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

(This site is reader-supported and we earn commissions if you purchase products from retailers after clicking on a link from our site.)

If you have researched premium-quality steels, then 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 CMP-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

Formulated by the American brand called Crucible, CPM 20CV refers to a martensitic super-steel option. It is an ultra-premium stainless grade that is 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. 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 steel belongs to the category of premium steel.

It is also called super steel, as just like other super steels, it has the highest amount of chromium as 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 CPM 20CV closely matches with that of Bohler’s M390 and Carpenter’s CTS-204P. Thus, all three of them tend to exhibit the same properties as well as belong to the same price range. All are considered super steels for making high-end knives with high price tags.

Steel Hardness

In the Rockwell C scale of hardness, CPM 20CV gains a rating between 58 and 61 HRC. 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

The chemical composition of CPM 20CV can help in determining its properties. Let’s explore them!

  • 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. It is highly resistant to abrasion apart from wear and tear when it is exposed to a hard surface.  It also lasts longer than most steel options.
  • Matchless Corrosion Resistance:  CPM 20CV has a high content of Chromium along with Molybdenum, hence it is extremely 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 itself 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. 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

The latter option is premium, while the former is ultra-premium.  20CV is tougher and retains sharpness for a longer time than S30V. However, it is easier to sharpen an S30V edge. Both steels have the same corrosion resistance.

CPM-20CV vs. CPM-S30V

CPM 20CV vs M390

Both are super 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 material from Crucible. So, both ensure extremely good edge retention. Nevertheless, S90V is a bit better at resisting wear. On the other hand, CPM 20CV is relatively easier to sharpen and is better at resistance to rust and corrosion.

CPM-20CV vs. CPM-S90V

CPM 20CV vs 154 CM

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, toughness level, and power to resist corrosion than CPM 20CV. 154CM is easier to sharpen.

CPM-20CV vs. 154CM

CPM 20CV vs S35VN

The latter steel is a premium option from Crucible again and is an updated form of S30V. Still,  edge retention of CPM 20CV is better than that of S35VN. Nevertheless, both have the same level of resistance to chipping and breaking. The only aspect where S35VN wins is in terms of sharpening ease.

CPM-20CV vs. CPM-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, 20CV trumps Elmax with better corrosion resistance.

CPM-20CV vs. ELMAX

Top CPM 20CV Knives

Prices pulled from the Amazon Product Advertising API on:

So, is CPM-20CV Steel Good?

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