If you're looking for information about SK5 steel, you're in the right place. Cold Steel, one of the most popular knife manufacturers in the U.S., uses this steel for their knives. While this might be a good signal that this is good steel, you still need to dig into how it performs to ensure it's something that suits your requirements for your new knife.
We have spent hours sweeping through reviews and opinions of different knife users on the SK5 carbon steel. Using this info, we have been able to come up with a comprehensive guide that answers all your questions on this steel and helps you quickly decide if it meets your expectations and preferences.
What is Sk5 steel?
Probably the most burning question you have right now is "What is sk5 steel?" The answer: This is Japanese-made steel and an equivalent of the American 1080 steel. It is high carbon steel comprising up to 0.8% Carbon and 0.9 Manganese—giving the material high hardness, increased strength, and great abrasion resistance
So, is sk5 steel stainless? Definitely not. Extremely low amounts of chromium in its composition make the SK5 a non-stainless steel. Though some knife users feel that this is a reason not to get an sk5 knife, it isn't necessarily bad considering that this steel excels in other areas and will develop strong and sturdy blades.
SK5 steel composition
How steel performs is directly determined by the individual elements that make it up. Let's look at the elements that come together to form this steel and their respective composition in the following table.
0.8 - 0.9
0.15 - 0.35
With a composition of around 0.8 to 0.9% (which is close to 1% carbon), the Carbon element exists in high amounts in this steel grade. The direct result of increased carbon is increased steel hardness. And more hardness means better wear resistance.
Chromium is only 0.3% in SK5 steel, which is way less than the minimum amount of 10% required to qualify any steel as stainless. Nevertheless, the little levels of it in this material helps boost its hardness.
Silicon content ranges from 0.15 to 0.35% and simply makes the steel stronger.
Manganese appears in up to 0.5% and, just like carbon, boosts this material's hardness. But its level has been kept low on purpose—too much of it can increase the brittleness of your knife.
0.25% Nickel is also part of the steel composition and contributes to its hardness. Moreover, it boosts the steel brittleness, leaving no room for brittleness.
0.03% Phosphorous helps make the steel stronger.
0.03% Sulphur makes the sk5 steel easier to work with (or easier to machine).
SK5 steel properties
The chemical properties of steel go hand in hand with its properties. This part will outline the TOP properties you should expect from a blade made out of SK5 steel.
Let's get into the details:
SK5 steel Hardness
SK5 has a Rockwell hardness of 65 H.R.C, making it a hard material. This is attributed to the high carbon content in its chemical composition. The high hardness gives this steel excellent abrasion resistance and wear resistance and makes it ideal for making reliable blades for hunting, hiking, bushcrafting, and other tough outdoor activities.
However, keep in mind that the SKs5 steel hardness can vary from manufacturers to manufacturer depending on factors such as the heat treatment used by a particular manufacturer. Don't get surprised when you find an sk5 steel with hardness as low as 55HRC.
The harder the steel is, the less tough it becomes. But it's an entirely different case for the Japan-made SK5 steel. The high hardness of this steel will make it less tough. But it still has a reasonable level of toughness and won't easily give in to chipping or breaking.
The fact that this steel is hard means it has an excellent edge retention ability. This simply means that your knife won't dull easily and will keep a super-sharp cutting edge with regular use. This will mean spending more time using your knife and less time re-sharpening it.
SK5 steel is NOT stainless steel, and that presents a problem when it comes to fighting rust and corrosion. But then again, the tiny amounts of chromium used in the steel composition make a little effort in resisting corrosion. It's also worth noting that knife manufacturers are now coating their sk5 blades with an anti-corrosion finish to boost their anti-corrosion properties.
We won't lie to you…being hard steel, sk5 will bit challenging for you to sharpen. Remember, we said it has a Rockwell hardness of up to 65, which is quite hard. Sharpening it to achieve a super-sharp edge will take you more time than softer steel.
But the good thing is that it holds a cutting edge for long, so you won't be sharpening it every day. Using more advanced sharpening systems will make the knife easier to sharpen than the standard sharpening methods.
SK5 steel Vs other steel grades
To get an even better idea of how sk5 performs, we'll compare it with other popular steels in the knife industry. We'll look at the sk5 material equivalent and alternatives to the steel.
sk5 steel vs 1095
These two materials are quite similar. They have the same carbon content (with 1095 carbon featuring 0.95% carbon). While 1095 may be a bit harder, the sk5 gets a bit tougher. But they've pretty similar attributes when used in a knife blade.
sk4 vs sk5 steel
The SK4 composition shows a higher carbon content, up to 1%, making it a bit harder. For this reason, sk4 is more wear-resistant and keeps its cutting edge in good condition for longer than sk5. But sharpening it becomes even harder than sk5.
sk5 steel vs vg10
vg10 has multiple benefits over the sk5. The steel is quite hard, but the vanadium element in its composition compensates for toughness. It also has higher chromium content for corrosion resistance. But high hardness means it's not easy to sharpen. Also, vg10 knives are pricey compared to the sk5 steel ones.
Is sk5 steel good for Knives?
SK5 is definitely good for knives, but that depends on the manufacturer you go for. With a reputable manufacturer who knows what they're doing, you'll get quite good sk5 steel knives with great edge retention and wear resistance. A good brand will also make their knives easy to sharpen and tough enough to keep off chipping.
But one thing you'll have to deal with in an sk5 is a high susceptibility to rust and corrosion, especially if you use it in wet or marine conditions. However, the low chromium amounts in it, if coupled with anti-rust coating on the blade, can help your sk5 knife to fight corrosion. Proper care is also crucial in keeping your knife rust-free.
Best SK5 Knives:
1. Cold Steel S.R.K. Survival Rescue Fixed Blade Knife
Cold Steel, one of the highly respected knife manufacturers in the U.S., is fond of using SK5 steel for their knives. This S.R.K. (survival rescue knife) is one such knife from the brand and strikes a good balance between price and performance.
The super-tough S.R.K. knife was made with one aim in mind—to offer you the toughest, multi-use survival tool in the knife world. The practical and tactical blade becomes immediately embraced by the military and special forces community. It was issued by Navy SEALs for B.U.D.S. training due to its versatility and durability in the worst of conditions.
This knife feels solid and well-made, and you can easily tell it by simply holding it in your hands. The blade grind is perfectly even and comes with a sharpening coil for easy sharpening. As with other knives from Cold Steel, this servile knife comes sharp right out of the box.
You'll also get a comfortable handle for this knife, with a rubber over-molded grip, which offers you an insane amount of traction in various conditions. The lanyard hole on the handle gives you an alternative carrying option.
Not many cheap knives come with a good sheath, but Cold Steel's S.R.K. is an exception. It includes a quality Secure Ex-sheath with hard plastic construction for extreme sturdiness. It has got excellent retention and will securely hold your knife in there. A belt loop on the sheath lets you hook it on your belt for each carry and quick access.
2. C.R.K.T. Clever Girl Fixed Blade Knife
If you're looking for a fairly priced knife for self-defense, look no further! Featuring a black powder-coated upswept blade, this C.R.K.T. Clever Girl comes ready to offer you high functionality. It's a great self-defense knife that swears to protect you whether you're on a mission, in the field, or in a high-stress environment.
The SK5 blade comes with an extremely sharp plain edge right out of the box. It looks too pointy that it will scare your opponent in a knife fight. Keep in mind that the blade is full-tang, which adds to the knife's overall robustness, making it tough enough for various uses.
The proper fitting sheath that comes with this knife gives you a comfortable way to carry your knife and quickly access it. It feels quite solid and accommodates your knife nicely such that it won't easily rattle when inside there. The belt clip attached to the sheath lets you hook it to your belt for even easier carry.
It also features a belt clip that's generous in size and has a perfect fit on any belt worth of carrying weapons.
Since this C.R.K.T. knife features a robust G10 handle, you can trust it to offer you exceptional grip in all conditions. It fits even the large hands quite well, even if you're wearing gloves.
3. Ontario Black Bird SK-5 Knife
Ontario is also known to use SK5 steel for their knife blades, as evidenced by this Black bird sk5 knife (do read our guide on the best bird and trout knife). This good-looking and affordably priced knife is ideal for fieldcraft, bushcraft, or survival use for anyone who prefers a smaller knife. It has a plain edge blade measuring up to 5inches and an overall length of 10 inches.
The blade is sharp out of the box and features a full flat shape, which is great not easily batoning through the wood but also for easy sharpening. The blade tip does an amazing job when you want to pierce through various objects without showing signs of breaking, thanks to the toughness offered by the sk5 steel construction.
You'll also like that this knife comes with a G10 handle, which feels extremely grippy in both wet and dry conditions, assuring you of 100% non-slip gripping. The handle also comes designed so that it keeps your hand from running up onto the blade during thrusting or stabbing.
Included in the box is a well-made, molle compatible nylon sheath to let you carry your knife safely and securely. The molle webbing on the sheath allows you to attach a pouch for carrying additional items like sharpening stone, flashlight, etc.
Also available on:
That's all you need to know about SK5 steel to help you make a wiser decision. From this in-depth review, we can all agree that sk5 is in no way bad steel. It delivers great hardness and wear-resistance. Edge retention performance is also great. Unlike most hard steels, this Japan-made grade balances high hardness with decent toughness, making it totally unique. Knives made with sk5 steel are also reasonably priced, making them affordable for everyone. This steel is totally worth it for a utility or E.D.C. knife.