What is W2 Steel?

Robert erickson w2 steel knife

What is W2 steel?

W2 steel is water-hardening low alloy steel. It is categorized as high-carbon steel because it contains more than 1% carbon in its composition. W2 is not stainless steel as it contains very few chromium elements.

Water hardening steels are referred to as W steels hence the W in the name. The W stands for water quench steel, while the 2 differentiates it from its sibling W1 steel. Other steels in the W grade include W1 steel and W3 steel.

W2 tool steel can be used to make machine dies, and hand tools.W2 carbon steel is used to make decorative knife blades with Hamon, which is achieved during heat treatment. Knife makers use this steel to make knives, blades for collectors, and large swords.

W2 Steel Composition

  • Carbon C 1.50%: Increases the edge retention, hardness and tensile strength. It also improves steel resistance to wear, abrasion and corrosion.
  • Chromium Cr 0.15%: Chromium Increases the hardness, corrosion resistance, tensile strength, and toughness of the blade.
  • Molybdenum Mo 0.10%: It improves machinability and hardness.
  • Nickel Ni 0.20%: Adds Toughness to the blade.
  • Manganese Mn 0.40%: Increases Hardness and brittleness.
  • Silicon Si 0.40%: Increases strength and heat resistance.
  • Phosphorus P 0.02%: Improves machinability and hardness.
  • Sulfur S 0.02%: Improves machinability.
  • Copper Cu 0.20: It is added to slightly improve corrosion resistance.
  • Tungsten W 0.15: Helps in formation of carbide that increase overall hardness of the steel.
  • Vanadium V 0.35: vanadium improves the toughness by keeping the grain size well maintained.

Properties of W2 steel

W2 Steel Hardness

W2 steel has a Rockwell hardness of up to 62HRC but can reach 65HRC depending on the heat treatment technique. Tempering and quenching processes are most critical in achieving the different Rockwell hardness.

W2 Steel heat treatment

W2 steel heat treatment may take different approaches in order to achieve hardness at the range of 62HRC all the way to 65HRC. Nordic Edge Website has a handy guide/recipe on how to treat W2 steel heat treatment for a Hamon.

W2 Steel Edge retention

With a maximum Rockwell hardness of 65HRC, W2 delivers good edge retention and does not become dull quickly. The higher hardness enables W2 blade steel to achieve higher edge retention even with different sharpening angles.

W2 Steel Toughness

W-2 steel toughness is heavily dependent on the Rockwell hardness achieved. Higher toughness is achieved at a lower Rockwell Hardness (63HRC). Frequent tough applications on the knives will result in chipping and breaking.

Most knife steels will either give you high hardness or toughness but not both. However, this is not the case with W2. Although it offers high Rockwell hardness, it manages to give you decent toughness. It will make knives that won’t chip and break easily.

W2 Steel Corrosion resistance

W2 steel is non-stainless steel; it does not give its blades good corrosion resistance. This is one of the sectors where this steel scores poorly. The inability of W2 blade steel to resist rust is due to the low chromium contents (0.15% Cr) in its composition.

If you are looking for a knife to use in humid and salty environments, avoid any blades made from W2 carbon steel and look for other high chromium stainless steel like the AISI 440C Stainless Steel.

W2 Steel Wear Resistance

The high hardness of this steel contributes to its excellent wear resistance. Carbon, Tungsten, and Vanadium in its composition take the credit for the ability of this steel to resist impacts and tough applications that would result in its damage to the blade.

Sharpening W2 Steel

Being a hard steel, sharpening W-2 steel is not easy, especially for knife users without sharpening experience and proper sharpening tools. Using standard sharpening tools, you will have to spend a lot of time and energy getting a razor-sharp blade.

However, you can use modern sharpening methods, which will be more costly but save you the sharpening stress. On the contrary, this steel maintains an edge for a long time therefore, you will not need to sharpen the knives frequently.

Damascus W2 Steel

AISI W2 knife steel is often paired with other knife steels to create Damascus steel with an aesthetically pleasing appearance. However,1095 steel will provide a more aesthetically pleasing blade than that of W2 and 26C3 Steel.

W2 is known to create beautiful Hamon more than Damascus steel, For better pleasing, Damascus Stainless Steel with great hardness and lots of patterns straight from the factory check Damasteel DS93X Steel.

W2 steel equivalent

W1 steel can be highly considered as W2 steel equivalent. W1 steel is a predecessor to W2 and its composition was modified by adding a higher percentage of elements like Carbon. In terms of performance W1 blade steel closely matches the performance of W2 blade steel.

W1 vs W2 Steel

Both W2 and W1 steels belong to water hardening steels, and they are almost similar in chemical composition. However, W2 tool steel is harder and better in edge retention and wear resistance than W1 steel due to improved alloy composition that includes additional carbon content. Additionally, W2 blade steel makes blades with better Hamon effects.

W2 steel vs 1095

1095 steel is known to contain high amounts of carbon just like W2, but it does not beat the hardness of W2. W-2 steel knife is better than 1095 steel knife in edge retention, corrosion resistance, and wear resistance. 

However, 1095 steel beats W2 steel in toughness and is easier to sharpen. This is attributed to the lower Rockwell hardness of W2 which significantly improves its ductility while reducing its brittleness on tough impact applications. 

W2 steel vs 5160

With more Carbon content W2 is harder than 5160 steel hence better in edge retention and wear resistance. However, 5160 steel is easier to sharpen and tougher than W2 steel the added advantage of W2 over 5160 is the Hamon effect.

W2 steel vs D2 steel

W2 steel is water-hardening steel while D2 steel is air-hardening high carbon steel. D2 knife steel offers better corrosion resistance than W2 knife steel as its alloying elements contain more chromium elements. A D2 knife will thus resist corrosion better than a W2 knife.

Is W2 steel good for knives?

W2 steel is good knife steel with good edge retention and wear resistance, the major downside being corrosion resistance and toughness. W2 is also a good option for a knife maker who wants to make a custom knife with decorated blades due to its ability to make Hamon effects.

W2 knife steel has been around in the knife-making realm for quite a long time. It has a large following, particularly with custom knife makers who prefer carbon knives as it is easy to work with.

W2 knife steel stain resistance is not the best but so long as you are not making a diving knife with it, it should hold up just fine when not exposed to an environment that will speed up rusting. Proper care and maintenance like oiling and cleaning are important after the use of a W2 steel knife.

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