With dozens of excellent steels being manufactured worldwide for use in cutlery, the question of what is the “best” steel for a knife is really not a fair question or a question that should be asked. The question to ask is more like “which steel is best for what purpose and price point?” For our purposes, we’re looking at a variety of manufactured steels that are used to make a variety of knives for a variety of uses.
This is not an essay on metallurgy or the exact makeup of all the steel ever made (we’ll save that for another article), but a quick overview of one type of steel and how it measures up to others.
154CM steel is one of “better” steel varieties made for cutlery and other knife blades. It’s not a powder steel (CPM154 would be the powder version), but it’s a commonly used steel for a higher grade knife. It has an exceptionally good balance between three enviable attributes which are toughness, hardness, and corrosion resistance.
Originally, 154CM was a proprietary, American-made, high-alloy, space-age, high-carbon stainless steel that was first used for knives way back in the 1970s.
It was popular for a time because it was a good-quality steel derived from a vacuum-melted process (using electric currents to create heat to melt metal within a vacuum) but after a few years, the manufacturer at the time stopped using the vacuum-melting process so the quality started to decline.
As a result, many knife-makers switched their allegiances to a Japanese equivalent steel called ATS-34, made by the Hitachi Corporation.
Since then, the quality has been restored by Crucible Industries (the U.S. manufacturer) and it is regaining in popularity.
154CM is really an upgraded version of 440C steel. The upgrade is a result of adding Molybdenum to the mix. Here is the composition:
Because of its Rockwell Hardness (HRC) of around 58-61, it’s a harder (and ultimately superior) steel to most modern stainless varieties and holds its sharpness longer than most stainless steels with an HRC in the mid-upper 50’s. It has excellent toughness when it’s double-tempered, and it has a pretty decent resistance to corrosion. In spite of these upgrades, it’s less expensive than the well-known S30V steel.
Sometimes referred to as the crucible stainless steel, 154CM is one of the newer stainless steels on the market. There are a few manufacturers as we mentioned earlier, and depending on a few different factors, it may be considered better than (or at least as good as) 440C stainless steel. A popular use for 154CM is in survival knives that are often exposed to harsh elements like salt water for extended periods.
It’s also a very common steel used for cutlery, ball bearings, valve ports and metallic bushings. Many well-known survival and EDC knife makers use the steel liberally. Companies like Boker, Protech, Benchmade and Gerber are among a long list of bladesmiths that love the steel.
One of the knives we really like here at Knife Up is the Boker Burnley Kwaiken Automatic Knife and the flipper version. With its minimalistic look and its Protech hard-hitting precise spring mechanism, this is one upgraded, higher-end EDC. It’s American made and features a two-tone stonewashed blade made from 154CM stainless steel. Its robust CNC milled aluminum handle comes outfitted with a hidden lanyard loop and a stainless steel pocket clip.
154CM is a very high carbon stainless steel with the addition of Molybdenum. It most certainly gives you a better edge retention than normal cutlery or stainless steels.
Because of this, it is an exceptionally good choice for blades that are used in heavier cutting applications, or by just plain old Joe Blow who would rather not spend too much time with his nose over the grindstone if you know what I mean!
The bottom line after all this academic jabbering is that if you’re looking to purchase a knife that just happens to have 154CM steel for the blade, you’re laughing! You won’t be disappointed, that’s almost for certain!
Note to Readers:
If you are a steel/knife fanatic who knows everything possible about every steel or knife ever made, please understand that my conclusions are meant to be concise, short and very generalized, non-exhaustive comments that are easy to understand for someone new to knives and steel. This article is not meant to be an in-depth, metallurgical and technical essay on every aspect that is academically possible to cover regarding this steel. Above all please note that my conclusions represent my opinions after hours of research and some experience with the steel. After all, that is really what anyone’s reviews are on any product on any website, right?
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