Super steels. This term gives true knife enthusiasts chills. Considered the crème de la crème, the holy grail, (name it!) of the blade steels world, these steels have a superpower—which is holding an edge for stupidly longer than all the other steels, even with regular, heavy-duty use.
And CPM S90V is one such steel. It shares a platform with other superpowers (oh sorry, super steels) like M390, CPM-204P, Elmax, and its big brother CPM S110V. It has a performance only compared to its fellow premium steels. But all that sounds like hype if you have no firsthand experience with this steel.
In the following comprehensive S90V steel review, we’ll take you through the details of this steel in a way that you get a feel of what it’s like to have an s90v-powered knife. You’ll learn its chemistry, hardness, sharpenability, rust resistance, toughness, comparison with other premium steels, and more!
What Is S90V Steel?
CPM S90V is premium steel produced by US-based Crucible Industries. The steel falls in the Crucible SxxV series steels—a family of stainless steels engineered using the company’s CPM (Particle Metallurgy) process.
This steel is rated as one of the top super steels available today and high volumes of Carbon, Vanadium, and Chromium. This mixture of elements bores incredible edge retention, extreme wear resistance, and high corrosion resistance.
CPM S90V is ranked above S90V and features less chromium, more carbon, and almost twice the volume of vanadium than s60v. Ranking above this steel is S110V which offers higher corrosion resistance and slightly better wear resistance.
Crucible initially produced this steel under the name CPM 420V in 1999 as tool steel for making valve components, feed screws, slitters, cutters, slitters, gear pumps, bearings, and other hard use parts.
Fast forward, the steel has become popular super steel in the knife world for making high-end knives for various applications.
However, S90V is expensive steel (just like all the other super steels) and is only used to make top-of-the-line knives. It exhibits poor grindability and can drive you nuts trying to work it.
CPM S90V Steel Composition
In the s90v steel chemical composition, the main alloying elements include carbon (2.30%), vanadium (9.00%), and chromium (14.00%) elements. This combination makes the premium steel highly wear and corrosion-resistant.
Find below the full list of elements featured in s90v chemistry:
Percentage composition (%)
2.30% Carbon increases tensile strength, hardness, and wear resistance. Too much carbon in the steel, however, increases its brittleness.
14.00% Chromium enhances corrosion resistance. It also increases tensile strength, hardness, and toughness. Since this element is more than 14%, it makes the steel stainless.
0.50% Manganese increases hardenability and wear resistance.
1.00% Molybdenum increases strength, hardness, and toughness.
9.00% Vanadium increases strength, toughness, and wear resistance.
0.40% Tungsten improves strength, hardenability, and toughness. it also retains the steel hardness at elevated temperatures.
0.50% Silicon increases the steel strength and corrosion resistance.
0.030% Phosphorous improves strength, hardness, and machinability.
0.030% Sulfur improves machinability. This element only improves the alloy machinability when used in small quantities. Using it in quantities affects the steel strength.
What Is S90V Steel Hardness?
The Rockwell hardness for CPM S90V is 57-59 HRC. This is a great hardness level that’s above the softer steels (54-56 HRC) and goes a long way in enhancing the steel’s exceptional edge retention and wear resistance. Mark you, this is generally the level of hardness you’ll find in most everyday carry and premium knives on the market today.
CPM S90V Steel Properties
This section discusses the key features and attributes you should expect from a knife made using this steel. You’ll discover answers to your questions about this steel, like does it rust? How hard is it sharpen? Can it chip or crack under impact?
CPM-S90V Wear Resistance
One of the biggest advantages of using s90v stainless steel for knives is the excellent wear and abrasion resistance it delivers. Crucible uses quite a high vanadium amount in this steel (up to 9%) which forms vanadium carbides. These are super hard and greatly contribute to the exceptional wear resistance you get from this steel. This enables s90v knives to withstand a lot of hard use without getting worn out and keep their shape and look for longer periods of time.
S90V Edge Retention
S90V offers superior edge holding ability that makes the standard stainless steels look like a joke. It even offers significantly better edge holding ability than the earlier PM stainless steels like S30V and top steels like D2.
The high vanadium and chromium volumes in S90V chemistry result in exceptional wear resistance which gives the steel near-perfect edge retention. Whether you use your s90v knife for light and heavy-duty tasks, it will not dull down easily.
S90V Steel Toughness
The steel offers decent toughness; not the best and not the worst. It lags behind steels like S35VN and S30VN in toughness. its toughness is comparable to that of D2. don’t get surprised though. For the high hardness and out-of-this-world edge retention, s90v has a price to pay, which is increased brittleness.
The adequate toughness comes from Crucible’s PM process that facilitates more uniform distribution of carbides in CPM S90V, resulting in improved toughness. The steel will hold up to some degree of hard use without getting chippy, cracking, or breaking.
S90V Steel Sharpenability
S90V is REAL hard to sharpen. That’s the plain truth. And that’s because this is super-hard steel with extremely high wear resistance. Don’t get it? Let me explain…
CPM S90V stainless steel boasts vanadium carbides which yield exceptionally high wear resistance. The vanadium carbides are harder than chromium carbide and aluminum oxide abrasives, sharpening stones, etc. have nothing on them. If you want to sharpen your s90v stainless steel knife the right way, go for diamond or CBN stones as these are harder than the vanadium carbides.
As the knife users say, you need the patience of a saint when it comes to sharpening CPM S90V steel. It takes time and effort. But the tradeoff is that a well-sharpened s90v holds an edge forever and is almost impossible to dull.
S90V Corrosion Resistance
S90V steel doesn’t rust easily. It offers great corrosion resistance and there’s a reason for that. Firstly, this steel contains 14% Chromium, which is more than the volume needed to make it stainless.
Secondly, the more vanadium carbides in its alloy free up the chromium carbides to offer corrosion resistance. S90V will offer you better corrosion resistance than its predecessors but it has lower resistance compared to its upgrade, the S110V.
CPM S90V Equivalent
The closest steel to CPM- S90V stainless steel in performance is CPM S110V, its big brother. They are the closest two in knife steel comparison. These two steels offer great hardness, high wear resistance, unparalleled edge retention, high corrosion resistance, and decent toughness.
Still at it, it’s worth noting that the Carpenter’s 420CW semi-stainless steel features a pretty close chemical composition to S90V and is considered its analog version. The Carpenter steel offers similar characteristics like high wear resistance, high corrosion resistance, and good toughness.
S90V Steel Comparison
S90V is just one super steels and there a handful of other premium knife steels in the knife industry. In this section, we’re going to discuss how this steel performs compared to other high-end steels.
S90V Steel Vs S30V
S90V has far better edge retention compared to its small brother S30V. Other than that, S30V easily overwhelms S90V in all the other categories; it’s easier to sharpen, offers better corrosion resistance, and features higher toughness.
Is S90V better than S30V? In the light of the above comparison, the term “better” can be relative. if better means edge retention, then S90V is definitely better than S30V stainless steel. But if better means the overall score in all categories, then S30V scores higher than S90V.
S90V Steel Vs M390
M390 is another super steel and it would be interesting to see how it stacks up against our steel. You’ll be surprised to discover that the two steels offer the same level of extreme edge retention. But M390 gets an edge over its counterpart with better toughness, corrosion resistance, and sharpenability.
S90V Steel Vs M4
CPM M4 is high-end stainless tool steel made using the same PM process as S90V. It offers the same unparalleled edge retention as S90V. It also humbles S90V with its excellent toughness. However, M4 has low corrosion resistance than S90V. Both steels have a similar ease of sharpening score (i.e., they’re really hard to sharpen).
S90V Steel Vs S35VN
S90V also beats S35VN with better edge retention but that’s it. S35VN performs better than our steel in all the areas including easier sharpening, higher toughness, and increased corrosion resistance. Also, S35VN is more popular in the knife market than S90V stainless steel.
S90V Steel Vs S110V
S110V came after S90V. As the big brother with some improvements over S90V, S110V offers the ultimate wear resistance and edge holding ability in knife steel. The edge retention difference between the two steels is, however, marginal. S110V also goes slightly higher in terms of corrosion resistance, toughness, and sharpenability.
S90V Steel Vs 20CV
20CV, as the Crucible’s version of M390, is also premium steel with premium performance in knives. Both 20CV and S90V offer the same incredibly high edge retention. But 20Cv offers higher corrosion resistance due to increased chromium content and slightly better sharpenability. However, both steels have the same decent level of toughness.
Cpm S90v Vs Elmax
Elmax is a high chromium, molybdenum, vanadium alloy from the European Bohler. But Crucible S90V contains almost thrice the amount of Vanadium in Elmax. Performance-wise, Elmax lags slightly behind s90v in edge retention but it’s much easier to sharpen than S90V. Elmax also offers significantly higher toughness s90V. Both steels have the same corrosion resistance performance.
CPM S90v Vs D2
D2 is tool steel from Crucible and offers close edge retention to S90V (though S9V still stands higher). The two steels also offer the same toughness. Though this steel features high wear resistance and is hard to sharpen, it still falls below s90v in both wear resistance and ease of sharpening. D2 is semi-stainless and has low corrosion resistance than S90V.
Is S90V Good Steel For Knives?
CPM S90V is a super steel and a good choice of steel for knife making. The steel offers extreme edge retention, exceptional wear resistance, and high corrosion resistance. Despite being hard steel, it still offers you CPM-S90V steel knives with adequate toughness to resist chipping and cracking.
This steel blows the standard stainless steels out of the water in all categories. It also beats a handful of other premium, high-end steels in its family. Its performance is only comparable to its big brother, the CPM S110V.
However, this steel has a few downsides for knife making. It has poor grindability and sharpening it can drive you crazy! The process takes time and effort but with the right sharpening systems, you get a way around it. S90V stainless steel is also expensive and is only found in high-end knives, not the budget models.
Best S90v Knife:
1. Spyderco Proficient Fixed Blade Knife
If you’re looking for a high-end “do-all” bushcraft knife, this Spyderco Proficient is hard to beat. The knife is designed by Chris Claycomb of Bushcraft UK, a wilderness expert who knows exactly what you’re lacking in the current bushcraft knives.
Proficient comes with a 4-inch fixed blade made from state-of-the-art CPM S90V stainless steel that offers superior durability, edge retention, and corrosion resistance. With a full flat grind shape, this blade offers you low-friction cutting performance.
The knife handle is made from carbon fiber composite material for long-term comfort, without developing hotspots. It’s also well contoured and fits your hands nicely, further ensuring maximum comfort with prolonged use.
The also comes come with a full-grained sheath with a pouch style design and a belt loop to offer you a convenient and comfortable way to carry it around your belt.
2. Benchmade - 940 EDC Folding Knife
The Benchmade 940 folding knife is specially designed for everyday carry. The knife can tackle pretty much any day-to-day task. And it boasts a slim profile plus lightweight design which makes it easy to carry every day.
a perfect addition to your gear collection, survival kit, backpack, or tackle box.
Benchmade powers this knife with a 3.4-inch cpm-s90v stainless steel (super steel) blade for superior edge retention, superb wear resistance, and high corrosion resistance. The blade has a reverse tanto design that makes it versatile enough for the outdoors.
As for the handle, this EDC knife features a highly durable, feather-light carbon fiber handle with gnarled texture to offer you a sure grip in all conditions.
This knife is armed with an axis locking mechanism which promotes butter-smooth opening and closing of the blade. A pocket clip is attached to the handle and offers perfect retention while allowing you to smoothly pull your knife in and out of your pockets.
3. Spyderco Drunken Prestige Premium Folding Knife
This fantastic premium folder is also specially made for everyday carry. It boasts insane craftsmanship that combines lightweight, high sharpness, smooth action, comfortable handle, and overall great looks—all in one knife.
The Drunken Prestige features a 3.5-inch S90V stainless steel blade that holds its edge for exceptionally long while offering high corrosion resistance.
Since this blade is also full flat ground, it offers less resistance during cutting and allows for more precise cuts, giving you a better cutting experience.
Drunken comes paired with a stylish and ergonomic handle with a titanium scale on one side and a carbon fiber scale, on the other hand, to give you the maximum comfort when using the knife for long hours.
With the knife’s smooth action, you’ll have no problems opening and closing this knife’s blade. Plus, the Spyderco trademark round hole on the blade gives you an effortless one-handed opening.
The included right-side, tip-up pocket clip lets you comfortably carry this knife in your pocket.
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From our S90V steel review above, we can see that s90v super steel was designed to be an exceptionally performing stainless steel. Unlike in the standard stainless steel, knives made with s90v premium steel deliver extreme edge retention, high wear resistance, and high corrosion resistance.
The only downside of a cm s90v knife is that it’s hard to sharpen and comes at a higher cost than low-quality steels. But the steel is totally worth it if you consider the exceptional performance it delivers. We highly recommend s90v steel to anyone looking for a high-end knife with exceptionally high performance.