Stainless Steels

Jul 9, 1999
Can anyone provide me with insite into the various stailess steels that are currently being used. I have several knives of AUS-8. Its easy to sharpen and holds an edge well. I like it. I can't say the same for the one knife that I have which is ATS-34. It's difficult to sharpen and doesn't seem to hold an edge as well as AUS-8.

I was recently thumbing through a catalog which contained mainly Spydercos and other brands also. There were nearly half as many steels as knives! Can anyone tell me about the charachteristics of the following? AUS-8A, ATS-55, GIN-1, AUS-10, AUS-6, AUS-6M, VG-10, 440C, 420, CPM440V, 6A, BDS44C, A-2, BG-42.

Thanks for any info you can provide. I have seen several styles and designs that I like. I don't want anymore ATS-34 type stuff though. A dull knife is a useless knife, and if I can't sharpen it, it is a waste of money.
I'll let others give you a breakdown of the alloys and properties, I just want to convey somehting that is lost on many people these days;

While I am all for advancement of metalurgy, and some steels really do have it up on others, by and large the great diversity of steels availbale now is really just in response to the "steel of the month" fanbase.

This is akin to Spice Girls groupies. They want the latest in tactical fashions, irregardless of wether or not it's practical or even offers a real advantage.

In practical terms, most cutlery-grade steels will exhibit similar performance in most designs of knives.

In fact, the only singular performer I can think of is INFI, and that's only based on reports I've heard, I don't have any first-hand experience with this steel.

So basicaly, beware the fads, stick to what you know works.
A great steel choice would be either CPM-440V, BG-42, AUS-10, or Talonite.

"All of our knives open with one hand, in case you're busy with the other"
Check the FAQ's. I believe that there is one called Steel or something like that and Joe Talmadge writes a great article.
The Steels FAQ is in the Knowledge Base at this website -- go back to the home page and click on Knowledge Base -- and read ALL the FAQs!

-Cougar Allen :{)

P.S. Sorry, I gave the wrong directions. Go to the home page and click on "Features."

-Cougar :{)

[This message has been edited by Cougar Allen (edited 04 August 1999).]
Some random notes:

AUS-8 is also known as 8A, they're the same thing. There's no such thing as AUS-8A as far as I can tell, it's just people confused about AUS-8 / 8A. Ditto with AUS-6 and 6A.

The title of your note is stainless steels, but you include A-2 on your list as if it's a stainless steel -- it's not.

Last random note, ATS-34 holds an edge nicely, certainly better than 8A. At some point, it's important to make sure that what you're blaming on the steel isn't really a problem with the heat treat or edge geometry. A thick-blade ATS-34 blade from (say) Benchmade might not be easy to sharpen, and the only-somewhat-sharp edge as a result seems to dull fast. Put a performance edge on the same knife, and it'll cut for way longer. I believe most people who have problems sharpening ATS-34 really just have problems with the edge geometry on certain knives, coupled with the fact that ATS-34 is reasonably wear-resistant.

Here is a nice compact table from a German knife manufacturer named Linder.

How well AUS-8 works depends on how it is heat treated. Cold Steel leaves it a little softer (RC57) than others like Linder would finish it. AUS-8 has a real fine grain and takes a real sharp edge easier than many other alloys.
Thanks Joe and Jeff. My ATS-34 blade is very thick and my AUS-8 blades are all from ColdSteel. So, perhaps an ATS-34 Spyderco with their hollow ground blade, may have simmilar charachteristics as a ColdSteel folder?
I would select VG-10 for good trade on toughness and sharpness, or CPM440V for hardness and sharpness. If your brand offered it I would go BG-42 as my all around choice. I wouldn't pay any serious money for ATS-34.

I would expect the ATS-34 to be significantly harder to sharpen than equivalently contoured AUS-8 due to it's much higher molybdenum contents (and it's usually hardened 3 or 4 rockwell points higher).

[This message has been edited by Jeff Clark (edited 04 August 1999).]
hank --

Cold Steel hollow grinds their tantos and their zytel folders to a very thin edge. This is definitely part of the reason these knives sharpen up so easily. The other part is that AUS-8 is reasonably soft and easy to abrade. You should see Cold Steel's AUS-8 holding an edge significantly WORSE than (say) Benchmade's ATS-34.

If your ATS-34 knives are Benchmades, then the edges are ground thick (which makes sharpening more difficult), and of course the hard ATS-34 is more difficult to abrade. I'd suggest doing what I suggested initially -- thin the edge out on one of your current knives, then see how ATS-34 really performs. I'd suggest putting some 15-17 degree thinning bevels on your folder. Take those bevels to within 1/32"-1/64" of the very edge on the blade. The first time you grind in these thinning bevels it may take a while, but you only need to do it once. Now go ahead and put your normal 20-degree edge on top of that. You'll see that it still sharpens more slowly than AUS-8, but it doesn't take that much more time to get a scary sharp edge. And it'll hold that edge for a long time.

Or you could try Spyderco's ATS-34 knives, which already have thinner bevels on them.

'course, there are stainless steels that I would choose over ATS-34, so there's no reason to force yourself to stick with it. I was just objecting to your characterization that ATS-34 won't take a good edge, and loses it quickly. If I were given my choice, there are other stainlesses I'd pick over ATS-34 for a folder.

I'd suggest a visit to Spyderco's web site which has a pretty good chart showing the compositions of the various stainless steels (and Spyderco uses most of them.)

Also understand that the distinctions between high quality stainless steels are subtle to a large degree. The fire of enthusiasm for one steel over another is largely a matter of fashion rather than utility. If VG-10 does a good job, so does ATS-34 etc.

It makes for good discussion, I suppose, but I've used knives made with virtually all of the steels you mention and they all work just fine for me. Actually I have a preference for the somewhat softer steels because they are easier to sharpen (I sharpen my knives very often) and are more resistant to corrosion. 440C and AUS-8A are just dandy with me. Two of my favorite pocket knives use these steels. Take care.

Knife Outlet

Use the rule of observation when it comes to cutlery steel. Custom makers, who are generally trying to make the best knives they can make use ATS-34, or 154CM, CPM440V, CPM420V, D-2, 5160, and very rarely 440C. Never AUS-8, AUS-10, 420J, etc.

AUS-8 is a soft, outdated steel, suitable only for low price point knives that are competing on price, not function. Some of them are fine values for their cost, and some people will tell you that they prefer a Cold Steel edge that bends to a Benchmade edge that chips. All well and good, but carefully heat treated ATS-34 is tougher, and holds an edge longer.

AUS-6 is only worse, down in the seriously poor edge holding catagory with 420 and its siblings. They make serviceable, inexpensive blades that won't rust, but I have too many sort of inexpensive knives made out of ATS-34 that work a lot better.

GIN-1 is a pretty fair stainless, but falls below the line for me.

AUS-10 might make it under the line if the extra carbon makes it harden the way you would expect, but I don't have any experience with it.

------ The Line ------------

VG-10 is capable of being made into a darn good blade as evidenced by the Fallkniven knives. It is fine grained with performance very similar to well tempered 440C by the reports I've read.

Sandvik 12C27 is another very well performing steel when it is well tempered.

440C is a marginal stainless. If it is carefully heat treated, it will hold an edge almost as well as ATS-34, is more rust resistant, and pretty tough for a high alloy steel. It seems to be finer grained that ATS-34, and will take a really fine, sharp edge.

ATS-34 and 154CM (two names for almost the same thing) are pretty good steels. Carefully heat treated ATS-34 is tough, very abrasion resistant, and resists rust pretty well too, though it is just barely stainless. It is a very good stainless steel, the standard for custom makers, but it is getting a little outdated.

ATS-55 is ATS-34 with most of the expensive Molybdenum left out. The high amounts of Mo were originally put in ATS-34 so that it would stay hard at high temperatures, and it is not really necessary for knife blades. It does contribute some to toughness and strength though, so it is hard to except that ATS-55 has as high a performance potential as ATS-34, but it should be close in production knife environments where heat treating is not very exact.

BG-42 is a finer grained steel than ATS-34 with Vanadium added. It takes a sweet edge like a fine grained tool steel, and is somewhat tougher than ATS-34. Good stuff.

Boye Dendritic Steel (cast 440C) is excellent steel for smaller utility blades that don't have to double for prybars or survive a lot of heavy chopping. It really does hold an edge as well as medium alloy tool steels in my experience, and it is stainless. I love it.

CPM440V wears forever. Great stuff. I would put it about even with BDS, though 440V is tougher on paper. It is less stain resistant than BDS.

CPM420V is super steel. Extremely abrasion resistant, and very tough. All the best hand made hard-use, high-tech folders should be made with this stuff unless stain resistance is a higher priority. Maybe too abrasion resistant for big blades, as it would take lots of work to sharpen a big camp knife made out of it with a rock.

D-2 is not really stainless, but it should be considered along with stainless steels for hard use knives because it does resist rust a little better than simple carbon steels and most medium alloy tool steels. D-2 is basicly a medium alloy tool steel with a fair amount of Chromium in it. It is one of the best edge holding conventional steels, and offers great toughness when compared to stainless steels.

A-2 is a medium alloy tool steel containing too little Chromium to be considered stainless. Great steel, just not stainless.

Generally, all the steels below the line can make an excellent blade if heat treated properly and chosen for the appropriate type of service. Even those above the line make good knives if rust resistance and price are more important than edge holding and strength.

Hope this is useful.


don't want to disagree with Snickersnee, but while he is correct concerning the sale of knives, the new steels are developed for
the military. They provide the money to the better colleges for the research to make these space age steels. Some of the "new" steels have been around for a long time, but just dragged out by makers to generate sales (point to Snickersnee). Steels like BDS, the various CPM types are straight from Aberdeen Testing grounds. I keep waiting for the first depleted uranium knife to hit the market. Before anybody says that the material is unavailable to knife makers, stop and think a minute. There are several tons of it lying all over the Middle East. I'd love to buy some, if there are any Arab surplus metal salesmen reading this. Talk about hard and tough! You could actually whittle a block of AUS-8 with a knife made from this material. Most of the ceramic blade materials come to us via NASA. Due to the end of the Cold War titanium is now far more available to makers than it was 10 or 15 years ago, when it too was deemed "strategic" and large quantities couldn't be shipped out of the US. I think it still may be on some funky list as far as shipping is concerned. With all the cut backs it will be awhile before we get a lot of new steels available. Industry is trying, but this type of research is expensive. Sorry, I stop before I start chanting!

Mr. Harvey has given an excellent breakdown of the steels out there, and I agree with him on most points. I do want to add a few notes, though, and point out that most info you'll receive on knife steels comes from a great deal of personal opinion based on anecdotal experience and rarely scientific testing. That is not a criticism of the information, because experience is valuable and there is a great deal available to draw upon here at Bladeforums, but it may serve to explain why you will receive such a range of responses from folks who are all knowledgable on the same topic.

The first thing I'd like to note is that you should not evaluate a steel solely by its use or disuse among custom makers. Custom makers choose steels based on a variety of issues, only one of which is performance. Availability is another; I have yet to see a US steel supplier offering any of the AUS series, or I might give them a try. Similarly, GIN-1 (G-2) is one of my favorite production knife steels for its great flexibility, easy re-sharpening, and better-than-average edge-holding. It is produced only by one Japanese company and I understand that its limited availability was part of the reason Spyderco discontinued its use. If I could get GIN-1 I'd love to try it in my knives, but I simply can't. Another concern is ease of manufacture. Some steels have qualities that make them unpleasant or expensive to grind. D-2, for example, is very hard on belts and equipment, while I find 440C gets hot very quickly and doesn't grind as cleanly as some others. I think most makers will ignore this if the steel has properties that make it worthwhile, but it is a concern. A final issue is customer response. People want certain steels due to what they've read or heard, and you're often better off giving it to them than trying to convince them otherwise if you don't agree. As I've said before, I don't think that I could distinguish knives I've made in 440C from knives I've made in ATS-34 based solely on performance, but I always choose ATS-34 because it's more pleasant to grind and customers hold it in higher regard.

The other thing that I want to note is that composition and heat-treatment are not universal among steels of the same grade. Furthermore, this area is more obscure than the simple system of grades, and heat-treatment is effectively a "black box" to many people. Some of the more modern grades of steel are held to very tight tolerances, but I have used knives in 440C from Taiwan and Solingen Germany, and the differences were startling. My own ATS-34 treated by Texas Knifemaker's Supply is easy for me to sharpen and flexes at the edge, while I have a tough time sharpening most ATS-34 Benchmades and find their edges chip easily. Even Cold Steel's vaunted "Carbon V" is a standard grade (52100?) that is subjected to a proprietary rolling and heat-treatment process. My point is that judging steels by the grade is only good for generalization - individual mileage may vary.

Nevertheless, it's fun and gives us a constant conversation topic. Mr. Harvey's overview was an especially good one, IMO.

-Drew Gleason
Little Bear Knives
Isn't DU popular for anti-tank munitions because it has a much greater density than lead and will stay intact at impact speeds that will shatter steel? These properties make for an excellent sabot round, but I don't think they have much knife application. you're right that it would sell like hotcakes, though.

I agree with Steve Harvey about the ranking of alloys, but disagree about where "the line" should fall and just looking to custom makers for direction in alloy selection. Corduroy points out that custom makers are driven by customer fads and limited materials availability. That particularly makes his list biased against the AUS family which seems unavailable to US custom makers. As you have found yourself AUS-8 is easy to get really sharp and holds an edge pretty well. It seems like most people have used Cold Steel's thinly profiled RC-57 AUS-8 blades. If you harden it to RC-58 like AG Russell or Linder you get a very serviceable edge that is easy to get really sharp (because of high vanadium and low molybdenum). This is great for a meat cutting knife. AUS-10 is much the same only likes to be hardened to RC-60. These alloys should roll rather than chip under most over stress. If you like your AUS-8 knife you might particularly like AUS-10. If you don't like ATS-34 you may not like 440C or ATS-55 which tend towards larger harder carbides. I personally don't pay real money for high alloys without vanadium. They tend to be 'course' for my taste.

I would look to the Spyderco line for a wide selection of quality stainless alloys. They freely select from alloys available in the US and Japan. I've really grow to respect Sal Glesser as a steel afficienado. They get a tremendous coverage for a factory line. Beyond that some of the non-stainless steels are really remarkable. Things like A2, D2, 3V, and 01 are awfully nice.
A good website for an overview of stainless steels, their composition and uses is:

Here is a cross reference for steels that are made in different countries and the nomenclature is different (This is from Joe Talmadge's FAQ's, but the URL he gives is incorrect; this is the correct URL)

A. G. Russell's steel chart is here:

Should you wish to search for an alloy, and find out its' composition, characteristics, and uses, use either of these two sites to search, using either composition, name, or properties:

Hope this helps. Walt

Excellent perspective. Thanks. I only get to see the knives from the front of the table. It sure doesn't make sense to wonder why all small handmade knives don't have 420V blades if the stock sizes aren't available. I know that is a big part of the reason we haven't seen more BG-42 knives already.

Availability now that's a thorn in my side.
Many of the steels we would like to use are not stocked in the sizes we can use, IE 420v is 1/2" min anything thinner is special order only and with a 400lb min.
They call it a mill run and they cost as much as a used car and in the case of 420v a cheap new one.
When I started my CPM steel thing I got a quote on 1/8"-3/16" and 1/4" in 3V and 420V 400lb each size, cost $34,000 plus shipping.

Edward Randall Schott

Joe :

You should see Cold Steel's AUS-8 holding an edge significantly WORSE than (say) Benchmade's ATS-34.

This is not uniformly true. A harder blade does not mean better edge holding across the board it just means that wear resistance is probably higher and of course durability drops off dramatically. ATS-34 can be made harder than 61 RC and if it was left at say 64 RC it would have significantly less edge holding abilities for general use than at 61 RC.

Wear resistance is all well and good but it does not directly correlate to better edge holding. There needs to be significant edge toughness and durabilty or ductility to stop microcracking and other edge damage. If I had to pick a CS AUS-8 or a Benchmade ATS-34 the choice would be the CS blade. I would have to spend much more time sharpening the ATS-34 blade to keep it in top condition because of the edge being damaged to a greater use under similar levels of stress.

The last two custom knives I had made I specifically asked for a light use knife, yet in each case the maker did not try to max out the RC hardness. They were left hard (62 and 62.5 RC) but tempered enough so that the edge could sustain the stresses of normal cutting and just wear gradually. Different steels need to be set at different RC in order to behave well as blade materials. This is one of the reasons I have a better opinion of Spyderco than Benchmade as the latter seems to think that you should just uniform RC all blade materials as the RC sets the performace level (ie. 60 RC makes a good knife no matter the steel) whereas the former alters the heat treat for each steel.

One of the reasons that the CPM steels perform so strongly is that they have very high wear resistances at relatively low RC's. Thus you can good good combinations of toughness and wear resistance.


[This message has been edited by Cliff Stamp (edited 06 August 1999).]