Is A2 Steel Good for Knives? Expert Opinion & Product Suggestions
Are you planning to buy an A2 steel knife but you don’t have experience with this steel and know nothing about it? And you’re afraid that it might not meet your needs? If yes, this A2 steel review is for you.
After pumping hours and hours into research about A2 steel, we have gained great insights into this steel that we have shared in the following guide.
You’ll discover answers to all questions you have about this steel, like: how good is A2 steel? Does A2 tool steel rust? What is A2 steel hardness? What are the A2 steel pros and cons? And more.
What is A2 steel?
A2 is an air-hardening (hence the designation “A”) medium alloy tool steel produced by Crucible Industries. Steel is popular in the knife industry for its high toughness and moderate wear resistance. A2 steel other names include Airkoo and AISI A2.
A2 has been in use for making knives for quite a long time, going back as far as the 1960s. It’s used to make custom combat knives by renowned knife makers such as Rob Criswell, Phill Hartsfield, Mike Snody, John Fitzen. Aaron Gough of Gough custom, Canada even standardized his survival/camping knives in A2 steel.
You’ll find this American steel in many knives today, like those produce by Bark River Custom Knives. Black Wolf Knives uses A2 steel as the standard tool steel for their line of hunting knives.
The steel has also enjoyed long-term used cold work applications that require fairly high abrasion resistance as the perfect replacement for the high carbon-chromium steels which would chip and crack easily.
The steel is also easy to work in the annealed condition, making it great knife steel for bladesmiths.
What is A2 tool steel used for?
The A2 tool steel key applications include die trimming, thread rolling/injection-molding dies, and blanking/forming punches, chuck jaws, hammers, woodworking cutting tools, and dowel pins. And in the knife industry, the steel’s high levels of toughness plus moderate wear resistance make it ideal for making hunting, hiking, survival, camping, and combat knives.
Is A2 steel stainless?
A2 is NOT stainless. Chromium content determines whether the given steel is stainless. As you’ll discover in the A2 steel chemical composition table in this guide, this steel contains only 5.5% chromium. This is quite a low volume, way low than the 12% minimum volume needed to make this steel stainless.
A2 steel chemical composition
A2 steel composition comprises high carbon and chromium content, resulting in increased toughness and resistance to corrosion.
The following table outlines the complete A2 steel composition:
Percentage composition (%)
1.05% A2 steel carbon content means this is high carbon steel. It increases the steel tensile strength and improves its hardness and wear resistance.
5.50% Chromium improves corrosion resistance. It also increases strength, tensile strength, and toughness.
1.40% Molybdenum increases hardness and toughness
0.25% Vanadium increases the steel strength, toughness, and wear resistance.
0.30% Nickel adds to the steel toughness while reducing hardness.
1.00% Manganese increases tensile strength, tensile strength, and wear resistance.
0.50% Silicon increases strength and corrosion resistance.
0.25% Copper increases resistance to corrosion by preventing surface oxidization.
0.030% Phosphorous increases the steel strength, hardness, and machinability.
0.030% Sulfur improves the steel machinability. But it must be added in small quantities, otherwise, it will affect the steel strength.
How hard is A2 steel?
The A2 steel Rockwell hardness runs from 57-62 HRC, depending on the heat treatment process used. The high chromium content plus manganese and molybdenum elements in its chemical composition enable the steel to achieve this hardness.
A2 steel properties
In this part, we’re going to discuss the key A2 steel properties and key benefits, now that we already know its chemistry and Rockwell hardness.
A2 steel Toughness
The A2 steel offers great toughness! The steel is even tougher than steel grades like D2. Knives with A2 hardly chip, crack or break, with repeated heavy-duty use. Thanks to this high toughness, A2 has remained a top choice for die steel for many years. You’ll also find A2 steel being used to make knives intended for tough use, like combat, hunting, survival, and bushcraft knives.
A2 steel Wear resistance
A2 steel offers you high toughness levels at the expense of wear resistance. Not to say that it has poor wear resistance...the steel has high hardness and still offers decent wear and abrasion resistance and is a better choice than some steels with poor anti-wear properties.
A2 steel Corrosion resistance
This steel offers a little amount of corrosion resistance due to low chromium amounts in its chemistry. However, its anti-corrosion performance is better than what you get in most carbon steels. But don’t expect the steel to hit the degree of rust resistance of the stainless steels.
What this means is that your A2 steel knife will need care. After every use, make sure you clean your blade and wipe it dry to remove moisture that could lead to rust. Also, you might consider oiling your blade during storage to form a protective layer against rust.
A2 steel Edge retention
This carbon steel also excels in holding its sharp edge for a long time and beats other popular tool steels like O1. This is because the steel features more chromium carbides compared to softer steels like o1. Its edge-keeping ability only comes close to steels like 440C. But it has nothing on super steels like Maxamet, S90V, and S110V steel. You can use your a2 for long periods without re-sharpening the edge.
A2 steel Sharpenability
Now that it has great edge holding capability, is A2 steel hard to sharpen? Despite the steel offering you excellent edge retention performance, A2 tool steel is super-easy to sharpen like the best steel for knives.
The reason why this steel scores high in ease of sharpening is that it features low chromium carbides than in the high wear resistance steels.
This not only allows for easy grinding and polishing experience but also makes the sharpening part easy. Plus, when you sharpen this steel, it will take a super-keen, hair-popping edge!
What is A2 steel equivalent to?
Good news: There are a handful of A2 steel equivalent grades available, featuring the same chemical composition and pretty similar performance as A2 tool steel. One such grade is the Aichi DKD12, the Japanese version of the AISI D2.
Another well-known A2 steel equivalent is the Chinese GB Cr5Mo1V. Just like A2, this is also air-hardening tool steel offering high toughness and fair wear resistance.
Other A2 steel equivalent steels include the European 1.2363/X100CrMoV5, Japan’s SKD12, and ISO (international) X100CrMoV5.
A2 steel comparison
Part of understanding if A2 steel is good for knives involves studying how it compares with other popular knife steels. We studied the performance of this steel in comparison with other steels and this is what we found out.
A2 steel vs A4 steel
A4 falls under the category of tool steels, just like A2, and both steels share an almost similar chemical composition. A4 features a working hardness of 58-61 HRC which isn’t far off the 59-62 HRC hardness of A2 steel. A2 offers better toughness and edge retention than A4. A4 has even less chromium than A2, making it even more prone to rusting. However, both tool steels offer a close wear resistance performance.
A2 steel vs D2
The difference between A2 and D2 steel in edge retention is huge, with A2 holding its edge better than D2. A2 also outperforms D2 with slightly better toughness and is easier to sharpen. However, D2 which is considered semi-stainless steel offers better corrosion resistance than A2.
A2 steel vs 1095
A2 beats 1095 with greater toughness and will offer better stain resistance than 1095 steel, though it’s also susceptible to rust. A2 will also hold an edge better than 1095 because it features more chromium carbides than 1095. However, sharpening 1095 steel will be much easier than A2. All things considered, an A2 knife will blow a 1095 knife out of the water with better performance.
A2 steel vs O1
These two steels also have distinct differences when used for a knife blade. O1 tool steel tends to take a sharper edge than A2 but it loses it faster and requires frequent sharpening. But good this it’s easier to sharpen. A2 beats O1 with better edge holding ability, corrosion resistance, and high toughness. We believe that A2 is best suited for making bigger, tougher blades while O1 steel works best for small blades.
A2 steel vs CPM 3V
3V is high-end tool steel from Crucible and has an excellent performance in the knife blades. It features higher chromium and offers better corrosion resistance than A2. It also offers greater wear resistance than A2. Sharpening gets easier with A2 and gets harder with CPM 3V. But the tradeoff is that 3V tends to hold an edge for longer than A2 steel. 3V is also a bit higher than A2 in toughness. Overall 3V has the best all-around performance and a better choice than A2 steel.
Is A2 steel a good knife steel?
Good knife steel offers the perfect balance of performance in all categories. Looking at A2 steel, it offers you great toughness, edge retention, and wear resistance. These are some of the top characteristics that make it good steel for making knife blades.
Despite its high hardness, a typical A2 steel knife will also sharpen quite easily, another good thing about using this steel for knife making.
The only letdown this steel has when it comes to making knives is that it’s rust-prone. It can rust in a heartbeat if not cared for. We suggest that you clean, dry, and oil your blade after every use to keep away rust.
As for the availability, A2 steel is readily available. Being a tool steel, A2 has multiple other applications, not just in knife blades. it’s quite common from all major suppliers and readily available for you. It’s also affordable knife steel.
That’s everything you need to know about A2 steel. As we promised you, this A2 steel review has offered you everything you need to know about this carbon tool steel. The good side of this steel for knife making is a high toughness, great edge retention, easy sharpening, and affordability. The only ugly side is poor corrosion resistance.
The steel has been used for knife making for quite a long and still enjoys high usage in today’s knife making world due to its desirable performance. If you’re looking for a quality hunting, bushcraft, hiking, or camping knife at an affordable cost, A2 steel won’t let you down.