M390 steel is well known in the market as it is a premium grade steel that is used for the manufacturing of high-end knives. It is well known for having great strength. We will be exploring its chemical composition and properties in depth.


What is M390 Steel?

The formula of M390 is done by Bohler-Uddeholm using Powder Metallurgy technology that increases the resistance of the steel towards corrosion and wears. The steel can be categorized as martens stainless as the chemical composition consists of a high percentage of chromium and vanadium.


The surface of M390 consists of super fine carbides that also provide a mirror-like finish on the surface. Initially, the manufacturing of M390 was done as tool steel to manufacture tools that will need to endure wear and tear.


The second purpose behind the manufacturing of M390 steel was to make industrial tools such as barrels, injection moulding and screws that can take on shocks and vibration. Currently, knife manufacturers use M390 for the making of high-end folding and fixed knives that are small in size.


Chemical composition: 

You can classify M390 as stainless because of the presence of chromium at a higher percentage than 13%. There are other elements present that you can take a look at.

  • 1.9% of Carbon: Increases hardness and capacity of the steel to resist corrosion and wear of the steel.
  • 20% of Chromium: Boosts corrosion resistance, edge retention, hardness level, tensile strength, toughness level and wear resistance.
  • 4% of Vanadium: Increases hardenability, toughness level, and resistance of the steel to heavy impact.
  • 1% of Molybdenum: Makes machinability and steel strength better.
  • 0.6% of Tungsten: Brings improvement to toughness level and steel strength.
  • 0.7% of Silicon: Improves steel strength.
  • 0.3% of Manganese: Improves forge ability, hardenability, tensile strength and wear resistance.


Steel Hardness: 

According to the Rockwell C scale, the hardness rating of the steel ranges between 60 to 62 HRC. The hardness level of the steel is very high which makes M390 capable of edge retention and wear resistance at its best. Considering both of these properties M390 is an ideal steel for the making of knives that will be handling outdoor activities.



  • Good Toughness: M390 steel has good toughness which comes as a surprise due to its high hardness level. Because hardness and toughness are indirectly proportional to each other. The toughness allows M390 steel to be resistant to breaking, chipping and cracking, beating a lot of famous steels in the market. The steel is not the toughest one to acknowledge but it has the required toughness to endure the impact of outdoor knives.
  • Extreme Wear Resistance: The steel stands out in the market for extreme wear resistance during heavy-duty regularly. The reason behind the extreme level of wear resistance is because of the high amount of hardness and presence of a high percentage of chromium.
  • Extreme Edge Retention: M390 steel has a great capability of edge retention. That is because of the presence of vanadium along with high amounts of fine carbides. An EDC knife made out of M390 can withhold sharpness for a long period while tackling heavy duty and will not require frequent sharpening.
  • High Corrosion Resistance: For high corrosion resistance in M390, the presence of a high percentage of carbon and chromium is responsible. The presence of elements like molybdenum boosts corrosion resistance even more. You can use an M390 knife in a humid and saltwater environment easily without worrying about rust.
  • Ease of Sharpening: M390 is difficult to sharpen with cheap sharpeners because of the high hardness level. But with good quality sharpeners that are of the right type the steel can be given the perfect sharp edge. You will need a diamond or ceramic sharpening stones for M390 knives.


Comparison With Other Knife Steel Options: 

M390 vs D2

Both of them are tool steels but have a good number of differences. D2 is not completely stainless which makes it weaker at corrosion resistance making M390 win over. Furthermore, M390 wins over D2 in terms of edge retention and wear resistance because of the higher hardness level. But D2 is easier to sharpen compared to M390.


M390 vs S30V

S30V is high-end steel which is also the product of Crucible. Yet, S30V gets defeated in front of M390 when the matter is about edge retention, toughness level and wear resistance.


M390 vs S90V

S90V is another steel from Crucible which is also high-end with greater capacity of edge retention and wear resistance compared to M390. But, M390 does defeat S90V in terms of corrosion resistance, ease of sharpening and toughness level.


M390 vs S35VN

Both of the steels deliver similar performance in terms of corrosion resistance and edge retention. But it is more difficult to sharpen the M390 compared to the S35VN.


M390 vs S110V

Both of the steels are manufactured using the same PM process yet there are some differences. S110V steel shows better performance in edge retention but gets defeated by M390 when the matter is about corrosion resistance and toughness level.


M390 vs 20CV

Both of the steels have the same chemical composition which results in the steels performing in the same way in all parameters.


M390 vs CTS 204P

CTS 204P was designed by the US brand called Carpenter with the same chemical composition as the M390. This defines why the steel has the same performance level in all parameters.


M390 vs 154CM

M390 steel outweighs 154 CM in terms of corrosion resistance, edge retention and toughness level. However, when it is about ease of sharpening 154CM wins.


M390 vs Elmax

Elmax and M390 have a close chemical composition making them perform similarly in terms of resisting corrosion and wear. Both the chemical composition consists of chromium, molybdenum and vanadium. But, M390 is slightly better at corrosion resistance.


So, is M390 Steel Good?

Yes, M390 is well-known steel that has made a popular place in the book of preferred steel of knife makers. The performance of the steel makes it desirable for the manufacturing of high-end knives as the steel has all the features a knife maker requires.


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