It’s always a good idea to check out what you can expect from a knife by looking up the properties of the blade steel. So, congrats for trying to check out N690co steel when you see it used in a knife that you’re considering on buying.
How good is it? The short answer is that it’s very good. In fact, it’s so good that there are a few knife manufacturers out there that use only N690co steel and no other.
And in this N690co steel review, you’ll find out why that’s so. You will also get a closer look at some terrific knives using N690c0 steel.
What is N690co steel?
This is a special type of high-carbon and cobalt stainless steel, made by the German brand Bohler. This steel is designed to deal easily with various types of heavy stress. That’s why it’s a great choice for use for hunting, camping, bushcraft, and tactical. The N690co steel is utterly reliable.
Bohler also manufactures the N690co steel in such a way that knife makers find it easier to use. There’s very little difference in the mechanical properties depending on whether it’s longitudinal or lateral. Basically, this means that knifemakers don’t have to use time checking the direction of the grain before they start cutting parts from the steel.
Common Uses of N690co steel
You can find N690co steel in the following types of products:
- Knife blades, especially hunting, camping, and tactical knives
- Cutting surgical instruments
- Rotary knives for the meat processing industry
- Plate and knife-edge fulcrums
- Corrosion-resistant roller bearings
- Valve needles
- Pistons for refrigerating machines
For the most part, you’re probably just see the N690co steel used in really tough outdoor hinting knives. The properties you get from the steel are well-suited for this type of purpose.
N690co steel Chemical Composition
- Carbon, 1.07%
- Chromium, 17.3%
- Manganese, 0.4%
- Molybdenum, 1.1%
- Vanadium, 0.1%
- Cobalt, 1.65%
Check out what crucial elements (and how much of each element) were used to make N690co:
Carbon, 1.07%: This is a lot of carbon, which is what makes the steel so hard and ready for challenging cutting tasks. But it’s not too much carbon, since that can lead to brittleness.
Chromium, 17.3%: This is also a lot of chromium, and you have enough here to qualify N690co as stainless steel. In fact, it has more than enough chromium, since stainless steel need only 12% chromium. The amount of chromium here makes it great for wet work.
Manganese, 0.4%: Steels tend to have at least 0.3% manganese, so the amount here is nothing unusual. There’s not much because having too much carbon with too much manganese generally leads to too much brittleness. But you have enough here to boost the tensile strength of the steel.
Molybdenum, 1.1%: This is quite a bit of molybdenum, since other steels only have it in concentrations of less than 1%. It does boost creep strength and the steel’s strength in higher temperatures. When added to stainless steel, it also boosts corrosion resistance.
Vanadium, 0.1%: This element acts very similar to carbon, manganese, and molybdenum. It boosts fracture toughness and resistance to shock loading.
Cobalt, 1.65%: This really boosts the hardness and the steels strength at higher temperatures. It makes the steel easier to work with, since it also permits higher quenching temperatures during the heat treatment.
N690co steel hardness
Because of the combination of high carbon with the cobalt, the N690co steel can get very hard. But during the heat treatment process, knifemaker brands tend to dial it down so that it doesn’t become too hard. With the cobalt, there’s a significant risk that it can end up very brittle.
Usually, you then get a hardness rating of about 60 HRC, though it’s more accurate to say that it really falls in the 59 to 61 HRC range. That’s basically in the “just right” category, as you still get a hard blade you can use outdoors while you still minimize the risk of chipping.
Properties of N690co steel
Now that you know the chemical composition and general hardness of the N690co steel, you can expect the following features if you get an N690co steel knife:
Great for Cutting
The hardness is great for cutting things that are stronger and tougher than just paper and plastic cords. With the N690co steel knife, you’re able to cut through meat, rope, wood, and other stuff you’ll likely encounter outdoors. The steel won’t let you down, as it gets the work done.
Terrific Sharp Edge Retention
This is one of the main benefits of the hardness of N690co steel. It doesn’t dull very quickly. You can use it for hunting all day long, and you won’t have to interrupt the day with the need to sharpen the edge. It’ll still remain quite sharp, even on a long weekend camping or in the bush.
This feature is usually attributed to the addition of the cobalt. Adding it to the steel gives you a fine, consistent edge. Because of the cobalt, the N690co steel is probably better at retaining its sharp edge than the vast majority of other steels.
No Rust, No Stain
This is a type of stainless steel, so you can expect it to resist corrosion well even in very wet conditions. This is mainly due to the addition of a lot of chromium, working with vanadium, manganese, and molybdenum. It’s a lot more resistant to damage from salt, moisture, and humidity, so feel free to use it for your fishing trips.
This is a surprising feature in steels that retain its sharp edge well. Usually, there’s a trade-off. If you enjoy edge retention, then the steel is hard enough to make sharpening a challenge. A steel that’s usually easy to sharpen is often soft enough that it doesn’t retain its sharp edge for long.
But here, you get the best of both worlds. You enjoy a sharp edge for a good long while, and when it’s time to resharpen the edge you’ll find that it’s not too difficult at all.
Even the best steels wear down over time, as you use the blade and resharpen it a lot. But the N690co steel can really last for many years. That’s why it’s a great steel for outdoors activities in the first place. It’s not just for opening packages in the office.
N690co Equivalent Steels or Alternative
So, how good is N690co steel, exactly? You’ll get a clearer picture as we compare it directly with some other steels.
N690co VS S30V Steel
This may not be a fair comparison, as the N690co steel is considered as one of the high-end steels. But the S30V steel is part of a higher tier, among the premium steels.
The S30V matches the N690co’s toughness and resistance to corrosion. It also retains its sharp edge for a longer time.
But then the S30V isn’t as easy to sharpen, though. Also, it’s also more expensive in general than the N690co steel.
N690co vs VG10 Steel
The VG10, like the N690co, is a high-end steel. It contains enough chromium to match the N690co in corrosion resistance. It does better with edge retention, though it’s slightly not as easy to sharpen.
However, it’s really not as tough as the N690co. The VG10 is more likely to chip off, so it’s not as good in the bush.
N690co vs D2 Steel
The D2 steel is another high-end steel tool steel. It’s much harder than most of the other steels, and it stays sharp for a very long time. On the other hand, it’s a lot more difficult to sharpen—you better know what you’re doing when you’re sharpening D2 steel.
Also, D2 steel is not really as resistant to corrosion as N690co. It has quite a bit of chromium, but not enough to qualify as stainless steel.
N690 vs N690co Steel
N690 is basically what you started with before you added more cobalt into the mix. It too can retain a sharp edge, while remaining very resistant to corrosion.
But with the greater amount of cobalt in the n690co, you’re able to intensify the effects of the other elements in the mix. That’s why the N690co is just better.
N690co vs 154cm Steel
The 154CM is another high-end steel. It balances everything nicely, so you get decent scores for edge retention, corrosion resistance, and ease of sharpening.
The N690co is better at edge retention and corrosion resistance though. But the 154cm may be easier to sharpen.
N690co vs AUS 8 Steel
This AUS 8 steel is actually an upper-midrange steel, and over the years it’s been a good all-around performer. But it’s been around for quite a while, and a lot of newer steels are simply better. One of the better steels is N690co, as it is a lot better in retaining its edge and resisting corrosion.
On the other hand, you’ll find the AUS 8 steel easier to sharpen. Also, knives made with AUS 8 steel are usually more affordable.
Is N690co steel good for Knives?
Well, yes. In fact, “good” doesn’t seem to describe the N690co steel accurately. It’s better to say that it’s terrific for knives.
If you see a N690co steel in a hunting knife, then you’re good. It’s also a great option for a premium EDC.
Pros & Cons of N690co steel
Best N690co steel Knives
#1: Spyderco Squeak Non-Locking Knife
- Overall Length: 5.031 ” (128mm)
- Blade Length: 2 ” (51mm)
- Closed Length: 3.125 ” (79mm)
- Edge Length: 1.75 ” (44mm)
- Weight: 1.6oz (46g)
- Blade Thickness: 125 ” (3mm)
- Handle: FRN
- Origin: Italy
In some places, local law enforcement authorities tend to have a more concerned outlook on civilian knife use. That’s why it comes with a non-locking design, since some places have prohibited the use of locking knives.
Also, the 2-inch length of the blade isn’t really intimidating, so criminals won’t really use this type of knife. But the blade is stubby, so you have some solid heft to use for cutting even tough cords. With its smooth blade, you’re able to use this everyday for many common tasks.
#2: Cudeman Survival Knife 251-JC
- Blade length: 4.7″ (12 cm)
- Blade thickness: 0.177″(4.5 mm)
- Blade width: 1.37″ (3.5 cm)
- Hardness: 60 hrc
- Handle material: orange g10 with black liners
- Knife weight: 250 gr
Now this is a fixed knife meant for outdoors work. It’s almost 10 inches long (9.8 inches to be exact), with the blade accounting for 4.7 inches of that length. It’s a slim blade, with a width of about 1⅓ inches.
Your purchase also comes with a 110-inch paracord, and the knife has a hole that you can use with your safety cord. You even get a glass breaker, a sheath for multiple positions, a leather loop with accessories, fire steel, a sharpening stone, and even a signaling mirror.
#3: Spyderco Roadie Non-Locking Lightweight Knife
- Overall Length: 5.08″ (129mm)
- Blade Length: 2.09″ (53mm)
- Closed Length: 2.99″ (76mm)
- Edge Length: 1.72″ (44mm)
- Weight: 1.0oz (28g)
- Blade Thickness: 0.112″ (2.9mm)
- Handle: FRN
- Origin: Italy
In 2013, the TSA had announced a tentative plan with guidelines that would have allowed knives on airplanes. While this plan didn’t push through in the end, Spyderco still made the Roadie, which would have complied with all those guidelines.
It’s basically a pen knife on steroids, as it’s a lot more practical (and durable) than other penknives before. Its most famous feature is its “double dent”, which refers to the 2 dimples in the blade that let you open the knife without using a fingernail on a single dent.
With its index-finger choil, you get better control over the knife and you’re also prevented from accidentally closing the knife when you’re using it.
The blade is about 5 inches long overall, with the blade at 3 inches. You also get an FRN handle.
It’s easy enough to realize that the N690co steel is a terrific steel for knives. You only have to check out the premium brands that use this to understand this fact. None of these iconic brands would use a substandard type of steel. That they use this steel for their survival and premium EDC knives prove just how good it really is.
Use this, especially if you tend to use your knife a lot in the outdoors. This won’t mind getting wet one bit, and it can last you for years. That makes it worthwhile for you to invest in an N690co steel knife.