Is M390 A Good Knife Steel?
M390 is one of the hottest steel blades in the knife making industry today. M390 is also one of the super steels—a class of steels that hold their sharpness “forever” and are almost impossible to dull.
For a novice who has never had the honor of using a super steel knife, or simply m390 steel knife, the high price tags put on these knives might sound exaggerated to you and leave you wondering if the knife is really worth all the money.
This m390 steel review will address whether steel is good knife steel for you. You’ll discover m390 ease of sharpening, wear resistance, edge retention, corrosion resistance, and toughness. And how it compares with other super steels.
Spyderco SpyOpera Folding Knife
What Is Bohler M390 Steel?
M390 is ultra-premium steel (super steel) manufactured by Bohler-Uddeholm (came as a result of the merger of Austrian Bohler and Swedish Uddeholm).
M390 is a martensitic high-chromium high-vanadium stainless steel produced using third-generation PM (powder metallurgy) and delivers extreme wear resistance and corrosion resistance.
Bohler labels this steel “micro-clean.” It features a super-fine grain size structure and can take a mirror finish perfectly well, giving your knife really cool looks.
So, what type of steel is m390? It’s technically tool steel. Like all the other steels in this class, M390 was specially engineered for hard use and tear/wear. It’s also designed to deliver high resistance to vibration and mechanical shocks, explaining why it finds use in industrial applications like screws, barrels, and injection molding.
In the knife industry, M390 is best suited for making small knives. Since this steel is expensive, you’ll usually find it in high-end knives and limited edition knives. The super steel is popular with high-end small fixed blades and folders.
Bohler M390 Steel Composition
The super steel features a perfect mixture of elements that enables it to excel in all categories. It features high-chromium and high-vanadium chemistry, translating to exceptional corrosion resistance and high abrasion/wear resistance respectively.
Molybdenum and Tungsten have also been added to the M390 chemistry and work closely with chromium and vanadium to enhance the steel sharpness and edge retention.
This is what the full 390 steel composition looks like:
Percentage composition (%)
1.90% Carbon increases the steel tensile strength while raising its hardness and wear resistance.
20.00% Chromium makes M390 a stainless steel since it’s more than 12%, making it highly corrosion resistant. It also increases tensile strength and toughness.
0.30% Manganese increases tensile strength, hardenability, and wear resistance. Larger quantities of Manganese can however increase the steel brittleness.
1.00% Molybdenum increases strength, hardness, and toughness.
4.00% Vanadium increases the steel wear resistance and boosts its toughness.
0.60% Tungsten improves hardenability and increases toughness.
0.70% Silicon increases strength and corrosion resistance.
Is M390 A Stainless Steel?
M390 is stainless steel since it meets the necessary requirements, which is more than 12% chromium content. It contains up to 20% chromium, which is more than what you find in standard stainless steels, giving it superior stain and corrosion resistance.
M390 Steel Hardness
Bohler specifications of M90 stainless steel states that this steel hardness and tempers to a Rockwell hardness of 60 – 62HRC. This is high hardness and offers a perfect balance of extreme wear resistance, excellent edge retention, and toughness.
M390 Steel Properties
What’s the performance of an m390 stainless steel like? What benefits does it offer you? This is exactly what we’re going to discuss in this part.
M390 Steel Wear Resistance
The steel scores extremely high in terms of wear resistance, and Bohler even gives it a score of 5/5 in this category. The large quantities of chromium in this steel chemistry directly increase its volume of chromium carbides. This translates to extremely high wear resistance and long-lasting steel. Through regular hard use, normal tear and wear won’t stand a chance and your m390 steel knife will maintain its original shape for exceptionally long.
M390 Steel Edge Retention
M390 carries the tag of a super-steel, meaning it delivers extreme edge retention. And this acts as the driving force behind its explosive popularity. The high carbide content plus the addition of 4% Vanadium in its makeup accounts for this high sharpness retention.
Once you sharpen your m390 knife, it will retain its sharpen for a really long time. This is great because you won’t bother with sharpening your knife frequently. This will increase its lifespan since knives wear out with continued sharpening.
The following video shows M390 edge retention tested on a high fibrous rope. The knife stops cutting efficiently after a whopping 334 passes. And even then, it still wants to go on. That’s just incredibly considering other knife steels give up after approx. 200 passes.
M390 Steel Corrosion Resistance
As you already know, chromium is the primary factor controlling corrosion resistance in a steel alloy, apart from additional elements like molybdenum and nitrogen. That said, the amount of carbon in M390 is pretty high—as high as 20%— resulting in overall high corrosion resistance. This is the reason why M390 stainless steel is favored for making knives for use in humid and saltwater conditions, where rust vulnerability is quite high.
M390 Steel Toughness
M390 makes incredibly tough knives. m390 steel chipping resistance is quite high compared to other steels with the same Rockwell hardness. The steel features high toughness levels for knife making.
Some folks might argue that this isn’t the toughest steel available, but we can’t also ignore the fact that it manages to offer a good amount of toughness for knives while at the same time balancing high hardness, grindability, and corrosion resistance.
You can trust your m390 steel EDC knife to last an incredibly long period of time with little maintenance and without signs of chipping or cracking under impact or stress.
M3 Steel Ease Of Sharpening
Is M390 easy to sharpen? For steel yielding this kind of hardness and wear resistance, you expect it to be equally hard to sharpen. But M390 steel is full of surprises; it is reasonably easy to sharpen! The steel carries more chromium carbides than vanadium carbides.
As you already know, the former is easier to sharpen as they’re softer than the common aluminum oxide sharpening belts.
M390 Steel Equivalent
This super steel isn’t without a few steel grades that perform exactly like it or offer a pretty close performance to it. The CPM-20CV is the Crucible version of Bohler M390 stainless steel. And CTS-204P is the Carpenter’s version of this Bohler M390 steel. If you look closely at the 20CV and 204P compositions, you’ll discover that they have something similar to M390 steel chemistry.
M390 Steel Comparison With Other Steels
If you want to get a clear picture of how the Bohler m390 steel performs, then you will need to compare it with other popular knife steels. This is what this part is all about. We compared the Bohler steel with some of the top-rated steels in the knife industry and discovered the following.
M390 Steel Vs D2
Both M390 and D2 are tool steels. But they don’t have the same performance. M390 offers better wear resistance, edge retention, and toughness than D2. M390 is also stainless, unlike the semi-stainless D2, giving it an edge on corrosion resistance. However, sharpening D2 would be a bit easier than M390.
M390 Steel Vs S30V
S30V is high-end steel made by US Crucible and enjoys high popularity in the knife manufacturing industry. Compared to M390, this steel offers lower wear resistance and edge retention. Sharpening S30V is much easier than M390 steel. But both steels have the same level of corrosion resistance and toughness.
M390 Steel Vs S35VN
S35VN was also produced by Crucible collaborating with Chris Reeve, a renowned knife maker, as a more superior version of S30V. That said, it still offers lower edge retention than M390. Bohler m390 is also slightly more corrosion resistant than this steel. Sharpenability is pretty much close for both steels, with S35VN gaining a slight edge over M390. However, the two steels offer the same toughness level.
M390 Steel Vs S90V
Crucible’s S90V is designed for extreme wear resistance and edge retention in knife making, making it very close to M390. S90V and M390 offer the same extreme edge retention. However, M390 outshines in all the other categories including toughness, corrosion resistance, and easier sharpening.
M390 Steel S110V
S110V ranks above S90V in the crucible PM steels and is regarded as the ultimate in edge retention and wear resistance. When compared to M390, S110V displays slightly better edge retention, slightly lower corrosion resistance, and harder sharpening. The toughness in M390 is also quite high than that of S110V steel.
M390 Steel Vs 20CV
As we mentioned earlier, Crucible 20CV was designed as the US version of European (Bohler) M390 steel. These two steel grades feature the same performance in terms of sharpness retention, corrosion resistance, ease of sharpening. However, M390 tends to offer a higher toughness than 20CV.
M390 Steel 204P
CTS 204P is another US’ (Carpenter) version of the M390 steel. Being a PM (powder metallurgy) steel, it also delivers a perfect combination of high wear resistance, superb edge retention, and high corrosion resistance. it has a close performance to M390 and 20CV.
M390 Steel 154CM
154CM is produced by Crucible and has excellent performance for knife making. However, M390 beats this steel with better edge retention and slightly better corrosion resistance due to its (390) high chromium content. Both steel also offers great toughness, though M390 still stands a bit higher than 154CM on the toughness graph. 154CM steel is, however, much easier to sharpen than M390.
M390 Steel Vs Elmax
Elmax is M390’s sibling from Bohler and was produced as a high chromium-molybdenum-vanadium alloy for extreme wear and corrosion resistance. M390 tends to hold its sharpness a bit longer than Elmax. But it falls a bit lower than m390 in corrosion resistance, though it still offers excellent anti-corrosion performance. Sharpening Elmax is fairly easier compared to M390. Both steels level when it comes to toughness factor.
Is M390 Steel Good Knife Steel?
M390 steel makes good steel for knives and is one of the super steels enjoying incredible popularity in the knife-making world. The steel is engineered using the PM process, enabling it to deliver high wear resistance, superior edge retention, and excellent corrosion resistance.
This top-rated Bohler tool steel makes high-end m390 steel for knives that can withstand hard use and resists corrosion in humid and saltwater conditions. An m390 steel knife also yields high toughness and will withstand, to a good extent, hard use and abuse.
But you need to understand that M390 also has a few cons for knife making. It’s quite expensive and makes premium knives with a premium price tag. It’s also not that easy to sharpen, but it’s also not the hardest to sharpen.
Best M390 Steel Knife:
Here are some of the most popular knives with Bohler M390 steel available on the market today:
1. LionSTEEL M4 Bushcraft Fixed Blade Knife
LionSteel designed this M4 fixed blade bushcraft knife to affect you the perfect company for bushcraft, outdoor cooking, camping, wilderness survival, and any other cores you might want to throw at it.
The knife’s exceptional performance in different situations is powered by its 3.74-inch M390 super steel blade. This steel is known for retaining its sharpness for extremely long with continued use. It also offers excellent wear and corrosion resistance, making it ideal for use in various conditions.
The high toughness offered by M390 steel enables this knife to tackle hard outdoor tasks without chipping or breaking.
It comes with a thick stitched leather sheath with a snap enclosure to enable you to safely and securely accommodate your knife and comfortably carrying it in your bag or pocket. The handle has a lanyard hole for effortless Paracord or beads addition.
You’ll get to choose from micarta, wooden, or G10 knife handles for this knife. All the handle materials come optimized for exceptional grip and the perfect one will depend on your personal preferences.
2. Off-Grid Knives Elite Series Black Mamba
If you’re looking for the perfect EDC or tactical knife or the perfect gift for a knife enthusiast, get this Off-Grid Black Mamba folder. The knife comes optimized with a lightweight design, compact design, and a versatile pocket clip—making it a great tactical knife for everyday carry.
The compact tactical knife offers you a reverse tanto/clip-point blade made from premium M390 stainless steel for unmatched sharpness retention, corrosion resistance, and great strength. Off-Grid made the blade size under 3 inches to make it a legal carry in most jurisdictions.
As for the handle, the manufacturer uses lightweight and durable 6AL4V titanium material with super-grippy hexagon texturing to offer you a solid and secure grip in all conditions.
They made the Black Mamba ride on ceramic bearings to offer you a smooth and fast flip and a secure blade lockup. The jimping the flipper tab offers you 100% rapid-fire blade deployment. The deep carry pocket clip secures this knife just below your pocket for convenient carry.
3. Spyderco SpyOpera Folding Knife
Spyderco, too, hasn’t been left behind in making knives using one of the most popular super steels currently available. Designed to be a utilitarian folding knife, this knife came out as a collaboration between Spyderco and the Italian LionSTEEL.
The sleek-looking knife is equipped with a 2.90-inch blade made from M390 steel, ensuring it’s a legal carry in most parts of the US. The blade comes razor sharp out of the box and its full-flat ground helps significantly improve its cutting performance.
The blade comes housed in a handle featuring skeletonized titanium liners and beautifully contoured micarta scales for a comfortable and secure grip.
A deep-pocket wire clip with right-side, tip-up carry offers you a convenient way to clip in this knife in your pocket or backpack for comfortable everyday carry.
You’ll like the lock-back mechanism that comes with this knife. It’s not only sturdy but offers a butter-smooth blade opening and closing operation. It also has a strong click that gives you peace of mind knowing the blade is well locked up and won’t close on your fingers.
We hope that this Bohler m390 steel review has equipped you with all the necessary information and answered all your questions about this steel.
As you have learned, the top benefit of using super steel like M390 for knife making is that it delivers extremely high wear resistance and superb edge retention. It also delivers excellent corrosion resistance to keep off rusting. However, the steel is quite expensive and makes premium-priced knives, and is a bit hard to sharpen.
Overall, M390 is the perfect steel for manufacturing smaller fixed blades or folding knives for everyday carry with premium performance.