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Is 420J2 stainless steel good for knives?

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Is 420J2 stainless steel good or junk metal?

Knife enthusiasts often scoff at knives made from 420J2 stainless steel. They dismiss them as cheap junk unable to hold an edge. But should this steel be written off so quickly? 420J2 blades have become popular among budget-conscious shoppers. And some claim that heat treating 420J2 correctly can produce durable edges rivaling higher-end steels.

So what’s the real story on 420J2 knives? Are they hidden gems, providing good value for money? Or will these blades frustrate you with poor edge retention and inferior cutting ability?

I tested some 420J2 blades to find out. Read on to learn whether this affordable steel deserves a second look or if you’re better off spending more for that premium knife. By the end, you’ll know whether 420J2 knives are budget gold or fool’s junk.

What is 420J2 steel?

420J2 steel is a stainless steel with a comparatively low chromium content. It is known for its high corrosion resistance and is mainly used for entry-level knives and diving knives, as well as surgical instruments, daggers, swords, and scissors.

Is 420J2 stainless steel good
Is 420J2 stainless steel good for knives?

420J2 steel chemical composition

ElementPortionEffect
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.
Carbon0.32%Increase hardness and tensile strength. In larger quantities, there is an increase in brittleness and a reduction in forgeability and weldability.
Manganese1.0%Improves hardness and tensile strength.
Nickel1.0%Nickel increases tensile strength and yield strength. From 8% increase in corrosion resistance.
Phosphorus0.04%Increases tensile strength, hardness and corrosion resistance but also brittleness.
Sulfur0.03%Increases machinability but also brittleness.
Silicon1.0%Improves strength.
Composition of 420J2 steel

As can be easily seen, the chemical composition of 420J2 is a mixture of high chromium content, which makes it stainless steel with high corrosion resistance.

Related: How good is 3Cr13 steel for knives?

What is the hardness (HRC) of 420J2 steel?

The maximum hardness of 420J2 steel is 56 HRC.

420J2 Steel Rockwell Hardness
420J2 Steel Rockwell Hardness

Properties of 420J2 steel

According to the chemical composition and HRC of the steel, this 420J2 has the following characteristics:

  • Edge retention: 420J2 is not the best in terms of edge retention. It contains little to no carbon, which makes it relatively soft and not very cut-resistant.
  • Corrosion Resistance: With a chromium content of 14%, 420J2 offers high corrosion resistance.
  • Wear Resistance: Wear resistance isn’t that great, but it’s decent for lower-end steel.
  • Sharpness: the rule is that “the harder the steel, the harder it is to sharpen”. 420J2 has a reasonable hardness, so sharpening it is not a difficult task.
  • Toughness: its toughness is good, as is its impact resistance.

All in all, you can say the focus of this steel is more on toughness and corrosion resistance.

Is 420J2 a good knife steel?

The saying: “You get what you pay for” is true. However, for many people, edge retention is the be-all and end-all of a knife. On the other hand, it is easy to sharpen, which is often not the case with knives with very high edge retention, possibly even made of premium steel.

On the other hand, it is very tough and has a high corrosion resistance. The bottom line is that if you are not afraid to sharpen your knife more often, which is not a problem with this steel and can be done quickly, you will get a robust knife at a comparatively low price with a knife made of 420J2.

420J2 Stainless Steel Sashimi Deba Knife
420J2 Stainless Steel Sashimi Deba Knife

420J2 steel equivalents

420J2 is quite close to the Chinese 3Cr13 steel. The steels are quite similar in chemical composition and both offer the combination of great toughness and corrosion resistance, at the expense of hardness and wear resistance. And they also fall into the same price category.

Conclusion: is 420J2 stainless steel good

There is no such thing as “bad” steel, it is just the wrong steel for the application. And, of course, an unsuitable budget. 420J2 steel is an entry-level stainless steel that can find its useful application in survival, tactical, or hunting and fishing knives due to its toughness and stainless properties. The fact that it is not very hard to cut is not a problem insofar as it is easy to sharpen, even or especially “in the field”.

However, if you place increased value on hardness and wear resistance – and thus on the convenience of being able to use the knife “low-maintenance” for a longer period of time, you should rather add a few dollars and opt for a 440A steel. Because let’s be realistic – who can afford 30-40 dollars, can afford 40 – 50 dollars.

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