Sandvik 12C27 Knife Steel Review

We recently reviewed the 12C27-equipped CJRB Ria. It’s a budget pocket knife that, frankly, didn’t do as well as I hoped it would in edge sharpness and retention testing. But that doesn’t mean that 12C27 stainless is a bad knife steel. When properly heat-treated and ground, I think it’s still capable of providing an affordable but effective cutter. Let’s review what, exactly, Sandvik 12C27 is, though, so we can get a better idea of how it should be used.

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What is Sandvik 12C27?

Like the popular 14C28N stainless alloy, 12C27 is made by Sandvik AB, a Swedish company that manufactures specialty alloys for industries ranging from mining and drilling to aerospace machining. Compared to 14C28N, 12C27 is a budget-friendly stainless aimed at the entry-level knife market.

12C27 Steel Composition

  • Carbon: 0.6%
  • Chromium: 13.5%
  • Manganese: 0.4%
  • Silicon: 0.4%
  • Phosphorus: 0.03%
  • Sulfur: 0.03%

12C27 steel has a modest amount of carbon, which yields moderate edge retention without risking brittleness. This is a budget steel, after all, so that makes sense: Lower carbon content means less edge retention, but greater resiliency with more frequent sharpening required. That checks out for any budget knife you’re not afraid to use and abuse (like I did with the CJRB Ria).

Fun fact: 12C27 is a popular steel when it comes to making ice skate blades and ice drills. Because of its balanced carbide composition, this alloy resists cracking or chipping in cold conditions, while providing enough hardness and edge-holding ability to cut through ice.

12C27 Properties and Performance

With 13.5% Chromium in its composition, 12C27 is comfortably placed in the lower-middle half of the pack when it comes to measuring stainless steel. Any steel needs at least 10.5% Chromium to be considered stainless, but 13% or more is ideal for high corrosion resistance, good wear resistance, and adequate carbide formation.

Having 0.4% Manganese and Silicon aids in the steel’s hardenability and strength, making any 12C27 blade capable of balance flex and edge retention. The inclusion of 0.03% sulfur aids in keeping 12C27-forged blades affordable: Sulfur increases the machinability of steel, allowing for easier cutting and grinding on the factory floor.

12C27 Edge Retention and Sharpness

I’m hesitant to discuss the sharpness and edge retention I was able to record in testing a Sandvik 12C27 blade: During my review of the CJRB Ria, I found it afforded decent sharpness at 196g (it ranked 12th out of 19 knives) with 69% edge retention (ranking 13th out of 19).

These figures aren’t terrible, but they certainly aren’t great. However, given the advertised hardness and carbide content of 12C27 — it measures 57 to 59 HRC when hardened — I think its mediocre sharpness and edge retention can be chalked up to cheap manufacturing on the part of CJRB Cutlery. I found the grind and finish on the blade was incredibly basic, and I imagine the heat treatment didn’t receive much attention.

Although I haven’t written the review, I know 12C27 can perform admirably: I own a Bear & Son Bowie with a Sandvik blade, and it can shave hairs when sharpened, while also being able to chop wood for the campfire without risking a rolled edge or quick dulling.

12C27 vs 14C28N

Sandvik’s 14C28N is essentially an upgraded version of 12C27: It has a higher Chromium content (14%), more carbon (0.62%), and the inclusion of Phosphorous (0.025%) and Nitrogen (0.11%). Like 12C27, 14C28N also retains some Sulfur (0.01%), more Manganese (0.6%), and slightly less Silicon (0.2%).

Thanks to its higher carbon and carbide content, 14C28N can achieve higher hardness ratings when heat-treated (up to 62 HRC) with average hardness ratings of 58 to 60 HRC compared to 12C27’s 57 to 59 HRC. 14C28N will typically provide better sharpness and edge retention than 12C27, without sacrificing strength and resiliency.

12C27 vs 154CM

Folks like to compare 12C27 to 154CM, but I don’t think they’re so comparable: The latter has nearly twice as much carbon (1.05%), often more Chromium (14%) and 0.4% Vanadium. Its higher carbon content and greater carbide formation mean 154CM will provide a harder, sharper edge that sacrifices some toughness and resiliency. A 154CM blade can easily be hardened up to 58 to 62 HRC, with an average of 60 HRC.

Where 12C27 can perform as well in a fixed blade made for heavy striking and abuse, 154CM is an alloy intended for sharper, more delicate cuts in a smaller blade that yields greater edge retention. Think of kitchen cutlery, EDC knives, and smaller folding knives.

Who’s 12C27 For? Knife Recommendations

Like I mentioned, any 12C27 blade will be capable of functioning in a larger tactical knife or fixed blade. Sandvik designed this alloy for repeat use and abuse, with a focus on value and strength. That’s not to say you can’t hone a razor’s edge on a 12C27 blade, though — this alloy was originally made by Sandvik for use in straight razors, before they introduced 14C28N. That makes it well suited for EDC pocket knives and fishing knives without breaking your budget.

Bear & Son 12″ Gold Rush Bowie

I enjoy my Bear & Sons Bowie quite a lot. It’s a beautiful clip point blade inspired by the O.G. Bowie knife, and its gold guard and Cocobola handle fitted with brass pins looks classy as Hell. It holds a good edge in the backcountry, where thick rope and firewood often need cutting and batoning.

Morakniv Kansbol Fixed Blade

Morakniv, a Swedish knife company, relies on this steel to make their highly regarded Kansbol Fixed Blade. It’s a sweet little tactical knife measuring about 9″. It sports a rubberized polymer handle and durable Scandi grind on its 12C27 blade.

CKRT “Ken Onion” Stylus Pen Knife

This slick pen knife is one of the nicest EDC blades I’ve come across in awhile, and it’s priced well at $70. A subtle flat grind and drop point make up the spring-assisted 12C27 flipper blade. A spiny aluminum handle with a sweet, Salmon-colored anodized finish and polished stainless belt clip provide grip and stowage. Knife maker Ken Onion was inducted into the Blade Magazine Hall of Fame back in 2008 — he’s the youngest ever inductee — so it’s little surprise his budget-friendly Stylus pocket knife looks so damn good.

(I can’t recommend the CJRB Ria)

In my review of the CJRB Ria, I point out why I just don’t think it’s worth the $35 to $55 price range. Its 12C27 blade was apparently not heat-treated or ground properly, as it performed relatively poorly during testing. It still makes a decent box cutter and around-the-house knife that I occasionally grab from the kitchen junk drawer, but there’s a better options (see above) if you want a small 12C27-bladed folder with some style.