Steel do those numbers mean;)

Dec 6, 1998
Hi people..i've just joined so i don't know if this has been discussed's just something i'd like to know..
by a knife, in a catalog or something they have something like 440 or 250 steel etc..
what do those mean and is the higher the number for the better or worse?
Or check Joe Talmadge's Steel FAQ, found here on this site in the Articles, Reviews, &FAQ's section:


Kevin Jon Schlossberg
SysOp and Administrator for

Insert witty quip here
Hi Vailin, I'm new to learning about knives, too and the links that Raph and Spark recommended are great. To me, knowing about the steel makes this much more fun. If you study the links you will learn quite a bit about the different grades of steel and this will enhance your love for knives even more. You will never buy a knife again without knowing the grade. I guarantee that. Good luck with your studies. Are there any quizes?

Greg Mete
Kodiak Alaska

[This message has been edited by Kodiak PA (edited 07 December 1998).]
Study these and other steel charts carefully, but take them with a grain of salt. There's another good one at

The thing is, heat-treat (and in some cases, cryo-treat (as in bathing steel in liquid nitrogen)) can make a difference as big or bigger than the steel type, within certain limits. SOG and Myerchin seem to be able to take 440A *way* beyond it's normal performance envelope, as one example. That doesn't mean I'm a big fan of the steel, but I like my Myerchin. *Any* steel can turn to a total turd in the oven if done wrong.

Some steels are also well suited for heat'n'beat forging methods while others are better for the "grinder jockey" stock removal crowd. 440B stainless can be worked with heat'n'beat which is highly unusual for stainless, hence Randall uses it for their few stainless items.

Then there's differencial heat-treats whereby the spine is at one hardness level optimized for toughness and the edge is harder and optimized for edgeholding. 01 tool steel is in theory not as good as A2 but can take a differencial temper more reliably therefore a Mad Dog 01 blade is generally believed to be a bit better than a Chris Reeve A2. BUT the difference isn't extreme, so if you like the ergos and other features of one over the other they're both cool.

And when you're past all that, join in on the raging debates over how best to heat-treat ATS-34, complete with the odd flamewar now and again

Jim March
> is the higher the number for the better or worse?

There's no easy answer for this. Often, as you add some alloying element, you gain one thing but lose another. At some point, if you add carbon, you gain hardenability (which leads to edge holding) but lose toughness and rust resistance. Add chromium, and gain edge holding and rust resistance but lose toughness. In addition, some elements don't like to be mixed with others, and some elements lose their beneficial effects once there's too much mixed in.

You see the point. You can't just add more and assume you'll get a better knife steel. You might want to look at the alloy elements in different steels just to get a feel for thing. Look at 5160 and 1084 for examples of very tough steels. Look at 420V and M-2 for steels that hold an edge well. Look at 440A for a steel that is very stainless but doesn't hold an edge. Etc.


[This message has been edited by Joe Talmadge (edited 07 December 1998).]
Ahh..thanks a bunch guyz...i'm looking through all the FAQ and web sites you've all mentioned. This is getting more interesting all the time