If you’re reading this 3V steel review, you’re probably considering getting a knife with CPM 3V steel. But you’re concerned about how good this steel performs and whether it makes a knife that fits your needs and preferences.
Just looking at what the knife enthusiasts have to say about this steel will tell you it’s one of the best steels out there. Top manufacturers using this steel for a variety of their knives is another solid proof of the validity of cpm3v steel for knives.
We have researched about this steel and discovered interesting facts and a ton of other good information about it that we have put together in the following guide.
What is CPM 3V steel?
CPM 3V is a high carbon tool steel produced by United States (US) Crucible Industries LLC. The company produces this steel using their CPM (Crucible Powder Metallurgy) technology—resulting in uniform distribution of carbides and stronger steels than those produced using conventional methods.
The steel is known for offering a perfect combination of properties; it offers extremely high toughness and high wear resistance. 3V is a tool steel and appears in the same class as O1, D2, and other tool steels.
Crucible specially designed the steel to offer maximum resistance to chipping and breakage in high wear-resistance steel. It was designed as the perfect steel for applications where constant chipping and breaking were encountered in other tool steels.
The common applications for this steel include punches, dies, stamping tools, shearing blades, and all industrial applications that require insane amounts of toughness. Due to the high toughness, this steel also finds use in the knife industry for making swords and large knives. it also works great for fixed blade knives.
CPM 3V Steel composition
This American steel’s chemistry features Carbon, chromium, molybdenum, and vanadium as the main alloying elements. But it also features additional elements as we have outlined in the following table:
Percentage composition (%)
0.80% Carbon increases hardness, edge retention, and wear resistance. It also raises tensile strength. But too much Carbon can decrease the alloy hardness.
7.50% Chromium increases tensile strength, hardness, and toughness. This element is also crucial in determining CPM 3v steel rust resistance performance. Given it’s less than 12%, it means 3V isn’t stainless. But this volume still offers considerable corrosion resistance.
0.40% Manganese increases tensile strength, hardenability, and wear resistance.
1.30% Molybdenum increases hardenability and hardness. It also increases the steel toughness and strength.
0.40% Tungsten improves the hardenability of this steel. It also boosts the steel strength and toughness.
2.75% Vanadium is a major element in 3V chemistry and helps increase its hardenability, strength, and toughness.
0.90% Silicon increases strength and corrosion resistance.
0.03% Phosphorous increases hardness, strength, and machinability. But its volume is kept low to avoid making this steel too brittle.
0.03% Sulfur is also added in minute quantities to improve machinability without weakening the steel alloy.
Is 3V steel stainless?
CPM 3V is NOT stainless because it features less chromium than what’s needed to make it stainless. A steel alloy should be made of more than 12% chromium for it to quality as a stainless. But 3V only contains 7.5% chromium. Despite the low chromium, the steel offers good corrosion resistance than a variety of low-end steel grades out there.
What is CPM 3V steel hardness?
The Crucible CPM 3V has a Rockwell hardness of 58-60 HRC. This is perfectly in line with what knife steel experts recommend as the perfect hardness for a good knife steel (i.e. high 50s and low 60s). The good hardness gives CPM 3V steel knives excellent wear resistance and edge retention properties.
CPM 3V steel properties
In this section, we’ll look at the key attributes offered by a knife made using a CPM 3V steel knife.
CPM 3V Wear resistance
The steel excels in the wear resistance category. As we mentioned, Crucible specially engineered this steel for superior toughness and high wear resistance. Its alloy contains high carbon and vanadium elements, leading to the formation of harder vanadium carbides. This only makes the steel more wear-resistant and harder than steel grades with less or no vanadium carbides.
CPM 3V Edge retention
With a maximum working hardness of 60 HRC, this steel also offers excellent edge retention. It beats tool steels like D2 and A2 with superior edge retention. However, it might not hold its sharpness as good as premium steels like s30v and s35vn.
CPM 3V Steel corrosion resistance
3V also offers good corrosion resistance. This is great keeping in mind that this is tool steel (which has poor rust resistance) and non-stainless steel. Its good anti-corrosion performance makes it suitable for use outdoors without getting affected by elements.
Does this mean that CPM 3V does not rust? Not really. You ought to remember that this steel isn’t optimized for optimal rust resistance and leaving it exposed to elements for long can make it rust. Proper care here is key to keeping away corrosion.
Coatings such as PVD (Physical vapor deposition) and DLC (Diamond-like-Carbon) can also improve the corrosion resistance of 3V steel knives.
3V steel Toughness
3V is insanely tough steel! It’s the toughest grade compared to other tool steels like D2, A2, and others.
The steel was developed for applications demanding superior toughness and chip resistance, replacing other tool steels that were prone to breaking and chipping.
Due to this superior toughness, 3V is often used for manufacturing camping or bushcraft knives that can handle batoning, chopping, and other tough tasks.
Sharpening a 3V steel knife takes time and effort and would require harder abrasives to sharpen it. Most manufacturers agree that their factory-sharpened 3V knives are taken through a 1500 grit finish as opposed to the standard 600-grit for the best sharpening results. This clearly shows that effort is needed to give your cpm 3v tool steel a sharp edge.
That said, it doesn’t mean that you can’t bring your 3V blade sharpness back up if it gets dull. If you get the right sharpening equipment and do the sharpening correctly, you’ll give your knife a keen edge.
The following video shows you how to sharpen CPM 3V Steel:
Can you forge CPM 3V?
Definitely yes. 3V steel is forgeable. The secret involves finding the perfect temperature range for this steel. But keep in mind that being an air-hardening steel, forging 3V might be tricky and will require a more complicated annealing process compared to the oil hardening steels.
CPM 3V equivalent
Vasco Die (Vasco Metal) serves as the Crucible CPM 3V equivalent. Though this steel is no longer in production, it features close chemistry to 3V and was initially designed to excel in high working hardness, toughness, wear resistance, and good corrosion resistance—pretty much like 3V. The steel later served as the direct predecessor for CPM 3V steel, with the addition of the Tungsten element. (Source).
CPM 3V Steel comparison
We have compared 3V against other steels popular in the knife industry and discovered interesting performance differences as we have explained below.
CPM 3V steel vs S30V
S30V blows 3V out of the water with its superior toughness and great edge retention. But s30v has better corrosion resistance than cpm 3v. Overall, 3v will offer you better performance than s30v, unless high anti-rust performance is a big deal for you.
CPM 3V steel vs S35VN
Just like its smaller brother (s30v), the S35VN offers better corrosion resistance than 3v. But in terms of toughness, 3v is better. 3V also offers comes at a more affordable cost than s35vn. But the good news is that both steels offer the same edge retention performance.
CPM 3V Steel A2
A2 is a popular tool steel with extremely high toughness and great edge retention. However, 3V offers you even greater toughness than this retention. But you’d be surprised to discover that A2 and 3V offer the same sharpness retention, corrosion resistance, and ease of sharpening properties.
CPM 3V Steel vs D2
D2 is popular tool steel, just like 3V. These steels show similar corrosion resistance performance when compared to each other. However, 3V beats D2 with better edge retention and, you guessed it right, toughness!
CPM 3V steel vs CPM M4
M4 is also produced by Crucible Industries using their PM technology. The steel only beats 3V with greater edge retention. Otherwise, 3V beats it in all the other categories, including toughness, corrosion resistance, and easier sharpening.
CPM 3V steel vs 1095
1095 is a highly popular high carbon steel in the knife manufacturing industry. That said, this steel has nothing on CPM 3V steel in terms of edge retention and toughness. 3v also offers slightly better corrosion resistance than this carbon steel. However, 1095 is quite easier to sharpen than 3V.
CPM 3V Steel vs Elmax
Elmax offers better corrosion resistance and slightly higher edge retention than 3V. While it also offers great toughness, 3V still beats it with super-tough levels. Overall, Elmax offers you a blend of corrosion resistance and edge retention while 3V offers you a blend of edge retention and toughness. Your ultimate decision here will depend on whether corrosion resistance is important for you.
CPM 3V Steel vs CPM 154
CPM 154 offers high corrosion resistance since it features high chromium content (up to 14%). But 3V is better than cpm 154 in holding its edge and resisting chipping and breaking under impact.
CPM 3V vs M390
M390 is also highly popular steel on the knife market. And more importantly, it’s a super steel! It offers excellent performance in all areas, making it well-balanced steel for knives. Though it offers high toughness, it still can’t come close to what you get from 3V. M390 will blow 3V out of the water with its exceptional corrosion resistance and edge retention.
Is CPM 3V the perfect knife steel?
The excellent toughness offered by CPM 3V steel makes highly durable knives that won’t chip or break easily, making 3v one of the best steels for making knives. Additional qualities offered by cpm-3v such as great edge retention means it can make knives that cut for longer without requiring sharpening.
The only letdown in using 3v for knife making is that it has lower corrosion resistance compared to the stainless steels. But proper care and coating the blade with DLC and other anti-corrosion materials can help keep off corrosion.
So, yes, CPM 3V is good knife steel, but it’s not perfect. It has flaws, but for the most part, it has got what it takes to make quality knives for field use—camping, bushcraft, wilderness, and survival, etc.—where toughness is essential.
Best knives with 3V steel:
1. Cold Steel Warcraft Fixed Blade
This knife comes noticeably thicker than most knives on the market today and features elegantly curved cutting edges, tough reinforced tips, and a once-piece (full-tang) construction—enabling it to deliver exceptional performance in the field while soaking up all manner of abuse and heavy use.
The Warcraft boasts a 7.5-inch long blade made from CPM 3V steel, one of America’s highest-quality steel with superior toughness and great sharpness retention performance.
This blade features a flat ground primary edge and chisel ground secondary edge—both of which come hand-honed for hair-popping sharpness! The intersection of these two blade bevels bores a wickedly effective edge with a devastating snap cut.
You’ll like that this blade comes coated with DLC (diamond-like carbon) finish to keep off rust and scratch. Plus, it also helps minimize glare and friction during cutting.
The blade comes enclosed in 3D-machined G10 scales to offer superior comfort and secure grip in all conditions. Included in the box is a Kydex sheath with a solid snap to securely hold and protect the blade when not in use. It also features a belt loop to offer you a convenient way to carry your tactical knife anywhere.
2. Benchmade Bailout 537GY
Straight out of Benchmade, this slim and ultra-lightweight folding knife offers you the perfect strength to weight ratio. It weighs just 2.05 ounces and has a closed length of 4.71 inches (2.29mm). This is just the right size and weight for a great EDC knife.
The high-end knife comes with a 3.38-inch Tanto blade made from premium CPM 3v tool steel for unprecedented toughness and high sharpness retention—making it great steel for EDC knife. This blade is coated with a grey Cerakote finish to prevent rusting and minimize friction during cutting.
Differing from the drop-point blades, this Benchmade comes with a Japanese tanto-style blade to help embolden the tip strength while maintaining a superior slicing performance.
You’ll also be pleased to know that this knife features a premium aircraft-grade aluminum handle which not only contributes to the lightweight feel of this knife but also offers you a solid handle and form.
With the included axis locking mechanism, this folder offers you a smooth opening and closing for your knife and ensures secure blade lockup for your own safety. A mini deep-pocket pocket clip is attached to the handle for easy carry.
3. Benchmade Puukko 200 Fixed Bushcraft Knife
If you’re looking for an extremely tough bushcraft knife, go with this Benchmade Puukko fixed blade knife. The USA-made knife combines the classic Scandinavian design plus modern Benchmade performance standards—resulting in the ultimate bushcraft knife for you!
The Puukko 200 presents you with full-tang construction, which makes it a stable workhorse for tackling the toughest field applications, from batoning to chopping, and so on.
This knife features a 3.75-inch CPM 3V steel blade for maximum resistance to chipping and breaking. What’s more, this steel offers great edge retention and will offer long-term cutting performance, even for heavy-duty work, without requiring regular sharpening.
With its rubberized Santoprene handle, this knife is sure to offer highly secure and comfortable grip in all conditions, including wet weather. This bushcraft knife is sent to you with a leather dangler loop sheath to offer you convenient carry and easy access. Plus, a lanyard hole comes with the knife to offer you versatile carry options.
Also available on:
We hope this article has served with everything you needed to know about CPM 3V steel. From this CPM 3v steel review, you have learned that this is one of the toughest steels available. It’s insanely tough and will excellently resist chipping and breakage, making it suitable for large blades, fixed blade knives, and field blades. If you’re looking for a field knife that doesn’t require a lot of maintenance, this steel isn’t for you. But if you want a super-tough field knife and don’t mind regularly honing, cleaning, and oiling it, get a 3V steel knife.