5160 Steel Review: Is It Good For Making Knives?

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If you’ve been doing your research on the best knife steels on the market today, you’ve probably stumbled on the 5160 steel recipe once or twice.

It’s one of the premier materials used for knives all around the world, and in this 5160 steel review, we’re going to take a close look at it.

We’ll be checking out the chemical composition and qualities of this steel, along with answering the question: is this a good knife steel?

Read on to learn more.

What Is 5160 Steel?

5160 steel is a low-end alloy that is high in carbon with a fair amount of chromium.

It is a very tough and hard material that is ideal for swords, knives, and automotive parts.

Its name represents the chemical composition of the material with the “1” standing for carbon, which is the main element featured in the alloy.

The “60”, on the other hand, represents the amount of carbon in the mix, which is 0.64%.

This material takes its original shape after bending, which is why it’s very popular as a knife or sword material.

Chemical Composition Of 5160 Steel

1. Carbon – 0.64%

As mentioned earlier, this alloy has a fair amount of carbon.

Carbon is known to make the material very hard, which is one of the main qualities of this steel.

It also improves wear and corrosion resistance, but it reduces the strength a bit because it’s so hard.

2. Manganese – 1.%

This is an element that makes 5160 a lot harder, but too much of it can cause it to turn brittle.

3. Chromium – 0.9%

Chromium is mainly used in steel for tensile strength, corrosion resistance, and edge retention.

This isn’t present too much in the 5160 recipes, but there is enough in there to make a small difference.

4. Silicon – 0.3%

Silicon helps improve the strength of the alloy.

5. Sulfur – 0.04%

One of the most important qualities of any alloy is its machinability, and sulfur makes the material more machinable

6. Phosphorous – 0.035%

Lastly, this mix has phosphorous in it to make it stronger and tougher.

Qualities Of 5160 Steel

1. Edge Retention

One of the best qualities of this affordable steel is its edge-retention.

It won’t have the same qualities as carbon steel, but it’s still a lot better than the materials you’ll find in this range.

This is mainly because of the amount of carbon in the alloy.

2. Hardness

The maximum hardness rating of 5160 is 60.

This is called the HRC or Rockwell Hardness of the material, and it will usually average out at around 57-58.

This isn’t the best out there, but it is very hard, which is one of the reasons this alloy has such great edge retention and is sought after by a lot of manufacturers.

3. Wear And Corrosion Resistance

As mentioned earlier, this material has a fair amount of carbon, chromium, and magnesium in the recipe.

This gives it great wear resistance so it won’t get damaged too easily when in use.

However, since it only has 0.9% chromium (which is a pretty low presence compared to other materials), it doesn’t resist corrosion that well.

So if you’ve been considering getting a tool with 5160 steel, make sure to take care of it properly so it doesn’t rust.

4. Machinability

This isn’t an ideal material for machining.

This is because it is very hard, which makes machining very tough to do.

However, if you want to machine this material, you’re going to have to have it annealed so you can get the job done quicker and easier.

On its own, it isn’t the best material for machining, but after annealing, you can easily reach maximum speeds and feeds.

5. Weldability

Because of its chemical composition, this material doesn’t have a lot of weldability.

So if you’ve been planning to weld this material, you might run into a couple of problems and some trouble.

6. Heat Treating

This material is usually hardened in hot oil.

For quenching, it’s recommended to use a temperature of 1525 F, and the ideal tempering temperature is around 800 F-1300 F.

The forging temperature of 5160 is around 2100 F-2200 F, which is very important to remember if you plan on using this material in your workshop.

7. Sharpness

Since it’s such a hard material, sharpening this alloy is a very tough task.

After all, the saying goes, “the harder the steel, the harder it is to sharpen”.

However, once you get the initial sharpening done, you won’t have to re-do it for some time because of the great edge retention that 5160 has.

Conclusion – Is This A Good Knife Steel?

Generally, 5160 is considered great knife steel.

This is because it is very hard and has great edge-retention, making it ideal for large knives and swords.

It’s also very tough with amazing wear-resistance.

However, the one downside to this material is it doesn’t have great corrosion resistance.

So if you buy a knife with this material or plan on using it in your workshop, make sure to remember to keep it clean, safe, and well-maintained to avoid rust issues.

But other than that, you’ll find that this is a very good material for knives and would serve you well for many years!

Last Updated on February 24, 2021 by Andy Wang

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My name is David Strong. I'm a knife expert and a US Marine veteran. I used to fight in Iraq, so I gained lots of combat experience there, especially when it comes to combat, tactical, and outdoor knives. And this blog is where I share my expertise with you alongside my friend Andy.