If you are a frequent knife user, you want one that can be sharpened easily. Of course, sharpening ease and edge retention are at opposite ends of the knife-use spectrum. In this new millennium, it would seem that we’ve turned the corner away from easy sharpening to enhanced edge holding. Consequently, most of the new so-called “premium” or “exotic” blade steels offer high Rockwell test values and correspondingly enhanced edge holding. Given the choice of constant edge maintenance at regular intervals, or an edge that can complete an assignment without sharpening, I’ll take the latter any time.
Not long ago, I shot a bull elk just before nightfall. There was no time left in the day to return to camp for help. With daylight fading, a serious field dressing assignment lay ahead. The elk had to be eviscerated quickly and thoroughly. Fortunately, my choice of a hunting knife was fully able to handle the work without any need for sharpening. As well it should have been. Field dressing in the dark, even with the assistance of a hand-held light source isn’t any fun. Worst of all, it’s a sure road to an accidental laceration.
Steel That Takes A Beating
Given the fact that edge retention has shown itself to be a paramount player in the knife arena, I am always interested in new steels that offer that component. One of the newest wear-resistant blade steels is DuraTech 20CV from Latrobe. This alloy was developed using powder metallurgy to produce a highly wear-resistant stainless tool steel. This is accomplished by the addition of a large volume of extremely hard vanadium carbides to the steel formulation. When you combine the cleanliness of powder metallurgy microstructure with fine grain size, small carbides and a strong vanadium component,
the result is a superior blade steel that can be hardened to Rc 60 with outstanding impact toughness.
Of course, any steel is an alloy whose performance at a specific task depends entirely on its overall matrix. The formulation of DuraTech 20CV offers insight into its wear resistance qualities. The material component’s properties are: carbon (1.9%), chromium (20%), manganese (.3%), molybdenum (1%), silicon (.3%), tungsten (.6%) and vanadium (4%).
To be sure, the chromium content of this formulation is one of the highest of any high-vanadium stainless blade steel currently in use. The addition of such a high level of chromium to the steel provides superior corrosion resistance, even under demanding conditions. Not cleaning your knife blade after use is just such a “demanding condition.” Deer, antelope and elk blood, left to dry on a knife blade, can easily stain and mar many stainless steels. For this reason alone, a DuraTech 20CV blade would work well for use as an edged hunting tool.
Of course, it’s the vanadium content of the steel that provides the high wear resistance. When compared to other stainless blade steels, such as 440C, ATS-34 and 154CM where the vanadium component is absent, DuraTech 20CV offers far superior edge retention. Additionally, tests conducted by Latrobe have shown that this steel is 35% better at edge retention than S30V, which is saying a lot about the performance capability of DuraTech 20CV.
SOG’s Team Leader
While the use of this new steel isn’t widespread as of yet, at least one manufacturer has incorporated it into their knife line. The folks at SOG are producing a version of their Team Leader tactical fixed-blade from DuraTech 20CV. This knife features a full-tang DuraTech 20CV blade with Zytel handle scales. Obviously, when SOG put this particular knife together, the use of a highly wear-resistant blade steel factored into the design equation. And DuraTech 20CV was right there to fulfill that function.
Hopefully, other manufacturers will include this new blade steel into selected knives in their product lines. I, for one, am particularly interested in seeing a hunting design that features a DuraTech 20CV blade. The idea of having a knife that can be counted on to handle field dressing and skinning without the need for constant edge maintenance is one that certainly strikes my fancy.