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Knife Steel Buying Guide
Choosing the correct knife steel is confusing for as knife steel is a not a one-size-fits-all. Also, spending more on a knife does not mean you will necessarily have a better knife for your particular situation. So, when you are deciding to purchase a survival knife, please take this into account as the right knife steel depends upon many factors, such as:
- How are you planning to use your knife?
- Where you plan to use your knife?
- How much care (sharpening, cleaning, etc.) do you want to do on your knife?
- How good are you at sharpening your knife?
- Are you willing, and do you need to pay the premium price for top-of-the-line knife steel?
Simply put, the best knife steel depends upon the user. This overview of the various knife steel will cover the following types of knife steel:
- Stainless Steel
- A2 Steel
- 3v Steel,
- S35VN Steel
- CPM M4 Steel.
Stainless steel (“SS”) knife steel as the name implies, resists rust and is also known for being relatively easy to sharpen and maintain. However, SS’ one severe drawback is that, as it is softer than carbon-based steels, it will need to be sharpened more frequently.
As a result, SS’ need for more frequent sharpening, could make their SS knives unsuitable as a SHTF, survival knife. The reason for this is that if you are in a life or death survival situation, the last thing you’ll want to do is sharpen your knife.
Tip- Genuine SS bushcraft knives must have at least 10.5% chromium. However, most SS knives contain at least 12% chromium.
- Maximum Resistance To Rust
- Chipping or Stains
- Less Maintenance Required
- Aesthetically Pleasing With Little Effort
- Cheaper than most other carbon based “super steel”
- Poor Edge Retention
A2 Steel is a carbon-based tool steel that is known for being tough and its ability to keep a sharp edge. Therefore, A2 steel is a popular choice for combat and bushcraft knives. As a bonus, A2 steel is also cheaper than other premium knife steels.
A2 steel does have a few drawbacks. First of all, it only contains around 5% chromium, which means that A2 has less rust resistance. Also, A2 steel, compared to other knife steels, is a challenge to sharpen. So, if you are the type of person who uses your survival knife and puts it away without cleaning it or oiling it, you should look elsewhere.
- Edge Retention
- Cheaper Than “CPM”l and Other Premium Knife Steels
- Rust Resistance
- Cheaper Than Most Non-CPM and Other Types of Premium Knife Steel
- Tough to sharpen
CPM Knife Steel
CPM, CPM S35VN, and CPM 3V steel are among the most popular types of knife steel, and each will be addressed below:
CPM stands for Crucible Particle Metallurgy and is considered to be a “Super Steel” as it is tough, wear-resistant, and very hard to chip and break. CPM steels overall toughness makes make it an excellent choice for a bushcraft knife.
CPM steel though does have a few detriments. For one thing, CPM steel, compared to A2 and other knife steel is quite expensive. Also, CPM steel, like my most carbon-based steel, rusts quicker if it is not cleaned and oiled after each use.
To prevent rust, you can apply several, third-party, coatings on your CPM steel knife. (I.E., DLC, and PVD) However, these coatings do not last forever. Also, even if you do apply protective coatings to the CPM steel, you still will need to regularly clean, oil and sharpen your knife.
CPM 3V Steel (”3V”)
3V knife steel is designed to be used and abused, and 3V is among the most robust types of knife steel. Therefore, 3V knife steel is an excellent choice of knife steel for your bushcraft/survival knife steel. For example, with a 3V bushcraft knife your knife will be better able to handle strenuous outdoor survival tasks, like chopping firewood, cutting wood for a survival shelter, and performing other arduous outdoor survival jobs.
3V steel though is not for everyone. First of all, 3V steel (compared to most non-carbon knife steels) is harder to sharpen. Additionally, 3V steel will rust quickly if you do not clean it every time you use it in the field. Therefore, a 3V knife may not be the right choice for a beginner or someone who doesn’t want to spend much time maintaining their knives.
- Very Tough (Arguably The Toughest Knife Steel Available)
- Wear Resistant
- Excellent Edge retention
- Hard to Sharpen (Compared To Most Other Non-CPM Knife Steel)
- Easily Rusts If Not Cleaned After Use
- Cost (On Amazon, you can spend up to $580 for a top, CPM 3V survival knife)
CPM S35VN (” S35VN”)
S35VN steel is indeed super steel as it has all of the qualities (edge retention, toughness, etc.) desired in CPM steel, minus many of the drawbacks, which are commonly associated with most carbon-based knife steel.
For example, S35VN steel has excellent edge retention (not the best, but good enough for most people) and is also very tough. But, what is most impressive about S35VN is that it is easy to sharpen and has excellent rust resistance. (The S in the S35VN stands for stainless) Therefore, if you can afford it, I would recommend that you purchase a bushcraft knife made from S35VN.
- Edge Retention
- Tough, Rust Resistant
- Edge Retention, Low Maintenance
- Sharpening-Harder to sharpen than most other non-CPM types of knife steels. (CPM S35VN, compared to their carbon based knife steel is however among the easiest CPM knife steels to sharpen)
- Cost-S35VN survival knifes can be very expensive
CPM M4 Steel (”M4”)
M4 knife steel is known for keeping its razor-sharp edge longer than any other types of knife steel, which makes M4 knife steel an excellent choice for survival knives. However, M4 knife steel also, if not adequately maintained, rusts quicker than almost all other CPM and noncarbon based knife steels. Additionally, M4 knife steel may hold its edge longer; but, M4 knife steel is also among the hardest types of knife steel to sharpen. Therefore, an M4 bushcraft knife may not be the right choice for your survival knife, if you find knife sharpening to be challenging or if you rarely oil and maintain your knife after use.
- Maximum Edge Retention
- Very Sharp
- Major Upkeep Involved To Avoid Rust
- Patina May Develop Over Time
- Very Tough To Sharpen
Choosing the right knife steel can be a bit intimidating. However, when buying your knife, you need to be honest with yourself. For example, if you truly believe that you are going to regularly maintain your CPM or other premium knife steel survival knife (and you have a history of doing so) you should consider buying a carbon-based bushcraft knife. However, if you are a novice knife buyer, or hate sharpening and cleaning your knife, you should consider purchasing knife steel that requires less maintenance.
Click below for general information concerning purchasing the best fixed blade survival knives