Are you eyeing a knife made with 52100 steel and wondering whether it’s a good steel for knives? If yes, we have compiled this in-depth 52100 steel review to school you on this steel— from its basics to its performance—to help you decide whether it qualifies as the perfect steel for your knife.
This guide will take you through everything you need to know about 52100 bearing steel including its chemical composition, Rockwell hardness, sharpness retention performance, toughness, 52100 rust resistance, ease of sharpening, and how it compares to other steel grades for making knives.
What is 52100 steel? What is 52100 carbon steel?
52100 is a high carbon high chromium alloy steel initially designed as a ball bearing steel. The steel balances high wear resistance and great toughness, which makes it ideal for producing mechanical components.
52100 gets its name from its chemical composition. The first digit “5”, signifies that this is a chrome alloy (i.e., it is primarily chromium alloyed steel), the second digit “2” means that the alloying percentage of Chromium is more than 1%. And the last part “100” represents the average volume of carbon used (i.e., 1.00% Carbon).
52100 steel is mostly used for manufacturing mechanical components due to its high wear resistance, high hardness, dimensional precision, and surface finishing. You’ll find it in components such as anti-friction bearings, punches, tapes, dies, mill rolls, asters, and automotive and aircraft parts.
It also finds use in the blades and cutlery industry due to its high toughness and hardness. You’ll find 52100 carbon steel in hunting knives, fixed blades, and 52100 steel kitchen knives. The steel has also started showing up in larger knives that require greater toughness to withstand brutal force.
52100 steel chemical composition
52100 steel features high carbon (0.98-1.10%) and chromium (1.3-1.6%) contents. The following table outlines the complete composition of 52100 bearing steel:
Percentage composition (%)
0.98-1.10% 52100 steel Carbon content increases the steel tensile strength. it also enhances edge retention and increases wear and abrasion resistance. But too much carbon makes the steel brittle.
1.3-1.6% Chromium increases hardness, toughness, and tensile strength. It is also responsible for the alloy’s rust resistance properties.
0.45% Manganese increases tensile strength, hardenability, and wear resistance.
0.30% Nickel adds to the steel toughness and helps improve corrosion resistance.
0.30% Copper promotes corrosion resistance by preventing surface oxidization.
0.30% Silicon improves the steel strength and corrosion resistance.
0.025% Phosphorous improves strength, hardness, and machinability.
0.025% Sulfur improves machinability. But it must be used in minute quantities to achieve this purpose. Otherwise, high concentrations lead to decreased strength.
How hard is 52100 Steel?
The 52100 steel Rockwell hardness goes up to the 62-64 HRC range, depending on the 52100 steel heat-treatment process. Some users even claim that this steel can get a little higher, up to 66 HRC. The high hardness is attributed to toe the Chromium, Manganese, and Silicon mix-up.
52100 steel properties
Since we now know the 52100 steel hardness and chemistry, we can easily discuss the key features you should expect from a knife powered by a 52100 ball-bearing steel blade.
52100 carbon steel wear resistance
One of the top 52100 characteristics involves high wear resistance. The steel features high carbon content which gives it great anti-wear performance. This explains why the steel was originally used for mechanical components applications where high wear resistance is crucial.
In the knife industry having steel with great wear resistance means it can withstand hard use and resist normal tear and wear. High wear resistance enables the blade to hold its shape and form for long, even with continued sharpening, extending the lifespan of your knife.
52100 steel edge retention
The steel boasts high hardness levels which translates to long-term edge retention. It also boasts very fine carbides which translate to high edge stability.
Though the steel won’t offer you the exceptional edge retention performance like today’s super steels, it will hold its edge for long enough without the use of knife lubricants, so you won’t be bothered with sharpening it after every few uses.
52100 steel corrosion resistance
With only1.3-1.6% Chromium content, 52100 steel isn’t stainless and doesn’t perform well when it comes to corrosion resistance. However, this little amount will still give you some good 52100 steel rust resistance.
But if you expose your knife to harsh elements for extended periods of time, it will rust quite easily! With this info in mind, you should avoid leaving your 52100 carbon steel knife unattended. Cleaning and drying it before storage will keep away rust.
52100 steel toughness
The fine grain in this steel gives it great toughness levels. Well, it doesn’t feature the superior toughness of steels like CPM 3V, but it still does great in resting chipping, fracturing, or breaking with regular hard use.
This high toughness is one of the main reasons why 52100 steel finds use in producing hunting knives, fixed blades, and large blades for other applications.
52100 ease of sharpening
Sharpening steels with high hardness isn’t an easy task. But sharpening 52100 isn’t hard. Despite the rule of thumb that hard steels are hard to sharpen, 52100 steel easily takes a keen edge without much effort.
However, it’s not the easiest steel to sharpen and can’t beat easy-sharpening steels like 5160 spring steel. But it’s also not too hard to sharpen compared to other steels like AUS8 or 420HC.
It lies somewhere in between and beginners can easily sharpen it to a super-sharp edge.
52100 steel equivalent
We have also included this section in our 52100 steel review to help you discover alternative steels to 52100. 5160 spring steel is one of the 52100 steel equivalent grades. Both are carbon steels, though 5160 falls slightly behind with less carbon (0.60%) and less chromium (0.90%) than 52100 alloy steel.
SUJ2 is the Japanese equivalent to the AISI 52100 steel.
The German 1.3505 is also an equivalent for 52100 carbon steel (though it has been discontinued).
SR 101 is another equivalent steel grade for 52100. To be more specific, SR 101 is a modified version of this steel. Both grades offer high hardness, great strength, and low anti-corrosion performance.
52100 steel comparison
How does 52100 compare to other popular knife steels available today? Let’s find out in this section.
52100 steel vs 1095
Just like 52100, 1095 is also a high carbon steel alloy with a simple composition. Both steels offer high levels of toughness and find in making knives intended for hard use. 52100, however, offers slightly better edge retention. 1095 has less chromium than 52100 and exhibits very poor corrosion resistance. Sharpening 1095 is a bit easier than 52100 carbon steel.
52100 steel vs s30v
s30v is premium steel and stainless steel offering excellent corrosion resistance compared to 52100. it also offers better edge retention. However, this premium steel is harder to sharpen and falls slightly behind 52100 when it comes to toughness.
52100 steel vs 5160
52100 bearing steel is similar to 5160 spring steel. But 5160 features less carbon volume compared to 52100. 52100 offers superior toughness and performs much better in this area than 52100. it also gets an edge over 52100 with super-easy sharpening. However, you’ll find better edge retention and corrosion resistance in 52100 steel.
52100 steel vs 440c
52100 offers better toughness and wear resistance than 440C steel. 52100 also beats 440C with better edge retention. But 440C is stainless steel offering better corrosion resistance than 52100. However, sharpening 52100 is a little more challenging than 440c. if you’re looking for a knife for hard use, 52100 would be a better choice here. But for a knife for use in wet conditions, you’d be better off with 440c steel.
How good is 52100 Steel for knives?
52100 is a ball bearing high-quality steel ideal for knives. It has great toughness and wear resistance, which are good attributes to have in a knife intended for hard use.
52100 high carbon steel offers great edge retention and easy sharpening and will make a good 52100 carbon steel knife for field use.
However, the low corrosion resistance means this steel will perform poorly in wet conditions and will need regular care. However, manufacturers coat 52100 steel blades with an anti-rust coating to offer corrosion-free performance.
Best 52100 steel knife:
1. Cold Steel Drop Forged Series Fixed Blade Knife
This is a reasonably priced knife from Cold Steel featuring a long, wide 52100 carbon steel blade designed for military applications as well as outdoor activities like hunting, bushcraft, wilderness, and survival, etc.
The blade comes in a razor-sharp edge that holds its sharpness reasonably well with regular hard use. The fact that it comes coated with a grey Teflon finish helps boosts 52100 rust resistance performance while reducing friction for more efficient cutting.
Cold steel designed this knife to handle just any outdoor endeavor. They forged it from a single solid piece of steel with a generous belly and stout tip to make it unbelievably durable for tactical and military applications.
It also boasts a super-thick, super-grippy plastic palm that fills your hand with a good, secure grip in various conditions.
And the included steel guard helps keep your fingers from slipping onto the sharp edge when using this knife outdoors.
Don’t forget that this 52100 steel knife comes with a versatile military-style Secure-X sheath to offer you various comfortable and secure options for carrying your knife in the field.
Also available on:
That’s it for our in-depth 52100 steel review. The key benefits you should expect from this steel include high wear resistance and great toughness, making it ideal for making knives for field use. It also offers good edge retention, high wear resistance, and easy sharpening, further making it suitable steel for knives. The only flaw in this steel is poor corrosion resistance, but you can easily beat it with regular care and using anti-rust coating on your blade. With all this information about 52100 ball-bearing carbon steel, we have high hopes that you’re in a better position to decide whether this knife steel fits your requirements and expectations.