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What Is The Best Steel For Knives 2022?

Many different grades of steel are used to make knife blades. It can be difficult for a person who encounters this topic for the first time to figure out what this or that brand is good for and from what steel it is better for him to choose a knife for himself. In this article, we will talk about what steel grades are, how they differ from each other, which ones have characteristics and how to choose the right knife for specific tasks.

How to choose a steel grade and what to look for

To choose the right steel from which the knife blade is made, it is important to understand in what conditions it will be used and for what tasks this knife will serve. For kitchen work, a simpler option is suitable, but a hunting knife should be as reliable as possible.

One of the main characteristics of steel is hardness. This indicator is usually measured using the Rockwell method and is abbreviated as HRC. The higher this value the harder the steel. Real knives have the right to be called those whose blades are made of steel with a hardness of at least 55 HRC.

To improve the performance of steel, other elements are added to it – alloying. This allows you to achieve the desired properties of a particular steel grade. 

The main alloying metals are the following:

  1. chromium. Prevents corrosion;
  2. nickel. Increases strength and reduces the likelihood of corrosion;
  3. manganese. It is used to improve the malleability of metal; 
  4. vanadium. Extends the service life, increasing its strength characteristics; silicon. Used to increase strength;
  5. tungsten. Its introduction into the composition of steel makes it possible to strengthen the resistance to corrosion and increase the strength of the finished blade;
  6. molybdenum. Serves to improve the elasticity and toughness of the metal.

What is the best knife steel?

The purchasing power of the population is now in crisis, so the demand for expensive powder steel has fallen significantly. More affordable high-carbon steels are gaining popularity, even though they require more complex maintenance during use.

Rating of knife steels

Positions in the rating are arranged in ascending order of cost and characteristics.

9XC

This steel grade is a sales leader due to its affordable price and good performance. Knives made of such steel retain sharp edges for a long time, a decent cut. Forging this metal is very difficult because the material cracks even with a slight temperature change. If the blade is forged in compliance with the technology, then the finished knife can withstand light blows. For example, he will quite cope with cutting branches for a fire. Initially, this inexpensive steel was developed for the mass production of drills and began to be used as a knife material much later. 

95X18

Everyone is familiar with domestic stainless steel, completely unpretentious in care. As a rule, it has a smooth, mirror-like surface. Belongs to the public sector, available to every consumer. Compared to high-carbon steel, it cuts slightly worse and loses sharpness faster. It has low fracture strength but resists shock loads well. It is allowed to harden steel 95X18 to the level of hardness of the cutting edge 58 HRC.

Vinegar and other food acids, as well as temperatures in domestic ovens, are not capable of provoking stainless steel corrosion. Usually, knives with blades made of 95X18 steel are used by anglers, tourists, and cooks. Gift and souvenir versions of knives are also made from it. Hunters for the big game, such as wild boar, elk, and bear, rarely use such blades, as they are practically incapable of performing the aggressive cut that is required to butcher a large carcass.

Sharpening on a stainless steel knife is not enough even for cutting one elk carcass. And sharpening a knife during the cutting process is an extra hassle and a waste of time, which is undesirable, as the meat loses its freshness. Professional hunters say that stainless steel does not cut, but “strokes”.

N690

Another stainless steel from the German-Austrian company Bohler. Completely ignores corrosion under all operating conditions. The hardness+ of this steel may vary depending on the level of hardening:

  1. when quenched in oil when heated to +1030°С, followed by two-time tempering for an hour at +190°С, the hardness is equal to HRC 59;
  2. when the temperature rises to +1080°C with similar tempering conditions, the hardness HRC 61 is achieved.

This stainless steel belongs to the martensitic class with aggressive cutting properties – hardness, sharpness, etc. This is achieved by high carbon content. Stainless properties provide alloying elements. Thanks to them, the material becomes more plastic, viscous, and elastic.

K110

If the aforementioned steel is positioned by cutlers as chopping, then the Bohler K110 alloy is designed for cutting, planing, piercing, and dissection. Impact loads, fracture stress, and breaking out of this steel can not be transferred absolutely. The cost of K110 and N690 is approximately the same, but the first option is much cheaper to process. The finished product is very inexpensive and almost does not rust due to the high chromium content. They are used everywhere, including in extreme hobbies, if you do not subject them to the above loads. A knife that has become blunt during a campaign can be easily corrected on a suitable stone, metal mug, or gun barrel.

Damascus

This alloy has a hardness of HRC 61. In its category, this is the only material whose strength characteristics are provided not by chemical reactions, but by mechanical methods. for reference – the characteristics of other alloys are achieved by the reaction of iron, carbon, and alloying components during melting. The manufacture of Damascus, wire or strips of low-carbon and high-carbon steels and nickel are repeatedly twisted and kinked at high temperatures.

In this case, the fusion of materials does not occur, but they are soldered together, resulting in a homogeneous structure. Generally speaking, Damascus is a mixture of pieces of very hard high carbon steel in a viscous mass of low carbon steel. The resulting material is well sharpened, has a very aggressive cut, and retains a sharp edge well.

Damascus also has its drawbacks. First of all, this is low corrosion resistance, as a result of which careful care is required for the blade. All Damascus is forged by hand, which greatly increases its value. In addition, various expensive metals with different properties can be added to the alloy.

Damascus Steel Knife can be both sky-high expensive and average in cost, it all depends on what is included in its composition. There are types of Damascus that are used to make only souvenir or gift knives, which replenish collections and are never used for their intended purpose. Although such blades have high strength, aggressive cut, and long-term preservation of the sharpness of the cutting edge.

X12MF

In Russia, this steel grade is one of the most demanded manufacturers of blades. In its price category, it has the perfect balance of manufacturing cost and its characteristics. The hardness HRC 62 is perfectly combined with a high content of alloying components, providing resistance to corrosion and ductility. Steel is considered conditionally stainless, so there is an algorithm for the operation and care of such blades:

  1. you can cut and chop any products;
  2. after use, the blade must be washed;
  3. wipe dry after use;
  4. before long-term storage, the blade is lubricated with oil.

Since knives made of X12MF steel have an aggressive cut, they are perfect for hunters – they perfectly cut both the dense skin of an animal and meat. Tourists will also appreciate the characteristics of such a blade – such a knife is suitable for chopping, planning, and cutting. But for cooks and fishermen, it is better to choose a knife from a different material, since X12MF steel can react with food acids. 

BOHLER K340

The manufacturer is the Austrian-Danish company BOHLER, experts call it cast Damascus. With a knife made of such steel, you can open a tin can and even cut the horn of cattle. The alloy demonstrates the same high results in the rope test.

In terms of hardness, the steel is the same as the previous X12MF – HRC 62, however, these indicators are achieved not by high carbon content, but by alloying components. Therefore, the resistance of K340 to corrosion is higher, as is the viscosity – the blade will not crack even if it accidentally falls on stones. The standard finish for this type of steel is StoneWash, achieved by acid pickling to a matt grey, followed by emulsion blasting with fine abrasive. The material turns out to be unpretentious, and reliable and will last a very long time even with minimal care.

XB5

In everyday life, steel is called a “diamond” due to the hardness of HRC 65. This is more than enough for extreme situations, and even more so for domestic use. The diamond has a very aggressive, angry cut, it will not become dull even after skinning two elk carcasses. However, it requires very careful care, as the metal rusts in water, aggressive environments, such as acid, cutting vegetables, and butchering fish. Even human sweat can cause rapid rusting if you carry a knife in a textile sheath close to your body.

if you hold the XB5 steel blade in your hands and put it in the sheath without wiping it, then very soon you will find dark spots on the blade, which will be much more difficult to remove than simple prophylaxis. The material becomes especially brittle at sub-zero temperatures, accidentally falling on stones can cause the blade to split. Not suitable for opening canned food, or chopping, but great for tricks like cutting off body hair, cutting a handkerchief, and paper, which falls on the cutting edge. 

M390 and ELMAX

These are powder steels with the same properties as the manufacturer Bohler Uddeholm. ELMAX has a hardness of HRC 64 and does not rust in either aggressive or high-temperature environments. High toughness and Damascus-like toughness provide aggressive cuts, long edge retention, and excellent resistance to bending, torsional, and impact loads.

M390 is a kind of Elmax modification with 1.9% carbon instead of 1.7%, chromium content 20% instead of 18%. This is a minor difference, and the average user will not notice the difference – whether when cutting or cutting meat, or when cutting vegetables. The price of blades made of these alloys is quite high, but they are very durable, do not require maintenance and, if necessary, are corrected only once a month. Such knives perfectly cope with tasks in the kitchen, hiking, fishing, and hunting – in a word, these are knives for all occasions.

Read More: Tips for buying a custom Damascus knife

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