CPM 20CV Steel: Is It A Good Knife Steel?

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If you have researched premium-quality steel options, you are likely to come across the CPM 20CV steel. It is a new steel grade, yet esteemed manufacturers such as Zero Tolerance, Kershaw, and Benchmade have already used it to provide a myriad of promising knives. So, does that mean you should get a CPM-20CV steel knife? Well, let’s find it out in this review.

What is CPM 20CV Steel?

Spyderco WATU Ethnic Series Folding Knife with 3.26" CPM 20CV Steel Blade and Carbon Fiber/G-10 Laminate Handle - PlainEdge - C251CFP
Spyderco WATU

Formulated by the American Crucible brand, CPM 20CV refers to a martensitic super-steel option. It is an ultra-premium stainless grade made using the brand’s Crucible Powder Metallurgy (CPM) process.

This distinct process contributes to a finer and more uniform distribution of carbides than in steels formulated with the help of standard methods. It also enhances the steel’s grindability as well as toughness.

This steel is known for its excellent resistance to wear or abrasion. Due to this excellent property, this super steel is used in many applications. For example, it is used in making premium knives, mold cavities, screw tips, plastic injection feed screws, and barrel liners.

Chemical Composition

CPM 20CV is formulated using very high carbon as well as chromium content. It also has Vanadium, whose carbides ensure outstanding wear resistance. Due to more carbon, chromium, and Vanadium, this one belongs to premium steel.

It is also called super steel, as just like other super steels, it has the highest amount of chromium compared to all stainless-steel options. Following are the different components with which this super steel is made up of:

  • 1.9% Carbon: For more resistance to wear and corrosion as well as a higher hardness level than usual
  • 20% Chromium: For as high as possible tensile strength, edge retention, hardness, toughness, and resistance to corrosion and wear
  • 4% Vanadium: For more toughness, strength, and resistance to wear and corrosion
  • 1% Molybdenum: For more hardenability, toughness, and strength
  • 0.6% Tungsten: For better steel hardenability as well as toughness along with enhanced resistance to corrosion and hardness at high temperatures

The chemical composition of the steel closely matches that of Bohler’s M390 and Carpenter’s CTS-204P. Thus, all three of them tend to exhibit the same properties and belong to the same price range. All are considered super steels for making high-end knives with high price tags.

Steel Hardness

CPM 20CV gains a rating between 58 and 61 HRC in the Rockwell C scale of hardness. The exact value is dependent on the heat treatment its manufacturer has given to it. Nevertheless, this range is considered a sweet spot for making knives of high quality.

Steel Properties

Benchmade - Mini Griptilian 556-1 Knife, Drop-Point Blade, Plain Edge, Satin Finish, Gray G10 Handle, Made in USA
Benchmade – Mini Griptilian 556-1
  • Good Toughness: Although having a high level of hardness, this steel comes with a good level of toughness. Usually, harder steel material will be less tough. But, CPM 20CV is tough enough to keep breaking and chipping at bay, especially during an impact. Its toughness is ideal for a small folding blade made for daily use. However, it is also true that this steel is not the toughest one.
  • Exemplary Wear Resistance: It is extremely resistant to wear. The credit goes high Vanadium Carbide content that is much harder than the Chromium Carbides present in many steels. As a result, it is highly resistant to abrasion apart from wear and tear when exposed to a hard surface. It also lasts longer than most steel options.
  • Matchless Corrosion Resistance:  CPM 20CV has a high Chromium content and Molybdenum; hence, it is highly resistant to rusting and corrosion. The high Chromium content contributes to the formation of a defensive oxide film, which is known to keep stains and rust at bay. Moreover, Molybdenum results in greater strength; hence the steel can easily deter pitting. The outcome is a highly corrosion-resistant option that can sustain even amidst the harshest elements.
  • Long-term Edge Retention: CPM 20CV is one of the best steels to consider when it comes to sustaining a sharp edge for a long time. This is attributed to the high content of Vanadium, facilitating a fine grain structure for better retention. In addition, tungsten and Molybdenum also play a significant role in enabling the steel to retain its sharpness.
  • Ease of Sharpening: This is where this steel lacks. The ability to retain a sharp edge for long comes at a cost; it is hard to sharpen the edge. Fortunately, it will take many months before the edge demands to resharpen.

Comparison With Other Knife Steel Options

It is wise to compare the properties of CPM 20CV with other steels so that you can know how well it fares against its competitors.

CPM 20CV vs. S30V

Both the steels are pretty close in terms of toughness and edge retention. However, it is easier to sharpen an S30V edge, while 20CV is better at corrosion resistance.

20CV vs. S30V

CPM 20CV vs. M390

Both are super stainless steels. CPM 20CV is simply the Crucible grade of M390. Produced using the PM process, both provide similar performance on all properties.

CPM 20CV vs. S90V

S90V is also a super steel from Crucible. So, both ensure excellent edge retention. However, S90V is better at rit. On the other hand, CPM 20CV is relatively easier to sharpen and better at rust and corrosion resistance.

20CV vs. S90V

CPM 20CV vs. 154CM

154CM is a high-end steel option from Crucible and is tagged as an updated version of 440C due to the inclusion of Molybdenum. However, it has lower edge retention and power to resist corrosion than CPM 20CV. 154CM is easier to sharpen.

20CV vs. 154CM

CPM 20CV vs. S35VN

The latter steel is an updated form of S30V. Still, the edge retention and the corrosion resistance of CPM 20CV are better than S35VN. The aspects where S35VN wins are in terms of sharpening ease and toughness.

20CV vs. S35VN

CPM 20CV vs. Elmax

Made by Bohler, Elmax features high Chromium, Molybdenum, and Vanadium. Thus, it is a super steel option with extremely high wear resistance. However, the American steel trumps Elmax in edge retention and corrosion resistance.

20CV vs. Elmax

CPM 20CV vs. CPM 3V

20CV is much harder than 3V; hence it is better at edge retention. 3V is far tougher and is easier to sharpen as well. In terms of corrosion resistance, the former is far ahead.20CV vs. 3V

20CV vs. M4

M4, also from Crucible, is much better at toughness, but 20CV wins by a huge margin in terms of corrosion resistance.

20CV vs. CPM-M4

20CV vs. CTS-204P

Both are super stainless steels. 20CV is simply the Crucible grade of Carpenter 204P. Produced using the PM process, both provide similar performance on all properties.

20CV vs. S110V

Both are super steels from Crucible. Both are excellent at corrosion resistance. The main difference is in terms of edge retention, where S110V scores better.

20CV vs. S110V

20CV vs. CruWear

Crucible Cruwear is an air-hardening tool steel possessing an excellent combination of high wear resistance and toughness. But 20CV is much better at edge retention and corrosion resistance.

20CV vs. CPM-CruWear

So, is CPM-20CV Steel Good?

Yes! This is because of the matchless resistance to wear and corrosion resistance, good toughness, and high hardness. A CPM 20CV steel is suitable for all kinds of knife blades.