Everyday Carry

Best Blade Steel for Knives: A Beginner’s Guide

Jonathan Tayag
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Best Blade Steel for Knives: A Beginner’s Guide

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Your EDC knife is only as good as the steel in its blade. A knife made of good steel will be sharp, stay sharp, and resists chipping. On the other hand, low-carbon knives made of dubious edge-holding steel are unreliable and downright unsafe. They tend to dull quickly, chipping and breaking when you need them most. There are a lot of high-quality blade steels to pick from, and each has its own set of advantages to consider for your EDC. This guide will cover what to look out for in knife steel before buying your next blade. To make things even easier for beginners, we’ll give a few examples of our favorite knives made of each type of steel.

Jump to our Best Blade Steel Picks


What to Look for in a Good Everyday Carry Blade Steel

  • Hardness and durability: You want a durable knife that won’t bend because its steel is too soft. But the tradeoff is that you don’t want steel so hard that it becomes brittle and chips over time. A good mixture of these two qualities is best. Hardness is measured in terms of Rockwell (HRC) units, with higher values being generally better than lower values. Some of the most high-quality knife steel options use powder metallurgy and superior edge geometry to get the best performance out of a good edge.
    The hardness of a knife’s steel dictates the maximum sharpness of the blade. While you can sharpen knives with harder steels to a more refined edge, it does come at a cost. It takes more effort and sometimes specialized equipment to sharpen blades with the most challenging steels.

  • Toughness: Toughness relates to a blade’s ability to stand up to hard use (and even abuse). Beyond standing up to everyday nicks and scratches, accidents and emergencies happen.

  • Sharpness and edge retention: You want a knife that can get sharp and stay sharp through repeated use. A blade that is easy to sharpen and maintain is also good. Better edge retention means your new knife can cut sharp even during extended use. How hard a blade steel is also affects how sharp it can get. That’s determined by the amount of carbon in the steel. Other elements can also affect how well a blade can hold that edge through repeated rugged use.

  • Corrosion resistance: This determines whether your knife is stainless or not. Non-stainless steel knives need oil and maintenance to keep the rust away. Stainless steel knives are forgiving, but they can still rust if neglected. The number of elements such as chromium content and vanadium in the steel alloy helps this out. Additionally, knives with a low carbon count have a high level of corrosion resistance, but the tradeoff is less prone to deformation and blunting.

  • Ease of sharpening: All knives eventually get dull, and the only way to get them back into shape is to sharpen them. But you will notice that some blades take less effort to take on a keen edge than others. The first reason is hardness, as it can take more work and specialized tools to hone the edge of premium steel. But blade shape also plays a role. For example, sharpening a blade with a recurve edge takes some practice. Serrations can also pose added difficulty.

Knife manufacturers have a comprehensive set of names for each blade steel. The specific cutlery steel alloy used in making a knife is usually disclosed, letting you judge the quality. Generally, beware of dubious knives that do not advertise their blade steel. Unknown low-carbon steel should raise a red flag in your mind when you’re trying to buy a knife.


Main Types of Steel

Carbon Steel

Carbon is the primary element in a steel’s composition because it determines the maximum hardness of the blade. Pure carbon steels emphasize having lots of carbon above all else. The result is a high-performance blade with a good edge that can get very sharp. However, these carbon steels are incredibly susceptible to rusting when left wet, especially in saltwater areas. They can also stain and tarnish when they cut through acidic fruits and veggies.

Tool Steel

Tool steels are special alloys used originally to manufacture commercial and industrial tool bits and components. When used to make blades, tool steel knives have some of the best wear resistance on the market. While they are not as single-minded as pure carbon steel blades, they are not as rust-resistant as stainless steel. But with a good heat treat that exhibits excellent edge-holding properties. And their relative affordability compared to some of the super steels on this list make them a good starting point for EDC beginners.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel blades are the most popular knives on the market. There are many kinds of high-quality stainless steel, each with unique properties. They range from softer budget cutlery steels to high-end premium powdered steels. Be wary of a knife that bills itself only as “stainless steel” without specifying the exact type. That’s a red flag for a cheaply-made and unsuitable pocket knife


Our Top Picks

The Best Overall Blade Steel: M390: Benchmade Bugout [Buy]

The Best Blade Steel on a Budget: 8Cr13MoV: Spyderco Persistence Lightweight [Buy]

The Best Blade Steel for the Outdoors: CPM-3V: Bark River Ultra Lite Bushcrafter Knife [Buy]

The Best Blade Steel for Food Prep: LC200N: Spyderco SpydieChef [Buy]

The Most Premium Blade Steel: CPM MagnaCut: Tactile Rockwall Thumbstud [Buy]


The Top Steel Knives in the Industry

AUS-8

AUS-8 Steel: CRKT CEO Flipper

Purchase
Key Features
IKBS ball bearing pivot
Lightweight
Pocket clip
Specifications
Blade Length
3.35"
Lock Type
Liner
Handle Material
GRN
EDC Rating


Price
$
AUS-8 was one of the first budget steels to appear, breaking the dominance of 420 stainless steel on the market by providing similar or better performance for a lower price. That low price was partly because the steel comes from Japan instead of the United States. And the higher amount of vanadium in the alloy compared to traditional blade steels of old accounts for the increased hardness.

The CRKT CEO Flipper is one of the most popular everyday carry knives. It’s a slim, sleek modern gent’s folding knife with a 3.11” AUS-8 stainless blade. Weighing just 1.9 ounces, the CEO Flipper makes for a comfortable and discreet EDC blade that’s easy to carry. This knife is a standout choice because of its classy design that will suit you well, even in a professional setting.

440C

440C Steel: Boker Plus Credit Card Knife

Purchase
Key Features
Fits in a credit card slot
Lightweight
Removable clip
Specifications
Blade Length
2.25"
Lock Type
Liner
Handle Material
Titanium, G-10
EDC Rating


Price
$$
440C stainless steel is an improvement on a traditional metal used for pocketknives. Out of the conventional 400 series, 440C has the highest potential for high hardness and sharpness, depending on the manufacturer.

The Boker Plus Credit Card knife is a compact everyday carry blade that folds down to the footprint of a standard payment card. This unique knife features a stout 440C stainless steel blade and a titanium frame to keep things lightweight at just 1.13 ounces. The Boker Plus Credit Card Knife is an excellent knife to have as a backup in case you forget a primary blade.

8Cr13MoV

8Cr13MoV Steel: Spyderco Persistence Lightweight

Purchase
Key Features
Affordable
4-way pocket clip
Full flat grind
Specifications
Blade Length
2.77"
Lock Type
Liner
Handle Material
FRN
EDC Rating


Price
$
8Cr13MoV is a high-performance budget stainless steel sourced from China. Its appearance on the market is responsible for a drop in overall prices for everyday carry knives. While some in the community quarrel with the origin of the steel, the fact that you can get quality blades, often made in collaboration with custom knifemakers, for an affordable price has been a great boon to EDC.

The Spyderco Persistence Lightweight features a 2.75" 8Cr13MoV stainless steel blade fashioned into their hallmark leaf shape. The knife is lighter than its original edition, partly due to a change in steel composition. The FRN scales also help keep the package lightweight at just 3.3 ounces. This knife is worth a look because of its affordable price and strong ergonomics.

VG-10

VG-10 Steel: The James Brand Carter

Purchase
Key Features
Thumb disk opener
Drop point blade shape
Reversible pocket clip
Specifications
Blade Length
2.80"
Lock Type
Bar lock
Handle Material
Micarta
EDC Rating


Price
$$$
VG-10 stainless steel features a lot in high-end Japanese kitchen knife blades. The high levels of carbon and chromium in the alloy make it high-hardness with reliable resistance against rusting. The same properties that make this steel a good option for demanding use in the kitchen make it an excellent choice for everyday carry.

With its fully ambidextrous design, The Carter accommodates users of any orientation, starting with its thumb disc deployment that gives you one-handed purchase from either side. This puts the knife’s 2.75“ VG-10 blade into play, in the classic drop point shape that gives it a sweeping belly for versatile cuts.

D2

D2 Steel: SOG Flash AT

Purchase
Key Features
Ambidextrous
Ergonomic handles
Spine-mounted safety
Specifications
Blade Length
3.45"
Lock Type
AT-XR lock
Handle Material
GRN
EDC Rating


Price
$$
D2 tool steel is rapidly becoming the go-to budget steel in the community. The high amount of chromium in the mix gives this steel a superior amount of wear resistance. That durability makes it great for fashioning into bits and hardware, but it also makes for good blade-making steel.

The Flash AT is one of SOG's revitalized line of everyday carry folding knives. This knife's unique features include an assisted opening mechanism that speeds deployment and the built-in blade safety provided by the XR lock. The D2 steel in the 3.5" blade has been cryogenically heat-treated to get the maximum potential out of the material.

154CM

154CM Steel: Boker Burnley Kwaiken

Purchase
Key Features
Comfortable grip
Bronze pivot washers
Right hand carry
Specifications
Blade Length
3.50"
Lock Type
Button lock
Handle Material
Aluminum
EDC Rating


Just released
Price
$$$
154CM was one of the first modern stainless steels that became readily available for EDC knives. It began life as a proprietary American-made high-carbon stainless steel melted in a vacuum. Crucible Industries is the primary source of this blade steel, which is why 154CM stainless steel sometimes goes by Crucible steel. Functionally, it’s an upgrade over traditional 440C steel, but it has a higher resistance against corrosion.

The Boker Burnley Kwaiken takes its inspiration from traditional Japanese short swords. But unlike those antique weapons of war, this modern knife folds up for EDC. It also opens up quickly thanks to its push-button automatic opening system. This knife is unique because it’s an out-the-front knife, meaning the blade extends outwards once actuated. Being an OTF means you keep a firm grip on the aluminum handle since you don’t have to keep your hands clear of the edge as it opens. And its slim and sleek 3.5” blade has a slightly upswept profile, making it excel at detailed close-up cutting and slicing tasks.

CPM-3V

CPM-3V Steel: Bark River Ultra Lite Bushcrafter Knife

Purchase
Key Features
Contoured handles
Included sheath
Lanyard hole
Specifications
Blade Length
3.25"
Lock Type
N/A
Handle Material
Micarta
EDC Rating


Price
$$$$
CPM-3V, another Crucible steel made in the United States, has enhanced toughness thanks to the use of powdered metallurgy in its creation. It has a high toughness, which makes it suitable for hard-use survival knives. 3V does not have good corrosion resistance, however, and it is not stainless steel.

The Bark River Ultra Lite Bushcrafter is a fixed-blade knife for outdoor camping and survival. Being a fixed blade, it does not fold, and it might not be the best option for most people’s EDC due to the size. This handmade knife might be bulkier than most folding knives, but at 2.8 ounces, it’s lighter than some folders. And thanks to its 3.35” CPM-3V steel blade and its ergonomically-shaped handle, it can easily feather wood and handle other hunting and outdoor tasks.

CPM-S35VN

CPM-S35VN Steel: CRK Sebenza 31

Purchase
Key Features
Upgrade to an all-time classic
Thumbstud and lanyard
Two sizes, plenty of variants
Specifications
Blade Length
2.99" / 3.61"
Lock Type
Reeve Integral Lock
Handle Material
Titanium
EDC Rating


Just released
Price
$$$$
CPM-S35VN is the gold standard when it comes to premium everyday carry steels. Unlike 3V, it’s genuinely stainless steel, and its inclusion of niobium carbide gives it both improved toughness and wear resistance. Its ability to take on immense hardness after heat treatment S35VN features so heavily in high-end everyday carry knives. Of course, however, Crucible has made further improvements since this steel’s introduction. Its newest incarnation, S45VN stainless steel, has a higher carbon content and, uniquely, nitrogen to improve wear resistance even further.

No other knife exemplifies the use of CPM-S35VN stainless steel than the knife than the CRK Sebenza 31. S35VN owes its existence to this knife, as it was purpose-built for its use. The blade has been upgraded to S45VN to keep up with the times, but it’s still the grail knife for many in the everyday carry community. Another standout feature of this knife is the Reeve Integral Lock, which originated the frame lock concept. Its sturdiness owes itself to its 6Al4V titanium handle, and its minimalist looks add extra cache to carrying this knife.

LC200N

LC200N Steel: Spyderco SpydieChef

Purchase
Key Features
Chef knife inspired
Rust-proof steel
Open-backed handles
Specifications
Blade Length
3.32"
Lock Type
Frame
Handle Material
Titanium
EDC Rating


Price
$$$$
Where S45VN started with the introduction of nitrogen into the metallurgical creation of the steel, LC200N takes it a step further. This European steel features heavily in Spyderco knives, and its unique properties have made it an excellent choice in their line as it is incredibly rust-resistant. Where previous blades which sported that kind of anti-corrosion properties traded off that advantage with substantial softness and lack of edge retention, LC200N retains high hardness throughout. Another steel that provides a similar experience is Vanax SuperClean.

True to its name, the Spyderco Spydiechef takes its design cues from a chef’s knife. But unlike the knife you have in your block at home, this EDC knife folds. And thanks to its use of LC200N steel, it can stand up to cutting through acidic foods and other conditions that’ll make other blades rust without good maintenance. Its open-backed handle also makes it easier to clean after use with food. And thanks to its Reeve Integral frame lock, it stands up to constant use without folding on the user during the chop and slice.

CPM

CPM MagnaCut Steel: Tactile Rockwall Thumbstud

Purchase
Key Features
Full titanium hardware
Textured handles
Ceramic detent and ball pivot bearings
Specifications
Blade Length
2.84"
Lock Type
Insert lock
Handle Material
Titanium
EDC Rating


Just released
Price
$$$$
With CPM MagnaCut, we get into the realm of new super-premium steels for everyday carry blades. While premium blade steels already exist, MagnaCut is a custom blend made in collaboration with Dr. Larrin Thomas to create “the best” knife steel. In particular, the immense amount of toughness, edge retention, and corrosion resistance makes it great for thinner blades than can be supported by other stainless steel alloys. And with less material in the blade itself, the overall knife comes out lighter and more EDC-friendly. Of course, this comes at a substantial cost, making it out of reach for many in the community.

Known for their high-end bolt-action metal pens designed and crafted in the United States, Tactile has begun making quality everyday carry blades. One of their initial offerings features this super-premium CPM MagnaCut stainless steel. The Rockwall Thumbstud is a beautiful modern gents folding knife with that high-end steel and an all-titanium handle. The 2.84” blade features a flat grind, and it’s held together after a manual thumbstud opening with the insert lock in the handle.

M390

M390 Steel: Benchmade Bugout

Purchase
Key Features
Cerakoted blade
Reversible clip
Sunburst handle pattern
Specifications
Blade Length
3.24"
Lock Type
AXIS lock
Handle Material
Aluminum
EDC Rating


Price
$$$$
M390 is super-premium stainless steel made by Bohler in Austria in Europe. It also features superior edge retention compared to other high-end stainless steel metals while retaining excellent corrosion resistance despite its high carbon content. However, it’s hard to sharpen, requiring diamond whetstones to begin honing a sharp edge.

The Benchmade Bugout is one of the most popular everyday carry knives on this list, and the M390 stainless steel blade at its heart is one of the biggest reasons why it is so. This super-premium stainless steel features an extra Cerakote finish on the Bugout that makes it even more resistant to wear and rust over time. And its discreet deep carry style makes it a good option for multiple EDC uses, which explains its popularity.

CPM-CruWear

CPM-CruWear Steel: Benchmade Mini Adamas

Purchase
Key Features
Dual thumb studs
Reversible clip
Skeletonized handles
Specifications
Blade Length
3.25"
Lock Type
AXIS lock
Handle Material
G-10
EDC Rating


Price
$$$
CPM CruWear is a premium stainless steel that offers good all-around performance, whereas other steels in the category are more skewed. It’s a functional upgrade over D2 tool steel, adding vanadium carbides that make it more rust resistant. And because it has a high amount of tungsten and molybdenum, it can get to a high Rockwell hardness compared to other knife steels. But while it has high hardness, it does not take specialized equipment to maintain and fix an edge made of CruWear. It’s easy to sharpen and accessible for most everyday carry enthusiasts.

The Mini Adamas is Benchmade’s newest iteration of this tactical knife. As its name implies, it’s a smaller version of the folding knife, with an upgrade to the blade steel with the introduction of CPM-CruWear. With that steel, the Mini Adamas is a premium hard-use folding knife that’s easy to maintain and fix. It comes in two colors with the gray able to mix in with most loadouts, with grippy G-10 handle scales for a tactical EDC.

CPM-S90V

CPM-S90V Steel: Fox Knives Vox Yaru

Purchase
Key Features
Flipper tab and thumb hole openers
Reverse tanto shape with a tough tip
Single position tip-up carry clip
Specifications
Blade Length
2.875"
Lock Type
Frame
Handle Material
PVD titanium
EDC Rating


Just released
Price
$$$$
If you’re looking to EDC a blade that’s extremely hard to dull, Crucible’s CPM-S90V steel is what you should choose. Its high hardness and intense wear resistance make it excel at keeping sharp even during rough use. But it also means you’ll need lots of patience and specialized equipment to sharpen this blade. A pull-through kitchen blade sharpener won’t do you any good.

The Fox Knives Vox Yaru features all the ergonomic hallmarks of a Jesper Voxnaes collaboration design. The standout feature is its reverse tanto blade with a pronounced belly that excels at slicing and chopping tasks. It’s also made out of CPM-S90V, making it hold that edge for a ridiculous amount of time. The strength of that super-premium blade steel also comes together with its well-defined point because it can pierce through rough material that would bend or chip other blades.


Steel for Knives FAQ

What is the best steel for making knife blades?

The best steel has a high-carbon content for hardness and sharpness. It should also be rust-resistant unless you do not care for that feature.

What is the strongest steel for a knife?

The strongest steel for a knife is CPM CruWear. Crucible’s S90V is also a contender for the strongest blade steel knives.

What is the best metal for a sharp knife?

Steel is the best metal for a sharp knife. Iron rusts too easily. Other metals do not provide the same amount of usefulness that steel brings to the table.

What is the difference between stainless steel and carbon steel?

Carbon steel rusts. Stainless steel resists rust. Some stainless steels resist rust more than others.


How we picked

Decades of experience and deep connections in the everyday carry industry give us a unique viewpoint on the market to inform our product recommendations. We have the depth of information for thousands of products that have come before and an extensive eye on the market to see what’s new and trending for each piece of gear. The result is a buying guide that we feel is informative and useful for EDCers of every trade, industry, and budget.

What is Everyday Carry?

Everyday Carry is both the concept of what people carry in their pockets and the process of picking out gear that thoughtfully considers what one wants or needs in their daily lives. It encompasses everything from style to preparedness to utility, meaning an entire industry full of valuable tools and essentials to choose from.

Why you should trust us

Our team has decades of combined experience in all aspects of everyday men’s essentials, from wallets to pens to bags and everything in between, and we know where to find great gear ideas that you may not come across at your local stores or when shopping online. Our expertise with the industry and familiarity in design, materials, and usability help you make more informed choices when it comes to picking up your next piece of gear.

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