CPM S90V Steel Review: Worth Its Weight in Gold?

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Hey guys, today I will share my CPM S90V steel review with you!

Crafted using complex powder metallurgy, S90V blade steel achieves near-mythical hardness, edge retention and corrosion resistance. No surprise it has become the darling of high-end custom knife makers. But with hefty price tags reflecting both material and production costs, is otherworldly S90V steel worth pursuing for your knives or cutlery collection?

If you seek the sharpest, most durable blades that money can buy, this intel on phenomenal S90V steel will help determine if it meets your needs.

CPM S90V Steel – the pinnacle of knife performance?

Knife experts often compare blade steels against the venerable 440C and D2 as benchmarks. 440C nails corrosion resistance. D2 delivers superb edge retention via extreme hardness. But the S90V combines both strengths to forge an elevated steel pinnacle.

Inventor Crucible Industries engineered S90V’s molecular matrix to form larger, harder vanadium carbides rather than chromium carbides. This simultaneously achieves D2-besting hardness and wear resistance, while released chromium also enhances 440C-rivaling corrosion immunity.

The result – martensitic stainless blade steel exceeding its forebears in all aspects: apex edge retention, tenacity against rust, and peerless longevity under real-world cutting duties.

S90V represents the current ceiling for knife steel engineering. It adds substance to its stellar reputation among blade enthusiasts who demand no-compromise performance. If your standards sit at the top, S90V beckons your closer inspection.

CPM S90V steel review
Is CPM S90V Steel good for knives?

Crucible CPM S90V chemical composition

Iron72.24%The basic component of steel.
Chrome14.0%Improves wear resistance, heat resistance and scale resistance. It increases tensile strength because it acts as a carbide former. Use of rust-proof or stainless steel, as it increases corrosion resistance from a mass proportion of 12.2%. Reduction in weldability.
Carbon2.3%Increasing hardness and tensile strength. In larger quantities, increase in brittleness and reduction in forgeability and weldability.
Manganese0.5%Improves hardness and tensile strength.
Molybdenum1.0%Improves hardenability, tensile strength and weldability. Reduction in forgeability and ductility.
Phosphorus0.03%Increases tensile strength, hardness and corrosion resistance but also brittleness.
Sulfur0.03%Increases machinability but also brittleness.
Silicon0.5%Improves strength.
Vanadium9.0%Increasing hardness, increasing wear resistance and improving tempering resistance.
Wolfram0.4%Increase in heat strength, tempering resistance and wear resistance at high temperatures up to red heat.
CPM S90V composition

What truly sets S90V blade steel apart from other premium alloys is its uniquely high vanadium content. This crucial addition promotes the development of durable vanadium carbides within the steel’s molecular structure.

It is these ultra-hard carbides that enable S90V to achieve such phenomenal resistance to wearing, dulling, and other breakdowns from use. So while all high-end steels contain chromium and carbon for basic hardness and corrosion defenses, S90V’s secret weapon lies in extra vanadium kicking its wear performance into overdrive. This rare blend of components comes together to provide exceptional longevity and tenacity missing from nearly every other steel formula.

CPM S90V steel for knives
CPM S90V steel for knives

S90V Steel Characteristics

S90V blade steel is prized primarily for its best-in-class edge retention and extreme resistance to abrasion wear. But its full capabilities stretch beyond these two main attributes. Additional strengths make S90V a well-balanced performer ready for demanding applications:

Hardness of S90V steel

With optimum heat treating, S90V reaches 57-60 HRC hardness on the Rockwell Scale. While comparable to other premium knife steels, S90V tempers this hardness with extra toughness. Handled correctly by knifesmiths, it brings outstanding durability.

CPM S90V Steel Rockwell Hardness
CPM S90V Steel Rockwell Hardness

S90V steel edge retention

This is where S90V truly distances itself from the pack. CATRA testing shows it has the 2nd best edge retention amongst stainless steels, barely trailing exotic S125V. The CPM production process enables remarkably durable vanadium carbides that resist abrasion and dulling longer.

The result – extended real-world cutting sharpness and stamina allowing months between resharpening. From home cooks to hard-use professionals, S90V offers incredible edge tenacity unseen in all but a tiny few elite steels.

Wear resistance of S90V steel

S90V’s class-leading wear resistance directly enables its extreme edge retention. The dense matrix of vanadium carbides formed during production resists dulling, deforming and abrasive breakdown exponentially better than competing alloys.

Blades stay pristine-sharp, with polished finishes shrugging off scratches for months. Even professionals subjecting S90V to daily heavy use enjoy prolonged periods between maintenance needs.

But the same wear resistance that maintains superior sharpness also makes restoring a fine edge challenging without experience. S90V scoffs at average users’ basic whetstones.

Coarse or overly aggressive methods risk causing microchips in the razor edge. Caution paired with expert sharpening is recommended to revive a tenacious but demanding steel.

CPM S90V steel toughness

Elite edge retention and sheer wear resistance often diminish a steel’s resilience. But S90V strikes an optimal balance between sharpness and shock-absorption toughness.

Unlike rival alloys that push brittleness to reach extreme hardness, S90V relies chiefly on its vanadium carbides to shrug off wear. This allows it to temper hardness to more modest – though still impressive – levels.

Further enhancing toughness, S90V’s refined Crucible Particle Metallurgy production introduces special treatments like niobium micro-alloying to bolster flexibility and impact resistance.

The resulting steel stands with venerable cutlery alloys like 440C and D2 for practical toughness suitable for hard use, while exceeding them in staying sharper for far longer under real-world demands. S90V presents an appealing package blending acute edge traits with adequate tenacity.

S90V steel corrosion resistance

While not matching specialized stainless alloys, S90V still brings adequate corrosion defenses for real-world cutting duties. Its balance of chromium versus vanadium allows enough leftover chromium to provide durable protection versus oxidation.

Under normal use regimes, S90V steel maintains sufficient stain and rust resistance to satisfy most owners over an extended lifespan. It achieves parity with cutlery stalwarts like VG-10 that make reasonable tradeoffs to chase superior edge retention. You gain phenomenal sharpness and longevity without rendering the steel fully vulnerable to environmental breakdown.

S90V is very much stainless steel despite its high wear performance – S90V is not optimized for maritime or caustic settings. On pocket, hunting and tactical knives seeing typical carry and use, it brings an ideal blend of corrosion defenses and unmatched abrasion-fighting traits.

Related: How good is CTS XHP steel for knives?

Ameight Knives Gladiator S90V Steel
Ameight Knives Gladiator S90V Steel

Comparing CPM S90V with other similar steels

CPM S90V is often referred to as super steel that has balanced properties and apex edge retention. Let us see how it compares with other similar steels.

Contrasting Capabilities – S90V versus S30V steel

S90V and S30V represent two tiers of stainless steel from the same Crucible Industries family. However subtle differences in chemical composition lead to notable divergences in real-world cutting performance.

S30V strikes a balance favoring better resilience and corrosion resistance through increased molybdenum versus high carbon and vanadium S90V. This comes at the cost of apex-level edge retention, which S90V bests handily.

However, S30V restores sharpness with much less effort. This makes S30V more friendly for casual owners prioritizing convenience, while the S90V steel satisfies professionals requiring ultimate cutting endurance above all.

In essence – S30V steel brings accessible maintenance with sufficient longevity for average needs, while the performance-pushed S90V offers next-level capability but proves demanding to revive once dulled.

S90V vs VG-10 steel

VG-10 has a venerable reputation as an optimal Japanese kitchen knife steel. Its balanced formula emphasizes reliable toughness, acute edges, and lasting corrosion resistance able to withstand wet prep work. This versatile alloy especially shines at resisting chips from bone or freezing impacts.

In contrast, S90V obsesses solely over extreme wear resistance and prodigious edge retention to enable unmatched cutting longevity suited best for sustained usage between sharpenings.

Consequently, while S90V makes short work of fibrous materials without pause, VG-10 may better handle abrupt kitchen stresses. This divergence shows context matters greatly – VG-10 serves as an enduring home blade, while S90V enables professionals to push cutting runtimes to the limits.

The goal is to cater to intended use cases. If you anticipate material impacts in kitchen settings, VG-10 provides reliable versatility. But for extended cutting challenges, S90V has no equal despite more particular care demands. Choose your steel based on cutting conditions and maintenance considerations unique to the task.

Applications of S90V steel

  • Premium Pocket Knives: S90V is widely used in high-end everyday carry folding knives. Its extreme edge retention allows these slim pocket knives to maintain razor sharpness through months of daily use for tasks like opening boxes, slicing fruit or rope, controlled cuts, and more.
  • Hunting & Tactical Fixed Blades: S90V is excellent for skinning blades, outdoor survival knives and boot knives that require prolonged periods in the field without sharpening. Its hardness withstands abrasive animal hide, bone, wood processing and rugged use.
  • Chef’s Knives: For professional chefs or obsessive home cooks, S90V-powered cutlery can withstand hours of vegetable/meat prep without losing high performance. Brands like Spyderco use it in specialty kitchen knives.
  • Precision Cutting Tools: From custom woodcarving knives to medical scalpels, industrial cutters and fabric scissors, S90V provides unmatched longevity and precision in specialized cutting applications requiring extreme reliability and longevity per sharpening.

In short, any application requiring extended real-world cutting sharpness from a single sharpening makes an ideal match for S90V’s almost surreal wear resistance compared to mainstream knife steels. The tradeoff is higher cost and sharpening difficulty, but many disciplines justify the benefits.

CPM S90V Stainless Steel Blade
CPM S90V Stainless Steel Blade

Is S90V steel right for your knives?

With almost mythical edge retention capability exceeding any widely available stainless steel, S90V seems an obvious choice for serious cutlery products. Its extreme wear resistance enables unbelievable cutting sharpness longevity between sharpenings.

However, these singular strengths carry compromises and care demands that narrow its ideal user range mostly to professionals and ultra-enthusiasts. Steels like S30V or VG-10 can match or exceed S90V for novice needs at lower cost and fuss.

Ultimately S90V’s worth depends on your actual cutting and maintenance realities:

S90V is best suited For:

  • Full-time professional cutting duties
  • Extreme hobbyists requiring max sharpness
  • Hunting/survival flexibility is secondary

Overkill for:

  • Home cooks lacking sharpening skills
  • Budget-conscious buyers
  • Applications needing more resilience

Before purchasing S90V knives, carefully weigh your needs and habits to determine if their astronomical performance promises real-world advantages justifying the higher sticker price and particular maintenance needs. This steel crowns the pinnacle…for the few who truly require that lofty throne.

CPM S90V steel folding knife
CPM S90V steel folding knife

Final Words: CPM S90V knife steel review

Many knife collectors and outdoor enthusiasts agree that they consider S90V steel to be the best blade material for a knife.

Although there are some differences of opinion on certain details, these tend to be exceptions.

It seems that some smaller shops are carrying S90V for two main reasons:

  • Firstly because more and more customers are asking for it.
  • Secondly, many knife makers themselves are successfully working with this alloy.

However, CPM S90V also has a big disadvantage: it will be difficult to find a knife for less than $150 – 160. Most of them are in the $200 to $300 range, although you can easily pay up to $700 for some exquisite models.

Cut Bolt
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