CPM 154 vs M390 vs 20CV

In the realm of high-end cutlery, the choice of blade material can make or break your experience. Three stalwarts in this field are CPM 154, M390, and 20CV, each renowned for unique properties that lend themselves to superior performance in diverse applications.

Each of these materials has its strengths, making them the go-to choice for many knife manufacturers and custom makers. CPM 154 is known for its superior toughness and edge retention, M390 is lauded for its exceptional wear resistance and corrosion resistance, while 20CV offers a fantastic blend of toughness, wear resistance, and edge retention.

As a blade enthusiast, I have tested countless materials, and the trio of CPM 154, M390, and 20CV always stands out. Their proven performance and distinct attributes offer fascinating insight into what makes a good blade.

Contents show

Material Characteristics of CPM 154

Composition and Processing

CPM 154 is a powder metallurgy stainless steel, known for its superb balance of toughness, corrosion resistance, and edge retention. Its composition includes carbon, chromium, and molybdenum, among other elements.

Key Features and Applications

This material is perfect for a broad range of knife applications due to its well-rounded characteristics. Its notable toughness ensures the blade can withstand a lot of stress without breaking or chipping.

Strengths and Limitations

While CPM 154 is incredibly durable and resistant to wear and tear, its toughness can make it a little harder to sharpen than softer steels. However, once sharpened, it holds the edge well.


Material Characteristics of M390

Composition and Processing

M390 is a martensitic chromium steel, enriched with vanadium and molybdenum, designed for applications requiring high hardness. It’s produced through a third-generation powder metallurgy process, resulting in a clean and homogenous steel.

Key Features and Applications

With its exceptional wear resistance and excellent corrosion resistance, M390 is often the material of choice for high-end folding knives and custom knives.

Strengths and Limitations

M390’s primary strength is its high wear resistance, but its hardness makes it somewhat challenging to sharpen. This steel is also pricier due to the complex manufacturing process and premium properties.

Material Characteristics of 20CV

Composition and Processing

20CV is a martensitic stainless steel, similar to M390, with high amounts of chromium, molybdenum, and vanadium, promoting excellent wear resistance, edge retention, and corrosion resistance.

Key Features and Applications

The blend of toughness, wear resistance, and edge retention makes 20CV an excellent choice for both folding knives and fixed blade knives.

Strengths and Limitations

20CV offers balanced performance characteristics but can be tricky to sharpen due to its hardness. Furthermore, it’s on the higher end of the price spectrum due to its premium properties.

Comparison: CPM 154 vs M390

When it comes to CPM 154 and M390, the materials diverge significantly in terms of their properties and ideal applications.

Material Property Comparison

A side-by-side comparison reveals nuanced differences that may impact your choice between these two steels.

Hardness and Corrosion Resistance

M390 is considerably harder than CPM 154, which translates into superior edge retention. Additionally, M390 has exceptional corrosion resistance, making it suitable for humid or marine environments where moisture exposure is a concern.

Toughness and Durability

On the other hand, CPM 154 offers greater toughness. This means it can withstand higher stress and resist breaking or chipping better than M390, especially when used in rugged applications that involve prying or twisting.

CPM 154

Performance and Application Comparison

The distinct properties of CPM 154 and M390 make them ideal for different applications.

CPM 154: Outdoor and Work Knives

CPM 154’s toughness and good edge retention make it an excellent choice for general-purpose knives. It shines in outdoor applications where durability is critical. You can also find it in kitchen knives, as it’s a stainless steel with good corrosion resistance, essential for a knife exposed to food and washing.

M390: Premium EDC and Folding Knives

In contrast, the exceptional hardness and corrosion resistance of M390 make it perfect for high-end folding knives and everyday carry (EDC) knives. These are applications where wear resistance is paramount, as the knife sees frequent use but not necessarily rough treatment.

Ease of Maintenance and Lifespan

Despite the superior properties of M390, maintenance considerations may affect your choice.

Sharpening and Maintenance

Due to its higher hardness, M390 can be more challenging to sharpen than CPM 154. You may need specialized sharpening equipment and more time to restore its edge. That being said, its high edge retention means you won’t need to sharpen it as frequently.

Longevity and Cost-Effectiveness

With proper care, both CPM 154 and M390 knives can last a lifetime. However, given the greater cost of M390, a CPM 154 knife may offer better value for those on a budget or those who prefer easy maintenance.

Comparison: CPM 154 vs 20CV

A comparison between CPM 154 and 20CV offers a different perspective, highlighting the remarkable properties of 20CV.

Material Property Comparison

When juxtaposed, CPM 154 and 20CV present an interesting contrast in their material properties.

Hardness and Wear Resistance

20CV is similar in hardness to M390, making it much harder than CPM 154. Consequently, it offers better edge retention and wear resistance, even under heavy use.

Toughness and Corrosion Resistance

While 20CV is more wear-resistant, CPM 154 holds its ground in terms of toughness, offering superior resilience under stress. Both materials have excellent corrosion resistance, but 20CV has a slight edge in this regard due to its higher chromium content.

Performance and Application Comparison

As with M390 and CPM 154, the applications of 20CV and CPM 154 also vary.

CPM 154: Versatile Workhorse

As previously mentioned, the toughness of CPM 154 makes it a workhorse in applications where the knife may endure heavy-duty use, such as outdoor work knives, survival knives, and certain kitchen knives.

20CV: High-End Folders and EDC

The high hardness, wear resistance, and superior corrosion resistance of 20CV make it an excellent choice for premium folding knives, EDC knives, and certain specialty kitchen knives. These are applications where the knife will see a lot of use, but not necessarily heavy abuse.

Ease of Maintenance and Lifespan

The maintenance and longevity of CPM 154 and 20CV are another factor to consider.

Sharpening and Maintenance

Similar to M390, 20CV can be difficult to sharpen due to its high hardness. It will require more time and possibly specialized equipment to restore a dull edge. However, its high edge retention means that sharpening will be less frequent.

Longevity and Cost Considerations

Both CPM 154 and 20CV knives can last for many years with proper care. But with 20CV’s higher cost, CPM 154 might be a more cost-effective option for those on a budget or who value ease of maintenance.

Comparison: M390 vs 20CV

The comparison between M390 and 20CV is fascinating as they share many similar properties, but there are still crucial differences to note.

Material Property Comparison

In a head-to-head comparison, M390 and 20CV display a tight competition in their properties.

Hardness and Wear Resistance

Both M390 and 20CV boast high hardness levels, offering outstanding edge retention and wear resistance. They excel in maintaining sharpness even after extended use, ensuring reliable performance over time.

Corrosion Resistance and Toughness

M390 and 20CV share excellent corrosion resistance, attributed to their high chromium content. This characteristic makes them ideal for environments where exposure to moisture is common. However, M390 has a slight edge in terms of toughness, providing a bit more resilience to breakage and chipping than 20CV.

Performance and Application Comparison

The properties of M390 and 20CV drive their ideal usage scenarios.

M390: Premium Folding Knives

With its exceptional hardness, wear resistance, and corrosion resistance, M390 shines in the realm of premium folding knives. It’s the go-to choice for knife makers who want to deliver exceptional quality and performance to their customers.

20CV: High-End EDC and Kitchen Knives

20CV, on the other hand, excels in high-end everyday carry (EDC) knives and certain specialty kitchen knives. Its superior edge retention and corrosion resistance ensure it can stand up to frequent usage and a variety of cutting tasks.

Ease of Maintenance and Lifespan

Both M390 and 20CV offer similar challenges and benefits in terms of maintenance and longevity.

Sharpening and Maintenance

Given their high hardness levels, both M390 and 20CV can be challenging to sharpen. They require more effort and potentially specialized equipment to hone their edges. But their high edge retention reduces the frequency of sharpening needed.

Longevity and Cost

With proper care, both M390 and 20CV knives can last a lifetime. However, given the high price point associated with these materials, they represent an investment. They offer excellent value for those willing to pay a premium for exceptional performance and durability.

How to Choose Between CPM 154, M390, and 20CV

The choice between CPM 154, M390, and 20CV will largely depend on your specific needs, preferences, and budget. Here are some factors to consider.

Factors to Consider

Usage Scenario

Think about the tasks you’ll be using your knife for. If you need a workhorse for rugged applications, CPM 154’s toughness may be the best fit. For high-end folding or EDC knives, consider the superior hardness and corrosion resistance of M390 or 20CV.

Maintenance and Care

If ease of maintenance is a priority, CPM 154 with its relatively easy sharpening might be a better choice. But if you prefer not to sharpen your knife frequently, the high edge retention of M390 or 20CV would be beneficial.

Budget Considerations

CPM 154 is generally more affordable than M390 and 20CV, so it may be a better option for budget-conscious consumers. On the other hand, if cost isn’t a major concern, investing in an M390 or 20CV knife could offer exceptional long-term value.

Ideal Use Cases for Each Material

CPM 154

Ideal for outdoor and work knives, survival knives, and everyday kitchen cutlery.


Perfect for high-end folding knives, premium EDC knives, and knives used in corrosive environments.


Great for premium EDC knives, specialty kitchen knives, and any application where superior edge retention and corrosion resistance are highly valued.


Why would I choose CPM 154 over M390 or 20CV?

You might choose CPM 154 over M390 or 20CV for its toughness, easier maintenance, and cost-effectiveness, especially if the knife will be used in heavy-duty applications.

Is M390 or 20CV better for a folding knife?

Both M390 and 20CV are excellent choices for folding knives. Your decision may come down to personal preference, brand availability, and the specific balance of properties you’re looking for in a folding knife.

What are the main differences between M390 and 20CV?

While M390 and 20CV share many properties, including high hardness and corrosion resistance, M390 has a slight edge in toughness, while 20CV might offer slightly better edge retention.


CPM 154, M390, and 20CV each bring unique strengths to the table. CPM 154 offers great toughness and ease of maintenance, making it a versatile choice for many applications. M390 shines with its outstanding hardness and corrosion resistance, perfect for premium knives. 20CV, similarly, delivers superior edge retention and corrosion resistance, providing long-lasting performance.

While choosing a material for your knife, it’s crucial to consider your specific needs, the knife’s intended usage, maintenance preferences, and budget. Whether it’s the dependable CPM 154, the high-performing M390, or the durable 20CV, each material has its ideal applications and potential benefits.

I'm Justin, co-founder of AllofKitchen and your knife and steel specialist. My extensive experience ensures accurate and hands-on advice on every topic. Turn to me for insights on selecting the best knife or maintaining your steel tools to perfection. Knives aren't just tools; they're an extension of the chef, and I'm here to guide you to the perfect fit.

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