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What is the knife steel of choice?

Aug 24, 1999
What is the most prized steel used today in knife production regardless of cost? Why? What are its properties? I am talking about medium to large size, fixed blades for outdoor/hunting/military applications.
If one can tolerate non-stainless carbon steel, I vote for L-6.
The loggers here in the Northwest use it exclusively in their saws of all sizes because of its toughness, flexibility and edge-holding under hard use.
One could argue that saws don't equate to knives, but these saws look like a bunch of little knives strung along on one piece of parent steel.
L-6 has very small amounts of everything you could throw into a knife steel, including nickel, and excluding tungsten. It has about an 80 year track record.

For stainless, I would choose BG-42.
I have no experience with it except by reputation.
Several highly respected makers use it: Reeve, Loveless and Lightfoot, to name three.
It has the same make-up as ATS-34, except for the addition of vanadium.
A very high tech maker, Timken-Latrobe makes it using the Vacuum Induction Melt and Vacuum Arc Remelt method.
I think this means an extremely clean and pure steel, in regards to unintended contaminants.
Timken-LaTrobe makes this as a stainless bearing steel.
Again, one could argue that ball bearings don't equate to knives.
I have commissioned Gene Osborn of Center Cross Metal Works
to make a large dagger/short sword for me out of BG-42. Paul Bos will do the heat treatment.
I guess I'll have some hands-on experience sometime in the future, but don't expect any destructive testing.
I would say there is absolutely positively not even close to any consensus on "most prized steel". Not trying to be difficult, but the question is so likely to generate misleading answers that I wonder if you could spell out a bit what you're trying to get at. Are you trying to figure out what the ultimate steel is, and just stick with it?

In production knives today, some of the really interesting materials being used are in my opinion: A-2, M-2, D-2, 440V, and talonite (any 420V is production folders?). Ken mentioned L-6, a great steel but I'm unaware of it currently being used by any production company. BG-42 is a great stainless. All these steels have advantages and disadvantages versus each other, and depending on a particular knife's design criteria, even these might not be the best steel for a particular knife.

My choise would be good ol' 5160, tempered to 56-57 Rc. It won't hold a great edge but it will be tough and sharpen easily. As long as the heat treat is great. If rust is also a concearn then an baked on coating would help.

But, if I was going to be forced to work around lots of salt water I'd would have to go with 440C. 5160 would rust while I was tuff clothing it, and I don't want that.


Self improvement is a hobby of mine :).

Joe: You are right that posts can be mis-leading when asking about a "best steel". Their is nothing gained when you entire post consists of "A2, period." or "ATS-34"

But that can somewhat be avoided if you give a breif description of why you like the steel.


Self improvement is a hobby of mine :).

Adam -- going through knife steels is always fun. And if TW had asked for opinions on everyone's fave knife steel and why, I wouldn't have said anything. But he actually asked for the "most prized knife steel", in a way that makes me think that he feels there's some steel that everyone agrees is the best. I wanted to get him past the notion that there's an easy, objective answer to this question.

Now, if the question is really, "what's your fave knife steel", well then, have at it.

ptpalpha: I can answer that for you, but you may be interested in looking it up yourself. If you go to the front page of bladeforums, and go into features, you'll eventually make it down to the Steel FAQ, which will answer a bunch of questions about steels.

The short answer is, the main difference is the drastic reduction of molybdenum from ATS-34 to ATS-55. Moly is an expensive alloying elements, which is a carbide former and in high amounts provides steels (like ATS-34) to keep their temper at high temperatures (when mixed properly with other elements). Since knife steel does not need to keep its temper at high temperatures, removing the moly to create ATS-55 should in theory bring the cost of the steel down while leaving performance roughly similar.
For "most prized" I would offer designer Damascus. A master smith can weld up a mixture of great steels that perform superbly and have mystical appeal. My dream knife always has a Damascus blade made out of 52100 and something tougher and softer for strength and contrast, with a temper line too.

Damascus is not generally going to be very corrosion resistant for field knives though. CPM420V is an awesome performer, but might be too good in the wear resistance department for large field blades in my opinion due to its resistance to being sharpened. Though they are excellent performers, I can't imagine anybody considering D-2 or L-6 "prized", but that's all in the eye of the aprizer I guess.

I prize my Boye Dendritic Steel blades quite highly. It is corrosion resistant, holds an edge superbly, and looks beautiful when etched to expose the dendritic patterns in the steel. I might prize CPM3V on a big camp knife more though, for its toughness.


[This message has been edited by Steve Harvey (edited 25 August 1999).]
There are many good steels being used today! For a using blade my steel of choice would be L-6 because it will hold a super edge and is very easy to re-sharpen. The rust thing is not a issue with me.
For stainless I would have to go with BG-42 as it too will hold a good edge and it gets sooo sharp! Also, very easy to sharpen.
Have a custom on order that will have a 5160 blade and I really can't wait to try that steel out...but that is another matter!
There is currently a good thread in rec.knives about "steel snobbery." I am increasingly of a mind that by far it is more important to look at who made the knife and what details they have put into it than to quibble endlessly on the really minor performance differences from steel to steel. Ask yourself this: Would you rather have a knife made from ordinary materials made by a master bladesmith or have a ripped off design from China made of exotic materials? I vote for the bladesmith. Find your smith and then discuss what you want the knife to be able to do. There should be a convergence of blade shape, materials and attention to detail that makes simple "steel questions" rather beside the point.

[This message has been edited by lawdog (edited 25 August 1999).]
What an airhead (me)!
I carry an A2 knife every day of the year. Whether the qualities which endear it to me come from the steel or from John Greco's expertise, I love it just the same.
Joe, didn't you say that Barteaux is making their machetes out of L-6?

TWChavanne, In general the steel that is most prized by the military is the steel that can survive the torture testing. The SEAL 2000 is 440A I think, Spyderco's are ATS-55 and GIN-1, many private purchase knives are ATS-34, Mad Dog uses O1, Titanium is the material for Mission, Beryllium is used in Magnetic Ordinance Disposal kits.

There is ne short answer, maybe you could help us out, buy giving us more to work with.

Are you playing with a new steel? Give some to some respected makers and see what they say.

Looking for a particular set of performance parameters? Tell us what they are and we will give you our best guesstimate.

Marion David Poff aka Eye, one can msg me at mdpoff@hotmail.com If I fail to check back with this thread and you want some info, email me.

Check out my review of the Kasper AFCK, thougths on the AFCK and interview of Bob Kasper. <A HREF="http://www.geocities.com/Yosemite/Meadows/1770/kasperafck.html]http://www.geocities.com/Yosemite/Meadows/1770/kasperafck.html[/URL" TARGET=_blank>


[This message has been edited by Marion David Poff (edited 26 August 1999).]
I like Carbon V. Speaking of BG-42, can somebody point me in the direction of some knives that use this steel? Would like to try it out, not too farmiliar with it and hear a lot of good things about it.
Chris Reeves Sebenza uses BG-42. My Sebenza is too nice to use so don't know how the BG-42 holds up. Of all the knives I have used, CPM440V takes the sharpest edge and keeps it the longest. Spyderco Military and Starmate use it as well as a couple of Kershaws. Second place would be Benchmade M2 AFCK that gets just as scary sharp but doesn't hold it as long.
I too agree with lawdog. For me though the perfect steel is shaving sharp and never needs to be sharpened. You can use it for anything - prying, driving screws, digging, cutting ceramic, and whittling nails. Also, it never corrodes, chips, rolls, or breaks. Now would someone just invent it and sell it cheap.

On design and execution vs materials I'd be happy with Mora type blades to play with in CPM 3V, CPM 9V, BG42, etc., as opposed to fine design and workmanship in 420. Although some of the discussion on steel seems to center around just having something different and maybe better I think that for most people the interest is one of a real interest in better peformance. There are a number of materials which offer better edge holding than some of the traditional steels but most seem to trade off toughness in doing so, so it's an active area of investigation and interest. D2 seems to provide a nice stake in the ground of what good edge holding should consist of, and the game is perhaps one of achieving similar or better edge holding with better toughness, stainless properties aside. In that context CPM 3V and maybe 9V seem to be very promising.