Blade Steels Explained:
*All elements percentages and hardness numbers are averages only, as steels can be produced and forged in variety of ways.
154 CM steel is a premium stainless steel manufactured in the United States. It is widely used by companies like Benchmade and Emerson, has good edge retention and ease of sharpening. It has an approximate hardness of 58-61 HRC.
154 CM 1.05% 14.00% 0.50% 4.00% 0.3
4116 Krupp steel originates from Germany produced by ThyssenKrupp and is normally manufactured in Taiwan. A good mid-range stainless steel with good corrosion resistance and ease of sharpening, with qualities similar to 420HC steel. Its approximate hardness lies between 55-57 HRC. This steel is used by brands such as Cold Steel and CRKT.
4116 Krupp 0.50% 14.50% 0.65% 0.15%
420HC is a high carbon stainless steel (the “HC” actually meaning higher carbon.) 420HC steel falls between 56-59HRC on the Rockwell Scale, making generally harder than standard 420 stainless. It is known for having strong corrosion resistance and moderate edge retention. 420HC is readily used by brands such as Buck and Condor.
420HC 0.45% 13.00% 0.80% 0.50% 0.80%
440 Stainless Series
440A and 440B are placed together because of their similarities. They are stainless steels and are generally used on value-priced folding and fixed knives.
440A 0.67% 17.00% 1.00% 0.75 0.04% 1.00% 0.03%
440C steel is the third part of 440 stainless series and is categorized apart from the other two because of its higher carbon content. It has been used in knives since the turn of the century and was once known as a the premium steel. Steels have come a long way since then, but it is still widely used today by brands like Boker and Kizlyar. It is fairly hard and resistant to wear and abrasion and falls around 59-61 HRC.
440C 0.85% 17.00% 1.00% 0.75% 0.04% 1.00%
A-2 steel is a tool steel, a favourite steel for classic fixed blade brand Bark River. It is known for its strength and toughness. It is a high carbon, nickel and vanadium alloyed steel and is not considered stainless, so proper care is suggested to keep it free of rust. A-2 steel falls between 58-60 on the Rockwell scale.
A-2 1.00% 5.00% 1.00% 1.00% 0.30% 0.32%
AUS 8 is the most widely used of the AUS series. It is a Japanese stainless steel and is generally comparable to 440C. Its hardness falls in between 58-60HRC, it has good wear and corrosion resistance and is fairly easy to maintain. Many brands use AUS8 in their knives, SOG and Cold Steel being the most avid users among them.
AUS 8 0.72% 13.70% 0.50% 0.20% 0.49% 0.04% 1.00% 0.18%
Blue Steel/White Steel
Blue steel is manufactured in Japan, by Hitachi Ltd (called blue or white because of the paper it’s wrapped pre-production.) Nagao Higonokami and Spyderco both use blue steel, which is very strong and retains a good edge. They are considered carbon and not stainless, so proper care is suggested to avoid rust.
Blue Steel 1.05% 0.4 0.225 0.025% 0.15 0.04 1.75
White Steel 1.3 .225 0.025 0.004
Super Blue Steel %1.45 %0.4 1.00% 0.025% 0.15 0.04 %2.25 0.4%
Carbon 1095 steel is a carbon steel and is by far the most widely used steel among outdoor and survival style fixed blades. It has great wear resistance, is fairly easy to sharpen and all-around tough. 1095 carbon fall between 56-58HRC on the Rockwell Scale. Many brands use 1095 carbon, including ESEE, Ka-Bar and TOPS. Because this is a carbon steel, proper care is required to avoid corrosion. You will find most 1095 blades are coated for a layer of extra rust protection, but it is important to keep it dry and oil the blade from time to time.
Carbon 1095 0.95% 0.40% 0.04% 0.05%
CPM CRUCIBLE STEELS
CPM 3V steel is a tough high-carbon steel, with an approximate hardness of 58-62. It was designed by Crucible Industries as a heavily wear and abrasive resistant steel. It is used by brands like Cold Steel and Bark River in some of their select fixed blades.
CPM 3V 0.80% 7.50% 1.30% 2.75%
CPM M4 steel is a tough american powder steel. Used in Benchmade and Spyderco knives, the Crucible Industries M4 steel is a high carbon, premium steel with great edge retention and wear resistance. Its approximate hardness is between 62-64. M4 is not considered stainless, so proper maintenance is required to avoid corrosion.
CPM M4 1.40% 4.25% 0.30% 3.00% 0.55% 0.06% 5.50% 3.85%
CPM S30V is the one of the most popular premium US-made steels. A tough stainless steel falling at 58-60 on the Rockwell scale, it has excellent edge retention and good corrosion resistance. Companies such as Benchmade, Zero Tolerance and Spyderco use S30V for their many of their knives.
CPM S30V 1.45% 14.00% 2.00% 4.00%
CPM S35VN is similar to S30V but with less vanadium carbides and added niobium carbides. The difference of niobium makes the S35VN less likely to chip and easier to sharpen. Doing all of that without giving up toughness at 58-61 HRC on the Rockwell scale, S35VN is highly regarded as one of the best premium steels in the knife industry today. S35VN is the bread and butter of high-end brand Chris Reeve Knives.
CPM S35VN 1.40% 14.00% 2.00% 0.5 3.00%
CPM S90V is a premium stainless steel made in the United States by Crucible Industries. It is a high carbon stainless steel with vanadium to give it its strength. It has excellent wear resistance and lands between 56-59HRC on the Rockwell Scale. Brands which use S90V include Benchmade and Spyderco.
CPM S90V 2.30% 14.00% 1.00% 9.00%
S110V steel is newer super stainless steel, made in the United States by Crucibles Industries. It has excellent wear resistance and is very corrosion resistant. Spyderco is currently one of the only brands to use this super steel. It’s hardness is between 58-61 HRC on the Rockwell scale
S110V 2.80% 15.25% 2.50% 2.25% 3.00% 9.00%
The CrMoV are value priced stainless steels, generally produced in China and Taiwan. They meet the basic requirements of a stainless steel, with a minimum of 12% Cr and are easy to sharpen and care for. Just about everybody uses CrMoV steel in their knives, including Spyderco, CRKT and Kershaw.
CrMoV (8Cr13MoV) 0.80% 13.70% 1.00% 0.20% 0.20% 0.04% 1.00% 0.03% 0.17%
CrMoV (9Cr18MoV) 1.08% 14.00% 0.16% 0.80% 0.75% 0.04% 1.00%
The CTS series are stainless steels made by Carpenter Technology Corporation.
CTS-BD-1 is a stainless steel which is vacuum melted. This allows for better edge retention and allows this steel to be sharpened to a finer point. It has a hardness on the Rockwell scale of 58-60HRC.
CTS-204P has a hardness of 60-62HRC. Recently Zero Tolerance started using CTS-204P to replace M390 on select models, as their composition is extremely similar.
CTX-HHP steel has good wear and corrosion resistance, making it a good stainless alternative to D2 in terms of wear properties. It is used by many brands including Spyderco, and Cold Steel has even upgraded many of their models from AUS8 to CTS-XHP for the better performance standard. CTS-XHP hardness is in between 62-64HRC.
CTS 204P 1.90% 20.00% 0.35 1.00% 0.60% 0.65% 4.00%
CTS BD1 0.90% 16.00% 1.00% 0.50% 0.04% 1.00% 0.03% 0.10%
CTS XHP 1.60% 16.00% 0.50% 0.80% 0.35% 0.40% 0.45%
D2 Tool Steel
D2 steel is a high carbon tool steel, falling just shy of the “stainless” required chromium percentage. It is a strong, abrasion resistant steel with an approximate hardness of 60-62 HRC. Lion Steel and Medford are a couple companies who commonly use D2 steel in their knives.
D2 1.50% 12.00% 0.60% 0.95% 0.03% 0.60% 0.03% 1.10%
Elmax steel is a premium, high carbon stainless steel made by Bohler-Uddenholm. It’s approximate hardness is between 58-60 on the Rockwell Scale. It has excellent edge retention and is highly corrosion resistant. Elmax steel is often used by US-brand Zero Tolerance.
Elmax 1.70% 18.00% 0.30% 1.00% 0.80% 3.00%
H-1 is a strong, reliable, rust-proof steel manufactured for Spyderco for the 'Salt Series' knives. It is best suited for use around salt water, in or around boats, for diving or other conditions where contact with water is inevitable. Unlike any other steel, the edge of H-1 actually becomes harder with use, allowing the edge to keep its edge longer over time.
H-1 0.15% 15.00% 2.00% 1.00% 7.00% 0.10% 0.04% 3.70% 0.03%
San Mai steel is a form of Japanese-made laminated steel used by Cold Steel. A Laminate steel is when two steels are layered together, typically a stronger steel at the core and a softer steel layers on the sides. San Mai III uses VG-1 as the spine and 420J2 layers on top. It is used in a number of different Cold Steel Knives and is considered a premium high-end steel.
VG-1 1.00% 14.00% 0.30% 0.25%
420J2 0.32% 15.00% 0.30% 1.00% 0.15%
M390 is a premium steel produced by Austrian tool manufacturer Bohler-Uddeholm. It is a high-end stainless steel with excellent edge retention and corrosion resistance. Brands like Benchmade and Lion Steel use M390 in several models. Approximate hardness is between 60-62 HRC.
M390 1.90% 20.00% 0.30% 1.00% 0.60% 0.60% 4.00%
N680 / N690 Co.
N690Co (Cobalt) is higher-end stainless steel which is produced by Austrian Tool company Böhler-Uddeholm. N690Co is favoured heavily by European knife makers such as FOX Knives and Extrema Ratio. Its hardness is generally 58-60 HRC.
N680 is another Bohler-Uddeholm steel. Nitrogen is added during production to make this steel highly corrosion resistant, and as such is used by Benchmade in their “Dive Series” knives. Its approximate hardness falls at 56-58 on the Rockwell Scale.
N690 1.07% 17.00% 1.5% 0.40% 1.10% 0.40% 0.10%
N680 0.54% 17.30% 0.40% 1.10% 0.21% 0.45% 0.09%
Niolox steel is a semi-stainless tool steel, made in Germany. It is known for its ability to hold an edge while being used in hard-wearing situations and is slightly easier to sharpen than some other harder tool steels. Niolox’s stainless properties are minimal, so proper care is required to avoid corrosion. Hardness lies between 59-61 HRC.
Niolox 0.80% 12.70% 1.10% 0.70% 0.90%
O-1 steel is a high-carbon tool steel. With the addition of tungsten, this steel is known for its toughness and edge retention, which is why Cold Steel uses O1 in some of many of their larger fixed blades (ie. Natchez Bowie, Gurkha Kukri). As a tool steel it is not considered stainless, so proper care and maintenance is required to avoid rust. Its approximate hardness lies between 60-62 HRC.
O-1 0.92% 0.50% 1.20% 0.03% 0.50% 0.03% 0.50% 0.30%
SK-5 steel is a tough Japanese high carbon steel, roughly similar to 1080 carbon steel. Its hardness can range anywhere from 55HRC (on axes etc) to 63+ (knives, chisels etc). It is used mostly in fixed blades and spears.
SK-5 0.85% 0.32% 0.03% 0.25% 0.03%
Sleipner is steel produced by Bohler-Uddeholm. It's a high alloyed tool steel with high hardness and good wear resistance. DPX and Lion Steel uses Sleipner steel in their knives.
Sleipner 0.90% 7.80% 0.50% 2.50% 0.90% 0.50%
VG-1 is a stainless steel produced in Japan by Takefu Special Steel, often used by Cold Steel. San Mai III steel uses VG-1 as the core of the laminate with 420j layers on the outside.
VG-1 1.00% 14.00% 0.30% 0.25%
VG-10 (not to be confused with VG-1) is a widely used stainless steel, which is produced in Japan by Takefu Special Steel. It is widely used in Japanese-made knives by brands like Spyderco and Mcusta and is considered a good quality stainless steel. VG-10 is relatively easy to sharpen, holds a good sharp edge and has decent corrosion resistance. Its hardness is usually between 59-61 HRC.
VG-10 1.00% 15.00% 1.40% 0.50% 1.05% 0.03%
ZDP-189 steel made by Hitachi and is an extremely tough stainless steel, the additional of tungsten allowing hardness on the Rockwell Scale of 64-66 HRC. It’s a high carbon, stainless premium steel and has excellent edge retention, meaning it stays sharp for longer, but take a little more effort to sharpen when it does finally become dull.
ZDP-189 3.00% 20.00% 0.50% 1.40% 0.40% 0.60% 0.10%
Carbon Fiber: Woven carbon strands with an injected resin. Carbon Fiber is strong and lightweight, often used on high-end folders.
G-10: Fiberglass layers pressed with resin. Usually has a rough surface allowing for good gripping, although G-10 can be sanded down with smooth patterned looks. One of the most common knife handle materials, good wear resistance in most conditions.
GRN/ FRN: Glass Reinforced Nylon or Fiberglass Reinforced Nylon. Lightweight and durable, used by many brands, the popular Spyderco Delica and Benchmade Griptilian (Grivory®).
Micarta : Pressed layers of fabric (eg: linen, canvas etc) with an injected resin. Micarta is very common in fixed knives and is a naturally durable and well gripping handle material.
Titanium: Lightweight metal alloy. Naturally corrosion and heat resistant. A favourite on high-end folders and used by brands like Chris Reeves and Spyderco.
Wood: A wide array of woods are used on both folding and fixed knives. Wood handles offer a more tradition and classic look. In general wood is not as wear resistant to the elements as other handle materials, although some wood are injected with resins to give it a bit extra protection (eg. Pakkawood, Dymondwood)
“An amorphous nylon copolymer with exceptional dimensional stability. 50% or greater glass fill.”
The AXIS lock is an ambidextrous locking mechanism, patented by Benchmade. To unlock an axis lock knife, simply pull the axis ball down and fold the blade into the closed position. This is very strong, easy to use lock which allows smooth opening and closing.
The back lock is a very strong locking mechanism. The release of the lock is located on the back spine of the handle and is released by pushing down until the blade unlocks. Cold Steel calls their back lock the Triad-Lock , which is patented design is arguable one of the strongest locks in the industry.
The compression lock is a strong lock, exclusively developed by Spyderco Knives. The lock is located on the back of the handle and looks kind of like a backwards liner lock. To unlock, simply move the liner over and fold the blade.
The frame lock (also known as Chris Reeve Integral Lock) is similar to the liner lock. A frame lock knife does not have handle scale on the back of the handle, allowing the entire frame to move over to the lock the blade into position. To unlock a frame lock, simply move the frame piece over to the left, folding the blade gently into closed position.
The Walker Linerlock is the most commonly used lock in folding knives. The inner liner of the handle moves over the right and locks the blade into an open position. To unlock a liner lock, gently move the liner back to the left and fold the blade down, ensuring your fingers are not in the way.
Slip-joint means that a knife is non-locking (friction). Many countries in Europe and throughout the world do not allow locking folders, so may company have expanded into the slip-joint marker. Also many classic style trappers from Buck or Case do not have locks. The mechanism can vary, but to close a slip-joint knife, just hold the handle firmly and push the blade gently into the closed position.
Rockwell Hardness Scale
The Rockwell Scale is what we use to identify the hardness of a particular steel of a blade and how it will fair to deformation against pressure and impact. Generally steels on the higher end of the scale (eg. HRC 62) will be harder and more brittle, like most common stainless steels. A steel on the lower end (eg: HRC 50-55) will be softer but more malleable to high impact, such as an axe or full carbon steel blade. Neither is better or worse, but rather more fitting to what knife you are buying and for what purpose.
Basically how “stainless” a steel is. Poor corrosion resistance means steel is prone to rusting if not properly cared for.
Short for “Modular Lightweight Load carrying Equipment.” MOLLE is used as a universal webbing system to allow for attaching MOLLE compatible pouches and accessories to backpacks and vests. MOLLE is used on tactical and military style equipment and bags and is a great way to customize and carry gear on your person.
*Information is only meant as a guide and we cannot guarantee all the information is accurate.
**Percentages and details taken from manufacturer information guides and steel manufacturers.
**If you feel you know more than we do about a steel, you are probably right. These charts are for those who are looking for some basic information and helpful guide in finding the right knife.