The 9 Best Steels for Knives with Their Benefits and Disadvantages

All steel is a mixture of carbon and iron. While other elements are present in trace amounts, if a manufacturer does not enhance the steel in any way, they refer to it as carbon steel. Most knife steels are different, though, and contain other elements that make them alloys. We’ll go through our list of the nine best steels for knives below, offering you a variety based on important factors such as strength, edge retention, and corrosion resistance.

1. Carbon Steel

While carbon is not what manufacturers refer to as an alloy element, there are nonetheless blades that are mostly carbon steel. Increasing the carbon content in your knife blade will increase its overall hardness. This makes for a knife steel that, depending upon the exact carbon content, is hard and durable.

While a very hard knife blade might be difficult to sharpen, this is not always the case. Many carbon steel knife blades are easy to sharpen if you ground the edges thin enough. This combination of durability and sharpness makes straight carbon some of the best steel for knives.

High Carbon Stainless Steel Knife

ZELITE INFINITY Santoku Knife Made with Carbon Stainless Steel

2. S30V Steel

Many knife enthusiasts and chefs consider S30V to be some of the best steel for knives in the cutlery business. In fact, although you’ll find S30V steels in many pocket or hunting knives, the primary impetus for its development was the cutlery industry.

That’s because S30V steel contains high amounts of both carbon and vanadium. This combination of elements gives you an alloy with great resistance to scratches or corrosion. It also takes and holds a sharp edge for a long time, which is important to anyone who needs a good knife in order to prepare food all day.

Nakamura Design Folding Knife with S30V Steel

Benchmade 482 Megumi Knife Made with S30V Steel

3. 154-CM Steel

154-CM steel is a decent jack-of-all-trades steel. It provides you with mid-range corrosion resistance, ease of sharpening, and the ability to hold that edge for a long time. It may not have any one amazing trait, but instead gives you the complete package with some of the best steel for knives out there. In addition, it is a high-end but not “premium” knife steel. This means you’ll be able to find it in many great knife models without breaking the bank.

Benchmade 4300 CLA AUTO Folding Knife

Benchmade 4300 CLA Knife Made with 154-CM Steel

4. D2 Steel

D2 steel is what manufacturers call a “tool steel.” This means it has semi-stainless steel properties and shines when you need something for heavy-duty cutting applications. Unfortunately, D2 is much harder to sharpen than many other steels out there. However, once you get a good edge on it, only a few others can hope to rival D2’s edge-retention properties.

It’s easy to see why D2 makes some of the best steel for knives in terms of heavy-duty tools, as it will hold a fine edge for a long time. You could perform potentially hundreds of tasks before needing to touch up a D2 blade.

Black Micarta Handle D2 Tool Steel

GCS Knives Black Micarta Knife Made with D2 Steel

5. VG-10 Steel

VG-10 steel originated in Japan and then made its way to international markets. Any knife manufacturer who produces high-end or premium products will know what VG-10 steel is and why it is some of the best steel for knives on the market. In fact, one of the best things about VG-10 is its growing popularity.

For several years, some manufacturers have even used it in their various budget knives. VG-10’s superior resistance to corrosion, edge retention, and affordability make it a great choice for any working knives from mid- to high-range.

ZHEN Japanese VG-10 Hammered 67 Layers Damascus Steel Gyuto Chef Knife, 8-Inch

ZHEN Japanese Knife Made with VG-10 Steel

6. H1 Steel

H1 is perhaps the steel of choice if you want something that is highly resistant to corrosion. Because of this, it is some of the best steel for knives if you need something underwater or in environments heavy in salinity. Where many other steels would develop rust with ease, H1 shrugs it off without issue.

Of course, this fantastic resistance comes at a cost. The cost here is poor edge retention as you must sharpen the blade regularly to keep it in good working order. Still, if you’re in the market for a dive knife, you can’t go wrong with H1 steel.

Spyderco C28SYL2HB Knife

Spyderco C28SYL2HB Dragonfly 2 Knife Made with H1 Steel

7. 440C Steel

There was a time in the knife world when manufacturers and enthusiasts considered 440C steel the height of knife blade production. While that time has passed, 440C remains one of the best all-around knife steels you can buy, especially if you are an average user who simply wants a good knife for everyday tasks. 440C steel is easy for most people to sharpen, takes a decent edge, and will cut what you need when you need it. Best of all, this steel is very resistant to staining. It’s a great for anyone who needs a low-maintenance starter knife.

DKC Knives DKC-UL-131 Chula Fixed Blade

DKC Knives DKC-UL-131 Chula Knife Made with 440C Steel

8. AUS-8 Steel

AUS-8 is a Japanese steel. It is softer than the 440C listed above but a bit more resistant to wear and tear. The two factors that make this steel one of the best for mid-range knives are its ease of sharpening and just how sharp it gets. With only a few minutes of your time, blades of AUS-8 steel will return to their original razor sharpness. Easy to sharpen and maintain, knives of AUS-8 are excellent choices for starters and seasoned enthusiasts alike.

Ontario RAT Folding Knife 3-5/8" Drop Point

Ontario RAT Folding Knife Made with AUS-8 Steel

9. N680 Steel

If your knife blade will be in saltwater environments, N680 is another choice. Like H1, this steel is resistant to corrosion and rust. However, it is also the more affordable option. If you need something tough that still takes a good edge and won’t rust on you, N680 is a fine choice.

Benchmade Triage 916SBK-ORG

Benchmade Triage 916SBK-ORG Made with N680 Steel

Summing Up

While our list of the best knife steels is by no means comprehensive, you’ll find a great level of variety here. Most of these steels are common throughout the various knife industries. Each one provides you with specific benefits and only a few compromises if any at all. If you’re searching for some of the best steel for knives on the market today, you’ll find many of the most popular, affordable and effective ones on our list.

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