One of the main problems you have when you’re using a large knife (or even a sword) is that the length makes the blade even more susceptible to chipping. That’s also the problem you get when you have a very hard steel for your knife blade. Hard steel usually has problems with toughness—that is, hardness tends to chip off more easily.
But then you have 5160 steel, which isn’t really all that hard. So why user go for a 5160 steel knife in the first place? In this 5160 steel review, you’ll discover the chemical composition of the steel, its pros and cons, and expected capabilities.
Then, you’ll also be able to check out our list of the best 5160 steel knives out there, just to show you how 5160 steel can really perform.
What is 5160 Steel?
Simply put, 5160 steel is a type of carbon steel. That’s means it’s quite harder than other types of steel due to its carbon content. It’s able to cut stuff that softer steels, such as more common stainless steel found in budget kitchen knives. It’s also able to retain its edge better than those steels.
Compared to other carbon steels, however, 5160 steel isn’t really all that hard. Some of the other carbon steels have lots more carbon in the mix, which makes them a lot harder. But it is quite tough and flexible, able to withstand impacts that harder steels can’t.
There aren’t really all that many knives that use 5160 steel, to be honest. But if you need a knife for cutting and for chopping when you’re camping, then you may want to consider using 5160 steel knives.
Common Uses of 5160 Steel
With its properties, 5160 steel can be found in the following products:
- Camping knives
- Survival knives
- Long knives
- Modern-day swords (especially if you’re going to actually use it and not just display it)
- Springs, especially leaf springs in automobiles
5160 Steel Chemical Composition
Let’s delve deeper into the elements that make up this particular 5160 steel. The percentages of each element aren’t all that exact, as different makers of 5160 steel tend to have their own recipes. But to qualify as 5160 steel, it must contain these elements in the specified ranges.
- Carbon, 0.56% to 0.64%
- Manganese, 0.75% to 1%
- Chromium, 0.7% to 0.9%
- Phosphorus, 0.035%
- Silicon, 0.15% to 0.3%
- Sulfur, 0.04%
Carbon, 0.56% to 0.64%: Carbon is the most important element here, since it’s the main element that determines the hardness level. As you can see, this is enough to offer good edge retention and wear resistance.
But when you consider that lots of other carbon steels have higher carbon percentages (some of which exceed 1%), then this isn’t really a lot of carbon at all.
Manganese, 0.75% to 1%: Next to carbon this is maybe the most crucial element in the recipe. It actually works with carbon to get you that hardness you need in the steel. This boosts the tensile strength and the hardenability of the steel.
It also works with the sulfur to make the steel easier to work with. The manganese also counters the tendency of sulfur to make the steel more brittle.
Chromium, 0.7% to 0.9%: That’s certainly not enough chromium here to turn this steel really corrosion-resistant. It certainly doesn’t reach the minimum 12% chromium needed to qualify this as stainless steel.
But this works to boost the toughness of the steel. Since this toughness is one of the defining characteristics of 5160 steel, it’s actually important that even this tiny amount is present.
Phosphorus, 0.035%: Why so little phosphorus? The main reason is you really don’t want even more than a tiny amount because that may be enough to make the steel brittle.
Its presence here helps to boost the tensile strength of the steel, while it also makes the steel somewhat easier to work with.
Silicon, 0.15% to 0.3% (at the most): It’s added to the steel because it takes out oxygen bubbles during the molten state. It tends to make the iron in the steel stronger and harder. But you can’t use too much of this since it can also make the steel more susceptible to cracking.
Sulfur, 0.04% (at the most): Again, you can’t add too much sulfur because that can make the steel too weak upon impact. But just enough of it actually boosts its impact strength, and it helps a bit with machinability.
Basically, with sulfur you get benefits when you limit it to less than 0.05%. Any more than that, it gives you problems instead.
5160 Steel Hardness
5160 steel hardness is 57-58 HRC. Compared to most other steels, 5160 is hard. That means you get decent wear resistance and edge retention.
But it’s also not very hard either, compared to some other carbon steels. But that’s not always a bad thing. It means you get tougher steel that’s also easy to sharpen.
Properties of 5160 Steel
So, what can you expect from 5160 steel? Here are some attributes you’ll likely to find.
This simply won’t chip off easily, even if you use it for chopping and not for simply cutting stuff like rope. It’s nicely flexible and not brittle at all.
Barely Adequate Edge Retention
Sure, compared to some steels with very little or no carbon at all, it’s better at retaining its sharp edge. But you may have to sharpen it often, especially if you use it a lot or if you try to cut strong materials.
Easy to Sharpen
This is another benefit of “not too hard” steel. This is so easy to sharpen that it works as a terrific survival knife. When you’re out alone in the bush, you can just sharpen this by rubbing it against a stone. You can’t do that with harder steel.
Poor Corrosion Resistance
You have to be ready for this, especially if you use your knife outdoors and get it wet.
After every time you use your knife, you have to wipe it clean of any clinging stuff. You have to get rid of any moisture. In fact, you should wipe off the fingerprints too.
Then every 2 weeks or so, you need to apply a thin layer of mineral oil to the blade.
If you’re also storing your 5160 steel knife for an extended time, you have to apply a coating of either Vaseline or Renaissance wax. That will be an extra layer of defense between the rust-susceptible blade and the humidity in the air.
5160 Equivalent Steels or Alternative
Let’s compare the 5160 steel to other steels to see how it fares:
5160 vs 1095 Steel
It’s obvious that the 1095 is a lot more popular, even though these are both carbon steels. The 1095 is also tough, but it’s better at edge retention due to the higher carbon level. They’re both susceptible to corrosion, though it’s worse for the 5160 steel.
The 1095 is much easier to work with, though, which is the main reason for its popularity. It’s also easy to sharpen, though it’s even easier with the 5160 steel.
But for swords, 5160 steel is better. The 1095 is just too hard for swords.
5160 vs 4140 V
These 2 steels are quite similar, but the 5160 steel is actually somewhat harder. That’s because the 4140 has even less carbon than the 5160 steel. But then the 4140 is even more resilient than the flexible 5160 steel.
5160 vs 9260
These are both used for swords, but the 9260 is so much more flexible. You can bend it 90 degrees and it can spring back into shape, which is why it’s mostly found in rapiers. However, the 9260 steel is regarded as exotic steel, and it’s much more expensive.
5160 vs s30v Steel
This is really an unfair comparison, since s30v steel is one of the premium steels that you’ll find in the best knives. Basically, the s30v steel is much, much (really much) better at retaining its sharp edge. That’s not even a contest. It’s also much more resistant to corrosion.
In terms of toughness and resistance to chipping, the 5160 steel is just a little bit better. But the s30v steel is also very tough as well. The main advantage of 5160 is that it’s much easier to sharpen.
5160 vs 420hc Steel
The 420hc steel is mostly found in budget knives, but it’s extremely corrosion-resistant. It doesn’t offer much in terms of edge retention, but the 5160 steel is worse. The 420hc steel is also extremely easy to sharpen, though the 5160 steel is even easier.
The 5160 steel is also better at chopping stuff since it’s so tough.
Is 5160 steel good for Knives?
Admittedly, not very many people thing so. We had a devil of a time finding good knives with this steel. You certainly don’t find 5160 steel in small EDC knives or in kitchen knives. It’s not really all that easy to work with, and it rusts too easily.
Technically, it’s good for knives. But it’s not all that good for knife makers, who generally find it too expensive to work with.
Pros & Cons of 5160 steel
Best 5160 Steel Knives
#1: Buck Knives 893 GCK Tanto Fixed Blade Tactical Knife
- Blade Length: 5.50″ (14.0 cm)
- Handle Length: 5.25″ (15.2 cm)
- Overall Length: 10.75″ (27.3 cm)
- Blade Thickness: 0.200″
- Blade Style: Tanto
- Handle Material: Black G10
- Weight: 9.9 oz. (280.7 g)
- Made in the USA
Virtually no one has anything bad to say about the Buck Knives 893 GCK. That’s because the 5160 steel impact resistance and flexibility is perfectly suited for what this survival knife is for.
Let’s start with the 5.5-inch blade. It comes with a Tanto design and comes with decent edge retention. The steel has undergone a special heat treatment so the blade stays sharp for longer. But it’s super-tough too.
This blade has the Cerakote coating that improves its corrosion and chemical resistance. This coating also helps with the hardness, impact strength, and resistance to wear and abrasion.
The G10 handle is also durable and offers a secure grip. The sheath is also MOLLE-compatible with lots of configuration options. Finally, the whole knife is designed to last a lifetime.
#2: Buck Knives 108 Compadre Froe
- BLADE THICKNESS: 0.230″
- BLADE LENGTH: 9.5″ (21.4 cm)
- WEIGHT: 23.2 oz. (657.7 g)
- HANDLE: Natural Canvas Micarta®
- CARRY SYSTEM: Sheath
- ORIGIN: Made in the USA
This full-tang knife has that slight bend in the middle almost like in the kukri knives that the legendary Gurkhas use. If you’re splitting wood or clearing a path out in the bush, you’ll want this on you.
The entire knife is huge, measuring at 16.75 inches with the blade at 9.5 inches. You also get the Cerakote coating on the blade, for corrosion resistance and other nice benefits. This knife is meant to last basically forever.
Meanwhile, the handle is ergonomic with the natural canvas Micarta giving you a sure hold even in wet conditions. Your purchase also comes with a genuine leather sheath, with a stainless-steel attachment ring.
Best 5160 Steel Axe
#3: Buck Knives 106 Compadre Camp Axe
- BLADE THICKNESS: 0.230″
- BLADE LENGTH: 3″ (7.6 cm)
- WEIGHT: 23.4 oz. (663.3 g)
- HANDLE: Natural Canvas Micarta®
- CARRY SYSTEM: Sheath
- ORIGIN: Made in the USA
If you’re really hell-bent on chopping wood when you’re out camping, why not use this an actual axe instead? That’s what we figured when we included this axe on our “list of knives”.
This is about 12.75 inches long, with a small bend in the design for more efficient chopping. That forward-weight configuration really works. It also helps that it weighs 23.4 ounces, so it’s heavy enough for chopping. The blade also has that special Cerakote coating for corrosion resistance.
The handle is also nice with its ergonomic shape, with the micarta offering a sure grip even when wet. You can even hold the handle with one hand or two.
The Buck brand proves that the 5160 steel works for a special type of knife. You can use it to chop wood or clear a path, and it’s great for your survival knife. With the toughness of the 5160 steel and special coating for corrosion resistance (along with some TLC), you can have a 5160 steel knife that you can use for the rest of your life!