Too many knife sites claim that every blade and steel they review is, in some way, a good knife product. I’m here to tell you that 7Cr17MoV, a Chinese steel made to mimic 440 series stainless, is not a knife steel you should spend money on. Here’s why.
7Cr17MoV Steel Composition
- Carbon: 0.65% – 0.70%
- Chromium: 16.4% – 17.1%
- Manganese: 0.40% – 0.80%
- Molybdenum: 0.50% – 0.60%
- Vanadium: 0.10 – 0.30%
- Silicon: 1.00%
- Sulfur: 0.01%
- Phosphorus: 0.02%
- Nickel: 0.40%
7Cr17MoV contains barely enough carbon to be considered a high-carbon steel; 0.60% is the generally accepted minimum. It contains a high amount of chromium, so it’s appropriately classified as a stainless steel. 7Cr17MoV also contains a high amount of silicon, which is something we generally see in “cheap” steels, like 440A, or AUS-6.
Why silicon? It’s cheap, too. It provides an alternative way to obtain higher blade hardness without using more expensive carbide-producing elements like vanadium, nickel, or niobium. 7Cr17MoV includes trace amounts of sulfur and phosphorus, too. This is typically undesirable. Sulfur and phosphorus inclusions can weaken a blade’s grain structure.
The reason for these inclusions is to — yet again — produce a steel that’s easy to machine and harden while spending as little as possible. Two elements that might redeem this steel’s quality are nickel and vanadium, which improve blade toughness. But these elements make up a small percentage of 7Cr17MoV’s composition.
This steel’s Rockwell hardness is one reason you should avoid this steel. It’s typically hardened to between 60 and 63 HRC, which is a level of hardness normally found in high-end stainless and tool steels.
Yet with inclusions in its grain structure, a steel this hard is going to become more brittle. The result is a blade with a delicate cutting edge that’s prone to chipping and suffering damage.
That is why such hardness ratings are left to better steels, like CPM-M4, Maxamet, or S30V. Those steels have properties that reduce brittleness, like particle metallurgy manufacturing, which also promotes blade toughness and flexibility.
Once more, 7Cr17MoV is likely to perform poorly when a blade made from this steel is truly used and abused. Its high hardness and inclusions promote weakness.
This steel is only capable of obtaining real-world toughness when fashioned as a heavy, thick blade with a short, stout edge grind. But such a blade profile sacrifices cutting performance, which leads us to another reason why 7Cr17MoV simply isn’t a good knife steel.
7Cr17MoV Edge Retention
Because of its few carbides, low carbon content, and sulfur and phosphorous inclusions, 7Cr17MoV holds a poorer edge than many other budget stainless steels (like 8Cr13MoV). Its high hardness rating may compensate for its low carbide content to a small degree. But 7Cr17MoV is likely to produce a cutting edge that rolls and dulls quicker than other steels in its price range.
In our guide comparing steel edge retention, we explain why carbide-producing elements are responsible for retaining edge sharpness more reliably than blade hardness alone. This is why 7Cr17MoV lacks cutting performance. The only tradeoff, here, is that this steel will be relatively easy to sharpen.
7Cr17MoV Corrosion Resistance
This is perhaps the only category wherein 7Cr17MoV performs well: Its chromium content places it in the highest tier of stainless steels for corrosion and rust resistance. There are few other stainless alloys that contain more chromium and most are super steels, like Elmax, ZDP-189, or M390.
7Cr17MoV Knife Quality
If metallurgy and the “science” stuff I described above don’t convince you to avoid a knife with a 7Cr17MoV blade, listen here: Every knife you’ll find made with this stuff is incredibly cheap. I’m talking, “definitely too cheap to be worth its weight in shipping.”
Have a quick browse of 7Cr17MoV knives on BladeHQ. What do you see? You’ll almost exclusively see Smith and Wesson’s and Gerber’s cheapest knives. Nearly all of them cost about $20 or less. Take a closer look, and you’ll realize many of these 7Cr17MoV knives are novelties. They have weird blade shapes, or they look like impractical “tacticool” knives that belong at a mall ninja’s favorite kiosk.
Keep in mind, you’re looking at retail prices. How much do you think Gerber or Smith & Wesson spent to make all those $20 knives? Probably $10 or less, and that includes the costs of frames, scales, locks, and shipping.
You simply are not getting a worthwhile blade for that cost. So, what’s a budget-minded knife buyer to do?
Steels I Recommend Instead
The world of blade steels has become incredibly competitive. Knifemakers are producing blades that (mostly) perform above their price. It’s easy to find a knife with a better blade steel at almost the same price as any 7Cr17MoV knife.
7Cr17MoV vs 8Cr13MoV
8Cr13MoV is superior to 7Cr17MoV. It’s a stainless steel with good corrosion resistance, thanks to its 13% to 14.5% chromium content. It has more carbon (0.7% to 0.8%) which yields more carbides, better edge retention, and higher sharpness.
8Cr13MoV is a tough steel, too. It contains more manganese than 7Cr17MoV (1%), which promotes strength and consistent heat treatment. This alloy’s also softer, measuring 58 to 59 HRC. This, too, reduces brittleness.
Yet 8Cr13MoV contains enough carbides to provide a long-wearing cutting edge, which I found when I reviewed the CRKT CEO. At publication, its 8Cr13MoV blade was one of my highest performers, retaining 90% of its edge during testing.
7Cr17MoV vs 440A
440A is also a better steel than 7Cr17MoV. It, too, has a higher carbon content (0.75%), more chromium (18%), and less silicon (0.1%). Its hardness rating of 58 HRC makes blades fashioned 440A less brittle and tougher. Yet its higher carbon and chromium content means it’ll hold an edge better than 7Cr17MoV. It’ll also provide better corrosion resistance because of its higher chromium content.
7Cr17MoV vs D2
I’m surprised to even make the comparison, but folks are asking: D2 steel is wildly superior to 7Cr17MoV. With a carbon content of 1.4% to 1.6% and cobalt (1.0%), vanadium (1.1%), copper (0.25%), nickel (0.3%) and a plethora of other carbides making up its composition, D2 is regarded as one of the best budget knife steels today.
It performed well in edge testing and it’s a tough, resilient tool steel. Although not technically stainless, D2 still provides good corrosion resistance thanks to its moderate (11% to 13%) chromium content.
In fact, D2 is perhaps the second-most popular knife steel today, behind CPM-S35VN. Because of its popularity, D2 knives are plentiful and cheap. I recommend the CIVIVI Elementum (which I reviewed favorably), the Kershaw Emerson CQC-6K, or the CRKT Squid XM.