5160 Steel: Is it a Good Knife Steel?

(This site is reader-supported. When you buy something using retail links on our articles, we may earn a small commission. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.)

Big knives, machetes, and swords are more vulnerable to breaking or chipping than a normal-sized knife. Such tools are usually made using very hard steel. Hard steel generally, is not tough enough to prevent chipping and breaking. 5160 steel addresses this problem.

What is 5160 Steel?

Buck Knives 108 Compadre Froe, 9-1/2

AISI 5160 refers to a simple type of low-alloy spring steel or carbon steel. Spring steel is a mix of low-alloy manganese and high- or medium-carbon steel, which retakes its original shape post-banding. The name 5160 is given as per the key elements used in making this alloy.

The first digit of the steel alloy nomenclature represents the class of the steel alloy. In the case of 5160, the 5 represents steel alloys that utilize chromium as the major alloying element. The second digit represents its concentration by mass; the steel is therefore 1% chromium by mass. The last two digits represent the specific concentration of carbon. This means that the carbon concentration is 0.60%, making it a medium to high carbon steel.

Since it is a spring steel, it aids in making knives with very high flexibility. They can effortlessly restore to their original shape when put under stress.

It is used for making camping, and survival knives apart from machetes, modern swords, tomahawks, and springs.

Chemical Composition

5160 spring steel has a mix of chromium, carbon, and manganese, due to which it is a spring alloy. Following are the constituents of this super steel:

  • 0.56 – 0.64% Carbon: For more hardness and a higher ability to resist wear and corrosion than usual
  • 0.7-0.9% Chromium: For good tensile strength, hardness and toughness, resistance to corrosion and wear, and edge retention
  • 0.75-1% Manganese: For enhanced forgeability, tensile strength, hardenability, and wear resistance
  • <0.15-0.3% Silicon: For more strength
  • <0.04% Sulfur: For better machinability strength
  • 0.035% Phosphorus: For boosted machinability as well as tensile strength

Steel Hardness

5160 carbon steel, on the Rockwell scale, obtains a rating of 57-58 HRC. Unlike most other steels, this is considered hard. However, at the same time, it is not that hard either as compared to a few other carbon-rich steels. So, you do not get any of the two attributes at their extreme levels.

When hardened to the minimum HRC value, the steel yields good toughness, which is required for producing swords. When treated by heat to reach an HRC rating near 60, it gives better edge retention.

Because of its toughness, this steel is used in making swords and knives for heavy-duty applications like survival, and camping. Although tough, it is quite flexible enough to endure impacts that a harder option cannot.

Steel Properties

Spyderco Genzow HatchetHawk Utility Tomahawk with Tough 5160 Steel Head and 15.82" Polypropylene Aluminum Handle - Includes Leather Sheath - H02

5160’s chemical composition governs its properties. Following are its properties you should know:

  • Great Toughness:5160 is known for its outstanding toughness. In this steel, the low carbide portion contributes to high toughness. This means it will not break or chip even when used for chopping wood and batoning. Consequently, the hardness is low-moderate.
  • Decent Wear Resistance: Due to low carbon content that is also responsible for great toughness, this steel can ensure a good resistance to wear as well as abrasion. In other words, 5160 comes with good durability and keeps the normal wear and tear at bay with steady usage as compared to softer steels.
  • Ease of Sharpening: Higher chromium carbide content in knife steel generally makes it difficult to sharpen. As a result, super steels having high chromium levels are the most difficult ones to sharpen. On the other hand, steels such as 5160 having low chromium carbide content, are easy to sharpen. Further, they can easily deliver razor-like sharpness with a normal sharpening tool.
  • Fair Edge Retention: As per the chemical composition, this steel has a low amount of carbon. This also means that carbide volumes are low. As a result, it cannot hold a sharp edge for long. So, you will have to resharpen a 5160 steel knife-edge quite often, particularly if you use it to cut hard things. Still, its ability to retain a sharp edge is better than that of many similar steels.
  • Poor Corrosion Resistance: This carbon-cum-spring steel is susceptible to rust if you are not careful in maintaining it well. Chromium content contributes to corrosion resistance. 5160 has a very low amount of chromium, hence rust pretty fast. However, you can keep the rust away if you clean it and keep it dry after every use. We recommend lubricating it frequently.

Comparison With Other Knife Steel Options

Comparing 5160 steel with other competitive steels will give you a deeper insight into its performance.

5160 vs 1095

Of the two carbon steels, 1095 is more popular, as it is easier to work with. It is not as tough but has more carbon content. This makes it a better option in terms of edge retention. Both steels are prone to corrosion, but 1095 overcomes 5160 here too. Both are easy to sharpen, though.

5160 vs 4140V

The spring steel is a bit harder. This is because 5160 has more carbon content than 4140V. However, 4140 is relatively more resilient.

5160 vs 9260

Both steels are used for making swords, but the latter is considered more flexible. This is because you can bend 9260 by 90 degrees and yet restore it to its shape. Nevertheless, 9260 is a type of exotic steel and is costlier than 5160.

Top 5160 Knives

Prices pulled from the Amazon Product Advertising API on:

So, is 5160 Steel Good?

Yes! Due to its high toughness, 5160 carbon steel is good for manufacturing knives geared towards tough use such as survival, wilderness, and bushcraft. Its great attributes of flexibility and durability make it a good candidate for manufacturing big blades and swords.

It has an okay hardness level, retains a sharp edge for some time, is resistant to wear depending on the type of heat treatment implemented. Nevertheless, its high susceptibility to corrosion does not qualify it for making diving or kitchen knives.