Knife Steel

S35vn vs. M390: Comparing Properties, Price, and More

S35vn vs. M390 Comparing Properties, Price, and More

The use of powder metallurgy steels in the knife industry is more popular than ever. More and more knife manufacturers are utilizing these steels in their products – favored for their balance between strength and wear resistance.

Crucible Industries, an American steel manufacturer produces most of the prominent powder metallurgy steels.And one of the the most popular one in their lineup is the S35VN steel, an upgraded version of the S30V.

M390 is another powder metallurgy steel that’s literally taking the knifemaking world by storm. It’s developed and produced by Bohler-Uddeholm, an Austrian steel manufacturer. Naturally, the M390 is often compared to the popular S35VN. From knife forums to discussions on Reddit, you can find knife enthusiasts taking sides for either S35VN or M390.

In this article, we’ll compare S35VN and M390 steels to determine which is better for your knife store. Continue reading to make an informed decision before stocking up on either steel’s blades.

About S35VN steel

Chemical composition

  • Carbon: 1.40%
  • Chromium: 14.00
  • Vanadium: 3.00%
  • Molybdenum: 2.00%
  • Niobium: 0.50%

CPM-S35VN, or S35VN, is a powder metallurgy steel with good wear resistance and toughness. Crucible released this steel for the knife industry in 2009 and marketed it as a better version of the S30V. According to the steel’s datasheet, it’s 15 to 20% tougher than S30V without any loss of wear resistance.

The S35VN delivers a durable, corrosion-resistant knife that keeps its sharp edge for long periods. The knifemakers favor the S35VN for these qualities – look at any knife store, and you’ll see the S35VN as one of the top picks among buyers.

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About M390 steel

Chemical composition

  • Carbon: 1.90%
  • Chromium: 20.00%
  • Vanadium: 4.00%
  • Molybdenum: 1.00%
  • Silicon: 0.70%
  • Tungsten: 0.60%
  • Manganese: 0.30%

While Crucible developed S35VN for knives, M390 emerged for the injection molding industry. This application requires immense wear resistance to ensure the molds don’t lose shape after shaping products continuously.

Wear resistance is one of the highly regarded properties of any knife steel. Naturally, this attracted knifemakers, and M390 steel quickly became popular among EDC knife manufacturers. It has moderate toughness with outstanding edge retention and good corrosion resistance.

S35VN vs. M390

S35VN and M390 steel compared in performance, price, appliciations

The similarities

When you look at the composition of S35VN and M390, you will notice the alloying elements that make these steels are similar. Aside from the small amounts of silicon, tungsten, manganese, and niobium, S35VN and M390 have a comparable chemical composition.

This alikeness in the chemical composition translates to equivalent wear resistance and toughness. You can expect comparable edge retention and durability from the knives made from S35VN and M390. Also, both are powder metallurgy steels. However, the entire process Crucible and Bohler-Uddeholm follows may vary.

Hardness

Depending on heat treatment, the hardness of S35VN steel is between 58 and 61 HRc. M390 isn’t too far off at 60 to 62 HRc. The hardness of both steels measured using the Rockwell hardness scale is optimal for various knives. 58 to 62 HRc is broad enough to fit the cutting preferences of a wide range of users.

Edge retention

We’ve touched on the wear-resistant nature of the S35VN and M390. Therefore, you can expect good edge retention from both steels. 

As for which has better edge retention, M390 takes the lead. The edge retention of M390 steel knives is about 10 to 15% better than their S35VN counterparts. For working uses, M390 will cut longer, but sharpening may pose challenges at times. 

Toughness

The toughness is where S35VN and M390 go in opposite directions. S35VN is relatively strong. M390, on the other hand, not as much. It has low impact toughness and tensile strength. It isn’t recommended to use M390 steel knives outdoors for heavy-duty applications.

Although the S35VN has better toughness than the M390, it isn’t exceptionally good. An S35VN blade can take more beating, but it also isn’t a good idea to use it vigorously. Advise your customers not to employ knives made from these steels other than their designed purpose.

Corrosion resistance

In the numbers, M390 steel has much better corrosion resistance than S35VN. S35VN can corrode or rust when constantly subject to corrosive substances compared to the M390. However, both are equal for use in knives. 

Your buyers won’t notice a difference as long as the knife isn’t utilized in a corrosive environment. Still, M390 makes a better diving knife or a saltwater fishing knife than S35VN – which could be a consideration for stores with customers who enjoy hunting.

Sharpening ease

Sparks fly out of the grinder during use. A knife is sharpened on the grinder.

When it comes to sharpening, S35VN tends to give sharpeners an easier time. It takes a sharp edge fairly quickly using standard sharpening equipment. M390 isn’t difficult to sharpen, but it isn’t as manageable to give it a refined edge as S35VN blades.

While M390 makes up for this with its better edge retention, it will challenge novice sharpeners. It’s something to consider if you’re mainly selling work knives. 

Applications

The two steels were created with different intentions. S35VN, the successor of S30V, was developed for the knife industry. On the other hand, M390 was inteneded for the injection molding industry. This is why Bohler favored corrosion resistance over toughness.

Although M390 isn’t a knife steel (technically), knifemakers are increasingly choosing this steel over similar powder metallurgy steels. There are more M390 knives than a year ago, and it seems to be only gaining popularity. Still, it doesn’t come close to the popularity of the S35VN, as countless EDC knives are manufactured daily.

Price

In general, S35VN is more affordable and available than M390 steel knives. A single M390 steel bar is double the price of S35VN, adding to the cost of manufacturing. If your clientale aren’t particualry looking for M390 knives, from a cost-effectivetnss perspective, S35VN steel may be a better choice in this aspect.

Comparison table

S35VNM390
Hardness58 – 61 HRc60 – 62 HRc
Edge Retention6/107/10
Toughness4/103/10
Corrosion Resistance4/108/10
Sharpening Ease8/105/10
PriceModerateExpensive

Which steel is best for your store?

Which steel is best for your store S35VN or M390

The price, better balance between properties, and improved toughness make the S35VN a better pick overall. However, it’s worth noting the superior edge retention and corrosion resistance of M390. If these are important for your customers, M390 is a more suitable steel. 

Aside from these edge retention and corrosion resistance specifics, S35VN steel knives make better products for most knife stores.

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Alternatives to S35VN and M390

  • K390 has excellent edge retention with equal toughness – one of the best super steels from Bohler. 
  • CPM-M4 is a premium steel with superb edge retention and toughness at the expense of corrosion resistance.
  • CTS-XHP is an all-rounder steel with great edge retention, toughness, and corrosion resistance. 
  • CPM-S45VN is an ideal steel for those that want better edge retention with similar toughness and corrosion resistance to S35VN.

Get wholesale knives from us

Both S35VN and M390 are available at LeeKnives. We employ industry-leading heat treatment to manufacture knives made from these steels.

We are one of the leading knife manufacturers in the cutting capital of China, Yangjiang City. LeeKnives can help you source knives, sharpening equipment, cutting boards, and much more – directly from the manufacturer. Get in touch with one of our product specialists to request a free quote.

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