end of the SxxV steels, it has a carbon content of 1.45%. However, S30V is still considered to be a superior choice for knife making.  Contents: Carbon 1.45%, Chromium 14%, Molybdenum 2%, Vanadium 4%.

CPM-S35VN. CPM S35VN is a martensitic stainless steel designed to offer improved toughness over CPM S30V. It is also easier to machine and polish than CPM S30V.

CPM-S60V (New Name for the discontinued CPM440V).  Very rich in vanadium. CPM S60V has a carbon content of 2.15%. It was an uncommon steel, but both Spyderco and Kershaw Knives offered knives of this steel, Boker still offers folders made from CPM S60V. CPM S90V (formerly CPM T420V), has less chromium than S60V, but has almost twice as much vanadium. S90V's carbon content is also higher, resting around 2.30%. With 2.15 Carbon, 0.40 Manganese, 17.0 Chromium, 5.50 Vanadium and 0.4% Molybdenum this is a steel that would be impressive but when you know that it is a Powder Metal steel with the resulting extreme purity, you know that it has to be a great knife steel. Very expensive and not at all easy to work.

CPM-S90V.  Has superior edge retention. However, it can be almost impossible to sharpen. Currently custom makers are the only ones using this type of steel.  2.3% Carbon, 14% Chromium, 9% Vanadium and 1% Molybdenum.

CPM-S110V. Is the latest addition to the SxxV line. It has higher corrosion resistance than S90V and marginally better wear resistance. The additional corrosion resistance while retaining all the benefits of S90V makes this steel extremely desired for kitchen cutlery.

CPM-S125V. Ultra high carbon stainless. Produced by Crucible Material Corporation using CPM process. Contains 3.25% carbon, 14% chromium and 12% Vanadium and other alloying elements. Exceptionally high wear resistance, making it difficult to process and machine for knifemakers. Used only in custom knives.

CPM154.  CPM 154 is identical to 154CM in composition, produced using CPM Process, with all the benefits of the CPM technology.

CPM440V.  With 2.15 Carbon, 0.40 Manganese, 17.0 Chromium, 5.50 Vanadium and 0.4% Molybdenum this is a steel that would be impressive but when you know that it is a Powder Metal steel with the resulting extreme purity, you know that it has to be a great knife steel. Very expensive and not at all easy to work.

Cowry-X.  Ultra high carbon stainless.  Produced by Daido steel using PM process. Contains 3% carbon, 20% chromium, 1.7% Molybdenum and Less than 1.00 % vanadium. Other elements are not published or may not even exist. Used by Hattori knives in their kitchen knives KD series.

Cutlery Steel.  Any steel with enough alloying materials that enable it to make good knives; for wide acceptance today that means it must also be stainless. To make good knife blades it must be able to take and hold an edge. Can range from 1070 or 420 to CPM-S60V.

D-2 Steel.  An outstanding knife steel, a high-carbon, high chrome tool steel which is often used for the steel cutting dies in every tool and die shop in the U.S.; with 1.5% Carbon, 1% Molybdenum, 12% Chromium and 1% Vanadium, D-2 can be hardened far beyond the favored 60-61 Rc. The first heavy user was Jimmy Lile; the strongest convert has been Bob Dozier. This air hardening steel takes a really good edge, and holds it. This steel has been recently made popular by the great results in the performance of D-2 heat-treated by Dozier.  D-2 has a high chrome content of 12.00%, it is called "semi-stainless", because of the lack of free Chromium in solution. While not as tough as premium carbon steels, it is much tougher than premium stainless steels

Damascus Steel.  Two types of steel that are folded repeatedly during the forging process to produce very attractive and expensive steel. This new steel retains the properties of the two parent steels.

Damasteel.  In the 1970s Era Steel in Sweden and Crucible Metals in U.S.A. patented a process of making steel by blowing finely divided powdered iron, carbon, and other materials into a billet and then applying heat and pressure until a steel is achieved with finer grain, finer carbides, therefore greater strength and better wear resistance. This process is what we know as Powder Metal. The Swedes went on to invent a method of blowing the particles into patterns; the result is "Damasteel". It has the look of pattern welded Damascus yet is actually a superior, powder metal stainless tool steel.

G-2 Stainless.  When seen on the blade of an older Spyderco knife it means one thing, used today it means a Gingami (Japan) steel of very high quality.

H1 Steel.  H1 steel is a stainless steel that is precipitation-hardened and contains nitrogen instead of carbon, which cannot rust. Carbon-0.15%, Chromium-14.00-16.00%, Manganese-2.00%, Molybdenum-0.50-1.50%, Nickel-6.00-8.00%, Nitrogen-0.10%, Phosphorus-0.04%, Silicon-3.00-4.50%, Sulfur-0.03%.

High Carbon Steel. This describes any steel that is made up of .5% carbon or more. Blades made with high carbon steel sharpen more easily and hold an edge better, but are more susceptible to corrosion. The higher the carbon content, the more this is the case.

High Carbon Stainless Steel. Any stainless steel used to make a knife blade must be high carbon to make a decent knife. Any high carbon stainless steel will stain, though less than other steels.

High Speed Steel. Steels designed to machine other steels. These machine tools will hold an edge even when rendered red-hot by friction.

Hitachi Super Blue Steel. The term "blue steel" actually refers to the color of the paper wrapper in which the raw bar stock is shipped. This is a high-carbon non-stainless steel in the 1.4% to 1.5% carbon range alloyed with silica (0.1% to 0.2%) and manganese (0.2% to 0.3%), and with chromium (0.2% to 0.5%) and Tungsten (2.0% to 2.5%) added for toughness. This is significantly more carbon than is found in most U.S. steels which tend to have about 1.0% carbon. This added carbon allows the blades to be hardened in the mid-60s Rc. allowing for a thin razor edge.

L-6. A high carbon, band saw steel that is very tough and holds an edge well, but rusts easily. It is, like O-1, forgiving steel for the forger. If you're willing to put up with the maintenance, this may be one of the very best steels available for cutlery, especially where toughness is desired. Typically used in swords.Carbon-0.65-0.75%, Manganese-0.25-0.80%, Chromium-0.60-1.20%,Nickel-1.25-2.00%, Vanadium-0.20-0.30%, Molybdenum-0.50%.

M-2 Steel.  M-2 is slightly tougher than D-2. Capable of keeping a tempered edge at high temperatures. However, it is hardly used anymore in factory production knives, CPM M4 is becoming more popular. Custom knife makers still use it for knives intended for fine cutting with very thin edges.  It is a High-Speed Steel that works well between 62-66 Rc. First used in American Cutlery in kitchen knives and folders by Gerber Blades in the 1960s.  85 Carbon, 6.35 Tungsten, 5.0 Molybdenum, 4.0 Chromium, and 2.0 Vanadium.

M-390 Steel. A high performance blade steel with superior cutting ability and wear resistance due to its high concentration of vanadium and chromium carbides. This is a popular steel used in surgical cutting instruments and in applications requiring a high finish. It features 1.9% carbon.

M-4 Steel. A high speed steel, very hard to work but makes a great knife blade that is very difficult to sharpen. Very like M-2 except 1.3 Carbon and 4.0% Vanadium.

N690 Steel.   An Austrian stainless steel hardened to the high Rc50 range. Currently found in Spyderco's Hossom knives and the recently discontinued Italian-made Volpe. TOPS knives also used it in their C.Q.T magnum 711 knife. Also used extensively by Fox Knives Military Division.  Bohler N690, the equivalent of 440F, which is 440C with a bit of Cobalt. It is imported from Austria. 1.07% Carbon, 17% Chromium, 1.5% Cobalt, 1.1% Molybdenum, 0.1% Vanadium.

O-1 Steel.  O-1 is a popular forging steel, probably the most popular knife steel of the 20th Century. The first choice of almost all beginning knife makers and still the primary steel for the famous Randall Knives. It has Good wear resistance and edge stability. Relatively tough, but not as much as A2 or 5160. It is most commonly used by Randall Knives, Mad Dog Knives, and many other custom knife makers.  O-1 is a simple and basic tool steel that can be hardened to well over 60 Rc. With .9% Carbon, 1% Manganese, 5% Chromium and .5% Tungsten. It is a great general purpose tool steel and is very forgiving to the inexperienced knifemaker. This oil-hardening tool steel can be used by both the blacksmith and the stock removal makers.

O-6 Steel. A much tougher metal than O1. This is one of the absolute best edge retention steels.

Obsidian. Volcanic glass: whenever it could be found it was much preferred to the more common forms of chert. Glass was much easier to work and worked cleaner than any of the other materials available to primitives.

Powdered Metal.  A process used to make shaped metal pieces. Fine metal particles are molded under pressure and then fused under high heat. Also referred to as sintered metal.

Sandvik 12C27. Tool steel with high hardness and good wear resistance, made in Sweden, Swedish steel has always been a premium steel for tools because the iron ore is very clean, that is to say it has very little Sulphur S or Phosphorus P in it. Carbon 0.6%, Manganese 0.35%, Chromium 14.0%.

Sandvik 12C27MOD. Sandvik 12C27Mod is a martensitic stainless chromium steel developed for the manufacture of kitchen tools with high wear and corrosion resistance properties. After heat treatment the steel grade is characterized by high hardness with very good wear and corrosion resistance. Sandvik 12C27Mod is used mainly for kitchen tools, such as different types of knives and scissors, which need to tolerate dishwashing.Carbon-0.52%, Manganese-0.60%, Chromium-14.50%

Spring Steel.  Any tool steel that will remain flexible when properly heat-treated.

Stainless Steel.  Steel that contains a minimum of 12-1/2-13% chromium, making it resistant (not stain-proof) to corrosion. The chromium oxide CrO creates a barrier to oxygen and moisture preventing rust formation.  There are many different grades of stainless steel, but almost all stainless steel blades contain a large amount of high carbon, so none are completely "stainless". All are subject to corrosion from body acid, humidity, salt, etc. The term has come to mean that the steel has less carbon and more cromium, and thus will stain less than most other steels.

Titanium.  A nonferrous metal alloy, the most common form of titanium is 6AL/4V: 6% aluminum, 4% vanadium, and 90% pure titanium. This is a lightweight metal alloy that offers unsurpassed corrosion resistance of any metal.  It has a warm "grip you back" feel and can be finished either by anodizing or bead blasting.  Aside from handles, titanium is also used as liner materials for linerlock knives for it is a rather "springy" metal. Titanium is used usually on collectible pocket knives and chef knives.

Tungsten.  A hard, lustrous gray metallic chemical element with a very high melting point. It's used in various high-temperature alloys, lamp filaments, and high-speed cutting tools.

Vascowear.  A very hard to find steel, with a high vanadium content. It is extremely difficult to work and very wear resistant. Carbon-1.12%, Manganese-0.30%, Chromium-7.75%, Vanadium-2.40%, Molybdenum-2.40%, Tungsten-1.10%

V-Gin1.  Fine-grained steel with Mo, V for the best effect of Cr.

V-Gin2.  More Cr is added for better corrosion resistance.

V-Gin3B.  More Cr is added for better corrosion resistance.

VG-1.  Takefu stainless steel. Popular steel in Japanese kitchen knives.

VG-10.  Takefu stainless steel, similar composition to VG-1 but also contains cobalt and vanadium. Good wear resistance and rust resistance. Due to small Vanadium content VG-10 has finer grain content compared to VG-1. Cobalt and Nickel improve toughness. Overall, it has better edge stability compared to VG-1. VG-10 is widely used in Japanese kitchen knives, several western makers use it in various folders and fixed blade knives, including Spyderco and Fallkniven.  0.95 - 1.05 Carbon, 0.5 Manganese, 14.5 - 15.5 Chromium, 0.10 - 0.30 Vanadium, 0.90 - 1.20 Molybedenum. A serious rival to 154CM and ATS-34. Users report superior performance in edge holding. Presently available only in knives made in Japan.

W-1. W1 is a water hardening tool steel with high carbon content.  It is basically a simple high carbon steel with no vanadium and is easily hardened by heating and quenching in water, just as with plain carbon steel alloys. W1 is commonly used for hand operated metal cutting tools, cold heading, embossing taps and reamers as well as cutlery. Carbon-0.70-1.50%, Manganese-0.10-0.40%, Chromium-0.15%, Nickel-0.20%, Vanadium-0.10%, Molybdenum-0.10%, Tungsten-0.50%.

W-2. A tool steel that is not stainless.  It holds an edge quite well. Not very tough. Has a carbon content of 1.5. Shallow hardening, rather weak, and makes durable knives only if held below 54 HRC. Rusts very easily due to the lack of chrome and vanadium. Only alloying elements are carbon and manganese. Carbon-0.85-1.50%, Manganese-0.10-0.40%, Chromium-0.15%, Nickel-0.20%, Vanadium-0.15-0.35%, Molybdenum-0.10%, Tungsten-0.15%.

White Steel. "Shirogami" or "White Steel" and "Blue Steel" are terms that have only recently come into use in the U. S. Created by Hatachi, the terms actually refer to the color of the paper wrapper in which the raw bar stock is shipped. The chemical breakdown for White Steel is 1.4% carbon, 0.1% silica, 0.2% manganese, 0.02 phosphorus and 0.004% sulfur. This is significantly more carbon than is found in most U.S. steels which tend to have about 1.0% carbon. This added carbon allows the blades to be hardened in the mid-60s Rc. allowing for a thin razor edge. With no chromium, this steel is definitely not stainless.

X15 Steel. Has .40% carbon. This is a French steel that was developed for the airplane industry. It was developed to resist corrosion in the worst possible conditions. It is the most stain resistant steel on the market, and is a hard material. It is not very tough, but is especially good material for diving knives. Used by Benchmade in their salt water/diving knives.

Z60CDV14. A clean high carbon stainless from Sweden. Higher in Nickel and Molybdenum than AUS-8, with a little less Carbon. Chosen for a balance between ease of sharpening and edge retention. Carbon 0.6 to 0.65%, Manganese 0.45%, Chromium 14%, Nickel 0.15%, Vanadium 0.15 to 0.2%, Molybdenum 0.55 to 0.6%.

ZDP-189. Ultra high carbon stainless. Produced by Hitachi steel using PM process. Contains 3% carbon and 20% chromium. Also contains Tungsten and Molybdenum.  Used by several custom knife makers and factory makers including Spyderco and Kershaw in the limited run of the Ken Onion Shallot folders. One of the new powder metal steels of Japan. Rockwell up to 65-67 Rc, great edgeholding and toughness.

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