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Comprehensive Steel Comparison Chart Attempt

Discussion in 'General Knife Discussion' started by Ten_Mile_Knives, Jul 30, 2018.

What is the most important attribute in a steel?

  1. Edge retention

  2. Corrosion resistance

  3. Toughness

  4. Price/availability

Multiple votes are allowed.
  1. Ten_Mile_Knives


    Feb 9, 2018
    Hello everyone,

    I'm a big research guy, I love hunting for data and comparing it to learn more about a subject. This has lead me to try to put together a comprehensive steel comparison chart. I have almost completed a Mechanical Engineering degree and I am a hobbyist knifemaker so this (and a lot of curiosity) are my only credentials for the numbers I've arrived at so far. The list has three main columns which detail the main attributes of knife steels on a scale from 1-10. There is also a "total" which just adds the values from that row, and three columns which add two of the three attributes so that you can find steels based on certain tasks.

    For example if I want to see the best meat processing steel I might sort the list by the highest combo of edge retention and corrosion resistance.

    There are three major problems with this list:
    First, it is an amalgam of dozens of charts and graphs from manufacturers and knife users and anecdotal evidence. this means that the data is very fast and loose and comparing between companies and people always leads to differences in perception and representation.
    Second, the values are on a scale from 1-10, when I first started the list this wasn't a big problem because there were only a few, relatively similar steels. Once it expanded though I ran into problems where steels that were only one point away from each other were actually 200%+ different in actual test numbers. for example the early list had AUS-8 as relatively highly corrosion resistant, then I added H-1 and it made the two look like they were similar in that aspect..they are not..So it is important to look at it as a relative comparison, not an absolute one; meaning that a move from 5 to 6 is not an 11% improvement, it just means that steel with a score of 6 is some amount better than a steel with a 5.
    Third, the chart does not include HRC values, grind angles, or thickness behind the edge measurements because this information is almost never provided. So the numbers are a sort of average between multiple sources of comparison.

    Finally, I am posting this for the sake of learning and improvement. If you have an issue with some number, than please provide a counter suggestion and evidence for why. Ideally I would like opinions from people who have the steels they are talking about. one final note, I do not think there is room for "favorite steels" in this discussion, there are so many reasons to love even lower performing steels so please only discuss steels in the mindset of data.

    Final, final note. I would also like to start including price and availability data as a point of comparison so if you have information on this feel free to chime in. **this is category that I will be adding over the next few weeks using know constants like 1095 as baseline for price scores.**

    Currawong, DocJD and Tommy-Chi like this.
  2. Mo2


    Apr 8, 2016
    The answers you will get are opinions. There is no best. There are different properties for different tasks for these tools.

    A chopper you will want toughness. For a cutter you will want edge retention

    Price .. Well you want all 3 properties price increases.

    An example steel with all 3 properties is vanax superclean. It's a bit pricey and generally offered in custom knives at higher prices.

    M390, 20cv, 204p are basically the same steel and they have high edge retention, high corrosion resistance but price is a little high.

    I mean we can go on and on about each different steel but it all varies. Even the heat treatment can change a steel blade. For example 3v is very high in toughness its got really decent edge retention but so so corrosion resistance. However change the heat treatment a little and you got better corrosion resistance (it's called delta 3v offered by survive knives).

    Putting numbers on all this isn't exactly a good idea without legit data to back it and most graphs on the internet aren't really correct.

    Also why is m390 a 7.5 and 20cv and 204p 8 when all three are the same composition?

    Also the data sheet for lc200n shows it has high toughness .. Yet you rate it a 5?

    You list Sleipner twice but one is a 4 and the other a 6?

    20cp and s90v again, same steel difference stats.

    CPM 154 and rwl34 are the same steel too.

    I'd suggest just list the steel and link the data sheet right next to it. Nothing more.
    Last edited: Jul 30, 2018
  3. lieferung

    lieferung Basic Member Basic Member

    May 24, 2016
    I am a light user, most of my knives don't see much more than cardboard or zip ties. So for me edge retention is most important since it's unlikely the blade will get damaged.
  4. knarfeng

    knarfeng senex morosus moderator Staff Member Super Mod Moderator

    Jul 30, 2006
    Can't be done. Blade performance is more dependent on blade geometry than upon the blade alloy. And alloy performance is as much dependent on heat treat as on the composition.
    inkynate, R.c.s, Airborne 1 and 12 others like this.
  5. b00n

    b00n Gold Member Gold Member

    Dec 15, 2016
    Something I've been curious about lately myself was "Life after M390" like, by sheer chemistry/metallurgy, shouldn't there be an "End All Be All" Steel,you won't be able to make a steel that excels at everything. So better is always relative, but is there a way to improve the super steels we have? Especially the way the industry is quickly catching up lately, when I joined M390 was a big deal, which was barely a year ago, now it's pretty commonplace.
  6. Pilsner

    Pilsner Platinum Member Platinum Member

    Oct 28, 2017
    I’ll willingly contribute, if you work on the question. “What is the most important atttibute in knife steel?” For example.

    Also, it might be better to enable multiple applications. For example, I would rate edge retention above toughness for a folding knife, whereas for an outdoors knife it would be closer to 50/50. Depends on what I am doing.
    DocJD likes this.
  7. Sharp Guy

    Sharp Guy Gold Member Gold Member

    Jan 6, 2016
    E. All of the above.
    Ten_Mile_Knives likes this.
  8. jpm2


    Nov 19, 2014
    You left out strength.
  9. Tommy-Chi


    May 25, 2017

    I appreciate the effort. Keep going! Just keep an open mind with the comments and trudge onward.
  10. Ten_Mile_Knives


    Feb 9, 2018
    the chart supports this, in general I would say that Vanax is certainly this year's superstar, only time will tell though. I think that the latest "hot" steel will have an inflated scrore because the anecdotal claims tend to be exaggerated.

    While I agree with this statement, I disagree with the sentiment. I think that if nothing else, it is beneficial try to quantify as much data as we can, even if it isn't close to the whole picture it is more clarity than I feel like is currently available elsewhere.

    I think that we've squeezed the best combination of properties out of steels like M390, we have shown that improvements can be made in certain aspects though. That being said, like many others I feel that Nitrogen steels will have a place in the future...I've only heard all of the hype surrounding them and very little downside so if anyone has some criticism of Nitrogen steels I'd love to hear that perspective.

    strength is just a description of the stress-strain relationship in materials, you calculate toughness from this relationship and hardness is usually linearly positive with it as well.

    Mo2, Thank you for pointing out my embarrassing double listings and same-alloy discrepancies.
  11. Murphjd25

    Murphjd25 Gold Member Gold Member

    Apr 27, 2016
    Toughness and edge retention are very important to me, but their are so many variables to that it’s not even funny, and it’s kind of exhausting. Blade profiles, grinds, edge geometry, etc etc etc etc....

    I will say I am very anxious to finally get to try out some 10V now that I got a K2, one of my grails. Data and testing on it seems very promising.
  12. The Mastiff

    The Mastiff

    Apr 21, 2006
    Edge stability is for me more important than any you list. Knarfeng is right about what he wrote too. We have a attempt at this every few months and no one can agree on anything it seems. We all see things very differently so things like scores never seem to work out. Good luck.

    hugofeynman and Mo2 like this.
  13. Twindog

    Twindog Gold Member Gold Member

    Apr 6, 2004
    Holy Cow! That was a lot of work.

    Going through it for the first time, it seems fairly close to my understanding, at least as far as the steels that I know. There are a few minor things, like Vanax should be tougher than Elmax. B/U gives it a 25 percent improvement in toughness. I haven't used S7 much, but the edge wear number seems high.

    Interesting to see some really popular steels at the bottom of the list -- mostly done in by their poor stainless number.

    Thanks for sharing all that work. It's fun to go through your chart.
  14. Mecha

    Mecha Madscienceforge.com Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Dec 27, 2013
    You forgot 5Al 2Mo 4.5V 1Cr 0.7Fe titanium alloy.

    Cursum Perficio and danbot like this.
  15. Vicarious Reality

    Vicarious Reality

    Apr 9, 2008

    Or you could get actual usage data from Cedric on most steels
  16. Comeuppance

    Comeuppance Fixed Blade EDC Emisssary Gold Member

    Jan 12, 2013
    The concept is solid, but the lack of objective data is the real killing aspect of the project at present; You state that the chart has values of 1-10, but there are entries that have scores of 11? I understand that these represent extremes, but that should be what makes them "10".

    That leads directly into the biggest problem with this chart: it is inherently comparative. By scoring with a 1-10 scale, you ensure that if something better comes along in a certain category, then everything has to shift down. The lack of objectivity makes this more of a combination of consensus of opinion and subjective ranking than a functional hard-data chart.

    I'm not saying this because I think you have done a bad job - I think the chart is largely representative and shows a great deal of research and effort - but it clearly suffers from a combination of a lack of available data.

    To me, this displays the weird situation we are in where the relative material sciences are advanced, but there are-few-to-no trustworthy standardized metrics by which to measure the characteristics of the materials. User experience is king here, so we are forced to try to eke out data from anecdotal evidence and questionably-useful material tests. It makes me wish there was a more profitable market in the knife world so that meaningful scientific research (peer-reviewed and etc) was well-funded and thus more commonplace.
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2018
    Mo2 likes this.
  17. Dangerously


    Jan 8, 2013
    While I am sympathetic to the idea of quantification, I think this tool quantifies too little of what is important to me.

    I don’t buy steel, I buy knives. Steel is just one factor in performance, and not the most important.

    Geometry matters more than steel for performance in many different contexts. I would take a properly ground kitchen knife in 440A over a bushcraft style knife in any steel — for kitchen duty. And vice versa.

    So for buying decisions, steel only comes into play after I have chosen the grind, the geometry, the handle. Even the sheath matters more than steel for some uses — take a leather sheath on a boat in the ocean, for example. Or kydex on a trip in the arctic.

    That said, I still like to have an idea of what steels are better for what application, but it’s not so important to quantify scientifically. Just like I don’t have to scientifically quantify how much belly is on a blade to be able to choose among blade shape options.
    BITEME and danbot like this.
  18. marcinek


    Jan 9, 2007
    Yup. And this chart weights all attributes equally, which isn't true, and there is no discussion of the method behind any of it.

    Go ahead and make the chart, but don't pretend its anything more than anecdotal.
    Airborne 1 and Mo2 like this.
  19. danbot

    danbot Gold Member Gold Member

    Oct 31, 2009
    Seems like a real exercise in futility!

    If Gaston has taught us anything, :rolleyes: its how to destroy the edge retention of a perfectly good chopper with improper geometry!;)

    You might as well compare yourself to famous people, past and present and then factor in some of your friends opinions as well.

    It would be a daunting task to scientifically test all these steels in the same way, with the same HRC, the same edge geometry etc. that I think we are stuck with pretty much only anecdotal information (as far as knives are concerned).
    (That is, outside of the CATRA testing which only really tests one aspect (edge retention), and is even somewhat controversial in itself!)
    Dangerously and Revolverrodger like this.
  20. hugofeynman

    hugofeynman Gold Member Gold Member

    Jan 18, 2011
    So K600 will be an 11 regarding toughness, 4140 a 12, 4340 and H11 ESR a 13, and Aermet 100/Premomet/Ferrium M54/NC310 should be a 14!

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