Pocket Knife Materials: Blade and Handle Construction

Knife users are sometimes curious what materials their pocket knife handles and blades are made out of. They reach down, pull the knife out of their pocket, handle it a little, hold it in front of their face, and question exactly what kind of stuff it’s made out of. The answer can vary greatly as hundreds of elements can and have been used to fabricate knives over the centuries.

Pocket Knife Blade Fabrication

Steel is the most common material used to make knife blades. Steel is an alloy of iron and other elements, like carbon, and it’s sometimes enhanced with further materials like manganese, vanadium, and chromium. By altering the amount of different materials in the blade, different kinds of steel can be created. Stainless steel, for example, is created by adding in materials that make it more rust-resistant. Finishing processes also play a big role in making the steel blade. Processes like heat treating and rolling can have an effect on the final composition of the blade. Each material that’s integrated into the steel alters it slightly.

The following is a list of common steels that are regularly used for knife blades:

154CM is a stainless steel that’s American-made, and it was initially created to make jet engine turbine blades. It’s much the same as ATS-34. It’s resistant to corrosion, and it has a good edge quality and toughness.

CPM 3V steel is an extremely tough and highly resistance to wear, breakage and chipping.

440C is used on a lot of factory-manufactured blades, and it’s a stainless steel. It’s extremely stain-resistant, and it keeps up its edge very well.

ATS-34 is a stainless steel from Japan, and it became really popular in the 1990s because it was a better alternative to 440C. It holds a better edge than 440C, but it’s not as rust-resistant.

AUS-8 has a very tiny carbon to chromium ratio. It’s very corrosion-resistant, and it’s extremely tough as well, but it doesn’t hold an edge like some of the other kinds of steel with more carbon content.

BG-42 is stronger than ATS-34. It has a better ability to hold an edge than ATS-34 and 44C.

D2 is a steel with a lot of carbon, and it can hold an edge very well. It also has unmatched resistance to wear, but it’s not very tough. It’s not as resistant to corrosion as ATS-34 or 440C, and it’s not even really thought of as a stainless steel because it’s just 12% chrome. 13% or more chrome is necessary for stainless steel blades.

Damascus is composed of a lot of different steels that are held together in layers. There’s an acid etch that brings out the surface lines as part of the finishing process. You end up getting a strong blade with a great edge quality. It’s very expensive, and it’s mostly used for artistic pursuits.

H1 is known for its corrosion resistance. Blades that are composed of this give up some of their edge quality in exchange for toughness and corrosion resistance.

M2 is very tough, and it’s a grade of steel used for tools. It’s used quite frequently for industrial cutting pursuits. The steel has a powerful strength, and it’s very resistant to wear, but it’s also very susceptible to corrosion.

S30V is a steel that’s premium-grade, and it was designed in the U.S. for making knives. It’s very corrosion-resistant, and it has a good edge-holding ability. It’s a very good blade material for pocket knives.

There are many other kinds of knife blade materials. Carbon steel blades, titanium blades, ceramic blades, and even plastic blades.

Before stainless steel blades were so popular,  carbon blades used to be implemented in many pocket knives. They are some of the sharpest blades you can find, and they’re a lot easier than stainless steel blades to sharpen. They lack Chromium, however, so they are very susceptible to corrosion and rust, and then need a cleaning after every use. Carbon steel can also get discolored pretty easily. It has a sharpness and durability that make it a good blade material for pocket knives.

A titanium blade is very rust-resistant and strong, and it’s easy to pick it apart from other kinds of blades because of its silver, dark coloring. Titanium blades are also usually not as sharp and softer than other types, and there’s sometimes another coat put on them. Their durable and non-magnetic properties make them very popular as pocket knives.

Ceramic blades are somewhat less common. Ceramic is a solid that’s non-metallic. It has complete corrosion resistance, it’s very hard, and it can keep up its sharpness for long spans of time without requiring to be sharpened. However, it’s vulnerable to cracks if you drop it, and it’s very brittle. These kinds of blades can usually only be sharpened with certain kinds of tools, such as a diamond sharpener or silicon carbide sharpener.

Plastic blades are much less common than ceramic blades, which makes them pretty rare indeed. Plastic blades have hard to sharpen the edges and most need to be serrated.

Pocket Knife Handle Construction

After this serious overview of pocket knife blade materials, you might be wondering what pocket knife handles are usually made out of. Pocket knife handles are made out of all sorts of things. Abalone, ABS, aluminum, bone, black mother of pearl, carbon fiber, G-10, leather, micarta, stag, stainless steel, titanium, white mother of pearl, wood, and zytel are some of the materials that pocket knife handles are constructed from.

One of the most popular pocket knife handles is stag antler because it’s a lot more dense than some of the other materials. It has a rough texture that gives the knife user a really awesome grip, along with attractive aesthetics. Also, because it’s a natural material, no two handles will ever look alike. It comes naturally from deer antlers, where it’s shed off from. When it gets exposed to a flame, it takes on a kind of burnt appearance. It’s an excellent knife handle material, and it’s extremely durable.

Bone is another unusual material. It comes from animals that die naturally. They often have a surface texture for added beauty and a better grip. It’s not uncommon to see lots of natural materials used for pocket knife handles, even materials that aren’t mentioned on this list.