The Ultimate Firearms Destination for the Gun Lifestyle

Tool Steel Knives

At RECOIL, we review every product fairly and without bias. Making a purchase through one of our links may earn us a small commission, and helps support independent gun reviews. Learn More

When looking for a knife, it often seems like there are just two choices when it comes to picking blade steel: high-carbon or stainless. But what if we told you there’s a third alternative? That is, knives made from tool steel. Indeed, many knife enthusiasts seek out blades made from this material.

Tool steel is primarily used to make dies and cutting instruments, according to Ed Severson, a sales manager for steel company Böhler-Uddeholm. In other words, they’re the tools “designed to make other things,” he said. Depending on the application, manufacturers use tool steel to create tools that cut metal, or make a die that can be used over and over without wearing out or deforming. So it turns out that tool steel’s properties make for great knives.

Tool steel needs to be hard. Depending on the tool steel, the metal can be hardened to 58-65 on the Rockwell hardness test, according to Severson. Furthermore, tool steel is often made with other elements besides carbon and chromium. You might find a percentage of tungsten (or the really high-end steel, vanadium) in the mix. That’s because the alloys form carbides in the metal harder than steel itself. It’s great when you want to cut through rope without the edge wearing down as fast.

Tool steel might be too hard for some applications, though. Similar to a piece of glass, chop with the blade and you’ll risk it chipping, cracking, or breaking. That’s why machetes are made from carbon steel. Still, tool steels like D2, A2, O1, and 10V are popular materials for all kinds of knives. Here are seven made from the good stuff.


Make: Red Horse Knife Works
Model: Malice
OAL: 6.125 inches
Blade Length: 2.25 inches
Blade Material: D2
Weight: 7.05 ounces
MSRP: $275

Veteran-owned Red Horse Knife Works set out to create an easy-to-use self-defense blade for users who didn’t spend hours training in bladed martial arts. The claw blade slashes while the two-fingered brass knuckles allow you to hold onto the knife tip down while punching and slashing your way out of sticky situations. The handle is G-10. Made in Illinois.

> Thanks to the knuckle duster, this knife won’t slip from your hand.
> The cozy grip fits the hand like a hug.
> It’s effective in the hands of novices and cool-headed martial artists.

> Handle might be too snug if the user is wearing gloves.
> A better sheath would increase carry options.
> For a knife that may never be used, it’s on the heavy side.


Make: Brous Blades
Model: Reloader
OAL: 8.25 inches
Blade Length: 3.5 inches
Blade Material: D2
Weight: 5.1 ounces
MSRP: $169 (satin aluminum)

This collaboration between knifemakers Mikkel Willumsen and Jason Brous is all blade. The modified tanto on the Reloader tugs forward from the handle, like a hungry shark. It opens on a pair of ball bearings with a solid pull on the flipper mechanism. The Reloader comes with a custom storage case, certificate of authenticity, and wrench.

> The presentation of this knife can’t be beat.
> The portion of the liner lock that you press to unlock the knife is comfortable and well machined.
> Lockup is nice and strong — no wiggle back and forth.

> The handle is relatively small for the overall knife.
> The clip runs close to the handle. When clipped onto clothing, the friction of the clip makes it too hard to pull out.


Make: First Tactical
Model: Krait Knife Spear
OAL: 8.25 inches
Blade Length: 3.51 inches
Blade Material: D2
Weight: 4.57 ounces
MSRP: $60

Designed as a pocketknife for first responders, First Tactical partnered with Mike Vellekamp to create this slender knife with modified tanto blade. When open, the knife features a wide thumb rest (a “Thumb Bridge”) that doubles as a thumbstud to open the knife. In the pocket, the clip keeps the knife tip down. The handle is made from tan G-10. Made in Taiwan.

> Handle is long enough for a user wearing gloves.
> The clip design, which slips between the handle and metal liner, resists loosening
> Not only is it affordable, the knife comes with a wrench and two spare screws.

> There’s some side-to-side play in the blade.
> Some users only want knives that are made in the USA.
> Width could be thinner to make it slimmer for everyday carry.


Make: Gear2Survive
Model: Assassin
OAL: 9.125 inches
Blade Length: 4.44 inches
Blade Material: 8670 steel
Weight: 8.82 ounces
MSRP: $130

The first thing you notice when slipping the Assassin from its horizontal carry Kydex sheath is the saw-tooth design across its spine. The black G10 handle and black powdercoating blade finish contrasts with the wide gleam of the edge, made from 8670 steel, a high-carbon tool steel often used for circular saws. Gear2Survive makes its knives in Georgia.

> The pattern machined onto the handle provides a sticky grip
> The blade slips into the Kydex sheath seamlessly.
> The guard feels comfortable against the index finger.
> Plenty of metal at the tip to prevent breakage.

> If you use the knife hard, you’ll wish for a longer handle for leverage and grip.
> The knife is ground thick. With more metal at the edge of the knife, it makes delicate cutting more difficult.


Make: Wander Tactical
Model: Mistral
OAL: 9.84 inches
Blade Length: 4.3 inches
Blade Material: D2
Weight: 9.873 ounces
MSRP: 260 Euros (about $296.57)

Italian knife company Wander Tactical prefers to call itself a research team for cutting tools. In the Mistral, that research produced a rugged knife with a sculpted blade boasting a fuller and a hollow-ground bevel. The blade’s Gun Kote finish is designed to resist saltwater, chemicals, and even dissipate heat. This jolly green giant clicks into a green Kydex sheath.

> The Mistral’s hollow grind slices through cutting tasks.
> The finish is practical as well as aesthetically pleasing.
> The well-made sheath complements the knife.

> Thanks to a 0.25-inch-thick piece of D2, this knife is heavy.
> Who in the USA has 260 Euros to spend?
> The handle is short for the knife.


Make: Skallywag Tactical
Model: Guardian
OAL: 9.875 inches
Blade Length: 4.125
Blade Material: D2
Weight: 7 ounces
MSRP: $650

There’s only one purpose of the Guardian: to kill an enemy in close combat. Michael Donvito (son of the man who developed the LINE combat system) and Grays Custom developed this dagger after hearing U.S. soldiers were dying in Iraq because the enemy would suddenly grab their barrels while clearing buildings. The Guardian’s heavy tip is designed to defeat Kevlar, and deep serrations shred soft tissue. Made in Michigan.

> The scales of the knife can be removed in order to turn the blade into a spear.
> The ring is designed to be easily found and used with tactical gloves.
> Easy to deploy from the sheath

> $650 is a lot to spend on a last-ditch knife.
> High sharpening angles means this dagger can’t sharpen pencils.
> The very tip of the knife chipped off while unboxing it.


Make: Ontario Knife Co
Model: Cerberus
OAL: 10.2 inches
Blade Length: 4.8 inches
Blade Material: D2
Weight: 7.5 ounces
MSRP: $265

Whether encountering a three-headed dog or making kindling for a fire, the Cerberus is one of those no-nonsense designs intended for a breadth of situations. Your thumb needs a decisive push to free it from the tan Kydex sheath. The full-tang knife is handled in black G-10, and the blade is coated in zinc phosphorus. Made in the good ol’ USA.

> The edge is ground thin — great for slicing — but thickens as it reaches the tip.
> The tang gives users a pommel to give things a good smack.
> The knife’s width is balanced between strength and cutting weight.

> The handle’s cross-section is a narrow rectangle. Oval is ideal.
> Unlike the other sheath knives tested here that include mounting options, this sheath doesn’t come with MOLLE or a belt attachment.

Enter Your E-Mail to Receieve a Free 50-Target Pack from RECOIL!

NEXT STEP: Download Your Free Target Pack from RECOIL

For years, RECOIL magazine has treated its readers to a full-size (sometimes full color!) shooting target tucked into each big issue. Now we've compiled over 50 of our most popular targets into this one digital PDF download. From handgun drills to AR-15 practice, these 50+ targets have you covered. Print off as many as you like (ammo not included).

Get your pack of 50 Print-at-Home targets when you subscribe to the RECOIL email newsletter. We'll send you weekly updates on guns, gear, industry news, and special offers from leading manufacturers - your guide to the firearms lifestyle.

You want this. Trust Us.

Add a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to the Free