420HC Steel For Knives
Do you have a knife made out of 420HC steel or are thinking of buying one and are wondering how it compares to other knife blade steel?
I have been carrying pocket knives for almost 40 years and have learned a ton about knife steel in that time.
In this article, I will do a detailed review of 420HC to help you understand the properties of this steel, what it is made of, and how these properties impact its functionality as a knife blade.
I want you to avoid the costly mistake of buying a knife that won't hold up to the tasks you will use it for.
What is 420HC Steel?
420HC is a Martensitic 420 series steel grade. The HC in its name stands for high carbon which means the steel can be hardened through heat treatment to reach higher levels of hardness.
In addition to Carbon elements, the steel contains 13% Chromium which gives it corrosion resistance properties.
420HC is mostly used in production of cutlery, shear blades, surgical tools, scissors, needle valves, among other applications.
It’s a low cost but reliable steel that’s used by Buck Knives among other knife manufacturers, in the production of sturdy and versatile knives.
Like other alloys, 420HC derives its properties from its chemical composition. Let’s take a look at its full chemical composition.
- 0.45% Carbon
- 13% Chromium
- 0.4% Manganese
- 0.4% Silicon
- 0.5% Nickel
- 0.6% Molybdenum
- 0.3% Vanadium
Properties of 420HC
The ability of a blade to retain its sharpness is determined by a number of factors. A softer steel tends to lose its edge faster than a harder one. However, a harder steel with high brittleness would also compromise edge retention. This calls for astute combination of elements that contribute to hardness and brittleness.
That said, 420HC is a much softer steel that doesn’t hold its edge very well. However, compared with earlier 400 series steels, the retention is decent enough.
That said, this grade of steel has been around for many years and a lot of decent quality knives have been made with it. If you already have a knife made with 420, don't get rid of it just yet.
However, if you are looking to buy a new knife then there are many newer and higher performance steels on the market today that may perform better for you without breaking the bank.
420HC contains more Carbon than its earlier 400 series counterpart, 410. This makes it easily hardenable, meaning it can be brought to higher levels of hardness through heat treatment.
Quality heat treatment raises 420HC’s Rockwell hardness to 56-58 HRC, though its standard rating is 55 HRC. All the same, 420HC is considered a soft alloy in comparison to superior 400 series grades and other more modern knife blade steel.
Generally, the harder the steel, the less tough it is and vice versa. While high amounts of Carbon and Vanadium add to steel’s hardness, elements like Nickel and Manganese, sulphur and phosphorus does the opposite. However, a combination of all these elements is necessary to produce an alloy with balanced properties.
Overall, 420HC is a relatively soft steel which can withstand a great deal of abuse compared to the harder 440 series grades. This is one of the reasons that 420 has been used as a knife steel for som many years.
While it may nto hold an edge as long as many of the new ultra hard steels, it is relatively tough and holds up well to every day use and even a bit of abuse. This makes it a great starter blade steel for someone who may use their knives for tasks they aren't really intended for.
Chromium safeguards steel against corrosive elements like humidity and moisture. The minimum requirement of Chromium for steel to achieve stainless properties is 11 or 12%. 420HC contains 13% of Chromium which makes it highly corrosion resistant.
420HC is considered one of the softer 400 series steel grades. This makes the blade easy to sharpen. Whether you prefer using old-fashioned sharpening tools or the more advanced sharpeners, you can get a sharp edge quickly without too much effort.
This is another benefit of 420HC steel. While it may not hold an edge as well as some other steel, it is very easy for novice users to get it back into razor sharp cutting condition.
420HC Equivalent Steels
420HC is comparable to AUS-6. Their Carbon and Chromium content are almost identical, which make them fare similarly in terms of hardness and corrosion resistance. However, the higher content of Manganese and Silicon in AUS-6 makes it slightly tougher than 420HC.
Is 420HC Steel a Good Knife Steel?
Corrosion resistance and hardness properties in 420HC make it a great steel for knife blades. It’s often used in blades of most hunting, diving, and fishing knives. This is because being rust-resistant is a major concern in such activities.
It may not have great edge retention compared to high-end steels, but its ease of sharpening makes it convenient for most every day knife users.
420HC is a great knife for beginners who are looking for a budget knife that comes with a reasonable grade steel blade, compared to other cheap knives.
Best 420HC Knives
Gerber StrongArm Fixed Blade Knife
Gerber is a knife company that has been around for many years and is well know for making quality outdoors knives and tools. This knife is made in the USA at their factory in Portland, Oregon.
The StrongArm is a 420HC full tang fixed blade knife that is meant to be used and will hold up to all the abuse you can throw at it.
The blade has a black ceramic coating to reduce reflection and protect the blade in the toughest weather conditions. The handle has a diamond textured rubberized coating to give you great grip even whan wet.
The sheath has a very cool and flexible mounting system that easily attaches to molle gear, as well it can be carried horizontally on your belt (scout carry) or hang vertically in a more tradional style.
BuckLite Max II
Buck knives are known around the world as being solid and dependable tools for hunters and everyday knife carriers. They use 420HC in a lot of their knives and have a good heat treatment process that brings out the best in this steel.
Like the Gerber StrongArm above, this knife is also made in the USA and comes with their Forever Warranty that guarantees their knives to be free from defects in material and workmanship for the life of the knife.
The BuckLite Max II is a heavy-duty hunting knife. It features a great ergonomic rubber handle with a textured finish for a firm and secure grip. In addition, the heavy duty polyester sheath has an integrated belt loop for easy portability.
Its 420HC steel blade contains modest amounts of Carbon, (0.40-0.50), that coupled with Buck's quality heat treatment gives it decent hardness and wear resistance.
Generally, the BuckLite Max II is a reliable knife that combines excellent performance with durability, making it a great choice for camping, hunting, plus other outdoor activities.
Kershaw Chive Pocket Knife
The Kershaw Chive is a very well known knife and makes a great first blade for someone just getting into pocket knives. It is a sturdy and reliable tool that will hold up to everyday use without breaking the bank.
This knife has a high-performance 420HC blade, which performs well in the outdoors due to its high corrosion resistance properties. Its edge may not be the hardest around but it does retain its sharpness pretty decently. The great thing with a 420HC blade, however, is that it’s easy to sharpen, even for newer users.
A matching stainless steel handle spots a secure frame lock, SpeedSafe assisted opening, and a single-position pocket clip, for enhanced usage.
Generally, it’s a versatile pocket knife capable of handling every day cutting tasks pretty well. It’s highly portable, so you can tuck it into your pocket, purse, belt, etc. as you venture out.
Despite scoring somewhat poorly on wear resistance and edge retention, 420HC is a popular blade for different types of knives.
Perhaps, its great tensile strength, machinability, ease of sharpening, and high corrosion resistance, are the reasons companies like Buck Knives prefer it for many of their knives.
420HC is an entry level steel that every beginner may love. It’s also a popular steel due to its affordability. Even with it’s comparitively poor wear resistance, the steel fares way better than other entry level steels due t it’s excellent corrosion resistance.
Though there are some 420HC steel blade knives that hit the $100 mark, you can still find some for less than $20. This doesn’t mean the blade of a $20 knife is of less quality than that of the $100 knife.
They all feature the same 420HC steel blade. However, other factors contribute to the overall price of a knife. These may include; knife design (fixed blade, folding knife), size of the blade, material of the handle, sheath, bolsters, etc.
All these, plus the manufacturer’s pricing structure determine the final price of a knife.