52100 Steel: Is it a Good Knife Steel?

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Apart from excellency in forging to finishing processes, many steels are known for establishing an ideal balance of great wear resistance and toughness. This balance makes these steels ideal for making mechanical constituents.

One of these steels is 52100, which is a type of alloy steel. So, should you choose it for your next stronger knife? Let’s find out by exploring the chemical composition, properties, and performance comparison with other steels!

What is 52100 Steel?

Cold Steel 36MC Drop Forged, Survivalist 52100 steel blade

52100 steel is a high-carbon, high-chromium alloy that was originally formulated as ball-bearing steel. Categorized as a chromium alloy steel, this steel features very fine carbides due to which it can retain both its integrity and shape well.

Formulated around the 1905 steel, this one was initially produced for creating ball bearings. Due to its supreme wear resistance, toughness, and strength, this steel is also used as a mono-material or welded with other steel materials like 416 or 410 to make knives.

It is commonly used for making fixed blades, kitchen knives, and custom designs. Nowadays, it is also used to make larger knives that need to endure brutal force.

Apart from these two attributes, 52100 steel is also known for its surface finishing and dimension precision abilities. As a result, it is also used in making mechanical components such as parts of airplanes and vehicles, asters, dies, punches, anti-friction bearings, tapes, and mill rolls.

Chemical Composition

The name 52100 comes from the chemical composition. The digit 5 indicates that it is primarily a chrome alloy. The second digit indicates the percentage of chromium, which is 2%. Finally, the last three digits indicate the average carbon volume, which is 1.00%.

Thus, 52100 steel is made up of high carbon content and low chromium content hence doesn’t being to the category of stainless steel but a type of carbon steel. Following are the constituents of this carbon steel:

  • 1.1% Carbon: For enhanced hardness and good ability to keep wear and corrosion at bay
  • 1.5% Chromium: For improved edge retention, tensile strength, toughness, hardness, and resistance to corrosion and wear
  • 0.45% Manganese: For enhanced forging, tensile strength, hardenability, and wear resistance
  • 0.3% Silicon: For strength
  • 0.3% Nickel: For toughness
  • 0.3% Copper: For better resistance to corrosion
  • 0.3% Sulfur: For better machinability as well as impact toughness
  • 0.025% Phosphorus: for improved hardness, strength, and machinability

SUJ2 and SR101 are the equivalents of 52100 carbon steel. SUJ2 is the Japanese equivalent. Technically, SR101 is a modified form of 52100, and both offer similar properties.

Steel Hardness

On the Rockwell scale, the hardness rating of 52100 reaches 62-64 HRC. However, the exact rating is dependent on the heat treatment that a manufacturer has given. According to some experts, the Rockwell hardness rating can go up to 66 HRC, which is considered very hard. The high hardness is due to the blend of chromium, silicon, and manganese.

Steel Properties

Cold Steel 36MD Drop Forged, 52100 steel

  • Good Toughness: Due to high carbon, this steel has a high hardness rating. This means that it may not be very tough. Well, 52100 is quite tough because of its fine grain structure. Although the toughness level is not as high as of steels such as CPM 3V, it remains durable and handles a variety of slicing and cutting jobs without any risk. It will not shatter, chip, break, or fracture with frequent hard use. This good level of toughness is one of the reasons why this steel is used for making fixed and big blades.
  • Top Wear Resistance: This is where 52100 excels. The high carbon content makes this steel capable of rendering anti-wear performance for a long time. This is perhaps why it was initially used for making components whose applications were in environments where high wear resistance was critical. When it comes to knives, having top wear resistance means the material can endure hard use while keeping the impact of normal tear and wear at bay. This enables the blade to sustain its shape for a long time, even if you sharpen it frequently.
  • Great Edge Retention: Due to a high level of hardness, 52100 steel knives will retain their sharp edge for a very long time. The credit goes to the presence of very fine carbides that contribute to great edge stability. Although the edge retention performance is not superior to the modern super steels, the retention period is quite long. This means that you will not be sharpening these knives after every few uses.
  • Poor Corrosion Resistance: Due to less level of chromium, this steel is not stainless. Thus, its power to resist corrosion is not as good as that of stainless steels. However, you can keep rust and corrosion at bay by keeping your knife clean and dry after every use.
  • Sharpening Ease: Sharpening a steel material having a high level of hardness is not easy. Nevertheless, sharpening this steel is not difficult. It easily takes a sharp edge again without exerting much pressure or putting much effort. Still, it is certainly not the easiest material to sharpen. At the same time, it is easier to sharpen 52100 than 420HC or AUS8.

Comparison With Other Knife Steel Options

52100 vs 1095

Both steels are alloys having a high carbon content as well as a high level of toughness. This is why both are used for making knives geared towards hard use. Nevertheless, 52100 retains a sharp edge for a longer time than 1095. Because of the low chromium content in 1095, its corrosion resisting ability is less. However, sharpening a 1095 edge is easier.

52100 vs S30V

Unlike 52100, S30CV is a kind of premium stainless steel. Thus, it offers far better corrosion resistance as well as edge retention than 52100. On the flip side, it is harder to sharpen and is less tough.

52100 vs 5160

The latter is a type of spring steel and is one of the equivalents of 52100. Both are carbon grades but 5160 has comparatively less carbon as well as less chromium than 52100. Thus, 5160 is tougher than 52100. It also wins in terms of super-easy sharpening. On the other hand, 52100 wins in terms of better resistance to corrosion and edge retention ability.

52100 steel vs. 440C

The latter stainless steel is less tough and resists to wear less effectively than 52100. It also does not get an edge over 52100 in terms of edge retention. However, 440C offers better corrosion resistance and is easier to sharpen than 52100. 440C should be the choice for a knife for use in wet conditions, while 52100 is ideal for a knife for hard use.

Top 52100 Knives

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So, is 52100 Steel Good?

The ball bearing 52100 carbon steel is ideal for knives meant for tough field use. This is due to its great resistance to wear, edge retention, and toughness.