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Knife Steels, Stainless, Carbon, and Tool Steels
High Carbon, Stainless, Tool Steel, CPM Steels

Steels Are As Different As The Jobs They Do!

SEM of a knife edge, courtesy of Science of Sharp

We offer nine different steels at Keith Nix Knives. Included are A2, D2, CPM M4, AEB-L, 14C28N, CPM MagnaCut, 52100, 80CRV2, and 26C3.

The performance of a knife is greatly influenced by the type of steel used in its construction. Some steels are easier to sharpen, while others are tougher, harder, or hold an edge better. In my shop, I choose steels based on their potential hardness, ease of sharpening, toughness, availability, and affordability, with a few exceptions. However, the final result also depends on the heat treatment, profile, bevel grind, and sharpening technique. No steel is perfect in every category, as some excel in strength, edge retention, stain resistance, or sharpenability.
I may add more steel options in the future, but it will be done at a slow pace. If your favorite steel is not listed, feel free to contact me and we can work together to find a solution. Don't forget to check out our Heat Treating Terms guide!

A2 Tool Steel--

A2 steel is a solid choice for those who make knives, tools, and dies, and it can achieve full hardness without the need for water or oil quenching. The steel is made up of 1% carbon, 5% Chromium, 1% molybdenum, and 0.4% vanadium. The Chromium and Molybdenum increase the steel's hardenability, while vanadium helps to maintain the grain structure small. A2 steel's 5% chromium content further enhances its edge retention and hardenability compared to regular carbon steels.

When quenched, A2 steel can achieve a hardness level of over 64Rc, making it an ideal material for knife and tool making. Custom knives are tempered to 58-60Rc to ensure that they are strong enough to withstand everyday use. However, a slight increase in hardness to around 62Rc can improve edge retention without significantly reducing the steel's toughness.

To enhance its hardness and strength even further, A2 steel undergoes cryogenic treatment at Keith Nix Knives. This treatment involves soaking the steel in a liquid nitrogen bath at cryogenic temperature (-320F) immediately after austenitization, but before tempering cycles begin. Cryogenic treatment helps refine the steel's microstructure and increase its wear resistance by eliminating "retained austenite.

Keith Nix Knives offers A2 steel in Black Mountain, which is a testament to the steel's popularity and usefulness. All the knives on our menu can be made from A2 steel, ensuring that customers have access to the best tools for their needs.

Learn more about A2 steel at Knife Steel Nerds


AEB-L Stainless Razor Steel--

At Keith Nix Knives, we  carefully researched and analyzed before choosing AEB-L steel as our "house" stainless steel for knives. AEB-L steel is a great choice for knives due to its excellent properties like high potential hardness, strength, toughness, and good stain resistance. It is easy to sharpen too. In the past, stainless steel chef's knives had a bad reputation for being weak, soft, and unable to hold an edge. The reason for this was that manufacturers used 420 series stainless steel with only 0.3% carbon, which made it unsuitable for high-quality knives. Although it was easy to shape, machine, and polish, it just didn't get hard enough for a knife.

Uddeholm from Sweden developed a new stainless steel specifically for razor blades about a century ago. This steel had to be very hard (62 HRc or above), able to be stamped to shape with dies, and have a fine carbide structure suitable for razors. The first iteration was AEB, but it had large chromium carbides, resulting in an unsuitable toothy edge for razor blades. Later, AEB-L was developed, which was the perfect balance of all the necessary attributes, such as fine blanking, edge retention, hardness, ultra-fine carbides and grain structure, and good stain resistance. AEB-L steel is widely used in the knife-making industry today and is one of the most exceptional stainless steels available.

At Keith Nix Knives, we pride ourselves on providing our customers with the best quality knives, and that's why we use AEB-L steel as our favorite for kitchen knives. We offer this steel at our Black Mountain store, and we can create knives of all shapes and sizes from this remarkable steel. With AEB-L steel, you can be sure that you are getting a knife that is beautiful, strong, sharp, and dependable.


From Devin Thomas at​

"Few know what AEB-L steel is, and those that do, only have heard that it is similar to 440B or 440A. The only similarity between AEB-L and 440B or 440A is the amount of carbon. The fact that AEB-L has only 12.8% chromium by weight compared to the 16-17% in 440A and 440B makes the steels quite different. AEB-L is more similar to a stainless 52100 than 440A. A copy of AEB-L called 13C26 is made by Sandvik.

AEB-L naturally forms what is called K2 carbide, the harder of the two chromium carbides, compared to the K1 carbide, which is formed in steels such as 440C. The K2 carbide is about 79 on the Rockwell C scale, compared to 72 for the K1 carbide. Through proper heat treatment, AEB-L has fine, evenly distributed K2 carbides. AEB-L lies almost perfectly on what is called the "Carbon Saturation Line," which means that all of the carbides formed are precipitated carbides, not primary carbides like are formed in 440C, and there is more carbon and a similar amount of Chromium in solution as compared to 440C. Primary carbides are very large. So, through a balanced composition, AEB-L has excellent toughness, edge retention, workability, ease of sharpening, and ease of polishing."

Learn more about AEB-L at Knife Steel Nerds


D2 Tool Steel--

D2 tool steel is a type of steel that is highly resistant to wear and has great popularity among tool and die makers. It is often used to create cold-work stamping dies and durable blades that are sharp and long-lasting.

What sets D2 apart from other types of steel is its impressive hardness, abrasion resistance, and ability to maintain its edge. It can also resist staining to a degree, making it a reliable choice for tools that may come into contact with liquids.

To keep D2 steel sharp, it is recommended to use diamond stones because of its high abrasion resistance. Additionally, cryogenic treatment can enhance its performance by increasing its hardness, slightly improving its edge retention, and boosting its abrasion resistance.

Although D2 is not the toughest steel available, it is ideal for creating smaller blades requiring good edge retention. For those interested in working with D2 steel, options are available at Keith Nix Knives in Black Mountain.

Learn more about D2 Steel at Knife Steel Nerds.

52100 Carbon Steel--

52100 is a well-known steel in the industry due to its exceptional hardness, toughness, and strength. It is often used for bearing steel and bearing races, and it has a fine grain structure and an ability to take an extremely keen edge. The steel contains approximately 1% carbon and 1.5% chromium, which enhance its hardenability and reduce grain size within the steel. 

Bladesmiths have been using 52100 steel to create high-quality knives for years. Nowadays, custom knifemakers can find flat bars of 52100 that are suitable for stock removal. 

Tests have shown that 52100 steel is exceptionally tough due to the low volume of small, evenly distributed carbide throughout the steel matrix. When compared to other highly-regarded knife steels, such as O1, 1095, 440C, D2, and A2, 52100 outperforms them all. 

If corrosion is not a concern, 52100 steel makes an excellent choice for hard-use outdoor knives or in the kitchen when a non-stainless option is preferred for a slightly keener edge. You can find 52100 steel available at Keith Nix Knives in Black Mountain. Visit the Shop NOW to get a custom knife made in 52100 steel.

Learn more about 52100 steel at Knife Steel Nerds.

26C3 Carbon Steel--

If you're a chef or professional cook who prefers carbon steel knives, you might want to consider 26C3 steel. This type of steel is known as 26C3 in the US and 1.2002 in Germany, and it is produced by Uddeholmstrip for razor and scalpel blades. It has an extremely fine grain and carbide microstructure, making it highly pure and capable of extreme hardness. This steel can reach over 67HRc as-quenched while still maintaining good toughness.

Compared to other mainstream steels such as 1095, O1, M2, A2, and PSF27, 26C3 offers better toughness. It can hold a sharp edge and resist chips, even at high hardness. This steel is similar in composition to Hitachi White #1, a well-known Japanese blade steel.

However, it's important to note that 26C3 is not stainless and requires proper maintenance to prevent rust and pitting. With proper care, it can develop a beautiful patina over time. These high hardness carbon steel kitchen knives are tough and durable, making them an excellent choice for chefs who demand the best from their knives.

If you're looking for a very hard, fine-grained custom chef's knife, Keith Nix Knives has 26C3 steel available in Black Mountain. You can reach us at 828-337-7836. Also, check out "How to Care For Custom Knives" to learn more about the care of carbon steel knives.

Learn more about 26C3 at "Knife Steel Nerds."


CPM MagnaCut Knife Steel--

CPM MagnaCut steel is a type of stainless steel that is specifically designed for crafting knives. It was developed by Dr. Larrin Thomas, a metallurgist and author of the blog Knife Steel Nerds, and the book "Knife Engineering", which is a great resource for makers. This steel has exceptional wear and stain resistance, as well as high hardness and toughness, making it an ideal choice for knife-making. 

The steel is produced using the CPM process of steelmaking and Vanadium and Niobium are added to it, which help keep the grain and carbide size small, resulting in increased toughness. This also leads to the formation of small and extremely hard carbides that significantly increase edge retention in this high-performance steel. 

CPM MagnaCut steel is more expensive than other types of stainless steel but it offers a unique and balanced set of properties that cannot be found in any other composition. You can find CPM MagnaCut steel at Keith Nix Knives in Black Mountain.

Learn more about CPM MagnaCut at Knife Steel Nerds HERE!

Learn about CPM technology here!

CPM M4 High Speed Steel--

CPM M4 is a type of high speed tool steel that is known for its exceptional edge retention and toughness. It has been used in the machining industry to make taps, drills, hobbing cutters, and other cutting tools. It is made up of 4% chromium, 4% vanadium, 5.25% molybdenum, and 5.5% tungsten. The high carbon content in the steel makes it harder and enables the formation of carbides, making it a high-performance steel. The addition of 4% chromium improves hardenability, tensile strength, and edge retention. 4% vanadium ensures that CPM M4 has a fine grain size, which increases wear resistance and edge retention with extremely hard, fine carbides. The high 5.25% molybdenum content enhances the steel's strength and machinability. Tungsten enhances wear and corrosion resistance. This steel has a fine grain and carbides that make it exhibit excellent strength and toughness, thanks to CPM technology. It is an excellent choice for making high-quality knives, especially when stain resistance is not a concern. You can purchase CPM M4 steel at Keith Nix Knives in Black Mountain.
Learn more about CPM M4 HERE!


80CRV2 Steel--

80CRV2 is a type of low-alloy carbon steel that has small amounts of chromium and vanadium. It shares similarities with the old 1095 Cro-Van, which was used by K-Bar years ago. The addition of these elements gives it unique properties during and after heat treatment.

By adding 0.8% chromium, the steel's "hardenability" is increased. This means the steel can be hardened without using water, which can cause blades to become stressed. Instead, a fast engineered oil is used, which is less stressful and more effective. The chromium addition also helps to prevent grain growth during the heat treatment process.

Vanadium is added at 0.2%, which is not enough to affect edge retention. However, it provides enough vanadium carbides to pin grain boundaries and hinder grain growth.

80CRV2 is ideal for hard-use blades. Its toughness is better than 1095, O-1, or D2, especially at higher hardness. It is easy to sharpen but has low edge retention. As a carbon steel, it is prone to rust staining. However, those who prefer carbon steels are already aware of this. You can find 80CRV2 steel at Keith Nix Knives in Black Mountain.


What is Cryogenic Treatment?

And What Does It DO??

In simple terms, Cryogenic Treatment is a process where a knife is further cooled down to -320F after being quenched to room temperature from its austenitizing temperature, according to specific standards and protocols for that steel. This extended cooling process helps to convert any retained softer phase Austenite to harder and stronger Martensite, resulting in improved knife steels. To achieve this, we use liquid nitrogen for an hour or even overnight after the quench. Following this, the tempering cycles are performed as usual. At Keith Nix Knives, we ensure that your custom knives receive the very best heat treatment possible, and cryogenic treatment is a proven method to enhance their performance. Learn more about Cryogenic Treatment of knife steels HERE.

Dr Larrin Thomas wrote a three part article on his blog "Knife Steel Nerds" about cryogenic temperatures and the effect on knife steels. If you're a knife steel nerd like me, click on the link!
Dr Larrin Thomas explains cryo treatment of knife steels

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