AEB-L is an old stainless steel that old-timer knife enthusiasts have heard of for years. It’s one of the go-to options for a budget knife that’s corrosion-resistant, wear-resistant with decent hardness and toughness. It’s always a risk to opt for new knife steel since you may not know about its performance in the long run, but AEB-L has stood the test of time and proven itself as a solid option for affordable stainless steel knives.
AEB-L can be traced back in history to the 1960s where it was first produced and introduced in the market as a razor blade steel. The reason for this is because it had exceptional edge retention and almost never needed to be sharpened, making it the perfect razor blade steel. However, today AEB-L is used for much more than razors. You’ll find incredible knives made out of AEB-L, not to mention food-grade industrial equipment.
If you’re interested in the process of manufacturing steel and how it comes to be what it is, you’ll definitely find AEB-L interesting because it’s not your average steel. In this ultimate guide to AEB-L steel, we’ll dive deep (very deep) into everything you need to know about AEB-L steel.
What is AEB-L Stainless Steel?
AEB-L is manufactured by Bohler-Uddeholm in Germany and is a non-powder stainless steel. This steel is used most often for knives but is also especially popular in the usage of scalpels and other kitchen equipment.
AEB-L goes even further back in history than the 1960s. Although this steel was widely used for the production of razor blades back in the 60s, it was patented by Bohler-Uddholm in the 20s — 1928 to be exact. AEB-L steel is almost a hundred years old and has been competing with new stainless steels since then.
The initial composition of AEB-L stainless steel was 1% of carbon and 13% of chromium, and it has not been changed much since then. AEB-L is a low-alloy steel and doesn’t have too many additives affecting its performance. There is a similar steel by Bohler-Uddehlm in the market that is often confused with AEB-L. This is called the AEB-H. They differ from each other in grain distribution and carbide content.
AEB-L also has built a reputation for itself as a great custom knife steel. That’s because you can easily make a knife out of AEB-L in the comfort of your own home-furnace forge set-up according to your personal requirements. AEB-L has great blanking properties, which makes it perfect for custom homemade knives.
What is the Heat Treatment of AEB-L Stainless Steel?
AEB-L has a pretty straightforward heat treatment.
Before any further processes are carried out, AEB-L needs to be preheated at 1560°F and held for a couple of minutes.
Next, austentizing is carried out in order to increase the hardness potential. Austentizing happens through heating AEB-L to 1940°F and holding at this temperature for a minimum of 15 minutes.
In order for AEB-L to have enough hardness and not be too soft, it has been quenched. Quenching is a heat process where the steel is heated above the critical temperature when it demagnetizes and then is cooled down in a liquid instead of air cooling. This has a very different effect on the steel as compared to if it was simply air-cooled. AEB-L is quenched in oil (instead of regular water or saline water brine) at a temperature range of 1940-1975°F for the optimal hardness properties.
It is also tempered after the quenching process between the temperature range of 100 to 1000°F. The temperature it is tempered at will directly impact the hardness of AEB-L on the Rockwell hardness scale.
Cryogenic treatment might be carried out in some cases for AEB-L as well.
What is the Composition of AEB-L Stainless Steel?
AEB-L is a high-carbon, high-chromium alloy, stainless steel. It has very few alloying agents? What role do they play in making AEB-L steel the metal that it is? The composition of AEB-L has changed minutely ever since it was created back in the 1920s by Bohler-Udderholm. Let’s find out by looking at all the materials and the percentages in which they are added in.
- Carbon 0.67% – The moderately high amounts of carbon in AEB-L stainless steel contribute towards hardness, but not to a great extent. For carbon to be a major contributor to hardness, it would need to be of a higher percentage in AEB-L. However, it does contribute a lot to the edge retention properties of the AEB-L steel.
- Chromium 13% – 13% is a high percentage of Chromium and this adds a lot of hardness as well as corrosion resistance. It also makes it a stainless steel. Chromium is actually the second hardest metal on earth, and it definitely contributes to the hardness of AEB-L.
- Manganese 0.6% – Manganese is a common alloy that is added to most steels. That’s because Manganese immediately improves the hardness of the steel and adds a good dose of brittleness. We tend to think that brittleness is undesirable, but this isn’t the case. Brittleness actually contributes to edge retention, helping the knife stay sharper for a longer time.
- Silicon 0.4% – Silicon is another common and important alloying agent. This helps greatly in the deoxidizing of steel during the heat process (particularly the smelting process).
- Phosphorus 0.025% – While you might think 0.025% is too little for phosphorus to do anything, it actually contributes greatly towards toughness and internal strength of the steel.
- Sulfur 0.015% – Sulfur also increases the toughness of steel, by decreasing its hardness. In AEB-L the addition of sulfur boosts the tensile strength of steel. Sulfur also contributes to the machinability factor.
How Hard is AEB-L Stainless Steel?
AEB-L is quite high in hardness as a steel. It is a popular choice for a stainless steel with high hardness, good blanking and great grain distribution. AEB-L receives a score of 62-63 HRC in the Rockwell Hardness Scale. This makes it very hard. This is as high as you would need a kitchen knife or tool to ever be.
62-63 HRC also lends itself to outdoor survival knives well.
What are the Properties of AEB-L Stainless Steel?
AEB-L has a lot of unique properties and is definitely different from regular affordable stainless steel options in the market.
We’ve touched upon this earlier — AEB-L has pretty decent hardness considering all other factors. Usually, steel with this much toughness and flexibility must be really soft, but AEB-L is able to do well on the Hardness front as well. AEB-L stainless steel scores 58 HRC on the Rockwell Hardness Scale.
AEB-L is known for good toughness. It’s extremely resilient steel which is surprising, considering it is high in carbon. The reason why AEB-L is able to deliver good toughness despite having high hardness is because of the fine grain structure and even grain distribution which promotes internal strength and overall toughness along the surface of the blade.
Many people who’ve used AEB-L outdoor knives or daggers will testify that AEB-L is a tough blade to chip. It can handle exposure to really hard substances such as trees, stone, and hunting. Batoning and chopping are a piece of cake for this tough steel.
AEB-L Edge Retention
AEB-L is known for having great edge retention as far as stainless steels go. Thanks to the high chromium content and carbon content AEB-L will hold an edge for a really long time, through moderate to high use and coming in contact with a variety of different objects. The edge retention is usually why people claim that AEB-L stands heads and shoulders above other newer budget stainless steels in the market.
AEB-L Ease of Sharpening
Here’s the surprise X factor: AEB-L is actually great with edge retention AND with Ease of Sharpening. I know this might sound confusing, since steels generally have either one of the two. However, AEB-L has a special ability to be sharpened in a matter of seconds. That means you will rarely ever have to sharpen due to the high edge retention, but when you do, you won’t be cursing your knife and sharpening tools.
If you’re curious about how this is possible, it happens because AEB-L forms the K2 carbide instead of the K1 carbide with Chromium. The K2 carbide is harder than K1 and can be sharpened easily without any resistance.
AEB-L Wear Resistance
AEB-L has exceptional wear resistance. This steel can really take a beating and last for a long time in spite of it. The wear resistance that you get with AEB-L is really unexpected for steel of its price point. We credit this to the fact that AEB-L is an old tried-and-true steel for almost 100 years. There’s got to be something that works with AEB-L if it lasts for that long.
AEB-L Corrosion Resistance
AEB-L has the ideal amount of corrosion resistance. The usual requirement for steels to be considered corrosion resistant is 12% of Chromium content. If you paid attention to the Composition section for AEB-L, you’d realize that AEB-L has 13% Chromium content, making it a stainless steel. This means that your knife made from AEB-L will not rust easily.
However, we don’t recommend that you get careless with your AEB-L knives. Don’t store it wet (we don’t know why you would, but it’s worth mentioning!) and if you live in a humid location, it’s a good idea to give it a good oiling once in a while. If its a kitchen knife, make sure you use food-grade mineral oil.
Is AEB-L Stainless Steel Good for Knives?
AEB-L has been a great choice for stainless steel knives for the past century. Its corrosion resistance, high hardness, and toughness, and most importantly wear resistance make it a knife that can stand up to any challenge. There’s something about the construction of the AEB-L knife, it simply feels much more sturdy and durable than other affordable newer budget stainless steels in the market.
Is AEB-L a Stainless Steel Blade?
Yes, since AEB-L has a high chromium content in its composition, it is categorized as a stainless steel blade. AEB-L steel doesn’t catch rust easily and will be a great option for a long knife or sword. You should still take care of your AEB-L blades by keeping them clean and dry at all times, and oiling them if you live in a particularly humid climate (such as by the beach!)
How Does AEB-L Steel Compare to Other Steels?
We know that AEB-L steel has been performing well over the past 100 years. We’ve mentioned that it’s better than other affordable steels in the market. But how much better? Let’s look at how it compares to some of the other affordable steels in the market.
AEB-L Steel vs. 5cr15mov
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5cr15mov is also a budget stainless steel, like AEB-L steel but has very different capabilities to offer. AEB-L is a clear winner for edge retention, and both toughness and hardness.
AEB-L vs. 420hc
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AEB-L is much tougher steel than the 420 hc, and also outperforms this steel in terms of Edge retention and hardness. AEB-L is often compared to 420HC, but it’s clear to see that they cannot be compared.
AEB-L vs. S30V
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AEB-L and S30V are quite similar in their properties. S30V gives AEB-L good competition and actually has better corrosion resistance and hardness. However, it’s important to note that S30v is premium steel much more expensive than AEB-L. AEB-L is still impressive for its affordable price.
Best AEB-L Steel Options in the Market
You’ve probably gathered through this article that AEB-L steel a great option for custom made knives and storebought knives. Depending on whether you have a home forge set-up, you can choose whether you want to buy your AEB-L knife or make your own.
Making your own knife doesn’t have to be daunting — and AEB-L is a relatively uncomplicated steel to work with thanks to its blanking properties. You can create the knife that you desire, with all the design specifications that suit your needs!
This AEB-L knife has a fixed blade of 6.75 inches. It’s definitely an attractive knife, and we particularly like the handle design. The handle also feels comfortable when gripped, and this knife is one that will be by your side for a long time.
AEB-L is a unique steel because of its high wear resistance, edge retention, hardness and toughness. They don’t quite make steels like the AEB-L anymore. We hope that you were able to see what a great steel AEB-L is and how it’s been performing well over the past 100 years.
Let us know whether you choose to buy your AEB-L knife or make it from scratch — either option is great and you’ll have a knife that lasts long without burning a hole in your pocket. Good luck!