Did you just find a knife you’re thinking about buying, and then found out that the blade was made with 15n20 steel? That can be useful information, but only if you actually know what the 15n20 steel is all about.
That’s what this 15n20 steel review is for. It’s to give you all that you need to know about 15n20 steel so that you’re familiar with its features, the advantages it offers, and the drawbacks it may come with.
That way, when you get 15n20 steel for knife purchase, you know exactly what you’re getting for your money.
What is 15n20 Steel?
This is a steel alloy made by the European brand Bohler, and it’s very similar to 1075 steel. These steel types are quite affordable, but you can find them both in some knives.
These are both carbon steel types simply because they both contain carbon.
More specifically, 15n20 steel is what you get when you start with 1075 steel and then add a bit more nickel into the mix. This addition of nickel is the main reason why 15n20 steel is also commonly found in some Damascus blades and swords.
Common Uses of 15n20 Steel
- This is often used to make some Damascus knives and swords. As you may know, Damascus blades are famed for the interesting patterns on the steel.
- You may also find 15n20 steel in some of the cheaper knives out there. The steel is quite tough, which means it’s less likely to chip when used.
- It is also found on some band saw blades.
- Some beginner knifemakers like to practice on and use this steel, because it’s not so difficult to work with.
15n20 Steel Chemical Composition
Check out the elements that make up the 15n20 steel so you can get a better idea of how it performs:
- Carbon, 0.75%
- Manganese, 0.40%
- Nickel, 2.00%
- Phosphorus, 0.10%
- Silicon, 0.25%
Carbon, 0.75%: This is the main element that determines the hardness of the steel. The amount here qualifies 15n20 as a high-carbon steel. It’s the main reason why some 15n20 blades feature a hardness rating of 62 to 62 HRC.
Manganese, 0.40%: In importance, this is second only to carbon. It boosts the hardenability of the steel, along with the tensile strength. It also helps with wear resistance.
Nickel, 2.00%: The addition of nickel here is another reason why 15n20 steel is so good with Damascus steels. It creates brighter portions in the alloy, because nickel stays shiny as it resists acid etching. In addition, it adds to the toughness and resistance to chipping.
Phosphorus, 0.10%: There’s very little phosphorus here, because too much of it makes the blade brittle. But in this case, it’s enough phosphorus helps to increase the strength of the steel, while it also boosts the resistance to corrosion.
Silicon, 0.25%: The main use of silicon in steel production is to remove oxygen bubbles in the molten steel. It does help in increasing the hardness and strength of the steel, but this effect is not as great as with the manganese.
15n20 Steel Hardness
The hardness of 15n20 steel depends greatly on the brand. It can vary depending on the heat treatment used on the steel.
Still, you can expect perhaps an HRC rating of 61-62 HRC for 15n20 steel. That offers better edge retention than what you get with a lower HRC rating.
Properties of 15n20 Steel
Here are some of the principal features of 15n20 steel you need to steel yourself for:
This is perhaps one of the two main features that 15n20 steel is known for. This is the reason why you can also find this in band saw blades.
That’s the main problem with super-hard steel—the hardness lessens the toughness of the steel. But here, the toughness is great for hacking work, and the steel is much less likely to chip.
Easy to Work With
This is great if you actually work with the steel to make knives and similar items. If you’re new to blade smithing, you’ll like how you can work with this material without too much trouble.
But even if you’re just the consumer, the fact that it’s easy to work with is also great for you. That means paying a lower price for it, since greater manufacturing problems tends to lead to higher costs and prices.
Besides, if you buy from a reputable brand then you may get a very sharp edge right out of the box—after all, it’s not too much trouble for the manufacturer.
Good Edge Retention
Is it among the best in retaining its edge? No, it’s not. But it certainly is better than many of the steels out there. It’s good enough at keeping its sharp edge, so that you won’t have to sharpen the blade too frequently.
Nice Wear Resistance
This is also a natural consequence of this level of hardness. The 15n20 steel can rough it out.
Easy to Sharpen
While 15n20 steel is hard, it’s not too hard so it’s still easy enough to sharpen the edge. This is great when you’re out in the field.
Yes, it’s nice and shiny due to the nickel. If you like your blade to be pretty, this works out fine.
Low Corrosion Resistance
This is the main problem with 15n20 steel. You really don’t want to use this in wet or humid environments, and you really don’t want to get it wet. Try to wipe it down a lot, to keep it dry and safe from corrosion.
15n20 Equivalent Steels or Alternative
Here’s how the 15n20 steel performs when directly compared to other similar steels.
15n20 vs xc90 Steel
In many ways, these 2 steels are very similar. They’re both carbon steels with low resistance to corrosion. They’re also both easy enough to sharpen.
However, XC90 steel is somewhat easier to sharpen. But 15n20 may have an edge in retaining its edge.
In addition, they tend to look very different especially after a time. The nickel in 15n20 leads to a bright finish. But XC90 steel develops a patina finish in just a short time.
15n20 vs 1095 Steel
The 1095 is one of the most common carbon steels for knife blades. The 0.95% carbon content in 1095 means it’s a bit harder than 15n20 steel. That makes 15n20 steel easier to sharpen while the 1095 holds its edge better. But 15n20 steel is much tougher.
Both are also rather prone to corrosion.
15n20 vs 1080 Steel
The 1080 steel is actually a popular steel to use with the 15n20 steel to make Damascus swords and knives. The 1080 is also popular with newbie knifemakers, as it’s easy to work with.
The 1080 is a bit harder, with its 0.80% carbon and much higher manganese content. But that makes it less tough than 15n20 steel.
Is 15n20 Steel good for Knives?
The short answer is yes, it’s a good steel for knives.
Knifemakers particularly like it because it’s easy enough to apply heat treatment to it. Basically, it’s great to work with.
Buyers also like it because it’s tough, and it’s less likely to chip. It’s not bad at retaining its sharp edge, but it’s easy enough to sharpen when it eventually dulls.
The fact that it’s not expensive at all also makes this great for low-end, affordable knives. But it’s shiny, and its use in Damascus blades certainly doesn’t make these blades look cheap at all.
Pros & Cons of 15n20 Steel
How to Sharpen 15n20 Steel Knives
This is a great steel to work with, if you’re thinking about knife making as a hobby or as a profession. If you’ve already tried working with this steel when making knives on your own, feel free to tell us all about it!