What Is The Best Steel For A Knife?

By Ryan Leavitt •  Updated: 03/14/21 •  5 min read

In buying knives, a typical person may just get a good branded knife and go straight to check out.

Some may consider the price and take the cheapest one, thinking that all knives are the same.

They can chop, cut, and do what they should.

One of the most essential factors in buying a knife is often disregarded.

It is important that consumers consider the main material in knife manufacturing – the kind of steel used.

Modern kitchen knives use ceramic material, which has been proven to be sharp for a longer time.

The disadvantage that most buyers are concerned about is how brittle it is.

Probably, ceramic has been long associated with chinaware and dinnerware.

Imagine chopping fruits and vegetables with those.

This makes steel knives still the preferred choice of most consumers.

What to consider

Before considering the best steel for a knife, there are factors to consider in determining steel quality.

Some manufacturers indicate the kind of metal and alloy they use for creating a knife’s blade.

Hardness shows the steel’s capacity to resist deforming when used or applied with a force.

Some makers will add alloys such as Manganese to improve hardness.

Corrosion Resistance refers to a metal’s ability to resist deterioration due to external factors such as chemicals or acids.

Nickel and Chromium (especially on Stainless Steel) are the most used alloy for better resistance.

Consider toughness and strength of the blade too – where manufacturers add cobalt and nickel to improve the steel’s quality.

Some buyers consider edge retention (how long the sharpness will last) and the ease of sharpening, especially when it is dedicated for long time use.

So, what is the best?

You might have guessed it – the best steel for a knife will depend on what it will be used for.

Since knives have a different use for each model, the characteristic of the best steel should be able to match its purpose.

We can say that there are three major knife categories:

The first is for industrial or tool use, which uses hard steel alloy for cutting tools

Industrial knives are usually used in large-scale manufacturing such as paper cutting, timber, or recycling.

Experts would agree that the best steels for industrial applications are A2, D2, and M2.

Knifemakers would consider the steel’s toughness, durability, and edge retention for frequent or repetitive usage.

Industrial knives usually have different shapes that will make processing faster, producing more end product.

Because of this, it can be made from different steel compositions.

This kind of knife is commonly used with the assistance of a machine.

An example would be a straight knife built for paper cutting or leather crafting machines, which are created with hardness and toughness in mind.

This knife shape would usually use high carbon, solid carbide, and even stainless steel.

Some machines need to use stainless steel as it deals with chemicals and liquids, such as in food manufacturing.

Another interesting knife where the steel blade needs to be considered for industrial use is the fiberglass cutting knife.

It should be able to deliver results by cutting the fiberglass without breaking or chirping.

Manufacturers use high carbon steel or stainless steel – but adds a special protective coating to keep the blade sharp.

Next is the most popular thing it is known for, the kitchen knife

This is one of the most essential items in every kitchen and comes in different sizes and purposes to assist in making good tasting and appetizing meals.

The most common metal used for the kitchen is stainless steel.

It is basically carbon steel with chromium for corrosion resistance.

The best ones are 420, 440, and 316 – where they are usually food-grade (does not contaminate or affect food) and easy to clean.

Some sellers market their kitchen knives to be surgical-grade, comparing them to the standards of sharpness and cleanliness required by healthcare providers.

The third purpose is for combat or fighting

Though a typical person may think of fighting knives solely as a weapon for self-defense, these knives are also used for hunting.

Some combat/fighting knives are made from carbon steel which is very tough yet easy to sharpen and lightweight.

But it has low chromium content, making it prone to corrosion.

Some knifemakers use stainless steel too, a steel blade known for its longevity.

However, some knives with this material tend to get blunt with hard use.

Combat or fighting knives could be classified into two – the full tang and the stick tang.

The full tang means the steel extends from the handle to the blade, while a stick tang uses a different material on the grip.

When buying a full tang knife, consider the grip on the metal handle as well and the blade used.

They may need to compromise on the blade’s material composition in consideration of the user’s grip.

A stick tang knife has the flexibility to use the best steel blade because it uses a different material for the handle.

These combinations of letters and/or numbers are codes that indicate what type of steel is used, and the added alloy or material in making them.

Though there is no exact guide to check on these codes, there are a lot of knife enthusiasts and bloggers online who can provide the description you’ll need in simpler terms.

There are publications that print magazines about knives too, which can be downloaded as digital versions.

In every category or purpose, there are better steels available but very rare in the market.


Remember that when asking for the best choice, always consider its purpose in order for the salesperson or online seller to determine the best one for you.

An expensive brand does not automatically mean that you get the best one for your intended use.

The next time you buy a knife, consider checking the steel used to get the most out of your purchase.

Ryan Leavitt

Hi my name is Ryan Leavitt a Marine Corps Veteran and currently an over the road trucker (Long Haul). I am no expert chef but am enjoying preparing my own meals on the road and testing all the different knives.