30 Best Knife Steel You Should Know About

When I first got into knives, I paid very little attention to the steel.

I knew the difference between carbon steel and stainless steel. But that’s as far as my knowledge goes. To me, there were only two types of steel.

Boy, was I wrong? Back then, I was unaware that there was a whole world of steels. I was unaware of all the beauties and intricacies of these metals.

Today, I want to share with you what I’ve learned along the way. So buckle up, because this is my ultimate guide to the Best Knife Steel.

Best Steel For Knives: Summary

  • CPM S110V Steel
  • CPM S90V Steel
  • M390 Steel
  • ZDP-189 Steel
  • Elmax Steel
  • CPM-20CV Steel
  • CTS-XHP Steel
  • CPM-M4 Steel
  • CPM S35VN Steel
  • CPM S30V Steel
  • 154CM Steel
  • ATS-34 Steel
  • D2 Steel
  • H1 Steel
  • LC200N Steel
  • N680 Steel
  • 440C Steel
  • AUS-8 Steel
  • CTS-BD1 Steel
  • 8Cr13MoV Steel
  • 14C28N Steel
  • 440A Steel
  • 420HC Steel
  • 13C26 Steel
  • AUS-6 Steel
  • K390 Steel
  • 4116 Steel
  • 4034 Steel
  • Damascus Steel
  • Martensitic Steel

CPM S110V Steel

CPM-S110V

First up, we have the CPM S110V. This premium stainless steel isn’t the most common knives materials. But when you see this around, you know you are getting a very high-quality knife.

Developed by Crucible Industries, this knife has some unique properties.

CPM S110V Steel Composite Materials:

  • Carbon 2.8%
  • Chromium 15.25%
  • Vanadium 9.0%
  • Niobium (Columbium) 3.0%
  • Molybdenum 2.25%
  • Cobalt 2.50

As you can see, there are quite a lot of alloys in this steel. The chromium, vanadium, and niobium all give this steel incredible edge retention. You won’t have to worry about sharpening, every now and then.

Also, it is quite good at resisting corrosion. It is, after all, stainless steel. That’s why maintaining this steel isn’t too difficult, you won’t have to worry about rust popping up.

Given that there are so many alloys mixed in, this steel loses some of its sharpness and toughness. But for those going for edge-retention and corrosion resistance, this is a great choice.


CPM S90V Steel

Crucible Industries have also developed the CPM S90V. This steel is more popular than its counterpart. Brands such as Benchmark and Spyderco use it all the time in their knives.

CPM S90V Steel Composite Materials:

  • Carbon 2.3%
  • Chromium 14.0%
  • Vanadium 9.0%
  • Molybdenum 1.0%

This steel doesn’t have as many alloys as the S110V. However, you’ll notice that it still has high amounts of chromium and vanadium.

These give it a quite good edge-retention and corrosion resistance. However, without the other alloys, it’s not as good at these – as the S110V.

That said, with more iron, it is a bit tougher. you can check out Crucible’s Datasheet.


M390 Steel

Next up, the M390 by Bohler Uddenholm. A lot of people consider this to be one of the best steels for knives. This steel is mostly seen in high-end knives. If you have an expensive kitchen knife, chances are it is made from this steel.

To know why this is so popular? let’s have a look at its properties.

M390 Steel Composite Materials:

  • Carbon 1.90%
  • Chromium 20%
  • Vanadium 4%
  • Molybdenum 1%
  • Silicon 0.70%
  • Tungsten 0.60%
  • Manganese 0.30%

By now, you should be familiar with chromium and vanadium. The molybdenum, silicon, tungsten, and manganese give this steel extra strength. This is something that the first two types of steel lack.

This way, you get a very well rounded steel. Its stainless properties aren’t as high as the other two we’ve looked at, but it is much tougher.


ZDP-189 Steel

The ZDP-189 is a very high-quality steel, manufactured by the Japanese company Hitachi. This steel is known for its extra-high carbon content, combined with its high chromium. At 3% carbon, this is one of the highest carbon stainless steels you can find.

ZDP-189 Steel Composite Materials:

  • Carbon 3%
  • Chromium 20%
  • Molybdenum 1.4%
  • Tungsten 0.6%
  • Vanadium 0.1%
  • Manganese 0.5%
  • Silicon 0.4%

This high carbon makes this steel super hard. It’s so hard, you can expect it to stay sharp for a long, long time.

On the flip side, it’s hardness makes this steel very difficult to sharpen. You’ll need something harder than this steel to Sharpen it, which isn’t easy to find.

You can read more about the ZDP-189 Here


Elmax Steel

Bohler-Uddenholm is not only known for the M390 but also for Elmax. This is another very well-rounded steel. It has just the right amounts of strength and corrosion resistance.

Elmax Steel Composite Materials:

  • Carbon 1.7%
  • Chromium 18%
  • Molybdenum 1%
  • Vanadium 3%
  • Manganese 0.3%
  • Silicon 0.8%

By comparing these properties with that of the M390, you’ll see that almost all its properties are slightly less. This makes it not as good on the stainless side.

However, one way that the Elmax is better than the M390 is in the ease of sharpening. Because it isn’t as hard, and there aren’t as many alloys, sharpening is much easier.


CPM-20CV Steel

The CPM-20CV by Crucible Industries is almost a carbon copy of the M390. If you compare their properties, you’ll see that the only difference is the silicon and manganese of the M390. Everything else, even the percentages, are the same.

CPM-20CV Steel Composite Materials:

  • Carbon 1.9%
  • Chromium 20%
  • Vanadium 4.0%
  • Molybdenum 1.0%
  • Tungsten 0.6%

This way, CPM-20CV is very good at resisting corrosion. Furthermore, it can keep its edge for a long, long time. Without the silicon and manganese though, you won’t get as much strength as the M390.

Since it’s by Crucible, there is, of course, a complete Datasheet


CTS-XHP Steel

The CTS-XHP is a premium steel developed by Carpenter. It might not be as good as the others we’ve looked at, but this steel has a lot to offer, which you can check out Here

CTS-XHP Steel Composite Materials:

  • Carbon 1.6%
  • Chromium 16%
  • Molybdenum 0.8%
  • Manganese 0.5%
  • Vanadium 0.45%
  • Silicon 0.4%
  • Nickel 0.35%

A new element that we haven’t seen before is nickel. When nickel is added to steel, it gives it more impact strength and toughness. At the same time, it also helps with corrosion resistance.

This, plus the other elements, creates a steel that is good at everything. It is strong, resistant, and easy to sharpen as well.


CPM-M4 Steel

The CPM-M4 is a very high-performance carbon-steel. Crucible doesn’t only forge stainless steels, but also carbon steel as well. This comes at the cost of losing some of its corrosion resistance. Full DataSheet

CPM-M4 Steel Composite Materials:

  • Carbon 1.42%
  • Chromium 4%
  • Vanadium 4%
  • Tungsten 5.5%
  • Molybdenum 5.25%
  • Manganese 0.3%
  • Sulfur 0.06%

As you can see, there is drastically less chromium than the other steels we’ve looked at. This is why you’ll need to be more careful with this steel. Proper maintenance will be very important.

Other than that though, this steel outperforms a lot of other steels. It is hard, sharp, and can keep its edge for a long, long time. Also, it isn’t that difficult to sharpen.


CPM S35VN Steel

The CPM S35VN is an improvement of another steel by Crucible – the CPM S30V. As always, The DataSheet!

CPM S35VN Steel Composite Materials:

  • Carbon 1.4%
  • Chromium 14%
  • Vanadium 3%
  • Molybdenum 2%
  • Niobium 0.5%

When you compare the properties of this steel to that of the S30V, you’ll see that the difference is small. However, the new and improved S35VN is harder and easier to machine as well.


CPM S30V Steel

CPM S30V is very popular steel by Crucible. Despite having a “new and improved” version in the CPM S35, this steel is very good. That’s why dozens of knives makers use this steel.


CPM S30V Steel Composite Materials:

  • Carbon 1.45%
  • Chromium 14%
  • Vanadium 4%
  • Molybdenum 2%

This steel contains slightly more carbon than the S35VN. It also doesn’t have any niobium. That’s why it isn’t as hard as that one.

When it comes to knives though, you’ll find that it’s very difficult to tell these two types of steel apart. It’s only in manufacturing where the difference is clearly seen.

You can also read deeper into all of this in the CPM S30V Datasheet.


154CM Steel

The 154CM is a very popular stainless steel today. It’s considered to be better than the ubiquitous 440 steel series. So, if you’re looking for an improvement of that, you should check out the 154CM.

154CM Steel Composite Materials:

  • Carbon 1.05%
  • Chromium 14%
  • Manganese 0.5%
  • Molybdenum 4%
  • Silicon 0.3%

154CM is a jack-of-all-trades type of steel. It doesn’t lack anything, but it isn’t particularly good at everything either.

It’s quite tough, quite easy to sharpen, quite resistant to corrosion, and quite good at keeping its edge. But again, not the best at anything.

That said, it is slightly better at everything than the 440 series.


ATS-34 Steel

The ATS-34 by Hitachi is one of the better steels made by this Japanese brand. It’s not only Crucible that makes good ones. Read more here

ATS-34 Steel Composite Materials:

  • Carbon 1.25%
  • Chromium 14%
  • Manganese 0.4%
  • Molybdenum 4%
  • Silicon 0.25%

This steel has a lot in common with the154CM. If you take a close look at the properties, you’ll see that they differ ever so slightly.

Because of this, a lot of people call the ATS-34 the Japanese 154CM. It’s also a blade that is quite good at everything.

It doesn’t lack anything. Unfortunately, it isn’t number one at anything either.


D2 Steel

D2 is a common type of steel that you can find everywhere. There’s a big chance that you own a knife using this steel. That’s why it’s a good idea to learn more about this type of steel:

D2 Steel Composite Materials:

  • Carbon 1.5%
  • Chromium 12%
  • Vanadium 0.9%
  • Molybdenum 0.8%
  • Silicon 0.3%

D2 isn’t the best steel by a long stretch. Instead, D2 is easy to manufacture, and not too expensive either.

One notable thing about the D2 is that it only has 12% chromium. While that’s high, it isn’t enough to be considered stainless steel. That said, it is still very good at resisting corrosion.

It is also an old steel. While some of the steels here have been made in the last few years, D2 has been around since WWII(World War 2)! And despite all the advancement, it’s still quite common nowadays.

This goes to show how good this steel is. Again, not the best. But a very good option for knives.


H1 Steel

H1 is the single most corrosion-resistant steel. Crafted by Japanese brand Myodo Metals, this is the stainless steel of stainless-steels.

A lot of times, “stainless steel” doesn’t actually mean stainless. Sure, they have very high corrosion resistance. But if you don’t take care of them, they will eventually rust.

Not H1. It won’t rust, no matter what you do to it – even if you leave it in saltwater!

Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s look at the properties.

H1 Steel Composite Materials:

  • Carbon 0.15%
  • Chromium 16%
  • Molybdenum 1.5%
  • Nitrogen 0.1%
  • Nickel 8%
  • Manganese 2%
  • Silicon 4.5%
  • Copper 0.1%
  • Phosphorous 0.04%
  • Sulfur 0.03%

There are a lot of elements that go into making this special steel. One of the things that stand out is how little carbon is used in manufacturing the steel. This is one of the reasons why it doesn’t rust easily.

Japanese company Myodo Metal has created a truly amazing steel. You can read more about it here:

The only problem is that you’ll have to sharpen it quite often. Other than that, you’ll also have to spend a lot to get this steel. It’s so good, it doesn’t come cheap.


LC200N Steel

Zapp has also created a stainless steel that is almost completely stainless. It isn’t quite good as the H1, but this is another steel that features extreme corrosion resistance.

LC200N Steel Composite Materials:

  • Carbon 0.3%
  • Chromium 15%
  • Molybdenum 1%
  • Manganese 1%
  • Nickel 0.5%
  • Nitrogen 0.5%

THe LC200N has a shockingly low carbon amount. That said, it’s other components that give it all the strength it needs. You’ll find that its toughness isn’t going to be a problem at all.

No, you can’t leave your LC200N in saltwater without consequences. But this blade was made to survive the most humid conditions. It can stand in conditions where most other stainless steels will go rusted already.

For more information on this amazing steel, check it here


N680 Steel

The N680 by Bohler is yet another highly-corrosion resistant steel. Again, it’s not as good as H1, but neither is it as expensive. You can see it’s full properties here

N680 Steel Composite Materials:

  • Carbon 0.54%
  • Chromium 17.3%
  • Silicon 0.45%
  • Manganese 0.4%
  • Molybdenum 1.1%
  • Nickel 0.5%
  • Vanadium 0.1%
  • Nitrogen 0.2%

If you use your knife around saltwater a lot, you may want to get N680 steel. This is because, with it’s chromium and nitrogen, it resists rust and corrosion a lot.

As I’ve already said, it isn’t as expensive as H1. That’s why it’s more common as well. Getting a good corrosion-resistant knife doesn’t have to be that expensive anyway.


440C Steel

440 steel is one of the most well-known types of steel available. You’ve surely heard of this by now. And if you’ve been with us for a while, you may have even read my article on this steel already.

440C Steel Composite Materials:

  • Carbon 1.2%
  • Manganese 1%
  • Silicon 1%
  • Chromium 18%
  • Molybdenum 0.75%
  • Phosphorous 0.04%
  • Sulfur 0.03%

440C is the hardest of the 440 line-up, which is an affordable set of steels. This is why some people look down on the 440C. We shouldn’t do this though.

If you check out this knife’s capabilities, you’ll find that it is a very good one. That’s why it is super popular nowadays. It’s not only the price that makes 440C so common, but it’s also how good it is.


AUS-8 Steel

The AUS-8 is a Japanese budget steel. It’s so affordable, this is the type of steel you see in mass-produced knives. Nonetheless, it’s still a very interesting one.

AUS-8 Steel Composite Materials:

  • Carbon 0.75%
  • Chromium 14.5%
  • Molybdenum 0.3%
  • Vanadium 0.26%
  • Nickel 0.49%
  • Manganese 0.5%
  • Silicon 1%
  • Phosphorous 0.04%
  • Sulfur 0.03%

One of the steels you can compare this with is the 440C. It’s better at corrosion resistance, but not quite as tough.

Like the 440C, just because it’s cheap doesn’t mean that it isn’t good. You can find some great knives that use AUS-8.

Of course, it doesn’t compare to top-of-the-line steels. But this Japanese steel is truly a bang for the buck.


CTS-BD1 Steel

The CTS-BD1 is Carpenter’s version of budget steel. It isn’t as good as the CTS-XHP, but it is also much cheaper.

CTS-BD1 Steel Composite Materials:

  • Carbon 0.95%
  • Chromium 17%
  • Manganese 1%
  • Silicon 1%
  • Molybdenum 0.5%
  • Phosphorous 0.04%
  • Sulfur 0.03%

A lot of people consider this to be one of the better budget steels around. This is because it is great at corrosion resistance, isn’t too bad at keeping its edge, and is quite easy to sharpen as well.

It isn’t the toughest steel around, but that’s fine. For people new to knives, this steel is a great place to start. It isn’t difficult to maintain, and it’s not like this steel doesn’t have any strength.

Sure, it’s not the best, but it is still quite good. Most people even rank this higher than the 440C.


8Cr13MoV Steel

The 8Cr13MoV is a China-made budget steel that has great value for money. You may think someone fell asleep on their keyboard when you first see this name, but it actually makes sense. This name is based on the properties of this steel.

8Cr13MoV Steel Composite Materials:

  • Carbon 0.8%
  • Chromium 13%
  • Molybdenum .15%
  • Vanadium 0.1%
  • Nickel 0.2%
  • Manganese 1%
  • Silicon 1%

This steel is made in China and is so cheap, it’s even cheaper than the AUS-8.

At the same time, it isn’t as good as the AUS-8. It’s less resistant to corrosion, and it isn’t as tough either.

The area where this steel shines though is when it comes to value. For a very low price, you can get  this very decent steel.


14C28N Steel

14C28N is a stainless steel by Sandvik. A lot of countries produce good steel, and one of them is Sweden. It’s from this country that we get the famous steel brand Sandvik.

One of their most popular products is the 14C28N. For the full information on this steel, check this out

14C28N Steel Composite Materials:

  • Carbon 0.62%
  • Chromium 14%
  • Silicon 0.2%
  • Manganese 0.6%
  • Phosphorous 0.025%
  • Sulfur 0.01%
  • Nitrogen 0.11%

This is another steel that’s good at everything, but not excellent at anything. It’s also not expensive to get either.

Unlike some of the other cheap steel though, this one is quite hard. It is also super easy to sharpen.


440A Steel

While not as good as 440C, 440A is still all over the place. It should be a steel that you are well familiar with. It needs no introduction, but if you want to learn more, you can do so here

440A Steel Composite Materials:

  • Carbon 0.75%
  • Chromium 18%
  • Manganese 1%
  • Silicon 1%
  • Molybdenum 0.75%
  • Sulfur 0.03%
  • Phosphorous 0.04%

The main difference between this steel and 440C is that 440A has less carbon. That’s why it isn’t as hard and as tough as its counterpart.

That said, less carbon means more room for corrosion resistance. However, you should know that the difference is very small. That’s why 440C is seen as better steel altogether.


420HC Steel

420HC is another budget steel that is all over the place. However, when done right, good manufacturers can bring out its full potential. Manufacturers such as Buck Knives use this steel all the time.

420HC Steel Composite Materials:

  • Carbon 0.45%
  • Manganese 0.8%
  • Chromium 13%
  • Silicon 0.8%
  • Nickel 0.5%

The best thing about this steel is that it is easy to sharpen. You won’t run into any problems at all when you do this.

Aside from that, everything else is quite average. It’s not particularly bad at anything, but it isn’t special in any way either. That’s why only good manufacturers can bring out the good side of this steel.


13C26 Steel

Sandvik, the Swedish steel company, also created the 13C26. It is similar in a lot of ways to the 14C28N, but it doesn’t contain any nitrogen.

13C26 Steel Composite Materials:

  • Carbon 0.6%
  • Chromium 13%
  • Manganese 0.7%
  • Silicon 0.4%
  • Sulfur 0.01%

Without nitrogen, it isn’t as hard and doesn’t have as much fatigue life. A closer comparison would be to the 440A.

When compared with the 440A, it’s difficult to tell these steels apart. The 13C26 is slightly harder, and not as good with corrosion resistance. But these differences are so small, most people won’t notice anything.


AUS-6 Steel

Japanese company Aichi Steel is known for its AUS lineup, which includes the AUS-6. We’ve already had a look at the AUS-8, now let’s see the AUS-6.

AUS-6 Steel Composite Materials:

  • Carbon 0.65%
  • Chromium 14.5%
  • Vanadium 0.25%
  • Nickel 0.49%
  • Manganese 1%
  • Silicon 1%

I’ve dubbed some of the steels we’ve looked at as “budget steels.” When it comes to the AUS-6 though, we’re talking about one of the cheapest steels around.

This steel isn’t as hard as the AUS-8, neither is it more corrosion resistant. It’s the lower version of the AUS-8.

Of course, it’s also cheaper. That’s why despite being worse off in almost every way, it’s still mass-produced. The price is this steel’s selling point.


K390 Steel

The K390 is Bohler Uddenholm’s carbon-steel. So far, we’ve mostly had a look at stainless steels. But this one is too good not to talk about it.

K390 Steel Composite Materials:

  • Carbon 2.47%
  • Chromium 4.2%
  • Molybdenum 3.8%
  • Vanadium 9%
  • Cobalt 2%
  • Silicon 0.55%
  • Manganese 0.4%
  • Tungsten 1%

The K390 isn’t a high-end steel by any means. However, it is a steel that is very long-lasting. It is so durable, you won’t have to replace it anytime soon.

Being durable does not mean corrosion-resistant though. Like carbon steel, you’ll have to take good care of this. Otherwise, it will be very quick to rust.


4116 Steel

Another cheap steel is 4116 steel. This steel is another type that you see all over the place. It’s so popular, you may even have a knife with this steel without knowing it.

4116 Steel Composite Materials:

  • Carbon 0.55%
  • Chromium 15%
  • Molybdenum 0.8%
  • Vanadium 0.2%

As you can tell by the high chromium level, this is a stainless steel knife. How good is it? Well, it is slightly better than the 420HC at resisting corrosion.

Other than that, this steel isn’t special in any way. It’s a cheap stainless steel that is mass-produced. Not something that gets knife enthusiasts like me excited.


4034 Steel

Another cheapo that you may come across is the 4034 steel. Again, not a steel that gets anyone excited. But it does do its job. Full details

4034 Steel Composite Materials:

  • Carbon 0.5%
  • Chromium 14.5%
  • Manganese 1%

As you can see, not a lot goes into this knife. It has just enough carbon to be decent steel, and just enough chromium to make it stainless.

So why mention it? Well, as I said, this steel is all over the place. And it does get the job done. It’s not like this steel is going to break when you slice something.

It’s not great, but it’s not the worst steel in the world for knives.


Damascus Steel

Last, but certainly not least, Damascus steel. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve surely heard of this steel by now. It is one of the most well-known types of steel in the world. Even non-knife junkies know this.

Damascus Steel Composite Materials:

  • Carbon 1.6%
  • Manganese 0.56%
  • Phosphorous 0.107%
  • Sulfur 0.02%
  • Silicon 0.043%
  • Nickel 0.12%
  • Copper 0.048%
  • Vanadium 0.01%
  • Chromium 0.01%
  • Titanium 0.002%

Reading through the properties, you’ll notice that there’s a bunch of elements with tiny percentages. It may seem pointless, but these are what make Damascus steel unique.

The reason why everyone knows about this steel is because of its looks. Damascus steel is famous for its wavy patterns. These don’t add much in the way of functionality, but they are very beautiful to look at.

That’s why Damascus steel is a favorite for collectors like me. There’s something about the waves that really catch the eyes. That’s why I have a bunch of Damascus steel blades in my collection.


Martensitic Steel

Before I go, I wanted to mention martensitic steel. This isn’t a specific type of steel like H1 or M390. Instead, it is a lot broader.

There are four types of stainless steel, one of them is martensitic. Martensitic steels have the bare minimum amount of chromium for stainless steel. They also have relatively high amounts of carbon.

Because of this high carbon, martensitic steels can get quite hard. And this hardness is what makes them great for knives.

That’s why martensitic knives are all over the place. A big chunk of kitchen knives falls under this category. They have a great balance between hardness and stainlessness.

In case you were wondering, the other types of stainless steel are austenitic, duplex, and ferritic. They are also used as knives, but nothing quite beats martensitic when it comes to this.


Conclusion

And there you have it! There are so many other types of steel out there that I couldn’t cover today. If I tried, this article would go on and on and on.

But rest assured, if you’ve reached this far, you now know a lot about the best steels for knives in the market today.

Ahmed

I’m Ahmed, the guy behind Knifepulse.com. I’ve owned several types of knives and sharpeners over the last few years and have become obsessed with everything to do with knives. I’m always trying to improve my cleaning and sharpening process, and always on the hunt for the next best knife. But when I’m not spending time with my hobby, I’m here, writing about Knives and Sharpeners on KnifePulse to share with you what I learn along the way.

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