If you are trying to find the best possible steel for your own knives and blades, then you will have realized by now that there are so many different kinds of steel out there.
Each one is unique with its own composition, properties and qualities – so trying to find the best one for you can be a real pain.
However, we are here to help.
Here, we are going to be taking a close look at 420HC steel to see what it is like and if it could be the right kind of steel that you are after.
Check out our complete steel guide below to 420HC steel so you can save time on your research and get your hands on those ideal blades as soon as possible.
What Is 420HC Steel?
420HC steel is the descendant of another type of steel called 420 steel.
420 steel is a low end type of stainless steel that is super affordable to make and thus, used in a lot of everyday items and blades.
For example, 420 steel has been used to make cutlery, craft scissors, surgical equipment, and even some custom knives.
So, 420 steel has always been very popular in the bladesmithing industry and in a lot of other manufacturing industries.
420HC steel, however, is an evolution of that steel. It aims to be better and an improved version of the old 420 steel, and has slowly been overtaking 420 steel in a lot of manufacturing businesses.
420HC steel became well known for its use in the 420HC Buck Knife, made by one of the most trusted and beloved knife manufacturers in the US.
Since then, many people have looked on this steel fondly – but why?
Let’s check out 420HC steel’s composition and properties to see why a company like Buck Knives would use it for their products.
420HC Steel Composition
Two of the most important components in a steel’s composition are carbon and chromium.
Carbon is what brings strength and hardness to a steel, so some of the toughest knives often have a carbon level over 1%. However, too much carbon can be a bad thing as it can then decrease the strength of the steel too.
In 420HC steel, there is only 0.46% of carbon in its composition – a lot lower than some high end steels. This is why 420HC steel is branded as a low end steel and thus, you can expect it to be fairly soft.
As for chromium, this element is key for tensile strength and making a steel resistant to corrosion and wear.
A steel that has over 12% of its composition made of chromium is classed as a stainless steel – one of the best types of metal for corrosion resistance.
As 420 HC steel’s composition is made up of 13% chromium, it passes the toe boundary and is classed as a stainless steel.
But chromium and carbon are not the only elements present in the composition of 420HC steel. There are three other noticeable components worth mentioning: manganese, vanadium, and silicon.
These three components are fairly common in other types of steel, so it’s no surprise to see them here either. They each play an important part in 420HC steel’s composition.
Manganese helps improve the steel’s hardness, which 420HC desperately needs due to its lack of carbon. However, manganese only makes up 0.4% of 420HC steel’s composition.
Vanadium also improves the hardness of a steel plus its wear resistance, altogether making the steel more durable and long lasting.
However, it too is only present in 420HC steel in small amounts – only 0.3% of 420HC’s composition is made up of vanadium.
The story is the same for silicon. Only 0.4% of 420HC’s composition is made up of silicon, which is a shame because it too helps improve the strength of steels.
420HC Steel Properties
As a low end steel, 420HC has a lot of qualities that make it an undesirable choice for knives when looked at on paper.
For example, it’s not a very hard type of steel.
This is due to the low amount of carbon and other important hardening components in its composition.
As a result, 420HC steel measures at a 56HRC on the Rockwell scale of hardness. This means that it is easily outstripped in hardness and toughness by other types of steel.
This lack of hardness also means that it’s not the greatest steel when it comes to wear resistance and edge retention. As a soft steel, it’s very easy for 420HC steel to be shaped and worn down by repetitive use.
This means that you will have to resharpen your 420HC steel blade often to keep it sharp, and that it is susceptible to nicks and scratches over time.
However, there are a few lines of silver in this gray cloud. Its softness means that it is easy to sharpen, so you won’t have to spend a lot of time trying to get the perfect edge for your knife.
Also, due to the high amount of chromium in its composition and its status as a stainless steel, 420HC steel offers great resistance to corrosion and rust.
This makes it a great knife to use in wet environments or for equipment that needs constant sterilization and cleaning.
It’s also great for machinability due to its malleability and softness.
Is 420HC Steel Good For A Knife?
On paper, no – 420HC steel is easily outstripped by so many other types of steel in categories like hardness, wear resistance, and edge retention.
However, 420HC steel is still commonly used despite it being a low end soft steel. Why is that?
Well, there are two main factors – machinability and affordability.
Because 420HC steel is so soft and easy to shape, it’s way easier for manufacturers to use and fix if there are any mistakes. Blades and knives made from 420HC steel are quick to make and also very cheap too.
So, knife manufacturers can make loads of the same product very quickly and sell them for a profit.
This is why 420HC steel is often used to make cutlery knives and surgical equipment – they don’t need to be hard enough to cut through bone but do need to be cheap to make and purchase.
This will keep costs low and the product is more accessible to all.
Its resistance to corrosion also means that knives and tools made using 420HC can be washed and sterilized again and again – which is perfect for cutlery and surgical equipment!
So, 420HC steel may not be great for hunting or boning knives, but it’s a great choice if you want an affordable knife that does the basics.
It’s also a good choice if you are looking for a fishing knife, although a harder steel would be more recommended for a diving knife.
420HC steel is a great material to work with because it has some fantastic qualities.
It’s affordable to make and purchase, making it a great steel to choose if you want something to cut basic materials.
However, it doesn’t offer much in terms of durability and hardness. If you’re looking for something that is going to last then look elsewhere for a harder steel.
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