The Best D2 Steel Knives And What Makes Them Great

The best fixed blade and folding knives with D2 steel.

My Cheap D2 Folder is Better than Your Expensive Supersteel

I will die on my cheap muddy hill about this. In the right hands, D2 steel can have better edge retention and overall performance for the price than pretty much any other option on the market (but I’m also clearly biased toward budget steels).

D2 is a tool steel so it needs a little more caretaking than true stainless steels, but its rise in popularity has made a lot of fantastic designs more accessible to the peasant mongrels like us who don’t mind cleaning a blade every now and then if it means being able to afford the knife in the first place.

The big problem is that D2 really needs a good heat treatment in order to perform well, and the more popular it gets, the more companies there are pushing knives with shoddy D2. So below is a list of D2 steel knives that we’ve carried and tested personally. Some are better than others, and some definitely cost more than others (although still less than they would be with another steel), but they’re all worth having in our opinion.

If you want a quick rundown on what D2 steel is, why we swear by it now, and a few tips on taking care of it, you can find a big damn block of content like that at the bottom.

D2 Steel Folding Knives

D2 Steel Fixed Blades

What is D2 Steel? – Read  More…

 

D2 Folding Knives

A man' with lots of folding knives in various pockets on his pants.
We tested a lot of D2 knives for this article, so we had to wear pants with lots of pockets on the testing days.

It seems like there are a lot more D2 folders than there are D2 fixed blades. Bob Dozier is possibly the man to thank for that. He was the one to bring D2 back into popularity a few years ago, and his designs with Ka Bar are pretty highly regarded. But D2 also tends to perform best in smaller blade lengths, and thanks to the price point on it, a lot more companies are using it to pump out budget folders.

OKC RAT 2

The Ontario Rat 2 Pocket Knife with a D2 steel blade in the open position in the forest.

  • Overall Length: 7.0”
  • Blade Length: 3.0”
  • Blade Thickness: 0.09”
  • Handle Length: 4.125”
  • Blade shape: Drop point
  • Blade Grind: Flat
  • Handle Material: Nylon
  • Lock Type: Liner
  • Activity: Hard use EDC

The RAT II from Ontario Knife Company is still mostly considered king of the budget knives. That’s not to say it’s the best. There are a dozen or so knives that are comparable if not better, but the truth is that if someone asks for an economic recommendation for a good working knife, the RAT II is the first thing in my head.

It fits well in any pocket, the blade profile is thin enough to make it slicey while the flat grind keeps the edge pretty tough. I’ve carried mine through a lot of dirt and done a lot of things it was not really designed to do. To date I’ve rolled the edge a half dozen times and taken it apart to clean and oil it at least a full dozen times.

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Ka Bar Dozier

Ka Bar Dozier

  • Overall Length: 7.25”
  • Blade Length: 3.0”
  • Blade Thickness: 0.11”
  • Hardness: 57-59 HRC
  • Handle Length: 4.25”
  • Blade shape: Spear point?
  • Blade Grind: Hollow
  • Handle Material: Zytel
  • Lock Type: Lockback
  • Activity: Hard-use EDC

When I said there are comparable knives that might arguably be better than the RAT II, the Ka Bar Dozier was one of the knives I was thinking of.

It’s not as refined as the Rat. The action doesn’t feel great, and the handle ergonomics are a little rougher. But it’s lighter and has fewer moving parts with a thicker blade and a sturdy lockback, so it becomes an attractive prospect as a work knife very quickly. I will admit this particular design makes me a little nervous with the hollow grind, but I think the hardness is also dropped just a little lower than usual to compensate for that grind, and I trust Bob Dozier and Ka Bar to have handled the D2 well enough here that I can trust the blade not to chip so long as I’m not throwing it against bricks.

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Off Grid Rhino

The Off-Grid Rhino folding knife with a D2 steel blade outdoors on a tree branch.

  • Overall Length: 8.25”
  • Blade Length: 3.5”
  • Blade Thickness: 3.5 mm
  • Handle Length: 3.5”
  • Blade shape: Drop point
  • Blade Grind: Flat
  • Handle Material: G-10
  • Lock Type: Liner
  • Activity: Hard-use EDC

We haven’t been able to find a lot of things the Off Grid Rhino isn’t good at. The thing cuts unbelievably well. As well as if not better than knives that cost twice as much, and it’s still one of the most comfortable handles we’ve felt on a folder. It was made to be a big, tough knife for different kinds of field work, but it’s in our regular EDC rotation now, typically replacing the Kershaw Emerson CQC. Anytime we’re out testing other knives we almost always have this thing along to serve as a benchmark and do regular knife tasks before we’re ready to get a new knife dirty.

Check out our in depth Off-Grid Rhino review to learn more about this knife.

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Kershaw Cannonball

The Kershaw Cannonball pocket knife covered in water drops with the blade open on a blue background.
The blackwashed D2 steel blade of the Kershaw Cannonball offers pretty good corrosion resistance.
  • Overall Length: 8.0”
  • Blade Length: 3.5”
  • Blade Thickness: 0.1”
  • Handle Length: 4.5”
  • Blade shape: Drop point
  • Blade Grind: Flat
  • Handle Material: Stainless steel
  • Lock Type: Frame lock
  • Activity: Hard use EDC

Between the assisted open, weird looking texture designs, and the stainless steel handle, the Cannonball has a lot of features I don’t normally like, but even I have to admit it’s a good design for the price.

The ergonomics manage to be surprisingly tight and grippy for a large steel handle, and that’s partly because of how they’ve placed all the texturing and jimping. That texturing in combination with the curved handle and the tall flat grind gives you a lot of leverage to put into a strong cut. I’m hesitant to call this a “beater” knife, because even though Kershaw is famously good with budget steels, the blade stock on this isn’t incredibly thick. The Cannonball is perfectly capable of handling some dirty, gloved work out in a field, though.

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CJRB Kicker

The CJRB Kicker folding knife with a D2 blade on top of a pile of bricks.

  • Overall Length: 8.25”
  • Blade Length: 3.5”
  • Blade Thickness: 0.13”
  • Hardness: 58-60
  • Handle Length: 4.75”
  • Blade shape: Clip point
  • Blade Grind: Flat
  • Handle Material: G-10
  • Lock Type: Recoil lock
  • Activity: EDC

This is a pretty smooth knife that I was not expecting to like at all. The Kicker just has a little bit too much of a sleek look for my tastes, and, honestly, how much can I really expect from a Chinese flipper?

It turns out CJRB is owned by Artisan Cutlery, and all their knives are made in the same factory, so apparently you can expect a lot. The Kicker has a silky smooth action and a comfortable handle. The flat grind has a pretty thin edge geometry, so this is a clean slicer with some really nice cutting ergonomics. The only thing that really bothers me is the recoil lock tends to rattle a lot, and the flipper tab can interfere with closing the blade sometimes. It doesn’t interfere with use much, but it can get annoying and just gives off a janky vibe.

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Ohta Knives FK5

The Ohta Knives FK5 partially open on a tree stump with a field watch.

  • Overall Length: 5.5”
  • Blade Length: 2.125”
  • Blade Thickness: 0.08”
  • Handle Length: 3.375”
  • Blade shape: Reverse tanto
  • Blade Grind: Hollow
  • Handle Material: Wood
  • Lock Type: Friction
  • Activity: Gentleman carry

Ohta Knives really makes neat conversational pieces more than tools, but only because the Higo no Kami design has a history that people like to talk about. As for the knife itself, I think Ohta is making some of the best versions of the design right now specifically because they’re updating it with a few modern ideas while still keeping it affordable and practical.

I rarely carry this knife as an EDC, but it’s been a useful tool around the house as a package and letter opener. It has a nice edge with just enough of a hollow grind to make it clean slicing, but not such an extreme one that the blade is especially thin behind the edge, so it ends up being a fairly tough little gentleman carry.

You can read our full review of the FK5 here.

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Stat Gear Ausus

The Statgear Asus with a D2 steel blade and Micarta handle scales on a moss covered log.

    • Overall Length: 8.0”
    • Blade Length: 3.5”
    • Blade Thickness: 0.13
    • Hardness: 59-61
    • Handle Length: 4.5”
    • Blade shape: Drop point
    • Blade Grind: Flat
    • Handle Material: Canvas Micarta
  • Lock Type: Liner
  • Activity: EDC

The Ausus deserves a lot more attention than it gets. It looks blocky, but it’s surprisingly smooth and comfortable. It has a really nice full grip with a tight lock up and all the hallmarks of a reliable D2 design: a flat grind in the 59-61 HRC range and a fairly thick blade stock.

The comfort and pocket clip are really the big highlights of this knife, if I’m being honest. I really like the deep-carry design of the pocket clip reaching over the top of the knife so the screw is on the opposite side. This seems like a neat solution to the pocket tearing problem of a lot of folding knives. And overall it’s just a comfortable knife with a rustic, unassuming aesthetic.

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CRKT Bona Fide

The CRKT Bona FIde with a D2 steel blade. This versatile pocket knife was designed by Ken Onion.

  • Overall Length: 8.125”
  • Blade Length: 3.5”
  • Blade Thickness: 0.14”
  • Handle Length: 4.625”
  • Blade shape: Drop point
  • Blade Grind: Flat
  • Handle Material: Aluminum
  • Lock Type: Liner
  • Activity: EDC

Leave it to Ken Onion to breathe this gust of fresh air into the flipper world. The Bona Fide features the updated version of Onion’s Field Strip technology, which is significantly easier to deal with than what we saw on the Homefront. Basically it allows you to take the knife apart without any tools so it’s incredibly easy to clean.

This is one of the more interesting folders on here when we start talking about D2, though, because CRKT makes two versions of this knife: the gray with D2 and the OD Green with 1.4116 German steel. And while both of these versions have the same basic shape and grind, the 1.4116 version has a full flat going all the way back to the spine where the D2 version has a much more complex shaping with the grind going half the height and featuring a swedge going to the tip. I could make some semi-educated guesses as to why Onion made the blades so different in regards to the relative toughness of each of these steels, but the bottom line is that there’s clearly been some consideration put to make each version perform best with each steel, and I’m willing to trust Onion’s process on things like this.

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SOG Terminus XR

The SOG Terminus XR With a D2 steel blade on a fence post outdoors.

  • Overall Length: 7.0”
  • Blade Length: 3.0”
  • Blade Thickness: 0.11”
  • Handle Length: 4.0”
  • Blade shape: Drop point
  • Blade Grind: Hollow
  • Handle Material: G-10
  • Lock Type: XR Lock
  • Activity: Hard use EDC

SOG got onto something with the Terminus that I don’t usually see from them. Aside from their slide lock mechanism and the redundancy of having both a thumbstud and a flipper tab, this is a no-frills design. Even with the more brightly colored G-10 scales it has the look of something you’d want to pop out in a barn.

More importantly, they’ve kept the D2 blade simple with a moderately wide spine. SOG does offer the Terminus in S30V with carbon fiber scales, but that pushes the price up about $100. It’s a good example of the kinds of options D2 designs can bring to the industry, though, and it’s the kind of thing I hope to see from more knife companies down the road. This is a perfectly good design that can benefit from premium materials, but it feels a lot more in its element as a low-risk investment with a stout D2 blade that can pry into wood and get dropped in the brambles.

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D2 Fixed Blades

This can be trickier territory. Since D2 is such a hard steel it can get more fragile the larger a blade gets, so it becomes even more important here for the steel to have a good treatment and grind. You’ll notice there are a couple of very large blades on this section of the list, but these are all from companies that have spent a lot of time workshopping their process to get the most out of the steel, and our experience with these knives shows that they’ve all found their golden process.

Off-Grid Tracker-X

The Off-Grid Tracker-X bushcraft knife with a blackout D2 steel blade and Micarta handle scales.

  • Overall Length: 9.5”
  • Blade Length: 4.75”
  • Blade Thickness: 5 mm
  • Hardness:
  • Handle Length: 3.75”
  • Blade shape: 4.75”
  • Blade Grind: Sabre
  • Handle Material: Micarta
  • Activity: Bushcraft

This thick-spined monster is the kind of thing I would hope to see on hearing about a bushcraft knife with a D2 blade that’s nearly 5 inches long. For all its size, though, it feels weirdly nimble. The balance is great and even though it has a thick grind behind the edge, it cuts and feather sticks like a dream.

It can be a little awkward on the belt because the placement of the belt loop makes it either sag some in horizontal carry and ride a little high in vertical carry. It also takes some muscle and patience to sharpen, but it takes a lot of heavy use to wear the edge down to where it even needs that, and the performance you can get out of the edge is well worth the time.

We spent several weeks testing this knife. Check out our Tracker-X review to see what we thought of it.

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LionSteel M2 Hunter

The LionSteel M2 Hunter fixed blade knife sticking out of a tree stump next to a camp fire.

  • Overall Length: 7.68”
  • Blade Length: 3.54”
  • Blade Thickness: 0.16”
  • Handle Length: 4.14”
  • Blade shape: Drop point
  • Blade Grind: Flat
  • Handle Material: Olive wood
  • Activity: Hunting

This knife is as pleasant to hold as it is to look at. LionSteel also makes this design with G-10 scales and a darker wood. I can’t speak to their G-10 stuff, but the olive wood handle is surprisingly grippy even in the rain. The overall ergonomics feel great in pretty much every position, and the jimping manages to be effective without feeling too abrasive.

It also has a nice slicey edge on a fairly thick blade stock. That translates into a buttery smooth cut that feels satisfyingly appropriate with the way the knife looks. Really my main complaint about it is that the leather sheath puts the handle in a little bit of an awkward spot for drawing, but in the context of other leather sheaths I’ve dealt with, this one isn’t half bad.

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Boker Magnum Collection 2020

The Boker Magnum Collection 2020 fixed blade D2 steel knife is an excellent survival knife.

  • Overall Length:
  • Blade Length:
  • Blade Thickness:
  • Handle Length:
  • Blade shape:
  • Blade Grind:
  • Handle Material:
  • Activity:

This knife is fun. I’m pretty sure that was the intention of the design in the first place. Some knives feel like useful tools or brutally efficient tactical weapons. This one feels like a playground. It’s long with a thick spine and a grippy handle, which gives it a pretty incredible full feeling of maximized momentum when you swing. It is a chopper for adults who refuse to finish growing up.

It’s also, unfortunately, a limited release for Boker Magnum’s 2020 Collection, so not a readily available option. We just like to brag about having it.

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What is D2 Steel?

A stack of D2 steel rods on a white background.

Basically it’s a high-carbon, high-chromium, air-hardened tool steel. It has great wear resistance, okay toughness, and an approachable price tag by virtue of it being mass produced for machining purposes. It probably performs best around 60-61 HRC with a flat grind.

D2 Composition:

  • Carbon – 1.5%
  • Chromium – 11.5%
  • Vanadium – 0.9%
  • Molybdenum – 0.08%

You might also see it as PSF27 (the sprayform version created by Danspray) or CPM-D2 (the powder version by Crucible), and compared to steels like CPM-154 and CruWear.

At the risk of repeating a lot of information that’s been told by more competent sources like Blade Magazine (which actually has a pleasantly short and helpful article about D2, if frustratingly non-specific), and Knife Steel Nerds (who are almost too specific), I’ll lay this out as simply as I can:

D2 came into common use because of its wear resistance and relative toughness. It got its start in the 30s when it was being used as a die steel. It started getting used as a knife steel in the 60’s, but it didn’t really get to the popularity and quality we see in knives today until the early 2000’s when companies like Crucible and Danspray came out with harder and tougher versions and people like Bob Dozier started playing around with it.

Now it’s a staple of budget EDC knives. Of all the tool steels commonly used in knives, it might have the highest carbon content, which also makes it one of the hardest steels. It is highly receptive to heat treatment and machining. In the hands of people who know what they’re doing, a D2 steel can get a pretty incredible edge and hold it through months of heavy use.

On D2’s Corrosion Resistance: Not as Good As You Think

It sometimes gets mistakenly touted as a tool steel with high corrosion resistance because of the chromium content. That’s understandable since that 11.5% Cr just skirts under making D2 a true stainless steel. But as both Blade Mag and Knife Steel Nerds have pointed out, most of the chromium gets tied up in the carbon to make the structure harder so there’s only about 6% chromium actually making D2 rust resistant, which is still higher than some tool steels. It’s certainly higher than O1, and a little better than A2.

Response to Heat Treatment

One of the reasons D2 has become such a popular steel is that it’s very responsive to heat treatment. This is also the reason it gets a bad rep from some people, because if D2 is cooked poorly it can end up pretty frail and have basically none of the benefits you normally get with a tool steel.

Companies like Off Grid and Ka Bar have put a lot of effort into finding the right method for their designs, but since D2 is such a versatile steel where treating it is concerned (it can be hardened effectives from about 54 to 62 HRC), a lot of designers and companies find different ways to cook the steel to optimize it for their designs. So while wear resistance is the big hallmark of D2, you might see that act in slightly different ways with different knives.

Tips on Taking Care of D2

This is a hard-working steel, and when half the knives sporting the stuff cost less as much as eating out for two we tend to think of it in the same temporary terms: there will always be another meal.

But any knife you love is worth taking care of, and D2 can be a very lovable steel, so here are a few quick tips to keep D2 knives in top shape.

  • D2 is tough to sharpen, and probably worth paying someone else to do it, but if you have to try the quick tip here is that it likes a toothy edge rather than a polished one. It’s usually best to use diamond stones with a low grit around 500, and no finer than 1000 grit.
  • Always wipe it after use, and rub a thin coat of oil on it about once a month if you use it regularly.
  • For storing it long term it helps to put a coat of wax on it.
  • If you have a folder, be sure to take it apart to wipe it down thoroughly after using it heavily around dirt or salt water.
  • In general, don’t use a D2 blade for high-impact tasks. Obviously this depends heavily on the design, but since D2 is a harder steel, usually sitting around 61 HRC, it can become a chipping liability.
  • If you’re going to reprofile a D2 edge remember that it’s generally too frail for thinner grinds like hollow or scandi. Best to keep to a wide-based edge like flat, chisel, or even convex.

Why D2 Steel

Updates on top-tier knives like the Benchmade 940 and Spyderco PM3 are cool and all, but how often do people actually use these knives after buying them? I have trouble taking out knives in the $150 range for anything more harrowing than a cardboard box, much less the $200-300 tag I see coming with S30V steels.

Meanwhile I’ve taken my OKC Rat 2 and Off-Grid Badger apart to clean the dirt so many times I could damn near do it blindfolded.

It’s Not that D2 is Great; It’s Great for the Price

The true values of D2 steel aren’t necessarily in its performance, but in its performance for cost. There are dozens of steels out there that are arguably “better” if we’re defining the word in terms toughness, edge retention, and corrosion resistance, but there aren’t many that can give you the degree of edge retention and mid-tier toughness at a reasonable price. D2 is a bit like an old Honda Civic in that it’s reliable and easy to modify while also being very affordable, and by extension more usable.

With the right heat treatment, D2 is comparable to Bohler N690 and Cruwear at a fraction of the price. It’s no Ferrari, but it will get you from A to B with a lot less fuss, and you’re far more likely to actually use it along the way.

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