Okay, so you’ve read the knife advertisement and it says the blade is made with 420HC steel. Now what exactly does that mean?
The steel the blade uses will tell you a lot about how it will perform, so it’s better if you know as much as you can about that particular steel. Now here’s the ultimate 420HC steel review you need so you can really look closely at (and inside) 420HC steel, so you can understand if it works for you or not.
What is 420hc Steel?
There are many different types of steels, and there’s a group of steels known as the 420 steels. The 420hc is generally considered as the best of these steels.
The HC stands for “high carbon”, though that’s only when you compare it to all the other steels out there. The truth is, a lot of other steels contain even higher amounts of carbon. Some have more than double the carbon in 420hc steel.
But plenty of people consider the amount of carbon here as “just right”. It’s not too much carbon so that the steel is quite affordable. That’s why you often find the 420HC steel in bargain knives that cost less than fifty bucks.
However, just because it’s an affordable “lower mid-range” steel doesn’t mean 420HC steel isn’t good. It may well suit your needs, and we’re not just talking about your budget.
Also, 420HC steel actually qualifies as a kind of stainless steel. That means it works very well in wet conditions, since it offers excellent corrosion resistance.
Common Uses of 420hc Steel
While 420hc steel is actually popular for use in multi-tools, it’s actually not uncommon in knives. More specifically, you can find it in:
- Fishing knives
- Hunting knives
- Camping knives
- Tactical knives
- EDC knives
It’s quite obvious that if you have a steel that’s tough, rust-resistant, and affordable, plenty of brands will figure out lots of ways to use the steel.
420hc Steel Chemical Composition
A closer look at the various elements that were combined to make 420HC steel can give you a lot more clues as to how this will perform when used for your knife blade. Here are the most notable elements used, the amount of each element mixed in, and what the amount means.
- Carbon, 0.45%
- Chromium, 13%
- Manganese, 0.80%
- Silicon, 0.80%
- Nickel, 0.50%
Carbon, 0.45%: The carbon added to the steel is considered by many as the most notable element, as it’s the main component that defines the hardness and toughness of the steel.
This doesn’t have as much carbon as the “super steels”, but that’s not always a problem. In fact, that cuts the cost down. Also, too much hardness generally leads to lower toughness levels (meaning, the steel will be more susceptible to chipping).
Chromium, 13%: The chromium content is perhaps the 2nd-most important element in the recipe. That’s because it assures you that you have stainless steel on your blade. You won’t have to worry too much about using the blade in the rain or when you cut wet objects (like fish).
Manganese, 0.80%: This lets manufacturers increase the hardness of the steel and it also boosts the tensile strength.
Silicon, 0.80%: This also adds to the strength and hardness, though the effects aren’t as great as what you get from manganese. It also adds to the corrosion resistance.
Nickel, 0.50%: (at the most) – This also adds to the corrosion resistance, which is why 420hc is even more rustproof than some other steels with higher chromium content. This element also boosts the notch toughness of the steel.
420hc Steel Hardness
In general, the 420hc steel hardness is at around the 55 HRC level. That’s hard enough for most tasks, though a lot of other steels are harder. But then some knife manufacturers use 420 HRC steel and apply their own special heat treatment processes, leading to a slight hardness boost up to 56 to 59 HRC.
Properties of 420hc Steel
Here are some attributes and benefits you can expect from a knife with its blade made from 420hc steel:
“Decent” Edge Retention
It’s true that a lot of newer steels can hold its sharp edge for a longer time than 420hc steel. Truth be told, you don’t necessarily have to pay through the nose to enjoy some of these newer steels and their enhanced edge retention.
But in practical terms, the edge retention isn’t really the worst. Sure, you may have to sharpen your knife blade every so often. So what? Thousands of other 420hc steel knife owners have done so before you. Some of the brands that use 420HC steel may have even enhanced the hardness a little bit, so you don’t have to sharpen the blade too often.
Ease of Sharpening
In addition, it’s not as if it’s super-complicated to sharpen 420ch steel. It’s among the easiest to sharpen among all available steels. There are probably only a handful of steels that are easier to sharpen.
That’s great for new knife owners, who should develop the habit of sharpening knives, and who should know how to do it properly.
This is the main reason why you may want a comparatively “soft” blade. That usually means the steel is tough. In the world of knives, toughness is defined by its resistance to chipping. So, in other words, other steels will chip long before this one does.
That’s great for many types of tasks, especially those that involve chopping. It takes abuse without too much trouble, and it’s absolutely great with most everyday cutting tasks.
Excellent Corrosion Resistance
This 420hc steel is also a stainless steel, as it contains more than the minimum 12% chromium required. You won’t have to worry about using this in the rain or near bodies of water. Wet conditions won’t be a problem. If you develop the habit of wiping the blade down after every use, it may not even discolor at all even after years of use.
420hc Equivalent Steels or Alternative
Another way to showcase the attributes of 420hc steel is to compared it directly with other steels with somewhat similar attributes. You may even find a better alternative steel for the kind of use you have in mind.
420HC vs S30v Steel
Yes, the s30v compares very well with 420hc when it comes to corrosion resistance, though 420hc is a little bit more rust-resistant. But in other ways, these 2 steels are very different.
The s30v is much harder, so it cuts better even against stronger materials. It’s much better at retaining its sharp edge too. It even has a decent toughness level. All these reasons explain why the s30v steel is considered a “premium” steel, and it occupies a tier that’s several levels higher than the 420hc.
Still, at least the lower mid-range 420hc steel knife is definitely more affordable. Also, it’s easier to sharpen.
420HC VS 440C Steel
There was a time when 440c steel was king of the heap. But with the arrival of new steels in recent years, it’s now part of the budget category, like 420hc. But 440c is still among the upper midrange steels, while 420hc is at a lower range. The 440c is more expensive as it’s harder. It holds the sharp edge better than the 420hc.
However, the 420hc has much greater corrosion resistance. While the 440c is also easy to sharpen, the 420hc is even easier.
420HC VS 8CR13MOV Steel
Like the 440c, the 8cr13mov is also an upper midrange steel. But its edge retention is only as good as with the 420hc. The 8cr13mov has a bit of corrosion resistance, but the 420hc is much more rustproof.
The main advantage with 8cr13mov is that compared to most steels, the 8cr13mov is very easy to sharpen. But the 420hc is actually slightly easier to sharpen than the 8cr13mov.
420HC VS AUS 8 Steel
Here’s another upper midrange steel to which you can compare the 420hc favorably. The AUS8 is very similar to 8cr13mov. Its edge retention matches the 420hc steel, and it sure doesn’t match the corrosion resistance of the 420hc steel.
Like the 8cr13mov, the AUS8 is extremely easy to sharpen. But sharpening is still easier with the 420hc.
420HC VS 1095 Steel
The 1095, like the 420hc, is also a lower midrange steel. Its edge retention also matches the 420hc, and it’s almost (but not quite) as easy to sharpen as the 420hc.
It’s just that the 420hc offers excellent corrosion resistance, but the 1095 does poorly with moisture and can rust very easily.
420HC VS 154CM Steel
The 154cm steel is actually one of the high-end steels. It’s a great all-around steel, and its edge retention is much better than what you get with the 420hc.
The 154cm offers good corrosion resistance, but the 420hc is much less likely to rust. The 154cm isn’t difficult to sharpen, but it’s still a much more difficult job compared to sharpening the 420hc steel.
Is 420hc steel good for Knives?
For budget knives, it’s great. It doesn’t offer much edge retention, but then that’s not a real problem if you use this for EDC or even for tactical work. It’s only for challenging hunting tasks that the relatively soft steel will be a problem.
At least it’s extremely easy to sharpen, and it doesn’t mind the water due to its fantastic corrosion resistance. If you’re buying an affordable knife, then consider yourself lucky if it uses 420hc steel.
Pros & Cons of 420hc steel
Best 420hc steel Knives
Here’s a quick look at some 420hc steel knives that are worth your time:
#1: Gerber LMF II Survival Knife
- Length: 10.59 in
- Blade Length: 4.84 Inches
- Handle Length: 5.75″
- Weight: 24 oz
- Item Weight: 330 Grams
- Blade Material: High Carbon Stainless Steel
- Blade Edge: Serrated
This knife was specifically designed with output from a former serviceman. Its particular purpose is to free the crew of a downed aircraft. That means it’s very tough, while it’s also safe to use.
There’s even a break between the butt cap and the tang. That’s to insulate you if there are stray wires, and it also absorbs the shock from hammering.
This knife is about 10.6 inches long overall, with the blade measuring in at 4.84 inches. The handle is made from glass-filled nylon, featuring a TPV mold.
It’s made in the US, and meant to last a lifetime.
#2: Kershaw Link Pocket Knives
- Blade length: 3.25 inches (8.4 cm)
- Handle length: 4.25 inches
- Overall length: 7.6 in (19.3 cm)
- Weight: 4.8 oz (136.1g)
- Handle material: 6061-T6 Machined aluminum, blue anodized
- Made in: USA
This is a folding knife you’d like for EDC. This drop-point blade looks great, with a black matte finish that won’t be ruined by smudges and fingerprints. It allows for quick and smooth one-hand deployment, and you have a secure locking system that prevents accidental closure.
You also get anodized aluminum for the handle, which is resistant to stains and scratches. With its reversible pocket clip, you can set this on your left or right side, and with the tip up or down.
#3: Gerber StrongArm Fixed Blade Knife with Fine Edge
- Length: 9.8 in
- Blade Length: 4.8 Inches
- Handle Length: 5.00 Inches
- Blade Thickness: 0.19″
- Handle Thickness: 0.75 Inches
- Weight: 7.2 oz (204.117 gram)
- Made in: USA
This is another Gerber tactical knife, and it’s meant to help you survive the basics of military survival training. It’s quite lightweight at 7.2 ounces while measuring 9.8 inches overall. You get a fine edge and a full tang.
The blade is 4.8 inches long, and it has the black ceramic coating helps with both corrosion resistance and preventing light reflections off the blade.
The brown rubberized handle comes with a diamond texture, to make sure you get a good grip no matter what. You also get a striking pommel at the base of the handle, so you can break through hard surfaces.
You also get a modular sheath system, so you’re able to carry this on your person in several ways. You can carry it vertically as usual, or horizontally through your belt loops. This also has a snap-in Molle strap.
How to Sharpen 420HC Steel Knives
There’s a reason why, even now, people still use the 420hc steel despite the advent of better steels out there.
It’s very affordable, and it offers fantastic corrosion resistance and ease of sharpening. It can still get quite hard, especially when you get it from a reputable brand. If you buy an 420hc steel knife, then it may be cheap. But the quality sure isn’t!