What is the best steel for a big bowie knife?

Jun 28, 2013
im fixin too buy a big bowie knife with a 11 1/2" blade and seem to have a question i want a great steel to be used somethin thats strong, takes and edge well and holds an edge well ill be usin this bowie knife for an occasional skinnin, guttin job or cuttin a few mesquite out of the road, and some branches mabye.
Pha, not an appropriate question. Steels can be talked about all day.

What steel is the knife/what options do you have?

Why skin with an 11" blade?
Well, generally speaking the more toughness you get the more edge holding you lose, conversely the more edge holding you gain the more toughness you lose. At one end of the spectrum you have Super tough steels like H13 and S7 that don't have great edge holding, but you could destroy a car with. On the other end you have steels like CPM-10V that has outstanding edge holding, but I wouldn't push it too hard as far as chopping/prying/batoning. IMO, CPM-3V is a good compromise for a larger blade, very tough, but still good edge holding. (D2 like edge holding, but just a small step down from the tougher non-stainless steels) If you wanted to go a little stronger steel but give up some edge holding go with something like 5160 or if you want to go in the opposite direction go to CPM-M4, a step up in edge holding from 3v, but not as tough (though I've seen several large choppers made in CPM-M4 such as Benchmades competition chopper).
a lot depends on the heat treat of the steel, but
tough choppers can be made out of 1095 carbon steel
fine slicers can be made of 1095 but do better with other, less-tough steels
mesquite is very hard so for that you want a tough steel that can take abuse without damage like some fancier steels would, but it won't hold an edge as well as the fancy stuff
If I may make a knife suggestion, look into the KA-BAR Large Heavy Bowie for about $50.

The 1080 equivalent used is very tough and good stuff to abuse all day long and still holds an edge.

It shouldn't break on you regardless of "stick" tang due to combination of the toughness of the steel and being of .25" stock.

I love mine.
3V, 5160, L6, S1,S7

O-1,W2,52100,A2,Cruwear, Z Wear/CTS PD1, CPM D2,D2,1084/1085,1095, etc.

I could go on. It depends on your budget, how much wear resistance, or ease of sharpening, etc.

My favorite large knives are in 3V and L6 currently. That's not saying they are the best steels but in the knives I have they have the qualities I want. I could just as easy go with any of the other steels. S1 is one that is rarely seen . It would be more popular if it was more available and more familiar to people.
If I have a big budget, I'd go with 3V. If I want an relatively inexpensive one, I'd go for 5160.
CPM 3V is great, but 5160 is probably all you'll ever need.


5160 and Seasoned Oak

Big Mike
Any plain carbon steel from 1055-1095, CPM 3-V, 5160, O-1, and 52100 are my recommendations.
I've got a golok in L6 and Junglas in 1095. They seem to be good choppers. An 11 1/2" blade is the last resort knife I would use to skin anything around here. I would use a slipjoint first.
5150 all day every day, but if you're looking to use the for mostly butchering purposes why not buy an actual butcher knife. Old Hickory makes 6, 7, 8, 12, and 14 inch models. They're made out of 1095, and the best part is they're only about 15 bucks each. A lot of guys use them in the bush too. you might want to mod the handle though.
Holds an edge well is very subjective and depends on what level of dullness you are going to use your knife to. There's a big difference between sharp enough to cut notebook paper and sharp enough for phonebook paper I feel.

Considering the blade length I feel like it's mostly going to be used for chopping/splitting, etc. In that case I would recommend something simple like 5160/S7/H13/L6/1084/1075/4130/1055 or after those 01/52100. The reasoning is that blades used for chopping blunt/dull much differently than blades used for slicing/cutting. When used for chopping a blade will dull through impaction and chipping, especially considering wood is often dirty or you hit a knot or something. Being that is the case you want something very tough at as high a hardness as possible to also give it strength. After that, because it will undoubtedly take some damage if you really use it hard, you want something that is easy to grind and sharpen, which the steels mentioned offer because of their lack of carbides. As a bonus they are usually cheaper.

What you want to avoid are the high carbide steels (D2, S30V, Elmax, etc) as the high carbide loads will make the edge much less stable (think concrete and the aggregates in it), so to protect the edge from chipping, etc you'll have to run relatively high edge angles. The carbides and the edge retention they provide are really only valuable if you are cutting abrasive material where their wear resistance comes in handy.

3V is fine for choppers, but it does, relatively speaking have more carbides than the "simple" steels like 5160 and is also much harder to grind and repair (this is assumign you aren't using power tools which tend to even things out in terms of sharpening difficulty).

Having said all that, you really do have a ton of steel options. The most important thing is going to be the maker. When you find out who you are going to have make the blade, talk with them and ask them what kind of testing they've done on the blade, how they themselves use knives, see if they've pushed it to failure, what they expect the blade to stand up to, ask if their designs have evolved etc.

If they don't want to answer those kinds of questions or can't, I'd move on.
Second that!
As I have mentioned before many times and it's my prime example, Nick Wheeler made a camp knife from simple 1084 (actually damascus with 15N20 mixture but it does not change the fact) and he chopped dried moose antler with it without adverse effects and his edge was only about 0.02 (this is 1/2 a millimeter !!) before sharpening at 59 HRC. It is all about heat treatment! All the new super steels, it's just a hype and cool if this rocks your world but you don't need it to get a well made functional knife !!