Is W2 Steel Good for Knives? Analyzing Pros and Cons

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As a knife enthusiast, I have heard about W2 steel. Is W2 steel good for knives? To know more, I did research and here is the result.

It is quite a popular steel in the custom knife industry. There are even knife makers who use only this steel.

So if you are also interested in W2 knife steel, I suggest you read on. I have answered some frequently asked questions (like: What is W2 steel? What is its chemical composition? Questions about its hardness, suitability and so on. So here goes!

What is W2 steel?

W2 is a water-hardening tool steel popular with beginners and experienced knife makers. Water-hardening steels are referred to as Group W steels (W1, W2 and W3), W2 is used in the knife industry and is known for its edge retention and toughness. With its comparatively high carbon content of more than 1% (up to 1.15% to be exact), it is considered a high-carbon steel.

Knifemakers love this steel for its fantastic toughness and excellent edge retention. This steel falls in the high hardness grades, up to 65HRC, and still delivers high toughness. Especially when used in larger knives with thicker backs, as the core of the thick part of the blade does not reach full hardness due to the shallow hardening of the steel.

Furthermore, W2 is considered one of if not the perfect steel for creating hamon – an optical effect (visible hardening zone on Japanese sword, knife and lance blades) created by the hardening process on the blade surface.

Is W2 Steel Good for Knives
Is W2 Steel Good for Knives?

Chemical composition of W2 knife steel

As mentioned above, W2 is a high carbon steel as it contains more than 1% of carbon. The following table shows the carbon content of W2 steel, as well as all other elements used in its alloy and their respective amounts.

Chromium0.15%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.
Carbon1.15%Increasing hardness and tensile strength. In larger quantities, increase in brittleness and reduction in forgeability and weldability.
Manganese0.25%Improves hardness and tensile strength.
Molybdenum0.10%Improves hardenability, tensile strength and weldability. Reduction in forgeability and ductility.
Nickel0.20%Nickel increases tensile strength and yield strength. From 8% increase in corrosion resistance.
Silicon0.25%Improves strength.
W2 steel composition

As you can see, the chemical composition of W2 steel is high in carbon, but at the same time low in chromium (only 0.15%), which makes it a carbon steel.

What is the hardness (HRC) of W2 knife steel?

W2 can reach a maximum hardness of 65 HRC, but in practice, it is usually between 57 and 63 HRC.

W2 Steel Rockwell Hardness
W2 Steel Rockwell Hardness

W2 steel has a working hardness of 62 – 65 HRC. This makes it a very hard steel that offers superior edge retention and excellent cutting performance, even with thin cutting edges. It should be noted, however, that the hardness level of different W2 steel samples may vary depending on the amount of carbon used.

W2 steel properties

This section is about the main properties of W2 steel, properties that can be expected from a W2 blade. According to the chemical composition and hardness of W2 knife steel, it offers the following properties:

1. Edge retention

W2 knife steel can reach a maximum hardness of 65HRC, so if it is well hardened to 62HRC, it will be a very hard steel with high edge retention. Hard steel is often associated with good edge retention. And that is exactly the case with W2 steel. With its high hardness level of up to 65HRC, a W2 cutting edge can hold its sharpness perfectly. Many knife manufacturers swear by W2 when it comes to making a knife that provides efficient cutting performance all day long.

2. Corrosion resistance

The corrosion resistance of W2 is very low due to its low chromium content.

In the area of corrosion resistance, W2 performs poorly. Its corrosion resistance is low due to the small amount of chromium used in its composition and does not do much to protect against staining, rusting and corrosion.

3. Wear resistance

W2 steel exhibits consistently good wear resistance, owing to its high hardness achieved through a higher percentage of carbon. The elevated carbon content contributes to the steel’s ability to maintain an edge over prolonged use. This makes W2 a reliable choice for applications that demand enduring sharpness and resistance to wear, as its robust hardness allows it to withstand the rigors of cutting tasks while retaining its edge over time.

4. Sharpness

The rule is that the harder the steel, the harder it is to sharpen. W2 can become very hard (62-63 HRC), which makes sharpening much more difficult.

5. Toughness

Although this steel has a high hardness, it also offers decent toughness and does not break or chip easily. However, it is easy to overlook the fact that toughness and hardness are indirectly proportional. In other words, trying to achieve hardness levels above 63RC with steel will have as a result that toughness will decrease.

W2 Steel Knife
W2 Steel Knife with Hamon effect

My opinion: Is W2 steel good for knives?

Yes, W2 is a good knife steel because it has great hardness and toughness. So if you are looking for a fixed blade that can withstand a lot of hard treatment, W2 knife steel would be a good choice. However, it has low corrosion resistance and wear resistance, so you should take good care of it to avoid rust and dullness. This is especially true when looking for a kitchen knife, fishing knife or diving knife – for this, it is conceivably unsuitable as there are much more suitable steels for this.

W2 knife steel equivalents

The chemical composition of W2 is close to 1095. 1095 is also carbon steel, but 1095 cannot be considered 100% equivalent to W2 steel and is more minimalist in composition.

However, both offer great hardness and high toughness (W2 is even slightly tougher and harder than 1095) and both have both low corrosion resistance and high edge retention. On the upside, W2 may well compare favorably with SK5. However, due to the low chromium content in both steels, they are poor in terms of resistance. Their abrasion resistance is also below average.

Related: How good is S35VN steel?

W2 knife steel vs other steels

I have tried to compare W2 steel with similar steels so you can easily choose the best one:

W2 vs 5140 steel

Due to the low carbon content in 5140 steel, it does not offer as good edge retention and wear resistance as W2. However, the low carbon content makes the steel softer, making it easier to sharpen even for absolute beginners.

W2 vs 1084 steel

1084 has a lower carbon content than W2. This explains why W2 performs better than 1084 in terms of edge retention and wear resistance, but 1084 is easier to sharpen.

W2 vs D2 steel

D2 is a higher-quality steel that offers better edge retention and corrosion resistance than W2. However, D2 is more challenging to sharpen, especially beginners could easily get overwhelmed here. In contrast, W2 is comparatively easy to sharpen.

W2 vs W1 steel

Both steels come from the same family of water-hardened tool steels. They are almost identical, with the only exception that W2 contains vanadium, which increases its hardenability and wear resistance. W2 is preferred mainly by knifemakers who want to decorate their blades with Hamon effects.

Conclusion: Is W2 a good knife steel?

If you’re a fan of carbon steel knives, you already know that the “lack of corrosion resistance” shouldn’t scare you away, because low corrosion resistance doesn’t mean that the steel is therefore bad. It just means that it needs more care. And “more care” does not mean that you have to pay constant attention to it.

Clean the knife after use and wipe with an oily rag if necessary. Many users prefer carbon steel knives to those made of stainless steel to enjoy the full toughness. So if you are one of them, you might want to consider getting a W2 knife – preferably a custom one – you’ll love it!

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