Why is the 3V more than the San Mai?


Gold Member
Aug 3, 2017
I would think the San Mai would be more difficult to make than the 3V. Is it really that much more expensive to buy or to machine than SM?
Apr 2, 2020
I don't know about costs, but I know which steel I would prefer. That would be 3V, and it's not even close. 3V is a legitimate super steel intended for extreme use. It is good to exceptional in literally every way, combining incredible strength and edge retention with decent corrosion resistance. It is even easy to sharpen.

San Mai, it seems to me, is a cool marketing gimmick (it's laminated like a real Samurai sword!) and a solution to a problem that longer exists (making a blade strong yet flexible, or strong yet largely stainless). To be more specific...

San Mai is a sandwich consisting of 3 layers of low-end steel (VG1 or Aus8 core, with 420 cladding). CPM 3V is powdered supersteel and easily one of the best knife steels in the world. Either will be great depending on use.

In my opinion San Mai would be very nice for a blade that is intended for display or use exclusively as a weapon. 3V is the choice when you want the knife to be able to handle any possible task, and are willing to sacrifice some corrosion resistance and money to get it.


senex morosus moderator
Staff member
Super Mod
Jul 30, 2006
PM steel vs. Laminated steel? I would expect similar material costs. San Mai might be somewhat less expensive.
But material costs seldom drive the cost of the knife. It's manufacturing costs that mostly do that.

Most of the San Mai steel that is removed during the blade forming process is soft 410 steel. Easy to machine. You can zip along at high speed. And maching 410 does not wear out the cutting head fast at all.
Most of the VG10 stays within the blade and never comes in contact with the cutting head.

The 3V is much harder to machine. Feed rates are lower and because of the carbide content it's harsher on the machining tools. So head replacement has to occur more frequently.

More time to machine it. More wear on the machines. A 3V blade is more expensive to manufacture.
Nov 11, 2017
I dont think the pricing policy has its roots in any real world production costs. More likely its because CPM 3V is hyped as the latest and greatest steel when it comes to toughness and strength - and they know since Lynn Thompsons lock testing videos that the Cold Steel crowd is all (and almost only) about toughness and strength :) so they think they can charge you for that...
Jun 3, 2021
The testing on knifesteelnerds showed 3V to really be the best compromise between toughness and edge retention.
Interestingly for me it showed 14c28n to be a close performer at a much lower price!

There’s no benefit to San Mai with modern steels as far as I’m aware but it does look good
Jul 8, 2021
In cold steel’s case, it could be because CPM 3V is made in the US and then shipped overseas.

^ This, plus the exclusive nature of the patented steel means Crucible can basically charge as much as the buyer is willing to pay. No need or motivation to lower raw materials cost.
Dec 2, 2022
San mai has become super crafty and expansive, but the very reason of this kind of build is economy. Nice hard steel are hard to come by in medieval japan. So a tiny piece would be placed in a bar of lesser steel and forged together. Plus, yes, the high ductility soft steel on the outside give it strength (does nothing against chipping though). Nowadays, this is synonym to high-end custom knives. But when you look at properties, low alloyed steel, ranging from .75 to 1.35 carbon, while possibly offering higher hardness - which can be useful in certain applications - are low in toughness and low in edge retention. Generally speaking, under 5/10 in both categories. 3V is 8 and 4.5 respectively. Of course, you can have supersteel san mai in really high-end blades, but that is another game, and atm the best commercially available san mai is ZDP189, SG2 and the lesser VG10. Those are for kitchen knives. For tougher blades, prefer a plain steel with desired properties. High toughness 1 Magnacut, 2 Cruwear, 3 3V, 4 M4. 3V has the lower edge retention of the lot, M4 the highest, toughness the other way around.
Jan 26, 2000
I don't think the answer is related to which steel is superior, which costs more to make, or similar answers.

Just a few years ago the CS knives in 3V were not really expensive compared to their SM knives, and sometimes sold for even less.

Their Japanese SM knives were expensive and if adjusted for inflation would cost significantly more than their current 3V knives of the same models.

The SM Warcraft line is usually about the same price and the 3V versions they replaced, and the SM Magnum Tantos are usually about $20-30 less than the 3V versions from the same seller, but if you look at different sellers it would be easy to find one seller's SM version costing more than another seller's 3V version.


Gold Member
Dec 16, 2009
It looks like CS 3V is pretty tough stuff. I watched a guy recently hammer a SRK 3V blade through a zinc coated bolt with no damage but some slight scuffing from what I could tell. An SRK in SK5 doing a side-by-side test rolled and dented badly. I would assume a San Mai blade wouldn't fair very well in this testing also. I think CS 3V looks pretty tough from the testing I've seen online. Like you mentioned though the prices are quite high right now. I'd like to have a CS Gurka Kurki Plus and a Recon Scout in their 3V but the prices are up there. If they stop producing them for some reason though the prices will really be out of reach.