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What Is The Best Steel For Your Bushcraft Knife?

What Is The Best Bushcraft Knife Steel?

Steel Foundry

Choosing the correct knife steel, for your bushcraft knife, can be quite confusing. The good thing is that spending more on a knife does not mean you will necessarily have a better knife for your particular situation. One of the main reasons for this is that there is there isn’t a so-called “best knife steel” for every individual

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 do 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?

Five Most Important Factors In Choosing Blade Material

There are numerous standards in rating knife steel. These standards only account for the blade material, itself. As such, blade grind preferences (I.E., flat grind, Scandinavian grind, etc., are not factored in) These five steel standards, for the average consumer, are what you need to look for in buying any type of knife (I.E., Pocket Knife, Hunting Knife, etc.) are what I will gauge this report on.

  • Hardness– A metal’s hardness gauges a knife steel’s ability to resist deformation. A knife that easily bends and does not return to its original shape is lacking hardness. Hardness is graded using a Rockwell scale with knife metals usually are between 58-62.
  • Toughness-The tougher the knife material is the harder it will be for the knife blade knife metal to break, chip, or crack.
  • Edge Retention-Edge retention is a metal’s ability to keep its edge once it is sharpened
  • Corrosion Resistance-Corrosion is a catch-all term, that is a measurement of a knife steel’s ability to resist corrosion and/or rust. Corrosion resistance is especially important when using a knife in a damp, high humidity, or ocean environment.

Bushcraft Steel Evaluation Ground Rules

This article is an evaluation of the best knife steel for a bushcraft or survival fixed blade knife. Therefore, this guide is based solely upon the utility and durability of a survival knife when it is used in an abusive, wilderness, or disaster-type environment. Therefore, looks, collectibility, and sentimentality will not be factors in my evaluation.


 

What is a Bushcraft Knife?

Even though some may consider them to be separate knives, this review will consider the survival knife and the bushcraft knife to be the same. For an in-depth guide on choosing a survival/bushcraft knife click here. The following specs, which are not set in stone, are what I consider to be ideal for a survival/bushcraft knife.

  • Fixed Blade
  • Blade Length– Five to Seven Inches
  • Tang Blade Style-Full Tang Knife (Full tang offers more durability)
  • Knife Point-Clip Point, and Drop Point

 

Knife Brand Mentions For Example Purposes Only– I will be mentioning certain knife brands and knives, like the Morakniv Companion for example purposes. Therefore, if I mention that a bushcraft knife is popular and has excellent Amazon reviews; I am not endorsing any specific knives or brands. As a result, assume that any mention of the above is solely for example purposes.

Stainless Steel Vs Carbon Knife Steel

This review will evaluate the popular stainless steel and carbon-based steel knife blade materials. I will include an overview of both stainless and carbon steel and also mention a few high-end examples of each steel. As a result, similar quality carbon steel knife material will be compared to equivalent stainless steel quality.

Stainless Steel

What Is Stainless Steel?

Steel, in its simplest form, is iron and carbon that are mixed together to form an alloy.    And, stainless steel is a combo of carbon and iron, and a high percentage of chromium. (10.5% is required to be considered stainless steel) The chromium gives the steel its anti-corrosion properties.

What is Chromium?

Chromium Element

Alchemist-hp (talk) (www.pse-mendelejew.de) (FAL or GFDL 1.2 <http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html>), via Wikimedia Commons

Chromium is a silver-like metallic element that is used to make stainless steel. By adding chromium a blade is harder, has more wear and corrosion resistance.

Stainless Steel Pros and Cons

Below is a summary of the pros and cons of stainless steel when compared against carbon steel knives. There are several types of premium and not-so premium types of stainless steel on the market. Therefore, the pros and cons are only for, average quality, stainless steel and are not for premium, stainless steel blade metal. I will though list examples of different types of high and low-end knife steels.

Pros and Cons

PROS
  • Corrosion Resistance-The 10.5% or higher chromium content in stainless steel fights off rust and corrosion.
  • Less Maintenance-Because of its anti-corrosion properties, there is less upkeep involved with this blade steel. I.E. You will not have to oil up your knife as much.
CONS
  • Duller- A stainless steel knife is duller than carbon knives.
  • Tougher To Sharpen-

Examples

Cold Steel Leatherneck-SF, One Size

Cold Steel Leatherneck SF

 

Popular Types of Stainless Steel

High End

  • S35VN

Entry-Level Or Lower End

  • AUS 8
  • 8CR3Mov
  • 400 Series I.E., 440 C, 420 H,  420 C, etc
  • CTS-BD1

Brand Name Stainless Steel Knife Examples

Morakniv Companion

Morakniv Companion Serrated Knife with Sandvik Stainless Steel Blade, 4.1-Inch

Morakniv Knives-4.1-Inch Stainless Steel Blade-Lower Priced Knife

The Mora Companion at 4.1 inches is a bit short for a traditional bushcraft knife. I’ve included this Mora bushcraft knife though because of its popularity and cheap price.

Fallkniven A1 Military Survival Knife

Fallkniven A1 Fine Edge Fixed Blade Knife, Black

Fallkniven survival knives are high-end survival knives that are made in Sweden. The A1 blade is 6.1″. If you want a smaller blade, you can purchase the Fallkniven F1, which has a 3.82″ blade length.

High Carbon Steel

With a high carbon steel knife metal, the carbon content is between .5% to 2.1%. You should expect that the higher the carbon percentage the tougher the steel.  However, the downside also is that the higher the carbon, the less corrosion resistance a blade will have.

Pros and Cons

PROS

  • Durability-High carbon steel has superior durability when compared to stainless steel.
  • Sharpen-You’ll be able to sharpen your knife better with carbon knife steel.
  • Edge Retention-You’ll have superior edge retention along with easier knife sharpening with carbon steel.

CONS

  • More Maintenance-Carbon steel knives, if not regularly maintained, will rust and corrode more easily. So, stainless steel is a better choice if you have a history of not maintaining your knives as much as you should.

    Examples

    Condor Tool Survival Knife

    Condor Tool & Knife, Hudson Bay Camp Knife

    Condor  Tool With Leather Sheath

    Bushcraft Black Handle (Tops Knives)

    TOPS Knives B.O.B. Brothers of Bushcraft Knife w/Black Handle

    Crucible Particle Metallurgy (AKA “CPM”)

    An introduction to high carbon knifes metals is incomplete without mentioning CPM. CPM is a method used for commercially producing high-quality, wear-resistant, steel alloy steel that is so popular has even been called “Super Steel”. Some of the more popular CPM manufactured knife steels are the CPM 3V, CPM M4, and CPM S35V.

    CPM S35VN (“S35VN”)

    CPM S35VN is an upgrade of the S30VN steel that was introduced on the market in 2009, with a goal of combining the benefits of carbon and stainless steel into a single blade material. S35VN has over 14% chromium and 1.4% carbon. (S30 VN steel has 10.5% chromium)

    Stainless Steel Or Carbon-S35VN is labeled as stainless steel, the S in the S35VN stands for stainless, and at 14% Chromium, it does fit into the stainless steel category. Additionally, at 1.4% carbon, it also could be categorized as a high carbon knife steel. Personally, though I only care about its performance and not its categorization.

    Examples

    Buck Knives 119 Special Fixed Blade Knife with Leather Sheath - Black Handle

     

    CPM 3V Steel (“3V”)

    3V steel has .80% carbon, However, it is designed to be used and abused. Specifically, 3V Steel was designed for toughness and to resist blade chips. So, 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 knife steel is premium steel.  As a result, you’ll pay a lot for a  CPM 3V steel knife.

    Example

    CPM M4 Steel (“M4”)

    The M4 knife steel is known for keeping its razor-sharp edge longer than any other type 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 non-carbon-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.

    A2 Steel

    A2 Steel is a carbon-based tool steel that is known for toughness and edge retention. 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. One drawback is that only contains around 5% chromium, which means that A2 has less rust or corrosion resistance. A2 steel, compared to other knife steels, is also a challenge to sharpen. So, if you are the type of person who uses your survival knife and puts it away without cleaning or oiling it, you should look elsewhere.

    Examples

    Hogue Hunting Knife- Fixed Blade, with a fiberglass knife handle material

    Other Knives-

    Best Practices For Cleaning Carbon Knife Steel

    As the below video shows; cleaning and maintaining a high carbon knife isn’t that hard.

    The two questions you must ask yourself are:

    1. If you will diligently clean and maintain your knife?
    2. Can you diligently clean and maintain your knife?

    According to the below video.  One night of neglect can result in your running your knife.  So, be honest with yourself.

     

    Other Knife Steels

    Titanium

    Titanium is one of the most expensive metals out on the market and compared to other steels it has the best rust resistance. Compared to other knife steels it tends to be weaker also.

    PROS and CONS

    PROS

    • Rust Resistant-Titanium has some of the best corrosion resistance
    • Lighter-It is much lighter than steel.
    • Durability-A very hard metal, which means that you are less likely to dent or ding up a titanium knife

    CONS

    • Cost-Titanium is a rare metal. So, a titanium knife blade will cost more.
    • Strength-Titanium is harder; however, it is also not as strong as steel, which means that a titanium knife is not useful if used for prying or other similar knife uses.
    • Edge Retention-Poorer edge retention than steel.
    • Sharpening-A titanium knife blade is noted for being hard to sharpen

    Note-One thing to note is that there are very few survival knives, which use titanium knife steel.  If titanium made a good knife metal, I’m sure it would be used. So, it is not a brash assumption to assume that titanium should not be your first survival knife blade material option.

    Damascus Steel

    A quality Damascus steel knife is a thing of beauty and is a prized possession for many knife collectors or enthusiasts. Damascus knife steel is made by fusing various metals into a single piece of metal. The unique look of a Damascus blade is caused by these two different blades being melted together.

    You might find the above interesting. But, the real question that needs to be addressed is whether or not Damascus makes a good survival knife?

    The quality of the metal that is melted together is the biggest prediction of quality in Damascus knives. If you melt soft or substandard metals together, you’ll have a substandard knife. On the other hand, if you melt quality metals together you’ll have a quality knife. As a result, this review will base the below PROS on CONS on the assumption that quality, material, is being used.

    PROS and CONS

    PROS

    • Durable-Quality Damascus steel is made of durable steel. Therefore, it will last a long time.
    • Looks-A Damascus knife has a unique, and many feel, a beautiful texture. So, it can truly be a conversation starter.
    • Sharp with Edge Retention-Damascus steel knife edge is very sharp and with that sharpness, you’ll also keep that edge longer.
    • Steel Combo-When correctly forged a Damascus steel knife will use both hard steel (more cutting power) and soft steel. (Better able to absorb shocks)

    CONS

    • Corrosion Resistance-It has poor rust resistance.
    • Cost-A top-quality, multi-layered, Damascus knife can cost well over $500.
    • Looks-This isn’t likely during a disaster. But, with a classy-looking Damascus knife, you might be less likely to use it in tasks that could scratch or harm the blade. So, your heirloom-quality Damascus knife might only be for show or used for special occasions.

    Examples

    Damascus Hunting Knife

    Click Image For Current Price

    Final Thoughts

    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.


    Appendix

    Click below for general information concerning purchasing the best-fixed blade survival knives

    Resource List

    This article was only an introduction to knife steel. For most readers, it should get you on the correct path.   However, there is much more to learn.  Click the below links for more in-depth info on various other types of knife steel.

    Blade HQ-This article features charts and comparisons for dozens of premium, average, and cheap knife steels.

    Crucible Industries-The company website of CPM metal maker, CPM.

    Knife Steel Nerds-If you want to get really geeky, check this link.