AEB-L 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.)

Super steels are indeed expensive. However, how would you react if you come to know that there is a steel option that gives tough competition to high-end steels and yet is available for much less? AEB-L steel competes with super steels and yet it is economical. So, let’s find out what makes it so competitive.

What is AEB-L Steel?

Bradford Guardian 3 AEB-L

AEB-L is a non-powder stainless steel that comes from the Bohler-Uddeholm company established in Germany. It is quite old and dates to the 1960s when it was originally formulated as a razor blade steel.

This steel is highly popular amongst knife makers because of its consistency. The heat treatment process is quite basic, and it is easy to work with it to give a full mirror polish. Known for the rare-to-see blend of high corrosion resistance, easy sharpening, and high hardness, AEB-L is used in making custom, scalpel, industrial, and production blades.

AEB-L should not be confused with AEB, its predecessor. It has less carbon than AEB and has a finer carbide structure without compromising the higher hardness levels. Unlike many other steels, AEB-L naturally generates the K2, a chromium carbide harder than the K1 chromium carbide seen in steels such as 440C.

The K2 carbide has a hardness rating of 79 HRC on the Rockwell scale, which is more than 72 HRC for K1. If a proper heat treatment is given, AEB-L can have an evenly distributed fine K2 carbides. This results in superb wear resistance as well as ease of sharpness. Be mindful of the fact that higher chromium carbide will not improve the corrosion resistance, but only higher chromium content in solution.

Chemical Composition

The 13% chromium content makes this steel stainless. Following are the ingredients that make up this stainless steel:

  • 0.67% Carbon: For great hardness, resistance to corrosion, and resistance to wear
  • 13% Chromium: For improved resistance to corrosion and wear, toughness, hardness, and tensile strength
  • 0.6% Manganese: For improved tensile strength and hardenability
  • 0.4% Silicon: For more strength and hardness
  • 0.025% Phosphorus: For better tensile strength, corrosion resistance, and machinability
  • 0.015% Sulfur: For better machinability

Sandvik 12C27 is considered the equivalent for AEB-L steel in terms of chemical composition. They perform similarly in terms of hardness, toughness, edge retention, corrosion and wear resistance, and ease of sharpening.

Steel Hardness

On the Rockwell C scale, the hardness rating is typically around 61-62 HRC. However, this can go up to 65 HRC as per the heat treatment given by the manufacturer. With this rating, AEB-L is one of the hardest and most durable steels.

Properties

Spyderco Urban AEB-L

  • Boosted Toughness: You may now think that AEB-L will be less tough, as it is very hard. However, this is not true. It provides decent toughness that is usually unexpected from a very hard steel grade. The credit goes to the fine grain structure. The steel differs from most stainless steels in terms of carbides that are very small when heat treated. As the grain is fine and carbides are small, toughness gets a natural boost.
  • Great Edge Retention: AEB-L ensures superb edge retention as well as stability due to the chromium carbides in its structure and high hardness level. Although it is not as good as other steels such as CPM-154, D2, Elmax, and M390 in edge retention.
  • Excellent Wear Resistance: The higher the hardness, the greater is the ability to keep wear at bay. Considering the high hardness level, AEB-L delivers excellent wear resistance. It means this steel will not allow abrasion and will endure wear and tear.
  • Great Corrosion Resistance: AEB-L is stainless, which means it can resist corrosion and rust and does not require much maintenance effort. The credit goes to the high chromium volume.
  • Ease of Sharpening: Usually, the presence of hard K2 carbides contributes to the hardness level. At the same time, they also make it tough to sharpen. However, this does not apply to AEB-L steel, as the carbides are small and fine. You can sharpen a dull edge with just a simple strop.

Comparison With Other Knife Steel Options

Let’s now benchmark it with other steels based on toughness, hardness, corrosion and rust resistance, and ease of sharpening.

AEB-L vs 440C

440C has more carbon and chromium content than the former. Thus, it is harder and better at edge retention, corrosion resistance, and wear resistance abilities. However, AEB-L is tougher than 440C, which means it resists chipping and cracking more effectively and is easier to sharpen.

AEB-L vs CPM 154

The powder metallurgy process used to formulate CPM-154 contributes to a better toughness. However, at the same time, the high carbide volume keeps it down. The fine carbides in AEB-L make it tougher. The ability to retain an edge is not superior to high wear resistance grades such as CPM-154 despite a similar hardness score.

AEB-L vs VG10

Both stainless steels have good corrosion resistance along with similar hardness and edge retention ability. However, AEB-L holds a cleaner edge for longer and is easier to sharpen than VG10.

AEB-L vs 13C26

13C26 is Sandvik’s version of the former with an almost similar chemical composition. Both were made as razor blade steels and have the right blend of high hardness, corrosion resistance, sharpness, and wear resistance.

Top AEB-L Knives on Amazon

Prices pulled from the Amazon Product Advertising API on:

So, is AEB-L Steel Good?

AEB-L is a good steel for knives, balancing high hardness with reliable corrosion resistance, good toughness, and decent wear resistance. Because of the high edge stability of this steel, this steel is suitable for making thin edges knives for fine slicing, as well as in tougher large knives.