What Is the Best Pocket Knife Steel?

What Is the Best Pocket Knife Steel?

Jul 16th 2019

When choosing the best pocket knife, one of the major components to consider is blade steel. A high-quality pocket knife blade is durable and corrosion-resistant and offers long-lasting edge retention. There are various steel types, each better suited to different applications. From high-carbon alloys to stainless steel, the right knife blade depends on how you use the knife. Here are some essential factors to consider when buying a high-quality pocket knife for everyday carry.

Best Pocket Knife Steel


To assess a blade’s durability, it is crucial to consider the steel’s hardness and toughness. Hardness refers to how easy a blade sharpens and how long it maintains its edge, while toughness refers to a blade's ability to resist chipping from impacts or damage from falls.

The hardness rating of a knife is determined by either the Brinell or Rockwell testing methods. A heavy ball is pressed into the metal at a predetermined force, and the indentation is measured and then given a number that translates to the hardness rating of the steel. The higher the number, the tougher the steel. A pocket knife with a high hardness rating will experience less wear and tear with frequent use.

Wear Resistance

Wear resistance refers to the blade's ability to resist abrasive and adhesive damage. Abrasive wear occurs when hard debris wears down a softer surface, while adhesive wear refers to debris dislodged from one surface to another. Wear resistance is often determined by the steel’s hardness, but the chemical makeup of the blade also influences it. High carbide blades have better wear resistance but lower toughness, as the carbides can become brittle over time.

Corrosion Resistance

Most outdoorsmen will tell you that one of the harshest elements on your knife is water. Humidity, rain, and general moisture can cause your blade to rust. Opting for a blade with high corrosion resistance ensures rust won’t be a problem. However, blade steel that offers high corrosion resistance often reduces edge retention.

Edge Retention

Edge retention is the blade’s ability to hold its sharpness. All knives should be sharpened, honed, and cleaned regularly. But, sharpening a blade frequently is time-consuming and can damage the blade if not done with the correct technique. Additionally, some steel types wear down easier and have lower edge retention. These blades require more frequent sharpening, which can reduce their longevity.

Types of Steel

Not all steel is created equal. Understanding the key steel categories can help you to determine the best pocket knife for your needs.

  • Carbon Steel - One of the most common steel types, carbon steel is known for its durability. As a go-to knife for many hunters and outdoorsmen, carbon steel is most common in survival knives. Due to its lack of chromium, this steel is prone to corrosion and requires careful cleaning, oiling, and storage to maintain the performance.
  • Tool Steel - Tool steel is commonly found in an assortment of hand tools and rugged knives. Its hard alloys make it durable and long-lasting. Common types of steel in this category include D2, M4, and Crucible Particle Metallurgy (CPM) alloys.
  • Stainless Steel - Stainless steel is a mix of at least 13 percent chromium added to carbon steel. This material has fantastic edge retention, wear resistance, and corrosion resistance. The downside is that its durability, particularly its toughness, is inferior to other steels. Stainless steel is often used to produce kitchen knives to maintain knife sharpness in meat cutting and produce preparation.
  • ELMAX Steel - ELMAX is a steel alloy developed by Bohler-Uddenholm and is considered to be a stainless super steel. The alloy consists of molybdenum and vanadium, with a high chromium content. ELMAX is used to produce many Microtech pocket knife designs due to its unparalleled edge retention, ease of sharpening, and ruggedness.
  • CPM S110V - The CPM S110V is one of the best on the market for wear resistance and edge retention. While this steel is long-lasting, it is one of the more difficult steels to work with and requires a skilled hand for sharpening. It is also not readily available and is consequently more expensive than other steel types. If you don’t know how to clean a pocket knife properly, purchase a quality sharpening kit and learn the correct technique to protect your investment.
  • CPM M4 - CPM M4 is a mix between Crucible Particle Metallurgy alloys and the high-speed steel of M4, blending rugged carbon steel with molybdenum, tungsten, and vanadium. It is excellent tool steel known for its durability, and its edge retention is one of the most impressive out of all carbon steels, making for a spectacular cutting knife. This steel’s drawback is that it requires proper maintenance to prevent a patina developing due to the low chromium levels present.
  • D2 - D2 is semi-stainless steel and has excellent durability and edge retention. It is an excellent alternative to the standard 154CM steel used in many OTF pocket knife designs. It is resistant to corrosion and wear. However, this steel requires an expert hand for sharpening and is not as tough as other steels on the market.

Final Thoughts

When choosing the right steel for your pocket knife, you need to consider how the blade will be used. Survival knives need hard, corrosion-resistant steel that can withstand the elements and heavy-duty use. On the other hand, an EDC pocket knife should offer superior edge retention and easy sharpening.

At eKnives, we offer the best range of pocket knives in a variety of steel types. Explore our extensive collection online or contact us at (423) 525-9477 to find out more about adding a steel pocket knife to your collection.