The choice of steel for a knife

One of the main questions that a person is asked (at least from among those people who are already at least a little “in the subject line”) when buying a knife is what the blade is made of. The blade geometry and convenience of the handle also plays a big role, but in my opinion, nevertheless, steel plays the most important role when choosing a knife, because if the knife is three times convenient, pleasant and pretty, not everyone will agree to edit it every two minutes. Although reefs in the form of Krivenka heat treatment were also possible, therefore a good, in general, brand will show very mediocre results. But this, to a greater extent, applies to single-smiths, who do heat treatment “by eye”, although serial producers have similar problems, but they are still much less common. And it is worth remembering that there is steel “X”, and there is steel “X” from the manufacturer “Y” and these can be very different pieces of iron.

In addition, the main purpose of the knife (for a certain stratum of people, this will be a revelation) is to cut it. Hanging, squeezing doors, hitting sewer manholes, opening cans with cans with most of the knives, too, is, in general, possible, but for some it can be done only once. Therefore, based on the task (to cut), we will try to understand which of the whole variety (except for very rare and exotic specimens), which is now on the knife market, suit us best, and find out which of them are the most resistant to picking hatches (here it is worth noting that, nevertheless, to a greater extent, the geometry of the blade is affected by its geometry, not steel).

Foreign steel


A very popular piece of iron in overseas blacksmiths. Durable, inexpensive, but quickly rusting.

Used in Randall knives.

1095/1080/1070/1060/1055/1050, etc.

Simple and cheap carbon, analogue of Russian tool steels (Y8, U10A, etc.). With a decrease in the number after 10, the amount of carbon in the steel decreases, hence the steel becomes softer and keeps the cutting edge worse. Therefore, 1050 and 1060 are often used for the manufacture of swords, where plasticity and resistance to shock loads are important. In knives, 1095 is most often encountered. A significant minus is a very low corrosion resistance.

A striking example of a manufacturer using this steel is Kabar (1095) and Cold Steel (1055).


Ball bearing steel, very popular with knives. Well holds the cutting edge, but has low strength and is not resistant to corrosion.


The so-called “fast cut”, that is, steel, which retains its properties when exposed to high temperatures. Well holds the cutting edge. Of the minuses, it is worth noting the low corrosion resistance and resistance to shock loads.


Steel, known for its strength and good retention of the cutting edge. It has a low corrosion resistance, and therefore requires care.


The simplest knife steel. It is used wherever possible (cheap kitchen knives, all kinds of Chinese stalls are made of it). Of the benefits – low cost and high corrosion resistance, quickly corrected. Of the minuses – soft (carbon content of only about 0.5%), poorly holding the cutting edge.

420HC / 12C27

Both of these became similar to 440A. 420HC is actively used by the American company Buck and their 420 is very different from 420 other manufacturers, because due to cryogenic processing, Buck squeezes everything possible out of it.

12С27 is Swedish steel with a carbon content of about 0.6%.

440A / 440B / 440C

All three steels are highly corrosion resistant. The carbon content in them is 440A (0.75%), 440V (0.9%), 440C (1.2%), respectively, they hold the cutting edge (especially 440C) quite well and have high hardness (56-60 HRC) . 440C is considered to be one of the most balanced in its properties of knife steels.


Steel N690 is quite rare. It contains cobalt and is, in fact, an improved version of the 440C.

AUS-4 / AUS-6 / AUS-8 / AUS-10

These are Japanese stainless steels, comparable in their composition and characteristics to American 440A, 440B and 440C (except AUS-4, which is closer to 420). Unlike 440 families, AUSs contain vanadium, which adds wear resistance to them.

From well-known manufacturers working with this steel can be noted Al Mar (AUS-6), Cold Steel (AUS-8A).


The 154-CM is American steel, and the ATS-34 is the Japanese counterpart from Hitachi. And in fact, and in another embodiment, it is high-quality steel, which holds the cutting edge well, has good corrosion resistance (although, nevertheless, inferior to 440 family) and sufficient viscosity.

Used in Spyderco and Benchmade knives.


It is very similar to ATS-34, but does not contain molybdenum, so that it is cheaper. Used by Spyderco.


Japanese steel developed by Takefu Special Steel Co. The retention of the cutting edge is acceptable (in my opinion, approximately at the level of AUS-8, but generally depends strongly on the maintenance), practically does not rust. Of the distinguishing features worth noting the fact that when sharpening a knife from this steel very quickly displayed in a razor.


BG-42 is very similar to ATS-34, but it has several significant differences from it, namely, the magnesium content is twice as high and there is vanadium in the amount of 1.2%. Because of this, the BG-42 holds the cutting edge better than the ATS-34.


Steel D-2 is sometimes called “semi-stainless”. It contains about 12% chromium, which slightly falls short of high-grade corrosion-resistant steel (this, I remind you, 13%). D-2 (along with our H12MF, which is its almost complete analogue) remarkably holds the cutting edge, and practically does not rust (well, except that it can darken slightly if the knife is left wet for a long time), but it does not take shock loads very well. This does not mean at all that it cannot be cut, it just needs to be done more carefully than the same 1095.

It is used by Benchmade, Bob Dozier and other manufacturers.

CPM S30V / CPM S60V / CPM S90V

The CPM family is powder steel. S30V Perhaps the most balanced steel in its properties at the moment. It has a high corrosion resistance, impact strength, holds the cutting edge well and is corrected quickly enough.

S60V and S90V hold the cutting edge longer than the S30V, but they are more fragile and sharpen them much more difficult.


S35VN was developed as an improved version of the S30V. It surpasses the latter in such an important indicator as toughness, and moreover it is easier to polish.


High carbon steel (3%) powder steel produced by the Japanese corporation Hitachi Metals. It keeps the cutting edge perfectly, but despite 20% of chromium it is still not very resistant to corrosion, so it’s better to care for it, just like carbon. In addition, ZDP-189 is very brittle steel and does not like shock loads, as well as capricious in sharpening. The strength is about three times lower than that of the ATS-34.

Domestic steel

U7 – U16

These steels are instrumental. The number after the letter “U” in the title indicates the average carbon content in tenths of a percent. According to their properties, these steels are subdivided into high-viscosity steels (U7-U9) and high-hardness steels (U10-U13). All these steels hold up the cutting edge quite well, but they do not have corrosion resistance, therefore, a knife made from such steel needs good care. U7-U9 are designed for tools that are subjected to shock loads, so the knife from these steels can be cut without fear, U10-U13, on the contrary, is very fragile and not intended for shock loads.


Structural bearing steel. Very popular among our nozhedelov. Holds the cutting edge for a long time, rather actively rusting (mostly superficially, while in the same U’shkah corrosion goes deep into the blade), an approximate analogue of 52100.


Spring-spring steel, alloyed with manganese. Not resistant to corrosion, not long holds the cutting edge, but has a high impact strength.


“Fast Cut”, an analogue of foreign M-2. It also has a high popularity among the Russian knives, mainly due to the wide availability in the right form (blade of mechanical saws). Just like almost any fast-cut, it holds the thin cutting edge well, but is susceptible to corrosion and chipping.

40Х13 / 65Х13 / 95Х18 / 110Х18

Approximate analogs of foreign 420 and 440. The most common of them, 95×18, is also very often found 65×13, 40×13 and 110×18 are quite rare, but nevertheless, to buy serial products from these steels is not particularly difficult. With proper heat treatment, 95×18 gives a very good balance between retention of the cutting edge and strength, it also has high corrosion resistance.


Tool alloy die steel. It has a high corrosion resistance (at least with minimal maintenance), but if it is hit in an acidic or alkaline environment, made of this steel on the blade, dark spots may appear, and in very advanced cases a rusty deposit. Well holds the cutting edge, has an average resistance to shock loads.

So we reviewed the most common knife steel (although I probably missed something, though). What conclusions can be made from all this? Then let everyone decide for himself. But here are some tips from the author personally:

  1. The optimal choice for a universal knife is S30V, S35VN or D2 / H12MF. Not particularly fragile, cuts long and pleasantly, is widely available (especially the last two).
  2. If with a knife, for the most part, you need to cut something or create all kinds of obscenities, such as hovering on it, then U8A or 65G will be just right. True, you will have to take care of the knife, well, or pickle it, then the surface of the blade will not be so actively covered by corrosion. But, in general, you can take any other steel, the main thickness of the blade to make 5-6 millimeters, then the knife can withstand a lot, just because of its lamovity.
  3. For those who do not want to bother with the care of the knife will fit 420 or 65×13 (if the prospect of frequent editing is not scary).
  4. If the knife is intended solely for cutting, then the best option would be the ZDP-189 (good, it has recently become widely available).

Steel arms

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