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?
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.