Due to its elemental composition and strength, 52100 steel makes excellent and versatile knives. They do require better maintenance than some knives, so they’re not ideal for all situations, but overall the hardness allows them to keep their edge for a long time.
In this article I’m going to break down 52100 steel, what makes it great for knives, and answer a few other common questions that usually get asked. Let’s get started!
What is 52100 Steel?
52100 steel is mostly used in the manufacturing industry because it’s strong enough to bear a lot of weight and take a serious beating. It’s also commonly found in vehicles to hold things together.
The strength of this metal is actually what makes it perfect for forging hardened knives, but there’s a price. The biggest negative to this steel being so strong is that it can be tougher to work with and treat than other metals typically used for knives.
The payoff is that I end up making a blade that can cut or stab without worrying about breaking or chipping. This is largely due to the elemental makeup of 52100 steel.
What are the Properties of 52100 Steel?
The 52100 designation refers to the physical composition of the steel, with 5 being chromium, 2 meaning there’s more alloy in the steel than other metals, and the 100 being the average percentage of carbon found in the steel.
I pay special attention to that last part, because carbon is what really separates which metals are good for knife making. An average of 1 percent carbon may sound low, but it’s actually on the higher end in steel.
The chromium concentration affects wear resistance and how long the knife can keep its edge, so that’s just as important. In this case, 5 percent of the steel is chromium. This means it can stay sharp for a long time, but it can require some upkeep.
52100 steel is a workhorse, hard enough to hold weight and withstand immense pressure.
What is the Hardness of 52100 Steel?
52100 steel falls between 64 and 66 on the Rockwell Hardness Scale, or HRC. This is on the high end of hardness among most other steels used in knife making, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that 52100 is the best knife.
When I make a knife, I want it to retain its edge and be hard enough to accomplish its purpose while also being resistant to the elements. 52100 is one of the hardest steels used in knives and is great for hunting, but it lacks the resistance.
Unfortunately, this means that a knife forged with mostly 52100 steel will need to be cleaned and oiled after each use or run the risk of corroding.
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It may make one of the hardest knives around, but 52100 steel will oxidize, corrode, and rust faster than many of its competitors because of the elements in the steel. If I took it hunting, I’d probably have to clean it as soon as I was done using it.
Any liquid on the blade could affect the steel with enough time, so maintenance is key. This is especially true if you have your 52100 steel in a humid environment, so keep it away from water moisture for prolonged trips.
How Strong is 52100 Steel?
There are a number of tests done to indicate how strong a steel is, but the verdict is that 52100 is capable of holding against significant strain. This verdict comes from 3 modulus, a fracture test, and a test of machinability.
The 3 modulus are elasticity, bulk, and shearing. Elasticity is how stiff the steel is, bulk refers to how it does under pressure, and shearing is basically how easy the steel can be cut on a sheet. 52100 steel has great numbers throughout these tests.
It’s not so stiff that it will quickly damage a bit, but it’s stiff enough that it won’t stick to the bit either. 52100 is almost twice as strong as other alloys, meaning it can be compressed repeatedly and retain its hold. That’s what makes it great for machinery and manufacturing.
52100 steel had average shearing results among other steels, meaning that it can be rolled and cut fairly easily. The fracture test proves that 52100 doesn’t crack or break easily compared to other steels used for knives. That’s largely due to the carbon.
The last test is especially important for 52100 steel being used so commonly in industrial, because machinability tests how well the steel performs in a machine system. On a scale of 100 percent, 52100 is only 40, which means that it’s very effective in machinery but will wear down faster than other metals.
Overall, 52100 steel is very strong and capable of withstanding a lot of pressure.
Is it Easy to Sharpen 52100 Steel Blades?
I love 52100 steel because, while it makes a blade that’s incredibly hard and retains an edge for a long time, it’s not too difficult to sharpen when it finally does begin to lose its edge. Harder steel is usually harder to sharpen, but 52100 is surprisingly fair to keep sharp.
For a blade as tough as it is, it doesn’t take any special equipment to sharpen. It might take a little longer than other steel, but I’ve never had an issue with the edge. In fact, to get around the corrosion, I like to coat my 52100 blade to make it more resistant.
Hopefully I’ve answered most of the questions regarding 52100 steel and how effective it is at making knives. The elemental composition of this steel makes for an extremely hard knife that retains its edge for a long time.
It’s not hard to sharpen as long as you have some time and the only real negative to 52100 can be counteracted by a special coating to resist moisture. Without that, though, I wouldn’t recommend taking your 52100 steel knife with you on a trip to the Everglades.