5160 steel, also referred to as AISI 5160 or 5160 spring steel, is a low-end alloy that contains high carbon with fair amounts of chromium in its composition.

Due to its carbon content and chemical composition, 5160 alloy steel offers outstanding toughness making it tougher than most stainless steel knives. However, 5160 steel is not as hard compared to other types of high carbon steel.

In addition to the toughness, this steel offers decent hardness and high ductility, making it possible to make a large knife from it.

Knifemakers mostly use 5160 carbon steel to manufacture knives used in demanding applications like survival knives, camping knives, modern-day swords, and long knives.

5160 steel Chemical composition

  • Carbon C 0.64%: Increases the edge retention, hardness and tensile strength. It also improves steel resistance to wear, abrasion and corrosion.
  • Chromium Cr 0.90%: Chromium Increases hardness, tensile strength and corrosion resistance of the blade.
  • Manganese Mn 1.00%: Increases Hardness and yield strength.
  • Silicon Si 0.30%: Increases strength and heat resistance.
  • Phosphorus P 0.04%: Improves machinability and hardness.
  • Sulfur S 0.04%: Improves machinability.

Physical Properties of 5160 steel

Hardness

5160 steel hardness is 57-58 HRC as per Rockwell hardness. Its hardness greatly depends on the tempering stage, optimal temperature during heat treating as specified by the manufacturer will yield hard steel.

With a hardness of 58 HRC, A 5160 steel knife will have good edge retention and good toughness properties. However, it is not as hard as other carbon steel, which is not that bad since it is tougher and easier to sharpen than its counterparts.

Toughness

5160 spring steel offers excellent toughness, which is made possible by the relatively low carbide percentage in its composition compared to other carbon steels.

Knives made with 5160 spring steel are great for camping and other outdoor applications because it performs hard tasks like batoning and wood chopping without breaking, chipping or losing its shape.

Wear resistance

With the low carbon amounts in its composition, you cannot expect excellent wear resistance from this steel.

However, it gives you decent wear resistance compared to other soft steels. 5160 steels will serve you for long, even with regular usage and sharpening.

Edge retention

Another feature affected by the low carbon content of 5160 steel is its edge retention. It gives you fairly good edge retention meaning that it does not hold an edge long enough.

When taking home a 5160 steel knife, have it registered at the back of your mind that it will require frequent sharpening.

Corrosion resistance

5160 performs poorly in corrosion resistance because of the low amounts of chromium in its composition. Without proper care, this steel rusts in no time, even in normal conditions.

However, hope is not lost for knives made from this steel because you can keep them rust-free by ensuring that they are stored clean and dry. For better protection against rust, apply a coat of lubricant or oil after drying.

Sharpening

5160 steel is easy to sharpen, this is attributed to low chromium and carbon contents in its composition.

You might have noticed that all high-end stainless steel knives are difficult to sharpen, this is because they contain high levels of carbon and chromium.

With soft steel like AISI 5160 steel, you can easily get an edge without much effort and time. This feature comes in handy since this steel becomes dull faster. The fact that you can get an edge more quickly makes frequent sharpening manageable.

5160 equivalent steels

5160 vs 1095 Steel

Both AISI 5160 and 1095 steel are carbon steels; however, 1095 alloy is more popular, tougher, and better at edge retention.

1095 is easier to work with, but it cannot beat the flexibility of 5160 which makes it better in sword making.

5160 vs 4140V

These steels are almost similar, but 4140V has low levels of carbon, making 5160 steel harder. The reduced hardness in 4140V steel gives it better toughness which is a great feature for knife makers.

5160 vs. 420hc Steel

420hc steel is mostly used to make budget knives, and it offers excellent corrosion resistance, unlike 5160, which rusts within seconds if left unattended.

Both steels perform poorly in holding edges, but the 5160 steel type is worse. Due to its softness, 5160 beat 420hc in toughness, and it is easier to sharpen.

Is 5160 steel good for knives?

The outstanding toughness and good wear resistance in 5160 steel make it a good option for blades that requires high toughness, like katana swords, survival knives, kukri knives, and bushcraft knives.

However, if you are after a knife with outstanding corrosion, stain resistance and edge retention 5160 alloy steel varieties will not be a good choice for you.

Conclusion

5160 alloy steel is an admired steel for its toughness by knife makers and users alike. It was originally made for leaf spring but found love in knife making and became reputable knife steel.

However, like many other carbon steel alloys with low chromium content, it needs care and maintenance to avoid corrosion and rust. Applying mineral oil will prevent oxidation if the knife is to be left sitting for a long time.

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