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What Is CPM S30V Steel? - knife Insight

What Is CPM S30V Steel?


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CPM S30V steelAre you reading this article because you found a nice knife made with CPM S30V and you want to know more about the metal alloy used for the blade? That’s a sensible approach, since the blade metal is the defining factor that determines if a knife will be any good at all for whatever you plan to use it for.

With this guide, you will understand the ins and outs of CPM S30V. You’ll discover its chemical makeup, learn about its advantages and drawbacks, and even check out a list of the 5 best CPM S30V knives that can give you full value for your money.

What is CPM S30V steel?

Best CPM S30V Steel KnivesThe CPM S30V steel has been around since 2001, and it has remained extremely popular ever since. Sure, there have been newer metals that are supposed to be “better”, and metallurgists have even tinkered with the CPM S30V formula to improve it.

Yet the CPM S30V metal has proved so popular that it’s downright ubiquitous. This is mainly due to its fantastic combination of high hardness with good corrosion resistance. In addition, it’s still tough even though it’s very hard—you normally encounter steels this hard that prove to be brittle as well. Even manufacturers like it since it’s relatively easy to work with.

With this steel, you have a fantastic metal alloy that makes for a terrific EDC knife. Crucible Industries developed this knife in collaboration with the famous knifemaker Chris Reeve, while also consulting with several other knifemakers.

With this premium-grade knife steel, you have what many consider the best all-around steel right now. That’s despite the fact that it’s been at least 20 years since it first came out!

Common Uses of CPM S30V steel

You can find the CPM S30V steel in the following products:

  • Folding EDC knives
  • Outdoor knives (for hunting and camping)
  • Premium durable cutlery
  • Custom knives
  • Screws and dies
  • Non-return valve components
  • Wear components (mainly for chemical and food processing)
  • Pelletizing equipment

However, if you’re into knives then you will find the CPM S30V steel in a lot of premium EDC knives.

CPM S30V Steel Chemical Composition

The particular chemistry of CPM S30V leads to forming vanadium carbides, which are better at cutting and also harder than chromium carbides.

The 4 main elements in the CPM S30V steel are as follows:

  • Carbon, 1.45%
  • Chromium, 14%
  • Vanadium, 4%
  • Molybdenum, 2%

Carbon, 1.45%. This is a large amount of carbon, but some say that it’s just right. Keep in mind that high carbon steels have at least 0.5% carbon, with some containing about 1% carbon for notable hardness. But here you have 1.45%, which is quite a lot.

But then the predecessors of S30V had even more carbon content. The S60V has 2.15%, while the S90V has 2.3%. When Crucible developed the S30V, they actually reduced the carbon content!

In any case, the carbon here is the main reason why the S30V is so hard and great at wear resistance and edge retention. At the same time, the “reduced” carbon content makes the steel relatively easier to sharpen than its harder counterparts.

Chromium, 14%. This amount of chromium makes categorizes the S30V as a type of stainless steel, meaning that it won’t rust easily. It also boosts the hardenability of the steel along with its yield strength.

Vanadium, 4%. The addition of the vanadium (along with the particular mix of the S30V) leads to the formation of vanadium carbides. These are harder and a lot more effective at cutting than the usual chromium carbides you get. The vanadium somehow boosts both the wear resistance and the toughness of the steel.

Molybdenum, 2%. Molybdenum also helps with corrosion resistance, working with chromium. It also boosts the steel’s hardenability during the heat treatment process. It also helps with improving creep strength.

CPM S30V Steel Hardness

It’s hard—in fact, it’s very hard. The hardness of CPM S30V is one of its most desired traits, and the main reason for its popularity. Its specific hardness ranges from 58 to 61 HRC, depending on the heat treatment and manufacturer. Only the half-dozen ultra-premium super steels are harder.

Some say that its hardness is just right, not too hard and not to soft, either. It keeps its edge sharp for a long while and offers excellent wear resistance. But it’s much easier to sharpen than the super steels too.

Properties of CPM S30V steel

CPM S30V Steel ChemicalHere are the features you’d expect from S30V:

Terrific Cutting Performance

This is one of the main benefits you get with all that hardness that comes with CPM S30V. As long you have a sharp edge, you can cut easily though fibers and cardboard without any problems.

Outstanding Edge Retention

The this is also due to the hardness of the S30V. One of the main problems with other steels (even most carbon steels) is that you will have to sharpen them often if you use the knife daily. It can be very annoying., to say the least. It’s problematic if you’re using the knife all day opening packages and you have to sharpen the blade in the middle of the work. It wastes time.

But with the CPM S30V, you can safely use it all day and not have to worry about having to sharpen it anytime soon. Heck, you might last a week of constant use before you need resharpening.

Great Wear Resistance

This is another benefit of the hardness and also of the edge retention. It won’t wear out any time soon, and you can enjoy a CPM S30V knife for decades. Some of its other parts may fail (like the locking mechanism or the handle) long before the blade wears out.

Surprising Toughness

One of the general rules for knife steels is that the harder it is, the worse it gets when it comes to toughness. That’s to say, the blade becomes more brittle and more prone to chipping off.

But the CPM S30V steel isn’t particularly brittle, despite its unusual hardness. Sure, it’s not tough enough for hacking branches, but it’s tougher than most other steels that are just as hard (or almost as hard) as the S30V.

High Corrosion Resistance

One of the reasons why this is also popular with premium kitchen cutlery is that it doesn’t rust easily at all. That’s thanks to the high chromium content. It may not be well-suited for saltwater use, but you can use your knife for camping regularly without any worries.

Moderately Hard to Sharpen

It’s also natural to assume that hard steels that offer terrific edge retention are also harder to sharpen. That’s also true of the S30V. But it’s a lot easier to sharpen than the super steels, and even some of other premium and high-end steels. You can appreciate how great it is for you if you’re able to enjoy that edge retention and still have a blade that’s not frustrating to sharpen.

Very Popular

The S30V is so popular that it’s fairly ubiquitous. You can find it anywhere among the higher end blades. You can attribute this to all the other features we’ve listed here, plus the fact that it’s not all that expensive. Don’t forget that the knife manufacturers find it relatively easy to work with the S30V, and it’s not surprising that it’s so popular.

CPM S30V Equivalent Steels or Alternative

How does the CPM S30V look when compared to super steels and other high-end alternatives? Find out if you actually need an alternative steel, or confirm that you really need the CPM S30V.

CPM S30V vs D2

The D2 is a tool steel that’s been around since WWII, and it’s still among the most popular steels used for knives. It’s almost as hard as the CPM S30V, even though it’s been around for about 70 years now. In addition, its hardness comes with good toughness, which is astounding.

But the D2 is notoriously prone to corrosion when used outdoors, because its chromium content isn’t quite there. Also, it’s extremely difficult to sharpen—you have to be a sharpening expert to even try it.

CPM S30V vs M390

Plenty of experts hail the M390 as the best steel all-around, though this isn’t exactly a unanimous opinion. But no one disputes its hardness, leading to terrific cutting performance, edge retention, and wear resistance. Add its great corrosion resistance and surprisingly good toughness, and it’s not difficult to understand why it has so many fans.

Still, the CPM S30V is more affordable and it matches the corrosion resistance performance of M390. True, the M390 is a little bit better in both edge retention and toughness. But the CPM S30V is also much easier to sharpen. All these reasons explain why the CPM S30V is easier to find used in knives.

CPM S30V vs S30V

This is the same thing. It refers to that metal alloy offered by Crucible Industries made in collaboration with Chris Reeve.

Some knifemakers just call it S30V instead of adding the “CPM” because it’s just easier. If you find a CPM S30V knife with a distinguishable blade from another S30V knife, that’s most likely because they’re 2 different brands using different heat treatment processes.

CPM S30V vs VG10

The VG10 is also a very balanced steel alloy, with lots of chromium for corrosion resistance and also vanadium to get more toughness. It’s actually not as hard, and not as tough, as CPM S30V. But it matches the S30V corrosion resistance, while the VG10 is also somewhat easier to sharpen.

CPM S30V vs 154CM

The 154CM also comes from Crucible, and it’s a high-end steel (but not premium like S30V). It also has significant amounts of molybdenum like CPM S30V, and offers a very balanced set of features. It’s good at just about everything, whether its edge retention, toughness, ease of sharpening, and corrosion resistance.

The CPM S30V is still better at all these factors, but it’s more expensive too.

CPM S30V vs Elmax

This is another well-rounded steel, and it’s a super steel to boot. It even offers better edge retention than the S30V, and the Elmax is surprisingly even tougher. However, it’s not as corrosion-resistant as the S30V. the Elmax is also easier to sharpen than the other super steels, but not as easy to sharpen as the CPM S30V.

Is CPM S30V Steel Good for Knives?

Yes, and that’s understating things a lot. With its fantastic edge retention and wear resistance, along with its toughness and corrosion resistance, how can it not be? It’s not cheap, but it’s not prohibitively expensive, either.

Plenty of experts and CPM S30V knife owners rave that it’s the best all-around steel you can find. Manufacturers also appreciate how easy it is wo machine and work with, while consumers love that it’s a lot more affordable than the ultra-premium super steels (and easier to sharpen too).

Pros & Cons of CPM S30V steel

Pros
  • Terrific Cutting Performance
  • Outstanding Edge Retention
  • Great Wear Resistance
  • High Corrosion Resistance
  • Surprising Toughness
  • Relatively Easy to Sharpen (compared to Super Steels)
  • Not Too Expensive
Cons
  • Not quite tough enough for hacking
  • Harder to sharpen than most commercial knife steels
  • Not too cheap, either

Best CPM S30V Steel Knives

Here we focused on folding EDC knives, because a lot of people (including acclaimed experts) feel that the S30V steel is just about perfect for this kind of knife.

 

#1: Benchmade – 940 EDC Manual Open Folding

Quick Specification
  • Blade Steel: CPM-S30V (58-60 HRC)
  • Blade Length: 3.40″ (8.64cm)
  • Blade Thickness: 0.115″ (2.92mm)
  • Open Length: 7.87″ (19.99cm)
  • Closed Length: 4.47″ (11.35cm)
  • Handle Thickness: 0.41″ (10.41mm)
  • Weight: 2.90oz. (82.21g)
  • Handle Material: Fiberglass

The Benchmade brand has been around for a while now, offering US-made knives for the last 30 years or so. This 940 knife design is a classic, though it fits nicely in the modern era with its CPM S30V steel.

We went with the black G10 handle with the satin finish, and not just because it’s the most affordable compared to the carbon fiber and aluminum handles. The G10 material works fine even when it gets wet, and you get a secure grip. The texture is quite light, so you don’t ruin your pocket.

Here the knife is just 4.47 inches when closed, with the handle measuring just 0.44 inches thick. The blade is 3.4 inches long, and opening the knife gives you a total length of 7.87 inches. The knife doesn’t weigh much at all at just 2.65 ounces or about 75 grams. There are plenty of wristwatches that are heavier.

You open this manually and smoothly, with the Axis locking mechanism allowing for secure deployment of the blade. The reverse tanto blade style is quite versatile, and it’s easy enough to control where the blade goes. The tip is beefy, which helps with prying.

All in all, this is an EDC knife with a simple design that you can use just about anywhere and for anything.

Pros
  • Proven knife design
  • Opens smoothly even if you’re left-handed
  • The light texture of the G10 handle offers a secure grip without messing your pocket
  • It’s so lightweight you don’t even notice it
  • Sharp right out of the box
Cons
  • There are lots of clones around, so be careful to get the real thing

#2: Kershaw Blur S30V Folding Pocket Knife

Quick Specification
  • Blade Length: 3.4 in. (8.6 cm)
  • Blade Material: CPM S30V
  • Blade Finish/Coating: Stonewashed finish
  • Blade Thickness: 0.121 in. (3 mm)
  • Closed Length: 4.5 in. (11.4 cm)
  • Handle Material: 6061-T6 aluminum, Trac-Tec inserts
  • Handle Finish/Coating: Black anodized
  • Handle Thickness: 0.47 in. (12 mm)
  • Overall Length: 7.9 in. (20 cm)
  • Weight: 4.0 oz. (113.4 g)

This is another EDC knife with a lot of fans, especially with the use of the S30V for the blade. The handle is 4½ inches long and less than half an inch thick. It’s made of aluminum, giving you the strength that you want without the unnecessary weight. The knife itself weighs 3.9 ounces.

The blade measures 3⅜ inches long, and when the knife is open the total length is 7⅞ inches long. You have a plain edge with a stonewash finish, and a drop point blade style. This probably works best for tactical uses, but it’s great for EDC and general-purpose tasks.

The assisted opening mechanism is especially notable. Just use the thumb stud (it’s ambidextrous) to push the blade and the built-in Speed Safe technology inside opens the blade completely. The blade locks into place, and you can fold back the knife when you slide the liner lock.

This also comes with a pocket clip, which lets you carry the knife with the blade tip either up or down. It’s also reversible enough to let you choose on which side the knife carries.

Pros
  • High performance for EDC, camping, and tactical
  • Lightweight and discreet
  • Easy to open
  • Secure deployment and grip
Cons
  • It looks too functional (without any fanfare)
  • In a few cases, the edge may need to be sharpened first

#3: Benchmade – Griptilian 551 Knife

Quick Specification
  • Blade Steel: S30V (58-60 HRC)
  • Blade Length: 3.45″ (8.76cm)
  • Blade Thickness: 0.115″ (2.921mm)
  • Open Length: 8.07″ (20.50cm)
  • Closed Length: 4.62″ (11.73cm)
  • Handle Thickness: 0.64″ (16.256mm)
  • Weight: 3.88oz. (110.00g)
  • Handle Material: Nylon

This is a plain, drop-point blade that comes with coated finish and a black nylon handle. It’s meant for EDC and outdoor activities, though it can also be useful for tactical situations. The handle comes with a lanyard hole, though you also get a standard clip for a reversible tip-up position.

When closed, the handle measures just 4.62 inches long and about ⅔ of an inch thick. The knife extends to a total length of 8.07 inches when open, with the blade measuring 3.45 inches long and 0.115 inches thin. The knife doesn’t weigh much at only 3.88 ounces (about 110 grams).

With the Griptilian design, you get an all-around knife that’s good for just about any situation. It’s very lightweight, and with the handle grip it feels great in your hand when you’re holding and using the knife. This also comes with the Axis locking mechanism for secure deployment. You’re even able to open and close the knife with just a single hand.

Pros
  • Good for everything, like EDC, outdoor stuff, and tactical
  • Solid but not heavy
  • Secure grip
  • Locking blade
  • Opens and closes with one hand
  • Designed for lifetime use
Cons
  • There’s a clip, but limited to right pocket carry

#4: Spyderco Manix 2 Signature Folding Knife

Quick Specification
  • Overall Length: 8.03 ” (204mm)
  • Blade Length: 3.37 ” (86mm)
  • Steel: CPM S30V
  • Closed Length: 4.66 ” (118mm)
  • Edge Length: 2.88 ” (73mm)
  • Weight: 4.9oz (139g)
  • Blade Thickness: 0.125 ” (3.0mm)
  • Handle: G-10
  • Origin: United States

We went with the tactical G10 handle with this model, which is perfect for EDC. It comes with an ambidextrous design along with a drop-point blade. It’s ready for just about anything, though it’s not exactly “pretty”.

Its beauty is in its astounding usefulness, and at this it’s world-class. The plain edge with the full-flat grind will cut just about anything you’d normally encounter.

The handle has a nonslip checked texture, which feels comfy to hold. You have the large “Round Hole” for an easy opening, using either hand. The handle measures 4⅝ inches when closed, and blade extends to a full 8 inches when open.

The blade itself is 3⅜ inches long, and about 0.13 inches thin. The ball-bearing lock secures the blade when it’s open, and it also works as a detent to keep the blade in the closed position.

Once it’s open, the broad blade offers terrific cutting power. The full-flat grind minimizes the drag when you’re cutting, and also reduces the overall weight of the knife

The clip is also terrific, as it’s a reversible hourglass clip. You’re able to carry this on your left or right side, with the tip up. It weighs 5 ounces, so it’s lightweight but still reassuringly solid

Pros
  • Very versatile
  • Easy to carry
  • Allows for easy opening with either hand
  • Secure blade position when open or closed
  • Comfy handle
Cons
  • No tip-down carry

#5: Buck Knives 722 Spitfire Locking Folding Knife

Quick Specification
  • Blade Length: 3 1/4″ (8.3 cm)
  • Weight: 3.2 oz. (91.1 g)
  • Handle Material: Aluminum
  • Blade Material: Alloy Steel
  • Origin: Made in the USA

This time, we went with the nice blue aluminum handle, thigh you can opt for the red aluminum or white Cerakote option. Whichever you choose, you can at least be happy you’re not paying a lot—they all come with 2-digit prices.

This is designed for everyday carry, but with the blade made with S30V steel, this just became a lot more versatile. The traditional material is 420HC steel, but the S30V is undoubtedly superior especially with the BOS heat treatment.

The drop-point blade measures 3.25 inches long, while the handle measures 4.25 inches long. The whole knife weighs just 3.2 ounces (or 91.1 grams). It helps that the handle is made with aluminum, combining strength without the weight. The aluminum does get slick when wet, so be careful.

You can open this easily enough, and its Lockback mechanism has a rocker on top of the knife that locks the open blade in place. You’ll need 2 hands to close this, though, while you push down on the rocker to release the blade for closing.

Pros
  • Very affordable for an S30V knife and terrific value for money
  • Opens easily enough
  • Lightweight
Cons
  • Less secure grip with wet handle
  • Needs 2 hands to close

 

Conclusion

It’s hard to argue against the experts (along with numerous fans among owners) who regard the CPM S30V steel is simply the best steel around. It’s very versatile as you can for many types of knives, whether for EDC, the outdoors, or even in the kitchen.

It offers a fantastic combination of features that you need in a knife, and it doesn’t have any glaring drawbacks as well. It offers efficient cutting performance with great edge retention and wear resistance, while you still enjoy good corrosion resistance and toughness. It’s even relatively affordable compared to the super steels.

If you’re thinking about getting an EDC knife that you can still use outdoors, then the CPM S30V is a fantastic choice for the money.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does S30V steel rust?

It can, but not if you take care of the blade properly. The S30V is a type of stainless steel, so it’s not as if it will rust easily. But if you get it wet regularly without wiping it down, then eventually you will end up with rusting issues.

You also don’t want to use this in saltwater. The high salinity damages the protective layer against corrosion.

Does S30V steel chip?

That depends on the thickness and design of the blade, and whether you use the CPM S30V knife properly. You have to remember that it offers decent toughness for its hardness, but many manufacturers of CPM S30V knives still warn about using the knife for prying and other tasks that may result in chipping.

Is S30V a super steel?

That depends on you define the term super steel. In a very technical sense, it’s not a super steel. The term is reserved for notoriously hard steels that also offer decent toughness and corrosion resistance. Generally, the super steels are harder than the CPM S30V.

Yet many consider the CPM S30V a super steel because it’s really that good. You get terrific hardness with corrosion resistance, and good toughness as well. Add the fact that it’s easier to sharpen than the super steels (and it’s not as expensive), and some even consider the CPM S30V a superior alternative.

Is S30V steel hard to sharpen?

That depends on your perspective. If you’re a beginner when it comes to sharpening, then it can be quite difficult. You will need diamond stones or silicon carbide stones, or else it will take you a very long time to get that edge to sharpen up.

Even with the right equipment, if you’re a beginner then you may end up ruining the blade if you don’t know what you’re doing. You’re better off practicing your sharpening technique with softer blades that don’t cost as much as the CPM S30V.

On the other hand, the CPM S30V is much easier to sharpen than the other “super-steels”. With this steel, it takes a shorter time and you won’t feel as frustrated.

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