Slay the Debate: Is CTS XHP Steel Good for Knives?

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You know the big names in knife steel: S30V, 20CV, ZDP-189… but have you heard of CTS XHP? Is CTS XHP steel good for knives? CTS stands for Carpenter Technology.

This lesser-known steel packs a punch, offering impressive edge retention, surprising ease of sharpening, and a toughness that shrugs off demanding tasks. But is it all hype, or could it be the unsung hero of your next blade? Let’s delve into the world of CTS XHP and see if it deserves a spot in your EDC or hunting pack.

What is CTS XHP steel?

CTS XHP steel is a powder metallurgy stainless steel known for its balance of hardness, edge retention, corrosion resistance, and toughness. It’s produced by Carpenter Technology and often seen in high-performance knives. CTS XHP delivers the edge-holding power of high-carbon steel, the corrosion resistance of stainless steel, and the toughness to stand up to any challenge.

Key characteristics:

  • High Carbon: This translates to excellent edge retention, meaning it stays sharp for a long time.
  • High Chromium: Ensures good corrosion resistance, making it suitable for everyday use and even wet environments.
  • Powder Metallurgy: This manufacturing process creates a finer-grained structure, leading to improved toughness and chip resistance.
  • Air-Hardening: Makes heat treatment more forgiving compared to other high-performance steels.

Think of it this way:

  • Imagine the hardness of D2 tool steel combined with the corrosion resistance of 440C stainless steel. That’s what you get with CTS XHP.
  • It’s like a jack-of-all-trades steel, offering good performance in most areas without excelling in just one.
Is CTS XHP good for knives?
Is CTS XHP good for knives?

XHP steel chemical composition

The chemical composition of CTS XHP is a mixture of high chromium content (16%) and high carbon content (more than 1%), which makes it a high-quality stainless steel.

Chrome16.00%Improves wear resistance, heat resistance and scale resistance. It increases tensile strength because it acts as a carbide former. Use of rust-free or stainless steel, as it increases corrosion resistance from a mass proportion of 12.2%. Reduction in weldability.
Carbon1.60%Increasing hardness and tensile strength. In larger quantities, increase in brittleness and a reduction in forgeability and weldability.
Manganese0.50%Improves hardness and tensile strength.
Molybdenum0.80%Improves hardenability, tensile strength and weldability. Reduction in forgeability and ductility.
Niobium0.35%Increase in strength and toughness. Carbide, nitride and carbon nitride formers due to high affinity for carbon and nitrogen.
Silicon0.40%Improves strength.
Vanadium0.10%Increasing hardness, increasing wear resistance and improving tempering resistance.
CTS XHP steel composition
CTS XHP stainless steel knife
CTS XHP stainless steel knife

What is the hardness of CTS XHP steel

Depending on heat treatment and other factors, CTS XHP can achieve hardness levels of 60 to 64 HRC (Rockwell C scale). The combination of corrosion resistance and hardness means that CTS XHP can be seen as either a high-hardness version of 440C or a D2 alternative with higher corrosion resistance.

According to Carpenter, the maximum hardness of CTS XHP is 64 HRC. (see data sheet here). The hardness of CTS XHP in comparison:

CTS XHP Steel Rockwell Hardness
CTS XHP Steel Rockwell Hardness

CTS XHP steel properties

According to its composition and the Rockwell C hardness of the steel, CTS XHP has the following characteristics:

  • Cutting edge durability: with a maximum Rockwell C hardness of 64 and a high content of carbon and chromium, the steel offers great hardness and, of course, a very robust cutting edge.
  • Corrosion resistance: CTS XHP is one of the most corrosion-resistant stainless steels and its exceptional corrosion resistance makes it ideal for wet environments.
  • Wear resistance: With the addition of vanadium and niobium to the alloy, CTS XHP guarantees high wear resistance.
  • Sharpness: Because it is a hard steel, it is difficult to sharpen, as is always the case with very hard steels.
  • Toughness: CTS XHP offers great toughness, but not the best. It has high hardness and very good corrosion resistance, which in turn results in lower toughness. Because: you can’t have all three properties equally.
  • Welding: Due to the high carbon and chromium content of this steel, it is poorly weldable.

Related: EN45 knife steel review

Which steel is similar to CTS XHP?

The stainless steel closest in quality to CTS XHP is Crucible’s CPM S35VN. Both excel in edge retention, corrosion resistance, and wear resistance. Despite being challenging to sharpen, they offer reasonable toughness in exchange. Additionally, they share similar chemical compositions. While CPM S35VN theoretically edges out slightly, the practical impact of this difference is minimal.

Similar overall balance:

  • CPM-S30V: Another powder metallurgy stainless steel known for excellent edge retention, good toughness, and decent corrosion resistance. Often compared to CTS XHP directly, with variations in specific strengths and weaknesses depending on heat treatment.
  • CPM-20CV: Similar to S30V but with slightly better corrosion resistance and easier sharpening. May not hold an edge quite as long as CTS XHP.

Similar edge retention:

  • ZDP-189: Extremely high carbide content leads to amazing edge retention but can be chippy due to lower toughness. Not stainless steel and requires more care to avoid rust.
  • M390: Excellent edge retention and wear resistance with good toughness, but more expensive and can be slightly more difficult to sharpen.

Similar toughness:

  • D2 tool steel: Very tough and wear-resistant, but not stainless steel and prone to rust if not maintained. Generally considered less user-friendly than CTS XHP due to sharpening difficulty.
  • Crucible 3V: High toughness and good edge retention, but not stainless steel and prone to rust. Similar to D2 in some ways, but with finer grain structure leading to improved properties.
CTS-XHP steel tanto blade
CTS-XHP steel tanto blade

CTS XHP vs other steels

In this section we will compare XHP steel with two other steels, one is CPM S30V and the other is CPM S35VN.

For the comparison, I will use four criteria: Edge retention, corrosion resistance, sharpness behavior and toughness. The whole thing on a scale of 1 to 10.


Edge retention7/105/10
Simplicity of sharpening4/105/10
Corrosion resistance5/107/10
CPM S30V steel vs. CTS XHP steel

Compared to CTS XHP, S30V offers better corrosion resistance and better toughness, but its edge retention is lower, but it is slightly easier to sharpen.

CTS BD1 vs S35VN steel

CriteriaCTS XHPS35VN
Edge retention7/106/10
Simplicity of sharpening4/106/10
Corrosion resistance5/107/10
S35VN steel vs CTS BD1 steel

Compared to CTS XHP, S35VN offers better corrosion resistance of the cutting edge, better toughness, almost the same cutting edge retention and is easier to sharpen.

SOG CTS XHP steel knife
SOG CTS XHP steel knife

Is CTS XHP steel good for knives?

Yes, CTS XHP is a good knife steel. It offers high hardness, good wear resistance, high corrosion resistance and reasonable toughness – even if it is difficult to sharpen.

In return, however, its edge retention is excellent, so once a knife made of CTS XHP steel is sharpened, it will retain that sharpness for a long time.

At the same time, CTS XHP steel is a high-end stainless steel that can be used to make a high-quality if not top-notch knife that is perfect for outdoor activities, especially in humid environments. In other words, it is a great choice for hunters, fishermen and also for kitchen use.

Final Words: Is CTS XHP a good knife steel?

In my final words in the review of CTS XHP steel, I would like to say: go ahead you most likely will not regret the purchase.

Owning a high-end stainless steel knife is a great thing: the edge will stay sharp forever if used properly, as long as the environment is not corrosive.

Of course, a CTS-XHP knife is not cheap, 150 dollars plus you may already plan. But I think it is worth the price in the end.

One more general note: For all my enthusiasm, however, I would not use this type of steel as a survival knife, because without access to appropriate sharpening tools and the know-how, it will be difficult to get the knife satisfactorily sharp again “in the field”.

Cut Bolt
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