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CPM 20CV Steel: Superb Strength and Durability

CPM 20CV Steel Superb Strength and Durability

20CV or CPM 20CV is martensitic stainless steel from Crucible Industries with high wear resistance. It is manufactured following the particle metallurgy processes Crucible employs, hence the name CPM.

20CV is equivalent to Bohler-Uddeholm’s M390. Likewise, it’s highly wear-resistant and delivers good edge retention. This knife steel stands above most high vanadium steels with exceptionally high chromium content. It features 20% chromium in its composition, the same as M390, putting corrosion resistance at the forefront with wear resistance to achieve superb edge retention and rust resistance.

While 20CV is considered a premium steel that undoubtedly makes a good blade, there is much to discuss. In this article, we’ll review CPM 20CV steel’s composition and properties to assess what to expect from knives made from it. Read on to discover if 20CV knives would make a profitable addition to your product lineup.

20CV steel composition

  • Carbon: 1.90%
  • Chromium: 20.00%
  • Vanadium: 4.00%
  • Molybdenum: 1.00%
  • Tungsten: 0.60%

20CV steel properties

20CV steel’s chemical composition leads to a high wear resistance steel. The Crucible Particle Metallurgy Process improves the steel’s strength, and the exceptionally high chromium content provides solid corrosion resistance as well as toughness. 

While many knife enthusiasts can tell some of these by looking at the composition, the properties require in-depth coverage to determine if steel is a good fit for buyers. Here is a detailed breakdown of 20CV steel’s properties to help you make an informed choice.

Hardness

The optimal hardness for 20CV steel is 58 HRc, according to Crucible. However, knifemakers can push this hardness up to 61 HRc, or even slightly beyond. It’s up to the knifemaker and heat treatment techniques followed during quenching and tempering.

While the 58 – 61 HRc hardness range is ideal for knives, it’s best to check in with the manufacturer. The 20CV steel blades at 58 HRc may perform differently than others at 61 HRc, especially in edge retention and toughness.

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Wear resistance

Wear resistance is the steel’s ability to resist material loss. Crucible developed 20CV with this in mind and used 1.90% carbon and 4% vanadium in the composition. These alloying elements form hard carbides that resist wear and tear, especially vanadium, making CPM 20CV a highly wear-resistant choice.

Being good at resisting wear and tear, you get a long-lasting, durable blade with 20CV. High wear resistance also enables the knife to maintain its appearance by withstanding impacts that cause scratches. These are undoubtedly good, but wear resistance also makes grinding more difficult.

Edge retention

edge retention of cpm 20cv steel

The high wear resistance of CPM 20CV is a key indicator of its edge retention. It wouldn’t be wrong to say 20CV steel provides knife blades with a sustaining sharpness that satisfies users. The CATRA test measures done by Crucible Industries point out that 20CV stays sharp for longer than 440C and 154CM.

The level of edge retention 20CV provides is more than enough for recreational knife users utilizing folding and small fixed blades. Outdoor enthusiasts will also find 20CV steel’s edge retention performance impressive, even for demanding tasks.

Toughness

Despite the relatively high hardness and brittle vanadium carbides, 20CV has good toughness. To give some context, the toughness of CPM 20CV is at a similar level to 440C at 56 HRc. The powder metallurgy processes Crucible Industries uses positively impacts toughness. Nonetheless, 20CV steel isn’t ideal for big blades or knives getting heavy-duty uses.

Although small fixed blades will hold up fine to impact, CPM 20CV doesn’t have impressive strength. It’s best to use a 20CV knife for its intended purpose and not push it to its limits. Otherwise, you might end up with a chipped edge. 

Make sure to inform your customers of 20CV steel’s limits in this. Advise them not to utilize knives made from it outside their designed purpose.

Corrosion resistance

With CPM 20CV knives, rust isn’t a thing to worry about. The 20% chromium is more than sufficient to achieve excellent corrosion resistance. A 20CV steel knife will withstand corrosive elements better than AUS-8, VG-10, and 440C.

The high wear resistance and good toughness of 20CV, coupled with its excellent corrosion-resistant properties, make 20CV a perfect fit for outdoors. Many EDC knife brands, like Zero Tolerance, Kershaw, and WE Knife, favor 20CV due to its balanced properties.

Sharpening ease

While wear resistance benefits edge retention, it increases sharpening difficulty. It’s never easy to grind a high wear resistance steel like CPM 20CV. The exceptionally hard vanadium carbides make it a challenging task.

how hard it is to sharpen cpm 20cv steel knife

However, the CPM process somewhat eases the sharpening difficulty. The uniform carbide distribution means the edge wears consistently. It helps with grinding the edge and forgives sharpening mistakes to a degree. CPM 20CV knives are best sharpened with 400 to 1,000 grit whetstones.

Since 20CV knives maintain their sharpness longer than regular steel, this shouldn’t be a major downside for your customers. A blade that won’t lose its sharp edge quickly in exchange for difficult sharpening is a trade most knife users willing to accept.

20CV vs. other steel

20CV vs. S35VN

S35VN is another PM steel from Crucible. S35VN has impressive edge retention that’s better than most of the steel in the market, but not as good as 20CV. The toughness of both steels is on par with each other despite the higher carbon and vanadium content in 20CV.

With higher levels of chromium in the solution, 20CV steel also resists corrosive environments better than S35VN steel. For general users, where 20CV or S35VN stands as a superior option doesn’t make a prominent difference. That leaves pricing as the main deciding factor. S35VN is more widely available and affordable than CPM 20CV.

20CV vs. CPM MagnaCut

CPM MangaCut is one of the newest knife steels. Crucible specifically developed this steel to be used on knives. Besides a high hardness grade that can reach up to 64 HRc, MagnaCut also has great edge retention. Crucible designed MagnaCut to eliminate chromium carbides. It gives way for vanadium and niobium carbides in the heat-treated microstructure, adding to its edge retention capabilities. 

With this, CPM MagnaCut achieves good edge retention while maintaining increased corrosion resistance. In fact, despite the much lower levels of chromium in its composition, MagnaCut has better corrosion resistance than 20CV. It also takes a slight edge over 20CV in toughness.

Since MagnaCut doesn’t have as many carbides, it’s easier to sharpen. With a typical sharpening stone, MagnaCut knives get sharpened much more quickly than 20CV blades. Lastly, MagnaCut costs less than 20CV. After all, it’s designed specifically for knives.

CPM 20CV vs. M390 steel

CPM 20CV and Bohler’s M390 are almost identical. Only tiny amounts of silicon and manganese set them apart. As you can expect, this small difference results in minor differences between these two steels.

Since they are almost identical, the performance depends on the knifemaker. The edge geometry, heat treatment, and blade specs will determine whether CPM 20CV or M390 is a better knife steel.

One would suspect that manganese would contribute to M390 steel’s toughness. Although manganese reduces brittleness, 0.30% isn’t worth factoring in, especially when heat treatment techniques can alter toughness significantly.

Having said all this, CPM 20CV and M390 are equivalent steels. Neither is better, and the differences change depending on the individual knives.

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Conclusion: is 20CV steel a good choice for your knife store?

CPM 20CV is a good steel with balanced properties that makes a fitting product choice for buyers looking for edge retention. It’s true stainless, reasonably strong, takes a sharp edge well, and stays sharp after long cutting sessions. These make it a perfect fit for pretty much any outdoor enthusiast.

The downside to 20CV is the price. It’s rare to find a CPM 20CV knife selling for under $100. Most are well above that at the low 200s and mid 300s. So the high price tag is something to consider. Still, 20CV knives tend to be more affordable than their M390 counterparts.

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