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Knife Steel

How Is Elmax Steel for Knives?

How Is Elmax Steel for Knives

For many, Elmax is arguably Bohler-Uddeholm’s best knife steel. It is regarded as super steel that produces a high-quality blade that stands above the competition. 

While it is clear that this steel holds balanced properties from edge retention to corrosion resistance, it may not be as suitable for your customers. After all, there isn’t a single knife steel best for everyone. Some may love it; some may hate it.

In this article, we’ll cover Elmax steel – touching on its composition, properties, and more. Read to the end to find out if investing in knives made from it is a wise move for your business.

What is Elmax steel?

Elmax is patented and manufactured by Bohler-Uddeholm, an Austrian company specializing in manufacturing stainless steel. Elmax was originally developed for the injection molding and tech industry in 2009.

Elmax steel was not made for knifemaking, but it was quickly picked up by makers that are interested in powder metallurgy. The processes equip the steel with a uniform grain structure and achieve extreme sharpness in blades.

Although Elmax doesn’t boast a big following (probably due to its price), it is one of the super steels that makes an exceptional blade. In fact, Blade Magazine’s American Made Knife of the Year 2009 award went to Kershaw Speedform, which used Elmax.

Best uses for Elmax steel

the best uses for elmax steel

As mentioned, Bohler didn’t create Elmax for the knife industry. According to the company, the best uses of Elmax are injection molding and high-tech applications. It was developed with connectors, plugs, switches, integrated circuits, and similar products in mind.

Although Bohler doesn’t state that Elmax is a knife steel, it mentions that it’s also appropriate for making industrial and custom knives. 

Elmax steel composition

The composition of Elmax is convincing for knife aficionados regarding how sharp and wear-resistant it can get. The following is what you will find in Elmax steel’s composition.

  • Carbon: 1.70%
  • Chromium: 18.00%
  • Vanadium: 3.00%
  • Molybdenum: 1.00%
  • Silicon: 0.80%
  • Manganese: 0.30%

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Elmax steel properties

It’s instinctual for knife enthusiasts to shape an image of what kind of knife a particular steel would make just by looking at the composition. Still, here’s a detailed overview of where Elmax’s chemical composition leads its properties.


Most knives made from Elmax are between 60 and 62 HRc. Although it can be higher, knifemakers rarely exceed the 62 HRc threshold. While one HRc difference may not seem much, it makes a big difference at high hardness levels. The brittleness goes up significantly when the steel is pushed to its limits.

Regardless, the hardness of Elmax can be considered high for most knives. As with any other steel, it affects its other properties, from edge retention to toughness.

Edge retention

properties of elmax steel pocket knife

Elmax delivers a blade that holds an edge exceptionally well. How well? To give you a reference, Elmax holds a sharp edge better than the renowned Japanese SG2, Crucible’s S45VN, the popular D2, and more, according to CATRA testing done by Larrin Thomas.

Whether a kitchen knife or a pocket knife, Elmax steel’s edge retention won’t disappoint. By selling knives with this high degree of edge retention, your customers can save time and resources on sharpening. We will touch on its sharpening ease in the later parts of this article – read on to find out more! 

Wear resistance

As we’ve briefly covered already, Elmax steel has impressive wear resistance. It’s what contributes to its excellent edge retention along with high hardness.

The high vanadium and chromium content makes Elmax a highly wear-resistant steel. For comparison, it is more wear-resistant than 440C, D2, VG-10, and many other popular knife steel. So you can expect Elmax knives to be long-lasting, as the steel is less susceptible to wear and tear.

This high wear resistance means the blades made from Bohler’s Elmax maintain their appearance for prolonged periods. This can be a consideration for those using their knives outdoors to cut everything, as the blade is less likely to pick up scratches.

Sharpening ease

There tends to be an increase in sharpening difficulty when the wear resistance is high. While true to many others, it doesn’t apply to Elmax.

Elmax provides an easy sharpening routine at its wear resistance rate to users. Thanks to the powder metallurgy processes that reduce grain size and improve carbide distribution.

Grinding and polishing the edge of an Elmax knife doesn’t require specialized sharpening tools like diamond stones. With a standard whetstone, Elmax steel knives can get sharpened in a short session.


the toughness of elmax steel

Like the link between wear resistance and sharpening ease, Elmax’s toughness doesn’t drop due to its high hardness. Even at 62 HRc, it is stronger than many others, even than those at lower hardness.

In particular, Elmax steel has a high impact toughness. This strength enables knife users to utilize blades made from Elmax robustly. You can chop dense foods, peel wood, or even stab the knife onto a tree to hang it without worry.

However, as with all wear-resistant knife steels, Elmax has its limits. The knife shouldn’t be used outside of its intended purpose. For example, using an Elmax pocket knife to pry open a can will chip the edge.

Corrosion resistance

Elmax is as corrosion-resistant as its wear resistance and edge-holding capabilities. Corrosion and rust aren’t an apparent problem with knives made from it. Your customers can comfortably use it outdoors and in the kitchen.

The reason for its high corrosion resistance despite having increased hardness and wear resistance is the high chromium content. The powder metallurgy processes also help Elmax form enough chromium carbides to achieve superior rust resistance.

If your customers are moving from popular steels like 440C or 154CM and have experienced corrosion and rust problems, you can be sure that Elmax will be more than satisfying.


Although it isn’t one of the steel properties, the price is as crucial as everything else mentioned, if not more. Elmax steel’s premium features come with a premium price that’s often higher than the budget of most buyers.

For customers that look for a typical knife, the cost of Elmax will be too high. However, that’s the point with super steels. It isn’t for everyone. If a knife buyer looks for a premium knife, they are already willing to pay for it.

That said, ask yourself if enough people come to your store looking for high-end knives to determine if Elmax’s pricing is a fit.

Elmax vs. other Bohler steel

  • M390: Elmax and M390 have similar hardness and corrosion resistance, but the former is tougher and resists damages caused by impact better. M390 outperforms Elmax slightly in edge retention as it is more wear-resistant. In sharpening, M390 also gives users an easier time.
  • N690: Elmax is considered super steel, while N690 is a more budget-friendly option from Bohler. Elmax blades hold a sharper edge with better sharpness retention. N690 is more comparable to VG-10 with its overall properties. Both are inferior to Elmax’s edge retention, wear resistance, toughness, and even corrosion resistance.
  • K390: K390 is Bohler’s cold work steel. It isn’t stainless, and not many knives use it. The ones made from it hold a better edge than Elmax. However, it is nowhere near as tough as Elmax or other Bohler steels mentioned. K390 makes an insufficient knife overall, not comparable to Elmax.

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Elmax vs. other powder steel


S35VN is the niobium-added S30V, patented and manufactured by Crucible. Elmax is superior to S35VN in almost all aspects. It stays sharp for longer, has better corrosion resistance, and is overall tougher. 

However, toughness depends on hardness. At lower hardness levels, S35VN blades may hold up to impact better than Elmax, especially if the latter is 62 HRc or above. Since this is a minor difference that mostly won’t be evident, Elmax is a better PM steel overall.


CPM S90V is another powder metallurgy steel made by Crucible. It’s a renowned steel, mostly recognized for its edge retention. Indeed, S90V also holds a better edge than Elmax – about 50 to 60% better.

While S90V would satisfy those that need edge retention, Elmax is much tougher and doesn’t have problems facing corrosive elements. Elmax is also easier to sharpen and more affordable.


ZDP-189 is a high-carbon, high-chromium Japanese powder metallurgy steel. Despite having up to 20% chromium, ZDP-189 isn’t stainless. Therefore, it can rust.

The hardness of ZDP-189 is at a whopping 65 to 70 HRc, where it achieves maximum edge retention. This, however, comes at the cost of toughness. ZDP-189 blades tend to chip when used with impact. 

Although sharp and stays that way, Elmax is a much more versatile steel than ZDP-189, making it a better option for general users.

Elmax steel: is it a good investment for your store?

The knives made from Elmax steel can make a good addition to your store if your customers are willing to pay more than a typical knife. This knife steel furnishes blades with impressive qualities.

Unlike many others, it doesn’t take from one property to make another better. This is where Elmax stands out. It produces a knife with balanced qualities, suitable for a wide range of knife users.

That said, Elmax can be a sensible investment. If the price is intimidating, look for knives made from 10Cr15CoMoV. Although it isn’t as good, it falls slightly behind Elmax in edge retention and toughness.

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