Elmax is a high-end stainless CPM (Crucible Particle Metallurgy) steel developed by the Austrian steel company Böhler-Uddeholm. Böhler makes specialized alloys for aerospace companies and infrastructure “megaprojects.” So, it’s little surprise that even Böhler’s “simple” knife steel — the company officially calls it Uddeholm Elmax SuperClean — would be a high performer.
Let’s take a look at its chemical composition and break down why it’s one of the higher-ranking stainless steels when it comes to wear resistance, corrosion resistance, and edge retention.
Elmax Steel Chemical Composition
- Carbon: 1.7%. This is a pretty high percentage of carbon, and it provides high strength and hardness.
- Chromium: 18.0%. Most steels max out at 20% chromium, so Elmax is near the high end here, too.
- Manganese: 0.3%. This small amount of Manganese improves heat treatment and quenching, providing high tensile strength.
- Molybdenum: 1.0%. Molybdenum improves carbide formation and increases hardness and toughness.
- Nickel: 0.0%.
- Phosphorus: 0.0%.
- Silicon: 0.8%. Silicon ensures oxygen doesn’t introduce oxides during forging — it is “SuperClean,” after all.
- Sulfur: 0.0%.
- Vanadium: 3.0%. Most “premium” knife steels have at least 3% vanadium. This improves toughness and carbide formation.
Elmax steel’s high amounts of carbon, chromium, molybdenum, and vanadium are what give this alloy its long-wearing edge. Some consider it to be a super steel. With nearly the maximum amount of chromium that any knife steel can contain, Elmax stainless will provide excellent corrosion resistance.
Elmax Steel Hardness Rating
Elmax steel is capable of reaching between 61 and 62 HRC. These hardness ratings place it in the top tier of knife alloys, with only a few other exotic and expensive steels (like ZDP-189, Maxamet, and CPM M4) beating it.
Because of its high hardness, one might expect this stainless steel to be brittle and prone to chipping. That would make it a poor choice of steel for an EDC knife. But because it’s produced through powdered metallurgy, the finished forging maintains an incredibly fine grain structure.
A uniform, tight grain structure with evenly distributed carbides improves a knife blade’s toughness and resiliency, reducing the chances of chipping and damage with heavy use.
Elmax Steel Edge Retention
Elmax performed incredibly well in edge testing. Out of 45 tested steels (all forged to make identical blades), it ranked 31st. Because of its high carbide, carbon, and chromium composition, Elmax stainless will function well when used in a blade that sees a lot of cutting and slicing. It won’t need to be sharpened often and, because of its hardness, it will be a bit easier to hone and maintain with a whetstone compared to other, even harder steels.
Elmax vs M390
M390 is another exotic CPM stainless also made by Böhler-Uddeholm. Compared to Elmax stainless, M390 has higher chromium (20%), carbon (1.9%), and vanadium (4%). It also has 0.6% tungsten in its composition, which adds strength. M390 and Elmax have identical hardness ratings (62 HRC).
In short, M390 is a higher-performing stainless steel with better edge holding ability. But when a blade made from M390 does finally dull, it’ll be more difficult to sharpen and maintain than an Elmax blade. It’s also likely that M390 is a bit more brittle and prone to chipping.
So, is M390 overall better than Elmax? No. Elmax is going to win the resiliency and toughness competition by a hair. It’s still a high-wearing steel that’ll hold an edge for quite awhile, while also being easier to sharpen. In this writer’s personal opinion, that makes it better suited than M390 for use in an “do-it-all” knife that sees some abuse.
Elmax vs S35VN
S35VN is a milder, softer stainless steel than Elmax. It has less carbon (1.3%), chromium (14%), and silicon (0.5%) than Elmax, while maintaining slightly more manganese (0.5%) and the same amount of vanadium (3%). S35VN is also a CPM steel, so it relies on a fine grain structure and uniform carbides to yield high toughness and strength.
Overall, S35VN is going to wear a bit faster than Elmax. Its lower chromium content means it offers less corrosion resistance, too. Its hardness rating (59 to 61 HRC) means its edge will roll and dull faster, but it’ll be a bit easier to sharpen. In testing, Elmax held its edge about 7% longer than S35VN. The tradeoff is that blades forged from S35VN are slightly more affordable — but not by much.
Elmax vs S30V
S30V, which is also a CPM stainless steel, comes incredibly close to Elmax’s performance. In fact, S30V may be a better steel for EDC knives: It has 1.45% carbon, 14% chromium, 2% molybdenum, 4% vanadium, and 0.5% silicon — plenty of carbides for high wear. S30V knives are also more affordable.
S30V obtains between 59 and 61 Rockwell Hardness. So, it can just about match Elmax. Its high carbon and vanadium content (and its powdered metallurgy) mean it’ll hold an edge well, too. In testing, S30V actually held its edge 1.8% longer than Elmax.
Because it has slightly less carbon and fewer carbides than Elmax, S30V may be a more resilient and flexible steel. S30V’s drawback is that its lower chromium content means it’s more prone to corrosion in humid and wet environments.
Elmax vs S90V
S90V is an exotic powder metallurgy stainless steel and, when it comes to edge holding, it’ll outperform Elmax with ease. Its incredibly high carbon (2.3%) and vanadium (9%) yield arguably the best cutting performance you’ll find in any knife. In testing, S90V held its edge 40% longer than Elmax, and nearly won against all other tested steels (it ranked 5th overall).
But this does come with some drawbacks: S90V is very expensive, notoriously difficult to sharpen, and it’s noticeably more brittle. It has less chromium (14%), which means less corrosion resistance. Elmax is overall a more balanced steel for everyday use.
S90V’s exotic nature means it’s a better blade steel when holding an edge matters most — like performing as an ultra-sharp sushi knife or Japanese kitchen knife.
The Best Elmax Steel Knives
Zero Tolerance Hinderer (0560BLK)
Although sadly discontinued, the Hinderer from Zero Tolerance is one helluva knife. Its black Elmax blade sports a simple but effective drop point profile and fine grind. Its Micarta handle is comfortable, with plenty of jimping and grooves to give a reliable, controlled grip.
If you keep on the lookout, you may be able to score one of these liner lock beauties for under $200.
Microtech LUDT Automatic Knife
When you manage to find it in stock, the Microtech LUDT proves to be another great choice for a top-performing Elmax knife. It’s an automatic side opener with a convenient button lock, so it’s great for one-handed use. A sturdy aluminum handle, lanyard hole, and stainless pocket clip make it an excellent daily-carry choice.
GiantMouse Vox/Anso ACE Grand
The ACE Grand from GiantMouse is billed as the “EDC-friendly” version of their GM5 pocket knife. It’s wide canvas Micarta scales and stout clip point afford plenty of control in a lightweight package. The blade’s stonewashed treatment provides a nice satin finish that’ll develop a great patina over time.
Enzo Trapper 115 Fixed Blade
The Trapper is an excellent fixed blade that ships with a full tang and leather sheath. Its high flat grind takes advantage of Elmax’s high retention, providing a thin bevel that’ll handle plenty of delicate cuts. This game knife has a nice, thick G10 handle with a subtle palm swell and lanyard loop.