Every knife enthusiast strives to have the perfect knife – a knife that never rusts or stains and is reliable in every situation. While the “ultimate” knife does not exist, knives made from H1 steel are handy enough for most enthusiasts that carry a knife every day.
H1 steel is Japanese-origin precipitation-hardened steel that offers excellent corrosion resistance. It is virtually fully waterproof and will not show any signs of rusting even after a week underwater.
The stainless steel’s rare low-carbon, high-nickel composition gives the steel its corrosion resistance properties.
To determine if an H1 steel knife is right for you, you will need to understand the steel’s many properties and compare it with other popular steel.
For your convenience, we’ve highlighted all the properties of H1 steel, drawn comparisons with other steels, and also reviewed the best H1 steel knives in this post.
H1 steel is Precipitation-Hardened steel. PH steel does not require heat treatment to become hard, and its 1% nitrogen composition prevents rusting. As a result, the steel can hold a cutting edge similar to most carbon steels, but it does not rust or pit like carbon steels.
Every steel has some unique properties – some are tougher while others hold an edge for longer. Here’s a breakdown of the properties of H1 steel so you can understand what purpose it can serve for you.
H1 steel is relatively low in hardness since it has soft and pliable ferrite in it. However, it is free of brittle carbides. This makes it tougher than most other steels, but while it can handle rough use, it tends to get scratched easily.
H1 steel is decently wear-resistant, and an H1 steel knife won’t break even with months of rough use. That said, it can get scratched and begin to look shabby relatively quickly.
The steel’s wear resistance is good, but it is not the best.
H1 steel is one of the easiest steel to sharpen. You can get it back to peak sharpness with only a few swipes with a sharpener.
H1 steel boasts the best chemical composition for corrosion resistance. The steel has 15% Cr and 1% Mo, unlike austenitic stainless steels with 18% Cr and 8% Ni.
The 1% Mo present in the steel dramatically improves corrosion resistance, ensuring that the steel remains unaffected even when submerged in salty water.
H1 steel is a lot more impressive, considering that 304 stainless steel (19% Cr) is typically the minimum recommended steel for use under saltwater exposure. However, since more Mo is required to remain unaffected by the saltwater, 316 stainless steel (2%-3% Mo) is typically recommended.
While H1 does not possess the recommended chemical composition for use in saltwater, it does have enough Cr and Mo to remain corrosion-free under occasional exposure.
Compared to a typical knife, knives made with H1 steel boast stellar corrosion resistance. The lack of carbide in the steel prevents the sensitization of the steel and renders it virtually fully corrosion-resistant.
H1 steel has a lower wear resistance than most other steel. It also lacks carbides and delta ferrite. For this reason, H1 steel knives with plain edges have poor slicing-edge retention.
While sharpening it before starting the day will give you a day’s use, you will need to sharpen it again at the end of the day.
H1 steel knives with serrated edges have improved edge retention compared to serrated edges of knives made from other steels.
Knowing that makes buying an H1 steel knife a little more complicated: you must pick between paying more for a serrated knife and an edge that doesn’t stay sharp as long.
H1 steel is not hardened by heat treatment like other steel. Instead, it is work hardened by grinding. The Molybdenum and Sulfur in the steel make it perfect for machinability.
The steel has a hardness of 57-58 Hc, but grinding can harden it up to 68 Hc. Most serrated edges made from H1 steel have a hardness of 63 – 64 Hc.
Since it is mid-priced steel, H1 steel makes the perfect candidate for making moderately priced high-quality knives.
It can hold a decent edge, has good wear resistance, and has exceptional corrosion resistance. As a result, H1 steel knives can make for excellent diving, fishing, and hunting knives. However, since the steel is not 100% corrosion-proof, it is often used to craft premium everyday carry knives.
Not only is H1 steel 100% resistant to staining, but it also does not get brittle at high HRCs. On paper, this makes H1 steel better than super steels like ZDP-189 – which is known to get brittle.
Finding the right knife from an ocean of similar options is a challenge every knife enthusiast must overcome. Here’s a shortlist of the top knives the market has to offer:
The Salt series is known for its superior quality H1 steel that retains its sharpness well. The Salt 2 has an attainable Rockwell hardness in the high 60s, and it doesn’t get brittle.
Its corrosion resistance makes it the right knife to take off-shore, fishing, or diving. Some in the food industry name the Salt 2 as their go-to knife.
The blade has a fully serrated sheepsfoot-type design and an all-black finish that helps protect the steel from scratches.
The trademark round-hole opening feature, coupled with the fully reversible four-way pocket clip, allows for tip-up and tip-down carry. In addition, the high-strength back lock gives the blade all the support it needs while keeping the knife light.
The ergonomic front-finger choil and spine cusp make it easy to maneuver. In addition, the ambidextrous tip-up wire clip and the bi-directional texturing on the handle, spine, and choil jimping give it a complete carry-friendly folder design.
Its perfectly placed round hole makes for a smooth opening. The FRN handle ensures the knife’s reliability under the highest of pressures.
Spyderco’s Ark Salt is made from nitrogen-enriched alloys, giving it excellent corrosion resistance properties. The Ark Salt is designed to be a handy self-defense tool that you can carry anywhere.
The injection-molded polymer neck sheath guarantees universal carry. Together with the sheath, the blade weighs only two pounds, allowing you to move with it without much hassle.
Its deeply curved clip-point blade is held in place by the fiberglass-reinforced-nylon handle. The handle comes molded onto the blade’s tang, and like the Dragonfly 2, comes with bi-directional texturing.
If you want a reliable self-defense knife, the Spyderco Ark Salt is the right knife.
There are several steels equivalent to H1 that are used for a variety of different applications.
Here’s a cross-reference table of steels with a grade equivalent to H1 steel:
|H11||ASTM||USA||Alloy tool steel|
|H12||ASTM||USA||Alloy tool steel|
|H14||ASTM||USA||Alloy tool steel|
|H19||ASTM||USA||Alloy tool steel|
|CPM H13||AISI||USA||Powder metallurgy tool steel; hot work tool steel|
|CPM H19||AISI||USA||Powder metallurgy tool steel; hot work tool steel|
|CPM H19V||AISI||USA||Powder metallurgy tool steel; hot work tool steel|
|SKH10||JIS||Japan||Tungsten series high-speed tool steel|
H1 is a moderately priced steel that has excellent corrosion resistance properties. It also has good wear resistance, edge retention, and hardness.
AUS-8 steel is the best alternative to H1 steel. It has similar properties and hardness and is priced similarly to H1 steel.
|Ease of Sharpening||9/10||3/10|
While S30V steel can hold a better edge than H1 steel, it can be difficult to sharpen. H1 steel is also tougher than S30V steel.
|Ease of Sharpening||9/10||8/10|
The VG10 steel can hold an edge much better than the H1 steel can. However, H1 steel is easier to sharpen and boasts better corrosion resistance.
H1 steel has exceptional corrosion resistance properties and is easy to sharpen, but it doesn’t hold an edge as well and can get scratched easily.
However, quality knives like the Spyderco Salt 2 have special serrated edges and coatings to improve edge retention and reduce the probability of scratching.
While H1 steel is a great steel, it’s not perfect and cannot be used effectively for every application. That said, it is great for everyday carry and off-shore use. It will perform well anywhere humid.
Some H1 steel knives offer the qualities of premium steel knives at a lower price. Overall, if you need a knife that you can rely on all day in humid conditions, we recommend H1 steel knives without any reservations.
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