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What Is W2 Steel? Is W2 Steel Good for Knives? W2 Steel Review

The blade of a sharp knife cut across the white paperHave you been checking out katana-style swords lately? Or maybe you just like to look over gorgeous knives with that graceful temper line known as the hamon. You may even be a knifemaker eager to come up with monster cutting tools. If any of these situations apply to yours, then you may have stumbled upon the W2 steel.

But is it any good? That’s the question that we will fully answer in this W2 steel review. Once you’re done looking over our info, you’ll know for sure if you can make use of W2 steel for knife making—or if you ought to buy a knife that uses W2 steel.

What is W2 Steel?

W2 steel is a type of carbon steel that’s also considered as a tool steel. That’s to say, it can be used for making hand tools or even machine dies. But you will find it more often (if you can find it, that is) in rather specialized custom knives with truly eye-catching looks.

There was actually a time when W2 steel was no longer produced, so you would have had a devil of a time finding the material for your knifemaking hobby or business. But it’s now been relaunched by NJSB, so you can use it for yourself.

The W here also denotes this as a water-hardening steel. This means it’s best when quenched in water.

Common Uses of W2 Steel

W2 steelThis is mainly for decorative blades, but knife makers like to use to for truly keen cutting tools that can cut all day long.

  • Blades for collectors
  • Large swords
  • Paring knives

W2 Steel Chemical Composition

A closer inspection of the elements used for making W2 steel should tell you more about its features and what you can expect when it comes to its performance.

  • Carbon, about 1.1%
  • Chromium, 0.15%
  • Molybdenum, 0.10%
  • Vanadium, 0.15-0.35%
  • Tungsten, 0.15%
  • Nickel, 0.20%
  • Manganese, 0.10% to 0.40%
  • Silicon, 0.10% to 0.40%
  • Sulfur, 0.025%
  • Copper, 0.20%

Carbon, about 1.1%: Actually, this is a common carbon content level found in the NJSB W2. The main problem is that the carbon content can actually vary quite a bit, ranging from 0.85% up to 1.5% That’s a wide range to consider.

Still, this means it’s a high-carbon steel, meaning you can expect a lot of hardness (and not much toughness) with the steel.

Chromium, 0.15%: That’s very little chromium, actually. That means it’s definitely not stainless steel and you don’t want to rely on its innate corrosion resistance. In fact, the chromium here is mainly for carbide forming.

Molybdenum, 0.10%: At least this helps with the corrosion resistance too. It also helps with creep strength, elevated temperature strength, and hardenability.

Vanadium, 0.15-0.35%: This boosts the hardenability, its toughness against fracturing, and ability to resist shock loading.

Tungsten, 0.15%: This is an element found in cutting tools. That’s because after the heat treatment, the vanadium enables the steel to maintain its hardness at high temperature.

Nickel, 0.20%: This also helps with corrosion resistance, as W2 steel sure needs it. It also boosts its fracture toughness and notch toughness.

The nickel also adds some brightness to the steel, which is why it’s found in Damascus steels.

Manganese, 0.10% to 0.40%: Most steel types contain at least 0.30%, as it’s like carbon in boosting hardness. It also increases tensile strength. You just don’t want too high levels for both, since that leads to brittle steel.

Silicon, 0.10% to 0.40%: This also boosts hardness and strength.

Sulfur, 0.025%: A little is more than good enough, since too much of it reduces a lot of the steel’s impact properties. This tiny amount boosts the machinability of the W2 steel, along with its notched impact toughness.

Copper, 0.20%:  This also helps with corrosion resistance.

W2 Steel Hardness

This W2 steel can be quite hard, though it ultimately depends on the amount of carbon you get in your sample. The working hardness can get up to 63 or even 65 HRC. That’s quite hard, but that’s great for edge retention and for cutting even with a thin edge.

You just may want to get a softer W2 steel (with lower carbon content) because at 65 HRC, it’s not all that tough at all. But in the W2 steel with just 1.1% carbon, you still get decent toughness.

Properties of W2 Steel

These are the features you can expect when you get W2 steel.

Easy to Work With and Offers Repeatable Results

This is one of the main reasons why it’s a favorite material for both expert and newbie knife makers. It’s a pleasure to work with. When you do the same process again and again, you just get the same good results.

Knifemakers also like how they can put a sharp edge on it without too much trouble. Get a blade with W2 from a reputable brand, and it should have a keen edge right out of the box.

Hamon Effects

Plenty of knifemakers use W2 steel to create a special effect on the blade itself. It certainly doesn’t look plain at all.

Good Edge Retention

This is one of the benefits of using a steel this hard. In some cases, it can really hold its edge very well. You can end up with a knife that can cut efficiently and all day long.

Decent Toughness

In most cases, the high carbon content doesn’t really give you a bad level of toughness. That’s to say, it won’t chip off too easily.

W2 Equivalent Steels or Alternative

How does W2 steel compare to other steels? Let’s take a closer look with these direct comparisons.

W2 vs W1 Steel

Both come from the same family of water-quenching tool steels. In fact, you might say that they’re the same, except W2 contains vanadium. The W2 steel is also much better when you’re looking for fantastic hamon effects.

W2 vs 5140 Steel

The 5140 steel contains a lot less carbon, which makes it not as good when it comes to wear resistance and edge retention when compared to W2 steel. But then again, the 5140 is easier to sharpen.

W2 vs 1080 carbon Steel

This 1080 also doesn’t contain as much carbon. The W2 is better for edge retention and wear resistance, bit the 1080 may be easier to sharpen.

W2 vs D2 Steel

D2 is a high-end steel, with greater edge retention and also better corrosion resistance. It’s just that it’s really a pain to sharpen, and you may want to be an expert sharpener if you’ll use D2. The W2 steel is easier to use and maintain.

W2  vs 1095 Steel

The carbon here is greater than in its sister 1080 steel. It’s not as hard as W2, so the edge retention is just so-so. It also doesn’t have a lot of corrosion resistance, just like W2.

But the 1095 is tough and resistant to chipping. It’s also quite easy to sharpen

W2  vs A2 Steel

The A2 steel is also quite popular as blanks for knife makers to work on. It offers high hardness and holds a good edge while still giving you decent toughness.

The A2 steel isn’t all that common with knives, though. It’s more used for dies and maybe shear blades.

Is W2 Steel good for Knives?

If you’re looking for the hamon effect, it’s great. It also works well if you get the super high carbon content to get a knife that can really cut well.

But those hard blades don’t give you good toughness though. If you do get a decently tough W2 steel, that means the carbon content is nearer to 1.1% instead of 1.5%.

Pros & Cons of W2 Steel

  • It gives you the gorgeous hamon effect if you’re a knife maker.
  • Knife makers find it easy to work with, regardless of their skill level.
  • It offers great edge retention.
  • It still gives you decent toughness.
  • You should find it easy enough to sharpen.
  • It’s not all that common.
  • When used for the hamon effect, the knives are usually expensive.
  • It doesn’t offer a lot of corrosion resistance at all.


You’ll want to look for the W2 steel when you like decorative knifes, as the hamon effect on the blade can be especially alluring. Plenty of collector’s item knives use this steel.

It’s just that with these blades, you better keep it away from moisture. It’s not all that great with resisting corrosion.

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