What is the comparitive cost of steel to the manufacturer?

Nov 3, 1999
What do you suppose the comparitive costs of the different steels are to the knife industry? ATS-34 has been a stalwart for many years. But now we are seeing CM-154, VG-10, BG-42, and CPM 440V, to name but a few, enter the arena. I realize that the way in which every manufacturer hardens these steels,ultimately defines those performance characteristics. Statistically, or on paper, CPM-440V and CPM-420 look great, due to the amounts of carbon and vanadium. I know that 420V is expensive. And I think its great that companies like Benchmade (CM-154), Spyderco (VG-10, CPM 440V), Microtech (CM 154) and Reeve (BG-42) are utilizing different steels. But how expensive (difficult) would it be for a company offer their models in more than one steel? Spyderco used to do that with the Military, ATS-34 and CPM 440V. But now they have settled on the 440V. I personally would like to see more companies using BG-42--I love the characteristics of the Reeve's blades. Is the cost of processing BG-42 so much higher than the other steels. If that's the case, shouldn't the 440V blades be more expensive, too?
Enough of my ramblings. Any thoughts out there? Dr. Welch?
Barry H
BG-42 is great stuff. I love it.

The problem is that BG-42 doesnt come in "manufacturer friendly" sizes and shapes.
Its also not as pretty as 154-CM or ATS-34 apparently and needs some cleanup (=cost).

The other question is can most consumers tell the diff. between it and ATS-34/154-CM?

The jury is still out on that. A few knifemakers that used BG-42 early on have dropped it because their buyers couldnt tell the difference.

"The most effective armor is to keep out of range"-Italian proverb
There's a good thread going on right now at KFC that has touched upon many of these "cost of manufacture" issues. In that thread, to the surprise of many (myself included), Jerry Hossom mentioned that the straight per pound cost of CPM-3V is actually less than the cost of ATS-34. It turns out, however, that the cost of the raw steel is rather insignificant when compared to certain other production costs.

Anthony mentioned a couple of good ones. Many of our favorite blade steels are primarily manufactured for industries other than the cutlery industry. As such, it is often necessary for bar stock to undergo expensive and time consuming machining processes to assume the "manufacturer friendly" sizes and shapes that Anthony refers to.

You also have to consider where the steel is manufactured versus where the knives are produced. Obviously it doesn't make very good business sense on a large scale to ship 154CM steel made in the U.S. over to Japan so it can be made into knife blades when ATS-34 is already available in Japan. The reverse is also true.

The higher performance (more highly alloyed)steels tend to be trickier and costlier to heat treat as well. The heating/cooling cycles can be more involved, more time consuming, require greater temperature control, and even when done properly can still result in warped blades that require even more time and attention to rectify.

There are also added costs incurred when grinding and drilling these higher performing steels. Obviously highly wear resistant steels like 420V are not only going to take longer to grind and sharpen, but will also take their toll on abrasive belts and drill bits.

One must also consider that there are inventory and warehousing costs associated with offering similar knives made with a variety of blade steels.

And in the final analysis, I suspect that we here at BFC, (i.e. folks who actually know the difference between 154CM, AUS8A and 420V), represent a pretty small fraction of the overall market that companies like Benchmade and Spyderco are competing for.

To be honest, in light of the above, you could make an argument that we're fortunate that the two aforementioned companies offer us as many different steel choices as they do.

Semper Fi

Hi Barry.

Steel costs could run from $3-$4/lb for 440A, AUS6, etc.

ATS34 would average about $7-$8/lb

CPM440V might go $12-$14/lb

BG42 is in the $14-$16/lb range

Naturally thickness and quantity matters.

It is difficult to make a model in more than one steel and also difficult to keep them from geting mixed up in processing.

We offered the Military in two steels because the CPM steel was very new and if it wasn't popular, we didn;t want to lose the model.

I appreciate that info, guys. Sal, that was especially nice of you to publish those costs. I remember a thread from the summer at the Spyderco forum concerning a Military Jr. prototype in BG-42. Have you come to any conclusions yet? Do you think BG-42 is a viable steel for the Spyderco company?
Barry H
Now, that's one I would buy! A Military in 3/4 size with BG42 blade. Sounds awesome.

Danbo, soul brother of Rambo