15N20 steel has amazing properties that make it a popular choice amongst knife makers for the manufacturing of Damascus knives. Along with 15N20 steel, some knife makers combine 1095 carbon steel for making the beautiful blade of Damascus knives. The steel has amazing properties to explore, take a look at all the details listed below.


What is 15N20 Steel?


A German knife-making company called Bohler came up with the formula of 15N20 steel. The steel consists of carbon and nickel in its chemical composition which gives the high steel toughness making it versatile.


To engrave decorative patterns on the blade of a Damascus knife the 15N20 is combined with other steel like 1080, 1084 and 1095 carbon steel. The steel has a similar chemical composition to 1075 carbon steel but more percentage of nickel is added to it.


You can use 15N20 steel for manufacturing knives of almost all sizes and for making band saw blades, kitchen knives and woodworking tools including knives. Few beginners in the knife-making industry use the 15N20 steel for practicing as the steel is not difficult to manufacture or use.


Chemical Composition:


The chemical composition of 15N20 steel is unique because of the absence of chromium in it. Hence, the steel cannot be classified as stainless but other elements work for the steel to have amazing properties. Have a look at these elements below.


  • 0.75% of Carbon: Brings improvements to hardness level, resistance to abrasion, corrosion and wear.
  • 2% of Nickel: Increases toughness level and resistance to corrosion.
  • 0.4% of Manganese: Works for adding hardenability, tensile strength and wear resistance to the steel.
  • 0.03% of Silicon: Increases corrosion resistance and strength of the steel.
  • 0.02% of Phosphorus: Enhances hardness level, machinability, and strength of the steel.
  • 0.01% of Sulphur: Brings improvement to machinability.


The hardness of the steel: 


According to the Rockwell scale, the hardness level of 15N20 steel ranges between 61 to 65 HRC. The rating of the steel can vary depending on the heat treatment manufacturer provides. The hardness rating of the steel signifies the immense level of hardness that the steel possesses.


The high hardness rating of the steel is because of the presence of a high percentage of carbon and nickel in its composition. The high percentage of nickel adds a high hardness level to the steel which makes 15N20 stand out compared to other steels. The steel is efficient in abrasion and wears resistance which ensures the blade doesn’t get scratched or deform upon heavy use.


Steel Properties: 

  • Excellent toughness: Since the hardness of steel is indirectly proportional to toughness, you would expect the least amount of toughness in 15N20 due to the high hardness rating. Surprisingly, the presence of a high amount of nickel in its composition makes the steel resistant to breaking and chipping.


As the steel has required toughness for manufacturing kitchen knives, fishing knives and woodworking knives, it is widely used for this purpose. As the steel has the right amount of toughness, knife makers find 15N20 perfect for engraving and welding purposes.

  • Great Wear Resistance: It did not come as a surprise for 15N20 steel to have great wear resistance because the steel has a high hardness rating. The presence of manganese and silicon in its composition makes the steel even more effective in resisting wear and tear for a long time.
  • Average Edge Retention: 15N20 steel does not give its best performance in terms of edge retention. When the steel is compared to 1084 in edge retention it shows unimpressive performance. Yet, you will get an average edge retention capability in 15N20 steel due to the presence of nickel in the chemical composition.
  • Poor Corrosion Resistance: As the amount of chromium in the chemical composition of 15N20 steel is completely absent it is expected for the steel to be unable to resist corrosion. Yet, surprisingly you will see some performance in corrosion resistance because of the presence of nickel. However, you will still need to maintain the steel by keeping it clean and dry after every use and also lubricating it with knife oil.
  • Ease of Sharpening: Even after the high hardness rating of 15N20 steel, it is not difficult to sharpen the edge. Compared to other high carbon steels it will be easier for you to gain a sharp edge for 15N20 steel which is again because of the presence of nickel content in its composition.


Comparing 15N20  With Other Knife Steel Options


15N20 vs 1095


15N20 beats 1095 high carbon steel in many steel properties which includes edge retention, toughness level and ease of sharpening because of the presence of a high percentage of nickel in its composition. Furthermore, you will find ease and flexibility in working with 15N20 steel compared to 1095. In terms of corrosion resistance, both of these knife steels deliver poor performance.


15N20 vs 1080


1080 steel consists of a higher amount of carbon and manganese compared to 15N20 steel which increases its hardness rating. However, this shows that in terms of toughness 15N20 beats 1080 steel.


So, is 15N20 a Good Knife Steel?


Yes, you can consider using 15N20 steel for manufacturing knives because of its versatility and ideal balance of toughness and hardness. Knifemakers love the knife steel to manufacture chef knives due to the great toughness that allows heavy duty. There is a lack of knife steel in terms of corrosion resistance that you can overcome if you maintain the steel with the necessary steps and oil it for keeping rust and corrosion away.


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