Few aspects of knife design are subject to as much interest, discussion, and debate as blade steel. Though I would argue that heat treatment and blade geometry are more critical, the specific alloy used for a blade is a very important consideration when designing and producing a knife. While there is arguably no “best” steel, as every alloy has its own strengths and weaknesses, some steels are more appropriate for certain tasks than others. A steel that is ideal for making a hammer, for instance, may not be ideal for making a kitchen knife.
There are hundreds of grades of blade steel used around the world, many of which have similar specifications, and are more or less interchangeable. It would not be practical for me to list them all on this page. Below you will find a list of the steels which I commonly use, as well as a description of their attributes relative to each other, in layman’s terms.
If metallurgy is an overwhelming or uninteresting subject to you, fear not. It is not critical for a knife owner to know the minutiae of metallurgy, or why a specific alloy was chosen for a knife. All of my knives are made from good steel, and will perform admirably in the tasks they are designed for. In this context, the choice of one steel type over another is generally a matter of personal preference rather than objective quality. This page is simply meant to be a reference point, so potential buyers can have a basic understanding of what they are looking at.
A carbon steel in the 10 series family. Excels in high hardness applications, at the cost of some toughness. I use 1095 as an “entry level” steel for several of my knife designs, particularly lighter duty cutters, such as kitchen cutlery, and some EDC blades.
One of my standard, go-to steels. Fits a similar role to 1095, with several advantages. A chromium alloy, non-stainless tool steel with high carbon content, 52100 has the benefit of high toughness, fine grain structure, and high wear resistance. Overall, It outperforms 1095, with the only drawbacks being a higher difficulty of sharpening, and a higher price, as 52100 has a very complicated heat treat recipe compared to 1095.
A low-alloy tool steel, sometimes called 1080+, though the name does not do it justice. It has a medium-high carbon content, as well as the addition of small amounts of chromium and vanadium. Excels in high toughness applications, while maintaining above average hardness. Despite its many perks, 80CRV2 is fairly inexpensive and easy to work with, and is one of my go-to steels, for everything from swords to kitchen knives.
A relatively simple tool steel, W2 has properties that place it in a similar niche as 1095 and 52100. W2 has approximately the same carbon content as 1095 (this applies to my current source of W2, as the specs for W2 carbon content range widely between manufacturers), but has small amounts of additional alloying elements such as chromium, nickel, tungsten, and vanadium. W2 has some slight improvements over 1095 in wear resistance, however its main attraction for me is its ability to differentially harden. While any steel can be differentially hardened, W2 is known to produce the most dramatic visual effects from this process and is considered by many to be the best steel for hamons.
440C is a classic stainless steel, with some comparable qualities to 1095, though with a reduction in toughness, and more difficult sharpening. While 440C is somewhat old-fashioned, when it is heat treated correctly, it is a solid performer for kitchen cutlery, and smaller blades.
High carbon, high chromium tool steel. D2 fills a unique role as a semi stainless steel. While it does not have enough chromium to be truly stainless such as 440-C or AEB-L, it is corrosion resistant compared to other carbon steels. D2 has many of the advantages of carbon steel, while its corrosion resistance makes it moderately easier to maintain.