What is ZDP-189 steel

What is ZDP-189 Steel?

ZDP-189 is Japanese steel boasting extreme hardness and superior edge holding capabilities. And Spyderco is one of the top brands making efforts to introduce this steel to the US soil. If you’re looking at a knife from Spyderco featuring this steel and asking yourself if it’s a good investment, you should read this ZDP-189 steel review first. We have covered everything you need to know about ZDP-189 steel including its composition, hardness, key properties, and so much more.

What is ZDP-189 steel?

ZDP-189 is high-end stainless steel produced by the Japanese HITACHI company using the PM process.  It contains high volumes of carbon and content and has reputation for being one of the hardest steels you can find in the knife industry. It’s also well-known for its razor-sharp edge, great wear and corrosion resistance, and great durability.

What is ZDP-189 steel

It’s often used in making high-end custom knives. Top-rated brands like Spyderco and Kershaw also use this fantastic steel in some of their knife designs.

The most common uses for ZDP-189 steel include survival knives, hunting knives, premium kitchen knives, premium EDC knives, and surgical cutting blades.

ZDP-189 steel composition

ZDP 189 features up to 3% Carbon. Manufacturing steel with such high carbon levels is quite an expensive process, which shows how superior a steel the zdp-189 is.

It features an equally high level of Chromium (up to 20% Chromium), which gives it exceptional hardness, wear, and corrosion resistance.

The following table shows all the alloying elements for zdp-189 stainless steel:


Composition (%)

Carbon (C)


Chromium (Cr)


Molybdenum (Mo)


Manganese (Mn)


Tungsten (W)


Vanadium (V)


Silicon (Si)


ZDP-189 Steel

3% Carbon increases hardness and improves wear and corrosion resistance. Note that most carbon steels and other high-end steels have lower volume compared to this steel, which is why it has unmatched levels of hardness.

20% Chromium means that zdp-189 is stainless steel since it contains more than 12% chromium and increases corrosion resistance. The high chromium content also increases tensile strength, hardness, and toughness.

1.4% Molybdenum is a carbide former and increases the steel strength, hardness, and toughness. It also improves corrosion resistance.

0.5% Manganese boosts the steel hardenability and strength. Large quantities of manganese can, however, increase hardness and brittleness.

0.6% Tungsten increases strength and toughness while improving hardenability. It also helps the steel maintain its hardness at high temperatures.

0.1% Vanadium is used in small amounts to help improve the steel resistance to fracturing and shock loading. Vanadium in high amounts can result in brittleness.

0.4% Silicon improves hardness, strength, and corrosion resistance.

ZDP-189 steel hardness

ZDP-189 features extremely high hardness running from 65HRC to 67HRC. This is not the kind of hardness you encounter in the mass-produced knives and comes as a result of the marriage of high carbon and chromium levels. Thanks to this unparalleled hardness, zdp-189 delivers excellent wear resistance and will withstand tear and wear when used in various applications.

zdp 189 steel properties

In this part, we’ll take a closer look at the top attributes you’ll get from a zdp-189 steel knife.

zdp 189 steel properties

zdp 189 edge retention

If you have used steels that lie on the soft side of the steel scale, then you know how frustrating they can get when it comes to keeping an edge. They tend to roll easily and get dull quite fast. The opposite is true for harder steels like ZDP-189: this steel holds a superior cutting edge like no other, even when subjected to tough cutting tasks.

zdp 189 wear resistance

Another benefit of this steel being super hard is that it has excellent wear resistance. The high carbon and chromium contents take its wear resistance to a whole new level and it won’t easily give in to tear and wear that comes with daily use and will last a long while compared to less hard stainless and carbon steels.

zdp-189 steel toughness

When a steel gets too hard, its toughness levels gets a little lower. With this rule in mind, it’s easy to understand that this Japanese steel doesn’t give you the best when it comes to resisting chipping or breaking. But it’s not the worst of steels. It has a good level of toughness to allow for some hard use without chipping. ZDP-189 performs so well when used as survival/camping knives.

zdp-189 steel corrosion resistance

With as high as 20% chromium content, this stainless steel also does a great job at keeping away rusting and corrosion. however, we come across some folks who have used this knife before expressing disappointment with their knives rusting. We suggest that you don’t leave your knife exposed to rust agents for long hours to minimize the chances of causing corrosion.

zdp-189 steel corrosion resistance

zdp 189 steel sharpening

zdp 189 stainless steel is hard to sharpen. This is a characteristic of all steels with high levels of hardness. But “hard to sharpen” doesn’t mean that this steel can’t be sharpened. It will eventually obtain a super-sharp edge…but it will take time and will need sophisticated sharpening systems. Or you might want to take your zdp 189 knife to an expert for sharpening if you’re a newbie in this field.

zdp 189 equivalent

Does zdp 189 really have an equivalent steel grade? it does. And that grade is the Cowry-X steel. Like ZDP-189, this steel features up to 3% Carbon and 20% Chromium, making it uber-hard. It shares almost the same key features as zdp-189. Unlike the Cowry-X, however, ZDP-189 features additional elements like Molybdenum, Vanadium, and Tungsten.

Bohler’s M390 is also close steel to ZDP-189 with slightly less carbon content (1.9%) but the same chromium (20%) in addition to elements like Manganese, Molybdenum, Vanadium, Tungsten, and Silicon.

ZDP-189 Steel

Still, at it, you’ll also find this steel being referred to as MC66 steel. This is the codename Henckels uses for zdp-189 steel, though it’s basically the same steel.

ZDP-189 steel comparison with other steels

Comparing zdp 189 with other knife steels will further help you understand it and how it stacks against other steels and what its alternatives are. Let’s get into details on how this steel performs compared with other popular knife steels.

ZDP-189 steel comparison with other steels

ZDP-189 steel vs S30V

The S30V steel appears in the premium category and strikes a good balance between hardness, edge retention, toughness, and corrosion resistance. But ZDP-189 is way better than S30V in terms of holding an edge. S30V has better corrosion resistance and though challenging to sharpen, it’s easier to sharpen than ZDP 189. Both steels offer the same level of toughness.

ZDP-189 vs S110V

S110V is made in the US by Crucible Industries and is regarded as ultra-premium steel. It offers better edge retention and has far better anti-corrosion performance than ZDP-189. However, be prepared to get more headaches sharpening S110V than ZDP-189. Because it’s hard steel to work with, you’ll find that s110v steel knives are generally expensive.

ZDP-189 steel comparison with other steels

ZDP-189 vsVG10

VG10 is high-end steel and a favorite among knifer users and makers. In comparison with ZDP-189, however, Vg10 has lower edge retention and toughness. It outperforms ZDP-189 when it comes to easy sharpening and resisting corrosion.

Is zdp-189 steel good for knives?

Good knife steel is judged by the performance it delivers. And looking at the zdp-189 it is good knife steel offering extreme hardness and terrific edge retention, so you won’t bother re-sharpen it after every use.

It also offers excellent wear resistance and will not deform easily. Its corrosion resistance is great and can hold up to use in wet conditions with minimal care.

Is zdp-189 steel good for knives

The only issue with this steel is that it’s really difficult to sharpen, an attribute for all high hardness steels.

If top brands like Spyderco and Kershaw use this steel to design some of their elite knife models, what could be more proof of the suitability of this steel for making knives?

Best ZDP-189 steel knives:

1. Spyderco Endura 4 Lightweight Signature Folder Knife

Spyderco Endura 4 Lightweight Signature Folder Knife

This is one of the top folders from Spyderco featuring ZDP 189 stainless steel. It’s also one of their Signature knives and one of the most popular folding pocket knives in the knife users’ communities.

The knife comes in just the right size and weight for everyday carry. It measures 4.98 inches only when fully closed and has a lightweight feel with a weight of only 3.3 ounces. It comes with a 4-wy pocket clipped on the handle to ensure a comfortable carry and easy access.

Its blade comes super-sharp out of the box and you can always touch it up if need to make it hair-splitting sharp. It delivers an amazing performance and holds its edge for exceptionally long.

A slip-resistant jimping was added to the knife spine to offer slip-free handling.

The knife comes with a fiberglass reinforced handle for maximum durability. bidirectional texturing lies in the handle surface to offer slip-free traction. And inside the handle are dual skeletonized stainless steel liners for additional strength without adding unnecessary weight to the knife.

Highlighted Features:

  • 3.80-inch ZDP 189 steel blade
  • Open length: 8.78-inch
  • Closed length: 4.98"
  • Fiberglass reinforced nylon handle
  • 4-position pocket clip
  • Sturdy back lock mechanism

2. Spyderco Manbug Lightweight Folding Knife

Spyderco Manbug Lightweight Folding Knife

This is one of Spyderco's smallest, lightweight locking knives. With an overall weight of less than 5 inches, this knife is so small that it can hassle-freely fit on a keychain, but offers performance beyond its size and will enable you to accomplish a wide variety of cutting chores.

It presents you with a 1.95-inch ZDP-189 blade with extreme wear resistance and terrific edge holding capabilities. It takes a keen edge and stays sharp for longer than most of the popular knife steels.

Opening the knife is super-easy and you can even do it with just one hand.  It also features a solid lockup that keeps the blade from closing on your fingers.

Just like the Endura, this folding knife has its handle fabricated with fiberglass reinforced nylon to form a lightweight yet strong knife handle. The jimping along the knife’s spine offers you a slip-free cutting experience. The blade itself has a curving which allows for more ergonomic cutting

Overall, this is a great little knife for everyday carry that won’t intimidate your friends, coworkers, etc. it doesn’t come with a clip and is meant to sit at the bottom of your pocket. You can also attach a lanyard to its Spyderhole for alternative carry.

Highlighted Features:

  • Compact and lightweight design
  • 4.47-inch overall length
  • Fiberglass reinforced handle
  • 1.97-inch zdp-189 stainless steel handle
  • Sturdy back lock mechanism

3. Spyderco Delica 4 Lightweight Signature Folding Knife

Spyderco Delica 4 Lightweight Signature Folding Knife

As with the above models from Spyderco, this knife also features a blade made from the exotic zdp-189 stainless steel with superior performance than most blade steels. The Delica is a signature knife, just like ENdura, and enjoys high popularity for EDC pocket knife.

You’ll like that this knife comes factory sharp and keeps its keen cutting edge for a very long time compared to most stainless steels. You can go about your camping and daily cutting tasks for quite long without bothering with sharpening this knife.

The Spyderhole you get with this knife is a bit larger—measures 13mm—allowing for easy one-handed opening.

At only 2.4 ounces, this folding knife is pretty light and easy to carry around every day. A 4-way metal pocket clip comes attached to the handle to offer you convenient and comfortable carry.

Like the other Spydercos, this model also comes with a fiberglass reinforced nylon handle with bidirectional texturing to offer you a slip-free, more secure grip. The blade spine also features a slip-resistant jimping which further promotes slip-free usage of the knife.

Highlighted Features:

  • Fiberglass reinforced handle
  • Includes a metal pocket clip
  • Sturdy back lock system
  • Lightweight (2.4 ounces) design
  • 7.15 inches overall length

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Final Verdict

We hope that you now have a clue what ZDP-189 stainless steel is and how it works when used to make knives. The steel does a good job at holding an edge for long, resisting wear and corrosion, and offering decent toughness. But sharpening it a headache and tends to be pricey. With this info, you can now go ahead and easily decide whether zdp-189 is perfect for you or move on to another steel.

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