At Medford Knife & Tool we have done our homework.

We have set our egos and market mythology to the side

in choosing our knife materials.

Don’t be duped by ads, stories and forums. We believe that modern D2 is the best bang for the buck in high-end knives. It can do almost everything as well as almost everyone needs. For mandatory true stainless specs we use S35VN, as it is outstanding at everything knives must do. When ultimate strength is required, with no care for corrosion, we use CPM 3V. For any given tool a variety of steels will often suffice. Many steel choices can be adequate and a very few are ideal. Interestingly, “ideal” is often nuanced and as much opinion as fact. Knives need the proper blend of hardness, toughness, and abrasion resistance. These three traits are like a 3 position teeter totter. Greatly increase any and the others pay the price. There is NOTHING free in knife making. Amazing hardness gets you a blade that tends to be brittle and may ultimately be un-sharpenable by the end user. Stain resistance may preclude great hardness and ultimate toughness may sacrifice corrosion resistance such as with 3V.


There are mostly gimmicks out there but a few basic principles can determine which steel might be ideal for your knife.

  1. What is the intended use of the knife?
  2. In what environment are you most likely to use the knife?
  3. If there is a steel trait concern such as corrosion resistance, can it be addressed by an additional manufacturing process, such as coating?
  4. How hard do you really use your knives?
  5. How much are you willing to pay?

The older, more rust prone steels like O-1, A-2, and 1095 make great knives, are very cost efficient, but require maintenance and will absolutely rust without attention. In the land warfare or land sporting category, all but the most schooled users can’t tell the difference in their performance from steels five times as expensive. Many times these days with performance coatings the great weaknesses of the more rust prone steels can be all but erased.

D-2, ATS-34, CPM 154 are all reasonably priced and perform well in the cross-over world of “really good at everything, but not the best at anything.” D-2 is a nearly stainless high carbon steel that microscopically makes a spectacular edge and is very cost efficient. For glitzy polish knives it just plain stinks though. The same chromium carbides that give it a wicked edge and stain resistance also make it “orange peel” when polished. ATS34 and CPM154 polish extremely well, are stain resistant and hold up very well in general hunting and pocket knife applications.

3V, CPM S30V, and CPM S35VN are all extremely expensive and perform as follows: 3V rivals M7 for toughness, but is corrosion prone, S30V and S35VN are technically different steels but I challenge any person on earth the tell the difference in the final product. S30V was a response to 3V, to improve stain resistance, and S35VN is a response to S30V, to improve machining and grinding characteristics. Overall S35VN has an unsurpassed combination of hardness, toughness, and abrasion/stain resistance, but is exceedingly expensive.