Elk NetworkGear 101 – Buck Knives Story of Steel

Gear 101 | December 17, 2021

When you have an animal on the ground, you need a knife you can be confident in. A good knife blade is a combination of three key attributes. It has to be hard enough to hold an edge, ductile enough to take an impact without breaking and resistant to corrosion. You usually get to optimize any two of the three in one steel. A super soft stainless steel will be very ductile and completely corrosion proof but so soft it won’t hold an edge.  If you add carbon, you get hardness with ductility or toughness, but you now are prone to corrosion and rust. Trying to find the perfect balance for how you want to use your knife will define what steel you choose. 

Whatever the steel, the magic lies in the way you heat treat a blade. Buck has optimized the heat treat process for each of their steels, following a tried and tested “recipe” proven out over years of experimentation and strict discipline. 

When looking at blade steel you will usually see a number in the specs with “Rc” in front of it. This number represents the Rockwell Rating. The industry standard for knives, the Rockwell rating is a scale that is used to measure the hardness of a material. When a range is listed, such as Rc 59-61, it indicates that any variation which occurs in the hardening process will fall within that range.  

Here’s a breakdown of the steel Buck uses in their blades, to help you choose the right one for your hunt.

S30V steel: The “V” designates vanadium. This creates small grain structure, which, when combined with a high carbon content, makes this powdered steel the industry standard to which other super steels are compared. It is hard enough to hold an edge for a really long time, while tough enough to not be brittle and hold up under heavy use. it’s not going to be as easy for you to sharpen, and it won’t resist corrosion as well as some other steels. However, the properties that allow it to hold an edge make S30V a perfect choice for somebody seeking a high-performance blade they don’t have to sharpen in the field. 

S35VN steel: Adventure hunters this steel is for you. If you’ve got an elk down in the middle of the night miles from camp and you need to gut it and bone it out, this steel should get you through the whole elk. This premium-powdered steel has the same edge retention as the S30V but with properties that enable easier resharpening in the field. This is a high-end steel, so you’ll pay a little more, but it’s worth it.

420HC steel: This martensitic stainless steel with its hardness at a Rc of 58-60 has a good balance of edge retention, exceptional corrosion resistance, and ease of resharpening. This steel is a good choice for every kind of knife from hunting and everyday carry to kitchen cutlery. It will live through years of service and edge maintenance. It’s more of a baseline material and price point than the high-end S35VN, but with similar properties.

154CM steel: The addition of Molybdenum gives this stainless steel increased toughness and wear resistance. The carbon content of 154CM is a jump over 420HC. This means you’re giving up a little corrosion resistance to get durability and better edge retention. This steel is best suited for knives that will see really hard use as a tool.

5160 steel: This high-carbon spring steel is a good choice for jobs with impact and extreme bending. At a Rc 57-58, this steel is not brittle. It will bend and flex back to original shape while still remaining hard enough for edge retention. If you’re looking for an ax or other similar tool to take with you on your hunt, this steel is the way to go.

Learn more at: Buck Knives