The Beginner's Guide to EDC Knife Blade Steels

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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 won't break on you. On the other hand, knives made of dubious steel are unreliable and downright unsafe. They tend to dull easily and end up chipping and breaking when you need them most. There's a lot of blade steels to pick from, and each has its own set of advantages to consider for your EDC. In this guide, we'll go over what to look out for in a steel before buying your next blade. To make things even easier, we'll give a few examples of our favorite knives made of each type of steel.

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. You don't want a steel that's so hard that it becomes brittle and chips over time either. A good mixture of these two qualities is best.

  • Sharpness and edge retention: You want a knife that can get real sharp and stay sharp through repeated use. A knife that is easy to sharpen and maintain is also good. 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 affect how well a blade can hold that edge through repeated tough use too.

  • Corrosion resistance: This determines whether your knife is stainless or not. Non-stainless steel knives need oil and maintenance to keep rust away. Stainless steel knives are more forgiving, but they can still end up rusting if neglected. The amount of elements such as chrome and vanadium present in the steel alloy help this out.

Knife manufacturers have a wide set of names for each kind of blade steel. The specific 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 steel should raise a red flag in your mind when you're trying to buy a knife.

Now that you have a general understanding of blade steels, let's look at specific examples of 10 good steels.


1095 Carbon Steel

1095 is a non-stainless carbon steel, with approximately 0.95% carbon in the blade. This makes for a tough knife that holds an excellent edge, but it's prone to rusting if you don't take care of it. Frequent lubrication and proper storage will keep things in good order. 1095 blades also tend to be thicker because a thin knife made of hard 1095 can be too brittle.

Example: TOPS Bartender Defender

The hardness of 1095 steel is great for making fixed blades, and the Bartender Defender is an excellent example. It's a sharp and compact EDC knife that's also pretty handy because it packs a bottle opener as well.

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D2 Tool Steel

D2 is a steel normally used to create large industrial tools needed to cut and stamp softer forms of steel. Because of that it's incredibly tough and wear resistant. It's a bit more resistant to corrosion than carbon steel but it's not truly stainless. And while it makes for a very hard, yet durable knife, it can be difficult to sharpen without the right equipment.

Example: Schrade SCH601TI

The blade on the Schrade SCH601TI features both a drop point and recurve design that makes it very versatile and suitable for your everyday cutting tasks. It also sports a solid frame lock construction as well as a gorgeous textured ergonomic titanium handle.

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420HC 

420HC is an old-school high-carbon stainless steel that you'll mostly find in classy gent's knives and outdoors hunter designs. It's not as hard as some of the steels on this list, but it's great for knives that go through constant hard use. It's extremely easy to sharpen; in a pinch, even the unpolished bottom of a ceramic plate will do.

Example: Buck 110

Few things are as timeless as a Buck knife, and the 110 folding hunter knife is one of the classiest gent's knives you can carry. The brass and wood grain features make it more than just a tool in your hands. It also features a traditional clip point hunter's blade that locks into place with a solid lockback mechanism in the handle.

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Sandvik 12C27 / Sandvik 14C18N 

Sandvik 12C27 is a medium carbon (0.6%) blade steel that features a large amount of chromium in the mix. Blades made of this steel exhibit strong durability and wear resistance. It's very resistant to rust as well. Despite the lower carbon content compared with other blade steels in this guide, Sandvick 12C27 can become very sharp if heat treated well.

Example: Opinel No. 8 Stainless (Sandvick 12C27)

The venerable Opinel usually comes with a non-stainless blade, but they use Sandvick 12C27 for their stainless options. These knives cut at a level that's comparable to their non-stainless brethren while being easier to maintain as well.

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Example: Kershaw Leek (Sandvick 14C18N)

If you're looking for something with a bit more carbon but still in the same family as this blade steel, take a look at knives made of the 14C18N variant. The best knife made of this steel is by far the Kershaw Leek, a small EDC folding blade with flipper assisted opening and a modified wharncliffe shape. It's extremely popular in the EDC community, and it's affordable too.

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8Cr13MoV 

This is one of the more ubiquitous on the market today because it delivers solid performance at a cost that is very budget friendly. The name denotes the actual content of the steel, with the main points being 0.80% carbon and 13% chrome. It's a good all-around knife for affordable everyday carry with solid sharpness, edge retention, and durability. There are variations of this steel, but knives below 8Cr tend to not hold an sharp edge as well because of the lower carbon content.

Example: CRKT Vizzle

The Vizzle has an attractive Voxnaes design that features a 3.35” 8Cr13MoV blade with an upswept tip. With its flipper opening and IKBS ball bearing assist, it's ready to go as soon as you need it.

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AUS-8 

AUS-8 has similar properties to 440C stainless steel, but it features a large amount of vanadium in its creation. It's an excellent blade steel when made properly, but its quality is very dependent on how well it is forged and heat treated. If you're looking at an AUS-8 knife, make sure you're buying from a maker who's up to snuff. While it gets sharp, AUS-8 also tends to dull quickly, so make sure to sharpen it regularly to get the best results.

Example: Ontario Knife Company RAT II

Ontario Knife Company is well-regarded for making sharp knives that stand up to hard use. Their RAT folding knife series is one of the most popular folders carried by the EDC community as well. Their latest iteration features a sharp 3” satin finished AUS-8 drop point blade and grippy G-10 scales on the handle.

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440C

440C is a stainless steel with a durable crystallite structure and a high chromium content. It generally has a higher amount of carbon than 1095, but the chromium content makes it far more resistant to corrosion. As one of the alloy steels, it's also far less brittle and more wear-resistant than 1095. Unlike 1095, it's more suited for folding knives that are far less hefty than fixed blades.

Example: Spyderco Chicago

In this example, the Spyderco Chicago is a compact folding knife made in the classic Spyderco style with a sub-2”, 440C flat ground, plain edge blade. Its ergonomic handle also sports grippy G-10 scales, giving you precise control.

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154CM 

154CM is a further development of 440C stainless steel. With the addition of molybdenum, the durable alloy in 154CM exhibits superior sharpness and edge retention than standard stainless steels. 154CM is great for knives that will be used often, making it perfect for EDC. While still being tough and durable, it's fairly easy to sharpen 154CM on your own.

Example: Benchmade Mini Griptillian

The Mini Griptillian is a venerable knife that's extremely popular in the EDC community. Its razor-sharp 2.91” drop point 154CM blade makes short work of your everyday cutting tasks. The ambidextrous AXIS lock and excellent grip afforded by the handle makes it a joy to use everyday.

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VG-10 

This is a premium high-carbon stainless steel that gets so sharp that you usually find it in some of the best kitchen knives your money can buy. Combine that with its excellent rust resistance and its ability to be forged into the waved patterns of Damascus steel and you have something that brings your EDC to a higher level.

Example: Boker Plus Kwaiken Mini Titan

The Mini Kwaiken pairs an ultra-sharp 3” VG-10 alloyed blade with a gorgeous titanium handle. The blade deploys with a flipper assisted by IKBS ball bearings and a liner lock keeps it in place during use.

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CPM-S30V / CPM-S35VN 

S30V is a blade steel designed for extremely high quality knives. It's a result of a collaboration between Crucible and Chris Reeve, of whose knives represent the grail for many in the EDC community. S30V uses vanadium carbides instead of chromium to achieve stellar toughness and sharpness. Because of the work it takes to make this steel, you generally only find it in high-end and custom knives.

Example: Zero Tolerance 0350 (CPM-S30V)

The 0350 represents everything I look for in a knife, and it is my personal EDC daily driver. It has a beautiful organic modified drop point blade that has a huge belly, increasing its cutting surface. The 3.25” blade's S30V steel gets sharp and stays sharp. SpeedSafe assisted opening ensures it's out quick, and the ergonomics make it a joy to hold.

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Example: Chris Reeve Small Inkosi (CPM-S35VN)

With the addition of niobium and a few more tweaks to the formula, S35VN makes for an even sharper version of S30V. The greatest example of this blade steel in current production is of course Chris Reeve's Small Inkosi. It features a sub 2” hollow ground blade that's sharp enough to cut through most anything you throw at it. The handles are 6Al4V titanium and feature the signature Reeve integral lock. It's absolutely stunning, and it's definitely worthy to sit alongside the Sebenza line as a grail knife for everyday carry.

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You're bound to encounter more kinds of blade steels on your hunt for the perfect EDC knife, but by now you should be familiar with the most popular of the EDC-worthy options out there. What's your favorite steel and why? Let us know in a comment below.

#knives #buying-guides #carry-smarter #begginner-stainless-knife-steel see all



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I don't get the "S35VN makes for an even sharper version of S30V", I've never heard that S35VN takes a sharper edge than S30V. Just that it's less chipping prone.
In all honesty 440C and 154CM are as low quality as I would go is the "Stainless" relm. S30V & S35VN are the real powerhouses. But a real powerhouse super steel is ELMAX. Produced by Bohler-Uddenholm, ELMAX steel is a "high chromium-vanadium-molybdenum-alloyed steel," made of 1.7 percent carbon, 18 percent chromium, .3 percent manganese, 1 percent molybdenum, .8 percent silicon, and 3 percent vanadium. This composition allows for the metal to have a high wear resistance, high compressive strength, superior corrosion resistance, and a very good dimensional stability, or the ability to retain its size and form even after taking abuse.
Although high wear and corrosion resistance are typically hard to find together in a knife blade, this steel's powder-metallurgy based production allows for its imperviousness to wear (sideways shifting of the metal from its original position), and corrosion (gradual destruction of metals). ELMAX is produced through a hardening and corrosion resistant mold using this powder-metallurgy process, a process that Bohler-Uddenholm uses for many of their premium stainless steels. Powder metallurgy is the method of blending fine powdered materials, pressing them into the desired shape, and then heating it to sinter, or bond, the material.

This gives the knife the desired traits of superior edge retention and an ease of sharpening, which is often the reason that people are attracted to such stainless steel knives. The steel's "Superclean" production process combined with small sized powder and carbides guarantee trouble-free grinding and polishing. When hardened to 57-59 HRC, though the steel can actually be ground up to 62 HRC, the knife has a good edge holding ability as well as a less-commonly found impact resistance- which is much higher than other stainless steels- and grinds as easily as the 154 CM steel, which is renowned for its easy grinding ability. Therefore, ELMAX steel can take more abuse than other metals, and come out unscathed.
Ease up, nerd.
I'm a knife junkie and blade steel enthusiasts. I've gotten into traditional Japanese whet stone sharpening and can go on for hours about that. So yeah I'm a blade nerd.
Remember Obi Wan, this article was for beginners. Though I was wondering where ELMAX was on this list. Personally I like a good mid range steel that won't corrode and is relatively easy to sharpen.
Don't forget A2 & O1. Both phenomenal steels.
Great article, with some excellent choices for the beginner who is perhaps bamboozled by the plethora of terms at the end of their knife blade description. I have just pulled two triggers, both with Fallkniven knives. A baby blade called the Bear's Claw (U4 model) and its big brother the TK4, used by Ray Mears, Paul Kirtley etc here in the UK. Paul has been banging on about this blade (quite rightly), and I was delighted to take delivery. The steel? "The new edge steel, 3G, is a revolutionary laminated anti-corrosive steel, with a core comprising the well-proven Super Gold Powder Steel (SGPS) with sides of VG2. With a hardness of 62 HRC, the blade boasts unbeatable edge retention." Not sure about the unbeatable, but I felt it worth a mention. http://www.britishblades.com/forums/showthread.php?107679-Fallkniven-U2-and-TK4
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Interesting no comments mention ZDP-189. I kinda like it. It isn't a miracle but it's darn good.
The Cold Steel GoldenEye is my new EDC blade, and it's S35VN is very sharp, and G10 handle nice and grippy without being rough. A great value too at around $100.
First questions to ask is what is your environment, primary expected cutting tasks, and budget...

Moist environment, especially salt water... H1
Most most light to med duty like VG 10, the AUX 8 on Rat2 should be upgraded to D2 like the Rat1.

Best budget vaule S35 aware of is the House of Blades Kershaw Link.
Future higher price knifes will need to be S35 or M390 but will never give up the Swiss Army Knife line for overall value and ease, the Alox line is a great EDC option.
Best bang for youre buck would either be vg 10 or sandvik excellent steel while still being affordable, stick with that untill your ready to commit to at least s30v.
Already see comments on unlisted super steels like Elmax but don't forget about M390, the only other steel to beat Elmax in cutting and something else I forgot. Personally don't care about impossible to sharpen S90 and S110 but since I own a D2 flipper I know I'm going to need some quality sharpeners. Personally I like VG10 (Spiderco), S35 (Ferrum Forge) and n690 (Fox) but I own 8cr (Kershaw) and 12C sandvik stuffike Victorinox and Klecker. Good blades for the money. Nice article...
CPM-20CV, Maxamet, CPM-3V also extremely good steels. All of them different qualities.
CPM-20CV I like the most with the Survive!Knives/ PHT heat treatement
I wish Survive did folders. I have the GSO 5.1 in CPM-3V and love the damn thing.