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M390 vs S30v: How Do They Differ & What’s Best for You?

M390 vs S30v
Written by Marc Niad

The M390 and the S30V both are widely used across the globe to make high-end knives. Both of them offer similar performance in toughness and wear resistance.

The M390 has an edge over the hardness and edge retention whereas the S30V excels in grindability and affordability.

M390 – A quick look

M390 is a category/grade of super steel manufactured by Bohler-Uddeholm, an international steel manufacturer that follows the third-generation powder metallurgy (PM) technology. The steel is mainly used to create high-end knives.

M390 - A quick look

The high concentration of Chromium and Vanadium in the M390 creates a superfine grain structure on the steel that gives the blade outstanding durability, superb wear/corrosion resistance, and amazing aesthetics.

The M390 is technically a tool steel widely used in making barrels, screws, and injection molding parts. However, the steel can achieve a cool mirror finish and that’s why they’re mostly used in small knives.

S30V – A quick look

The lead developer of the S20V, and the owner of Chris Reeve Knives together invented a formula to outperform the BG42. The result is a heavy-duty super steel named S30V. It is a premium, martensitic stainless steel manufactured by the US Crucible Industries.

The S30V is a part of the SxxV super steel family and was designed to deliver a perfect combo of toughness and corrosion/wear resistance. As a result, this premium-grade steel is widely known among knife enthusiasts and manufacturers.

S30V - A quick look

The CPM-S30V uses a wide range of alloy materials to deliver impeccable edge retention, toughness, and durability. This steel is used in making kitchen cutlery, pocket knives, scout knives, and custom knives.

M390 Vs S30V: How they differ

1. Composition

M390

The M390 uses Carbon, Chromium, Molybdenum, and Vanadium as its core alloy materials. The Carbon provides tensile strength, the Chromium increases wear resistance and the Vanadium introduces toughness.

This unique formula produces a steel that is perfect for long-term use. However, it also makes this blade tougher to grind or sharpen. Let’s have a closer look at the material composition of the M390:

Alloying Element  Percentage (%) Effect
Chromium (Cr) 20.00 Improves tensile strength, edge retention, and corrosion/wear resistance
Vanadium (V) 4.00 Upgrades wear resistance and hardenability
Carbon (C) 1.90 Increases hardness and wear/corrosion resistance
Molybdenum (Mo) 1.00 Improves machinability and strength
Silicon (S) 0.70 Increases strength
Tungsten (W) 0.60 Develops wear resistance and hardness
Manganese (Mn) 0.30 Introduces tensile strength, hardenability, and wear resistance

S30V

The CPM S30V uses a wider range of alloy materials to achieve the perfect hardness, edge retention, and durability that your knife blade requires. The core alloy here is the same as the M390.

However, different concentrations of alloy materials and the forging process set the two steels apart. The S30V has the edge over the M390 in grindability and toughness, performs similarly in terms of corrosion resistance, and falls behind in edge retention.

Here is the material composition of the S30V super steel:

Alloying Element  Percentage (%) Effect
Chromium (Cr) 14.00 Improves tensile strength, edge retention, and corrosion/wear resistance
Vanadium (V) 4.00 Upgrades wear resistance and hardenability
Molybdenum (Mo) 2.00 Improves machinability and strength
Carbon (C) 1.45 Increases hardness and wear/corrosion resistance
Silicon (S) 0.50
Manganese (Mn) 0.50 Introduces tensile strength, hardenability, and wear resistance
Tungsten (W) 0.40 Develops wear resistance and hardness
Nitrogen (N) 0.20 Increases corrosion and wear resistance
Sulfur (S) 0.030 Increases strength
Phosphorous (P) 0.030 Improves strength

2. Hardness

M390

With a Rockwell hardness score of 60 – 62 HRC, the M390 is harder than the S30V. This additional hardness helps the steel to perform magnificently in terms of toughness, edge retention, and wear resistance.

However, this steel is too hard for its own good. The elevated hardness of the steel also makes it harder to grind.

Hardness of M390 & S30V

S30V

The S30V is softer than the M390. With a Rockwell hardness score of 59 – 61 HRC, the S30V is harder than most other steels in the market; but falls behind the M390. As a result, the S30V steel blades are easier to sharpen and offer premium quality service for a long time.

The S30V is one of the perfect steels to make knife blades whereas the harder M390 is better at tools.

3. Wear resistance

M390

The manufacturer, Bohler has given the M390 a 5/5 rating on wear resistance, and that’s not too far-fetched. The high concentration of Chromium leads to the formation of Chromium carbides which strengthens the steel. That’s why the steel is extremely wear-resistant.

The M390 has a slight advantage over the S30V steel in wear resistance.

Wear resistance of M390 vs S30V

S30V

The CPM S30V also performs similarly to the M390 in terms of wear resistance. The higher amount of Chromium carbides gives the steel more strength than the standard ones. Normal wear and tear won’t even scratch your blade.

Additionally, the Nitrogen used in the process also provides unusual corrosion resistance advantages, but that’s not enough to outperform the super-tough M390.

4. Edge retention

M390

The M390 takes the crown here as well. Like any other super steel, the M390 is designed to be durable. However, the higher concentration of Vanadium provides this steel with a better sharpness retention capability than most other steels.

The edge retention also impacts the durability and longevity of your knife.

S30V

This might be true that the S30V has a slight disadvantage when it comes to edge retention, but the edge retention quality it produces isn’t negligible at all. When tempered properly, the steel is also capable of holding its edge and sharpness for a long time.

The S30V provides almost similar performance to the M390 and is a great choice for your knives.

5. Toughness

M390

The scenario is also similar here. With a slightly better toughness rating, the M390 has a minor advantage over the S30Vl. Both steels use Chromium, Vanadium, and Carbon to increase the overall toughness.

The unique composition allows the M390 to strike a perfect balance among high hardness, grindability, and corrosion resistance; all while being incredibly tough.

S30V

Even if the S30V didn’t pass the toughness test with flying colors, it still offers a decent amount of toughness. The S30V is also good at balancing high hardness, grindability, and corrosion resistance. However, with a slightly better toughness score, the M390 takes the lead.

6. Grindability

M390

All steels need to maintain a balance between their qualities. There is no “one size fits all” in terms of blade steel. This might be true that the M390 offers impeccable toughness, but the toughness will also make it harder for you to sharpen the blade.

Here the M390 loses its advantages as the S30V is comparatively easier to sharpen.

Grindability of M390 vs S30V

S30V

Anything with above 12% Chromium concentration is considered “stainless”. The S30V contains 20% Chromium which makes it extremely resistant to rust. Extended exposure to the elements, however, will make your blade corrode over time.

You just need to clean and dry the blade before storing it. That way, your blade will be rust-free for a long time.

8. Price

M390

Due to the extremely aesthetic mirror finish, the M390 blades are widely popular across the globe and they can be expensive. The price range starts at about $120 and goes all the way up to $5600.

That’s why M390 knives are known as supreme quality knives that look and cut great.

S30V

Despite being a part of the SxxV super steel family, the S30V is on the lower side of the price chart, which makes them incredibly popular among the people who are looking for a supreme quality blade within an affordable price range.

The price of most S30V knives ranges from $90 to $350, which is significantly lower than the M390.

M390 vs S30V: What’s best for you?

Both steels offer superior performance and extreme durability. With slightly better performance in toughness, hardness, and edge retention; the M390 balances the scale with lower grindability and high price.

On the other hand, the CPM S30V offers better grindability and versatility at a cheaper price. If you don’t care much about the aesthetic of your blade, or are concerned about the price, go for the affordable S30V.

M390 vs S30V - What’s best for you

In case the appearance is more important to you, you long for better performance, or you don’t have an issue with the premium price range, the M390 will be a better option. However, good luck sharpening the M390 blade.

FAQs

1. Is M390 considered good knife steel?

Ans: Yes, of course. The M390 is an excellent choice for knives as it offers extraordinary edge retention, impeccable wear resistance, superb toughness, and high corrosion resistance. The steel also can achieve a near-perfect mirror finish, which looks really cool.

About the author

Marc Niad

It’s been several years that Marc, a retired teacher and a proud dad, has silently been piling up mature bucks down the South. This humble hunter began his hunting journey at quite an early age and since then, he spent countless hours in the woods and learned good lessons in terms of woodsmanship. Along the way, he also made money sharing his skill with his followers and well-wishers.

The Ranger Expert is the brainchild of this veteran hunter who loves hunting the swamps and the hills around the Mississippi and Homochitto rivers. His most favorite hunting technique is taking his climbing gear and going to the top of pines with a 25.06 – the old-fashioned way!

He gets most of his games during late December through mid-January – his favorite hunting time. Marc strongly believes that hard work, passion, and a bit of luck can bring you success in the wild.

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