420HC martensitic steel belongs to the 420 steel series. It’s stainless, and the HC in its name indicates its high carbon content. This steel ranks high in the low-end stainless steels with great qualities that make it popular among knife makers and users.
The 420HC is an evolved old 420 steel that is heat-treatable to a max of 59HRC hardness levels. Most manufacturers keep it at 55HRC to avoid the brittleness that comes with high hardness. You will find this steel in cutlery, surgical tools, needle valves, scissors, and many other applications.
This reliable yet low-cost steel has been in use for many years by big brands like Kershaw, Gerber, and Buck. Let’s go through an overview of 420HC steel below for you to decide better if it’s a worthy buy.
At A Glance
420HC combines high performance and affordability. Of course, you shouldn’t expect the same performance as premium steels from entry-level steels like 420HC. There are compromises you will put up with, like poor edge retention, but 420HC compensates with great sharpenability. Other strengths of this steel include excellent corrosion resistance, decent toughness, and outstanding wear and tear resistance.
- Very easy to sharpen
- Very affordable
- High anti-corrosion
- Average hardness (55-59 HRC)
- Decent toughness
- Poor edge retention
- Relatively soft
420HC Chemical Composition
- Chromium, 13%: More than 12% Chromium makes this steel stainless and is responsible for excellent anti-corrosion, tensile strength, and edge retention.
- Carbon, 0.4-0.5%: Carbon hardens steel to make it wear and corrosion-resistant. The 0.4-0.5% in 420HC steel keeps it hard without being brittle.
- Silicon, 0.4%: Improves the strength of this steel.
- Manganese, 0.4%: Manganese boosts the hardness of steel.
- Vanadium at 0.3%: Increases the 420HC steel’s hardness and resistance to wear and tear.
Physical Properties of 420HC
The 420HC steel has a hardness range of 55-59 HRC on the Rockwell HRC scale. Of course, the heat treatment process determines the exact hardness of a specific blade, but most have a standard hardness of 55HRC.
At 55HRC hardness, 420HC is relatively softer than other high carbon steels in the 420 series. And as usual, soft steel has decent toughness. Expect this steel to hold to abuse well without chipping. High toughness has made 420HC the knife steel of choice by big brands like Bucks and Gerber for many years.
Poor Edge Retention
As stated above, 420HC steel lacks the hardness to hold an edge for long. The carbon and vanadium low compositions result in insufficient carbides that yield high hardness and stabilize edges to keep them sharp. While working with a 420HC blade, have a sharpening tool close by as you will need it often.
Impressive Corrosion Resistance
420HC steel excels well in resisting corrosion thanks to its high chromium content. It’s a significant property that maintains this steel’s popularity among manufacturers and users. But, it doesn’t mean 420HC is rustproof. You need to take some good care to keep it in shape always.
Great Ease of Sharpening
420HC steel is super easy to sharpen. You will quickly give this steel an ultra-fine sharp edge without special sharpening tools. You only need a basic whetstone and some lubrication, and you’re good to go. This steel is undoubtedly a great start for novices to learn sharpening skills.
420HC vs. Other Steels
A comparison between 420HC and other steel types gives a clearer picture of its performance. Below is how 420HC steel compares to other steels.
420HC vs. 5Cr15MoV
These two steels have almost identical carbon content and thus the same hardness levels. While they both belong to the stainless steel class, 5Cr15MoV contains higher chromium that gives it better corrosion resistance. But 420HC is tougher thanks to the lower chromium content.
420HC vs. 154CM
154CM has high carbon, chromium, and molybdenum contents. It has higher hardness than 420HC, thus holds an edge for long and resists wear better. These two steels have similar corrosion resistance and toughness, but 420HC is easier to sharpen.
420HC vs. AUS-6
420HC is as hard as AUS-6 as they contain almost equal amounts of carbon and chromium. They are also straightforward to sharpen, but 420HC will handle impact tasks better as its high manganese and silicon content gives it extra toughness.
420HC vs. AUS-8
AUS-8 is very close in performance with 420HC though their chemical compositions are different. They both have a high rating in corrosion resistance and toughness, but low in edge retention. While neither holds an edge any better, AUS-8 is easier to sharpen and slightly better corrosion resistance.
420HC vs. 1095
1095 steel triumphs easily over 420HC in any toughness and edge retention challenge but rust faster. Both steels are easy to sharpen, but 1095 is tougher.
420HC vs. 440C
These two steel types belong to the 400 steel series. They are comparable steels in performance and chemical compositions and rank almost the same. However, 440C is harder and will hold an edge for longer, and resist corrosion better than 420HC.
420HC vs. 8Cr13MoV
8Cr13MoV is probably not any better than 420HC. Their differences in performance are very minute, and possibly only an experienced knife enthusiast’s eye may see the difference. While 8Cr13MoV is slightly better in toughness, ease of sharpening, and corrosion resistance, 440HC compensates with better edge retention.
420HC vs. S30V
Unlike 420HC, S30V steel has a well-balanced chemical composition that results in averagely all-around high performance. S30V ranks high in edge retention, sharpenability, corrosion resistance, and toughness. Both steels have similar toughness and ease of sharpenability, but S30V holds an edge better and won’t rust as fast.
Is 420HC Steel Good For Knives?
Overall, this steel is a solid choice for reliable and affordable knives. It’s popular in budget fishing and hunting knives from big shots like Kershaw and Buck. However, the low edge retention and medium hardness limit its performance in heavy-cutting tasks.
But this steel covers up the shortcomings with decent toughness and awesome ease of sharpening. It also has excellent anti-corrosion, which makes it ideal for wet and high humidity environments. Some popular and best 420HC steel knives include:
Kershaw Chive Pocket Knife
This lightweight and compact designed Chive pocket knife is highly portable and a performer. Kershaw made it for everyday carry with all the great qualities of 420HC steel. Below is what this pocket knife has to offer:
- 1.9inch blade designed for high performance
- SpeedSafe assisted opening
- Sturdy stainless steel handle built for durability
- Nicely done matte bead-blasted finish
- Includes Tip-lock slider
- Single-position pocket clip for easy carriage
Buck Knives 112 Ranger Folding Knife
Buck has a long history with 420HC steel and never disappoints in any brand they manufacture. For instance, their 110 Folding Hunter knife was so popular that they decided to make a more compact and lighter version in the form of a 112 Ranger Folding knife. The 3-inch blade features all 420HC has to offer, with the size being perfect for everyday carry. Main features include:
- 3-inch clip point design blade
- Closed length 4-1/4 inch
- Weighs 5.6oz
- Beautiful Macassar ebony handle
- It comes with a genuine leather sheath
- Has a lifetime warranty
Gerber StrongArm Fixed Blade Knife
Gerber has been making knives for the US military since 1968. Their super-tough and well-crafted fixed blade knives have earned them a massive following from US knife users, and this StrongArm is no different. It features a fine-edge and brutally full-tang solid blade.
You get the following features from this Gerber finest fixed blade knife:
- Overall length: 9.8 inches
- Blade length: 4.8 inches
- Snap-together, multi-mount sheath
- Rubberized handle for firm grips
- Nylon webbing
- Detachable belt hoops
Users’ Review on Amazon
Overall, users on Amazon rate 420HC steel blades positively. Notable high-rated properties include great sharpenability, affordability, versatility in cutting tasks, and the ultra-fine edge right out of the box. Another thing that impressed users is the brand-specific long-period warranties, such as the life cover in Buck Knives 112 Ranger Folding Knife.
However, many users aren’t happy with the low edge holding ability and the poor performance of 420HC in challenging cutting tasks. Also, some users complained that this steel rusted while left unattended. To better rust resistance, you should keep your blade clean and dry.
The 420HC is low-budget steel designed for knives. It has excellent corrosion resistance, sharpens easily, averagely hard, and is decently tough. This steel might not be the best pony in the stable, but its performance is excellent for its price.
Now that you know much about this steel, you can make a better-informed purchase decision. This steel is a bargain at its price, with some brands coming with a lifetime warranty cover. You only need to have a sharpening tool around while using a 420HC blade as it holds an edge poorly. Also, deliberate care and maintenance boost its corrosion resistance greatly.