As you’ll see here there are a lot of steels listed with a variety of differnt compositions and properties. These are just some of the Non-Stainless Steels.
The Non-Stainless Steels are the steels most often forged. Stainless steels can be forged but it is very difficult. In addition, carbon steels can be differentially tempered, to give a hard edge-holding edge and a tough springy back. Stainless steels are not differentially tempered. Of course, carbon steels will rust faster than stainless steels, to varying degrees. Carbon steels are also often a little bit less of a crap shoot than stainless steels. All the steels named below are fine performers when heat treated properly.
In the AISI steel designation system, 10xx is carbon steel, any other steels are alloy steels. Refer to the Knives and Steel – SAE/AISI Numbering Designation System for more information.
Often, the last numbers in the name of a steel is fairly close to the steel’s carbon content. So 1095 is ~.95% carbon. 52100 is ~1.0% carbon. 5160 is ~.60% carbon.
D2 is sometimes called a “semi-stainless”. It has a fairly high chrome content (12%), but not high enough to classify it as stainless. It is more stain resistant than the carbon steels. It has excellent wear resistance. D2 is much tougher than the premium stainless steels like ATS-34, but not as tough as many of the other non-stainless steels mentioned here. The combination of great wear resistance, almost-stainlessness, and good toughness make it a great choice for a number of knife styles.
A “high-speed steel”, it can hold its temper even at very high temperatures, and as such is used in industry for high-heat cutting jobs. It is slightly tougher, and is slightly more wear resistant, than D2. However, M2 rusts easily.
An excellent air-hardening tool steel, it is tougher than D2 and M2, with less wear resistance . As an air-hardening steel, don’t expect it to be differentially tempered. Its good toughness makes it a frequent choice for combat knives.
This is a steel very popular with forgers, as it has the reputation for being “forgiving”. It is an excellent steel, that takes and holds an edge superbly, and is tough (although not as tough as, say, 5160). It rusts easily
Reasonably tough and holds an edge well, due to its .2% vanadium content. Most files are made from W-1, which is the same as W-2 except for the vanadium content (W-1 has no vanadium).
1095 (and 1084, 1070, 1060, 1050, etc.) Many of the 10-series steels for cutlery, though 1095 is the most popular for knives. When you go in order from 1095-1050, you generally go from more carbon to less, from more wear resistance to less wear resistance, and tough to tougher to toughest. As such, you’ll see 1060 and 1050, used often for swords. For knives, 1095 is sort of the “standard” carbon steel, not too expensive and performs well. It is reasonably tough and holds an edge well, and is easy to sharpen. It rusts easily. This is a simple steel, which contains only two alloying elements: .95% carbon and .4% manganese. The various Kabars are usually 1095 with a black coating.
Carbon V is a trademarked term by Cold Steel, and as such is not necessarily one particular kind of steel; rather, it describes whatever steel Cold Steel happens to be using, and there is an indication they do change steels from time to time. Carbon V performs roughly between 1095-ish and O1-ish, , and rusts like O1 as well.
0170-6 – 50100-B
These are different designations for the same steel: 0170-6 is the steel makers classification, 50100-B is the AISI designation. A good chrome-vanadium steel that is somewhat similar to O1, but much less expensive.
A band saw steel that is very tough and holds an edge well, but rusts easily. It is, like O1, a forgiving steel for the forger. If you’re willing to put up with the maintenance, this may be one of the very best steels available for cutlery, especially where toughness is desired.
A steel popular with forgers, it is popular now for a variety of knife styles, but usually bigger blades that need more toughness. It is essentially a simple spring steel with chromium added for hardenability. It has good wear resistance, but is known especially for its outstanding toughness. This steel performs well over a wide range of hardnesses, showing great toughness when hardened in the low 50s Rc for swords, and hardened up near the 60s for knives needing more edge holding.
Formerly a ball-bearing steel, and as such previously only used by forgers, it’s available in bar stock now. It is similar to 5160 (though it has around 1% carbon vs. 5160 ~.60%), but holds an edge better. It is less tough than 5160. It is used often for hunting knives and other knives where the user is willing to trade off a little of 5160’s toughness for better wear resistance. However, with the continued improvement of 52100 heat treat, this steel is starting to show up in larger knives and showing excellent toughness.
Crucible’s somewhat-stain-resistant 10V provides incredible wear resistance with D2-class toughness. It is an outstanding choice when maximum wear resistance is desired, but not super toughness.
CPM’s incredibly tough 3V gives excellent wear resistance and good stain resistance as well, although when it does stain, it is said to pit rather than surface rust. When maximum toughness is desired, with very good wear resistance, 3V is a great choice.
INFI is currently only used by Jerry Busse. In place of some of the carbon (INFI contains 0.50% carbon), INFI has nitrogen. The result is a non-stainless steel that is nevertheless extremely stain resistant (informally reported at close to D2, or even better), incredibly tough for a high-alloy ingot steel, and with extremely good wear resistance.
A very hard-to-find steel, with a high vanadium content. It is extremely difficult to work and very wear-resistant. It is out of production.
Talmadge, Joe. “Knife Steel FAQ.” Knife Steel FAQ. N.p., n.d. October 2005