VG-10 vs. D2 Steel in Knives: Which is Better?

When it comes to knives and other cutlery, steel isn’t just steel. Not to knife aficionados! And it shouldn’t be that way for you either considering your knife is going to be one of your most depended upon tools in all sorts of emergencies.

poking wooden board with knife
poking wooden board with knife

Picking the right kind of steel will greatly influence what kind of work your knife is capable of, and also how you maintain it. All of them have advantages and disadvantages. Let’s look at two of the most popular high-end formulas, VG-10 and D2: which is better?

VG-10 and D2 steel are both excellent, high-performance options but VG-10 has a major advantage in corrosion resistance whereas D2 is tougher and more durable.

It’s hard to say which of these steels is outright better. They are both really excellent in their category, and excel at different things.

Honestly, you probably wouldn’t go wrong with either of them, but I can help you figure out which one will give you the most perks depending on how you’re going to be using it and where you live. Grab those whetstones and let’s get going…

The Basics: VG-10

VG-10 is a high-performance Japanese steel known for high chromium and superb corrosion resistance along with enough vanadium to help improve edge retention.

Developed by the Takefu Special Steel Company, VG-10 actually stands for the gold 10, with gold being a common Japanese moniker for high quality.

This excellent combination of corrosion resistance, easy sharpening, edge retention, and all-around performance has made VG-10 the darling of many demanding cutlery sectors, including kitchen knives as well as pocketknives, and others. Most VG-10 knives are still made in Japan today.

VG-10 Composition

Popping the hood, so to speak, on VG-10 we see that it is a durable and well-rounded steel with excellent characteristics thanks to its formulation, consisting of 15.5% chromium, 1% carbon, 1.2% molybdenum, 0.3% vanadium, 0.5% manganese, and 1.5% cobalt.

Additionally, cobalt is particularly noteworthy since it increases both strength and hardness and permits the steel to be quenched at a much higher temperature, and itself augments the other elements which produce superior sharpening characteristics and corrosion resistance.

Very cool and, no, it isn’t toxic or anything like that!

The Basics: D2

D2 steel, often called D2 tool steel is a category of exactly that: tool steel which is often used for making dies, mandrels, cutting implements, and a lot more.

These steels range from the cold-worked O-series through the air-hardened A-series and finally the high carbon-chromium content D-series which is commonly used to make all sorts of knives.

These knives are renowned for hardness, toughness, and excellent durability, though they aren’t as tough as some lower alloy steels.

D2 is particularly known for its sensitivity to heat treatment and though most commonly used for coarse cutting implements like shears, planers, and large-scale industrial tools it can be an inspired choice for smaller knives as well, including folding knives.

It is superb for standing impact, and can stand up to heavy abuse without breaking and holds an edge for a long time.

D2 Composition

Looking at the formulation of D2 we see that it’s made up of an unusually high amount of chromium for tool steel, about 12%, 1.5% carbon, 0.9% vanadium, slightly less molybdenum at 0.8%, 0.45% manganese, 0.02% sulfur, and 0.4% silicon.

The sulfur and silicon are particularly notable because they further increase the strength of the steel beyond what carbon can do by itself. This is partially what gives D2 its legendary reputation for strength and toughness.

Advantages of VG-10

The major advantages of VG-10 are that it offers excellent cutting characteristics, including ease of sharpening, edge retention, and overall sharpness while being extremely corrosion-resistant.

It isn’t the strongest, it isn’t the toughest, and it does not offer the most exceptional characteristics for sharpening, but it rates very good in all regards while being very resistant to rusting.

These are huge advantages for a pocket knife that’ll be dealing with moisture, perspiration, acid from handling, salt splash and saltwater air, harsh chemicals, and more.

VG-10 exhibits such excellent corrosion resistant properties that, once sharpened, you can count on it to maintain that hair-popping edge even when subjected to things that would easily degrade lesser steels. And when you need to sharpen again, VG-10 proves quite easy to sharpen.

For a general-purpose knife that sees lots of carry, lots of use, or both, it’s tough to do better than that.

Advantages of D2

All of the advantages D2 brings to the table center around durability. Knives made from this steel are very, very tough and durable, resistant to breaking, chipping, and holding an edge like there is no tomorrow, though they are harder to sharpen in the first place compared to VG-10.

However, the major drawback is that because it contains so much more carbon than VG-10 it is significantly more prone to rusting, although not as bad as some other tool steels.

This means you’ll need to spend a little more effort getting D2 sharp in the first place, and not all sharpeners are up to that task, and also keeping it oiled so that it won’t rust.

But we need to hack, chop, saw, and engage in other kinds of activities that would be abusive for other steels, D2 can do it and smile.

What Kind of Knife is Best Suited for VG-10?

I would say the best sort of knife for VG-10 is either a modern high-performance pocketknife that will withstand rust no matter the conditions, or else a fixed blade, maybe in the kitchen knife, that will be used for a lot of food prep.

Acidic foods like tomatoes, fruit, sugary things, sauces, and more won’t phase VG-10 at all. If you live on or near the coast, know that you have particularly acidic perspiration, or will be subjecting your knife to wet conditions regularly, VG-10 is a great choice…

What Kind of Knife is Best Suited for D2?

D2 is the go-to steel for any knife that is going to go a long time between sharpenings, because it can hold an edge really well, or will be used for hacking, chopping, cleaving, sawing, and other chores that tend to be very hard on knives generally.

It’s a great choice for large and stout fixed blades or substantial folding knives that can work as fixed blades in a pinch. It also makes for a truly heavy-duty tool that can be used like a pry bar, chisel, or anything else that will subject the knife to high impacts and lots of them.

Bottom Line: Which Should You Get?

It’s a coin toss. All around, I prefer VG-10 because I don’t mind sharpening my knife more regularly and I appreciate how corrosion-resistant it is while being a good performer in all other regards.

But, if you know you’re going to be putting your knife through the ringer and you don’t mind keeping it oiled to protect it from rust, it’s hard to argue against D2.

Ultimately, I think it is the x-factors that will recommend one over the other for most users: if you live near corrosive saltwater, go VG-10. If you need a bushcraft knife that will go to hell and back and you are an expert sharpener, D2 will definitely go the distance where other steels won’t.

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