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In the world of carbon steel, 440C has a history of 20 years when it comes to making knives. Big brands such as Buck and Benchmade have been using it to make popular knives.
Indeed, there was a time when most people regarded 440C knife steel as an ideal choice. This was because, during those times, you would typically find these knives among the best US-made tools. There was just no other better option.
What is 440C Steel?
Belonging to the 440 series, 440C refers to a high-carbon martensitic type of stainless steel. In this series, it is currently the steel with the highest carbon content. Thus, it comes with the highest levels of hardness, strength, and resistance to wear compared to its siblings.
It is upper mid-range steel in this series that is used for making mid-range as well as budget knives. Still, it is more widely used to make pricey knives.
All the steel variants in this series are hard due to the good carbon amount and are widely used. Furthermore, due to enough chromium, they are all considered stainless steel. Due to the best blend of chromium and carbon, experts tag 440C as the best steel in the series.
Just because there are more modern steel options, it does not mean that the steel is a cheap in terms of performance. It is still recognized as a good all-around option for its versatility. It is used in making a variety of cutlery and knives such as kitchen, survival, and EDC. In addition, it is used in several industrial appliances and fine custom knives made by hand.
It has a high mix of both carbon and chromium. Following are the various elements of which this steel is made up:
- 17% chromium for better tensile strength, resistance to corrosion as well as wear, and retention of sharpness
- 1.1% carbon for enhanced hardness, durability, as well as resistance to wear and corrosion
- 0.8% manganese for improved hardness and sharpness retention
- 0.7% molybdenum for better strength as well as manufacturing ability (machinability)
- 0.5% silicon for better strength and toughness
- 0.2% phosphorus for better strength
- 0.02% sulfur for easier processing while manufacturing
Because of the high carbon content, 440C is carbon steel. This means it is certainly not a soft option. However, at the same time, it is not as hard as modern steel variants. The hardness rating is between 58 and 60 HRC. This is considered hard for making blades. This range also makes this steel the hardest in the 440 series because of its higher chromium and carbon content.
This is usually the hardness range of the steel variants that brands use to make pocket knives of higher quality. The same hardness level is also found in the steel of Japanese kitchen knife blades, which are typically harder than the professional equivalents made in France and Germany.
Usually, too much hardness means lower toughness. However, toughness is not an issue with this steel, as it will not likely chip easily if the knife is made well.
440C Stainless Steel Properties
The chemical composition of this steel governs its properties. Following are its most significant properties that you can expect:
- Decent Toughness: As hard steel, 440C is not that tough. This is because both hardness and toughness cannot be high simultaneously. Instead, it is decently tough due to its high molybdenum content. As a result, its blades can easily resist the impact of lateral forces and shock. In other words, they can endure tough outdoor use.
- Excellent Edge Retention: This ability is directly proportional to the hardness level. Due to the high hardness, 440C steel has a great ability to retain a sharp edge. Usually, a steel variant of high carbon typically has great edge retention. This means you can rely on your 440C stainless steel knife for a prolonged period without any risk of it getting dull. This is a plus point as compared to most Chinese steel knives.
- Excellent Corrosion Resistance: Due to its high chromium content, this steel can keep rust, stains, and corrosion at bay even in a wet surroundings. The other benefit is minimal care and maintenance to prevent rust and corrosion.
- Excellent Wear Resistance: This is another benefit you get from 440C steel. You can expect its blade to last long without any signs of wear. It is tough to find other stainless steel with higher resistance to wear.
- Polish Finish Look: This steel can reflect a great mirror polish, giving your blades a great look. Such blades are also easier to clean.
- Sharpness: As 440C is a hard type of steel, sharpening its blade may not be a simple job. However, you can give it a super-sharp edge by using one of the more advanced sharpening techniques. Fortunately, this steel sustains its sharpness for a long time, so you need not sharpen it every time before use.
440C vs. Other Knife Steel Options
440C vs. D2
D2 is a premium steel variant known for its super hardness level. Thus, it has a better ability to retain a sharp edge for a longer time. However, it is not as easy to sharpen a D2 edge as a 440C one. Therefore, it is essential to be an expert in sharpening an edge made using D2 steel.
On the other hand, 440C is more resistant to corrosion and rust than D2, in which chromium is present but not in enough quantity to make it a type of stainless steel.
440C vs. 440A
Both steel variants belong to the 440 series. However, 440A belongs to the lower mid-range group, while 440C belongs to the upper mid-range category. While 440A is more resistant to corrosion, it does not retain a sharp edge for long. This means you cannot rely on it in the bush, as you will have to sharpen it often. It is easier to sharpen a 440A edge.
440C vs. 420HC
The latter is known to provide the same level of corrosion resistance ability along with close competition in terms of toughness and edge retention.
440C vs. 12C27
The all-around Sandvik 12C27 stainless steel has a good hardness level that delivers excellent resistance to wear and decent resistance to corrosion. However, it is not as hard as 440C due to less carbon content. So, the ability to resist corrosion is not that great.
440C vs. AUS8
Both are upper mid-range steel variants. AUS8 has a lower ability to resist corrosion and is not as hard as 440C. This means it holds its edge for a longer time. However, AUS 8 is certainly easier to sharpen.
440C vs. S30V
S30V is a premium steel variant that performs equally when resisting corrosion. However, its ability to retain an edge is a bit lower. Although it is easy to sharpen, it is not as easy to do so as in the case of 440C. Nevertheless, S30V is costlier. Several experts consider S30V as an option with terrific value for money.
440C vs. VG10
The latter is a high-end steel variant. It is harder, so you are ensured better edge retention and corrosion resistance. Despite being hard, it is easy to sharpen VG10 blades. The main advantage of 440C stainless steel is that it delivers satisfactory performance at a more affordable price.
440C vs. 1095
The latter has better toughness but less resistance to corrosion than the former option. However, the ability to retain a sharp edge is almost the same.
440C vs. 154CM
The latter provides better edge retention but has less corrosion resistance.
So, is 440C a Good Knife Steel?
440C is admired for its great ability of corrosion as well as wear resistance. With great mirror polish, it is a good steel for making knives. Due to its low toughness, it is not meant for hard tasks such as boning. However, it can be a great option for kitchen and EDC knives, as it can sustain its look and edge well in a wet environment and hold the edge for a long time. You get all these benefits without paying lavishly.
Hi, I am Jay. I am the creator of Knife Guides, your one-stop site for everything related to knives. I am a computer engineer by profession, knife aficionado by passion. Here I work with a group of people who’ve always had a passion for knives and blades. Over the years we’ve kind of become experts and decided to share our knowledge and ideas. I am also an avid hiker and enjoy offshore gamefishing.