Blade Steel Reference Chart: How to Choose the Best Steel For Your Knife
There are many types of steel available to use when making a knife, and the one you choose will have a major impact on how the knife looks, performs, and withstands repeated use. A small, everyday-carry pocket knife, for example, will likely require a different steel than a heavy-duty kitchen knife. Selecting the right steel for your blade depends on how you plan to use the knife and how frequently. Each steel features its own distinct attributes that make it best suited to certain tasks and users. The most important of these aspects to consider when choosing steel for a knife include hardness, corrosion resistance, and edge retention.
This easy-to-use knife steel chart and guide will help knifemakers of all experience levels find the steel that’s the perfect match to their needs. It features 10 of the most common blade steels: CPMS110V, CPMS90V, CPM M4, CPMS35V, CPM154, CPM3V, 1095, AUS-8A, VG10, and D2. Each steel is compared to the others based on the factors mentioned above, along with other considerations such as price and general uses. We’ve also included several frequently asked questions about knife steel to steer you in the right direction.
Once you’ve identified your preferred option, Jantz Knife Supply provides a wide selection ofblade steel for crafting everything from a new pocket knife to high-performance kitchen cutlery. We have everything you need to turn your knifemaking vision into a finished creation.
Important Knife Steel Factors
Hardness, or HRC, is a metric referring to a steel's resistance to heat, stress, and other forces regularly applied to knives. The ability of steel to retain its original shape is measured on the Rockwell C scale, also known as Hardness Rockwell C (HRC). In general, a knife must have an HRC of at least 52 to be usable. Some knives may have an HRC as high as 66, but hard knife steel is typically in the 58-62 HRC range.
Keep in mind that the harder the knife, the more challenging it is to sharpen the blade. Take a closer look at what a knife's HRC implies:
52-54: Decent quality, yet still considered a soft blade.
54-56: Typical hardness of kitchen knives. Requires regular sharpening, although it is much easier to sharpen than most blades.
56-58: Characteristic hardness of premium kitchen knives. These retain their sharpness for longer periods of time and are relatively easy to sharpen.
58-60: Typical of the hardness found in pocket knives such as Spyderco and Cold Steel, or premium Japanese kitchen knives. These knives retain their sharpness much longer but can be a bit difficult to sharpen.
60-62: Although they remain sharper for extended periods of time, these blades are more prone to becoming brittle. Sharpening these blades can be a challenge depending on the quality of the manufacturing process.
A steel’s corrosion resistance refers to its ability to prevent rust, as well as withstand elements like humidity, moisture, and salt. These elements can cause significant damage to certain types of knife steel. In this metric, a higher rating isn't always better and there is an optimal number depending on your application. Knives that are highly resistant to corrosion often do a poorer job of retaining their edge, for instance.
Edge retention refers to how long the blade will remain sharp as you use it over time. There is no set scale for this metric, but we have set a scale ranging from one to 10. Note that as the rating increases, the greater the edge retention and less need for sharpening.
S110V is considered a “high-hardness” steel that is highly resistant to corrosion. It features superior wear resistance and will remain sharp for an extended period of time, which makes the blade a bit costly. *All CPM knives are high alloy martensitic stainless tool steels made using the Crucible Particle Metallurgy process.
A powder metal steel, CPM S90V has a high HRC and is very hard to sharpen. However, this type of knife will retain its sharpness longer than most knives. The S90V is a superior quality steel manufactured by Crucible that is considered to be a "super steel" and features a high carbon concentration. It is more expensive than the S110V due to the fact that this blade offers a great balance between corrosion resistance and edge retention. *All CPM knives are high alloy martensitic stainless tool steels made using the Crucible Particle Metallurgy process.
Offering superior resistance to abrasion, this is a tough blade with high carbon levels. It’s a great steel for cutting, but you’ll want to make sure to properly care for this knife or it can develop a little bit of rust over time due to its carbon steel composition. *All CPM knives are high alloy martensitic stainless tool steels made using the Crucible Particle Metallurgy process.
This knife offers an optimal balance between edge retention, hardness, and corrosion resistance. It’s an improvement from its previous model, the S30V, which was prone to chipping due to its hardness. It boasts a carbon content of 1.45% and its finer grain structure allows it to chip less than its predecessor. *All CPM knives are high alloy martensitic stainless tool steels made using the Crucible Particle Metallurgy process.
The CPM 154 is an upgraded version of its more commonly mentioned 154CM counterpart. It’s a powder metal version of the same blade that offers even more edge retention and corrosion resistance. This blade is relatively easy to sharpen and it ranks in the middle in each of our metrics. *All CPM knives are high alloy martensitic stainless tool steels made using the Crucible Particle Metallurgy process.
Offering a good combination of toughness and wear resistance, this knife is perfect for everyday use. It can discolor and accumulate some rust, but the blade is quite easy to sharpen and can withstand your average daily pocket knife use. This little tool is not your average pocket knife. *All CPM knives are high alloy martensitic stainless tool steels made using the Crucible Particle Metallurgy process.
Toughness is the number-one quality of this blade steel, which is why it’s the most commonly used steel for knives. While the steel does lack corrosion resistance, it is much more resistant to chipping, which is why it is also commonly used for survival knives. Although they also don’t retain their sharp edge as long, they are very easy to sharpen, so you can easily restore them.
VG10 is a Japanese steel that is very common in high-quality kitchen knives. It’s considered a high-end stainless steel due to its high resistance to corrosion. It is also very easy to sharpen and retains its edge moderately well, making it the ideal knife for chefs.
This steel falls short from being considered a stainless steel due to its slightly low chromium level. But like every other stainless steel blade, it provides excellent corrosion resistance as well as great edge retention. It’s tougher than most stainless steel blades and can be very difficult to sharpen.
$30 - $1,070
3 - Easy to sharpen
8 - High edge retention
2 - Low corrosion resistance
Everyday Use Pocket Knife
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between carbon steel and stainless steel knives?
The main difference between carbon and stainless steel is chromium content: Stainless steel contains at least 10.5% chromium, while carbon (also known as high-carbon) steel has very little. The higher chromium content makes stainless steel knives more resistant to corrosion. While carbon blades are more likely to rust, they’re harder and better at retaining their sharpness. However, this also makes them more brittle and easier to crack. If you don’t want to have to sharpen your knife as often, consider a high-carbon steel. Stainless steel is the better choice if you’re more interested in preventing damage from rust.
What is the best steel for outdoor knives?
If you’re making a survival knife for outdoor excursions, you should try CPM 154 or 1095 steel. CPM 154 offers a great balance between easy maintenance and exceptional durability. It retains its edge well and is also very resistant to corrosion, giving you the best of both a high-carbon and stainless steel blade. The 1095 steel may be more prone to rust, but it’s extremely popular for outdoor knives because it won’t chip as easily and is simple to sharpen.
What is the best steel for kitchen knives?
The best steel for a kitchen knife largely depends on the kind of culinary work you’ll be doing. Stainless steel knives are very durable and highly resistant to corrosion, which is good news if you frequently slice through citrus or other acidic foods. If you’re more concerned with your kitchen knife remaining razor-sharp over a longer span of time, then a carbon steel blade is probably the better choice. A carbon steel knife is harder and doesn’t need to be sharpened as often as other blades, and it’s perfect for preparing food when precise, delicate cuts are required.