14C28N Steel Composition & Review

You’ve probably seen Sandvik 14C28N steel listed alongside the specifications for a cheap folding knife or pocket knife. Is it a good knife steel? Let’s break down its chemical composition, strengths and weaknesses, and compare it to other, popular blade steels.

What is Sandvik 14C28N Steel?

This stainless steel is made by the Swiss company of the same name. They make other well-known knife steels, like 12C27 and 13C26. 14C28N is considered an upgraded version of these two other stainless steels, and its made to provide better edge stability. But 14C28N might still be relatively soft, given its modest carbon content. It contains just enough chromium (14%, hence the “14C”) to be considered stainless.

14C28N Composition

  • Carbon: 0.62%
  • Chromium: 14.0%
  • Manganese: 0.6%
  • Nitrogen: 0.11%
  • Silicon: 0.3%
  • Phosphorus: 0.02%
  • Sulfur: 0.01%

At first glance, there’s nothing terribly impressive about Sandvik 14C28N: 0.6% carbon places it in the bottom end of what’s considered a “high carbon” steel, alongside other budget alloys like 440A and AUS6.

It contains no vanadium whatsoever, and it has few other carbides to contribute to performance. But things get interesting with the inclusion of phosphorus, sulfur, and nitrogen.

The former two are considered impurities. But when sulfur is used sparingly and intentionally, it contributes to machinability. Phosphorus adds hardness and corrosion resistance, combining the best qualities of carbon and chromium. And nitrogen is a direct replacement for carbon, increasing a blade’s hardness once heat-treated. That makes this deceptively simple alloy a “nitro steel.”

14C28N Steel Properties

All these inclusions mean that a blade made from Sandvik 14C28N can be more easily forged, cut and sharpened, with better edge retention and corrosion resistance than its relatively low carbon and chromium percentages would suggest.

14C28N Hardness

Because this stainless steel relies more on nonmetallic inclusions than metallic elements, it produces fewer carbides during heat treatment. That means that 14C28N can be heated and quenched to yield a wide range of Rockwell Hardness Ratings (55-62 HRC).

14C28N Edge Retention

The benefit of Sandvik 14C28N’s wide hardness range is that this one steel can be used to make knives with vastly different purposes. If heated to 62 HRC, 14C28N can be used to make affordable kitchen knives and chef’s knives that balance decent edge retention with great corrosion resistance.

But steels that rely on nitrogen instead of more carbon to obtain higher hardness will often lose their edges quicker. Of nearly 50 steels tested for edge retention using the CATRA Automatic Edge Tester, 14C28N placed in the bottom third. For context, though, it only performed about 25% worse than the exotic, high-carbide, ultra-hard Elmax super steel — and the Sandvik steel is a more affordable alloy.

In real-world testing, though, I found surprising and positive results with this steel.

I’m excited to say that after testing the Kershaw Leek’s 14C28N blade (with my own certified edge tester), I found it to have one of the sharpest edges out of the box and, after attempting to dull it, it remained the sharpest of all knives I’ve tested up to that point. You can see that review in detail here.

14C28N Toughness

If treated to just 55 HRC, 14C28N can act as a highly resilient, flexible blade. That means it can be used to forge a blade for, say, a big chopper or even a small hand axe. At this low hardness rating, a 14C28N knife can baton wood and withstand hard strikes without chipping or cracking.

14C28N Wear Resistance

By coupling its wide hardenability with a relatively high manganese content (most steels use up to 1% Mn, this steel has 0.6%), 14C28N can provide good wear resistance regardless of whether its heat-treated to high or low hardness. Because of their comparatively high chromium contents, stainless steels naturally wear better than tool steels and simple carbon steels, too.

14C28N Corrosion Resistance

By using nitrogen to yield higher hardness, Sandvik 14C28N retains high corrosion resistance compared to other stainless steels that might have more carbon and chromium. That’s because the more carbon a steel has, the less effective it is at withstanding surface oxidation.

14C28N Sharpening and Maintenance

Yet again, this cheap-but-unique steel benefits from its nonmetallic inclusions. Fewer carbides always translates into easier, quicker sharpening sessions with a whetstone. Because this steel relies on phosphorus, sulfur, and silicon, it’ll make for simpler maintenance compared to other stainless steels that have higher amounts of carbon and chromium.

14C28N vs D2 Steel

If all other factors are equal — blade shape, edge width and grind angle — D2 steel will hold an edge 20% longer than 14C28N. D2 has nearly three times as much carbon (1.4% to 1.6%), and 14C28N only has 2% more chromium (14% vs 12%). D2 also has 1.1% vanadium, while 14C28N has none. D2 ranges between 57 and 61 HRC, compared to 14C28N’s 55 to 62 HRC. Although 14C28N has the highest achievable hardness, D2 wins as the longer-wearing steel.

But 14C28N has some advantages over D2. It provides greater corrosion resistance. Because it substitutes carbon for nitrogen, it’s far less brittle than D2 and provides better toughness and resiliency. That’s especially true if it’s heat-treated to its lower potential hardness rating.

14C28N vs S30V

S30V significantly outperforms 14C28N when it comes to edge retention. In testing, it held an edge 37% longer. S30V has the same amount of chromium. But, like D2, it has much more carbon and carbides than 14C28N. Its hardness ratings range between 59 and 61 HRC. S30V is also a powdered metallurgy steel, while 14C28N is produced through conventional ingot forging.

Coupled with its high vanadium and molybdenum (4% and 2%, respectively) S30V will simply yield better edge retention. Its finer grain structure means S30V might provide better corrosion resistance than 14C28N, even though both steels contain 14% chromium.

S30V has one drawback, though: Knives made from S30V are more expensive. They average between $130 and $215 at retail. A knife made from 14C28N averages between just $65 and $100.

The CIVIVI Elementum — which I reviewed favorably based on its quality vs. cost — is now available with a 14C28N blade, retailing at around $66.

14C28N vs Nitro-V

Nitro-V is a newer stainless “nitro steel” introduced in 2017. Its chemical composition is quite close to Sandvik 14C28N: 0.68% carbon, 13% chromium, 0.4% silicon, 0.65% manganese and, importantly, 0.11% nitrogen. Nitro-V also includes a minuscule amount of vanadium (0.08%) which, in this writer’s experience, isn’t enough to contribute meaningfully to carbide formation nor edge performance.

When it comes to cutting power, 14C28N wins: It held an edge 14% longer in testing. Since Nitro-V has less chromium, blades made from this steel will have poorer corrosion resistance and edge retention. They also cost about the same as 14C28N blades. Overall, it’s probably best to stick with the latter when it comes to EDC pocket knives and general-purpose cutters.

14C28N vs 8Cr13MoV

8Cr13MoV and 14C28N are closely matched: Both have similar carbon contents (0.6% vs 0.8%) and nearly identical chromium contents (13% to 14.5% vs. 14%). Overall, though, 8Cr13MoV has more carbides in its structure, thanks to inclusions of molybdenum (0.15%), vanadium (0.1%), nickel (0.2%), and comparatively higher percentage of manganese (1% vs. 0.6%) and silicon (1% vs. 0.3%).

Because of its greater carbide density and higher chromium, 8Cr13MoV will wear longer and provide better corrosion resistance. It’s also more likely provide better edge retention. Of course, this is all at the cost of slightly less toughness and flexibility compared to 14C28N.

Good 14C28N Knives: Our Picks

Sandvik 17C28N has a lot going for it: Decent edge retention, good corrosion resistance, toughness, low and high hardness for various applications, ease of sharpening, and cost.

This budget alloy is a good steel for any pocket knife, EDC knife, or fixed blade. It balances cutting power with toughness: Not too soft, not too brittle. Here are some picks for highly rated, affordable 14C28N knives.

CIVIVI Elementum

The “do-it-all” Elementum has become one of CIVIVI’s most popular knives. As mentioned earlier, this affordable 3″ folder provides good cutting performance with surprisingly high-quality accoutrements, given its budget price. The 14C28N Elementum’s available with a stonewashed, drop point blade and liner lock or button lock. Its Micarta handle is clean and comfortable, its action is smooth. CIVIVI finishes their knives with fine honing, resulting in great edge sharpness.

Kershaw Leek

Wharncliffes are cool blades, but they’re hard to come by. The Kershaw Leek provides a sleek profile with a nice, thin edge that’s great for repetitive slicing. Its 14C28N blade folds neatly into some Olive Green billet aluminum scales. Paired with an excellent belt clip, the Leek is a great candidate for your EDC knife.

In my review of the Leek, I found this knife to be perhaps the best EDC knife you can buy for under $100 — that’s how good this Sandvik steel performed for me.

Morakniv Garberg Fixed Blade

The Morakniv Garberg takes full advantage of 14C28N’s toughness and corrosion resistance. This fixed survival knife’s outfitted with a sturdy, stout chopping blade and wide grind that can handle rough work and heavy hits. Its flared polymer handle, sheath, and steel buttcap make the Garberg a capable and affordable backpacking knife at about $76.

Ruike P121-G Folder

If you’re in need of a finely ground cutter with high-precision grip, the P121-G from Ruike is a great choice. This blade’s heat-treted to 58 to 60 HRC, the recommended hardness for general-use pocket knives. It ships only after its blade receives a cryogenic treatment to improve its toughness. Comfortable G10 scales and a high-wear liner lock and bearing make this little folder another great EDC knife for just $35.