What is the best type of steel for knives?
The discussion about what is “the best type of steel” for a knife has existed since the appearance of steel knives. Deep down, “the best knife steel” doesn’t exist. There are many good types of steel, many different styles of steel, but they are not equally suitable for all applications.
The question: “what is the best steel?” is, in this sense, basically the same as the question: “what is the best car?”. A Ferrari is a great car, but packing it with luggage while preparing for a vacation can be tricky. Not to mention driving it on a bumpy, sandy road somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Conversely, you won’t get very far in a 4×4 off-road vehicle on the Formula 1 track. The same goes for steel guys.
What factors are important when it comes to a type of steel?
A type of steel is always an alloy of different elements. Thanks to these different elements, specific properties can be improved. However, it will always be a compromise. More than A means less than B. More than B means less than C, etc.
The different qualities to pay attention to when it comes to steel are: edge retention , hardness , resistance to rust , and the ease with which it can be sharpened . In reality, there is no type of steel that excels in all four aspects.
What are you going to use the knife for?
Therefore, the search for the best type of steel begins with the following question: “what are you going to use the knife for?”. And he also thinks about what you consider important when it comes to a type of steel. When you know that you can start looking at the different types of steel available. Therefore, we have listed a couple of specific types and categories based on their purpose.
Types of steel for EDC
For everyday carry of your knife , you’ll probably look for a steel that’s stainless, holds its edge well, and isn’t too difficult to sharpen. Hardness doesn’t really play a role when opening boxes or peeling an apple. A couple of popular steel grades for this category are: CPM, S35VN, VG10, CPM S30V, Böhler M390, Böhler N690, or one of dozens of other steel grades. A favorite budget option is 8Cr13MoV steel. It is a type of stainless steel that is easy to sharpen, although it is also quite strong. However, this type of steel does not hold its edge as well.
Of course, there are a couple more unique types of steel that are popular in this category. On this page we have compiled EDC knives made of supersteel .
Survival and bushcraft knives
A robust outdoor knife is expected not to break and to be resistant. Also, you have to be able to sharpen it in the field, and it should hold its sharpness fairly well. We are talking about survival and bushcraft knives . Rust is not that important in this case: if it is maintained correctly and/or a suitable coating is applied, it will go a long way. For this reason, carbon steel from tool steel is often used for these purposes. Think about: D2, 1095, CPM 3V, Sleipner, A2 or another type of carbon steel. They are often incredibly strong and easy to sharpen with limited means when out in the field.
Plain carbon steel is often used for machetes . It is often plainer than the carbon steel used for normal fixed knives. Think 1055 or 65Mn carbon steel. And it is that a machete does not have to remain sharp, the only thing it has to do is not break.
heat treatment of steel
An important observation is that a type of steel by itself does not say much. More important is the heat treatment of the steel. A famous saying in the world of knives goes like this: “the steel is the heart of the blade, but the heat treatment is the soul”. We haven’t been able to figure out who came up with this saying, but we totally agree.
finishing and sharpening
In addition to heat treatments, attention must also be paid to blade finish and sharpening. A knife upgraded with a stonewashed finish is inherently more resistant to rust than a sandblasted knife. When it comes to sharpening, it’s important to note that a finer blade doesn’t have to withstand as much resistance when used, which means the blade is also affected less and can stay sharp longer. At the same time, a thin blade is more fragile than a thicker blade. So less resistant to breakage.
These are a couple of examples and points of interest that you can use when choosing a new knife. It is important to know that we have based our conclusions on the average applications of these types of steel. There are always brands and manufacturers that handle their steel a little differently to make it stand out even more on certain levels.
Also, your preferences may differ from those of others. Every man for himself. Think, for example, of the category of outdoor knives. Rust sensitivity may not bother many, but in a maritime environment, on the coast or in your fishing bag it can be tricky if you see your knife getting damaged due to rust. Although today’s types of steel are much better than those produced 20-30 years ago, you won’t be at any real risk. Yes, Type A will stay sharper longer than Type B, but how substantial are the differences? Often it can be concluded that it is not that bad. Therefore, you should obtain as much information as possible to know what you will need for your situation. On our page about knife steel you will find more information about types of knife steel.