With many knife owners (and thus for knifemakers too), the emphasis when it comes to knives has always been around doing well for all the crucial factors. That means for a steel to qualify as a good “all-around steel” for knives, it should offer acceptable performance levels for the following: edge retention, ease of sharpening, toughness and corrosion resistance.
The A2 steel is one such steel, and it’s a popular option for fixed blade knives. With this review, we will find out exactly what the A2 steel has to offer for all these factors. We will delve deep into its chemical makeup, and compare it directly to other similar steels. We will find out whether its features, advantages, and drawbacks match up with your own requirements.
What is A2 steel?
A2 steel is a type of tool steel that also contains high carbon levels, along with significant levels of vanadium. It’s very versatile, chiefly noted for its excellent toughness and its dimensional stability after hardening and tempering.
Brands that work with A2 steel find it easy to work with, and consumers appreciate its affordable price and its good overall performance. It’s used in many types of cutting tools, along with other industrial components such as dies.
Common Uses of A2 steel
This can be a long list, as A2 steel is used for a wide range of different products. You can find A2 steel used for:
- Shear blades
- Cutting tools for woodworking
- Precision tools
- Many different types of dies (large blanking dies, extrusion dies, forming dies, trimming dies, coining dies, stamping dies, and thread roller dies)
- Plastic injection tooling
- Master hubs
- Long punches
- Dowel pins
- Chuck jaws
A2 steel Chemical Composition
Let’s check out the elements in the A2 steel alloy makeup.
- Carbon, 0.9% to 1.05%
- Chromium, 4.9% to 5.3%
- Molybdenum, 0.9% to 1.1%
- Manganese, 0.4% to 0.6%
- Vanadium, 0.15% to 0.2%
- Silicon, 0.2% to 0.35%
- Phosphorus, 0.025% at the most
- Sulfur, 0.005% at the most
Carbon, 0.9% to 1.05%: This makes the A2 a type of carbon steel, with significant amounts of carbon to boost its edge retention and wear resistance. The carbon also improves the hardenability of the A2 steel. The amount of carbon is just right, so that the steel remains tolerably ductile and easy to machine.
Chromium, 4.9% to 5.3%: This is not enough to make the A2 part of the stainless-steel category. But it still helps with corrosion resistance, and it also improves the hardenability of the steel.
Molybdenum, 0.9% to 1.1%: This is a carbide former that boosts the steel’s strength in high temperatures, its creep strength, and its hardenability. It generally works combined with the manganese and vanadium.
Manganese, 0.4% to 0.6%: This has effects similar to carbon, and it’s often considered the most important element next to carbon itself. It improves tensile strength and hardenability, and also helps in taking out the sulfur and the oxygens from the molten steel. But the amount is limited, since too much manganese can lead to lower ductility.
Vanadium, 0.15% to 0.2%: The vanadium improves its resistance to fatigue stress and wear. It also boosts the hardenability, shock loading resistance, and toughness against fractures.
Silicon, 0.2% to 0.35%: This also acts as a deoxidizer, meaning that it helps take out oxygen bubbles from the molten steel. It strengthens the iron and makes the steel harder, though it reduces the ductility which is why not much of it is used.
Phosphorus, 0.025% at the most: This is usually regarded as an impurity, hence the tiny amount allowed in the alloy. At this level though, the phosphorus does boost the hardness and strength of the steel. You just don’t want too much of it, because that can lead to brittleness.
Sulfur, 0.005% at the mos:. This is another “impurity” that can help at extremely tiny amounts. It boosts the machinability of the steel.
A2 steel hardness
The specific hardness of the A2 steel will depend on the heat treatment used. In most cases, the HRC rating will range within 57 to 62 HRC. Its hardness is mostly because of the relatively high carbon content, though the comparatively lower chromium content (compared to the chromium content in D2 and D3 steels) means that it’s not quite as resistant to abrasion and wear.
But it’s relatively easy to machine, and its hardness ensures a good edge for a good while.
Properties of A2 steel
Check out what features you can expect from A2 steel.
Easy to Work With
This is one of the main reasons why it’s still used by lots of brands for knives after 60 years. It’s relatively easy to machine, and it doesn’t deform easily. It maintains its dimensional stability nicely after hardening and tempering.
Lots of amateur metalsmiths and budding knifemakers also like working with A2 steel. In fact, you may want to specify the use of A2 steel for a custom knife.
A2 steel knives are generally more affordable. It’s because of the relatively simple chemical makeup, and also because it’s just so easy for knife manufacturers to work with.
This simply won’t chip off easily, and it can withstand hacking uses that can break and chip off harder steels. That’s why it’s popular for fixed blade knives, and especially for use in outdoor activities. It’s tougher than almost all the knife steels out there.
Good Edge Retention
You won’t have to sharpen the knife every day, and surely not in the middle of the day. In fact, some A2 knives can be used daily for a couple of months before it needs to be sharpened. It keeps its edge nicely, although its edge retention isn’t at the super-steel level.
Relatively Easy to Sharpen
You can use water stones or basic Arkansas stones just fine, and it won’t take you a very long while.
Acceptable Corrosion Resistance
That means you can use this in humid areas and it won’t rust with proper maintenance. But you will have issues with patina, since it’s not stainless steel.
A2 Equivalent Steels or Alternative
A2 Steel vs D2
The D2 offers a greater balance in terms of all-around performance. It’s slightly better at maintaining a sharp edge, it’s somewhat easier to sharpen, and it’s even a tad better at resisting corrosion.
On the other hand, the A2 is notably tougher, which means it’s less likely to chip off. If you’re going to prioritize toughness when you use a knife more for hacking, then perhaps the A2 is the better choice. The A2 is also generally more affordable, since it’s easier for brands to work with.
A2 vs o1 Steel
The o1 is another good all-around performer. It matches the toughness and the edge retention of A2, while it’s slightly easier to sharpen. On the other hand, the A2 is much more corrosion-resistant.
A2 Steel vs 3v
Many also consider the 3v as the ideal steel for a fixed blade knife (especially when the price is also factored in). The 3v is astoundingly tough, and you won’t really find another steel that’s tougher than 3v. Yet the 3v edge retention is also a bit better than what you get with the A2 steel.
On the other hand, you will find the A2 steel easier to sharpen, and it’s also a lot more affordable.
A2 Steel vs M2
The M2 can be quite hard, and its edge retention is better than the A2. But the A2 is easier to sharpen, as the M2 is definitely problematic when it comes to sharpening. The A2 is better at corrosion resistance, and it’s also much tougher.
Is A2 Steel Good for Knives?
In many ways, it’s actually ideal. This is if you factor in the price. Undoubtedly, some of the premium steels can outperform the A2 in all most or even all crucial factors. But you’ll have to pay a lot more for these knives.
With its toughness, the A2 steel is unlikely to chip off with proper use. The edge retention is quite good, and even with hard daily use it may take a couple of months before you absolutely need to sharpen the knife. And when you do need to sharpen it, the process is quite simple and easy.
It’s not stainless steel though, so eventually you will develop a patina on the blade. But at least it won’t easily rust with proper maintenance. A2 steel has been used in knives since the 1960s, and many traditionalists still like it.
Pros & Cons of A2 steel
- Fantastic toughness
- Good edge retention
- Acceptable corrosion resistance
- Relatively easy to sharpen
- Very affordable
- Great for large fixed knives
- It will definitely rust without proper maintenance
- Many carbon steels are easier to sharpen
- Patina will be an issue eventually
- Not the best choice for EDC
It’s true that the A2 is a good steel, as it’s been around and used for knives since the 1960s. True, since that time there have been a lot of terrific metals that have been introduced, and some are even better all-around performers.
But at its price range, A2 is a terrific option and quite dependable. You will simply need to keep it properly wiped and dried to keep corrosion at bay.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does A2 steel rust?
It’s not stainless steel, so the danger of rust is greater if you don’t take care of it properly. Still, if you keep the blade dry with a paper towel after using, then rust shouldn’t be a problem even if you live in a humid area.
The main issue is the patina buildup, which is almost inevitable after some time. But you can slow this down by using an alcohol prep pad to wipe down the blade after using, and then you can use a paper towel to dry the blade.
Is A2 steel stainless?
No, it’s not stainless steel. You need 10% to 12% chromium to qualify, and you get just 5% chromium in A2 steel. So, you really want to wipe this down whenever it gets wet.
Is A2 steel hard to sharpen?
No, it’s actually easy to sharpen compared to other steels. You don’t even need diamond stones, as water stones will do just fine.
Is A2 steel magnetic?
A2 steel is a tool steel, and all tool steels are ferromagnetic. Ferromagnetic steels are easily magnetized.