What is H1 Steel?

Best H1 Steel KnivesWhat does it mean when your knife uses H1 steel for the blade?

When you buy knives, you usually check out its blade steel to determine the performance of the blade. You want to know how hard the steel gets, so you get a good idea as to its cutting performance, wear resistance, and edge retention.

But you don’t want it too hard, because usually that means it comes with certain drawbacks. Usually, extremely hard steels are more difficult to sharpen and

What is H1 Steel?

H1 steel is famous for one thing—it’s just about rustproof. As in it’s completely invulnerable to corrosion, even with all-day use in saltwater. When you have H1 steel in the blade, it basically means you’re using the knife at the beach or in a fishing boat. Not even saltwater is a problem with it. It simply won’t rust, or even stain.

Common Uses of H1 steel

Basically, this steel is mainly used for knives that are meant to work in very wet conditions. In fact, it’s perfect for saltwater environments. This is why you find H1 steel in:

  • Dive knives
  • Fishing knives
  • Hunting knives
  • Folding EDC knives (for use in humid areas)

H1 Steel Chemical Composition

Let’s check out the recipe for H1 and find out what elements really make it tick:

  • Carbon, 0.15%
  • Chromium, 15%
  • Nickel, 7%
  • Manganese, up to 2% at the most
  • Molybdenum, 1%
  • Silicon, 3.75%
  • Nitrogen, 0.1% at the most

Carbon, 0.15%: Many consider carbon as the most important element in the steel alloy, especially for knives. But here, the carbon is almost like an afterthought. There’s so little carbon here that H1 can’t really be considered a carbon steel at all.

This does help explain the low edge retention performance of H1, though.

Chromium, 15%: This helps to explain the corrosion resistance of the H1 steel, though of course it’s not the only reason. But at this level, it’s enough chromium here to qualify H1 as a stainless steel. In fact, the chromium level could have been higher but this is enough chromium to encourage the martensite formation during cold rolling to boost the hardness of the steel.

Nickel, 7%: This also could’ve been higher, as the nickel also helps with corrosion resistance. But the nickel level was held to 7% to again help with martensite formation. The nickel boosts the hardenability of the steel, and also increases its notch toughness.

Manganese, up to 2% at the most: Normally, this is the second most important element next to carbon. It boosts tensile strength and hardenability, but too much of it can lead to reduced ductility. It also takes out the oxygen and sulfur impurities in the melted steel.

Molybdenum, 1%: This boosts the corrosion resistance as well, and that’s why it’s also added to stainless steels. But it also improves the steel’s creep strength, strength in high temperatures, and hardenability.

Silicon, 3.75%: The silicon is one of the main elements for taking out oxygen bubbles in molten steel. It helps with hardness and strength.

Nitrogen, 0.1% at the most: While the nitrogen does help with corrosion resistance as well, there’s so little of it here that its effect is probably negligible. Mainly, it’s added to improve the hardness of the steel.

H1 Steel Hardness

The H1 steel can be quite hard, which is surprising given how little carbon it contains. With the right preparation, the H1 can reach about 57 or 58 HRC. That offers good cutting performance.

However, there are reports that Spyderco knives with H1 can reach even higher HRC levels, even up to the 60s. There are also unconfirmed reports that the hardness level may even vary between the edge and the spine of the blade. But at least that it’s confirmed that H1 can be this hard and still remain reasonably tough.

Does H1 Steel Rust?

Usually, we tend to preface the answer with the usual warning that all knives—even stainless steel—can rust. But the H1 seems to be the main exception to this rule. While you should wipe it down after use if you can, it’s not really absolutely necessary.

It can deal with saltwater work all day long, even though saltwater tends to eat at the protective layer that even stainless steels have against corrosion. With H1, rust is like a regular person’s punch against Superman.

Properties of H1 Steel

Best N690 steel KnivesHere are the main characteristics of H1 steel:

Complete Invulnerability to Corrosion

It’s not enough to say that it’s corrosion-resistant. In fact, it’s simply rust proof. Forget about staining or rusting of any sort, whether you forget to wipe down the blade. H1 steel just doesn’t rust.

This effect is even possible with saltwater. As you might know, even stainless steels have issues with saltwater. The salinity of the water damages the protective layer that the steel gets from the chromium and other elements that help with corrosion resistance.

But here, it’s not a problem. Use it all day at the beach or on your fishing boat. Keep it underwater for hours at a time, then expose it to the air. That’s nothing.

If you really want to confirm that the H1 steel really doesn’t rust even with saltwater involved, check out this fascinating video testing the Spyderco H1 steel knives.

Good Cutting Performance

This does offer enough hardness that you’ll be satisfied with the cutting performance. It’s great for outdoor use, cutting wood, twigs, and rope.

Poor Edge Retention

This is the main issue with H1 steel. While you can probably last the whole day using it (or even a few days) without sharpening it, it sure gets dull in a hurry. You’ll want to bring your sharpening equipment with you if you’re going out into the bush or in the ocean for more than a few days.

Extremely Easy to Sharpen

At least you don’t need special equipment to sharpen this. In fact, experienced knife owners may just find stones outdoors that can do the job. Or else you can bring along your simple Arkansas stone to do it.

Very Good Toughness

While the edge retention may not be all that good (and that’s putting it mildly), at least you don’t really have to worry about chipping off the steel too much.

H1 Equivalent Steels or Alternative

Best N690 steel KnivesWill H1 really meet your particular needs? See how the H1 steel compares when directly set against somewhat similar steels, to see if you may find other alternatives. Or these comparisons may just conform your initial hypothesis that you need H1 steel and no other.

Here, we will be comparing the classic H1 steel, meaning we won’t use the special Spyderco H1 steel for the comparison.

H1 Steel vs VG10

The VG10 steel is quite popular, because of its impressive balance in performance in all crucial areas. Its edge retention is average, and therefore certainly better than with the H1. However, its toughness doesn’t even come close to H1 either. While the VG10 is reasonably easy to sharpen, you’ll find it easier with the H1.

The VG10 is also great with corrosion resistance, and it offers significantly better than average in this area. But it sure doesn’t approach the H1 corrosion resistance level.

H1 Steel vs LC200N

Okay, the LC200N is a high-end steel that’s almost as good at resisting corrosion as H1. It gets an “A” grade for corrosion resistance, though the H1 still gets the A+.

But the LC200N is also good at all the other crucial areas. It’s reasonably tough and easy to sharpen, though admittedly the H1 also performs better at these areas. But then the LC200N edge retention is much better as well.

Plenty of people who get tired of the constant sharpening of H1 blades tend to shift to the LC200N. After all, it’s almost as good at resisting corrosion as H1, meaning it still beats all the other steels in this aspect. But its edge retention is much more acceptable.

H1 Steel vs S30V

This is another seemingly unfair comparison, when you realize that the S30V steel is one of the premium steels around. In fact, it’s an all-around steel that somehow is the opposite of H1. It scores average for ease of sharpening and toughness, and in these areas the H1 steel wins. The S30V also is quite good at corrosion resistance, though again it simply doesn’t match the H1 performance against rust and staining.

But for edge retention, it’s not even a fair fight. The S30V can hold its edge for weeks and months, and you’ll be lucky if you can use the H1 steel for a few days of heavy duty without the need for sharpening.

Is H1 Steel Good for Knives?

This depends on what kind of knife you’re looking for. If you’re looking for a regular EDC knife or even a kitchen knife, then the H1 steel isn’t exactly ideal. Sure, it will work. But you’ll probably end up sharpening the knife every day.

But if you need a knife for work by the beach or in a saltwater fishing boat, then the H1 steel is just about perfect for your knife. You can also get this for camping or hiking in rainy areas, or even if you live in a humid environment.

Pros & Cons of H1 steel

  • Unbeatable corrosion resistance than not even saltwater can overcome
  • Extremely easy to sharpen
  • Good toughness
  • Poor edge retention leading to more frequent sharpening

Best H1 Steel Knives

Yes, our list is all made by Spyderco, even though Benchmade has some H1 steel knives too. But the Spyderco heat treatment process really improves the heck out of the H1 steel, so that the edge retention isn’t as bad as you’d expect.

At the same time, the H1 steel retains its astounding corrosion resistance even in saltwater. So, don’t be surprised that this is an all-Spyderco list. Here, all the knives are part of the excellent SALT knife series, meaning they’re all meant for work in saltwater environments.

The main drawback of these knives (or even all knives from Spyderco) is that there are lots of fakes around. The Spyderco knives are like Zippo lighters, Rolex watches, and Levi’s jeans—you better buy from reputable sellers if you want to be sure you’re getting the real thing.

#1: Spyderco Dragonfly 2 Lightweight Salt Folding Knife

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Quick Specification
  • Blade Length: 2.25″
  • Closed Length: 3.31″
  • Overall Length: 5.56″
  • Cutting Edge: 1.875″
  • Weight: 1.2 oz. (34 g)
  • Made in Japan

This is a popular folding knife design, and with the H1 steel option you can now use it for the beach. It’s very compact with the FRN handle measuring about 3.3 inches, and when open the whole knife is 5.56 inches long. The blade is 2.25 inches long, with its edge measuring 1.875 inches long.

It’s lightweight as well at only 1.2 ounces. It comes with an ambidextrous pocket clip that lets you carry the knife with the tip up.

With the special shape of the handle and the textured index-finger choil, you sure get a nice, secure grip regardless of your hand size. We went with the yellow handle, so it’s easier to find if we drop it in the water. Opening and closing is easy enough with the famous Round Hole.

  • Lightweight and compact
  • Comes with an ambidextrous pocket clip
  • Offers very secure grip
  • Available in plain or serrated edge
  • Blade length complies with restrictive knife laws
  • Not too many color options
  • Not legal in the UK

#2: Spyderco Ladybug 3 Salt Lightweight Folding Knife

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Quick Specification
  • Closed Length: 2.48 (Inches)
  • Overall Length: 4.41 (Inches)
  • Blade Length: 1.93 (Inches)
  • Item Weight: 16 Grams
  • Blade Shape: Clip Point
  • Blade Edge: Plain
  • Grind: Hollow

Again, we went with the yellow fiberglass reinforced nylon handle. Here the blade is about 1.9 inches long, and when open it’s 4.4 inches long.

It’s really tiny, and extremely lightweight so it’s easy to carry everywhere. It’s basically the same size as your car keys, as it measures less than 2.5 inches when closed. The clip-point blade with the hollow grind can still give you tremendous cutting performance, matching its bigger counterparts.

  • Extremely tiny
  • “Barely there” weight
  • Cuts like a big knife
  • May be too small for a large hand

#3: Spyderco Tasman Salt 2 Lightweight Folding Knife

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Quick Specification
  • Overall Length: 7.16″ (182mm)
  • Blade Length: 2.91″ (74mm)
  • Closed Length: 4.25″ (108mm)
  • Edge Length: 2.50″ (64mm)
  • Weight: 2.1oz (60g)
  • Blade Thickness: 0.098″ (2.5mm)
  • Handle: FRN
  • Origin: Japan

This comes with a hawkbill blade design, meaning you have a sharp downward curve. The sharp edge is on the inner curve for slicing and cutting, though you still have a sharp point for piercing.

That means you use the whole blade length for cutting, so you don’t have to use as much pressure for the task. It’s extremely effective for cutting rope. You simply pull the knife towards you, slicing as you go.

In addition, the point remains sharp even when the edge has dulled. So, you can always pierce what you need to cut, and that may be enough for even a dull edge to cut.

This is again a lightweight folding knife, weighing just 2.1 ounces. It’s not too small though, as it measures 4.25 inches when closed. That’s good if you have a large hand. The blade is 2.9 inches long, and when open the knife is 7.16 inches long.

The FRN handle is again terrific, with good ergonomics and the special nonslip texturing. The pocket clip allows for 4 possible carry positions.

  • Extremely effective for cutting rope
  • Lightweight
  • Good size even for larger hands
  • Pocket clip allows for left or right-side carry, with the tip up or down
  • Not for “push cutting”, like slicing food portions in the kitchen



Ever wonder what Aquaman would use as a knife, if he needed one down there in Atlantis? It would undoubtedly be made with H1 steel, probably from Spyderco. That way, even constantly submerged in saltwater, the H1 steel knife won’t have any issues with rusting or staining. It’ll be pristine no matter what.

This means if you need a knife that can shrug off the challenges of working in wet and humid environments, go for an H1 steel knife. Get one if you’re a fisherman, or if you just work cutting up fish a lot. Heck, just get one for outdoor work if it’s the rainy season.

Sure, the rather pathetic edge retention can be bothersome. But it’s easy enough to sharpen even if the edge has completely dulled. If your knife becomes heavily corroded, then there’s really nothing else you can do, except to just get an H1 steel knife and get the job done right.

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