AISI 52100 steel is very popular in knife making, with carbon and chromium as its primary elements.
Because of its simple composition, it is categorized as simple grade steel. Since 1920, this steel has been used to make ball bearings because of its strength and wear resistance.
The name 52100 is derived from the chemical composition of the steel. The digit “5” depicts that its primary element is chromium. The “2” shows the percentage of chromium in its composition, and in this case, it’s more than 1%. Lastly, the “100” indicates the volume of carbon in this steel which is 100%.
52100 Steel composition was later modified to make much improved steel known as SR101 steel.
In addition to mechanical components like ball bearings, this steel is used in the blade industry to make fixed blades, hunting knives, and kitchen knives.
52100 steel Chemical composition
- Carbon C 1.10%: Increases the edge retention, hardness and tensile strength. It also improves steel resistance to wear, abrasion and corrosion.
- Chromium Cr 1.60%: Chromium Increases hardness, tensile strength and corrosion resistance of a blade.
- Manganese Mn 0.45%: Increases Hardness.
- Nickel Ni 0.30%: Adds Toughness to the blade.
- Silicon Si 0.30%: Increases strength and heat resistance.
- Phosphorus P 0.03%: Improves machinability and hardness.
- Sulfur S 0.02%: Improves machinability.
- Copper Cu 0.30%: slightly increases corrosion resistance
- Aluminum Al 0.05%: added to refine the grain size of an alloy and improve machinability.
Properties of 52100 steel
52100 Steel Hardness
Using the Rockwell C hardness scale, the hardness of 52100 is 62-64 HRC, meaning it is very hard steel. Note that the hardness differs from the manufacturer’s heat treating process. Carbon content is very crucial to attain this kind of hardness.
With more heat treatment at different temperature, some knife makers claim that this steel can get a hardness of 66HRC with low tempering temperature.
The high hardness of 52100 alloy steel is due to the silicone, manganese, and chromium mixture in its alloy.
52100 Steel Toughness
Since it is hard steel, we do not expect 52100 high carbon steel to be tough, but the fine grain in its composition gives it great toughness.
It does not make it to the category of tough steel out there, but it can resist breaking, chipping, and fracture with tough applications.
Because of this toughness, this steel continues to manufacture hunting knives, large knives, and fixed blades.
Sharpening 52100 Steel
52100 alloy steel seems to break all the rules we know about steel because it is easy to sharpen despite being hard steel.
Even without the right sharpening experience and modern sharpening tools, you should be able to get a nice edge on 52100 knives.
It is not the easiest steel to sharpen out there, but you will not struggle to get an edge.
52100 Steel Corrosion resistance
52100 alloy steel does not contain enough amounts of chromium to make it stainless hence it does not shine in corrosion resistance.
The little amount of chromium in the 52100 steel composition gives it some protection against rust, but you must take care of the knife.
With that in mind, ensure to wash and dry 52100 knives after use to protect them from rusting.
52100 Steel Wear resistance
One of the areas where 52100 bearing steel shine is in wear resistance, this is associated to high carbon content in its composition. The addition of Chromium in the alloy helps reduction of carbide size contributing to better toughness and wear resistance.
It is because of the good wear resistance that 52100 steel is used to make most mechanical components and often referred to as bearing steel.
Using anti-wear steel in the knife industry means knives that can stand wear and tear even with frequent sharpening and hard usage.
52100 Steel Edge retention
Being hard steel, 52100 can hold an edge for long.
Although it loses in edge retention to high-end modern types of steel, the hardness of this steel is enough to be used on outdoor knife needs without the need for frequent sharpening.
52100 steel equivalent
52100 steel vs 1095
52100 steel and 1095 steel are both high carbon steels with simple composition and have toughness suitable for making knives for hard usage.
However, 52100 alloy steel offers better edge retention, corrosion and stain resistance while 1095 is easier to sharpen.
52100 steel vs S30V
S30v steel is a premium stainless steel offering better corrosion resistance than 52100, which does not contain enough chromium to make it stainless steel.
On the other hand, 52100 low alloy steel is easier to sharpen and tougher than this premium steel.
Is 52100 good Steel for knives?
AISI 52100 steel is a perfect choice for knives. It offers wear resistance enough to make ball bearing making it ideal for knives to be used in tough applications. What’s more, it has great edge retention, and it is easy to sharpen. The only downside is the low corrosion resistance, but your knives will not rust with proper care and oiling.
AISI 52100 bearing steel has impressive toughness and wear resistance. Its equivalent is the Japanese SUJ2, German 1.3505, and the modified SR 101.
The chromium addition in its alloy increases its carbide volume but reduces the carbide size leading to an excellent combination of toughness and wear resistance. Typical applications of this steel include ball bearing, roller bearings, and knives.
If you are interested in other mechanical properties like bulk modulus, machining stress, fatigue strength, etc. you will find this ASTM A295 Specification sheet useful.