Which is the Best Steel for a Sword? Solved

best steel for swords

The best type of steel for a sword is the steel that fits your taste and the intended purpose of the sword. ‘Best’ is a subjective term based on the users’ subjective view of what constitutes ‘best’.

T-10 steel is a good choice if you opt for performance over longevity. But if you prefer longevity while at the same time giving you a decent performance (even superior!), the L6 Bainite is a better choice!

Generally, the harder the steel the more brittle and the quicker it will dull.

A steel’s hardness is measured by the industry-standard Rockwell scale. A Rockwell hardness of 60 is considered extremely hard. A Rockwell hardness of 50 is considered annealed, or soft. Hardened steel holds an edge longer than softer steel, but is more prone to chipping.

A hardness number indicates the resistance to being pressed or squeezed. Rockwell hardness charts are available in most tool catalogs. Or if you have a good source of heat, you can check the hardness of your steel yourself.

Heat it up with a propane torch, or preferably a high-intensity oxyacetylene torch. If you don’t know what you’re doing, get an experienced friend to help you. Drop your steel on the stone.

If your steel is hardened and tempered, you’ll know it instantly. If not, you’ll get an idea of its hardness when you see how much it gouges the stone.

Does it make a deep dent? Does it make shallow scratches? If the answer is the latter, it’s not hard enough. If the answer is the former, it’s too hard.

It’s not just the type of steel that makes a good sword, it’s everything about how the sword is made. Not only does the sword need to be properly forged, it needs to be properly heat-treated and it needs to be properly sharpened. Even a sword made from plain old carbon steel will outperform a sword made from the highest quality carbon steel if it is well-made.

A properly heat-treated and forged piece of plain carbon steel is far superior to the best quality L6 tool steel if the blade is properly heat-treated.

What Makes a Steel Good for a Sword?

A sharpened, well-tempered carbon steel sword is critical for it to be considered a functional tool. What does this mean? Iron and carbon are the ingredients that constitute steel. Iron is the major ingredient, but the carbon is what makes steel hard. In fact, carbon is the active ingredient that makes steel very hard. It is the carbon that allows the steel to be hardened.

To a large degree, the carbon content of steel determines its ultimate hardness, and it is this same carbon that is present in the steel that makes a sword blade sharp.

Carbon is a hard, brittle material. So, it is the carbon content of steel that gives steel its hardness and makes it a good cutting tool. However, there is a trade-off involved.

The more carbon you add, the harder the steel becomes, but the less malleable and ductile it becomes and the more prone to cracking and breaking.

Cracking is prevented in the making of steel by tempering, which is a heat-treatment process in which the metal is heated to a certain temperature and then quickly cooled in order to make it less brittle.

Types of Steel Commonly Used to Make a Sword

There are different kinds, each with its own unique properties. By understanding these different kinds of steel and the characteristics of each one, you will have the basics for making a sword yourself.

Stainless steel 

A stainless-steel sword (of any kind) that is longer than 12″ is not really strong enough to be taken seriously. It can’t withstand a real sword engagement without breaking.

And why is this so? It’s because of the chromium that is alloyed into the steel which makes it resistant to rust and corrosion. The longer the blade gets, say over 12 inches, the weaker the rest of the steel becomes, thus causing stress points.

This is why you don’t see knives over 12 in length in the ‘stainless’ category. This is also why you will see that most folding knives in the ‘stainless’ category are under 8 in length because beyond 12 the edge-holding ability of stainless steel becomes less appealing. 

Unquestionably, this makes them ideal for decorative purposes. However, they are totally useless for actual fighting. If you try to use one to cut down an opponent, you will quickly discover it is almost impossible to do so without breaking the blade. 

High-carbon steel

There are many different factors to take into account when deciding what type of steel you want your sword to be made out of, and these different factors will determine how easily your sword can bend or break under certain circumstances. The most common types of carbon steel used in making swords are 1045, 1060, and 1095. Let’s discuss each in detail.

1045 carbon steel swords are dirt cheap to make because they are low-carbon and relatively easy to work with. 1045 has about 0.4% – 0.45% carbon, which makes it very malleable. On the other hand, 1045 is not nearly as hard, but it is more resistant to fracture than higher-carbon steels, so it will last longer than more advanced steels with high carbon content, theoretically. However, if tempered properly, it can outperform even steel with higher carbon content in terms of cutting edge reliability. 

1060 carbon steel is an ideal balance between hardness and toughness. It is one of the most popular steels used for swordmaking and is harder than 1045 but easier to work and more flexible than 1095. It is a steel that will last a long time if you take care of it.

They are a little more brittle than 1045 and so will take a sharper edge, but they will also break easier. 1060 is a steel that is great for swords that don’t want to compromise edge and durability. It is popular for its ability to take a very fine edge.

1095 carbon steel is very hard, and we already know the downside of too much hardness in steel as previously discussed. However, the hardness level doesn’t tell the whole story when it comes to the quality of steel. Proper tempering makes all the difference in how a sword will perform. A sword with the right combination of hardness and tempering will take and retain a much sharper edge, and be much more effective in combat.

Spring Steels

5160 carbon steel

5160 steel is exceptionally durable and flexible and is often used for heavy-duty high strength applications. It is capable of attaining a maximum hardness of around 63 RC, which is much harder than any of the previously mentioned steels, without becoming too brittle. It is resistant to corrosion and thermal fatigue and has a decent impact resistance. It has good strength and hardness and an excellent resistance to wear and abrasion.

The 5160 steel is very commonly used in the manufacturing of springs, where the elasticity of the material allows it to be easily shaped into the desired form, but to also return to its original shape.

9260 carbon steel

9260 steel is a high carbon spring steel with good forming and high strength characteristics. It is often used for piano wire, springs, and other applications which require high strength, spring properties, toughness, and resistance to deformation under load. You can easily forge a 9260 steel into a sword because of its intrinsic malleability and reacts positively to quenching in order to harden it.

Tool steel

The steel used to make sword blades is called “tool steel” and there are many different brands and types. Two of the most popular (and most often used) are T-10 and L6 Bainite. Both of these steels are extremely hard yet quite tough and will hold and retain an excellent edge. When it comes to making sword blades, T-10 and L6 are the only two steels you need to know about.

T-10 steel

Properly tempered, T10 steel is as hard (or harder) than any steel you will find in a sword and will last a lifetime if well-cared for. It is more resistant to scratching, abrasions, and scuffs than most other alloys, and considerably tougher than a sword made from conventional carbon steel with an HRC of 60 or lower.

L6 Bainite steel

The L6 Bainite is a tough, high quality, low alloy steel. It can sometimes be prone to rusting if not kept clean and properly maintained. Also, though it is a very hard steel to work with, once heat treated, it is one of the most durable and tough steels on the market, and is commonly used for cutting/dicing and cleaving type applications where hardness is not nearly as important as toughness.

Which is Better: T-10 steel or L6 Bainite Steel?

So which one is better? T-10 is known for its excellent edge retention due to its extremely high carbon content. However, it is also relatively brittle, so it is not as wear resistant as other steels.

T-10 is one of the hardest steels that can be fabricated, and it comes at the expense of toughness. Toughness is important for any structural steel component because it will tend to withstand the punishment inflicted upon it by normal use. T-10 is also prone to rusting if not properly maintained, so it should be oiled regularly to repel moisture.

L6 Bainite, on the other hand, is a heat-treated steel alloy with a very high level of toughness, but at the expense of being slightly less hard than T-10 due to its low alloy content, which I think is a good thing because what would you do with a very hard sword if it can easily be broken?

L6 is a tool steel that was developed in the 1920s. It’s a bit more expensive, but it’s also a lot more durable. It’s a good choice for heavy-duty use. In addition, it can be hardened to a high degree.

So, if you’re looking for a tool that’s going to stand up to a lot of abuse, a sword made from L6 steel is a good choice.

The L6 Bainite steel has a great balance of toughness and wear resistance. It’s a great choice for kitchen knives and other knives used in demanding cutting tasks. 

Honorable Mention:

What is the Type of Steel a Katana is Made of?

The type of steel a katana is made of is termed as tamahagane. Tamahagane is a special ancient Japanese steel recipe, which is now a highly-guarded secret.

It is known that the recipe consists of magnetite, vanadium, silica, titanium, and manganese. The production of tamahagane is a skilled process, which requires special knowledge, equipment, and time. The steel is smelted at temperatures of around 1000 degrees Celsius.

Though much care is taken to ensure there are no impurities in the steel, the result is usually a contaminated metal that requires much work to be turned into a high-quality sword.

The smelting process takes approximately 3 days at the maximum to complete.

Jordan Rosolenne

Hi, I’m Jordan Rosolenne, the founder of Swordscorner.com. I’ve been a sword enthusiast all my life and I consider it a serious hobby of mine. I love everything about Swords, Katanas, Medieval Weapons, Anime, and much much more!

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