5160 steel is a spring steel alloy good for knives. Even so, it’s more popular in swords and large knives than in everyday-use small knives. And the reason is simple, 5160 comes in ¼ inches thick leafy springs. Simply put, that width is too thick for a regular knife, and manufacturers don’t like the expensive surface grounding needed to strengthen the blade.
We aren’t saying there aren’t 5160 small knives worth their salt, but they aren’t easy to find. That said, forgers love 5160 for its great properties and wide availability. The 5 in the name indicates the major alloying element (chromium), the 1 represents the chromium concentration (1%), and 60 shows the specific carbon concentration (0.60%) in the alloy. This article explores the composition, properties, and uses of 5160 steel.
At A Glance
For steel designed for springs’ manufacturing, you can bet on its terrific toughness. The 5160 steel, otherwise called AISI 5160, has a relatively high carbon composition and more chromium than most spring steels. It’s a medium to hard carbon steel with a hardness range of 57-58 HRC.
While 5160 steel knives may suck due to poor corrosion resistance, you’ll certainly fall in love with a 5160 steel sword. The 5160 steel has extreme toughness and flexibility, relatively good edge retention, and impressive wear resistance. And you won’t break a sweat sharpening this steel to ultrafine sharpness.
These great properties make 5160 steel excellent in heavy-duty application knives such as camping and survival knives. More popular applications are in swords, katanas, long knives, leafy springs, and automotive industry parts.
- Fairly good edge retention
- Sharpens easily
- Excellent toughness
- Takes a wickedly sharp edge
- Great for swords
- Dulls easily
- Poor rust resistance
- Hard to work with
5160 is typical spring steel with added chromium to improve hardenability. Unlike other steels that have exact chemical concentrations, 5160 has ranging percentages depending on the manufacturer. Below are the specific element ranges that steel must have to qualify as 5160.
|Element||Specified range||Effect on steel|
|Iron||97.085-97.84%||Iron is the primary element in steel.|
|Carbon||0.56-064%||Hardens the steel and betters wear resistance.|
|Manganese||0.75-1.00%||Manganese works closely with carbon to boost steel hardness. Also, it improves tensile strength.|
|Chromium||0.70-0.90%||This concentration is too low to have any antirust benefits but boosts steel’s hardness, edge retention, and tensile strength. Also, chromium improves the toughness and wear resistance of 5160.|
|Phosphorus||0.035%||Boosts the tensile strength and betters machinability.|
|Silicon||0.15-0.30%||Too much silicon makes steel brittle, but within this range, it serves to boost the hardness and strength of 5160.|
|Sulfur||0.04%||Boosts impact strength and machinability of 5160, and is in small quantity not to negatively affect steel’s toughness.|
5160 Steel Hardness
As stated earlier, 5160 has a hardness range of 57-58HRC. The hardness is slightly higher than soft steels and slightly lower than hard steels. The good thing with this medium hardness steel is its extreme toughness.
Manufacturers vary the hardness, sometimes getting 5160 to 59HRC to get the toughness they desire a blade to have. Toughness is highest when 5160 is at the lowest possible HRC reading.
For optimum performance, 5061 steel oil quenching should happen at 8290C (15250F) and tempering at temperatures between 4270C to 7040C (800-13000F). The forging temperatures range from 11490C to 12040C (2100-22000F), while annealing happens at 7880C (14500F) followed by air-cooling.
5160 Mechanical Properties
The table below shows a summary of the mechanical properties of 5160 spring steel.
|Property||Metric value||Imperial value|
|Tensile strength (Ultimate)||724 MPa||105000 psi|
|Tensile strength (Yield)||275 MPa||39900 psi|
|Modulus of elasticity||190-210 GPa||27557-30458 ksi|
|Bulk modulus||140 GPa||20300 ksi|
|Shear modulus||80 GPa||11600 ksi|
|Elongation at break (in 50mm)||17.20%||17.20%|
|Thermal conductivity||46.6 W/mk||323 BTU in/hr.ft2.0F|
5160 Steel Physical Properties
- Good edge retention: 5160 is relatively soft steel with inadequate carbides for exceptional edge retention. Even so, 5160 holds an edge better than most low carbon steels but isn’t a match to any high carbon steels. You will need to sharpen it often, depending on the nature of your cutting tasks.
- Ultrafine sharpness and ease of sharpenability: This is where 5160 scores well. This spring steel is very easy to sharpen and achieves a razor-sharp edge fast. It’s a great choice for survival knives and for beginners in steel sharpening.
- Decent wear and tear resistance: 5160 has decent wear and tear resistance that suffices outdoor use.
- Outstanding toughness: 5160 is extremely tough. You’ll be surprised at how much abuse 5160 can endure without chipping or breaking. It is ideal for bushcraft and survival knives as it can withstand high-impact cutting tasks awesomely.
- Poor corrosion resistance: 5160 steel has too little chromium to be stainless. This steel’s corrosion resistance is among the poorest among steels and rusts in a blink of an eye if unmaintained. But simple measures as cleaning and wiping dry your blade after use and occasional application of mineral oils keep it rust-free.
5160 Steel Equivalents
5160 spring steel shares the same chemical structure and composition with UK-made BS 527H60, Germany’s DIN 65MnCr4 and DIN 60Cr3, and China-made GB 60CrMnA. These steels offer the same terrific toughness, good wear resistance, and great ease of sharpenability.
5160 Steel vs. Steels
Below is how 5160 compares head to head with other popular knife steel types.
5160 vs. 1095
5160 and 1095 are both carbon steels, but 1095 has more carbon. Consequently, 1095 is harder and better at edge retention and wear resistance. Their corrosion resistance is very poor, but 5160 is worse.
5160 is way tougher and better suited for making swords and other hard-use knives than 1095. However, 1095 is easier to work with and more popular among manufacturers and users.
5160 vs. 420HC
420HC is a low-end stainless steel, while 5160 is a low-end spring steel. Both have poor edge retention, but 5160 is worse. 5160’s corrosion resistance is nothing compared to that of 420HC, but it’s way tougher. You won’t break a sweat sharpening any of the two, but 5160 will give you the easiest time.
5160 vs. 9260
If you want spring steel with extreme flexibility and toughness, then look no further as 9260 fits the bill. This steel can bend to 90 degrees and still spring back to the original shape, making it the preferred steel for making rapiers. 5160 and 9260 perform excellently in the sword-making industry, but 9260 is way better. 9260 is also costlier than 5160 as it’s considered exotic.
5160 vs. S30v
S30V is premium stainless steel with way better edge retention and corrosion resistance than 5160. It’s also harder and more expensive. However, 5160 is tougher and easier to sharpen.
Is 5160 Steel Good For Knives?
Users in blades forums like the bushcraftusa.com forum discussion agree that 5160 steel is good for hard-use knives meant for outdoor use like chopping wood. The toughness is excellent, and durability and flexibility impressive. Also, users agree on the suitable hardness and good edge retention of their 5160 steel blades. But one thing is clear, 5160 steel excels better in swords and large knives than in small knives.
If you’re looking for a kitchen, EDC, or pocketknife in 5160 steel worth a mention, then you have a long way to go. The thickness of this steel doesn’t favor the making of small blades, and the almost non-existent corrosion resistance ensures you have a hard time using it in wet environments. Besides, it’s very expensive to work 5160 into a fine knife, and many manufacturers don’t like it either.
All in all, there are good and popular 5160 knives worth having, like the Buck 893 GCK Tactical Knife and Buck 108 Compadre Froe.
Read also: 154CM Steel Guide [The Complete Steel Guide]
Users’ Review on Amazon
5160 steel excels in outdoor hard-use cutting tasks like path clearing and wood chopping. And more than 81% of users on Amazon back up the good performance by rating their 5160 buys 5-star. They are happy with the excellent toughness, sharpness right out of the box, ease of sharpenability, and great ergonomics and sturdy builds.
Most users appreciated the anti-rust coating manufacturers put on their blades. On the other hand, some users weren’t happy with their knives’ handle designs and durability. Others felt their knife’s finish would have been better, given the price.
A clear thing about 5160 steel is its excellent performance outdoors. Apart from the small maintenance care needed to keep it rust-free, this steel outperforms many steels in hard-use cutting tasks.
Its great toughness ensures it takes abuse with love, and you won’t go wrong having it with you while camping or hiking. However, this steel holds an edge rather poorly and will need frequent re-sharpening. But we promise you won’t need any special sharpener, nor break a sweat in the process.