420HC - Thoughts?

Discussion in 'Traditional Folders and Fixed Blades' started by okbohn, Aug 25, 2014.

  1. knarfeng

    knarfeng senex morosus moderator Staff Member Super Mod Moderator

    Jul 30, 2006
    Several members have emailed Case and asked the question. The answers Case gave have uniformly said that Tru-Sharp is 420HC. You could email Case yourself and see what they say.

    That being said, since "420HC" is not a designation set by any official organization, the composition is free to vary. And judging by several Tech Data Sheets for "420HC" from different companies, the composition does vary.
  2. knarfeng

    knarfeng senex morosus moderator Staff Member Super Mod Moderator

    Jul 30, 2006
    Think of it this way. A steel alloy which does not have carbides is like cement, whereas an alloy with carbides is like concrete. The concrete has rocks in it. The rocks are harder than the cement and have better wear resistance.

    But as the concrete wears, the rocks are exposed and the surface is not smooth. Not what one would want for a fine edge. In My Opinion, this is what Sandvik means by "edge stability". A carbide free steel (cement) will retain a smooth fine edge longer than a carbide containing steel. On the other hand, the carbide containing steel will keep cutting with that rougher edge far longer than the carbide free steel.

    I'm not certain that "micro chipping" enters into it, but again, that's my opinion. You'd have to have coupons at the same hardness run exposures, then take photomicrographs.
  3. Cory Hess

    Cory Hess

    Jul 1, 2014
    Thank you for that explanation, Frank. I've seen that analogy before, but for whatever reason it actually made sense to me this time.
  4. 440C is assumed to have large chromium carbides, but I think that gets confused with 'grain size', which affects the basic matrix (iron + carbon) of the steel. In other words, the 'grain size' of 440C could be as fine as 420HC, but with the addition of large carbides, supported in the finer grain of the steel matrix. The finer the grain in 440C, the less tendency there'd be for the steel to fracture, and also for the carbides themselves to tear out. This is how I understand it, anyway. I think something like micro-chipping is due more to the hardness of the steel (matrix), and maybe secondarily related to grain size. Both of those things are a direct result of the heat treat, and not necessarily the steel type itself. Some versions of 440C at lower hardness than Buck's old blades, for example, are very ductile and 'gummy', just like lower-hardness examples of 440A or 420HC, and I'd assume with no significantly greater tendency for chipping or fracturing. I've noticed this in some of Boker's blades marked as 440C, which seemed as 'soft' or ductile as something like a SAK's blades from Victorinox.

  5. ak585479


    Jun 9, 2014
    For those that say there's no such thing as a "low end steel" I take it you say that because different steels are good in different areas. Well what if there are other steels that beat 420HC in EVERY area (corrosion resistance, wear resistance, toughness, ease of sharpening, etc.) Then wouldn't that make it a "low end steel"? Granted there aren't many steels that beat it in ease of sharpening even if they blow it out of the water in every other area. Now I'm a huge fan of Buck and own a lot of 420HC so I know how they perform and I would say a steel like sandvik 14c28n outperforms them in every category including ease of sharpening, same with VG-10 (Spyderco's VG-10 at least), AUS-8 and 8Cr13Mov are probably close or equal in most areas, then you have something like Elmax, which I personally have never used, but hear it's not hard at all to sharpen, and it blows 420HC out of the water in every other category so with all that said, wouldn't that make 420HC a "lower end steel"?

    And like I said, before you start bashing me, I love Buck's 420HC and those are the only experience I have with that steel. From what I hear though Buck is better than any other 420HC due to their heat treatment.
  6. tiguy7

    tiguy7 Gold Member Gold Member

    Jun 25, 2008
    George Young made traditional folders using Stellite 6-K. I don't recall if one of the patterns was a stockman.
  7. pinnah


    Jul 28, 2011
    David, very helpful post. thanks.
  8. davek14


    May 30, 2009
    Dave is the dood.

    So, now that all the experts are here. Why do I find it impossible to get a fine edge which will last on Rough Rider 440A? It takes me a while to get a fine edge and it does not last long at all. I have to put a more obtuse secondary angle on it to make it do-able.

    Camillus seems much better in this regard and they are supposed to be 440A as well. Opinel, Buck, Schrade (USA), Case... all much better.
  9. That sounds like a lower RC hardness issue (heat treat differences, in other words). Camillus was better with 440A; I have an older Cami-made Buck 307 in 440A, and like it. And Schrade USA I think also did it pretty good, maybe excellently (think it's referenced in the Schrade chart I posted earlier).

  10. midnight flyer

    midnight flyer Basic Member Basic Member

    Jan 12, 2009
    He is!

    Not an expert, but a long time user of 440A (even when I didn't know I was using it!) with a great deal of experience with 440A and its cousins. I also have a few knives from made in the same area as the RR traditionals. Maybe it is possible that your heat treat was off, or you just haven't found the right sharpening/grind/bevel to get the most out of your particular knife pattern.

    I have been very surprised at the edge holding ability of the 440A used on my Remington badged knives as well as a couple of Bokers and find it to perform as well or better than as any of the steels I have on my favorite traditional patterns.

  11. herisson

    herisson Apple slicing rocking chair dweller Platinum Member

    Mar 11, 2013
    A very interesting thread, indeed. I learn a lot here and thank you all for sharing your knowledge. I understand a well made heat treatment will make a heck of a difference whatever the basic steel is. We used to make insanely sharp (with almost everlasting edges) blades out of rejected hacksaw blades. The point was to NOT blue the blade while shaping it with the bench grinder. Then the smart guys would "heat treat" it with a blow torch and dipping it in waste oil. Good for them, but I preferred to rely on cold water. One of these blades may still be lying around somewhere in the garage. Rust never sleeps but I believe this edge would still slice paper cleanly.
  12. brownshoe

    brownshoe I support this site with my MIND

    Sep 6, 2002
    "You could email Case yourself and see what they say." True, but then I am not claiming it's 420HC. I've read a lot of posts making that claim, but nobody ever coughed up an e-mail :) My company has business secrets, and if I was Case (or Busse) I wouldn't tell.
  13. Not such a secret, really.

    Per someone who went to the great exhaustive effort to send an email to Case, getting a reply from a named Case employee (and this was 6+ years ago, BTW):
    Others have even gone so far as to pick up a telephone and call them (3-1/2 years ago):
    A.G. Russell has also occasionally identified Case's Tru-Sharp as 420HC in his catalogs, and I suspect his sources are pretty good.

    As mentioned, sometimes all you gotta do is contact them and ask. Would seem easy enough to send an email, when one is already sitting at a keyboard and demanding the same from others.

  14. brownshoe

    brownshoe I support this site with my MIND

    Sep 6, 2002
    The e-mail source is a banned member. The other source is "the lady in repair" on the phone. The Agrussell catalog has been wrong in the past. He gives hardness values for some knives that the manufacturers do not provide the info. I am familiar with those sources of info already.

    I have no need call or e-mail case, since i accept tru-sharp as a useful steel w/o the need of some more common name. Again, why have a proprietary steel and tradition behind the steel, but reveal the steel is common and inexpensive? Not good business.

    Plus as Knarfneg says, 420hc is not a standardized steel, so it's a moot point.
    Last edited: Sep 12, 2014
  15. Bumping this thread with some info below, for the sake of any remaining doubters...

    Today, I was leafing through a recent quarterly copy of 'The Case Collector' (a.k.a. 'The Official Publication of the Case Collectors Club'). It came to me in the mail a few weeks ago (maybe longer), along with their recent product guide, and I'd not really looked closely at it until today. Happened to notice in the 'Test Your Case Knowledge' section inside the back cover, a quiz question regarding Case's 'most common type of stainless steel' used in making their blades. As confirmed in the answer key shown in the 4th pic, the correct answer to the question (#2) is, in fact, selection 'C', ('420 HC Tru-Sharp Surgical Steel').




    Last edited: Jun 13, 2019
  16. Jack Black

    Jack Black Gold Member Gold Member

    Dec 2, 2005
    Well spotted David :thumbup:
  17. I've been receiving those mailings since the early- or mid-90s at least. I shook my head when noticing this today, and reminded myself I really need to take some time to look at them more often, and more thoroughly. Mostly promotional stuff for new products & such; but there are actually some good tidbits of information in there, from time to time. Kinda have to sift through it to find them... :)

  18. kidcoyote


    Jun 7, 2010
    and to think I read this whole thread and my head is spinning with opinion, more knowledge on steels, and whatever else. maybe I can sleep easier since you all wore me out!
  19. knarfeng

    knarfeng senex morosus moderator Staff Member Super Mod Moderator

    Jul 30, 2006
    If you mentally review alloy elemental compositions as you lay in bed, it'll work better than counting sheep.:D
  20. Bigfattyt

    Bigfattyt Gold Member Gold Member

    Jun 23, 2007
    I have to say, for me it is a purchase decision killer.

    Put two knives in front of me, and make them identical except the steel, and I am going to choose the better steel.

    I won't knowingly purchase one in 420HC.

    440C ? Sure, I'd love to try out some with known, quality heat treat. I have an old custom that is, likely, but have never used or sharpened it, because it is irreplaceable to me. I like S&M's ATS34 fine. D2? Excellent. 154CM or CPM 154 I am very satisfied with.

    I realize that 1095 is not high end steel, but it has its own endearing qualities that keep me coming back. Most of my traditional are this steel from GEC.

    I even like Opinel's carbon steel. Softer than GEC's 1095 by a bit in my experience, but still easy to sharpen very sharp, and easy to maintain. But again the price is nearly free!

    That said, I am testing out some Buck knives which I am sure are 420HC. I think in the Buck price range, and with the consistent Heat treat they have the reputation for, it will probably serve me just as well as 1095.

    I have an AG Russell large sod buster in stainless, but I honestly don't know how it compares to 420HC. I am satisfied with it so far, but again, it is in a different price category.

    I find my self pleased with the edge I can get on Opinel's INOX steel, as well as its edge holding. Again, it's in a completely different price class, though.

    I guess I am kind of a steel snob. Kind of, just a little bit.
    Last edited: Oct 8, 2014

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