Steel Types & Performance

Browning Knives are offered in many different steel types. From caping big game to filleting fish to whittling by the campfire, we have a knife with steel characteristics fit for every purpose. Below is an overview of steel types used for various Browning knives. An extraordinarily detailed description of nearly every type of blade material is contained in the Wikipedia article titled List of Blade Materials.  For everyday use, you may never notice the difference between steel types in use, but when using a knife for specialized activities, like caping or use in very wet environments, for example, steel types can make a significant difference. Note that some of the finest steels are very expensive and represent the largest portion of the knife cost. Heat treating plays an enormous part in knife function and can raise or lower the effectiveness of nearly any steel edge. Review the types of steel below to determine which steel is best for your application. 

Important details about steel performance --

  • Hardness or Strength. There is a difference between toughness and hardness. When stress is applied to a knife blade it causes varying degrees of deformation (bending). Hard steels resist deformation. Some sources refer to this resistance to bending as "strength." It is often measured using the Rockwell C hardness scale.  Knife steel (or any steel) can be made so hard that it becomes brittle. You may never notice this as you use your knife, but the blade edge itself may experience more damage. Some knives need a bit of flex, for example, fillet knives, and a balance of flex and hardness become important. Most other blades benefit from a high level of stiffness or resistance to deformation. 
  • Toughness or Wear Resistance. When a knife is used wear occurs along the blade edge in the form of chips or cracks. Toughness is closely related to Hardness because as steel gets harder it often is more susceptible to damage along the blade. Chips in a blade are hard to fix. Many resources call chipping "a knife's worst enemy."
  • Edge Retention or "Holding an Edge." There are not really any perfect ways to measure edge retention in a reliable comparative, standardized way. In general, it is a combination of factors that produce an edge that wears slowly under soft abrasion (such as skinning) yet retains a level of durability needed for breaking joints and deboning. Blades used for other purposes, such as axes and hacking blades are subjected to abuses where the balance of hardness and toughness must be different than a caping knife, for example. 
  • Resistance to Corrosion. The most corrosion resistant blades are often not the best blades for edge retention and overall performance. Calculating the balance of corrosion resistance to performance is important in getting the best blade steel for the job since rust or corrosion can damage a blade quickly and almost irreparably. 
  • Resistance to Wear. In normal, careful use, abrasion (mainly soft abrasion) is the main cause of wear along the blade's edge. Although in general resistance to wear is determined by a blades hardness, there are other forces at play. At the molecular level, there are variations in the actual steel molecules that resist wear or allow it depending on the molecules themselves. 

The "Blade Made in USA" logo that is found on some knife pages indicates that although other components may be sourced worldwide and the knife might be assembled worldwide, the blade itself is a component that is made in the USA.

Steel types commonly used for the blades of Browning knives.

420. A tough carbon stainless steel that offers superior sharpenability with good edge retention and moderate corrosion resistance.

440. A classic all-around stainless for knife blades giving an excellent balance of sharpenability, good edge retention and high corrosion resistance.

AUS-6. A specialized stainless steel with vanadium added to improve wear resistance, sharpenability and corrosion resistance.

AUS-8A. A higher grade of Japanese vanadium stainless steel with additional carbon content. It offers improved wear resistance with reasonable sharpenability and excellent corrosion resistance.

3Cr13MoV. With 3% carbon and 13% chromium, this low carbon steel is similar in quality to 420 series steels.

5Cr15MoV/7-Cr. All-around stainless steels with similar qualities to the best 440 Series metals, providing good sharpenability, good edge retention and high corrosion resistance.

8Cr13MoV. A tough stainless that’s usually tempered in the Rc56 to Rc58 range, it gives great corrosion resistance and edge retention along with good sharpenability.

9Cr18MoV. This steel has fairly easy sharpenability, good corrosion resistance and keeps a good cutting edge. A durable steel at a good value.

154CM/ATS-34. A premium, custom-grade U.S. or Japanese stainless is used for both folding and fixed blades, it has a higher carbon and chromium content for greater hardness and outstanding edge retention.

Sandvik 12C27. A well-balanced Swedish stainless steel that provides high hardness with good wear resistance.

X50 CrMo-15. A high-quality cutlery German stainless made with carbon, chromium and molybdenum to provide excellent sharpenability and good corrosion resistance.

VG-10. A specialized, fine-grain Japanese stainless steel made with cobalt and vanadium that offers very good edge retention and hardness with all-around sharpenability and corrosion resistance.

N690Co. A premium grade of stainless steel from Austria with higher cobalt content for greater hardness and exceptional edge retention. Usually hardened at Rc58 to Rc61.

D2. A tool steel created to have the corrosive resistance of other High Carbon Steels, while retaining wear resistance and toughness. Usually scores between stainless and high carbon tool steels. Rc55-Rc62 hardness score.

Damascus. Characterized by patterns of bands, Damascus steel originated in India and also became known as wootz steel. The beauty of this steel is formed during preparation and folding of sheets of micro carbides within a carbon steel matrix.