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S30V, your conclusions?

Discussion in 'Maintenance, Tinkering & Embellishment' started by Dog of War, Apr 5, 2006.

  1. Dog of War

    Dog of War

    Sep 4, 2004
    My experience with S30V has been mixed, and that's putting it nicely. Many posts I see suggest it isn't just me, but having owned for any real length of time only five knives out of this steel, maybe I don't have enough to base any hard conclusions. Still, there's a pattern emerging.

    I'm thinking S30V is very tricky to heat treat despite Crucible's claims. An unacceptable percentage of blades seem prone to chipping even with only light work. Of course this negates any edge holding advantage the steel is supposed to have if you want a very fine polished edge.

    Even with the S30V blades I've owned and used that weren't flagrantly bad, what I consider obtuse edges are still necessary to prevent chipping. I haven't yet seen a S30V blade that you could knock the primary down to 10-12 degrees per side and run a 15 degree microbevel .... just not tough enough with that geometry, and you (well, I do) need the primary at least 15 degrees with 20 degree or better secondary to hold up at all well. But that kind of edge geometry hurts performance for a lot of things, and leaves me thinking what's the point in an expensive 'super' steel that you have to sharpen like a $10 hatchet?

    What bugs me most..... somebody told me a year or so ago that Camillus was buying 50100-B for under $1/pound. I've got a couple Beckers and both hold a decent shaving sharp edge longer than any S30V blade I've used. VG-10 blades I've had hold as good or better an edge plus allow more acute edge angles I prefer.

    Is it possible the S30V blades I've had that I thought were properly heat treated weren't, and all of them I've had were dogs? And if they are all dogs ..... well what does that say about S30V from a practical standpoint? Anybody had luck with more acute edge geometry, or found some real advantage to S30V ..... and if so, who are the makers or manufacturers doing a good job?
  2. Joe Dirt

    Joe Dirt Banned by Moderators

    Jan 26, 2006
    I have had about 5 different knives with S30V blades.

    -Spyderco Manix
    -Spyderco Yojimbo
    -Kershaw G10 Leek (just got it)
    -Benchmade Ritter Grip
    -Spyderco Lil' Temperance (I can't remember if this was S30V or 440V)

    All of them have been flawless and performed like nothing else I've ever had.

    I'm not sure why S30V has such mixed performance. My guess is maybe the heat treat.

    Spyderco's S30V looks a little rougher to me than the Benchmade S30V but they both perform perfectly. I actually like the Spyderco S30V the best. However the jury is out on the S30V on my Kershaw Leek. I've just not been able to use it enough to do a good comparison yet. I plan to do a full review in a couple weeks.

    I now prefer S30V over all other steels. I used to favor D2. For the price however I think VG-10 is hard to beat.
  3. HoB


    May 12, 2004
    Well, I agree that S30V should probably never have entered the "mass market", because it seems too difficult or expensive to get right. Having said that, I have taken a Lil'T, Yojimbo, and Manix all down to 12 deg. per side all of them initially without micro-bevel with out extensive chipping. It gets quite sharp for me.

    Yes, I always seem to get some chipping (more of a rough edge, the chips aren't really visible to the eye without a microscope or at least a very good lupe) after a couple of weeks use, sometimes it takes only a couple of days and I thought it was the steel. But then I carried other steels in between and the same thing happens to them (VG-10, ATS-34 and H1 mainly) and always in the same region of the edge (first inch from the tip or so). So it must simply be my way of using my knives. I never had a mayor failure with S30V.

    I have slipped once with the Yojimbo and ran a part of the edge, 1/4 from the tip, into a lab bench which is made from reconstitued stone with enough force to leave a gauge in the surface of the stone. That part of the edge had some chipping just large enough to see with the unaided eye and maybe 0.5 mm broke of the tip (and the tip of the Yo is fine as a needle). All in all rather minor damage that was easily taken care of with a medium benchstone. I would have expected worse.

    I agree, that the performance increase is often not very large for the applications that I am using my EDCs for. I rarely cut large amounts of cardboard or other abrasive material and I very much suspect that most dulling in my EDCs is due to handling rather than cutting. I might for example put the knife down carelessly and have the edge contact the table on which I am working (which are usually reconstituted stone or metal). However, after cutting up the packaging of a new shower stall (6 cardboard panels each 5x10 feet) for disposal in the paper trash, the increase edgeholding of S30V is quite noticable.
  4. Death's Head

    Death's Head

    Jul 26, 2005
    I actually don't have any knives with S30V. Kinda weird, never really noticed before. I have knives with ATS34, VG10, and 154CM. Never had any of thse chip on me. I don't use me knives very hard, so and I don't mind sharpening them. With that said, I can't say that I'm willing to spend the extra dough on questionable steel. I will take my chances if I see a particular knife that is only available in S30V, but it hasn't happened yet. Give me some time and I'll find one.
  5. bbcmat


    Jan 10, 2006
    I am with you on this - my story for working a Sebenza S30V blade


    I am still at 8 degrees/17 degrees per side with no chipping in light duty use. It's still a great cutter, just not the sort of material that I would purchase again.

  6. Dog of War

    Dog of War

    Sep 4, 2004
    Thanks for the input, guys ..... the knowledge and experience here on BFC amazes me.

    It looks like preferences and expectations play a big role. I cut my teeth (so to speak ;)) on fine grain tool steel blades at fairly high hardness, and like a very fine edge. To me it's a good trade off, but for those who like more slicing aggression I can see where S30V could work out pretty well.

    I'm glad to know some are getting the performance they want from S30V, but it sure seems like people's experiences have been very mixed. Probably a big factor right there, I like to know what I'm getting when I buy something, and S30V has had more surprises than I like.

    Think you nailed it, HoB ..... not ready for the mass market because it does seem it's difficult to get right. This is where comparison to other steels, especially VG-10, comes in for me.

    The chipping I've had hasn't been huge either, but the microchipping starts immediately when I start cutting just about anything. As little as 40 inches of cardboard noticeably degrades a fine edge on S30V, and I just can't accept that when supposedly lesser steels do far better.

    In one of Cliff's reviews he compared a Sebenza with a Byrd folder, and it seemed pretty sad that a $20-$25 knife compared so well. I like nice things and appreciate craftsmanship, but I demand performance commensurate (?) with what I pay. I just don't feel I'm getting the value I expect from S30V.

    Well thanks for letting me rant a little.
  7. Cliff Stamp

    Cliff Stamp Banned BANNED

    Oct 5, 1998
    Ironically one of the design criteria was ease of heat treatment by knifemakers, specifically to move away from the higher austenizing temperatures required by S60V/S90V. I think one of the main problems with S30V was the massive overhype of its toughness which origionally went so far to claim it was on par with A2 and a stainless version of 3V.

    This doesn't explain the extent of some of the problems though. Much of it has to do with the problems in materials testing. Crucible promotes the steels based heavily on wear resistance and charpy impact toughness and don't thick either of these in the way they are tested have much to do with the behavior of edges which are 0.1 micron or so thick.

    They should be looking at *torsional* strength , ductility and impact toughness, and grain and carbide size. They also need to realize that edge retention is dependent on many factors and can be different for push cuts and slicing and from one media to another.


    My small Sebenza is also fairly fragile at low angles, I have seen better performance in the South Fork. My Sebenza is better than what Sodak has reported, in the above thread, but I have seen some S30V blades from Benchmade which had severe problems.

    That is a pretty silly profile for a light use, I run large choppers at only slightly thicker profiles, primary edges at 9/11 and secondary bevels at about 15. You should not have to go near this on knives used just for cutting, a fine grained very hard steel can go down to 3-5 and 6-8 for the primary / secondary.

  8. HoB


    May 12, 2004
    I don't know Cliff. I wouldn't place that much blame on Crucible. They are a steel company, not knifemakers. I would expect any company considering doing blades in a certain steel to test that steel out beforehand. Same goes with the heat treat. I would imagine that there might be some communications problem between Crucible and their customers. What is easy for them to do, might not be that simple in a large batches of small pieces of steel. It also depends on what you are set up to do. You know that from your own research I am sure. Just take liquid nitrogen for example. I read occasionally how difficult it is for a small knifemaker to have liquid nitrogen on hand, so cryo treatment is something that needs to be given at least some thought. In contrast, we have at any given time between one and four 200l dewars running around in our lab. Liquid nitrogen comes essentially straight from the tap as far as we are concerned.

    Fact remains, that people like Phil Wilson hold S30V in high regard, which means that the potential must be there (or those people are simply lunatics, which I don't believe). So really the question is, why is there such a large variation in experience and why do so many blades seemingly do not draw on that full potential.

    Finally, I think it is in the responsibily of the knifemaker/knife company to decide, what kind of steel they have the capability to work with regardless of how the steel is marketed. If the steel is to expensive or difficult for them to work with they they shouldn't be using it and that is really not a decision that the steel company can make for them.

    Finally, a knife company has to keep in mind what the great number of knife buyers appreciate and not only knifenuts like us. Sure I would agree that 20 deg per side is a pretty large angle, but if you look at the sharpmaker it offers only 15 and 20 deg. per side and for most people it gets a knife shaper than anything they have seen in their life. Our preferences seems to confuse people that are new to knifes as well. How often do you see some ask on this forum whether a knife with a 20 deg bevel will shave? Too often! And, yes, of course it will. How many people do you know, that are really willing or capable to thin out blades to a massive degree? Even on this forum the number is relatively small, heck, even I rarely go below 12 deg. per side on the primary. So what you really have to ask, is a S30V capable of outperforming a different steel with a 15/20 (prim/sec) edgegeometry. And the answer may very well be yes, since strength becomes at these "obtuse" bevels less of an issue and abrasion resistance becomes more and more important. Sure that is not what you or I want, but this is the question that is relevant to 99% of the people that generate revenue to the company (e.g. the people that buy knives).
  9. ahgar


    Jan 4, 2005
    my only experience is with my native and so far I like it. sharpens up fairly easily and holds an edge pretty good. certainly not a wonder steel but it works ok for me. considering the price point of this knife i'm happy. later, ahgar
  10. bbcmat


    Jan 10, 2006
    "That is a pretty silly profile for a light use, I run large choppers at only slightly thicker profiles,"

    Your absolutely right Cliff - a sad commentary on the "fit" of this steel to my uses. I'll wait a couple of years worth of sharpening to get up into a fresh part of the blade, then try pulling it back to 6-8 deg / 10-12 deg per side. (still fat - I'd like a 5/10 profile but I don't think that's in the cards with this mat'l)

  11. Psychopomp


    Feb 21, 2005
    Actually, the Native's edge geometery and profile lends itself very well to S30V, but it's a fairly thick blade and short. So there's not a lot of twisting and heavy impact possible with a Native. If you tried S30V in a long, thin blade, I don't think it would hold up nearly as well. This is probably why we don't see too many slipjoints in S30V (that and tradition).

    I like S30V for certain applications (small, Native-sized folders are where I think it's best). But for my bigger folders I much prefer VG-10 or 154cm/ATS-34 to S30V.
  12. Dog of War

    Dog of War

    Sep 4, 2004
    Thanks for jumping in, Cliff. That's exactly what I remember, all the early hype plus a lot of knifemakers initially jumping on the S30V bandwagon like it was the greatest thing since people started using metal instead of flint or obsidian for knives.

    This is a lot of what I've been left wondering .... since I want any large or hard use blade to be carbon steel rather than stainless, all my experience with S30V has been knives I chose as lighter duty cutters. For all I know S30V may be better than other stainlesses for heavier knives with obtuse edges. Maybe if I were a primitive living on a beach with constant salt spray I'd be happy to have a S30V chopper?

    First let me say I always read your posts with interest, HoB. However I agree with Cliff ..... I think Crucible carries a lot of weight with the higher end makers and manufacturers, and there was a real trickle down effect of Crucible's promoting S30V like they have on the makers, and then of course on knife enthusiasts. Somebody needs to be responsible for all the problems seen in the field, and it shouldn't be you and me having to screw around with returns, warranty claims, or having to grope around blindly trying to find a workable edge geometry on this pricey new blade steel.

    Ironically S30V has given me new appreciation for some lower end steels I've never been very impressed with. IMO the Spyderco Native would be a great knife in VG-10 especially with a different blade profile, but I'd even say it'd be just as good a knife for most people, maybe better in some ways, even at the same price if it were in 8A.

    I do agree it's the responsibility of the knife maker/company to choose the right steel for a knife and its intended market. With S30V knives I've had I've seen little evidence of this, more like they're trying to sell what's hot at this time. Maybe those who aren't knife nuts are lucky: they go out and buy their Bucks, and with a Paul Bos heat treat get good service out of 420HC.

    Lot of grist for the mill. As always I'm learning a lot from everyone.
  13. Cliff Stamp

    Cliff Stamp Banned BANNED

    Oct 5, 1998
    It is a interesting commentary in general on knife steels, you can easily achieve those profiles, less even, in 1095 which is cheap, easy to obtain, and has a very low soak temperature, and is far easier to finish. Of course 1095 has taken a beating as well in regards to its ability due to the typical underhardening from companies like TOPS and the horrible quality that comes out of Ontario.

    Knifemakers are in the business of selling knives, you can't really blame them for taking advantage of the ability of a hot material and materials alone can often make or break a sale.

    For that something like AEBL/440A/420HC is a better choice, you don't want a lot of carbides in that type of steel, think of a stainless version of S7, S30V is more of a stainless version of D2.

    Nope, not unless you are on the payrole for R&D. There are makers you can take openly with in regards to work they have done in detail, Wilson is like this, and he will tell you what it does well and what it doesn't do well and be specific including numbers of quantitative comparisons. A lot of them though, including the ones which are often most vocal about superiority are also the ones who give the least details on what they did and what they are comparing it to - often because the answer is nothing. Watch as well and see how many knives are made in the exact same geometries out of steels like D2 and then S7. Should this really be the case, should similar knives ever be made out of those two materials, does anyone make jackhammer bits out of M2?

    Benchmade noted in their public form years ago that one of the main reasons they didn't switch to "better" steels was the cost in promoting the change. There is more to choosing a knife steel than which one has better performance, plus you also have to consider what is the actual market share. How large of a fraction does the Bladeforum membership, which is generally a bit extreme in demands, actually fill in the actual total sales.

    The above comments I made on materials data is referenced to standard materials tests which should be familiar to any engineer, Alvin has been quoting them on rec.knives for over 10 years. A simple consideration of basic physics, even first year principles of forces and impacts would in fact go a long way, impact toughness vs torsional strength for a hunting knife for example. You don't need to be a knife maker to understand that arguement, you just need to consider impacts vs slow loads and twisting vs compression/tensile. Plus if you are going to be promoting and selling a material as suitable for a purpose I think it is reasonable to do the necessary R&D.

    Lets say you get S30V and wish to evalute the steel, the stock soak is 1950 F, you run it at 1850,1900,1950,2000,2050 to check its responce, basically starting it off similar to D2 which leaves a lot of the primary carbide, and increasing the temperature as more and more of it gets dissolved, maybe you get really focused and try 2100, 2150 and 2200 to see how it responds to a high speed hardening.

    You now have nine blanks to make, three of each (one to test strength, the other toughness and the other as a validity check), now you need to check tempering reponce, say at least 5, and now you have quench, so you explore oil vs air and then deep cryo vs multiple tempers. You are now over hundreds of blanks. That is a fair amount of steel and of course cost in grinding and heat treating.

    Then you have to do all the work, repeating the edge holding over a variety of media, testing different abrasives, edge angles, then examining strength, then toughness (in its many forms) and finally taking all of this information and figuring out how to adapt all of this to your knife designs to make the most of the steel. Lets even assume you do all of this, are you going to be willing to give all of it to the guy right next to you who is in direct competition with you?

    Yes, it holds based on what I have seen as a nice fine cutting steel, especially in slicing abrasive material.

    Most people don't sharpen knives at all. I recently reworked the edge on a buck 110 clone. I applied a heavy relief, essentially ground the edge flat to the hollow grind and freehanded a small bevel at about 7/9 degrees per side. I finished with the fine side of a $1 hardware store knife. It end up being able to cut newsprint at about 1/2" from my fingertips, about a quarter of optimal, but based on that steel a decent enough result. Would shave easily, slice toilet paper a little roughly, etc. . When I returned it the guy raved about its sharpness though I would only consider it adequate and someone like Clark would probably feel the need to actually sharpen it. In general the most obtuse profiles I run in general most consider fairly acute but that is because I have worked with some radically high end blades, plus in general I am willing to trade versatility for focus on most knives. In general though a lot of the problems on the forum reported with S30V have come with just regular guys with stock profiles, no radical mods, or extreme demands.

  14. sodak

    sodak Gold Member Gold Member

    Mar 26, 2004
    I have a knife (small Sebenza) in right now for re-hardening, will report on any improvement after I get it back.
  15. Cliff Stamp

    Cliff Stamp Banned BANNED

    Oct 5, 1998
    Did you discuss your lack of performance with Reeve?

  16. thombrogan


    Nov 16, 2002

    While folks like Phil Wilson and Sal Glesser are fond of S30V, their approval shouldn't be the sole basis for one's accepting the steel unless you happen to be Phil Wilson or Sal Glesser. Speaking of both, one of my favorite folding pocket knives is a Spyderco Yojimbo rehardened by Phil Wilson and featuring Sal's Compression Lock. Also, Dick Barber, the guy who made S30V, said:

    Kind of odd because very few production houses consistently heat-treat their S30V between RC60-61 and tend towards a wider and softer range of RC58-60.


    The 440A/S7 analogy was gross. I'm unfamiliar with how Roman heat-treats his 440A, though I think it's for hardness more than toughness), the failure modes of S7 and 440A are very different. I'll take plastic deformation over a blowout every day of the week (and twice on Tuesdays). Still, it's closer to compare 440A to S7 than S30V to any tool steel with a reputation for toughness.

    Dog of War,

    I've had good experience with S30V, but it doesn't match the popular advertisement of the steel. If your blade is ground to take advantage of its wear-resistance and corrosion resistance and heat-treated by someone such as Phil Wilson or RJ Martin, it will do extremely well in its niche. It'll stay sharp for a long time and resharpen with nary a lick on a ceramic stone or a strop with a hard abrasive compound. Knives by Phil Wilson or by Spyderco rehardened by Phil Wilson come to mind.

    On the other hand, if you take the claims of 'toughness' at face value, you'll spend more time sharpening S30V and less time enjoying it. It'll handle most tasks one asks of a light-use knife, but it'll micro-chip when touching other metals almost as a courtesy. Being used to S30V, it blew my mind that my 52100-steeled pocketknife could stab into a dvd player and cut copper wire without losing a shaving edge, because I can't grind S30V as thin without it getting barely visible microchips performing similar tasks (got huge chips on the 52100 knife later chopping away at an old scratching post. Laws of physics caught up with me :eek: ). Heck, can't cut drywall with a waifer-thin S30V blade without some microchips. Ironically, a dollar store boxcutter can.

    Does that make S30V a bad steel? Nope. Since most of my uses involve cutting plastic, paper, cardboard, and the occasional foodstuff, the wear-resistance and corrosion resistance make for a low-maintenance, very good performance combination. Your uses might also suggest that S30V is good for you, but maybe the particular knives you're using are too thick or too thin or sharpened too fine or too coarse for your tasks. Or the heat-treatment wasn't done as well as needed.

    I'd most likely blame the grind and the heat-treatment. When the knife is thin enough and hard enough, you can sacrifice toughness. Okay, on some steels, you can gain toughness at higher hardnesses, but for every Jimmy Fikes and Alvin Johnston grinding and heat-treating 1095 so it will work its magic, there are 3,000,000 others heat-treating 1095 too soft and leaving it too thick. With S30V, the numbers are probably more bleak.
  17. sodak

    sodak Gold Member Gold Member

    Mar 26, 2004

    No, I didn't contact the knifemaker. I've observed a lot of acrimony over this subject, so I decided to try something different. Of my S30V's this one is showing by far the worst performance. My Buck's and Spyderco's have noticeably improved after several sharpenings, and they are also ground much thinner, but still not as thin as I prefer. I'm afraid to go much thinner, given all the microchipping reports. I'm fairly excited to get this back, as everything else about this knife is great, it just doesn't hold an edge. If the performance was typical of S30V, I would have sold it, but I don't think it is. So I thought I'd try something a little different.

    Dog Of War,

    I've had the same experience with S30V as you. Except for my Bucks (Vanguard and 110), I've seen VG 10 easily hold a better edge longer. My Bucks are now about on par with BG 42. My Spyderco Manix was starting to improve over time also, but I gave it to a friend who became an LEO, he needed it more than I did. Others here have had good experience with it. After reading a bunch of thombrogan's posts, I decided to go with the re-heat treat route.

    For a long time, I just thought it was a lousy steel that was over hyped. I'm starting to see some performance, so I can't really say that any more. Too many people on this forum whose opinion I respect have much better luck with it than I have. But I will say, this steel is hit and miss enough that I am almost to the point of avoiding knives that are made in this steel. I'd still rather go with VG 10 or D2, depending on the application (assuming I wanted stainless, or close to stainless).
  18. Dog of War

    Dog of War

    Sep 4, 2004
    I appreciate your balanced view, thombrogan, I think that was really what I was looking for when I posted this.

    Those are some pretty bleak numbers alright :) but illustrate the point very well. I suppose this gets into considerations of scope and purpose of a particular knife. I can see why it's hard for a maker or manufacturer to attempt to define this, because I think it's very common for people to use knives as improvised tools for a lot of things. That's part of the history of knives as tools, and probably a lot of people are going to either ignore it if you try to define the tool too narrowly, or simply conclude there's something wrong with a knife where the maker makes too many cautions and exclusions, when most knives are sold without any.

    Reading these replies, and especially yours, I see my expectations of S30V and just my personal preferences in knives have played a role in my disappointment with S30V. But then I do think the way the steel has been promoted had a lot to do with those expectations in the first place.

    For me, I just don't see where S30V fits in. My experiences with VG-10 have been outstanding, I like the way it performs, and I trust the manufacturers using it to get it right. For anything other than light to medium duty folders I'll always choose carbon steel over stainless unless I wind up moving to that island with all the salt spray. ;) Having examined the microchipping with S30V under magnification, the problems it causes both in sharpening to a very fine polished edge and in retaining that kind of edge .... well again, my needs and uses aren't a good fit.

    BTW I should mention that our company replaces damaged and broken gear, including knives, for our employees. We allow our personnel to buy what they want within reason, but have guidelines for products we won't replace directly. S30V hasn't been a particular problem, no more so than with folders in general. Anyway, thanks to everyones input, I'm not going to push my concerns with S30V for now, just wait and see what we see from the field. From a business standpoint there's already concern that many S30V knives may not be particularly good values .... but if our personnel are happy with them and aren't breaking them, I suppose that's all that really matters.
  19. Outlaw45


    Feb 17, 2004
    That about sums it up for me.
  20. Dog of War

    Dog of War

    Sep 4, 2004
    Outlaw.... yeah, the more I think about it, the high benchmark set by VG-10 probably has a lot to do with it.

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