There are lots of unique steel grades that are used as knife materials. Many of which were not necessarily meant to be used to create blades but turn out to be excellent choices. The L6 steel is one example that’s gaining quite a bit of attention lately.
Its composition may seem rather simple as it lacks sky-high numbers but it still creates one tough steel that is proven to suit different kinds of purposes. As a result, it can be a good option for some types of cutting implements.
What can the L6 steel offer? Take a look at its details below.
What is L6 Steel?
L6 steel is a low-alloy special purpose steel classified as a tool steel. As such, it has a characteristic hardness as well as resistance to wear and deformation. L6 is the most common and easily available variety among these steel grades.
L6 is also characterized as an oil-hardened steel with a fine-grain structure. It’s best known for its shock resistance as well as its high levels of toughness and strength.
The only drawback is that it used to be quite difficult and time consuming to manufacture. This is why L6 steel knives are not widely available today.
Common Uses of L6 Steel
These are the most common uses of L6 steel:
- Coining, trim, blanking, and embossing dies
- Forming dies and rolls
- Precision gauges
- Feed fingers
- Shear blades
L6 Steel Chemical Composition
What makes the L6 steel interesting is its composition. As mentioned above, it’s not very flashy with surprising numbers but it has a good balance that allowed it to offer unique properties. Its key component? High levels of nickel.
- Nickel, 1.25-2.00%
- Chromium, 0.60-1.20%
- Manganese, 0.25-0.80%
- Carbon, 0.65-0.75%
- Vanadium, 0.20-0.30%
- Silicon, 0.5%
- Molybdenum, 0.5%
- Copper, 0.25%
- Phosphorous, 0.03%
- Sulfur, 0.03%
Nickel, 1.25-2.00%: L6’s high nickel content boosts its toughness and increases its strength.
Chromium, 0.60-1.20%: Being on the low-chromium end of the scale, the L6 steel is not very resistant to corrosion.
Manganese, 0.25-0.80%: This element amps up the hardness of the steel.
Carbon, 0.65-0.75%: Despite the number, the L6 is already within the high-carbon range for steel. This makes it quite hard and resistant to deformation.
Vanadium, 0.20-0.30%: This component further increases the strength and hardness of a steel and helps keep its grain size small.
Silicon, 0.5%: Added as an deoxidizer, silicon also helps in strengthening the steel.
Molybdenum, 0.5%: This boosts the steel’s hardenability and aids in corrosion resistance.
Copper, 0.25%: Helps add to the corrosion-resistant property of the L6 steel.
Phosphorous, 0.03%: Even with just a small amount of phosphorus, it still contributes to the hardness and strength of the steel.
Sulfur, 0.03%: This component improves the machinability of this steel grade.
L6 Steel Hardness
Another interesting thing about the L6 steel is that it can be available in different hardness levels. Some experts put it at 45-62 HRc but other sources say it can go up to 64 HRc depending on the treatment and composition of the specific item.
Because it can get seriously hard, some find it to be difficult to work with. This explains why L6 steel for knife production is not as common as many would like it to be.
Does L6 Steel Rust?
Due to its low chromium content, L6 is not a stainless steel and is quite prone to rusting. It’s great for those who like their blades to develop a charming patina. However, it also means that it requires regular cleaning to prevent damaging corrosion, staining, and rusting.
Properties of L6 Steel
What are the properties of the L6 steel? Here are some of the most notable that makes it a good choice for knives:
The L6 steel is best noted for its great toughness and shock absorption. It specifically creates a bainitic microstructure in its manufacturing guaranteeing a great level of hardness.
This means that it can handle quite a bit of impact before it can fracture and break. It’s a good sign of its durability and dependability, promising users that it can handle some rough use.
As its hardness rating would suggest, the L6 is also a very hard kind of steel. It will definitely handle a lot of friction and abrasion which is why it’s commonly used in making different kinds of tools. It will not easily deform, making it a reliable steel for those who need something that can handle some abuse.
The downside to this property, however, is that it can be quite hard to sharpen and a bit time-consuming to manufacture. While the manufacturing procedure has been improved through the advances in technology, the sharpening can still be a challenge for many.
Since the L6 is a hard kind of steel, it also makes sense that it’s wear-resistant. This means that it can easily handle abrasion and not suffer from material loss in the process. It will stay intact despite regular use.
It has also been mentioned before that the L6 can handle different kinds of treatments which can result in varying hardness levels. It can be hardened quite easily, allowing users to get more versatility from it.
While some say that the L6 doesn’t hold its edge for a very long time, it still has a very decent edge retention. Due to its hardness, it can still hold a nice edge and stay sharp for a good amount of time.
L6 Equivalent Steels or Alternative
Since the L6 isn’t necessarily a very popular steel grade, some might need to compare it with other types to get a full grasp of what it’s like. For these, here are some quick comparisons with a few similar and alternative options.
L6 steel vs T10
Like the L6, the T10 steel is also commonly used for making swords like katanas. This is possibly why the two are often pitted against each other.
They have quite a bit of similarities, though. Both do not have high levels of chromium and other corrosion resistant materials so they need special maintenance to avoid rusting. Both can develop a nice patina over the years, however, which can add some character to knives and swords.
Both materials are also very tough and hard. The T10 actually has a hardness rating of up to 67HRc so it’s harder than the L6. This can be traced to its Tungsten component.
L6 steel vs S7 for a sword
Like the L6, the S7 steel is also a tool steel that is known for its toughness and hardness. So much so that it won’t soften even at moderately high temperatures.
The S7 steel is also noted for its shock resistance. It can handle quite a bit of abuse so it can be a good choice for different kinds of purposes.
Where it doesn’t shine, however, is in wear and abrasion resistance. Despite being very tough, it can wear out faster than other high-hardness steel grades.
It has a higher chromium content than the L6 but it’s still not a stainless steel. Both can still rust when not cared for properly.
L6 steel vs 5160
Similar to the L6, the 5160 is also an oil-hardened steel that’s very tough. Some actually know it as a steel-cutting steel as it’s capable of slicing through other metal products.
While the 5160 has a composition that resembles the L6, it’s also considered as a spring steel as it’s very flexible. It’s tough and hard but it’s also capable of returning to its original form even after it got deformed.
It can be quite difficult to machine and weld like the L6, though, so some might find it hard to work with. But with its affordable price tag, it can still be an attractive steel grade to try out.
L6 steel vs VG10
Those who are looking for a serious steel that can tick all the boxes for convenience, durability, and quality should take a look at the VG-10. This premium Japanese steel is of gold standard – and it’s actually named as such. Its name stands for V Gold 10.
The L6 isn’t exactly a close competitor to the VG10 but the two have a few key similarities. For starters, both are very tough and hard. Both also have high carbon content.
What makes the two very different, however, is the fact that the VG10 is stainless steel. It has 15.5% chromium which makes it very resistant to corrosion and rust. It’s also an expensive steel so it might not be within the price range of everyone looking into the L6.
Is L6 Steel Good for Knives?
Many would agree that the L6 steel is a solid choice for a knife steel. Its toughness makes it a very attractive option.
However, it doesn’t hold its edge for the longest time so it can also require regular sharpening. Those who like to sharpen their tools often and love to get challenged in the process would appreciate this steel.
Most experts find it suitable for making big choppers and swords.
Pros & Cons of L6 Steel
Best L6 Steel Knives
After taking a look at the different features of the L6 steel, it’s now time to get to know the products made from this steel grade. Here are some of the best L6 steel knives and swords that are available today.
#1: CAS Hanwei Oni Katana Sword
- Overall: 44”
- Blade Length: 28 5/8″
- Handle Length: 14”
- Weight: 3lb 6oz
- Thickness at Guard: 0.28″
- Sori: 5/8″
- Blade Steel: L6
- Hrc Edge: 58~60
- Hrc Back: 38~42
- Made by Hanwei.
Starting this list strong is the CAS Hanwei Oni Katana Sword. This popular pick has a lot to offer, starting from a beautiful design and an interesting backstory.
It got its name from the Japanese mythical creatures, oni. They’re often likened to what the west calls demons and trolls as they’re believed to be malicious, cruel, and scary. But as they can be converted to Buddhism, they can also be seen as protective creatures.
From this concept stems the design for the Oni Katana. There are lots of demon details all over the handle so those who like such aesthetics will find this attractive.
Performance-wise, the Oni Katana is praised for its excellent build and construction. It’s well made and its details are nicely finished. The size and shape are balanced properly so it’s easy to handle.
The only drawback is its price tag as this item is an investment piece.
#2: MURASAME Handmade Japanese Katana Sword
- Overall Length: 41 inch/103cm
- Nagasa Length: 28 inch/71 cm
- Handle Length: 10.2 inch/26 cm
- Blade Width(near Habaki)： 1.26 inch / 3.2cm
- Blade Width(near Kissaki)：0.91inch / 2.3cm
- Blade Material: L6 Steel，
For something that’s slightly more affordable, the Murasame Handmade Japanese Katana Sword is an option. This piece is crafted with traditional techniques and specifications, so even those who are on a budget can still get their own katana sword.
An interesting thing about the Murasame brand is that their name is reminiscent of the medieval Japanese blacksmith that is considered as the greatest swordsmith of all time, Masamune. The quality may not necessarily be identical but the modern brand honors the old through its production practices.
What makes this sword special is that it’s pretty much handmade. The blade is also finished and polished by hand by highly skilled craftsmen. The overall construction is also notable, with all the details well-made.
#3: MURASAME Top Handmade Clay Tempered L6 Steel Katana Sword
- Overall Length: 41 inch/103cm
- Nagasa Length: 28 inch/71 cm
- Handle Length: 10.2 inch/26 cm
- Blade Width(near Habaki)：1.26 inch / 3.2cm
- Blade Width(near Kissaki): 0.91inch / 2.3cm
Rounding out the list is another Murasame product, the Murasame Top Handmade Clay Tempered L6 Steel Katana Sword. Like the previous item, this is not an upper-echelon pick but can be deemed as one of the more affordable options in the market.
Like the previous item, this katana is also handmade and made by skilled craftsmen using traditional specifications and techniques. However, this is more battle-ready and is actually made for combat. Those who like to engage in sword fight events might find this a suitable weapon as it meets standard combat requirements.
The L6 steel really has a lot of charms, thanks to its nicely balanced composition. Many will find it to be a good material for their newest knives, especially those who enjoy the upkeep process of non-stainless steel varieties.
Got anything to add to this L6 steel review? Drop a line or two in the comments and let everyone know more about this particular steel grade and the products made with it. Exciting new information is always welcomed.