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Production M390 - Expectation vs Reality?

Discussion in 'General Knife Discussion' started by Cosmodragoon, Jun 11, 2019.

  1. DeadboxHero

    DeadboxHero Triple B Handmade Knives, Big Brown Bear

    Mar 22, 2014
    Thanks @jcoolG19 for all the decades of experience hardness testing and recently all the rockwell hardness testing on all these knives.

    I appreciate the genuine effort you take to test these different blades, I appreciate all the free work you have done for the community.

    I remember in the past here on the forums there would be endless speculation about how hard some of these steels are and now we can just see it on the spreadsheet and even send them in to you to get tested.

    2019 is a good year to be a knife fanatic
    cwsmith17, BITEME, steff27 and 9 others like this.
  2. DeadboxHero

    DeadboxHero Triple B Handmade Knives, Big Brown Bear

    Mar 22, 2014
    1 point, not quite but several can make a difference.
    Mo2, jcoolG19 and Banter 247 like this.
  3. shqxk


    Mar 26, 2012
    Most steel generally considered "super" these day are invented like 20 years ago.
    cwsmith17 likes this.
  4. cistercian


    Apr 22, 2015
    I have quite a few blades in M390...so this thread is very interesting to me.
    On the subject of heat treats...For years I carried a 530 in 154CM and then
    a 531 in S30V. Both tended to hold an edge poorly and also were chippy...
    the worst of both worlds. My Pal who carries smaller Spyderco blades (para 3)
    said he loved S30V...I told him I hated it! Based on his very different experience
    I bought a Spyderco Lil Native to try for EDC. Now I love S30V! It is easy to make
    hair popping sharp and it keeps a working edge a long time. It helps a ton
    that the grind on the knife was perfect on delivery too. Spyderco does S30V
    so much better than Benchmade it is ridiculous...it is like a completely different
    steel. I don't use my Para 2's at work since they raise eyebrows where I live.
    The Lil Native is so small it is no problem. 2 of my Para 2's are S30V and one
    is M390. I carry it (M390 Par2) while not at work but it sees little cutting...it is still on the factory
    edge. I also have knives in K390 and M4 from Spyderco. I am confident both
    will work as advertised if I use them heavily!

    Thank you for the testing. I agree running a exotic steel soft is ridiculous...
    and a rip off. You don't exactly get what you pay for. Running it soft makes
    for lower production cost I bet. Not cool.
    jcoolG19 likes this.
  5. DeadboxHero

    DeadboxHero Triple B Handmade Knives, Big Brown Bear

    Mar 22, 2014
    That's another interesting topic. I feel the knife industry as a whole has improved the S30V from when it was first launched back in 2004-5. Not only has Crucible gotten better at making it. @nsm has gotten better at processing and rolling it out and knife companies as a whole have gotten better at heat treating it. Everyone has gotten better at it over time.

    I feel it's more complex than Benchmade vs Spyderco HT wars as well.

    A lot of the Performance seen honestly comes down to how the knife was sharpened.
    (Which is why it's so crucial not to judge a steel by it's factory edge)

    1.Angles- lower cuts better and longer, wider angles are more durable but cutting performance drops, the user use will show improvement with one ot the other. Preference is king here too.

    2. finish, polish is technically sharper but is for push cutting, displacement, cleaving. Toothy/rough will make the knife cut more aggressively when drawed lightly in a slicing motion. Some will see more improvement with one finish or another, again user use and preference is king.

    And most importantly abrasive type, especially with these fancy Vanadium rich steels.

    Now as a whole, I feel some contribution to the increased performance in the past 15 years in the knife community is the increased prominence of sharpening knowledge thanks to social media and increased availability and proliferation diamond/CBN stones. I feel diamond/CBN abrasives show improvement to performance when steels have + 3% Vanadium as do others for shaping the apex better for crisper, healthier edges with less fatigue and less prone to failure. Its not that Ceramic doesn't work, it's that "best practice" is to use the appropriate abrasive for the highest performance, yet doesn't replace knowledge and skill for how to sharpen. I see bonded stones that are trickling out on the market which is nice because they don't create as rough as a finish as coated stones and can promote better push cutting performance to meet a wider range of preference thanks to the smoother bevel finish. I find the bonded stones have more longevity as well, less abrasive tear out from the coated surface.

    It's been interesting to see these improvements over the years.

    In the future I'd like to see more. It will be interesting to see the industry switch gears to another steel yet to be devolped that by design has more strength to support thinner geometry with all the wear resistance, stainless features and stability goodies we want.
    It's Geometry that cuts after all.

    Eli Chaps, Mo2, jcoolG19 and 2 others like this.
  6. jcoolG19


    Dec 16, 2018
    Thanks! It has been a pleasure...usually! LOL
    I started visiting the forums just to answer any questions people might have. What I discovered is pretty strange to me.
  7. DeadboxHero

    DeadboxHero Triple B Handmade Knives, Big Brown Bear

    Mar 22, 2014
    These folks mean well in there own ways. I think the worry is that newer folks reading here will get wayyy to focused on pure HRC as a sign of quality.

    The HRC is a component, yes but not the end all be all.

    We clearly don't want under 60rc for premium products.

    But there is no need for an HRC race. +/- HRC is not what makes the best HT, it's the underlying microstructure.

    That doesn't mean that 58 HRC with will smoke with good microstructure. That is still too soft. Yet if choosing between 63 rc that is stable versus 64rc that was just blasted to get to that hardness. The higher value isn't as good.

    It's a complex topics that we might not be able to discuss in forums since everything here has to be so black and white rather than a being able to discuss the gray areas of reality. So most of us that understand keep in the dark and watch, I personally don't always have the time to share and risk endless arguments because I'm putting this knowledge to work but I like to give back to the community.

    The important caveat to HRC is that we want the most stable structures at the highest HRC we can get.

    Unfortunately that is not always doable with large batch HT. One can't ask for Kobe beef steak dinner done with any justice from a fast food drive through. We also have the issue that a huge assembly lines are not as flexible to adjustments like an experienced and knowledgable custom maker can do as he/she sees fit with new information and testing.

    Personally, I feel somethings are just done best with small batches, handmade, more attention to detail per knife but the cost skyrockets so it's not for everyone and perhaps only relavent to discerning folks so maybe it doesn't make sense to scream at production companies to emulate. Maybe it does. No answer for that.

    These manufacturers also have the problem of having a much larger audience to provide for with a much wider range of varying experience levels and expections to meet.

    Most users don't get into the finer details, all they care about is if it chips regardless of how ridiculous they were using it.

    This puts a huge burden on manufacturers,
    They are limited to the lowest common denominator, bad knife users which no one wants to hear but it's true.

    So the conclusion here is

    It's easy to blast the steel as high as possible for the sake of HRC but that is useless without being in the context of using pathways with custom HT protocols.
    (The best knife protocols are not always in the data sheets which are biased towards industrial parts not knives)
    We want stable microstructures at that given hardness but that doesn't justify under 60rc for a small cutting knife, especially for premium steel advertised for performance.

    At the same time, soft M390 will still be more wear resistant (toothy edge performance) than 12c26 due to the Carbides, there volume, size and Hardness. The problem is though it won't have the strength to hold a nice crisp apex for those that like high sharpeness performance (polished edge performance) because it lacks the strength to do so and is for fear of being more brittle in the hands of those that use like a crowbar or for being too difficult to sharpen which isn't the case with sound techniques and decent gear. It's quite a paradox though because you can't temper m390 to be as tough as 3V due to the carbide volume reducing the toughness so I feel it makes no one happy.

    M390 is the most premier steel in the whole knife industry as of 2019. It is the most demanded and popular. The name alone sells knives.

    I find that silly with what I know. There are simply better performance steels. I have teased this "name chaser" behavior because it needs to be addressed so folks can actually understand when a steel is actually kicking butt and not just a "name"

    M390 is very capable but so are a lot of other steels.

    The beauty of being a custom knife maker one can fine tune HT, Geometry and is not always a slave to keeping cost low and volume high, quotas and profit margins, or watering down the cutting performance for pure durability which is an inverse relationship.

    It's mind blowing that one can get even a simple steel to smoke a high performance steel with geometry and HT if the user can handle it and afford it.

    Of course we can't HT 52100 to be as wear resistant as M390. We are indeed limited to what the underlying Chemistries of the steels are after all.

    Last edited: Jun 13, 2019
    steff27, J D Wijbenga, Pomsbz and 9 others like this.
  8. Cosmodragoon


    Jan 1, 2019
    Some people out there will use knives for improper tasks like prying. Some people either don't know how to sharpen or won't bother sharpening. (They either have someone else sharpen it or they use it until it's a butter knife and just buy a new one.) It really bothers me that knife makers would compromise quality to adjust for that, especially with more "premium" lines.

    That said, I'm a "budget" guy. I've come close a few times but I've never spent over $100 on a pocket knife. A big part of that is because I never want to think twice about using my knife for a given task, getting wear and tear, or (heaven forbid) loss or confiscation. So I get very excited about great budget knives. At the same time, I try to taper my expectations to the realities involved.

    In this case, I got excited when Kershaw did their Dividend in M390. I liked the design of the original Dividend, which seemed to be a favorable improvement over the Leek I carried a decade or so ago. What kept me from buying the original Dividend is that I didn't care for 420 HC at the price they were asking. I wondered why they didn't use 14C28N but quickly forgot about it. Then I saw it in M390. I looked up the steel and it looked great on paper. I didn't expect it to be the best possible rendition of M390 but I still expected it to be awesome. It seems like that expectation was wrong, but I'm still trying to gauge "how wrong". I asked earlier how much different M390 at 59 HRC would be from 14C28N or VG-10 at similar hardness. The best answer so far seems to be that 12C27 would be superior at 59 HRC. :(
  9. Mo2


    Apr 8, 2016
    If a manufacturer can't heat treat a superior steel to supersed its base s30v then just don't use that steel. They doing it cause it's popular because of the name.
    357snubnose and tomhosang like this.
  10. tony281sc2


    Feb 13, 2017
    This is exactly why I recently stopped caring if a knife I was buying was m390, s30/35, or 154 etc. between the hrc levels and the geometry, it’s hard to notice a difference at all in real life. Rope-cut testing is one thing, but I’ve had some S35VN and Elmax blades hold an edge FOREVER. Good nuff for me
    marchone likes this.
  11. Mo2


    Apr 8, 2016
    jcoolG19 and coinbuysell like this.
  12. Fixall

    Fixall Gold Member Gold Member

    Mar 26, 2018
    Source? And if you link some two hour video with no time stamp from some YouTube contrarian who does nothing but go against the grain in every scenario... I'll tell you right now that I'm not going to waste my time.

    Not that you've done that here... But others seem to be doing it a lot. Like when @Mo2 said:

    Without providing a source. And then when you look at the LTK spreadsheet... It shows that Spyderco M390 has been tested at; 59.6, 62, and 59.2.
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2019
    cwsmith17 likes this.
  13. Mo2


    Apr 8, 2016
    Stop crying over a single point. And the actual facts I was talking about went out the window cause you were too fixated on the one digit off.
  14. Fixall

    Fixall Gold Member Gold Member

    Mar 26, 2018
    That's what happens when you post false info and don't even bother with a redaction or edit. People stop taking you and your facts seriously.

    Sorry if I'm a little ornery today. I just had another shoulder surgery 24 hours ago and the pharmacy is late filling my pain med prescription, lol.
  15. Mo2


    Apr 8, 2016
    The info was true... Across the board 58hrc is the average m390. That was the point I was trying to make. I was off a digit but the fact still remains that its performance was subpar to s30v when its ht at 60hrc or below. The 62 hrc which was added later I got from Kurt to confirm the details with him. It really doesn't matter that they were 59.x the numbers matter less than the point I was trying to make is that m390 is too low.

    If manufacturers can't heat treat it properly they shouldn't be using it or step it up and do it properly and charge accordingly for it.

    Sorry to hear your issue. I've been through a few myself. I know how it is.
    Fixall and 357snubnose like this.
  16. Fixall

    Fixall Gold Member Gold Member

    Mar 26, 2018
    If you would have just said that "m390 in smaller production knives is usually 58hrc" rather than specifically saying "m390 in Spyderco's smaller knives is usually 58hrc", I wouldn't have a problem with it. Of the Spyderco m390 tests that we know of, it averages 60.3. If you just want to average the two smaller Spyderco's, it averages 59.4. While I would like to see that closer to 61, I really feel that of all the companies that produce knives at high volumes, Spyderco (and a couple of other companies) try really hard to ensure they have a quality heat treat that highlights the qualities of the steel they are using.

    I completely agree with the point you were making overall though.

    My wife is home with the Oxycodone and Promethazine so I should be my chipper self again in no time, lol.
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2019
    Mo2 likes this.
  17. marchone

    marchone Gold Member Gold Member

    Mar 13, 2013
    Best comment in this thread.
    Banter 247 likes this.
  18. cistercian


    Apr 22, 2015
    Interesting. I am really starting to love full flat
    Sorry I messed up the quoting.
    I don't think anyone is going to think HRC is the most important thing about M390.
    They probably already know it is a 3rd gen PM steel that has a beautiful fine carbide
    distribution and that it is highly stainless. Anyone can google the manufacturer and learn
    all about it. Properly prepared, it has a very desirable mix of attributes. I prize stainless
    blades...and blades with higher than normal edge holding. The ability to take a high polish
    is attractive to me too!
    But if the heat treat is soft...one of the most desirable attributes goes away.
    And I don't like that at all! Apparently, M390 is very difficult to heat treat spot on.
    If they need to greatly increase the price to do it properly...I am ok with that.
    I also demand proper grinds, good fit and finish, good handle material, a strong
    reliable lock, cool handling features, etc. I am picky.
    Just using M390 and charging a premium while FAILING the heat treat sucks...to me.
    I judge such actions harshly...because I am a tradesman and I am proud of the work I do.
    I admit I cannot comprehend selling something that fails as hard as a very poorly made
    product...that could have been better. I understand production...and selling something
    that is not well made, or has a glaring error, is sad to me.

    It also pisses me off and makes me want to wave my cane at them!!!
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2019
  19. rctic


    Nov 22, 2015
    When I first read this thread I was shocked at how poorly m390 did. I have a Bradford G3 m390 and it holds an edge far longer than most of my knives. I was batoning fat wood with it a few weeks back and thought for sure it would be dull but it was still slicing paper when I got home. Mind you this is the only example I own of m390 but I am very impressed with the steal. The majority of my knives are s30v which to me is a decent steal but for edge retention the m390 is superior.

    Thanks for sharing OP, will have to be cautious moving forward.
    Alsharif and Cosmodragoon like this.
  20. Mo2


    Apr 8, 2016
    Iirc Peter's heat treats them to 60-61 and he's generally pretty good with his batch heat treatment. Of course there are always a few issues now and then, that goes with every thing in any industry.

    There are a few interviews with Peter's ht on YouTube if you want to familiarize yourself with the facility and there capabilities.

    I'd like to see a few knives tested that were from that facility in general. Strider, Bradford, a whole lot of customs, etc go through those doors for ht and they have many methods of ht to there disposal.
    rctic likes this.

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