Is 5160 steel good for knives?
If you’re looking for a knife with 5160 steel, or simply considering this steel for knife making, but don’t much about it, this 5160 steel review is for you. Before you get this steel, you probably want to know everything about it. You’d ask yourself how strong is 5160 steel? Does 5160 steel hold an edge? Is it good steel for knife making? And other questions.
This guide will give you all the information about 5160 steel including its Rockwell hardness, composition, and performance in holding an edge, wear resistance, rust resistance, ease of sharpening, and comparison with other steels. You’ll also discover the 5160 steel pros and cons to help you discover if it’s really good steel for you.
What is 5160 Steel? What type of steel is 5160?
5160, also known as AISI 5160, is simple spring steel with added chromium for improved hardenability. The steel was popular with forging and has become a staple in the knife industry due to its outstanding toughness plus good wear resistance. The steel is used to make a variety of knife styles, and more the bigger blades that require excellent toughness.
Since 5160 was initially developed for manufacturing springs, it results in knives with extremely high flexibility that can return to their original shape easily when put under stress.
The steel is capable of attaining a relatively wide range of Rockwell hardness. When hardened to the lower 50s RC, it yields the high toughness needed for making swords. And when heat-treated to an RC near the 60s, it results in better edge retention.
Due to its excellent toughness, you’ll find 5160 in knives intended for heavy-duty applications such as camping, survival, modern-day swords, and long knives.
5160 steel composition
The steel makeup comprises low manganese, medium carbon content as it’s typical with all spring steels. The spring has, however, been modified with added chromium to improves its hardenability. See the complete 5160 steel composition below:
Percentage composition (%)
0.56-0.64% 5160 steel carbon content increases its strength. it also increases hardness and wear resistance.
0.70-0.98% Chromium, though a low amount, greatly helps boost the toughness of this steel. But this chromium content is too low to offer any significant resistance to corrosion in this steel.
0.75-1.00% Manganese is a crucial element for any steel alloy as it works closely with carbon to increase the steel hardness. Besides, it increases tensile strength and hardenability.
0.15-0.30% Silicon makes the iron in the steel alloy stronger and harder. But using too much silicon increases brittleness.
0.035% Phosphorous boosts the steel tensile strength and machinability (i.e., makes the steel easier to work with).
0.04% Sulfur boosts impact strength in this steel while improving its machinability. However, the sulfur must be used in low amounts as seen in this 5160 chemistry as too much of it can make the steel weak in the face of impact.
What is 5160 steel hardness?
When accorded a suitable heat treatment, 5160 steel hardness hits 57-58 HRC. This is a decent hardness for steel because it sits right above the soft steels and right below the superior hardness steels with over 60 HRC. This decent hardness directly results in the steel offering decent wear resistance and sharpness retention.
5160 steel properties
In this section of 5160 steel properties, we’ll look at the key features and benefits the steel exhibits when used in a knife. Let’s see how this steel performs in the key categories below:
5160 steel Wear resistance
The spring offers decent wear/abrasion resistance. This comes from the fact that it features low carbon content which gives it a decent hardness of 57-58 HRC. Decent wear resistance means the steel has good durability and will easily hold up normal wear and tear with regular use compared to softer steels.
5160 steel Edge retention
The spring steel holds a fairly good edge. From the 5160 spring steel chemical composition above, this steel features quite low carbon content. This means it forms low carbide volumes and can’t hold its sharpness for long and you’ll need to sharpen your 5160 spring steel knife regularly, especially if you’re cutting hard media. That said, 5160 will hold an edge better than most of the steels out there.
5160 steel Corrosion resistance
The spring steel is prone to rust and can rust in the blink of an eye if you’re not careful. Chromium determines rust resistance, and the low amounts in this steel (0.70-0.90%) are to blame for this problem. But here’s a rule to save your 5160 steel knife from rust: keep it clean and dry after use. And if possible, apply a light oil or dry lubricant layer to further improve rust resistance.
5160 steel Toughness
The steel offers outstanding toughness! The low carbide fraction in this steel enables it to achieve really high toughness compared to most steels. A quick scan through outdoor forums like this bushcraftusa.com forum discussion, you’ll find all hobbyists spraying praises on 5160 steel for its great performing at performing hard tasks like batoning, chopping wood, etc. without chipping or breaking into two.
5160 spring steel Sharpenability
5160 sharpens easy! A high volume of chromium carbides in a steel alloy makes it quite hard to sharpen. This is the reason why super steels, which feature high chromium levels, are the hardest to sharpen. The flipside is also true; steels like this 5160 spring steel featuring low chromium have low carbides and are easy and fast to sharpen. What’s more, they can take a wicked sharp edge with just the simple sharpening tools.
5160 steel equivalent
The 5160 steel UK equivalent is the BS 527H60 spring steel. The steels have 100% identical composition, meaning they’ll offer the same exceptional toughness and good wear resistance when used for knife making.
Other steels equivalent to 5160 spring steel include Germany DIN 65MnCr4 and DIN 60Cr3 and China’s GB 60CrMnA. These steels also share the same chemistry with 5160 steel and offer pretty much the same performance.
We didn’t find any US-made steel with similar chemistry to AISI 5160.
5160 steel comparison
Below, we put 5160 steel side to side with other popular knife steels to see how it fares.
5160 Steel vs 1095 Steel
Just like 5160, 1095 is spring steel. However, 1095 contains higher carbon content than 5160, giving it increased wear resistance and better edge retention than its counterpart. 1095 steel is also easy to work with but 5160 sharpens much even easier compared to it.
Both steels offer poor corrosion resistance, but 5160 is worse than 1095 carbon steel. Though 1095 is also tough, it’s nothing compared to 5160. Of the two steels, 5160 remains the king for making swords and other hard-use knives.
5160 steel d2
D2 has high carbon content and offers better edge retention compared to 5160 steel. It’s not the best in rust resistance (it’s semi-stainless) but it beats 5160 with better anti-rust performance. However, D2 shows lower toughness and sharpenability than 5160 spring steel.
5160 steel vs 420hc
420HC is low-end steel and a modification of the old 420 steel. This steel offers fairly the same corrosion resistance as 5160. It contains 13% Chromium which gives great corrosion resistance, unlike our rust-prone steel. 5160 is better in terms of toughness and offers slightly better sharpenability than 420HC.
5160 spring steel vs 9260
9260 is also a super-tough blade and a major competitor to 5160 in the sword-making industry. This steel offers even more flexibility than 5160, such that you can bend it to 90 degrees and it will still spring back to its original shape. this makes it best suited for manufacturing rapiers. 9260 is, however, considered exotic steel and is costlier than 5160 steel.
5160 steel vs s30v
S30V is a premium knife steel, it offers way better edge retention than 5160 steel. It also contains high chromium and is stainless steel offering better rust resistance than 5160. However, it’s less tough and harder to sharpen compared to our spring steel.
How good is 5160 carbon steel?
5160 features high toughness and is, therefore, good for making knives intended for tough use such as bushcraft, camping, wilderness, and survival knives. Its high durability and flexibility make it ideal for making swords and big blades.
Additional features that make 5160 spring steel good for knife making include good hardness, great edge retention, and wear resistance (depending on the heat treatment process).
However, this steel might not be a good choice for making kitchen/fishing/diving knives due to its high rust vulnerability. It’s also not ideal for making small EDC knife or pocket knife blades due to its increased thickness. Most knife makers also tend to avoid it because it’s expensive to work with.
5160 steel Pros and Cons
Best 5160 spring steel knife:
1. Buck Knives 104 Compadre Camp Knife
This knife is 100% made in the USA by Buck Knives and is one of the three knives from the Compadre line of outdoor tools featuring the latest in innovation and design.
This particular knife comes designed with the outdoor enthusiast in mind and features full-tang design construction for the extra strength needed to handle tough outdoor tasks. It comes with a 4.5-inch long blade, which is just the right size for varying out various outdoor tasks.
This blade is made from 5160 steel for the ultimate toughness and great durability. To compensate for the steel poor corrosion resistance, Buck has coated this blade with rust-resistant cerate cobalt.
When you order this knife, you’ll also receive a compact and durable black leather sheath to keep your blade protected when not in use while offering a convenient way to carry it.
The ergonomic, natural micarta handle features finger grooves to offer you a comfortable fit for both one-handed and two-handed use and ensure you have a secure grip even in wet conditions.
2. Buck Knives 893 GCK Tactical Knife
This knife is also made in the US by Buck Knives and is specially made for tactical applications. It comes armed with a razor-sharp and versatile 5.5-inch blade made from 5160 steel for superior toughness, excellent strength, and great edge retention.
The blade is tanto style to ensure a versatile cutting performance. And the fact that it comes coated with Cerakote helps enhance its abrasion resistance, impact strength and shield it from rust and corrosion.
As expected of a tactical knife, this model also features a full-tang design, boosting its strength in the face of tough tasks.
This knife comes with a durable G10 handle with scales to offer you high gripability, even in wet conditions.
The entire knife, including the handle and blade, is covered in black to minimize reflections and make this knife a true tactical weapon.
A molle-compatible sheath with multiple carry options comes with this knife to help you safely protect the blade when not in use and comfortably carry it to your next outdoor adventure.
3. Buck Knives 108 Compadre Froe
This knife also appears in Buck’s Compadre line of outdoor steels designed to make your outdoor experience easy. This knife is froe was designed as a durable, heavy-duty, and multi-purpose woodworking tool that accomplishes a variety of outdoor activities.
Like its siblings in the Compadre series, this froe is composed of 5160 spring steel blade for exceptional flexibility, shatter resistance and durability. The blade is a 9.50-inch long blade—this is just the perfect length for tackling a multitude of outdoor tasks like clearing, splitting, batoning, and heavy chopping.
Despite the heavy-duty applications, this froe is incredibly lightweight and weighs just under 2 lbs., so it won’t be a bulky tool to carry around.
You’ll notice the blade featuring Buck’s unique Cerakote finish. This not only makes the knife look stylish but helps improve its rust and corrosion resistance. The natural canvas micarta handle on this outdoor tool provides you a sure grip, even in wet conditions.
Buck sends this froe to you with genuine black leather with a stainless steel attachment ring to help protect the blade when not in use and offer you a comfortable and secure way to carry the froe.
5160 is tough steel initially developed for making automotive leaf springs. With the addition of little Chromium, this steel attains great toughness plus good wear resistance, making it suitable steel for making large swords, bushcraft knives, camping knives, and other knives that require high toughness.
If you prioritize edge holding and corrosion resistance, then 5160 spring isn’t your best bet. But if you’re looking for outstanding toughness and high sharpenability, 5160 steel is the steel for you.