That trusty old knife that you carry around is probably made of a familiar steel, 420 steel. 420 steel is widely available in most makes of knives. This steel provides a wide range of benefits but its weakness is that it doesn’t contribute to any one area significantly; however, this does not make it a bad blade to buy. The 420 steel serves a few purposes extremely well and is versatile where others are not. The reasons for buying a 420 steel blade may be specific or general.
While 420 technically has a higher carbon content than 410 and 416 steel, and it can be hardened significantly by adding heat during the production process, it is still the softest metal (to our knowledge) that is still used in blade making. Chromium (approximately 12%) gives this steel some pretty decent corrosion resistance, which is just what it needs given that it will likely be used by someone who may not care for it as much (given the low price point).
Benefits of 420 Steel
To start off with, 420 steel is great in several areas. 420 steel is one of the easiest blades to sharpen. It is such a soft yet tough steel; it will sharpen within moments on any stone or sharpening device. The ease of sharpening is a good way to learn how to take care of a knife. Not to mention, 420 steel is a forgiving knife that won’t rust and corrode like other knives. This is due to the high chromium content of 420 steel; this high chromium content provides it with its amazing stainless steel properties.
Unlike a high carbon blade, 420 steel will not rust and corrode over time as quickly. It’s excellent for a kid just learning the ropes of knife collecting or just using a starter knife out on the farm! If he leaves it sitting around, it won’t deteriorate (rust) as quickly as most higher-priced, harder steels. 420 steel also makes for an excellent diving knife due to stain resistance and corrosion resistance — it will not rust while submerged in water.
The ease of sharpening, stain resistance, corrosion resistance and the cost will make for an excellent starter knife. 420 is often used in cheap balisongs.
Downsides of 420 Steel
Even with all the benefits of 420 steel, it still has some negatives to deal with. Due to the same strength that makes it easily sharpened, the softness of the blade will cause the knife to lose an edge. (This $50 folding knife outperforms $200 knives). The soft blade requires routine sharpening. On another note, the softness of the steel means that the blade can be dented and dinged quite easily.
With the softness of the blade being the major downside of the blade, it makes for a poor survival knife, even with the other properties of 420 steel factored in. Frankly put, the 420 steel knife would not hold an edge for a week, nor would the initial edge be as sharp as a carbon steel blade.
In spite of this, there are knives that are made with 420 steel. I would not suggest you get one as your ACTUAL survival knife, but it would be an appropriate buy for someone like a responsible(ish) teen out on a farm who is looking for an introduction into knives/survival/outdoors just looking to wet his feet. Here’s a great one for that purpose:
The factors that should lean you towards a 420 blade are corrosion resistance and cost. These factors contribute to a fantastic knife that can be used in a wide variety of situations but excels at few. 420 steel doesn’t make a good survival knife, but it makes one of the best diving knives you can buy. It’d be hard to go wrong with buying a 420 steel knife for diving; after all, it has one of the best corrosion resistance of all the steels used for knives. All in all, it’s a great steel for the average user and even better for a young kid or teen being introduced to knives for the first time. It is also the steel of choice for a lot of machetes.