Looking for information on O1 tool steel? That’s always sensible when you’re thinking about buying a knife that uses the O1 tool steel for its blade. Exactly what does that mean, anyway?
In this O1 tool steel review, you’ll know everything you ought to know about this material. You’ll find out about its history, what it’s used for, and even the amounts of the specific elements that make up the alloy. You’ll know if the O1 tool steel for knives is a good idea. You even get a list of some of the best O1 tool steel knives out there!
What is O1 Tool Steel?
The O1 tool steel is a classic. It’s been around since 1905. Yet even now, it’s still considered to be one of the best tool steels around.
Which leads us to a natural question—what is a tool steel? The term usually refers to a carbon alloy which has certain features that make it ideal for tool production, such as machine dies and hand tools. This type of steel is notable for its hardness, its ability to keep its shape even at higher temperatures, and abrasion resistance.
The O1 tool steel is the original tool steel that needs to be quenched in oil instead of water. It’s a general-purpose steel, and often used in cases when other steels aren’t hard enough. Yet despite the hardness, it also offers decent toughness as well so it won’t chip off too easily.
Common Uses of O1 Tool Steel
You’ll find the O1 tool steel in these products:
- Bushcraft and survival knives
- Hunting knives
- Industrial machine knives
- Measuring tools
O1 Tool Steel Chemical Composition
The chemical composition of the O1 tool steel may vary quite a bit, depending on the knife manufacturer. However, this is a typical recipe for the alloy:
- Carbon, 0.90%
- Manganese, 1.20%
- Tungsten, 0.50%
- Silicon, 0.25%
- Chromium, 0.50%
- Vanadium, 0.20%
Carbon, 0.90%: This makes the O1 tool steel a truly high carbon steel that offers rather elevated hardness ratings. That’s great for resistance to wear and abrasion, and for edge retention.
Manganese, 1.20%: Like carbon, it’s used to boost the hardenability of the steel and to increase its tensile strength. There’s a lot of manganese in O1 tool steel, as other steels usually only have 0.30% in its chemical composition.
Tungsten, 0.50%: This makes the steel hard and strong even in higher temperatures.
Silicon, 0.25%: It also strengthens the steel, though its effects on hardness isn’t as great as what you get with manganese. But there’s only very little silicon here, because too much can reduce the ductility that can make the steel more likely to crack.
Chromium, 0.50%: Chromium can increase corrosion resistance, but you only get stainless steel when you have at least 12% chromium. Obviously, you don’t have that much chromium here. Still, every little bit helps. It also boosts hardenability and yield strength.
Vanadium, 0.20%: Like carbon and manganese, it boosts hardenability. It increases shock loading resistance and toughness against fractures. There’s actually quite a lot of vanadium here, since in most cases you only get 0.050% vanadium.
O1 Tool Steel Hardness
This O1 tool steel can get very hard, as it starts from 57 HRC all the way up to 62 HRC. While the 57 HRC hardness is good enough for EDC knives, the higher hardness ratings work very well for outdoor knives used for hunting and camping.
With this hardness level, you can expect the steel to last long against wear and abrasions. It should keep its sharp edge for a long while, too.
Properties of O1 tool steel
This basically means it’s easier to work with, so manufacturers and knifemakers won’t have to spend too much time, effort, and money to create their products. That translates to a reduction of the production costs, and those savings are passed on to the consumers.
In other words, you can get more affordable knives with O1 tool steel, without necessarily sacrificing quality. Knifemakers simply find it less troublesome to form and shape to whatever design they want.
This is hard enough that you can use it to cut through materials other than cardboard and paper. You can use the steel to carve with wood and cut rope. This is why you can find the O1 tool steel in bushcraft and camping knives.
Good Edge Retention
In general, the O1 tool steel can really maintain its sharpness. That’s great for outdoor knives, since these knives are often used to cut through stuff that can quickly dull softer steels. You won’t have to sharpen the edge too often.
Fairly Easy to Sharpen
While the O1 tool steel is hard, it’s not really too hard. Just as knifemakers find it easy to work with, knife owners also find O1 tool steel knives easy to sharpen. You don’t really need complicated equipment to get the job done.
Normally, with harder knives you also get reduced toughness. That is, these harder knives tend to be brittle and more prone to chip off.
But that’s actually not the case with O1 tool steel. It’s another reason why it’s great for survival knives. It’s tough enough for the tasks you need to do.
Great Wear Resistance
In general, you can expect the O1 tool steel knife to last for a long time. It won’t wear off too easily. It’s like a pickup truck that keeps on chugging even after many years of hard work.
Poor Corrosion Resistance
This is perhaps the main drawback of the O1 tool steel. You have to be ready to make sure you don’t lose the steel to rust. That starts with not using it for wet conditions too often.
You should keep it dry, and you may want to oil the knife after every time you use it.
O1 Tool Equivalent Steels or Alternative
How does the O1 tool steel compare with other steels? In this section, we compare the O1 tool steel directly with other steels to highlight its advantages and drawbacks. You may find another steel more suited for your particular purposes, or confirm that the O1 tool steel is actually the right choice for you. It all depends on what features you’re looking for.
O1 tool vs 1095 Steel
The 1095 is a lower-midrange steel, and it’s quite popular. It has some similarities with the O1 tool steel, as the 1095 also has about 1% carbon, with sufficient edge retention and poor corrosion resistance. But, like the O1 tool steel, it’s also quite tough and easy to sharpen, and it’s also often found in budget knives.
Perhaps the O1 tool steel is a bit harder, so it may be a better choice for outdoor activities.
O1 tool vs A2 Steel
The A2 steel is a bit harder, and it’s better at keeping its sharp edge for a longer time. You don’t have to sharpen it as often as you would the O1 tool steel.
Still, the O1 tool steel is easier to sharpen, and it can hold a somewhat sharper edge too. You just have to live with how it dulls a bit faster than the A2 steel.
O1 vs o2 tool Steel
These 2 steels are very similar to each other, and the performance you get from each one is also almost the same. It’s just that the O1 tool steel has tungsten for hardness and the O2 doesn’t. The tungsten makes the O1 tool steel better at wear resistance.
Instead, the O2 has a bit more manganese for better hardenability.
O1 tool vs w2 Steel
While some say that these 2 are very similar, that’s not quite true. O1 tool steel is oil-drenched steel, while W2 is water-quenched (which actually explains the initials in the name). Practically speaking, they’re both used hand-operated metal cutting tools.
The W2 is more often found in cutlery. You’re more likely to find the O1 tool steel in EDC and outdoor knives. Plenty of custom knifemakers also tend to prefer the O1 tool steel to work with.
O1 tool vs A2 welding Steel
The A2 welding steel is generally used for repair welding operation. It’s also found in machine tools and larger blades such as the shear knife blade.
In contrast, you’ll find the O1 tool steel in woodworking knives, cloth cutter knives, and other similar tools.
Is O1 Tool Steel Good for Knives?
That depends. The main sticking point here is the poor corrosion resistance. If you’re generally working in wet conditions, and you’re not ready to dry and oil the blade often, then it may not be your best choice.
But if you’re not working constantly near ponds and rivers, then the O1 tool steel can work for your outdoor knife. It’s both hard and tough to deal with that kind of work. You may need to sharpen it at the end of the day, but its edge retention is good enough that you won’t need to sharpen it in the middle of the day.
Pros & Cons of O1 tool steel
Best O1 Tool Steel Knives
#1: LT Wright Handcrafted Knives Jessmuk
- Overall Length: 9.5 inches
- Blade Length: 4.5 inches
- Sharpened Edge: 4.5 inches
- Blade Thickness: 1/8 inches
- Grind: Scandi
- Sheath: Leather
- Weight (Knife Only): 8.2 oz
- Handle: Orange/Black G10
At first glance at this handcrafted blade, you may decide to just keep this on this display. That’s especially true with the eye-catching black and orange lines on the handle. But this is an awesome all-around knife, though plenty of people use this as their survival knife if they spend a lot of time in the woods.
The overall length of the knife is about 9.5 inches, with the blade accounting for 4.5 of those inches. With its thickness of just ⅛ of an inch, and a hardness rating of about 57 HRC (give or take), it’s able to do every outdoorsy task you ask of it.
Of course, the design is rather unusual. It may take a while to get the hang out of using this. But once you’ve mastered it, you’ll want to take this everywhere. It’s lightweight enough so it’s not a bother to carry.
Also, it’s designed to last a lifetime. Get this, and it will be your last outdoor and EDC knife purchase for a good long while.
#2: Handmade Hunting Knife Hand Forged
- Overall Length: 12 inches
- Blade length: 7.0 inches
- Handle: 5.0 inches
Now this one is also gorgeous, but it sure exudes a rather lethal vibe. But then again, that’s not surprising with a hunting knife with a fixed blade. Your purchase also comes with a sheath.
It’s quite sizable at fully 12 inches long overall, while the blade itself isn’t really puny at 7 inches. It’s a full tang knife, and the handle is gorgeous and made with buffalo horn.
What we got wasn’t quite razor-sharp right out of the box, though it passed the paper test. But after a few minutes of sharpening, it’s good enough to shave.
This knife can handle any job in the bush, as its hardness is within 59 to 62 HRC. The weight balance is nice and you should be able to use this easily enough.
The leather sheath is also good enough, and it’s meant for heavy duty. But you can always replace it. The knife should stay in your collection, though.
#3: L.T. Wright Handcrafted Knives GNS
- Overall Length: 9.5″
- Sharpened Edge: 4.25″
- Steel: 1/8″ (+/-) O1
- Grind: Scandi
- Handle: Micarta
This is a bestselling knife that’s almost universally lauded. At first glance, it’s a simple knife. It’s about 9.5 inches long, with the blade at 4.5 inches. The hardness is around 57 to 59 HRC, so you can expect decent edge retention with good toughness.
With the size and blade profile, you’ll find this knife “just right” for a lot of outdoor work. The spine is even design to work with fire steel, as its spine has been sharpened square so you can get a nice spark.
Even the handle is comfy to grasp even for extended periods. You have fisheye bolts on the handle slabs, with heavy epoxy to ensure decades of heavy use.
Sure, you may not like the low corrosion resistance. But aside from that, this O1 tool steel is a super-tough and useful steel when used in knives. It’s great for EDC, and even works with survival and hunting knives. Just take care of it right and oil it regularly, and the O1 tool steel will take care of your needs.