S30V is significant to the knife world. It spurred the widespread use of CPM (Crucible Particle Metallurgy) steels in bladesmithing. These powdered steels were developed in 1970, and they’re superior to steels formed from poured ingots.
S30V Steel: Brief History
It wasn’t until 2001 that CPM steel would be widely adopted by the knife industry. This was thanks to the famous knifemaker Chris Reeve, who goaded Crucible Industries into developing CPM-S30V for knifemaking. At the time, Reeve was using an aerospace stainless steel, BG42, to make his knives.
Dick Barber, then-metallurgist for Crucible, asked Reeve why he wasn’t using Crucible’s products. Reeve replied that he would use the company’s steel when they made an alloy superior in toughness and edge retention to BG42. Barber pursued extensive feedback from other prominent knifemakers, seeking to create what Buck Knives would later call “the absolute best blade steel available.” Barber provided Reeve with this new powdered steel for testing, and S30V was born.
CPM-S30V Steel Composition
- Carbon: 1.45%
- Chromium: 14.0%
- Molybdenum: 2.0%
- Vanadium: 4.0%
S30V’s composition is deceptively simple. It contains just four of the more than one dozen elements found in blade steels. But its minimalist composition — and, importantly, how it’s made — is what makes this CPM stainless steel such a high performer. Its high amount of vanadium produces S30V’s very fine grain structure. Vanadium also provides the cutting edge with harder, more abrasion-resistant carbides than other elements.
The high amount of molybdenum in the steel promotes weldability and strength at high temperatures — both critical attributes demanded by S30V’s manufacturing process.
How S30V (and Other CPM Steel) is Made
S30V’s tight, uniform grain structure comes from how it’s made. CPM steel is at first made like any other steel: Raw iron ore, carbon, and other elements are smelted in a furnace and poured into molds to produce ingots. But this process alone allows the elements in the steel to segregate and create non-uniform structures.
CPM steel addresses this non-uniformity through refinement. Its ingots are melted a second time, then blasted through small nozzles using highly pressurized gas. As the liquid metal droplets exit the nozzle, they rapidly cool to form a fine powder. This powder is heated a third time to forging temperatures, where it is poured and pressed again into solid ingots.
The Advantage of CPM-S30V Steel
This powdered refinement causes the carbides in CPM steel to become smaller, spherical in shape, and more evenly distributed in the grain structure. This creates a stronger steel that simultaneously provides harder, longer-wearing cutting edges while also yielding tougher, more flexible blades than conventional ingot steels.
This is why S30V steel is significant. It’s a blade steel made to overcome the great compromise in knifemaking: Forging a hard, sharp edge creates a weaker blade while forging a soft, strong blade creates a poorer cutting edge.
S30V Edge Retention
Chris Reeve demanded a steel that made tough blades with high edge retention. S30V does, indeed, deliver. Of 45 steels subjected to CATRA edge testing, S30V came in 14th, beating S45VN and S35VN.
It even beat Elmax, an exotic, harder super steel containing 1.7% carbon, 18% chromium, and 3% vanadium. For its excellent cutting performance, S30V knives are more affordable than many of the steels it beat.
S30V Steel Hardness
CPM steels typically require very high heat for proper quenching and hardening. Crucible Industries made S30V easier to harden by including large amounts of molybdenum. S30V can be hardened up to 64 HRC, but knives made from this alloy are typically hardened to between 58 and 61 HRC. This places S30V in the middle of the pack when compared to the hardness of other common knife steels, affording a good balance of edge retention and toughness.
S30V Corrosion Resistance
This CPM steel contains high mounts of chromium (14%), classifying it as a stainless steel. S30V resists rust and corrosion well, making it an excellent blade steel for wet weather, maritime environments, and humid conditions. Because of its finer grain structure and evenly distributed carbides, S30V provides better corrosion resistance than other stainless steels that also contain 14% chromium (like 14C28N).
S30V vs. S90V
S90V is an exotic CPM steel. Many call it a “super steel.” For the sake of edge retention and sharpness, S90V is superior to S30V and most other knife steels. But, for the practical knife user, I believe S30V is a better choice. S90V is an ultra-high-carbon steel, containing 2.3% carbon. It also contains 9% vanadium, which is extreme.
Because of its unique composition, S90V blades are incredibly hard-wearing, but they’re also just as difficult to re-sharpen. With such high amounts of carbon and carbides, S90V blades are prone to chipping with regular use. This steel is also incredibly expensive. The “cheapest” S90V knives cost $250 to $300, while many more fetch $500 to $750.
S30V is capable of being honed to obtain a very sharp, long-wearing edge, and it’s a tougher, more flexible steel than S90V. S30V knives are more affordable and easier to sharpen, and they can take more abuse. With basic edge maintenance every few weeks, an “EDC” S30V knife will outperform an S90V knife. S90V blades are best left to delicate cutting work in the kitchen.
S30V vs. S35VN
S35VN is may look superior to S30V on paper. But, as we saw in testing, the latter can hold an edge longer — by 8%, to be precise. Like S30V, the S35VN alloy is a CPM steel developed by Crucible Industries in partnership with Chris Reeve.
Both steels are typically hardened to 58 to 61 HRC, and they have similar compositions. S35VN contains 1.4% carbon (0.05% less than S30V), 14% chromium, 3% vanadium (1% less than S30V), and 2% molybdenum. It also contains 0.5% niobium.
By slightly reducing its carbon and vanadium content and adding niobium, S35VN is made to provide better blade toughness and resistance to chipping. In testing, S35VN was found to handle 2 ft. lbs. more impact energy than S30V without suffering edge damage.
In spite of its higher toughness and resilience, S35VN still affords good edge retention, though S30V beats it. Because it contains fewer vanadium carbides, its edge can be more easily honed with typical whetstones.
S30V vs. D2
S30V is superior to D2 steel. D2 is similar to S30V in hardness (typically 57 to 60 HRC) and it may contain more carbon (1.4% to 1.6%), but it has poorer edge retention. In testing, S30V held an edge about 13% longer and its more uniform, finer grain structure means this CPM steel will provide better sharpness and toughness than D2.
Both steels are stainless, and both contain 14% chromium to provide good corrosion resistance. D2 steel is more affordable than S30V, so knives fashioned from it are invariably cheaper. Most S30V blades cost between $130 and $250, while the average D2 blade costs between $40 and $80.
S30V vs. 154CM
154CM is a tougher, more flexible, and more corrosion-resistant stainless steel than S30V. But S30V provides noticeably better edge retention and sharpness potential. 154CM contains 1.05% carbon (0.4% less than S30V) and 4% molybdenum (2% more than S30V), but it contains no vanadium.
This reduces its ability to hold an edge but increases its strength and ease of sharpening. To compensate for its modest carbon and carbide content, 154CM steel is heat-treated to obtain higher hardness ratings; typically to between 60 and 61 HRC.
154CM knives are priced similar to S30V, but they’re made for heavier-duty cutting tasks. This steel’s better suited for fixed blades, camp knives, and tactical knives, while S30V is a better steel for small blades and folding EDC knives.
Best S30V Knives: Our Picks
S30V blades are perfect for the daily-carry knife owner who wants a long-wearing but flexible blade that requires infrequent sharpening. Here are our top picks for knives that use this CPM steel.
Zero Tolerance 0350TS
Zero Tolerance makes beautifully machined knives, and that’s a good thing — S30V isn’t an easy steel to work with. But the 0350TS delivers with a slick, black-and-gray tiger stripe patterned drop point. This high flat ground blade folds neatly into some wide, comfortable G-10 scales with jimping for the thumb and palm. Aesthetically, this is arguably one of my favorite knives; it gives off strong tiger shark vibes.
Benchmade Griptilian 550-S30V
With its Sheepsfoot profile and knurled nylon handle, the Griptilian from Benchmade takes full advantage of S30V’s long-wearing cutting power. The Griptilian’s made for precise, repeat slicing. Benchmade’s AXIS lock provides an easy, ambidextrous action while the 3.45″ convex blade balances size and weight.
Benchmade 940 Osborne
I’m a huge fan of tantos, and Benchmade’s unique take on this blade profile — they call it a “reverse tanto” — is no exception. The high flat grind is sharp, terminating in a thick spine that provides loads of strength. The stonewashed finish on this blade looks phenomenal. The AXIS lock makes an appearance, providing easy one-handed flipping and solid lock-up. The billet aluminum handle sports some beautiful, deep green anodizing. At just 2.9 ounces, the Osborne looks intimidating, but it’s light enough for comfortable daily carry.
Kershaw Blur 1670S30V
The Kershaw Blur is the epitome of a quality utility blade. A simple but effective drop point shape and high flat grind balance cutting power and strength, and the assisted flipper action is springy and quick. Its anodized aluminum handle includes Trac-Tec inserts, which provide plenty of additional grip. The pocket clip’s reversible, allowing for tip-up or -down carry. Like our other picks above, the Blur’s S30V blade sports a stonewashed finish that’ll wear in well with daily use.
Buck 110 Hunter Sport
You can teach an old dog new tricks. Buck Knives took their classic 110 Hunter and gave it some new accoutrements, including a quality hollow-ground, clip point S30V blade. The Hunter Sport’s “O.D. Canvas” Micarta scales cover a black anodized aluminum frame, which houses Buck Knives’ traditional lock back mechanism near the handle’s rear.