CPM S35VN Chef’s Knives

Our selection of current knives featuring CPM S35VN steel.

Introduction to CPM S35VN Steel

CPM S35VN is a modern, high-performance product developed by Crucible Steel in 2009 utilizing their CPM (Crucible Particle Metallurgy) process. CPMS35VN was released following 2001’s CPM S30V and is currently in production by Crucible Industries LLC. The particle metallurgy process is patented and critical to these alloying processes and provides high-quality carbide formation in comparison to competing products. S35VN can be considered a refinement of S30V, which has the distinction of being the first steel engineered specifically for the custom knife market.

The difference in composition between it and other, more commonly used cutlery steels is great – it contains enough chromium to be highly stainless in standard knife applications but contains rare earth elements for additional properties modification.  With 1.4 percent carbon – more than that of simple steels like 1095 at 0.95 percent – 14% chromium it is highly hardenable while the 2.00% molybdenum and 3.00% vanadium allow strong vanadium carbide formation putting it in a strong position of achieveable sharpness and edge retention.  Niobium at 0.5% rounds out the alloying elements, and along with the lack of intentionally added nitrogen, carbide ratios are somewhat changed versus its predecessor CPM S30V.

These changes make a slight reduction in edge holding while increasing machinability and ductility – the difference in composition between the two steel alloys leads to subtle application variances which are utilized by Apex Steel Works in the production of their high-quality S35VN kitchen knives and S30V hunting knives.

Other high quality steels such as Hitachi Blue and White as well as MagnaCut are excellent choices – those will be on the horizon as options for our professional cutlery.  At this point S35VN is Apex Steel Works standard option and each knife comes proudly labeled with Crucible’s designation for it on the blade.

CPM S35VN Steel vs other options

There is a lot of difference between high-quality, professional grade tool steels engineered for the professional knife industry and cheaper grades utilized for cost savings, primarily to make a “good enough” stainless product.  Those cheaper steels are mainly stain resistant first and tough secondly, not particularly good at edge holding and are more likely to bend or deform rather than break due to their low hardness and lack of carbide structure.

AUS-8, 1.4116, 440A, 420 and other often Chinese clones of those or even lesser alloyed steels are employed in cheap knives due to the economy of production – the lack of edge retention is simply a side effect of composition and oftentimes poor heat treatment practices.  There are also steels that occupy the middle ground of performance such as AEB-L which are leagues ahead of the grades used in the cheap imported knives as well – they perform at roughly double the edge retention and effective cutting ability.

At the higher echelon of performance are the professional grades which initially were developed for industrial die, tool, and cutter purposes.  Those produced by Latrobe, Crucible, Bohler and such are quality products used to make high value knives.  The Crucible CPM technology steels are excellent from that selection and Apex Steel Works selection of S35VN leads to another doubling of edge retention in use while remaining highly durable, extremely stainless and adding significant value to the product.

The expectation of edge durability of CPM S35VN is five to six times that of a cheap imported steel.

What is a Chef’s knife?

Kitchen knives in general are in a demanding environment.  Damage due to unintentional contact with other utensils and counters (and the floor!), abrasive cutting surfaces, bones, frozen foods, occasional off-label usage such as opening packaging, cardboard boxes, plastics, hurried work where an edge isn’t maintained – it’s a real job and requires tough steels and cutlery engineered for the purpose.

A professional chef’s knife is even more specific – the edge must be maintained for safe, efficient operation for its primary task of food preparation.  A dull kitchen or chef’s knife is dangerous, and due to the nature of having to manipulate food items with one hand while using the knife in close proximity to the other, precision is a must.  Edge holding and durability are paramount in some settings while relative lack of corrosion resistance such as with high-carbon low alloy steels such as Hitachi White and tamahagane patina is appreciated as a sign of a well maintained and carefully used chef’s knife.

Chef’s knives take many forms from Western styled profiles with symmetrical grinds and sharpening many are familiar with, to single-sided Japanese variants, nakiri and gyuto, vegetable cleavers, paring and slicing knives amongst others.  All have their specific uses or generalities based on the intended purpose, but a quality knife will perform better and in a safer manner than a cheap one in all cases.

The ductility, and ultimate durability of the cutting edge are important in a culinary environment for professional chef’s knives and therefore Crucible’s CPM S35VN is an ideal choice.  It is highly stainless – as well as our 304 fittings and bolsters – as well as having excellent edge retention and resistance to chips and damage due to its toughness carefully engineered into its alloying materials and production methods.  A CPM S35VN chef’s knife is going to be a superior choice compared to other lower cost options which will pay dividends in pride, efficiency, and quality of the work.

Chef’s knives design and finer points of maintenance

A professional chef’s knife will have low-maintenance materials used in its construction – aside from blade patina as mentioned previously which is unavoidable with some steels, typically cheaper non-alloyed steels which are not “stainless” are insufficient due to their immediate outright corrosion in acidic moist culinary environments.  A 1095 knife left inadvertently overnight in the sink will heavily rust and be devalued while a martensitic high chromium tool steel is literally designed for such an environment.

Professional chef’s knives will be ground to a finer degree, often under 0.010 (ten one-thousandths) of an inch at the terminal edge before sharpening.  Such a fine edge is far more keen than cheaper mass-market cutlery and requires somewhat more care in use, but the trade-off of far more resilient and durable steels offsets this.  The knife must cut easily, retain its edge, resist damage and wear, and hold its value over time – using high-quality professional materials such as S35VN is one way to ensure all of these needs are met.

A professional CPM S35VN chef’s knife will require stainless fittings, typically grade 304 -this includes bolsters and any handle pins or fasteners.  Bolsters are critical for the stabilization of the junction between the blade and handle material, reinforcing it at the ricasso.  Without them there is flex in a kitchen knife’s longer, thinner section blade and invariably the handle material will begin to work free from the tang.  Elimination of bolsters is a cost-saving choice by manufacturers – historically all but the most expedient, low-value cutlery had fittings, and with very good reason.  A knife lacking them is not gaining in features, nor weight distribution or reduction, proper tang thickness and blade geometry is the proper method.  Focus on economy and lack of skill by the manufacturer is responsible for the rise of handle scales-only knives in recent years – they are simply easier to make.

The handle of a chef’s knife must be comfortable and designed for its application, be approachable for multiple cutting grips as needed, be durable and provide beauty to the owner for enjoyment in its use.  Stabilized woods along the lines of bog oak, Turkish walnut and other beautiful varieties are suitable for many occasions as well as natural selections such as desert ironwood which do not require stabilization.  Regardless of materials, natural or synthetic such as laminates like micarta or G10, professional chef’s knives should not be submerged for long periods or put into a dishwashing machine – they have mechanical parts and junctions, however fixed, and expansion due to heat is deterimental.

You get more value.

Professional chef’s knives, with blades made from CPM S35VN or not, are far more expensive to produce than lesser mass-market cutlery.  The blade steel alone can be four to five times the cost of cheap import stainless grades, and the inclusion of bolsters, mechanical Corby fasteners rather than simple rivets and high-quality handle materials add up.  Currently as of 2024 our total cost, abrasives and all, to produce a chef’s knife or S35VN Nakiri of similar length is roughly $100 – whereas a department store chef’s knife’s total retail cost can be as little as ten dollars with a production cost of around seventy cents.

S35VN is comparable in cost to CPM S30V and MagnaCut while being more accessible in usable size from the mills than Hitachi steel from Japan.  CPM S35VN has been chosen for our professional chef’s knives not for its economy, but for its strengths.

Our knives are entirely handmade with equipment dating back to the 1940s, constructed in a small shop in Montana in batches typically of less than ten at a time.  There is no “assembly” going on, no outside sourcing of semi-finished parts – they’re made one by one here in the United States.  You won’t find fit and finish comparable to ours with parts CNC cut and then screwed together to allow higher volume and higher profit margin.  Also, each blade is hardness tested individually rather than relying on a batch processing outside entity to verify correct heat treatment.  All work and responsibility is taken on in-house.

Apex Steel Works takes the utmost care to produce a quality product at the pinnacle of performance for our customers.