What Is the Best Steel for A Pocket Knife?

The choice of steel has a direct impact on the performance and quality of a pocket knife. Each type of steel has unique properties such as hardness, toughness, and wear resistance. Choosing the right steel will ensure that the knife has excellent cutting performance, durability, and a long service life. In addition, the choice of the best steel for pocket knives also influences factors such as the manufacturing process, cost control, safety, and overall user experience. Therefore, it is crucial to carefully consider the steel selection when making pocket knives.

steel pocket knife

When Selecting the Best Steel for Pocket Knives, Which Aspects Should Be Taken into Account?

Choosing the right type of steel for your knife is crucial because it plays a large role in how well your knife performs and how long it will last. Here are some key factors to consider when choosing steel for your knives:


Hardness refers to the ability to resist deformation when subjected to stress and external force. Tools must have a certain hardness to maintain the sharpness and wear resistance of the blade. Choosing a steel with good hardness will ensure that the knife is less likely to dull during use. Steel is a general term for iron-carbon alloys with a carbon content between 0.02% and 2.11%. Therefore, the higher the carbon content, the harder the steel. The hardness grades of steel include Brinell HB, Rockwell HRC, Vickers HV, Leeb HL hardness, and so on. Among them, HB and HRC are more commonly used.


In addition to hardness, knife steel must also have some toughness to prevent brittleness or breakage. Toughness is the ability to resist damage such as cracking or chipping when subjected to an impact or “sudden load. Chips are a knife’s worst enemy, and they’re never easy to fix. There are many ways to measure toughness (e.g. Charpy, Izod), so toughness is not as standardized as hardness when it comes to cutting tools. In general, the harder the steel, the less tough it is.

Wear resistance

Wear resistance refers to the ability of steel to withstand both abrasive and adhesive wear. Abrasive wear occurs when harder particles pass over a softer surface. Adhesive wear occurs when debris breaks off one surface and adheres to another. Wear resistance is generally related to the hardness of the steel, but is also strongly influenced by the specific chemical properties of the steel. Among steels of the same hardness, steels with more carbides (tiny, hard, wear-resistant particles) generally have better wear resistance. However, carbides can become brittle and crack, reducing toughness.

Corrosion resistance

Corrosion resistance refers to the ability to resist corrosion, such as rust, caused by external factors such as humidity, moisture and salt.Knives are often exposed to moisture, so choosing a steel with good corrosion resistance can extend the life of your knife and reduce the need for maintenance. However, high corrosion resistance comes at the expense of overall edge performance.

Edge retention

Edge retention is an indication of how long a blade will remain sharp after a period of use, and a good knife steel should be able to maintain the sharpness of the blade and not be prone to rusting or loss of sharpness.

Common Steel Types

Carbon steel 

Often used in rugged situations that require toughness and durability. Often seen on survival knives and machetes. Known for its sharpness and ease of sharpening. However, its low chromium content makes it susceptible to corrosion. The most popular carbon knife steel is 1095.

Tool Steel 

Cutting tools primarily use hard alloy steels. Some commonly used tool steels in this category are D2, O1 and Crucible’s CPM series (referred to as CPM 3V), along with more advanced high speed steels such as M4.

Stainless steel 

Stainless steel is the top choice for pocket knives nowadays, being a type of carbon steel that has been enhanced with corrosion-resistant chromium and other elements to boost performance, even though it may sacrifice some toughness. The most common stainless steel varieties used in EDC knives are 400, 154CM, AUS, VG, CTS, MoV, Sandvik, and Crucible SxxV series steels. Remember, for steel to be classified as stainless, it must contain a minimum of 13% chromium.

Common Steel for Knives

 types of steel


CPM S110V steel, a premium powder metallurgy stainless steel manufactured by Crucible Industries LLC in the United States, is used extensively in the manufacture of premium cutting tools, especially those that require superior wear and corrosion resistance. With a remarkable hardness of 60-62 HRC (Rockwell Hardness), this steel enables knives to retain their sharpness over extended periods of use. In addition, its exceptional wear and corrosion resistance properties make it ideal for the manufacture of high-performance knives, especially those intended for frequent, high-intensity cutting operations.


CPM S90V steel has exceptional wear resistance and the ability to withstand edge wear from regular use due to its high carbon and chromium composition. While its hardness is slightly lower than CPM S110V, it can still achieve impressive levels, typically in the range of 59-61 HRC (Rockwell Hardness). This steel is ideal for manufacturing tools that require high hardness, wear resistance and corrosion resistance, especially for high-end tools intended for use in demanding environments.


M390 steel is commonly used in the production of folding knives that fall within the price range of 100-200RMB. This steel is produced by CNC machining. M390 powder steel has exceptional hardness and wear resistance, making it a top choice for making long-lasting knives and tools. With a hardness rating of 63-66 HRC, M390 steel surpasses many other types of steel in terms of hardness. In addition, the presence of fine carbide particles in its microstructure helps prevent edge wear and degradation.


ZDP-189, a key product developed by Hitachi Metals Ltd., has an exceptionally high carbon content, typically exceeding 3%. This remarkable property gives ZDP-189 steel unparalleled hardness, ensuring the blade remains razor sharp and delivers exceptional cutting performance.


Elmax, a powder metallurgy alloy steel, contains high levels of chromium, vanadium and molybdenum. Typically, materials with high wear resistance tend to have low corrosion resistance and vice versa. However, Elmax is distinguished by its exceptional corrosion and wear resistance properties, which are achieved through the SuperClean 3 powder melting process.


CPM 20CV is recognized in the premium knife steel market for its exceptional combination of wear resistance, corrosion resistance and edge retention. The Crucible Pellet Metallurgy (CPM) technique used in its manufacture is a sophisticated process that ensures a remarkably uniform dispersion of carbides. As a result, the steel exhibits increased toughness, wear resistance and machinability. This comprehensive process includes melting, atomizing, powder collection and mixing, hot isostatic pressing (HIP), and heat treatment, culminating in a steel of unparalleled excellence.


CTS-XHP is an innovative stainless powder metallurgical steel manufactured by Carpenter Technology Corporation, a renowned company based in the United States. This tool steel is relatively new to the market and offers exceptional properties. With a remarkable hardness ranging from 59 to 61 HRC (Rockwell Hardness), CTS-XHP steel is highly suitable for various knife and tool manufacturing applications. Whether you’re making outdoor knives, kitchen knives or industrial knives, this steel is a reliable choice.


CPM M4 steel, also referred to as M4, is a special high vanadium, high speed steel. It contains 1.42% carbon, which increases edge retention, hardness and tensile strength. With a chromium content of 4.00%, the presence of chromium carbide further increases the hardness, tensile strength and toughness of the blade.


S35VN contains 14% chromium to enhance the steel’s ability to resist staining and corrosion while maintaining a good level of toughness. The presence of molybdenum also helps prevent corrosion, especially pitting, which is a common problem in steel.


CPM S30V is specifically designed to meet the rigorous demands of cutting tools and blades. With a 14% chromium content, it provides increased hardness, toughness, tensile strength and corrosion resistance. On the Rockwell C scale of hardness, S30V typically falls between 58 and 64 HRC.


Known as 154CM, the steel takes its name from its composition, which includes 15% chromium and 4% molybdenum. This particular steel has remarkable properties such as exceptional machinability, corrosion resistance, blade damage resistance and toughness. However, due to its relatively high cost, it is primarily used in the production of handmade knives.


ATS-34 shares similar materials and ingredients with 154CM, and performs at or above the standards set by 154CM. Despite its superior performance, ATS-34 comes at a more affordable price, making it a highly regarded choice as one of the top knife steels on the market.


D2 steel is designed for folding knives in the price range of 50-100 RMB. Manufactured using CNC technology, it offers a balanced combination of hardness and corrosion resistance at a cost-effective price. Due to its high hardness, tempering during production is crucial to ensure a proper balance between brittleness and toughness.


VG-10 steel is a premium stainless steel alloy known for its outstanding combination of strength, sharpness and corrosion resistance. Originally developed for kitchen knives, it has been praised for its superior performance.


H1 steel features exceptional corrosion resistance, making it an ideal choice for environments prone to moisture and rust. This steel is specifically designed to withstand such conditions, making it a reliable option for diving and fishing knives.


Produced by Bohler Steel in the United States, N680 is a member of the N-Series stainless steel family. With a nitrogen content of 0.02% and a chromium content of 17%, it has impressive corrosion resistance. This steel grade is well suited for applications where corrosion resistance is critical.


440C steel, on the other hand, offers a combination of corrosion resistance, excellent rust resistance and remarkable dimensional stability at high temperatures. These properties make it a popular choice for dagger making.


AUS-8 is a stainless steel known for its high carbon and low chromium content, manufactured by the Japanese company Aichi Steel Corporation. This steel offers a great combination of hardness and toughness, along with excellent rust resistance and long-lasting sharpness.


CTS-BD1 is a powder metallurgy stainless steel manufactured by Carpenter Technology Corporation in the United States. This high performance steel is commonly used in the production of high quality knives for both industrial and everyday use.


8Cr13MoV is a steel commonly used in the production of folding knives in the price range of 50-100 RMB. Processed using CNC technology, this steel offers a good balance between hardness and corrosion resistance at an affordable price. It is important to pay attention to tempering during production to ensure a proper balance between brittleness and toughness.


14C28N steel, manufactured by the Swedish company Sandvik, has a Rockwell hardness between 58-62 HRC, making it a high quality stainless steel option.


440A steel contains 16%-18% chromium, which provides excellent corrosion resistance. With a low carbon content, it can achieve a hardness of around 56HRC after heat treatment, providing a balance of hardness and toughness ideal for stainless steel knives.


420HC, a higher carbon version of 420 steel, exhibits high hardness, wear resistance and corrosion resistance after heat treatment. It is also known for its high temperature hardness, making it a suitable choice for manufacturing applications requiring resistance to corrosive media.


13C26 steel is a variant of Sandvik’s AEB-L steel, originally intended for razor production. It has a higher carbon content and lower chromium content than 440A, resulting in improved hardness and wear resistance, but with reduced corrosion resistance. In practice, the performance of these steels is very similar and difficult to differentiate. Sandvik eventually developed 14C28N, which offers slightly better performance than 13C26.


1095 steel is a durable material known for its toughness, ease of sharpening, razor sharp edges and cost effectiveness. It is ideal for making rugged blades and survival knives, as opposed to everyday carry knives.


Choosing the right steel is extremely important when making pocket knives. It directly affects the performance, quality, safety and durability of the knives. However, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to which type of steel is best. It depends on the specific needs of manufacturers and consumers. In addition to selecting the right steel, factors such as heat treatment, production process and cost also play an important role in ensuring the production of high-performance, durable and reliable cutting tools. If you’re looking for guaranteed pocket knives or OEM/ODM services, don’t hesitate to contact us.

We are ready to help at any stage of your OEM knife project.

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