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Is ELMAX Steel Really That Good?

There’s a lot of hub-bub about knife steel. Always. The more you read, the less you know. It’s like try­ing to get a con­sen­sus on a gun forum. Ever try that? Yeah it isn’t fun.

But there is a new­er con­tender for King of the Hill in blade steel and if you haven’t heard about it, it’s called Elmax. Here’s the low­down.

What is ELMAX steel and why is it ideal for use in knives?

Pro­duced by Bohler-Udden­holm, ELMAX steel is a “high chromi­um-vana­di­um-molyb­de­num-alloyed steel,” made of 1.7 per­cent car­bon, 18 per­cent chromi­um, .3 per­cent man­ganese, 1 per­cent molyb­de­num, .8 per­cent sil­i­con, and 3 per­cent vana­di­um. This com­po­si­tion allows for the met­al to have a high wear resis­tance, high com­pres­sive strength, supe­ri­or cor­ro­sion resis­tance, and a very good dimen­sion­al sta­bil­i­ty, or the abil­i­ty to retain its size and form even after tak­ing abuse.

Although high wear and cor­ro­sion resis­tance are typ­i­cal­ly hard to find togeth­er in a knife blade, this steel’s pow­der-met­al­lur­gy based pro­duc­tion allows for its imper­vi­ous­ness to wear (side­ways shift­ing of the met­al from its orig­i­nal posi­tion), and cor­ro­sion (grad­ual destruc­tion of met­als). ELMAX is pro­duced through a hard­en­ing and cor­ro­sion resis­tant mold using this pow­der-met­al­lur­gy process, a process that Bohler-Udden­holm uses for many of their pre­mi­um stain­less steels. Pow­der met­al­lur­gy is the method of blend­ing fine pow­dered mate­ri­als, press­ing them into the desired shape, and then heat­ing it to sin­ter, or bond, the mate­r­i­al.

This gives the knife the desired traits of supe­ri­or edge reten­tion and an ease of sharp­en­ing, which is often the rea­son that peo­ple are attract­ed to such stain­less steel knives. The steel’s “Super­clean” pro­duc­tion process com­bined with small sized pow­der and car­bides guar­an­tee trou­ble-free grind­ing and pol­ish­ing. When hard­ened to 57–59 HRC, though the steel can actu­al­ly be ground up to 62 HRC, the knife has a good edge hold­ing abil­i­ty as well as a less-com­mon­ly found impact resis­tance- which is much high­er than oth­er stain­less steels- and grinds as eas­i­ly as the 154 CM steel, which is renowned for its easy grind­ing abil­i­ty. There­fore, ELMAX steel can take more abuse than oth­er met­als, and come out unscathed.

What many love about this steel is how although it is a stain­less steel, and has the bet­ter qual­i­ties of stain­less steel, it also has qual­i­ties of a car­bon steel alloy. Car­bon steel, unlike stain­less steel, is eas­i­er to sharp­en and achieve a good edge.

ELMAX is a gen­er­al­ly new steel, and was not stocked in the Unit­ed States until late in 2009. Since then, it has become very pop­u­lar, and is now avail­able in sin­gle sheets as well as cut bars from dis­trib­u­tors. Now it can be found in myr­i­ads of knives that are pro­duced by var­i­ous com­pa­nies.

How did it score?

Super Impressive Bar Graph depicting rockwell hardness. Rockwell. Sam Rockwell.

Super Impres­sive Bar Graph depict­ing rock­well hard­ness. Rock­well. Sam Rock­well.

On a CATRA (Cut­lery Allied Trades Research Asso­ci­a­tion) Edge Reten­tion Test, when test­ed for Rock­well C Hard­ness, Uddenholm’s ELMAX scored high­er than the oth­er test­ed stain­less steels, includ­ing Aisi M4, Aisi 440C, Bohler M390 Super­clean, and Udden­holm Vanadis 4, at an impres­sive 62 HRC. In its TCC (total cards cut) test, which mea­sures how many sil­i­ca impreg­nat­ed cards that a knife with each steel type can cut through at a time, ELMAX scored a 930.7, high­er than most oth­er steels, and sec­ond only to Bohler’s M390 Super­clean.

In an impact tough­ness test, the tough­ness of ELMAX steel at 61 HRC is bet­ter than any competitor’s stain­less blade steel even at 57 HRC, despite a low­er HRC typ­i­cal­ly pro­vid­ing more tough­ness.

ELMAX steel is used in many Microtech knives, and is a pop­u­lar met­al choice for many Ker­shaw knives. This qual­i­ty of this met­al has led it to win sev­er­al awards. It is used in the Zero Tol­er­ance 0561, which was award­ed Blade Magazine’s “Col­lab­o­ra­tion of the Year” award in 2011. It is also used in the Ker­shaw Speed-form mod­el, which won Blade Magazine’s “Amer­i­can Made Knife of the Year” award in 2009.

ELMAX knives can be used for mul­ti­tudes of pur­pos­es, and can be found in knives in a wide range of cat­e­gories. This steel is ide­al for survival/Bushcraft knives, with qual­i­ties that are cru­cial for out­door and sur­vival activ­i­ties. When you are out­doors, camp­ing or hik­ing, you need a knife that can last and per­form to the high­est stan­dards of dura­bil­i­ty, tough­ness, high wear, and cor­ro­sion resis­tance. Knives used for such out­door pur­pos­es can often be found in less-than-ide­al sit­u­a­tions such as heavy rain, sit­u­a­tions in which it would be risky to use most knives for fear of wear or cor­ro­sion. With ELMAX, how­ev­er, avid out­doors­men can enjoy the stress-free con­ve­nience of a high-abuse tak­ing, qual­i­ty blade. In addi­tion to sur­vival, these met­als are ide­al for use in blades meant for hunt­ing, fish­ing, and even kitchen work, where sharp­ness and robust­ness are crit­i­cal fea­tures.

How does it compare to other knife steels?

Although ELMAX steel offers such qual­i­ty fea­tures, it can be said that there are oth­er knife steels that can out-per­form it.

S30V steel is a pop­u­lar stain­less steel, which, like ELMAX, is a pow­der-made steel. It is tougher than oth­er pop­u­lar met­als such as 440C and D2, as well as more wear resis­tant. Yet when com­pared to ELMAX, it does not per­form as well. When ground to 62 HRC, an ELMAX blade is far more depend­able than one made of S30V. ELMAX is made with con­sid­er­ably more chromi­um, which adds to its cor­ro­sion resis­tance, yet again push­ing it ahead of S30V. Its car­bon con­tent also gives it the edge in terms of sharp­en­ing. There­fore, S30V steel knives are less expen­sive than those made of ELMAX, as well as more com­mon­ly used in knives.

S35VN steel is a stain­less steel designed to have an improved tough­ness over S30V, as well as being easy to pol­ish, and does not wear as eas­i­ly. Sim­i­lar­ly to the com­par­i­son with S30V steel, ELMAX dis­plays supe­ri­or depend­abil­i­ty at a high HRC than S35VN, and bet­ter cor­ro­sion resis­tance while retain­ing its tough­ness. Despite this, S35VN steel knives are not notice­ably less cheap than those made of ELMAX.

Bohler’s M390 Super­clean steel, unlike the pre­vi­ous­ly men­tioned steels, is extreme­ly com­pa­ra­ble to ELMAX, and many say out-per­forms it. Both steels are extreme­ly cor­ro­sive resis­tant, and are very fine­ly grained, clean, and pure met­als. Both steels can take an amaz­ing­ly sharp edge, and last at a high HRC. Tests show that M390 steel is slight­ly supe­ri­or to ELMAX in edge retention/wear resis­tance, hav­ing scored a 958.6 on the CATRA TCC test- as opposed to ELMAX’s 930.7. In terms of Rock­well C Hard­ness, how­ev­er, ELMAX, at 62, scored high­er than M390’s 61. For those mak­ing knives, M390 has been not­ed to be con­sid­er­ably hard­er to tem­per.

As opposed to most oth­er steels, ELMAX is sim­ply more con­ve­nient, as well as more all-around than oth­er knife steels. Through­out num­bers of tests, there were sim­ply no flaws to be found. Oth­er knives are prone to cer­tain flaws and weak­ness­es, and where they might be strong in one aspect, they lack in anoth­er. Many knives are tough but hard to sharp­en. Many are sharp, but prone to cor­ro­sion and rust. Oth­ers do not rust eas­i­ly but make soft­er blades. With ELMAX, you get receive lit­tle or no such set­backs, as well as all around qual­i­ty fea­tures.


So all that being said it sounds like a con­tender for the champ slot doesn’t it? To me, I guess it does. I’m not a met­al­lur­gist. I’m a guy who uses stuff hard and wants it to stand up to abuse. I’ll let the guys who design the stuff keep telling me why one is bet­ter than the oth­er and I’ll just have to con­tin­ue to take their word for it.

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ER1C ☠

ER1C ☠

Dedicated Second Amendment Advocate, At-Home Gunsmith, Designer, Blogger, Video Guy, Author, Business Owner & ReloadOne Member.

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