M390 vs S35VN: Comparing High-End Knife Steels

Knife enthusiasts and professionals alike understand the importance of selecting the right steel for their blades. Two of the most respected and talked about steel types in the knife industry are Bohler’s M390 and Crucible’s CPM S35VN. When it comes to premium knife steels, these two are often compared for their remarkable qualities and performance. If you’re on the hunt for a top-tier knife, understanding the nuances of these materials is essential. In this deep-dive exploration, we’ll dissect the properties, differences, and uses of M390 and S35VN steel types, offering a rich and expansive knowledge base for those keen on making an informed decision.

Comparison Table: M390 vs. S35VN

Feature M390 Steel S35VN Steel
Chemical Composition High in chromium, molybdenum, and vanadium. Contains tungsten. Well-balanced with chromium, vanadium, molybdenum, and niobium.
Hardness (HRC) 60-62 58-61
Edge Retention Exceptional Excellent
Toughness Good Very good
Corrosion Resistance Excellent Very good
Sharpenability Challenging More manageable than M390
Manufacturing Cost Higher Lower than M390

Comparative Analysis: Breaking Down M390 and S35VN Steel Features

To truly grasp the differences between M390 and S35VN steel types, one must delve into the characteristics that set them apart. So, let’s unpack these features in detail:

Chemical Composition and Hardness

M390, developed by Bohler-Uddeholm, is a martensitic chromium steel produced with third-generation powder metallurgy technology. This high-alloy steel is renowned for its extremely high wear and corrosion resistance due to significant amounts of chromium, molybdenum, and vanadium, along with the addition of tungsten. Its hardness typically ranges around 60-62 HRC, which makes it a top contender for edge retention.

On the flip side, CPM S35VN, a product of Crucible Industries, enjoys popularity as a well-rounded steel option with an excellent combination of toughness, wear resistance, and corrosion resistance. Crafted using a second-generation powder metallurgy process, it boasts a variation of the popular S30V formula but with a key difference: the addition of niobium, which enhances its attributes. The hardness of S35VN usually sits between 58-61 HRC, offering a slightly less hard but tougher blade.

Edge Retention and Toughness

In my personal experience using knives with M390 blades, the edge retention is simply outstanding. Once sharpened to a razor-like edge, it maintains that sharpness through considerable use, whether it be for daily tasks or more demanding cutting jobs. However, this comes at a cost – not literally, but in terms of effort needed to achieve the fine edge. Due to its hardness, M390 can be a challenge to sharpen, especially for those who are not seasoned in the art.

S35VN steel has proven to be remarkably durable and capable in edge retention as well, though perhaps not quite to the extent of M390. However, its marginally softer nature contributes to a noteworthy resilience and is less prone to chipping. Its composition makes sharpening more manageable compared to M390, allowing for easier maintenance over time. This steel strikes an appealing balance between retaining its sharpness and not being too unforgiving when it’s time for a tune-up.

Corrosion Resistance and Sharpenability

One of the principal advantages of M390 is its exceptional corrosion resistance. High chromium content (around 20%) ensures that blades made from M390 can withstand harsh environments and resist rust effectively. This is particularly beneficial for users near marine environments or those who frequently use their knives with corrosive materials.

Contrasting with M390, S35VN also displays very good corrosion resistance, though it may be slightly more susceptible to corrosive elements than its counterpart. Having said that, many users might not notice the difference in everyday use, and S35VN still surpasses many other steels in this regard.

Sharpening M390 can be a test of patience. The steel’s resistance to wearing also means resistance to being worn away on a sharpening stone. Specialist sharpening equipment or diamond stones are often recommended to achieve the best results. S35VN eases the burden with its more forgiving nature when it comes to sharpening. For those who prefer to touch up their blade frequently, S35VN may be a more user-friendly choice.

Based on my experiences, I’ve come to appreciate M390 for its sheer cutting prowess and almost unrivaled edge retention. It’s a premium choice for a “set it and forget it” type edge that requires minimal maintenance. However, when I use an S35VN blade, I’m afforded the flexibility of easier sharpening and still enjoy a robust, long-lasting edge. It’s highly effective for someone who values the overall balance in a steel’s characteristics.

Pros and Cons

  • M390 Steel
    • Pros:
      • Superior edge retention
      • High corrosion resistance
      • Good wear resistance
    • Cons:
      • Challenging to sharpen
      • More expensive
  • S35VN Steel
    • Pros:
      • Excellent toughness
      • Very good edge retention
      • More easily sharpened than M390
    • Cons:
      • Edge retention falls short of M390
      • Marginally less corrosion-resistant than M390

Both M390 and S35VN steels excel in their rights and choosing between them often boils down to personal preference and intended use. I hope this detailed analysis helps you make a well-informed decision for your next high-end blade.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is M390 steel comparable to?

M390 steel is comparable to other high-performance stainless steels such as CPM-20CV and CTS-204P. It exhibits excellent wear resistance, high hardness, and good corrosion resistance, making it a popular choice for knife blades.

Which is better, M390 or S90V?

Both M390 and S90V are exceptional steels, but they excel in different areas. M390 offers better corrosion resistance, ease of sharpening, and overall toughness compared to S90V. On the other hand, S90V provides superior edge retention due to its higher vanadium content. Ultimately, the choice between the two depends on the specific needs and preferences of the user.

Is S45VN that much better than S35VN?

S45VN is an improvement over S35VN in terms of corrosion resistance and edge retention. While S35VN already possesses impressive attributes, S45VN offers enhanced performance due to its higher levels of nitrogen and niobium. S45VN can retain its edge for longer periods and exhibits better resistance against chipping and wear, making it a preferred choice for users seeking top-notch performance.

Is M390 better than S30V?

Yes, M390 is generally considered superior to S30V in terms of overall performance. M390 has a higher chromium content, which grants it increased corrosion resistance compared to S30V. M390 also exhibits better wear resistance, strength, and hardness characteristics, making it an ideal choice for high-end knives where performance is paramount.

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