When choosing a steel for your knife blade, there are several things to take into consideration. Two of the most popular options on the market today are S30v and D2 steel. Which is best? We’ve done the research and have your answer.
S30v steel outperforms D2 steel in nearly every way. When compared side-by-side S30v has greater edge retention, ease of sharpening, corrosion resistance, and comparable toughness. These are both great knife steels and rank high among other available steels on the market. While it is more expensive, S30v is clearly the better quality of the two for knife blades.
Let’s dig in a little deeper and see how they actually compare.
S30v is stainless steel that was created by American-based Crucible Industries in 2001, with knife blades in mind. This company had already made great strides in developing high-quality steels, when they asked Chris Reeve why he wasn’t using any of their capable steels for his knife making. His response led to the creation of S30v steel. It was designed using their already popular powder metallurgy method. Tweaking the amounts of Carbon, Chromium, and Vanadium to reduce the resulting carbide content, left us with an excellent well-rounded blade metal with increased toughness and grindability. Furthermore, the addition of a small amount of Nitrogen to their previous recipe added more corrosion resistance and increased heat-treat hardening capabilities. This made it a more feasible option for knife makers and the heat treat equipment available to them, at the time. S30v is patented. So, it will come from one manufacturer and be consistent in chemical composition.
D2 Steel became popular during WWII. It was used to cut out metal airplane parts like a cookie-cutter: metal die used to punch out other metal. This is some tough stuff! Some would even argue that D2 Steel won the war, making fast work of creating P-51 Mustangs and F6F Hellcats used in the U.S. Air Force.
Can you imagine the excitement, at that time in history, of seeing these huge steel punches just cutting straight through metal, first-hand? It’s really no wonder it has held such high rank, not just in numbers, but in the minds of many Americans. Unfortunately, this steel has a lower Chromium content than the former mentioned and is not considered true stainless steel. It will corrode over time, making it not as ideal for knife blades. Its Toughness is where it really stands out and why it performs so well as a common tool metal. Another thing to consider is that many companies make their own D2 steel, so the exact chemical composition may vary. There are a number of different results for the chemical composition of D2 Steel available online, each just slightly different from the next. This lets us know that one batch may differ from the next.
The following chart contains information on the general chemical composition of D2 Steel in comparison to S30v.
There are four main areas of focus when comparing steels. The following segments will walk you through what these areas are, how they are tested, and the results.
A Side-by-Side Comparison
Blade Toughness is a measure of how likely a blade is to chip, crack, or break under stress or impact. The hardness of the steel used to make a blade has a lot to do with the resulting toughness. If the steel is too hard, it is more likely to give under pressure. Using the Rockwell Scale, the hardness of steel can be measured. This is the standard of steel hardness testing across the industry. These steels measure very well in this area. Both coming in at 6 out of 10, S30v and D2 steel are comparable in Toughness.
Blade Edge Retention is a measure of how well a blade maintains sharpness during use. The industry go-to for testing is CATRA. This is a machine manufactured with the purpose of producing data on edge retention. In short, this machine has the blade slice through materials repeatedly to produce comparison data. CATRA scores for most blade metals are easily available online. S30v surpasses D2 Steel in the category of Edge Retention.
Blade Ease of Sharpening is a measure of how easy it is to return the blade to sharp, after it has been dulled. The lead here is mostly due to the microstructure of S30v(powder metallurgy) providing for easier grindability. Smaller particles result in a smoother finished edge, in less time. In a pinch, being able to sharpen your blade quickly could be a game changer. As you can see below, the S30v outranks D2 steel in Ease of Sharpening, as well.
|EASE OF SHARPENING
Blade Corrosion Resistance is where S30v really shines. Due to its higher Chromium content, S30v is a lot less likely to corrode/rust than the D2 Steel. This is a very important factor when selecting a steel for your knife blade, especially if you plan on spending a lot of time outdoors in an area with high humidity.. S30v is a higher ranked steel and considered a true Stainless Steel, with a 14% Chromium content, where D2 Steel is not. As you can see, S30v is far superior in Corrosion Resistance.
Under a microscope, the difference in the molecular structure of these metals can easily be seen. The S30v’s powder metallurgy microstructure is obvious, with its smaller particles creating a tight-knit pattern. These smaller particles allow for a strong blade but with that increased sharpenability noted above.
The D2 Steel is comprised of larger particles, seen in the picture below. This is why it has less Edge Retention than its counterpart. As it wears, the risk of flaking off one of these tiny chunks of metal is higher causing it to dull faster. This also comes into play with Ease of Sharpening. As you are working to put a smooth edge on your blade, you also risk flaking out a microscopic “chunk” that will need to be smoothed through. Not to mention these little chunks are harder than the surrounding particles and create a natural un-eveness that is not seen in the powder metallurgy and heat treat process(D2 Steel is air-hardened) of S30v.
In conclusion, it is safe to say that D2 Steel and S30v are both excellent blade steels. The main difference is Corrosion Resistance, and this can be prevented through oiling the blade and proper maintenance. Edge Retention and Ease of Sharpening may not be an issue for you, but consider a situation where it’s just you and your knife against the world and these may be factors that make you lean toward the S30v. Another differentiator is pricing. S30v is a bit pricier than its counterpart, so a D2 Steel blade may suit your financial needs better. If quality is what you’re looking for, S30v is clearly superior.
Best Pocket Knife with D2 Steel
Benchmade 391BK SOCP Tactical Folding Knife
The Benchmade 391BK is an excellent choice for anyone wanting to go with a D2 Steel. At 4.47″ and black powder-coated, it will stand the test of time.
Best Pocket Knife with S30V Steel
Benchmade 535BK-2 Bugout Black Folding Knife
The Benchmade Bugout is an all-time favorite and best seller for a reason. It’s sturdy, lightweight, sharp, and the best overall daily carry.
More on Knife Steels
What is Considered the Best Knife Blade Steel?
In today’s market, Bohler Uddeholm M390 is considered the best available in terms of knife blades. There are a number of knives on the market boasting this highly revered Austrian steel. As with most steels, it was not originally created for the purpose of knife making, but the knife industry knows what it’s looking for in a quality metal. The powder metallurgy process, seen in other quality steels such as Crucible Industries’ CPM line, is implemented to give it a super fine grain molecular structure. With this comes the advantages of being able to retain a razor-sharp edge. It’s high chromium content makes it virtually rust-proof. It is no wonder that Bohler Uddeholm M390 is considered the best, but all of these pros come at a price, as in, this steel is expensive.
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