Steel and which is best

Oct 7, 1998
We've all seen the myriad posts on various steels and how this is best and that isn't. One touts CMP440 or 420, another BG42, yet another M2. Others say 440a,b,or c and ATS34 are awful or just passe. Are we steel "snobs" who need to have the latest just because? Wouldn't it be a really neat test to have identical knives made up from all these various steels and see how they perform - side by side? Could we really tell the differences in practical terms? Any bets as to how many of us could tell the difference betweem O1 and M2 or 440c, ATS34 or BG42? Maybe one of our custom makers could whip up some small bladed samples and give it to us straight?
Oct 7, 1998
Ken; it is actually very difficult to do a comparison of different blade alloy types in sporting knives. There is no (to my knowledge) standardized testing regimen.

One of the few places where abrasion resistance was tested occured when slicing knives, used to cut cardboard cartons in a cereal factory, were evaluated for abrasion resistance. As it turned out, the original knives, made of tungsten carbide, were outlasted by about 35% by a different cobalt alloy, Talonite (r). Tungsten carbide, by the way, is actually WC suspended in a cobalt matrix.

As for your suggestion to make up a number of knives with different alloys, it has already been done. Many knives are available in different alloys. Custom makers will often make a knife with the alloy of your choice.

Testing these knives is a different matter. I don't think that anyone is interested in doing a true double blind test of alloys. The knifemakers are too busy making knives and selling them.

You can get some valuable information, however, by going to the alloy manufacturer's site, and perusing the information on abrasion resistance and toughness listed. This at least gives you the ability to compare the alloys of one maker against each other.

Try checking this site out:

Be sure and read 'Heat Treating and Fabrication of Tool Steels.' Also, click on 'Tool Steels,' and read 'Selecting High Performance Tool Steel.'

Another good source of info is Mad Dog's treatise at this URL:

Joe Talmadge also has an excellent selection of steel FAQ's:

Happy reading. Walt