440C or ATS-34

Mar 31, 1999
Looking to buy a handmade hunting/skinning knife at the Blade show this weekend. Which steel 440C or ATS-34 is better? What would the average price difference be if the two knives were otherwise alike? How about the names of a few custom makers. I'd like to stay in the $300 or less range with a stag handle. Is this possible? Thanks
This may not be the advice you'll get from most folks, but I'd say for a hunter that you're actually planning to use, you are better off with a 440C blade.
Why? 440C if properly heat treated, including a cryo cycle, is going to be tougher than ATS-34, and have quite similar edge holding. When it does dull, its easy to restore the edge with a small stone or diamond hone. Plus its more corrosion resistant if it gets rode hard and put away wet ;-)
ATS-34 isn't bad, but it can be a bit brittle if the hardness is pushed too far, and the last place you want to find that out is when you take a chip out of the edge trying to cut through a brisket or pelvis on a deer, etc.
You shouldn't find much of any difference in price, since both steels cost about the same and work similarly. If anything 440C is a bit easier to polish. There shouldn't be any problem with finding any number of makers there that will have something out in the price range you mentioned.
Instead of focusing on any particular maker, cruise the show and look at everything, and see what all it is you like. Ask lots of questions....including not only heat treatment and materials used, but how the maker came up with the design, and how they use it.
My personal preference is for a high, thin, flat grind on most styles of blades, especially skinners. I was hoping this would be my first year there at the Blade Show, but family commitments are keeping me home this year.
Have Fun!

mel sorg
madpoet custom knives
My limited experience agrees with Mr. Sorg's. My few knives that have been in 440C have shown surprisingly good edge retention that was right on par with my knives in ATS-34. All my heat-treatment has been done by Texas Knifemaker's supply. In use I've been pleased with both steels (in my knives) and doubt I could tell them apart without proir knowledge, but prefer grinding ATS-34 because it seems to grind more "cleanly," though it wears down belts a bit faster.

I wouldn't worry too much about pricing one handmade knife versus another based on these steels. You won't see knives that are "otherwise alike" unless the come from the same maker. Just look at a bunch of knives that meet your criteria and choose the one (hopefully it's just one) that you find your thoughts coming back to.

I think you should be able to find the knife you want for under $300 easily. I have seen knives meeting your specs for $50, and personally would ask under $150 for such a piece (though I am not currently making knives).


(sorry, I'm on my sweetheart's machine and forgot to change the username!)

[This message has been edited by Sandra D. (edited 06 June 1999).]
With all the discussions recently about broken knives, and the trouble I have with corrosion on ATS-34, I think 440C blades might be for me, too. Madpoet has captured my reasoning (and a few I hadn't considered!): tougher and more stainless, with only a little less edge-retention. I'm thinking Spyderco Herbst...
Buy one of Madpoet's knives. Very nice at very good price. You won't be sorry.
I made my first knife because I couldn't find one that met my needs for a hunting knife that would hold an edge long enough to dress skin and quarter a moose(usually had to stop 5 or 6 times to resharpen). I used 440C cryo treated. Now it is not umcommon to have a customer come back from a hunting trip raving about not having to sharpen their knives until after completly dressing a moose. Last hunting season one person dressed skinned and quartered two moose and another fellow did the same with two elk. Both made the same comment"When I was finished the blade was still sharp, but you couldn't shave with it".

Say what you want about 440C but this type of field performance more than meets my expectations and those of my customers.


I have moved back to 440C since getting Chris Reeves to treat my blades. If treated properly and cryo quenched I feel it works better than ATS34 in many applications. And I have yet to see 440C spotting like the ATS34. Go with the 440C and make sure its cryo'd.
If has to be one of those I suggest the 440C for the reasons listed above. I would go with 440V myself based on the experience I have had with in three years of use. Another one I would think of were it me is D2. I have never had a problem with staining or rust on a D2 blade.


Tom Carey
Tom, have you had any strength/durability concerns with 440V as compared to 440C?

I love 440C and have sought out some great knives as follows:
Vero Beach Machine mini-UDT
Boker Klotzli Folder w/aluminum scales
Boker/Nealy Specialist

I wish there were more of them out there !

I agree that the edge-holding cababilities meet ATS-34 and you are far less likely to chip a 440C blade.
Never had any staining, and I have left blood, chemicals, food (tomatos & fruit)tree sap and all kinds of junk on the blades.
I have made two large camp knives: one out of 440C and one out of ATS34, semi-similar grinds, and both were treated and cryo'd by Chris Reeves.

Tonite I'll go out and whack a few boards up, cut some wet stuff, and be as abusive as possible. I'll also leave them wet this evening and check for spotting tomorrow.

I have a digital camera so can take some pictures of the tests and pics of the blades. They are large knives... The ATS34 has a 2"x12" blade while the 440C is 2"x8". I will try to post some pics tomorrow.