Crucible Industries developed the 154CM steel in collaboration with the U.S. Air Force in 1959. Inventors created this steel for use in high temperature and challenging environments like inside combustion engines. And Crucible based the 154CM on 440C; the only standard martensitic stainless steel available then.
Initially, this steel made jet engine parts but Bob Loveless introduced it in the knife industry in 1972. Today, 154CM is popular in high-end cutlery, valve ports, ball bearings, knives, and metallic bushings. Companies like Benchmade and Gerber have several brands of 154CM steel EDC and survival knives in the market. Follow along with this 154CM steel guide to learn deeper details of this high-end steel.
At a Glance
154CM is an acronym from 15% Chromium and 4% Molybdenum, though rumors had it that the CM referred to the company’s name (Climax Molybdenum) that initially designed this steel. History aside, this steel has seen better days. It has stood popular for its excellent corrosion resistance, toughness, high hardness, and wear resistance. That’s why manufacturers quickly switched to its Japanese equivalent ATS-34 when Crucible halted production. Later on, Crucible restarted 154CM production and even produced a CPM version known as CPM 154.
Indeed, every steel has its strengths and weaknesses, and thus performance depends on the use environment. And for an old steel like 154CM, you have countless brands and knife types to choose from. This in-depth look into 154CM details and performance will help you decide if this steel fits your knife needs.
- Great edge retention
- High hardness (60-61HRC)
- Excellent wear resistance
- Impressive corrosion resistance
- Relatively easy to sharpen
- Awesome toughness
- Carbon, 1.05%: Improves the steel’s hardness for better wear and corrosion resistance.
- Chromium, 14%: This high chromium content makes 154CM a stainless steel (the composition is more than the minimum 12%) with excellent corrosion resistance. Also, chromium boosts tensile strength, wear resistance, and edge retention.
- Molybdenum, 4%: Enhances the strength of this steel and betters machinability.
- Manganese, 0.5%: Increases hardness and brittleness.
- Silicon, 0.3%: Improves strength.
- Vanadium, 0.4%: Hardens the steel and betters wear resistance.
- Phosphorus, 0.03%: Increases strength.
- Sulfur, 0.03%: Boosts machinability.
- Tungsten, 0.4%: Improves hardness and wear resistance.
154CM steel has a hardness range of 60 to 61HRC. This hardness range places it in the class of hard steels and is way rigid than most stainless steels available. Recommended hardening starts with an equalized preheating to 14000F (7600C), then austenitizing for 30 to 60 minutes at 1900-2000°F (1037-1093°C), and finally quenching with oil or positive pressure (4 bars minimum) to below 1250F (500C). If practical, salt bath treatment (to about 1000°F (540°C)) ensures 154CM attains the highest toughness for any given hardness level.
2. Excellent Edge Retention
Generally, hardness and edge retention go hand in hand in the steel world. 154CM steel is very hard thanks to high volumes of carbides resulting from chromium, manganese, and carbon in the alloy. Whether hunting all day long or camping in the woods, this steel will handle all the cutting duties for long without the need for re-sharpening.
3. Impressive Corrosion Resistance
At 14% chromium composition, 154CM is not only stainless but holds impressively well to corrosion. The added vanadium, manganese, and molybdenum further boost its ability to withstand corrosiveness of salty, wet, and high humidity environments. However, this steel isn’t a hundred percent rustproof and will eventually give in if left unmaintained. To avoid rusting, clean and dry your blade after use and oil if storing for long.
4. Great Sharpenability
154CM steel is among the hard steels that are relatively very easy to sharpen. The molybdenum and sulfur make this steel workable and easy to give a razor-sharp edge. The sharpenability of this steel is very beginner-friendly, even with simple tools like a whetstone. However, hard steel will require more effort to resharpen if left to be incredibly dull. Avoid letting 154CM get to butter dullness as it may become very challenging to resharpen.
5. Impressively Durable
For steel made initially for making jet engine parts, be sure its wear resistance is superb. 154CM lasts a lifetime. This steel will offer years of quality service unless taken through severe abuse that may break or chip it.
6. Very Tough
Typically, steel will have two of the primary qualities; hardness, toughness, and corrosion resistance. Surprisingly, 154CM steel performs well in all. When double-tempered at 400-12000F (204-6500C), 154CM attains toughness way beyond most hard stainless steels. This steel handles outdoor abuse and high-impact cutting tasks excellently without chipping or breaking.
154CM vs. Other Steels
Below is how 154CM compares with other steels in performance.
154CM VS 440C
These two steel types have almost similar chemical compositions, with 154CM having more molybdenum. Both have identical toughness, but 154CM is harder. Consequently, 154CM holds an edge better but is harder to sharpen. Also, 440C has better resistance to corrosion and rusting.
154CM VS CPM 154
154CM and CPM 154 have similar chemical compositions, but their performances differ primarily due to different production processes. Crucible makes 154CPM through melting, while CPM 154 undergoes a powder metal process. While these two steels have almost similar corrosion resistance, toughness, and ease of sharpenability, CPM154 holds an edge better and is more brittle.
154CM VS S30V
S30V is a slightly better equivalent steel to 154CM. They are all-around high-end steels with balanced hardness, toughness, and wear resistance. However, S30V is tougher and retains an edge for longer. It’s also more challenging to sharpen than 154CM and performs best in easy tasks.
154CM VS VG10
VG10 has more chromium and vanadium than 154CM and thus better corrosion resistance. It’s also slightly better in edge retention and sharpenability. On the other side, 154CM is tougher.
154CM VS 1095
1095 is carbon steel, while 154CM is stainless steel. 1095 is softer but more rigid and sharpens easily compared to 154CM. However, 1095’s edge retention and corrosion resistance are poor than what 154CM offers.
Head To Head Comparison Summary
The comparison summary below rates 154CM against other steels on a scale of 1-10 in edge retention, toughness, sharpenability, and corrosion resistance.
|EASE OF SHARPNESS||5/10||7/10||5/10||5/10||6/10||7/10|
Is 154CM a Good Knife Steel?
Absolutely. 154CM makes among the best EDC, hunting, fishing, kitchen, and diving knives in the industry. Though expensive, you’ll get the best high-end steel performance in toughness, edge retention, hardness, corrosion resistance, and durability. Whether you know your way around knives or not, 154CM blades will undoubtedly be the best knives in your collection. Besides, every knife company worth their salt has several knife brands made with 154CM, and most have a lifetime warranty on them. Check out our recommendations for the best 154CM knives below.
Benchmade – Mini Barrage 585 Knife
Your search for a perfect EDC high-performance knife ends with Mini Barrage 585. This compactly designed 154CM steel knife offers the following:
- Closed length: 4 inches
- 2.91-inch drop point shaped blade
- Weight: 3.4oz
- Very sharp right out of the box
- Manual assisted opening mechanism for quick, one-handed opening
- Includes a reversible pocket clip
- Includes a lanyard hole
- Lifetime warranty
Gerber Gator Folding Knife
The 3.6-inch blade of Gerber Folding Knife forms the ultimate outdoor tool for hunting, bushcrafting, and camping. This knife has been around for a long and has earned the respect of many outdoor enthusiasts.
- A closed length of 4.96 inches
- Weight: 5.4 ounces
- 3.6 inches drop point designed blade
- Textured handle for firm and secure grip
- Includes a ballistic nylon sheath for safe carriage
- Traditional lock-back design
- Lifetime warranty in North America, and 25 years for other regions
Users’ Review on Amazon
Overall, users rate 154CM steel knives positively. More than 79% of users give a 5-star rating to 154CM steel blades. They commend the edge retention, sturdiness, toughness, value for money, and ergonomics of their buy. Also, users are happy with the excellent customer care and lifetime warranties by brands like Benchmade and Gerber.
Most dissatisfied users complained of design-related issues like off-centered blades, weak pocket clips, and side play after several months of use. Also, some users were unhappy with the high cost of 154CM steel knives, while some had observed rust spots after days of outdoor use.
Super-steel types perform excellently, and 154CM is no exception. 154CM steel scores highly in edge retention, durability, wear, corrosion resistance, sharpenability, and toughness. Yes, it’s a pricey investment, but it will certainly outlive you.
If you intend to buy a 154CM steel blade, we guarantee you won’t regret that decision. Besides, this steel is so reliable that most brands have a lifetime warranty on it. However, if you feel you want better performance and something more recent, then the CPM S35V or CPM S30V will suffice.