Best Steel for Hunting Knives


March 12, 2003, 06:17 PM
What's the best steel for a 4"-8" hunting knife in drop point or clip point blade when it comes to sturdyness, sharpness, edge holding and toughness?

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Joe Demko
March 13, 2003, 08:37 AM
I like properly heat-treated ATS-34, but I also think this is largely a non-issue. The majority of hunters use their knives to field dress the animal and nothing more. Any knife that is of better-than-PRC-import quality will do that with no problem. For skinning and quartering large animals, I prefer to have the whole butchering set available and the animal hanging up.

March 13, 2003, 11:11 AM
While out in the wilds hunting you may need to use that "hunting knife" for other things besides dressing game.

You may be required to spend an unpleasant unscheduled evening in the woods under extreme survival conditions. It happens quite often hunters get lost, get caught in weather to far from the "ride" home, etc.

The knife you have on your belt at that time will be a determining factor in whether you survive, just survive or you survive in relative comfort while waiting for rescuers to arrive/locate your #ss.

The knife you carry into the wods may be needed to build temporary shelter, as a prybar, who knows what surviving will entail.

With that said, better to have more knife than you will probably need when traveling into gods country. I would not like the fact my knife broke/failed/dulled too quickly while attempting to use it in a worst case scenario.

Believing in the 6p principle I would be taking an SRK with a 6" clip blade or another knife similiar in design which could be pressed into service in a survival situation.

For these times it might be nice to have something in Carbon V from Cold Steel or perhaps something in 52100, or maybe A-2/D-2.

I know some will say they are better served with a good stainless steel blade and not the carbon tool steels I have suggested in the wilds as the rust factor is less an issue with those types steels. Some of the stainless steels will certainly stand the test for that issue but no stainless is as tough as the better tool steels.

When in gods country and having to rely on my own sufficienty I want the best in case I run into the worst. Keep in mind the military has issued tool steels in their k-bars, etc. and do not see a major issue with rusting under combat conditions. GI's have been served well with these type steels for decades.

If I could have the perfect knife of my design made it would be made in A-2 or D-2 tools steels. They are extremely tough steels holding an edge longer than most everything else. When properly heat treated these steels will outlast almost everything else.

BTW--5160 tool steel would also be accecptable if made correctly relative heat treatment as well.

In stainless if I have to carry it I would choose ats-34 as it is easily sharpened, holds a good edge, has good rust resistance.

I would not carry any of the aus or 440 steels into the woods under any conditions. These steels are mediocre at best in a survival situation.

I try to plan for the worst and over compensate in an attempt to keep "Mr. Murphy" from rearing his ugly head. I have a "go" bag always at the ready. In it you would find an SRK, a spyderco endura, and a swiss army multi-tool. If the ballon ever goes up and I need to "get out of dodge" by grabbing the "go" bag I have enough equipment of the highest quality to survive on my own for about 10 days. This does not include water but the bag has a filtration system for drinking puddle/stagnant water if need be.

Keep these thoughts in mind when venturing out into the wilds.
6p baby, or you might not live to regret it.


Jim March
March 13, 2003, 03:16 PM
In a "big heavy chopper" of any sort, a good case can be made in favor of 5160. It's what car and truck springs are made out of. Edgeholding with a good heat-treat is decent, the edge can be field-retouched on a rock with no problems...and it just WILL NOT BREAK :). It's also somewhat rust-resistant, although not stainless. Himalayan Imports Khukuris and swords are made out of high grade 5160 (salvaged from Mercedes or Volvo trucks :D).

As a sword steel, it just *rocks* :).

Talonite is a contender for "best overall knife metal" (not a steel, it's a Cobalt alloy!)

The new "modified D2" coming out is GREAT stuff. That's probably the king of the hill right now...not "stainless" exactly, but highly stain-resistent among "tool steels".

BG42 is a small step down from the D2 family.

But let's all recall something here: HEAT - TREAT - MATTERS!

At least two companies, SOG and Myerchin, manage to get decent performance out of 440A (which otherwise has a rep for being pure crap). Those companies are using it for it's "marine-duty stainless properties", NOT because it's "cheap", so they apply a quality heat-treat and hey, waddya know, it works pretty dang good. Won't hold an edge quite like a good ATS-34 or better piece, but it ain't far off.

Chris Rhines
March 13, 2003, 03:24 PM
I greatly prefer old-fashioned, oil-hardening, high-carbon tools steels for all knives. But if steel is important, heat treat is doubly so. I have the most experience with O1, so it's my current favorite. Anyone with a normal chromosone count can do a decent job of heat-treating O1, and a real artist can make it into something to behold...

5160 is very good for larger knives.
A2 is also good stuff.
CPM-3V (or whatever Crucible is calling it now) is purportedly awesome. It's also very expensive.
1095 is not to be sneezed at.

- Chris

March 13, 2003, 03:32 PM
What's the downside to AUS8 or 154CM?

March 13, 2003, 03:43 PM
No downside to 154cm, it's the equivalent of ats-34 but American made.

Most of my high dollar semi-customs are 154cm. I like it. Good edge holding and easier to sharpen than most.

Downside to aus is it is a medium grade stainless and when you life hjangs in the balance it's not the time to wish you had chosen another steel.


March 13, 2003, 10:26 PM
Great info gentlemen!

The reason I am asking, Brownie hit on the nose. I currently have a fairly decent array of knives but, am in search of what I would consider to be a top knife to serve me as a hunting knife that could perform many other tasks if called upon than just field dressing and skinning game.

When hunting, you have enough "stuff" to have to be concerned with carrying that I prefer to cut thing down to the essentials so to speak. Meaning one knive to do a multitude of tasks yet, I don't want to loose any inherent capablities of a sharp hunting knife.

So, I take it from reading, that anything less than ATS-34 is a non-starter.

Now, a few more questions:

Where does Heat treated 420HC stainless steel come into play?

Is Carbon V a stainless, like the Cold Steel knives have?

Where would you line these up in best to worst with what I am looking for?

And lastly, do you have a recommendation of a particular Fixed Blade knive in a 5"- 6" blade drop or clip point that I should consider?

Thank you again! ;)

Jim March
March 14, 2003, 03:12 AM
"Carbon V" is CS-speak for a pretty good non-stainless tool steel. If I recall right, it's 51200 ball bearing steel but I may have that number off and...I have stuff I have to finish by tomorrow AM :(.

But anyways, it's pretty similar overall to 01 tool steel. D2/A2 are about as good but are a bit more stain resistant; 5160 is tougher but at the cost of some edgeholding. (This is why, if the issue is "IT MUST NOT FAIL" as priority one, 5160 on a big piece has it's proponents.)

If I recall right, 420HC is well and truly crud. If it's what I'm thinking of, you can always tell because the spine and pivot areas of a folder made out of it will look very "rounded and smooth, like a riverbed rock". It's some kind of super-cheap process used on some Bucks, Gerber/Fiskars multipliers blades, etc. Again, not certain that's what I'm thinking of though.

Let's see, you want a wilderness survival knife that won't fail. And you're not really worried about combat ability, right?


How 'bout a Becker?

Good steel, good ergos. The short one there ("Companion") is of thicker steel and WILL NOT break. The longer 7" piece isn't exactly "delicate" either.

These have some interesting features. The grip panels can unbolt; that lets you lash it to a stick in a pinch, or thoroughly clean it after gutting a deer or whatever so that you have a truly sterile food-prep knife.

Ka-Bar's 6" D2 piece is good stuff:

Ontario keeps price down with 1095 high carbon steel; doesn't have the edgeholding of the tool steels but it's tough and easy to sharpen.

Fallkniven - Swedish - great stuff:

Their best deal:

Newt Livesey is an interesting maker - he does all hand made, low cost, well-heat-treated 1095. One of the very few handmade guys who's meeting a LOW price point, doing high functionality but "not stressing cosmetics". Not for all tastes, but he has a very loyal following:

Looks like he's now doing D2 and other steels as an option, but do recall that he knows what he's doing with 1095 if that's all you can afford:

Or you could just say "hell with it" and go completely nuts:

March 15, 2003, 09:59 AM
Hey Jim,

Thank you for the information and the links. It's obvious you put in some time to help, I appreciate it greatly!

After I digest some of this I'll probably have one picked out. The problem is, I started this looking for "the" hunting knife so to speak, I am seeing a bunch of "the" hunting knifes I want! ROFLMAO

I even found myself going: Hmmm this one would compliment that one, guess I could go ahead and carry two fixed blades. It's kind of like buying a new fishing rod, you end up walking out with another new reel too!

Don Gwinn
March 15, 2003, 10:13 AM
I voted for high carbon, but the truth is there's no way to know. Your assumptions about what a hunting knife is and what it's for will color your choice of steel. Where I live, in Illinois, you hunt on some guy's farm. You might be two miles from a road if you found a nice, remote place. Even state parks are crisscrossed by roads and campgrounds. Pick one direction and walk that way for an hour and you're out. So in essence, you need a knife for dressing game, cutting rope, slicing salami and cheese, and not much else.
If you hunt Grizzlies in Alaska, your knife serves a different purpose, obviously.

I like 5160 mostly because it's plentiful and I understand how to heat treat it, so I trust my knife. However, unless you want to make your own, that won't matter much to anyone else. I would agree that 5160's main advantage is its toughness and ability to take a serious spring temper especially when differentially heat treated. I don't know much about O1, A2 or D2 except that they get awfully hard, which would probably mean they do hold a better edge than 5160 in the same geometry. In a smaller knife, they might very well have an edge over the 5160 because of that. The bottom line is that there are a bazillion steels out there and most of them work very well depending on the quality of the heat treatment. The quality of the hardening and tempering process is so much more important than the steel type that they're not in the same ballpark.

So I'd say the geometry of the blade and the quality of the smith or manufacturer ought to be your main concern. I suppose you should choose between stainless and high-carbon, since in that choice there is a qualitative difference. But once you've made that choice, AUS-8 is perfectly capable of hanging with ATS34. However, when you get one or the other that was not properly heat treated you'll be shocked at the crappiness inherent in that blade.

Choosing between stainless and high carbon is a bit of a tossup, too. Stainless will be easier to maintain, but some of the newer "high carbon stainless" like ATS34 will rust at about the same rate as high carbon. Stainless steel can come close enough to matching a lot of high carbon steels to make the difference negligible for most people (like the difference between a 1911 that shoots 1" at 50 yards or one that shoots 2" at 50 yards) but it's a lot more complicated process to heat treat stainless, requiring precise heats, soaking and cycling of the heat over long periods for many types. This is why 440C had a bad rap for awhile; junk manufacturers used it but neglected the heat treat, and the steel got a reputation for being brittle junk. It's not.

Jim March
March 16, 2003, 06:48 AM
Marshall: it was kinda fun poking around at all those links, but the more I think about it, the more I come back around to Becker for the stated purpose.

Price/performance is killer, blade steel is damned good, grip ergonomics are great for a "serious utility piece", and the bolts holding the grip together are a standard hex key size you can get anywhere. Bring along said key, plus either some paracord or a good shoelace, and you've got a good spear.

Not very "sexy", and not my first choice in a fighter :cool: but as something that'll get you out of the woods in one won't do better at double the price.

March 17, 2003, 12:42 PM
ATS-34 is the same as 154CM The newer BG-42 is similar but a bit better. These are my first choice. But there are two problems ; picking the steel and heat treating it. Without proper heat treating you have junk.

March 17, 2003, 02:30 PM
I like ATS-34, 440C, or even VG-10.

I've been quite impressed by the Carbon V in the CS Master Hunter though. Just a little higher maintenance, but good steel.

March 18, 2003, 01:07 AM
Thanks again for the replies gentlemen!

OK, I can certainly appreciate the fact of proper heat treating being essential in a quailty knife and making any steel stronger. My first question is, how do you know what companies properly heat treat their steel and in what knives they do so in?

Is it a leap of faith? Or do you have to call each company to find out, if not stated in the desription?

I am assuming you can go by the Rc factor for hardness and strength, is that right? A Rc factor of 60 being better than a 56-58, right? If this is so, then you could have AUS 8A steel that is stronger than d2 tool steel, as an example, am I on the right track?

One last question, if all steels are heat treated by the best means and methods available today, does it make 440C, AUS 8A, AUS 6A, VG10, VG30, BG42, etc. all the same for all practical purposes? Or, are there still advantages gained in having started with a higher quality steel, ie, edge holding, sharpening ease, etc. In other words, do they all become equal, more or less, or do they continue to be just as seperate in quality as they were to begin with, all just being higher?

Thanks for bearing with me, I'ma tryin to learn me more here. :scrutiny:
Believe it or not, you all are helping me greatly too! :D

Jim March
March 18, 2003, 02:04 AM
Marshall: the type of steel needed varies with the length and thickness of the blade. When strength is needed, such as on a sword blade, too high a Rockwell and too "good" an edgeholding adds up to "too brittle". The high-tech "supersteels" like ATS-34 (which barely qualifies), BG42, the CPM series, 420V/440V and the like are NEVER seen on swords but provide edgeholding from hell.

A small blade in a tough steel like 1095 or esp. 5160 would NOT break, but wouldn't have the edgeholding of a "supersteel". This is one complaint often aimed at the smaller TOPS pieces.

The best balance between "big blade that won't snap" and "edgeholding" comes with the "tool steel series": 01, Cold Steel's "Carbon V", A2, D2 (which barely qualifies), etc. 01 and A2 have been successfully used in swords, meaning they're tough. But making a quality knife out of these is expensive and they'll cost you. Rockwell will be adjusted to meet the toughness needs of the blade based on length and thickness and intended use. Many will be "differencially tempered", with a harder edge and softer spine.

What else...for a *serious* use blade, don't even get involved with "pattern welded damascus". There is such a thing as "Wootz Damascus" that is ungodly expensive and off-scale awesome ('cept it rusts fast) but it's unlikely you're going to need to go there. Pattern welded "Damascus" involves mixing two steels in pretty patterns so that the two steel characteristics "complement each other" - others with a more skeptical (if not sarcastic) bent call it "steel with a zillion fine cracks built in" as Mad Dog once put it.

March 18, 2003, 05:30 AM
In some steels going from 56-58 to 60 Rc is very significant in the wear ersistance /strength vs toughness properties. 440C got a bad rep because so many heattreated it poorly. Pick a good maker and pick the steel type to meet your needs. Are you just going to cut with it as a typical hunting knife or are you going to use it ( or abuse ) for other things as in a "survival knife".

March 19, 2003, 06:55 PM
Jim, thanks again! ;)

Are you familiar with this X-42 Field Knife from SOG? I am liking it. The size, blade, handle, brand, etc., I saw it and instantly liked it. I have been fooled before though on different products I have bought with never seeing them in person or touching and feeling them.

Specifications BGH93
Blade Length 5.4"
Overall Length 10.65"
Weight 6.5oz
Steel BG-42 Stainless, Rc 59-60
Price $109.95

BGH93 X42Field Knife
From SOG's Site:
"What would it take to make the ultimate field knife?" We think that we have answered this question with the introduction of the X-42 Field Knife. It is constructed from an exotic, stainless steel called BG-42 that custom knife makers have raved about. BG-42 is extremely tough, hard, durable, and takes an incredible edge. The drop point, flat ground blade is perfectly shaped and balanced for hunting, fishing, and camping chores.The full tang handle is a sandwich of zytel glass reinforced slabs and steel while the finger grips and handle's geometry provide a secure feel with or without gloves on. The X-42 Field Knife scabbard is high grade leather that is designed for a friction fit with retention strap.

Jim, that Becker is going to find a nice home with me regardless! Since you gave me that link, I have read about them and even seen two reviews on it in Knife Rags. All comment were extreamly favorable and, as you say, for the buck you just can't pass on that knive IMO. It should be everyones duty to own a knife like that. :D

Also, Every bone in my body is saying get the Fallkniven Mod2 Wilderness! But $ and knife length might be a problem to carry all over. I like the way they have used two steels in a laminate type process. The other thing is, I can see times where it could be very useful. However, I will have that becker 9" so I guess I don't really have a need for this Swede knife. Haha I'll prob buy it someday when I won't feel guilty after already buying two.

mete, same thing you would use a camp knife for basically. But I can see it used for all kinds of happenings in the thick stuff. There have been times I have been in places and in cirrcumstances in the woods where I could have really used a knife along these lines.

March 19, 2003, 08:22 PM
I'm of the who cares as long as it's sharp category.

I keep a diamond sharpener in my car and several at home. My knives are always sharp. The worst thing that could probably happen if using it in a serious capacity is the top would break off. And if I had to use it in a serious capacity, that's wouldn't bother me too much. ;)

Jim March
March 19, 2003, 11:07 PM
That SOG is a newer, less "Gonzo" blade shape version of the "Recondo", and is otherwise the same grip, same blade length class, same steel. BG42 is good stuff...Chris Reeve started using it on the Sebenza originally.

I found some reviews of the older Recondo that will be 95% relevent to the piece you're looking at, 'cept for the blade shape: - Cliff Stamp is VERY tough on knives but damned thorough as well.

March 20, 2003, 07:39 PM
Marshall, now I recall I think Reeve tested BG42 and found he could bend it before it broke. Bg42 is originally a bearing steel and is like 154CM but with some vanadium. Nice to see that itis now in production knives. What would you do without us metallurgists ?

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