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.
What is 420HC Steel?
420HC steel is a low-end stainless steel that is often used in low-budget knives due to its excellent corrosion resistance and relatively easy sharpening process. It has good edge retention and is decently tough, making it a practical choice for a wide range of applications.
One notable manufacturer of knives made with 420HC steel is Buck Knives, who are known for their superior heat treatment process. This steel is also known for its resistance to rust and its popularity among a wide customer base.
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 shareability. 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
History of 420HC Steel
420HC steel was first developed by Latrobe, a steel company based in the US, as a modification of 420 steel. It was made with the intention of improving the hardness and wearability of the 420 steel, and is heat-treatable to a maximum of 59HRC hardness levels, although it is usually kept at 55HRC.
In the early 1980s, Buck Knives adopted 420HC and have used it in their knife blades ever since. The corrosion resistance and hardness properties of 420HC make it an ideal steel for knife blades, and it is often used in blades for hunting, diving, and fishing knives. Its versatility and practicality make it a popular choice for a wide range of applications.
420HC Steel Characteristics
- Good Corrosion Resistance: One of the main characteristics of 420HC steel is its good corrosion resistance. It is highly resistant to rust and staining and is a great choice for outdoor use or near saltwater.
- Easy to Sharpen: Another great advantage of 420HC steel is that it is relatively easy to sharpen. This makes it an ideal choice for those who don’t have the time or experience to sharpen their blades regularly.
- Decently Hard: While not as hard as some higher-end steels, 420HC steel still holds up well in terms of hardness. It can maintain a good edge for a long time but should be sharpened regularly to keep it in top condition.
- Decently Tough: Despite its lower hardness, 420HC steel is still quite tough and can withstand impacts without chipping or breaking. This makes it the perfect choice for everyday tasks such as cutting food, opening packages, and more.
- Low Budget Steel: Finally, one of the biggest advantages of 420HC steel is its low cost. It is one of the cheapest stainless steel available on the market, making it an ideal choice for budget-conscious knife owners.
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
420HC steel is a type of stainless steel that is known for its strong and durable properties. It has a Rockwell Hardness rating of around 56-58 HRC, which falls within the range of medium to high hardness for knife steels. This makes it a good choice for knives and other cutting tools requiring a tough and durable blade.
The high carbon content of 420HC steel contributes to its hardness, as well as its ability to hold an edge for a decent amount of time before it needs to be sharpened.
It is generally considered to be mid-range steel in terms of hardness, with some higher-end steels reaching even higher Rockwell Hardness ratings. However, 420HC steel is still a solid performer in terms of hardness and is capable of standing up to heavy use and abuse.
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 a 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
420HC and 5Cr15MoV are both types of stainless steel that are commonly used in the production of knives and other cutting tools. Both steels have their own unique set of properties and characteristics, and there are some key differences between the two.
One of the main differences between 420HC and 5Cr15MoV is the level of hardness. 420HC steel has a Rockwell Hardness rating of around 56-58 HRC, which is considered to be medium to high hardness for knife steels.
5Cr15MoV, on the other hand, has a lower Rockwell Hardness rating of around 52-55 HRC, which is considered to be medium hardness. This means that 420HC steel is generally stronger and more durable than 5Cr15MoV, and may be better suited for heavy use and abuse.
Another key difference between the two steels is their corrosion resistance. 420HC steel has good corrosion resistance due to its high levels of chromium, making it a practical choice for outdoor and tactical knives. 5Cr15MoV has lower levels of chromium and may not be as resistant to corrosion, although it can still perform well in this regard with proper care and maintenance.
In terms of edge retention, both 420HC and 5Cr15MoV are capable of maintaining a sharp edge for a decent amount of time before they need to be sharpened. However, 420HC may have a slight edge in this regard due to its higher hardness.
420HC vs. 154CM
On the one hand, 154CM is a higher quality steel, with better corrosion resistance and edge retention. On the other hand, 420HC is a lot easier to sharpen and may be tougher than 154CM.
Both steels will respond well to diamond hones, so if you are looking for a steel that is easier to sharpen and maintain, then 420HC might be the better choice for you. However, if you are looking for steel that offers superior edge retention and corrosion resistance, then 154CM is the clear winner.
420HC vs. AUS-6
Now, let’s move on to the comparison between 420HC and AUS-6. AUS-6A has a working hardness of Rc55-57 while 420HC has a working hardness of Rc 58. Both steels contain almost equal amounts of carbon and chromium which makes them quite similar in terms of hardness and corrosion resistance.
420HC is known to have excellent edge retention, and great corrosion resistance and is very affordable, however, it has poor wear resistance. On the other hand, AUS-6 has better wear resistance than 420HC and is less prone to corrosion but has worse edge retention. Ultimately, it’s up to the user to decide which steel suits their needs better.
420HC vs. AUS-8
AUS-8 steel is another upper mid-range option, just like 8Cr13MoV. In terms of edge retention and toughness, both steels score the same. However, AUS 8 has a higher carbon content which makes it more corrosion-resistant than the 420HC.
It’s also easier to sharpen than 420HC. So if you’re looking for a steel that offers better corrosion resistance and is easier to sharpen, then AUS-8 may be a better option for you.
420HC vs. 1095
1095 high-carbon steel blades make excellent survival knives because of their hardness and durability. These blades, when properly cared for, can last a lifetime and hold an edge better than its 400-series counterpart 420HC, but at the expense of some corrosion resistance.
1095 steel triumphs easily over 420HC in any toughness and edge retention challenge but rusts much faster. Both steels are easy to sharpen, but the coating is not an issue when sharpening.
420HC vs. 440C
440C is a type of stainless steel that belongs to the 400 series and is known for its good corrosion resistance and excellent edge retention. It’s a premium steel that’s highly alloyed and has good wear resistance.
That said, it’s not as hard as D2 and isn’t as highly alloyed, so when it comes to abrasive wear resistance, 420HC is a better choice. However, 420HC doesn’t hold an edge as well as 440C, making 440C a better choice for those looking for a tougher blade with better edge retention.
420HC vs. 8Cr13MoV
When looking at 8Cr13MoV vs 420HC, it is important to note that 8Cr13MoV is a high-carbon steel known for its edge retention, but it is not as stain-resistant or tough as 420HC. 8CR13MOV offers the same corrosion resistance and toughness, with a lower/close edge retention compared to the 420HC.
In terms of edge retention, 8Cr13MoV is probably not any better than 420HC, as their differences in performance are very minute, and possibly only an experienced knife user would be able to tell the difference.
420HC vs. S30V
When comparing 420HC to S30V, the difference is clear. S30V is more durable because it contains more vanadium carbides which translate to high hardness and wear resistance.
420HC has soft properties which make it easier to sharpen but won’t hold the edge nearly as long. It is about .45 carbon, while AUS 8 is .7-.75 carbon. S30V should be the preferred steel for anyone looking for a knife that will last for a long time and need less maintenance.
Differences Between Buck’s 420HC and Other 420HC Steels
Buck’s 420HC differs from other 420HC steels in its higher carbon production rate and Rockwell hardness rating of 56-58 HRC. Usually, 420HC has a 55 HRC rating, but thanks to the special heat-treatment process, Buck’s 420HC is even superior. This makes it a great choice for low-entry knives, as it offers excellent corrosion resistance, edge retention, and sharpening ability.
Moreover, Buck’s 420HC is a soft alloy and has good toughness. With all these qualities combined, Buck’s 420HC is a great option for those looking for reliable steel for their knives.
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 are 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. The 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
The 420HC is low-budget steel designed for knives. It has excellent corrosion resistance, sharpens easily, is 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.