Blade steel questions

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Aug 26, 2017
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I was just on the Benchmade custom builder, thinking about a custom bugout. Along with the stock S30V blade, they list 20CV and M4 steel as options. I have a stock bugout with the S30V blade, been totally happy with it, but I figured if I'm going to spend the money on a custom, might as well upgrade the blade also. What would be the better of the 2 upgraded steels? More concerned with edge retention and ease of sharpening than corrosion resistance. Are they both about equal, or does one really stand out from the other. It'll see regular daily duty, opening letters, packages, breaking down cardboard, maybe a little kitchen duty, the occasional nylon zip tie, stripping wire, etc.
 
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Not an expert, but I hear that M4 has terrific edge retention but [can be] difficult to sharpen.

Sorry I can't be of more help.
 
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for me they’re both about the same to sharpen. since you’re not worried about corrosion resistance, & if you don’t mind having a coated blade, i’d say go with the m4. it’ll hold an edge longer & is tougher too
 
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for me they’re both about the same to sharpen. since you’re not worried about corrosion resistance, & if you don’t mind having a coated blade, i’d say go with the m4. it’ll hold an edge longer & is tougher too


What does "coated" mean? Never heard that about M4.
 

Centermass

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M4 is not a stainless steel, so Benchmade applies coatings to their M4 for corrosion resistance. In other words, it won’t be bare steel.
 

Fixall

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What does "coated" mean? Never heard that about M4.

Benchmade uses a Cerakote coating on their M4 knives. Cerakote is a ceramic coating that is kind of like powder coating, but half as thick. I don't personally like Cerakote on my blades because I don't find it very durable. It's easy (and cheap) enough to have it removed though.

Here's my M4 Mini Grip from the custom shop that has had the Cerakote removed, the blade acid washed, and then stonewashed (also has new Micarta scales).

KJlnY2R.jpg
 
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I have, or have had, Bugouts in all three steels. If you are reasonably proficient in sharpening, 20CV and M4 will not be a problem. Whilst not essential, diamonds will help. Reprofiling will take a bit longer than S30V but touch-ups will take only a bit longer and should be fewer and further between. My M4 "feels" sharper / crisper than my S30 but that could be imagination.

I cannot speak for the Cerakote on the custom shop blades but the SMKW M4 blade finish isn't as smooth as I had hoped. It will have more drag cutting through cardboard and such than an uncoated satin blade (S30V and 20CV) but probably not enough to even notice. It will also wear off if it is used enough. It will scratch off if abused. Cerakote should last better than some of the older coatings that BM used but not as well as say DLC. You may think the worn look is good and shows that the knife actually gets used or you may want your knives to always look pristine. No correct answer but it will determine what works for you.

My daily cutting tasks are very similar to the OP's and like him, S30V works for me just fine. The little bit of steel snobbery in me has me using S90V and M4 Bugouts as often as my S30V versions ... for no other reason than variety being the spice of lust ... life ... whatever.
 

Fixall

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I was just on the Benchmade custom builder, thinking about a custom bugout. Along with the stock S30V blade, they list 20CV and M4 steel as options. I have a stock bugout with the S30V blade, been totally happy with it, but I figured if I'm going to spend the money on a custom, might as well upgrade the blade also. What would be the better of the 2 upgraded steels? More concerned with edge retention and ease of sharpening than corrosion resistance. Are they both about equal, or does one really stand out from the other. It'll see regular daily duty, opening letters, packages, breaking down cardboard, maybe a little kitchen duty, the occasional nylon zip tie, stripping wire, etc.

Personally, I consider Benchmade's M4 to be superior to 20CV and S30V for my needs. Benchmade runs their S30V at around 59hrc, the M4 at around 63hrc, and their 20cv/m390 has tested from 58hrc - 60hrc.

At those hardness levels both M4 and 20CV have better edge retention than S30V, with 20CV edging out M4. M4 (at these hardness levels) has about 5% better edge retention than S30V, and 20CV has about 5% better edge retention than M4.

As far as sharpening goes, you're likely going to want to use CBN or diamond stones/rods to sharpen all three. I actually consider M4 and 20CV both to be easier to sharpen than S30V. I have some difficulty deburring S30V, and little to no issues with 20CV and M4. I find M4 to be the easiest of the bunch to get razor sharp. I'll be the first to admit that I'm still learning to sharpen proficiently though.

From there... 20CV and M4 start to really differ. 20CV is a stainless steel known for good edge retention and PHENOMENAL corrosion resistance. Aside from price, I think it's about to be rendered completely obsolete by MagnaCut here soon. M4 is a tool steel known for good edge retention and FANTASTIC toughness. In fact, M4 is 2 - 3 times tougher than 20CV and S30V. That means you can take it down to a much thinner edge without as much fear of chipping (among other benefits). The downside to M4 is that you need to keep it oiled and/or use it often to prevent corrosion.

M4 gets my vote.
 
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I'd go with M390. M4 is a better steel, but they coat it. That means you risk getting a poor action plus it looks bad after some wear. M390 will have better wear resistance than S30, which is already very good.
 

Fixall

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I'd go with M390. M4 is a better steel, but they coat it. That means you risk getting a poor action plus it looks bad after some wear. M390 will have better wear resistance than S30, which is already very good.

They leave the pivot bare on the coated knives. No risk of it messing with the action.
 
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Thought I'd ask this here instead of starting my own thread. My SMKW Bugout with M4/Cerakote arrived in the mail today and I love it except for one small issue. There is what looks like about 1/2" shiny pencil line in/on the Cerakote finish. I can't tell if its on top of the finish or if its a blemish because its scratched and what I'm seeing is the shine of the blade coming through the coating (hope that makes sense). I had the same issue with a DLC coated Spyderco and a little bit of polishing compound took care of it. Long story short, can I use polishing compound on the Cerakote finish or is this a bad idea beacause its not as durable as DLC.

Any other suggestions are appreciated. I don't think its enough of a blemish to warrant sending the knife back for a replacement but now that I've seen it I can't unsee it.
 

Fixall

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Thought I'd ask this here instead of starting my own thread. My SMKW Bugout with M4/Cerakote arrived in the mail today and I love it except for one small issue. There is what looks like about 1/2" shiny pencil line in/on the Cerakote finish. I can't tell if its on top of the finish or if its a blemish because its scratched and what I'm seeing is the shine of the blade coming through the coating (hope that makes sense). I had the same issue with a DLC coated Spyderco and a little bit of polishing compound took care of it. Long story short, can I use polishing compound on the Cerakote finish or is this a bad idea beacause its not as durable as DLC.

Any other suggestions are appreciated. I don't think its enough of a blemish to warrant sending the knife back for a replacement but now that I've seen it I can't unsee it.

I wouldn't be happy if I purchased a brand new knife from the custom shop and the finish had a scratch. That being said... Cerakote is NOT a durable finish whatsoever and if you put the knife through any kind of use, you are very quickly going to scratch the finish up. If the knife is going to be a paper slicer, I'd probably make a stink. If the knife is going to actually be used, I'd just accept it and move on personally. Soon that little scratch won't even be noticable.

And no, please don't use polishing compound on the Cerakote. You'll take the coating clean off in no time.
 
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