Chinese-made goods always receive mixed feelings on quality and pricing. But just as any other country’s manufacturing industry, there are good stuff and absolute crap. The 3Cr13 is a martensitic stainless steel from China and is among the good things from this country. And it’s popular steel in the U.S. attracting low-budget steel buyers.
Whereas 3Cr13 steel knives won’t rank anywhere near professional knives, this steel is common in making metal objects like tools, springs, bearings, and bolts. Its popularity arises from its excellent hardness and decent toughness at a relatively cheap tag. If you’re looking for a special knife, 3Cr13 steel is not for you.
But for normal tasks ranging from low to medium demanding cutting and chopping jobs, 3Cr13 steel will suffice. Besides, it’s not cry-worthy if broken or lost. Let’s discuss the suitability of 3Cr13 in knife making below.
At A Glance
When looking for a knife on a strict budget, you may be tempted not to search around well and fall for any cheap steel you lay your hands on. But it would help if you took some time to get the cheap but good stuff. 3Cr13 steel is among the cheap good steel around that offers good value for money. Under good care, this steel provides decent performance for a low price tag.
- Very affordable
- Easy to re-sharpen
- Good corrosion resistance
- Resists wear well
- It puts up well with lots of casual cutting and chopping tasks
- Low-end steel thus not as good as more expensive steels
- Unsuitable for serious work
3Cr13 Stainless Chemical Composition
Steel performs depending on the chemical elements that build up its structure. Below are the features that make up the 3Cr13 steel.
Carbon, 0.3%: It’s common knowledge that carbon hardens steel, and it’s also true that too much of it increases brittleness. Makers of 3Cr13 put just enough to get by and avoid the brittleness downside.
Chromium, 13%: This element features in 3Cr13 name. Thus you know it’s important. It boosts the hardness, corrosion resistance and improves the tensile strength of steel. At 13%, you get more than the bare minimum of 10% required for stainless steel.
Silicon, 1%: This element enhances the strength and minimizes brittleness in steel.
Manganese, 1%: The versatility of this element has a two-fold effect on steel; it hardens and reduces brittleness (strengthens).
Nickel, 0.6%: Nickel’s main purpose is to counterbalance the hardness of steel to reduce chipping under impact jobs.
Phosphorus, 0.04%: This component appears in a rather tiny but enough amount to bring the non-brittleness intended in the 3Cr13 steel.
Sulfur, 0.03%: Sulfur makes steel easy to machine and thus lowers the production costs. But it has a similar brittleness effect to carbon, and therefore manufacturers have to make some trade-off.
3Cr13 Steel Physical Properties
3Cr13 steel has an average hardness of 54HRC but can vary from 52 to 55HRC depending on the heat treatment process used by the manufacturer. That hardness is moderate by steel standards and falls within many pockets and EDC knives’ hardness levels.
Read also: Types of pocket knives
Toughness and hardness have an inverse relationship in steel, and being moderately hard means 3Cr13 steel has good toughness. You should expect this steel to take abuse relatively well without breaking or chipping.
Affordability is a top factor that makes this steel popular. And the affordability comes from its easy machinability that pushes the production costs down with the savings reflecting in its price tag. Also, the producers can easily and cheaply shape this steel into different shapes and designs.
3Cr13 steel is soft compared to other high carbon steels and thus super-easy to sharpen. You can also get a very sharp knife right out of the box without much price difference. This steel is a good start for beginners aiming to improve their sharpening skills with standard tools such as a whetstone. The easy sharpenability compensates for the low edge retention of this steel, ensuring you easily get it razor sharp fast and get back to work.
Fair Edge Retention
Of course, you shouldn’t expect low-end steel to hold an edge as long as high carbon steel, but 3Cr13 edge retention isn’t the worst either. You get fair edge retention for the price, but you need to have a sharpening tool with you while at work.
Great Corrosion Resistance
Stainless steels hold corrosion well, and more chromium content means better corrosion resistance. You can trust 3Cr13 steel to resist corrosion greatly, given its 13% chromium composition. However, please note that eventually, it will give in to adverse weather conditions, and thus regular care and maintenance will help keep your blade in shape for long.
Exceptional Wear Resistance
3Cr13 steel has a fair balance between hardness and toughness, and hence impressive wear resistance. It’s flexible enough for chopping tasks without chipping and resists wear excellently.
See also: How to sharpen a machete
3Cr13 Equivalents or Alternatives
To better understand the suitability of 3Cr13 steel as your next knife steel, here are some head-to-head comparisons with other steel types within the same class or other classes.
3cr13 vs. 420j2
While many knife experts believe these two steel types have many similarities, there have very notable differences. 420j2 is harder and has more chromium content than 3Cr13. Consequently, it beats 3Cr13 in edge retention and corrosion resistance. For surgical knives, scissors, dive knives, and tools for extreme environment use, 420j2 is preferred over 3Cr13.
3cr13 vs. 1055 Carbon
You will get these two steel types within the same price range, but 3Cr13 is stainless while 1055 is carbon steel. They vary in performance, with 1055 holding an edge better due to high carbon content. When it comes to corrosion-resistant, 3Cr13 is better than 1055 carbon steel.
3cr13 vs. 420
These two steel types are stainless, thus hold well to corrosion. You can’t go wrong with either for use in wet environments. However, 420 steel has lower carbon content and lacks the hardness to hold an edge as good as 3Cr13. While 3Cr13 performs well in everyday use, 420 steels are best for decorative swords and knives.
Read also: 7Cr17MoV Steel: Full Details and Review
Is 3Cr13 Steel Good Knife Steel?
A general answer is an absolute yes, and it’s quite popular steel in the knife industry. A more specific answer would be dependent on the kind of knife you’re looking for and your intended use. For instance, 3Cr13 steel is ideal for:
- A kitchen knife for use once in a while
- A hunting knife that you can give a beating without any worries
- An everyday carry knife for light duties like opening letters and boxes
- Beginner knife owners and novice sharpeners
- Generally low to mid-end blades for casual use
But avoid this steel if:
- You’re after a high-quality knife for long-term use; 3cr13 steel is way below such a budget.
- If you’re a hunter that depends a hundred percent on a single knife
- For forging custom knives or looking to order a custom blade, avoid the 3Cr13 steel.
Some best 3Cr13 steel knives include the KUMA Multi-Purpose Chef Knife (comes in a set of three), TAC-FORCE TF606WS, and Mossy Oak 14-inch Bowie Knife.
Users’ Review on Amazon
3Cr13 steel receives more praise than rebuke by users on Amazon. Whereas the reviews are brand specific, the clear thing is that the good machinability of this steel is favorable for most manufacturers. Most brands have great ergonomic designs, are sturdy, are easy to hold, and offer great value for money. And the users have expressed satisfaction in these remarkable properties by rating them highly.
However, a couple of dissatisfied users complain about this steel’s breakage under heavy impact cutting tasks. Of course, it’s a common occurrence with low-end steels. Other complaints regard the low edge holding of this steel, some users saying they will use it like a butter knife.
Now you know everything about 3Cr13 and its goodness. Of course, it isn’t among the best steel out there, but it’s good enough for its price. When looking for low to mid-end knife steel that won’t hurt much if broken or lost, 3Cr13 is ideal. But if it’s a matter of life and death, this steel is not what you need or want. It’s great, though, for simple cutting and chopping tasks, but it has a sharpening tool close by.