A Guide For Choosing The Best Knife Steel

Knife Steel Buying Guide

Choosing the correct knife steel is confusing for the novice knife buyer as knife steel is a not a one-size-fits-all.  Also, spending more Choosing The Best Knife Steel Follow Me on Pinterest on a knife does not mean you will necessarily have a better knife for your particular situation. So, when you are making a decision to purchase a survival knife, please take this into account as the right knife steel depends upon many factors, such as:

  • What are you going to use your knife for?
  • Where you plan to use your knife?
  • How much care 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 premium 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, CPM 3v Steel, CPM S35VN Steel, and CPM M4 Steel.

Stainless 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 steel has one severe drawback in that it is softer than carbon based steels, which results in SS steel not being able to retain its edge that well. As a result, the lack of maximum edge retention could make this knife unsuitable for some people as a SHTF, survival knife because if you are in a life or death survival situation, the last thing you’ll want to do is sharpen your knife.

Tip- To ensure that you are purchasing genuine SS knives your knife must have at least 10.5% chromium to be labeled as SS. However, most SS knives contain least 12% chromium.


Maximum Resistance To Rust, Chipping or Stains, Less Maintenance Required, Aesthetically Pleasing With Little Effort, Cost

Poor Edge Retention

A2 Steel

A2 Steel is a carbon-based tool steel that is known for being very tough and the ability to keep its edge. Therefore, A2 steel is often used in combat and bushcraft knives where toughness is essential. A2 steel is also cheaper than other premium knife steel. However, A2 steel does have a few drawbacks. First of all, A2 steel only contains around 5% chromium, which means that this knife steel is less resistant to rust. So, if you are the type of person who uses your survival knife and puts it away without out cleaning it or oiling it, you should look elsewhere. Also, A2 can be a challenge to sharpen.



Edge Retention, Toughness, Cheaper Than “CPM” Knife Steel And Other Premium Steels


Rust Resistance, Cost Compared To Most Non-CPM  And Other Types of Premium Knife Steel, Sharpening

CPM Knife Steel

CPM stands for Crucible Particle Metallurgy. CPM knife steel is considered to a be “Super Steel” as it is tough, resistant to wear, and is very hard to chip and break.  As a result, CPM knife steel is an excellent choice for various outdoor survival tasks like chopping wood and hammering. CPM steel also, like my most carbon-based steel, tends to rust easier if it is not cleaned and oiled after each use. Granted, to prevent rust, you can apply several, third-party, coatings for CPM steel. (I.E., DLC and PVD coatings are good choices) However, these coatings do not last forever, and even if you do apply protective coatings to your CPM knife, you should still be sure to regularly clean, oil and sharpen your knife. Additionally, CPM steel, compared to A2 and other knife steel is quite expensive.

CPM 3V, CPM S35VN, and CPM 3V steel are among the most popular types of knife steel, and depending upon what kind of CPM steel that you’re purchasing some CPM knife steel is easier to sharpen and also not as tough as other CPM steel. The above types of steel will be addressed below.

CPM 3V Steel (”3V”)

3V is among the toughest types of knife steel available. It was designed to be used and abused. Therefore, 3V knife steel is an excellent choice if you will be using your bushcraft/survival knife for chopping, pounding in addition to cutting. However, 3V steel is not for everyone as it is harder to sharpen than most other non-carbon based knife steels, and 3V tends to rust if it is not cleaned after every use. Therefore, a 3V knife may not be a good choice for the beginner or someone who doesn’t want to spend much time maintaining their knives.



Very Tough (Arguably The Toughest Knife Steel Available), Wear Resistant, Keeps Its Edge


Hard to Sharpen (Compared To Most Other Non-CPM Knife Steel), Easily Rusts If Not Cleaned After Use, Cost

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 that are commonly associated with 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 truly great 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


Sharpen (It’s however among the easiest CPM knife steels to sharpen), cost

CPM M4 Steel (”M4”)

M4 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 not CPM knife steels. M4 is also among the hardest types of knife steel to sharpen and M4 knife is not a good choice for the novice knife buyer or the lazy.



Maximum Edge Retention, Very Sharp, Toughness


Major Upkeep Involved To Avoid Rust, Patina May Develop Over Time, Very Tough To Sharpen, Cost



Choosing the right knife steel can be a bit intimidating. But, you need to be honest with yourself when making your decision. If you truly believe that you are going to take the time to maintain your CPM or other premium knife steel survival knife buy CPM or an A2 knife. However, if you are a novice knife buyer, or hate sharpening and cleaning your knife you should consider buying a stainless steel survival knife.

For general information concerning choosing the best fixed blade survival knives