Using 52100 Steel As A Knife Steel: Is It A Good Choice?

Peter Stec
July 26, 2021
52100 Stainless Steel Review

52100 is by no means a recent steel — this steel has been in the market since 1919, which makes it one of the oldest steels still going by the same name. As a high-carbon, low-alloy steel, 52100 is different from most knife steels and offers different capabilities and properties. 

In this article, we’ll get into everything you need to know about 52100 steel, with a special focus on what sets it apart from other steels, and how it performs when molded into a knife. 52100 has some unique properties due to its chemical composition, so it’s worth understanding the nitty-gritties of 52100’s production as well. 

The properties of this knife can be perfect for someone with very specific requirements, so we’ll get into these details as well. We’ll also recommend some of the best 52100 steel knives in the market, carefully chosen through our vetting process — so make sure you stick to the end of this article!

What is 52100 Steel? 

52100 has been previously used as a ball-bearing steel, but now has a large variety of applications, especially mechanical ones. One of the salient features of the 52100 steel is incredible toughness and wear resistance, which makes it perfect for industrial equipment and other mechanical applications. It has a smooth shiny exterior finish and is especially used for casters, and for automotive and aircraft parts. 

Apart from having great toughness, 52100 is a very hard, strong and resilient steel. It’s used in a lot of knives that require incredible strength, which tends to be larger knives built for outdoor, survival and combat purposes. However, we’re also seeing 52100 steel being used for kitchen knives recently since the strength lends really well to large kitchen knives and cleavers. 

What is the Composition of 52100 Steel? 

As a high-carbon, low-alloy steel, 52100 steel has quite a unique composition. It is very different from the stainless steels that are generally used to make entry-level knives. Let’s look at the chemical composition of 52100 so that we can better understand what the steel has to offer in terms of capabilities. 

ElementsPercentage Composition (%)
Carbon (C)0.98-1.10
Chromium (Cr)1.3-1.6
Manganese (Mn)0.45
Nickel (Ni)0.30
Copper (Cu)0.30
Silicon (Si)0.30
Phosphorus (P)0.025
Sulfur (S)0.025

We’ll also look at the role that each element plays in the final product of 52100 steel. Each element has a specific purpose in adding properties to 52100 steel. 

  1. Carbon 0.98-1.10% – This is a very high amount of carbon. That’s why 52100 is considered a high-carbon steel. Such high amounts of carbon mean that 52100 is a very hard steel and is extremely wear-resistant. High amounts of carbon also contribute to edge resistance, meaning that you won’t have to worry about frequently sharpening your 52100 knives. 
  2. Chromium 1.3-1.6% – Chromium generally plays an important role in providing corrosion resistance to a stainless steel. However, 1.3-1.6% is not enough for corrosion resistance properties in a steel. Since there is such low chromium content, 52100 steel doesn’t have much corrosion resistance properties. But that doesn’t mean that Chromium is useless in 52100 steel. It contributes to be the hardness and strength of the steel. 
  3. Manganese 0.45% – Manganese also contributes to strength, particularly the brittleness of the steel. Having Manganese in a steel can also be beneficial for machinability. 
  4. Nickel 0.30% – 52100 already has great edge retention thanks to the high carbon content, and Nickel further boosts this property. Having nickel as one of the alloying agents contributes to the steel having a sharp edge for a longer time. 
  5. Copper 0.30% – Copper is not a very common addition to steel, but it plays an important role in 52100 steel nonetheless. It contributes a little bit of corrosion resistance, while also helping in the internal strength. 
  6. Silicone 0.30% – Silicon is important for the heat treatment processes of the steel. It particularly helps in deoxidizing steel during the smelting process. 
  7. Phosphorus 0.025% – 0.025% seems like a very tiny amount, and it is, but this is enough for phosphorus to work its magic. Phosphorus significantly works towards the internal strength and structural integrity of 52100 steel. 
  8. Sulfur 0.025% – Sulfur plays a role in the machinability of the 52100 steel, making it easier to shape sheets of 52100 steel into long-lasting, high-performing knives. 

As you can see, 52100 is a high-carbon steel, with very less amounts of other alloying elements. 

How Hard is 52100 Steel? 

52100 has really high amounts of carbon, which is why its known for being a steel with particularly high hardness. On the Rockwell Hardness Scale, the 52100 steel scores a whopping 68. 68 HRC is definitely on the higher end of hardness when it comes to steel, and this is why 52100 is so excellent for bearings and mechanical parts. 

What is the Heat Treatment of 52100 Steel? 

52100 undergoes multiple heat treatment processes to get it to the level of hardness that’s intended, as well as preserving the other properties as well. Forging of 52100 happens at 927°C to 1205°C. It is not recommended for forging to occur at a lower temperature range than 927°C, since it could hamper the final product. 

Quenching also occurs for 52100 steel. Quenching refers to a heat process where the steel is heated to a high-temperature point and then cooled down in a controlled setting in a liquid. This can either be saline water, regular water, or even oil.

The liquid of choice that the steel is quenched in has a difference in the final hardness level of the steel itself. 52100 is generally quenched in oil since that provides the highest hardness (68 HRC).

Prior to quenching in oil, 52100 steel is heated to 816°C.

What are 52100 Properties? 

Now that we’ve looked at the chemical composition of 52100 steel and the role each element plays, it’s time to dive into the actual capabilities of 52100 steel. 

As a high-carbon low-alloy steel, the 52100 greatly differs from regular stainless steel options. 

You should always pay attention to the properties of a steel if you’re planning to buy a knife that’s made from it. That’s because certain properties might be more important to you than others, and you might be willing to compromise on some weaknesses of the steel while others are a dealbreaker. 

Let’s look at what the 9cr18mov can offer in terms of its properties, and how this affects a knife that’s built from it. 

52100 Hardness

52100 has really high hardness for a steel. The HRC rating can range anywhere from 61-68 depending on the manufacturer and heat processes that were followed during the production of 52100 Hardness. Having such a high hardness in the knife means that it’s on the brittle side and also retains a lot of strength in a knife. 

52100 Toughness

Most of the time, hardness and toughness are inversely proportional. A high-hardness steel usually has low toughness, but not in the case of 52100. The 52100 actually has quite decent toughness and this makes it quite resilient in a knife. Having good toughness means that the knife won’t easily break when it comes in contact with harder substances. 

This is particularly useful in an outdoor or survival knife where you might have to potentially build shelter or use the knife for hunting. 

In kitchen knives and cleavers, the toughness plays an important role in ensuring that the knife keeps its structural integrity when it comes in contact with bones and joints of meat. 

52100 Edge Retention

52100 steel has high amounts of carbon. Apart from contributing to the hardness of the steel, this also boosts the edge retention. A sharpened 52100 knife will keep its sharp edge for a very long time, making it low maintenance and easier to take care of. 

52100 Ease of Sharpening

Unfortunately, you can’t have both high edge retention and ease of sharpening in a steel. Due to its high hardness and high carbon content, its very difficult to sharpen a knife made out of 52100 steel. Sharpening might take some time and effort. 


The good news is that you won’t have to perform this task too often — once you sharpen your 52100 knives, they remain sharp for a prolonged period of time. 

52100 Corrosion Resistance

Corrosion Resistance properties come from Chromium. In the case of 52100, the chromium content is too low for any corrosion resistance properties. This means that 52100 is very low in corrosion resistance, and is not considered a stainless steel. Knives made out of 52100 are at risk of rust and corrosion which tends to happen often. However, with the proper care, you can ensure your 52100 knife never catches rust.

Is 52100 Good for Knives? 

52100 is a great steel for Knives. Its exceptional hardness that doesn’t compromise on toughness, as well as great edge retention all make it a great reliable material for knife making. However, 52100 works better for certain kinds of knives over others. 52100 is great for bigger outdoor/survival knives or kitchen cleavers. 

You would definitely have to take more care of your 52100 knife compared to average knives due to its low corrosion resistance and ease of sharpening, but the performance of the knife is worth it!

Is 52100 a Stainless Steel? 

No, 52100 is not a stainless steel due to the very low amounts of chromium content. You would have to take extra care of a 52100 knife to ensure that it doesn’t catch rust or corrosion. 

How Does 52100 Compare to Other Steels? 

52100 is a great knife if you’re big on hardness, toughness, and edge retention. However, in order to determine if it’s the best steel for the kind of knife you have in mind: you have to take a look at the other steel options.

We’ve rounded up the three most similar steels to 52100 in terms of price and properties in order for you to make an informed decision about which performs the best.

52100 Steel vs. 440C Steel

Properties52100440C
Edge Retention8/107/10
Ease of Sharpening1/103/10
Corrosion Resistance1/109/10
Toughness 7/104/10
Hardness9/106/10
52100 Steel vs 440C Steel

The main differentiator between the 440C and the 52100 Steel is corrosion resistance. Since 440c is a stainless steel, it can offer much better corrosion resistance. However, 52100 has better hardness, toughness, and edge retention. 

52100 Steel vs. S30v

Properties52100S30V
Edge Retention8/106/10
Ease of Sharpening1/103/10
Corrosion Resistance 1/107/10
Toughness7/108/10
Hardness 9/107/10
52100 Steel vs S30v

Both these steels are high-carbon low-alloys that offer good toughness, but 52100 has much better edge retention. The S30V has better corrosion resistance than the 52100. It’s also easier to sharpen the S30V. 

52100 vs. Maxamet Steel

52100 vs Maxamet Steel
Properties52100Maxamet Steel
Edge Retention8/1010/10
Ease of Sharpening1/102/10
Corrosion Resistance 1/103/10
Toughness7/102/10
Hardness 9/108/10

Maxamet Steel and 52100 steel are both regular steels, and are not considered to be stainless steels. Maxamet steel has the advantage with edge retention over 52100, while 52100 scores much higher on toughness and hardness both. 

Best 52100 Steel Knives in the Market

Understanding the material of your knife is only half the game. The other half is looking at the blade geometry, blade length, handle material and other safety considerations. Now that we’ve looked at all the details and specifications of 52100, its time to see which manufacturers and brands do a great job.

Since 52100 is one of the hardest and toughest materials out there, it’s a great choice for a durable and reliable knife. However, it’s low on corrosion resistance. There are some manufacturers who will cover up for this shortcoming by adding an extra anti-corrosion layer which can help keep the blade safe from rust. 

We’ve searched for the best knives made out of 52100 steel and listed them here for you to refer to: 

Handmade Bushcraft 52100 Steel Hunting Knife

About this item

  • FULL TANG DESIGN
  • RAZOR SHARP BLADE
  • BALANCED GRIP
  • LEATHER SHEATH
  • LIFETIME GUARANTEE

Conclusion

52100 is a great steel of choice for knives, despite not being stainless steel. We’re of the opinion that low corrosion resistance is not a big hindering factor. As long as the knife is kept clean and dry, you shouldn’t run into any kinds of issues with rust. Try to oil your knife once in a while to provide a protective layer against corrosion. 

The high level of hardness and toughness that you get with this steel is possibly unmatched. Considering that you won’t have to bother sharpening a 52100 knife often thanks to its great edge resistance is the cherry on top! 

If you’ve been on the lookout for a steel that will make a high-quality knife to last you years: look no further. 52100 steel is great value for money with incredible performance and capabilities as an outdoor/survival knife or kitchen cleaver.

About The Author
Hey Knife Up gang! I'm Pete, and I'm just another man like you in a small rural town who loves the outdoors as much as the other million internet users that cruise sites like KnifeUp.com every day. The difference is that I like to share what I know and research what I don't totally know so that YOU can have all the info you need to feel confident and prepared for all things outdoors-related! And, for those who care, I have 42 years of wilderness canoeing and bushcraft experience in Northern Ontario and spend most of my Summers covered in mosquitos and fish slime, but hey, it's a lifestyle choice, eh?

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