September 19, 2022 5 min read

5160 vs 1095 steel

Quick Summary

The type of steel best for your knife will depend largely on what type of knife you’re trying to create. When it comes to making swords and survival knives, 5160 steel is better than 1095 carbon steel, as it’s tougher and easier to sharpen. It’s also flexible, which is a plus for sword makers. However, 1095 has a superior edge retention,which makes sharpening a breeze. Consider what you want the knife to be able to do and select accordingly.

If you’ve been researching the best material for knifemaking, you’ve probably noticed a lot of different steels being used. Two of the most popular choices are 5160 and 1095, which leads to the question- which one is better? In this blog, we go over the main difference between 5160 and 1095, which is that one tends to be used more often in swords and large survival knives. Then we’ll delve into the unique characteristics of each one so you can better determine which one is most appropriate for your knife making projects.

5160 Steel: an Overview

Alloy Steel 5160, or AISI 5160, is a high carbon and chromium steel. Users benefit from its outstanding toughness, ductility, and fatigue resistance. 5160 is also widely used in the automotive industry for a variety of heavy spring applications, particularly leaf springs, which is why it is primarily categorized as a spring steel. 

Although 5160 is a high-quality steel for knives, it isn't commonly used in shorter blades. Instead, you're more likely to see it in survival knives and swords due to its flexible yet durable qualities. It’s also generally hardened using oil, which is why large-scale knife producers don’t tend to use it.

5160 Steel Composition

  • Carbon:0.64%. Enhances edge retention, hardness, and tensile strength. In addition, it improves resistance to wear, abrasion, and corrosion.
  • Chromium: 0.90%. Increases blade hardness, tensile strength, and corrosion resistance.
  • Manganese:1.00%. Strengthens and increases hardness.
  • Silicon:0.30%. Strengthens and increases heat resistance.
  • Phosphorus:0.04%. Hardness and machinability are improved.
  • Sulfur:0.04%. Makes machining easier.

Edge Retention

The biggest drawback to 5160 as a popular knife making steel is its lower edge retention, but this very down side is what makes it appropriate for survival knives. If you’re out in the bush and don’t have access to a regular knife sharpener, you can get decent results using a rock. A 5160 spring steel knife is also great for camping and other outdoor activities because it can handle tasks such as batoning and wood chopping without breaking or chipping.

Toughness

With its high carbon and chromium alloy, 5160 is the steel of choice for sword manufacturers due to its high impact resistance. Using Rockwell hardness guidelines, 5160 steel has a hardness of 57-58 HRC, which gives it decent edge retention and excellent toughness.

Sharpening

The low chromium and carbon content of 5160 steel make it an easy steel to sharpen without much effort or time. Since this steel becomes dull faster, this feature comes in handy. Sharpening is made easier because edges can be obtained more quickly. For ideal results, use an abrasive that is specially designed for working with knife making.

Corrosion-Resistance

5160 is not very corrosion-resistant, so you won’t want to use it for wet applications like fishing or diving. This steel is susceptible to rusting in the same way as other carbon steels, despite its chromium addition, but the rust tends to set in evenly and you won’t normally see any pitting. Regular maintenance can prevent damage to the knife.

To prevent oxidation, take a few minutes each week to clean the blade. Every couple of weeks, apply a thin layer of mineral oil. When storing your blade, apply Vaseline or Renaissance to create a physical barrier between it and the elements.

1095 Steel: an Overview

1095, which has 95% carbon content, is a highly popular knife making steel, especially if your niche is combat knives. It’s the steel of choice for the U.S. military when producing its fighting knives. However, it also has a long history of use in cutlery making because it’s durable, easy to sharpen,  and can achieve a razor edge thanks to the mix of carbon and manganese, so 1095 is commonly regarded as a beginner-friendly knife steel.

1095 Steel Composition

  • Carbon: 1.03%. Enhances edge retention, hardness, and tensile strength. In addition, it improves resistance to wear, abrasion, and corrosion.
  • Manganese: 0.50%. Makes the steel harder and more brittle.
  • Phosphorus: 0.03%. Makes the material more machinable and harder.
  • Sulfur:0.05%: Improves machinability.

Compared to 5160, 1095 steel tends to have a higher degree of hardness, hence its greater edge stability. Although technically not as tough, the right heat treatment and differential tempering can increase durability. It’s also highly machinable, which professional knife makers love.

Edge Retention

1095 steel can maintain an edge for a long time due to its high levels of carbon and manganese. In order to improve the edge retention of 1095, knife makers are recommended to heat it properly during the blade-making process. If you do not properly heat your knives, they will dull faster, and you will need to sharpen them more frequently.

Toughness

Although 1095 is not as tough as other high-end steels, it is good for applications that require a low to medium level of toughness. Provided that it has undergone the recommended heating process, it can be used for outdoor activities without chipping or breaking.

Sharpness

Sharpening 1095 steel is easy, even for blades that have been coated or heat-treated. No matter what sharpening tool you use, this steel will get a razor-sharp edge with minimal effort on your part, although the results will be better if you use an abrasive engineered for metal working.

Corrosion-Resistance

Like 5160, 1095 steel is not very corrosion-resistant since the alloy does not contain chromium, so it needs to be cleaned frequently and kept away from wet environments. 

So Which Steel is Better for Knife Making?

The answer is: it depends on what you want to make.

When it comes to making swords and survival knives, 5160 steel is better than 1095 carbon steel, as it’s tougher and easier to sharpen. It’s also flexible, which is a plus for sword makers. However, 1095 has a superior edge retention, which makes sharpening a breeze. Consider what you want the knife to be able to do and select accordingly.

Maintaining Your 5160 or 1095 Knife

When sharpening your new blade, the angle you take will depend on unique factors of the steel. If you’ve used a harder steel, you’ll apply smaller angles to accommodate the higher yield strength. ‌Softer steels, however, require sharpening at steeper angles to increase stress tolerance.

Blade thickness also determines sharpening angle. ‌A thin blade edge is easier to sharpen down to a lower angle than a thick blade edge. ‌For thicker blades, you need to remove more material for a sharper edge, so more time and effort is involved.

Red Label Abrasives: A Cut Above The Rest

Red Label Abrasives manufactures abrasive products for general and specialty applications, including knife making. The sanding belts, discs, sheets, and accessories we manufacture reflect nearly four decades of experience. If you have any questions or need any assistance, call 844-824-1956 or fill out our contact form and we’ll soon be in touch!


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