What kind of steel does your knife have, and why does it matter? There are a lot of different steels used in knife making like elmax steel and, according to experts on the subject, the best steel depends on what the knife will be used for.
As an example, an axe will need different knife steel than a chef’s knife. There are so many different types of steel that I am only going to cover a few that I am most familiar with and most common.
Let us begin by looking at fairly common knife steel. 420 HC Steel.
What is 420HC Steel?
420HC steel or 420HC stainless steel has a higher carbon intake than just plain 420.
The “HC” stands for “high carbon” and allows this steel to achieve a greater hardness than the 420. Unlike other grades in the 400 series, the 420HC steel provides extra strength, hardness, and wear resistance than other stainless steel grades.
As a part of the 400 series, the 440C and the 420HC stainless steel are considered 2 of the top grades for less expensive knife steel.
What does all this mean?
It means 420 HC steel doesn’t hold its edge as long, but it is, for the most part, stain-resistant, very strong, and easy to sharpen. However, there is an exception- Buck knives 420HC. Their knife steel is manufactured using a proprietary heat treatment that produces a very good low-cost steel that performs like a mid-price steel.
420HC stainless steel can be sharpened easily to a precise cutting edge. You don’t need to care about rusting and won’t require special sharpening stones. There are other grades of stainless steel besides the 420HC and the 440C, but they are more expensive and not as easy to maintain.
A good point to remember when choosing a stainless steel knife blade is harder steel like 440 C means it’s harder to sharpen but will hold its edge longer. Also, harder steel is more brittle, which means that it’s easier to break.
Most knife makers look for the optimum balance between all the properties that make up the knife blade. The Buck 119 and many other Buck knives use 420HC stainless steel for the blades.
420 HC steel is an excellent material that is used for hatchets, axes, knives, fine swords, and machetes. It is valued because of its versatility and ruggedness and helps keep the price of hunting knives, bowie knives, and pocket knives or folders affordable.
According to Wikipedia, 440C is a 400 series stainless steel and has the highest carbon content from the 400 stainless steel series. It is usually heat-treated to reach a hardness of 58-60 on the Rockwell Hardness scale. More on HRC or the Rockwell scale later.
It was bearing steel used in ball and roller bearings and used as steel for knives as well. Other things made with 440C are molds and dies, valve components, measuring instruments, and cutlery.
440C stainless steel has high strength, medium corrosion resistance, and good hardness and wears resistance.
Here is where most others would break down the composition and properties of the steel to help explain why they think it is the best steel. Most of that stuff is hard to read and filled with words that mean nothing to me, so I’m going to break it down into terms that I can understand.
I feel there are other websites out there that get more into the metallurgist side of knife steel, the chemical properties, and whatnot that understand knife steels better than myself. You can check out some other types of knife steel.
So next, I’ll explain in my own beginner’s terms what these steels are good for.
420HC Stainless steel.
This is lower mid-range steel. It won’t hold an edge longer, which means you’ll be sharpening your knife more often, but sharpening is very easy to do because of the steel. It is very corrosion-resistant, meaning it won’t easily rust.
This is the knife steel that is used most commonly on less expensive knives and many multi-tools.
440C Stainless steel.
This steel is upper mid-range stainless steel. It will hold its edge a little longer than 420HC but will also be harder to sharpen. Even so, it is still relatively easy to sharpen.
The corrosion resistance is lower, so a knife made from this steel will rust faster than 420HC. This stainless steel is most commonly used for many mass-produced knives.
8Cr13MoV Stainless steel.
This is also upper mid-range steel. 8Cr13MoV is similar to 420HC with edge retention. The edge won’t last as long as 440C, but it’s easy to sharpen. It also has low corrosion resistance, so it will be more susceptible to rust. My favorite Kershaw is made of 8Cr13MoV!
1095 Carbon steel.
This is lower mid-range steel. It has low edge retention and low corrosion resistance, but it’s tough. This is the steel typically used for lawn mower blades, steel springs, elevator cables, even the Eiffel Tower.
It’s very resistant to chipping. It will take a very sharp edge, is easy to sharpen, and is very cheap to produce. This steel is great for large, heavy-duty knives like a fixed blade or survival knife.
This is also great steel for beginning knife makers because it is cheap, easy to find, and easy to work with.
This steel is harder to find specifics on because it can be made using many different types of steel and brought to different hardness levels. It is used in many different styles of knife blades.
Carving knives, Tactile fixed blades, folding knives, swords, and hunting knives, to name a few. Each Damascus blade is different, no two alike. Each knife is a one-of-a-kind work of art. Every Damascus knife is strong and long-lasting.
The best knife steel really depends on what actions you will be performing with the knife. Again think of an axe compared to a carving knife and how much you are willing to spend on a said knife.
There are dozens and dozens of knives made from dozens of different steels. Choose the knife steel that will best fit what you plan to use the knife for.
Knowing what type of steel your blade is made from will also help you know better what kind of care to give your knife.