What kind of steel is ATS 34?

ATS 34 steel is stainless steel produced by Hitachi, a Japanese company. It is high in carbon and chromium hence offering excellent corrosion and wear resistance. It has the same chemical composition and properties as 154CM produced by Crucible Industries.

When Crucible stopped manufacturing 154CM, Hitachi was approached by a renowned knife maker Bob Loveless to supply similar steel, and that is how ATS 34 came into existence. It’s a version of 154CM with boosted characteristics.

ATS 34 steel Composition

  • Carbon C 1.05%: Increases the edge retention, hardness and tensile strength. It also improves steel resistance to wear, abrasion and corrosion.
  • Chromium Cr 14.00%: Formation of Chromium carbides. Increases the blade’s hardness, tensile strength, and corrosion resistance.
  • Manganese Mn 0.40%: Improves the strength and hardness of steel. When the steel is heat-treated, hardenability is improved with increased manganese.
  • Molybdenum Mo 4.00%:  Increases toughness and hot hardness. It also improves hardenability and forms carbides for wear resistance.
  • Silicon Si 0.35%: Increases strength and heat resistance.
  • Phosphorus P 0.03%: Considered an impurity but may Increase the strength and improves the machinability of steel.
  • Sulfur S 0.02%: Improves machinability but is regarded as an impurity in high quantities.

Properties of ATS 34 steel

ATS 34 Hardness

ATS 34 steel has a Rockwell hardness of 60-61 HRC. With such high hardness, you can be sure of excellent edge retention from knives made from this steel, but you will have to put in more effort when sharpening.

ATS 34 Wear resistance

As already stated, ATS 34 is high Carbon steel, and for that, it offers excellent wear resistance. Blades made from this steel will stay in good shape for long irrespective of daily applications that might result from wearing.

In addition to the carbon, the hardness of this steel is boosted by the high chromium elements and extra molybdenum carbides in its composition.

ATS 34 Toughness

Most steels will either give you hardness or toughness. Being hard steel, we would expect ATS 34 to be very brittle. However, this is not the case because it offers decent toughness. ATS 34 steel does not provide the highest level of toughness as other high-end steel, but it is not the worst.

ATS 34 toughness is similar to 440C steel toughness and 154CM. With its level of toughness, ATS 34 can be used for challenging applications without breaking or chipping, this property makes it a good choice for pocket knives.

ATS 34 Edge retention

Edge retention is another area of excellence for ATS 34 steel. Due to its high hardness, it holds an edge for a long time. Knives made from this steel do not require frequent sharpening.

ATS 34 edge retention is similar to VG 10 steel and CPM 154 steel. This property is attributed to the high carbon amounts in its composition. Therefore, if you are keen on knives that do not become dull faster, look into the varieties of ATS 34 blades.

ATS 34 Corrosion resistance

ATS 34 steel contains high amounts of chromium, making it stainless steel and, hence, great corrosion resistance. Because of its ability to resist rust, it is suitable for making kitchen and camping knives.

ATS 34 steel is stainless steel,  however, it is not entirely corrosion resistant. This steel will still rust if left unattended or used in highly corrosive environments, such as salty water areas. With that, proper care and maintenance are paramount to keep this steel from rusting, do not leave it in water overnight. 

ATS 34 Ease of sharpening

We have already indicated that ATS 34 holds an edge for a long time, but how long does it take to restore an edge? Being hard steel, sharpening ATS 34 steel is a challenging task. This is not to say that it will never get sharp after becoming dull, but you require the right sharpening tools and skills.

ATS 34 vs 154CM (ATS 34 Steel Equivalent)

There is no performance difference between ATS 34 and 154CM, they both can be used interchangeably.  ATS 34 steel is the Japanese version of 154CM steel, it was imported into the US market as a replacement for 154CM due to availability problems of 154CM in the cutlery industry a few decades ago. 154CM steel is thus regarded as ATS 34 Steel equivalent. 

ATS 34 vs 440C

440C steel is a high carbon stainless steel with better alloy composition and better performance than ATS 34 in corrosion resistance. It has higher Chromium content at 17.00% compared to the ATS 34  steel’s 14.00%. This Chromium content gives it higher corrosion resistance than ATS 34 steel.

There is no significant difference between ATS 34 and 440C in edge retention, both blade steel perform equivalently. 440C steel at a Rockwell hardness of 58 HRC may offer better toughness than ATS 34. 440C is more suitable for outdoor knives due to the higher corrosion resistance and slightly better toughness.

ATS 34 vs D2 Steel

ATS 34 is stainless steel while D2 does not qualify as stainless steel due to low chromium content. ATS 34 steel is stainless steel with 13.5% to 14% chromium content compared to D2 steel’s 11%to 12%. ATS 34 steel knives thus offer better corrosion resistance than D2 steel knives.

D2 steel has higher carbon content at 1.5% to 1.6% compared to ATS 34 steel’s 1.05%. This carbon gives it higher  Rockwell hardness and better wear resistance while enhancing its edge retention properties.

ATS 34 knife steel at a Rockwell hardness of 60 HRC offers better toughness than D2 steel. ATS 34 knives are thus less likely to chip or break when subjected to high-impact applications.

ATS 34 vs S30V Steel

S30V steel is a powder metallurgy steel with better alloy composition and better performance than ATS 34. It has higher carbon content at 1.45% compared to the ATS 34 steel’s 1.05%. These carbon elements give it higher Rockwell hardness and wear resistance while enhancing its edge retention properties over ATS 34 steel.

The Crucible Particle Metallurgy (CPM®) process results in a finer microstructure with uniform distribution of carbides, which slightly improves S30V steel toughness compared to ATS 34 steel thus less chipping on high-impact applications. CPM process also improves the grindability of S30V steel and thus easy to sharpen S30V knives.

ATS 34 vs VG10

VG 10 steel is a cobalt stainless steel with about 1.5% cobalt content, It also contains Vanadium elements at 1.1% which ATS 34 lacks. These Cobalt and Vanadium give it higher hardness and wear resistance while enhancing its edge retention properties compared to ATS 34 Steel.

Both VG 10 and ATS 34 are Japanese steel but VG10 steel is popular steel with kitchen and outdoor knives while ATS 34 steel is more popular in pocket knives. Over time ATS 34 steel has been replaced with more modern PM steels like CPM 154 and S30V in pocket knives. 

Is ATS 34 steel good knife steel?

ATS 34 steel has all the properties of good knife steel. It offers great edge retention, decent toughness, great wear resistance, and excellent corrosion resistance. The only downside is that it’s hard to sharpen but offers a decent balance between edge retention and ease of sharpening.

There is also an improved version of this steel known as RWL 34 stainless steel, It is a powder metallurgy steel produced by Damasteel. The performance of RWL 34 steel is highly similar to CPM 154 steel which is a powder metallurgy variant of 154CM steel.

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