I keep searching for the best knife steel that can be used in all possible conditions. Recently I got hold of a knife made from Elmax steel (super steel). However, choosing the right steel for a knife is not so easy. Strength, toughness, corrosion and wear resistance, not to mention edge retention – there are so many variables to consider.
Is Elmax steel good for knives considering all these parameters? Bold claims have been making the rounds, such as ELMAX steel being the best all-round knife steel, better than all other steels. I am sharing my findings with you:
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What is ELMAX steel?
Elmax steel is an extremely popular high-end powder metallurgy stainless steel from Bohler-Uddenholm. It is known for its high wear resistance, high compressive strength, corrosion resistance and very good dimensional stability and is commonly referred to as “THE best knife steel”.
Chemical composition of ELMAX steel
The ELMAX steel produced by Bohler-Uddenholm is a “high chrome vanadium molybdenum alloy steel”. In addition to iron, it contains the following chemical elements:
|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.
|Increasing hardness and tensile strength. In larger quantities, increase in brittleness and reduction in forgeability and weldability.
|Improves hardness and tensile strength.
|Improves hardenability, tensile strength and weldability. Reduction in forgeability and ductility.
|Increasing hardness, increasing wear resistance and improving tempering resistance.
This composition ensures high wear resistance, high compressive strength, superior corrosion resistance and very good dimensional stability. Or in other words, the ability to maintain size and shape even with poor treatment.
What is the hardness of Exmax steel?
Elmax steel typically has a hardness range of 57-61 HRC (Rockwell Hardness). This range indicates a high level of hardness, making Elmax well-suited for knife blades where edge retention and wear resistance are important factors.
What makes ELMAX ideal for use in knives?
Although both high wear and corrosion resistance are normally difficult to combine in a knife blade, powder metallurgy production allows this steel to have high wear resistance AND high corrosion resistance.
Powder metallurgy is a process in which fine powder materials are mixed, pressed into the desired shape, and then heated to sinter or bond the material. ELMAX is produced in a hardenable and corrosion-resistant form using this powder metallurgy process Bohler-Uddenholm uses this process for many of its high-quality stainless steels.
This manufacturing process gives the knife the desired characteristics – superior edge retention and ease of sharpening. Maybe this is the reason ELMAX stainless steel knives developed such a fascination.
The extremely clean (‘Superclean’) manufacturing process combined with very fine powder and carbide guarantees trouble-free sharpening and polishing. The knife hardened to 57-59 HRC, has good edge retention and a rather rare high impact resistance. Elmax steel can be hardened to 62 HRC. This is much higher than other stainless steels, yet it is as easy to grind as 154 CM steel, which is known for its good grindability.
In other words, ELMAX is so popular because it has the best properties of stainless steel, but also the properties of a carbon steel alloy, because carbon steel is usually easier to grind with the same cutting ability.
How did ELMAX perform in tests?
A CATRA (Cutlery Allied Trades Research Association) cut resistance test has been performed for Rockwell hardness. ELMAX scored higher than the other stainless steels tested, including AISI M4, AISI 440C, Bohler M390 Superclean and Uddenholm Vanadis 4, with an impressive 62 HRC.
In its TCC (Total Cards Cut) test, which measures how many silica-impregnated cards a knife can cut through at one time with each steel grade, ELMAX scored 930.7 – higher than most other steels and second only to Bohler’s M390 Superclean.
In an impact toughness test, ELMAX steel’s toughness of 61 HRC is better than that of any competitor’s stainless blade steel, even those with 57 HRC. This is even though a lower HRC typically offers more toughness.
Ultimately, these qualities have led to ELMAX winning multiple awards and being used in quite a few knives, including many Kershaw knives.
Knives made from ELMAX steel are versatile. ELMAX is an ideal basis for survival knives. Because those who are in outdoors, hiking and camping, need a knife that meets the highest requirements for durability, toughness and high wear and corrosion resistance.
Heavy rain would be an example of one of those less-than-ideal situations where many knives would not be used for fear of wear or corrosion. Because these conditions do not affect ELMAX, it is also well suited for hunting and fishing knives that must simply function in environments that are difficult for the material.
Differences between ELMAX and other knife steels
Even though ELMAX steel has such exceptional qualities, there are also knife steels that surpass it, even if only slightly.
ELMAX vs CPM S30V steel
CPM S30V is a popular and also powder metallurgy steel. It is tougher than other common steels, such as 440C or D2, and it is also more wear-resistant.
However, it doesn’t perform well when compared to ELMAX. When hardened to 62 HRC, an ELMAX blade is much more reliable than one made of S30V.
ELMAX contains significantly more chromium, which increases its corrosion resistance and again puts it ahead of S30V. Its carbon content also gives it the edge in sharpening. Therefore, S30V knives are less expensive than those made from ELMAX and are also more widely available.
ELMAX vs CPM S35VN steel
CPM S35VN was developed to have improved toughness over CPM S30V. It should also be easier to grind and not wear as easily. Similar to the comparison with S30V, ELMAX shows superior reliability at high HRC. Elmax steel also has better corrosion resistance while maintaining toughness over S35VN. Interestingly, S35VN knives are not noticeably cheaper than those made from ELMAX.
ELMAX vs Bohler M390 Superclean steel
Bohler’s M390 Superclean steel is directly comparable to ELMAX, unlike the previously mentioned steels. Connoisseurs even classify it as better.
Both steels are extremely corrosion-resistant and consist of very fine-grained, clean and pure metals. Both steels can have a very sharp cutting edge and hold it at high HRC.
Tests show that M390 slightly outperforms ELMAX in terms of edge retention/wear resistance, achieving a score of 958.6 in the CATRA TCC test (ELMAX: 930.7).
In terms of hardness, however, ELMAX was able to achieve a higher value of 62 HRC (M390: 61 HRC). However, M390 is significantly more difficult to heat treat.
My opinion: Is Elmax good blade steel?
After all this discussion the question remains – how good is Elmax steel for knife?
Unlike most other steels, ELMAX is more versatile than other knife steels with reduced maintenance requirements. Virtually no deficiencies were found in a variety of tests. Other steels are susceptible to certain things, and where they are superior in one aspect, they are lacking in another.
For example, many knives are tough but difficult to sharpen. Many are sharp, but susceptible to corrosion and rust. Still others do not rust easily, but their blade is softer.
With ELMAX, you get little to none of these disadvantages, but virtually all the advantages.
Final words: Is Elmax steel good for knives?
ELMAX has been called the “best all-around knife steel.” In simple words, it is a high-quality and robust steel that will keep a razor-sharp edge for a long time. If you’re looking for a top-quality knife, you’ll want one made of ELMAX steel. Hardly any other steel offers a similar range of performance.
However, this also has its price. Many well-known manufacturers, including Zero Tolerance, LionSteel and others make great knives from ELMAX.
So if you have the wherewithal and choose an ELMAX knife from a reputable manufacturer, you’re unlikely to regret your decision.