The finishing.com Hotline: Serious Education ... plus the most fun you can have in metal finishing. Ted Mooney, Webmaster
D2 tool steel for a survival knife?+++
Q. I am looking to buy an extreme survival knife, one that can take some serious abuse if ever needed. One company says "The D2 Tool Steel Blades provide maximum toughness and edge retention and features a 2" serrated edge. The first fixed blade production knife made from D2 sheetstock tool steel. Each blade is laser cut from sheetstock, heat treated to HRC 59-60 F degrees, deep frozen to -120 F degrees, double draw tempered and features an epoxy powder coat with buff polished edges" (Ka-bar D2 Extreme Knife [linked by editor to product info at Amazon])
Also I am researching one that says it can chop through cinder block/ be bent ... and won't break. They are both about the same price but I KNOW NOTHING ABOUT STEEL. I'm wondering if you could tell me which you would purchase, like how hard to sharpen, can it get as sharp as 1095 like most knives (military). will the blade snap easy, can I chop trees easy (for shelter making) without dulling it to extremes... please help me I have been searching for a knife for months and I don't know what to buy -- maybe you have something all together in mind, however I would still like your findings.
Thank you very much,Lonny William Osterhoudt
looking for pro answer - Roseville, Michigan
A. I do not think that many people could give you an honest answer, because it will depend on how you use it. D2 is a fantastic tool steel. Its drawback is that it is tough to work-machine and etc. I would guess that it would do most everything that you might want to use it for, but possibly not all. I would expect that it would be more difficult to resharpen, and you would not want to put it on a grinder. I would guess that a Navy diver's knife or the Marine K-Bar would suffice for all but the most extreme uses.James Watts
- Navarre, Florida
A. First thing I would do is make sure it's a reputable company that produces the knife. More often than not their quality control/product testing is much more important than the blade steel. You can have the best steel in the world and if the blade geometry or heat treat is off (among other things) the knife won't function as well as it could.
Many manufacturers exaggerate their products performance (bet everyone's in shock over that one eh? ;) I have dealt with 2 companies that have impressive claims and video results of their blades cutting through cinder block. Both companies claimed this was possible without damage to the knife. A knife dealer friend of mine had me do testing on the blades, they did do well in the lateral stress test (bending) and they did make it through the block...but the blades were damaged, so don't be surprised if something like that happened (keep in mind this was only 2 companies I tested).
As for D2. I think it's a great steel! The biggest downsides I've found to it are that it rusts easily and doesn't take a polish very well (if epoxy coated it won't be much of a problem). I've been using that steel (among others) for a good 10 years and I am still happy with it. As for edge retention, it's known for "taking a bad edge and holding it forever". Once an edge is on...it stays on for a long time, but won't get as sharp as some other steels (which isn't a concern for a survival knife, you don't want a super fine edge anyway). Use a diamond hone for very hard knives, saves you time and will cut the hardest steels.
If you're very serious about having the best knife I recommend going with a custom made blade by a good maker. It will set you back a few hundred but if you think your life my depend on it, go for it. For everyday camping type chores, I agree with James that a Kabar is a decent knife at a decent price and if I'm not mistaken some of the new Ka-bars (Ka-bar D2 Extreme Knife [linked by editor to product info at Amazon]) are made out of D2 -- don't quote me on that, I'm more into the custom knife scene than production knives; two other companies I think are good deals are Ontario knives [linked by editor to product info at Amazon], and Blackjack knives [linked by editor to product info at Amazon].jason aube
- flint, Michigan
A. I am a tool & die maker for over 30 yrs. A2 & D2 tool steels are the best tool steels available. They call D2 a semi-stainless. It is somewhat corrosion resistant in its hardened state. Tempered at 900 and 950 it becomes a hotwork steel and maintains a hardness of 58 - 59 Rc. A2 is likewise a very good choice. Tougher than D2 but less wear resistant. Both will hone to a very sharp edge! 440C stainless is absolutely corrosion resistant and equally as hard and tough. Good Luck!William R. Haines
machine & tool Co. - Priest River, Idaho
Q. Sandvik 13C26 vs AUS 8 steel? Hi, my name is Sam and I was wondering if there is someone out there that does indeed know something about both of these kinds of steel. I am in the market for a new knife and have weeded out all but two. Part of my decision lies on the edge retention of the steel. The Kershaw "Bump" knife [linked by editor to product info at Amazon] has the Sandvik 13C26 steel and the SOG "Trident" knife [linked by editor to product info at Amazon]uses AUS 8 steel for the blade. I have lots of knives but I have never been able to find out really what kind is better. Thank you so much for your help.Sam Dinger
Student - Siloam Springs, Arkansas
A. Hi! If you're looking at using it for hard use and abuse, I would definitely check out the tougher steels such as D2 or A2. The best manufacturers in these steel fields are custom knife makers such as Bob Dozier for D2 at www.dozierknives.com or check his work out with A.G. Russell knives at www2.agrussell.com/search.asp?x=0&y=0&ss=dozier
You can cross reference the prices, and there are different blades on each. For A2 steels, you can check out Chris Reeves knives at www.chrisreeve.com.
They are crazy expensive, but VERY high quality, so good luck. Dozier knives have an 8 month waiting list because they are custom. You can have them modify the blades, making them shorter or changing the grind to requesting different handle material precisions.
For inexpensive knives that perform like work horses, check out Becker knives at www.knivesplus.com/BECKER-KNIVES.html
These are crazy primitive survival knives, and fairly inexpensive as the custom tool steels such as D2 and A2.
Also, last but not least, for D2, which I am considering investing in myself but don't want to wait 8 months for a custom, you can check out Randall's Adventure Training, or RAT knives at
Their blades are made with 1095 carbon steels which is a very good steel for bushcraft and camping chores, but all their blades are also made in D2, slightly more expensive but worth every penny. You should have two blades, one about 3 1/2 to 4 inch for bushcraft and a heavy duty chopper as the workhorse.
Hope this helps a bit. :o)
- Lakeland, Florida
December 19, 2008
A. I agree that D2 is one of the best steels available for knives. I use it for most of the custom knives I make, and yes, it holds an edge forever. As far as corrosion, as long as reasonable good care is taken of the blade (regular oiling and cleaning) you'll never have a problem with rust. However, on the Ka-bar issue, I have to disagree. True, some of the newer models are half-way decent, but keep in mind that with military knives, low cost and ease of manufacture are as important as usability. If you insist on buying a knife, I would recommend Cold Steel Scout Recon [linked by editor to product info at Amazon] or Cold Steel SRK [linked by editor to product info at Amazon]"SRK"). They are heavy and ugly as heck, but nearly indestructible. I carry a Scout Recon for my survival knife currently. Hope this helps.Jonathan Bonebrake
- Lafayette, Oregon
January 7, 2009
A. Take a look at www.knifetests.com and watch the videos there. The ratings are not all the time fair, taking into consideration there are tested knives of very different sizes and categories with the same procedure and amount of stress applied. But you can see how different steels from different manufacturers perform during the really hard use tests.
Personally, I didn't use all those kinds of steels, but I can confirm that INFI (in Busse Combat knives) and SK5 (in knives from Cold Steel) are the most resistant steels I have ever touched (for hard use).
- Bucharest, Bucharest, Romania
October 18, 2010
A. How about Wootz steel knives? I am learning to make these knives. Wonderful stuff. Not stainless steel. This steel will cut stainless. Why would anyone want to pay 100 dollars or more for stainless steel? Guess there are many reasons. The crystal matrix process is a self taught secret and makes the blades look beautiful. 59 to 60 on the rockwell scale you can't go wrong. I think knife people who want a truly one of a kind knife should look into this. Most knife makers I have talked too, make faces about it and can't match the price.James Schrader
- Fallon, Nevada USA
November 5, 2011
A. First, how much do you want to spend ? The sky could be the limit.
Research all those that are making Survival Blades. Many have a different view of what a Survival Blade should be. The Prather War Bowie from Tops is nice. Grayman makes great Survival/Combat Blades. BussKnives makes very nice Survival Blades also.
There are also many steels that are being used.
I use 1095, 1080+, Elmax and my favorite O1 Tool Steel.
My Blades are either 3/16 or 1/4 and nothing less.
I am now doing a Blade for a gentleman that gave this country 20 years in SpecOps. It is going to be my gift to him and to thank him for his service. It is of 3/16 01 Crucible with G10 Scales.
Do not discount 01 for a Survival Blade or for other styles.
If you can find a VietNam era Randall from 01, do it. It may not be what you are looking for at this time, it is worth putting in your collection.
I take my edges with 01 to 59/60 hardness. The 01 works well, takes a good edge and hardness and the oil quenching is no problem to me. I'm also very Old School when it comes to my tools.
- Van Nuys, California
December 30, 2011
A. I have a Benchmade Barrage Warn Exclusive and it is insanely sharp. It also has the D2 Tool Steel and it hasn't failed me yet after having it a year. The benefit to buying a Benchmade is that they come with a limited lifetime warranty. If it ever needs to be sharpened or fixed send it in for like $5 and they'll work their magic on it. That's just my two cents. Hope I helped!!Drake Tilson
- Cedar Falls, Iowa, United States
January 11, 2012
A. I have made knives from d2 for 30 years. I like d2 very much. I am still using the one I made in 1989. The others get sold, but this one I managed to keep. It does everything from brookie trout to elk with only a 3.3 inch blade. I am not a professional, but started in 1957 and make knives for fun. I have learned a lot from a master blade smith Ed Caffrey [sp]. He is the most knowledgeable man I know on steel and knives, google him up. The thing about d2 is that it is not a forging steel, more of a stock removal steel.Scott Simon
- Great Falls, Montana, USA
February 8, 2013
is a great article on steels.
The best knife and steel for "extreme survival" is a hotly debated and complicated question. I don't think there is one answer. Maybe you should just practice your bushcraft skills with a bunch of different knives and see what works for you personally. You'll end up with a favorite knife and the skills to use it.
The hardest thing I've put my knives through is woodworking (chopping, carving, and batoning). That puts a lot of torsional stress on the blade so harder steels like VG10 and D2 form nicks.
For instance, the Enzo Trapper comes in O1 and D2. Everyone complains about nicking with the D2 version. The Scandi grind and blade angle are probably a factor. Ka-bars have really thick blade angles so it's probably ok.
These days, I carry two (or more) knives when outdoors. One large knife with softer steel and thicker blade angle for thumping and prying. One small knife of harder steel and thinner blade angle for efficient cutting (like butchering and skinning).
- Seattle, Washington, US
May 7, 2013
Q. I need to buy some D2 round, 200 mm in diameter. Where to buy it?Anne Bell
- Milan, Italy
August 18, 2013
If you want a solid performing knife, buy custom handmade at andrewcliffordknives.com. I have bought 5 knives from him so far, and they are the best I have ever owned.
Warehouse/ Machine Operator - Milwaukee, Wisconsin
August 21, 2013
A. Hi folks. We have no pressing objection to the responses here to date, but remember that this site is for technical discussion, and the topic of this thread was whether D2 is a good steel for knives, or whether other steels might be better in various ways for various needs.
This is not Angie's list and we do no vetting of the respondents, which means you have no way of knowing which testimonials to specific brands were made by actual satisfied customers versus salespeople posting with fictitious names. If someone wants to mention a particular knifemaker, okay, but keep it short -- long, glowing testimonials to knifemakers are off topic and not necessarily to be trusted anyway.
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey