Table of Contents
ZDP-189 steel is a Japanese super high-end stainless steel produced following the Powder Metallurgy process.
It is high in Carbon and Chromium, which contribute to its extreme hardness levels.
What’s more, this steel offers outstanding wear resistance and decent corrosion resistance, making it suitable for making premium custom knives.
Due to its unbelievable hardness and the ability to cut anything, knife makers use ZDP-189 steel to make high-end kitchen knives, and premium EDC knives.
This steel can be commonly found in the most expensive Japanese knives.
ZDP-189 steel composition
- Carbon C 3.00%: Increases the edge retention, hardness and tensile strength. It also improves steel resistance to wear, abrasion and corrosion.
- Chromium Cr 20.00%: Increases hardness, tensile strength and corrosion resistance of a blade.
- Manganese Mn 0.50%: Increases Hardness, and tensile strength but decreases ductility.
- Molybdenum Mo 1.40%: Increases hardenibility by forming strong carbide
- Vanadium V 0.10% Refines grain size in the steel alloy.
- Silicon Si 0.40%: Increases strength and heat resistance.
- Tungsten W 0.60%: Improves hardness iin high temperature.
- Sulfur S 0.02%: Improves machinability.
Properties of ZDP-189 steel
As already mentioned, ZDP-189 is very hard steel; it is the hardest steel you will come across in the knife industry apart from Maxamet Steel and REX 121 Steel.
ZDP-189 hardness is 65-67HRC according to the Rockwell hardness scale, it can get up to 70 HRC if treated in dry ice. This level of hardness is not common and makes this steel stand out.
ZDP-189 Edge Retention
The edge retention of this steel can be defined as excellent, it is among the best in steels only beaten by high HRC vanadium steels like S125V, S90v steel, Maxamet, CPM 10V, Rex 121 due to lack of Vanadium carbides in its alloy.
This is expected considering the high hardness level. Knives made from this steel will remain sharp for the longest time, and they do not deform irrespective of tough applications.
If you have been disappointed by knives that become dull after a couple of cuts, I highly recommend that you look into the varieties of ZDP-189 steel knives.
ZDP-189 Wear resistance
Wear resistance is another property directly affected by the hardness of steel. Our steel of the day offers unbelievable wear resistance, which we can expect from the hardest knife steel on the market.
The blades of this steel will look good for many years, even after many episodes of sharpening, because it is super hard.
Although ZDP-189 knives will wear out eventually, we can use them across generations. They can be found in generational Japanese knives.
ZDP-189 Corrosion resistance
ZDP-189 steel contains high amounts of chromium (20%), making it stainless steel and offers decent corrosion resistance.
However, ZDP-189 steel does not offer the expected premium steel corrosion resistance.
I have come across several users complaining that their knives rusted faster than expected.
This is not to say that this steel offers the worst corrosion resistance out there.
It is good enough to make kitchen knives and surgical blades, but without proper care, it will rust very fast.
Caring for knives made from this steel involves simple cleaning and wiping dry for storage. You cannot leave ZDP-189 knives in water overnight and expect them not to rust.
As a rule of thumb, very hard steels offer poor toughness, which is valid with ZDP-189 steel.
Well, it is not the worst out there, but it will chip and break faster than some stainless steel and carbon steel.
We can describe the level of toughness of this steel as acceptable because it is tough enough to be used in making hunting and survival knives.
ZDP 189 toughness is comparable to that of other hard steels like Maxamet and REX 121. It is considerably lower than most budget offerings like AUS 6, 4Cr14 and N690 steel.
Considering its hardness, ZDP-189 is very difficult to sharpen, but this is not to say that you cannot sharpen this steel.
You will eventually get a sharp edge, but after using more time, putting in extra effort, and using sharpening tools like diamond stones.
The good news is, this steel remains sharp for long so that you will not go through the sharpening ordeal often.
ZDP-189 steel equivalent steels
ZDP-189 vs VG 10 Steel
ZDP-189 steel being the hardest knife steel out there offers better edge retention than VG 10 steel. However, VG10 performs better in toughness, corrosion resistance, and it is easier to sharpen. Being a very hard steel ZDP-189 offers better wear resistance, even when sharpening it ZDP-189 won’t lose most metal like VG 10 steel. ZDP-189 is also more expensive than VG 10 steel.
ZDP-189 vs S30V steel
Both ZDP-189 steel and S30V steel are premium steels but with different properties. ZDP-189 beats S30V in edge retention and wear resistance. On the other hand, S30V shines in toughness, and corrosion resistance.
S30V steel has a more balanced alloy that offers optimal performance in terms of corrosion resistance, edge retention and toughness.
You will find ZDP189 in kitchen knives while S30V steel in folders and pocket knives as it is more suitable for outdoors.
ZDP-189 vs M390
Both ZDP 189 steel and Bohler M390 steel are premium steels with high HRC and excellent edge retention. The main difference between these two steels is the production process. Bohler M390 steel is produced to offer exceptional wear resistance and edge retention while still maintaining high corrosion resistance.
ZDP-189 steel on the other hand solely focuses solely on wear resistance and edge retention. It will offer better edge retention than M390 but it will rust faster when exposed to a corrosive environment.
Between the two blade steels, M390 stainless steel will get you the most optimal performance in terms of toughness, edge retention, corrosion resistance and wear resistance.
Is ZDP-189 steel good for knives?
Looking at its properties, ZDP-189 is good knife steel. It offers high hardness, excellent edge retention, outstanding wear resistance, and decent corrosion resistance.
The main downside is the difficulty in sharpening and low toughness, which is associated with the high hardness, but you can get a sharp edge using diamond made sharpening tools.
One more thing you should also note is ZDP-189 corrosion resistance is not the best out there despite the high amount of Chromium in its alloy.