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Decoding Premium Steel: Is ZDP 189 Steel Good for Knives?

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Is ZDP 189 Steel good for knives? ZDP-189: the mythical unicorn of the knife world or merely a marketing mirage?

Sharpness that whispers legends. Rust resistance that mocks the sea. Price tag that makes jaws drop. We’re about to slice through the hype and uncover the truth about this enigmatic steel.

Think razor-sharp edges that stay that way for ages, even after battling mountains of tomatoes and conquering cardboard fortresses. Imagine a blade that laughs at moisture, shrugging off rust like a duck in a monsoon. Sounds too good to be true, right?

I spent a few hours reading up on this steel to answer some frequently asked questions such as: What kind of steel is it? What is its chemical composition? What is its hardness? Is it good for knives or not, and so on. So, let’s take a look at it!

Key Takeaways

    • Premium Wear Resistance: The steel’s high carbon and chromium content contribute to superior wear resistance, enhancing the overall durability of the knife.
    • Challenging to Sharpen: While it holds an edge well, ZDP-189 can be challenging to sharpen due to its extreme hardness, requiring advanced sharpening skills and tools.
    • Corrosion Resistance: Contains enough chromium for good corrosion resistance, but it’s still advisable to keep the knife dry to prevent any potential rusting.
    • Premium Material Cost: ZDP-189 is a high-end steel, leading to knives made with this material often having a higher price point.
    • Ideal for Precision Cutting: Well-suited for applications requiring precise cuts and extended use without frequent resharpening.

What is ZDP-189 steel?

ZDP-189 is a Japanese premium or super-high-end stainless steel made by Hitachi using the powder metallurgy process. It is one of the latest developments in the field of powder metallurgy steels. With a very high chromium and carbon content, it offers extreme properties in terms of hardness, corrosion resistance and wear resistance. It is mainly used in premium kitchen knives, but also in EDC knives.

Is ZDP 189 Steel good for knives?
Is ZDP 189 Steel good for knives?

While researching, reading forums, and watching videos, I found that virtually every knife user has only positive things to say about their ZDP-189 knife.

ZDP-189 steel chemical composition

To evaluate a steel, it is best to first look at its carbon and chromium content before any other components, because a lot of carbon tends to mean high hardness, and a lot of chromium tends to mean high corrosion resistance. Here is the complete composition of ZDP-189:

ElementPortionEffect
Chromium20.0%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.
Carbon3.0%Increasing hardness and tensile strength. In larger quantities, increase in brittleness and a reduction in forgeability and weldability.
Manganese0.5%Improves hardness and tensile strength.
Molybdenum1.4%Improves hardenability, tensile strength and weldability. Reduction in forgeability and ductility.
Silicon0.4%Improves strength.
Vanadium0.1%Increasing hardness, increasing wear resistance and improving tempering resistance.
Wolfram0.6%Increase in heat strength, tempering resistance and wear resistance at high temperatures up to red heat.
ZDP-189 steel composition

As we can see, the chemical composition of ZDP-189 clearly shows the superiority of this steel. It consists of 3% carbon (which is very expensive to produce) and 20% chromium (a very high chromium content indeed), which in combination with the other elements results in exceptional hardness, wear resistance and corrosion resistance.

What is the hardness (HRC) of ZDP-189 steel?

ZDP-189 steel can reach a maximum hardness of 67 HRC, which is well above the values of average mass-production knives.

ZDP 189 Steel Rockwell Hardness
ZDP 189 Steel Rockwell Hardness

Properties of ZDP-189

According to the chemical composition and hardness of ZDP-189 steel, it provides:

1. Unmatched Edge Retention

With a maximum hardness of 67 HRC, this steel can offer a great deal of hardness that makes for exceptionally high edge retention!

If you’ve ever dealt with steels that are on the soft side of the steel scale (significantly softer than 60 HRC), you know how frustrating it can be when it comes to keeping an edge sharp for a long time. Soft steel tends to “roll,” meaning that the cutting edge is flattened by cutting pressure and then doesn’t cut as well.

On the other hand, this can be easily remedied by pulling the blade through a sharpener, which does nothing but reshape the metal. With harder steels like ZDP-189, the opposite is true: this steel retains its superior cutting ability like no other steel, even when faced with tough cutting tasks.

2. Exceptional Corrosion Resistance

With a chromium content of around 20%, this steel is very good at resisting rust and corrosion. On the other hand, some people have had problems with their ZDP-189 knives. Those who are concerned about this should simply not expose their knives to corrosive environments or circumstances over a longer time.

ZDP-189 super steel EDC knife
ZDP-189 super steel EDC knife

3. Wear resistance

Another advantage of this super-hard steel is its excellent wear resistance. The high carbon and chromium content takes its wear resistance to a whole new level. Daily use seems to pass it by without a trace and it lasts a very long time compared to less hard, stainless and lower carbon steels.

4. Sharpness

ZDP-189 is difficult to sharpen. This is a characteristic of all high-hardness steels. But “hard to sharpen” does not mean that this steel cannot be sharpened. It takes time, but eventually it will get a super sharp edge… but that takes time and also requires sophisticated sharpening systems. Novices in this field are advised to take their ZDP-189 knife to an expert for sharpening.

5. Toughness

When a steel becomes too hard, its toughness decreases. With this rule in mind, it is easy to understand that this Japanese steel is not the very best when it comes to resisting chipping or breaking. But it is not the worst of steel either. It has a good level of toughness that allows for hard use without chipping. ZDP-189 is thus also very well suited for use as a survival and camping knife, that is, unless “easy sharpening in the field” is mandatory.

ZDP-189 steel folding knife
ZDP-189 steel folding knife

Is ZDP-189 rust-proof or stainless steel?

ZDP-189 steel is both rust-proof and stainless steel. To be considered stainless, it must have a chromium content of at least 10.5 – 13% dissolved in austenite or ferrite, depending on the definition (see here), which is the case with 5Cr15MoV. Also, it is a stainless steel because its sulfur and phosphorus content (so-called iron companion) does not exceed 0.025% (see here).

My opinion: Is ZDP 189 steel good for knives?

Would you believe me if I said “no” after praising its properties so much? Of course not, I wouldn’t believe it myself! It is an excellent steel for knives! It is extremely corrosion-resistant, very wear-resistant and super tough. It could be the best steel for knives and is perfect for survival knives, hunting knives and high-end kitchen knives.

I have mentioned some exceptional advantages of this premium steel earlier. Here are some disadvantages you should know about ZDP-189 steel:

Cons:

  • Sharpening Difficulty: Due to its hardness, ZDP-189 can be challenging to sharpen, requiring specialized tools and techniques. Beginners beware!
  • Chipping Susceptibility: Although tough, ZDP-189’s hardness can make it slightly more prone to chipping if used for heavy-duty tasks or prying.
  • Price Tag: Prepare for sticker shock. ZDP-189 knives are premium products with premium prices.

If you own or intend to buy a ZDP-189 steel knife, just do it! You will most likely not regret it.

Comparing ZDP-189 with similar steels

Let us compare the ZDP 189 steel with a few other popular steels in the same category:

ZDP 189 vs. M390 steel

CriteriaZDP-189Bohler M390
Edge retention8/108/10
Simplicity of sharpening4/105/10
Corrosion resistance4/108/10
Toughness6/106/10
Bohler M390 steel vs ZDP189

Böhler M390 and ZDP-189 are very similar. The corrosion resistance alone is significantly higher with the M390.

ZDP-189 stainless steel folding blade
ZDP-189 stainless steel folding blade

CPM S30V vs ZDP 189 steel

CriteriaZDP-189CPM S30V
Edge retention8/105/10
Simplicity of sharpening4/105/10
Corrosion resistance4/107/10
Toughness6/106/10
ZDP 189 steel vs CPM S30V

The edge retention of S30V is lower than that of ZDP-189, the toughness level is the same, but the corrosion resistance is significantly higher in comparison.

ZDP steel vs. VG10

CriteriaZDP-189VG10
Edge retention8/105/10
Simplicity of sharpening4/106/10
Corrosion resistance4/107/10
Toughness6/104/10
VG10 vs ZDP 189 steel

The edge retention of VG10 is lower compared to ZDP-189 steel, as is its toughness but its corrosion resistance is significantly higher.

Related: 5Cr15MoV steel overview for knife making

ZDP-189 steel equivalents

I could not find a steel that is a perfect match for ZDP-189. But I think M390 is a very strong competitor. Both are premium steel known for their great hardness, wear resistance and corrosion resistance. ZDP-189 is superior in hardness (it has 3% carbon compared to 1.9% in M390 steel) and both fall in the same price range.

Is there an equivalent steel grade for ZDP-189? – A very clear YES. And that grade is the Cowry-X steel. Like ZDP-189, this steel contains around 3% carbon and 20% chromium, making it extremely hard. It has almost the same main characteristics as ZDP-189. However, unlike Cowry-X, ZDP-189 contains additional elements such as molybdenum, vanadium and tungsten.

Also, this steel can be found under the designation MC66. This is the code name Henckels uses for ZDP-189, but it is basically the same steel.

Final Words: ZDP 189 steel review

We’ve dissected the magic and mystique of ZDP-189, uncovering its razor-sharp bite and near-mythical rust resistance. This steel isn’t just whispers of sharpness, it’s a battle cry of performance. But like any warrior, ZDP-189 has its scars. Its edge, while tenacious, can be a touch harder to sharpen than some, and its high price tag might make you think twice before taking it on rough-and-tumble adventures.

So, is ZDP-189 the holy grail of blades? Not quite. It’s a champion steel for specific needs, a sword for connoisseurs who prioritize edge retention, corrosion resistance, and a laser-sharp bite. For everyday tasks, camping trips, or budget-conscious enthusiasts, other steels might be a better fit.

Remember, it’s not just about the steel, it’s about the experience. Embrace the joy of finding the perfect blade that fits your hand, your purpose, and your budget. Happy slicing!

Cut Bolt
Cut Bolt
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