Choosing a pocket knife isn’t easy, even if you never give a thought to blade steel.
Although you should – and here are 10 great alloys that you should consider in your next EDC refresh.
AUS-8 is a mid-level steel with .75% carbon, 14% chromium, and traces of vanadium and molybdenum.
As such, it offers good hardness and sharpenability, as well as suitable wear resistance and edge retention, along with good corrosion resistance.
This is the steel OKC uses in the RAT I and RAT II. That should say enough for you.
VG-10 is like AUS-8 but a little bit better. It has just a little bit more carbon and chromium, with higher traces of molybdenum and even a bit of cobalt.
Like AUS-8, VG-10 offers good edge retention and wear and corrosion-resistance properties.
Nitro-V steel is a newer contender and a gem among modern blade alloys. This is the alloy from which hot new knives like the deep-carry button lock CIVIVI Altus are made.
Nitro-V won’t turn any heads for its carbon and chromium content, at .68% and 13% (it also contains a bit of manganese and vanadium, by the way) but for its nitrogen content, at .11%.
Nitrogen, normally considered an undesirable element, hardens steel, like carbon, giving Nitro-V the ability to take and hold a wickedly sharp edge.
With over 1% carbon and 4% molybdenum, CPM-154CM is a tough, tough steel. It takes a sharp edge but more importantly, it holds it without being prone to chipping or cracking.
This is a steel that makes good knives and tools due to its ability to resist impulse-related damage. It also resists corrosion fairly well as well.
CPM-S30V is considered a super steel. That is, it will take an edge, hold it, and will stand up to wear, abuse, and corrosion.
There is just one tradeoff to S30V, but it is a big one. It is very hard to sharpen. Once you get that edge, it won’t be going anywhere for a while, though.
D2 is an excellent alloy that was developed as a tool steel. It will take a ridiculously sharp edge and won’t hold it like S30V, but on the flipside, it’s easy as pie to put an edge back on this alloy.
There is one tradeoff here, though. D2 will rust, and it will rust pretty easily.
12C27 might not be considered a super steel, but it has most of the trappings of one. It takes a sharp edge, is pretty tough, and is extremely corrosion-resistant.
The one thing about 12C27 is it’s relatively soft. It won’t hold an edge for that long but at the same time it’s pretty easy to resharpen.
AR-RPM9 is a steel alloy you can find on pocket knives from CJRB. It is tough and corrosion-resistant – pretty tough to make it rust, honestly – and it will take a very sharp edge but edge retention is middling. It won’t hold it for long. Still, it’s very affordable and offers decent performance.
8Cr13MoV is not going to win any contests and it’s only on here because of its low price. As for as performance, it offers decent toughness and corrosion-resistance. It will take a sharp edge and it is easy to resharpen, but don’t expect it to stay sharp for long.
1095 is a good alloy to look at in a pocket knife if you want something classic. For a long time, many knives and tools were made with 10XX alloys like 1095. Many tools, such as axes, stll are made with 1045 and 1055 steels. ESEE, OKC, and GEC all still make knives with 1095.
This is a strong, tough alloy that stands up well to hard use and wear resistance. It can be either hard or soft, depending on the temper, so edge retention is a crapshoot.
The one thing you need to know about 1095 is that it has next to no corrosion resistance. It will rust if you breathe on it, so take special care of it.
Honorable Mention: 420HC
This one isn’t making the list officially because it is just too much of a budget steel to be considered with the others here.
With that said, one single company, Buck Knife Company, produces pocket knives with a specially tempered 420HC alloy that outperforms all the others, holds an edge, and stands up to corrosion.
Don’t fear 420HC if you see Buck stamped on the blade.
Looking for a New Mora Eldris or CIVIVI Altus? Visit White Mountain Knives
Looking for a new Mora Eldris, RAT II, or CIVIVI Altus folding knife to add to your rotation? Visit White Mountain Knives via the previous link.
They carry knives and tools from the top brands (including many others in addition to these), offer fair prices, and extend free shipping to orders in the United States.