440C Stainless Steel: What is It?

The different metal grades can get pretty confusing, especially when everyone says they are selling 440C stainless steel, but they still don’t cost the same, or perform the same.

molten steel

I’m going to explain what this stuff really means here.

The Naming System (ex. 440C)

Steel is any alloy of carbon and iron. The numbers and letter are an SAE naming system that tells you what elements are mixed in roughly which proportions, and to what specifications it is heat treated, sort of like a cooking recipe.

The first number indicates what type of steel it is.

  • 1xx: Carbon Steel
  • 2xx: Nickel Steel
  • 3xx: Nickel-Chromium Steel
  • 4xx: Molybdenum Steel

It goes on and there are others, but you get the idea.

The following numbers narrow down the specific types of those steels, narrowing down the recipe for those alloys based on their purpose. They are still imprecise ranges, but grouped into the categories that they are useful for, like cutlery versus decor versus welding.

The letter at the end indicates what the carbon content is. This means that a 440A steel shear, like the Kenchii Scorpion, has much softer steel than the Kenchii Viper, which is made from 440C.

440C Stainless Steel, which our shears are all made of, contains:

  • Carbon: 0.95-1.2%
  • Chromium: 16-18%
  • Molybdenum: 0.75-4%
  • Manganese: ~1%
  • Silicon: ~1%

Note that even tiny quantities of an element can noticeably change the properties of the metal alloy, and that all of these companies that produce 440C stainless steel have different variants within these ranges.

Why does the country matter?

The place where the steel is made is important because of who the manufacturer is. Think of the steel manufacturer the same way you think of a cook.

Just because two people use the same recipe, doesn’t mean they are going to produce the same quality result.

A new player in the shear industry right now is Pakistan. They don’t currently produce any good quality shears that we have seen. That’s not because they don’t know the recipe, but because their process isn’t as precise and perfected as that of Hitachi, Ltd. in Japan.

Japanese companies have perfected the recipe to a precise composition that produces the qualities that are most desireable, and they have their process to a point where they do not have inclusions or bubbles in their steel.

It doesn’t matter how good the steel’s chemical composition is when it is mechanically flawed. It will break during use.

We trust manufacturers in Japan, Korea, Germany, and China, who have refined and proven the reliability of their steel over time.

Things to Watch out for

You will run into lots of marketing gimmicks that mean nothing.

“Now with extra molybdenum!”

This means nothing. Unless you are a metallurgist, you don’t know if that is an improvement or if it actually makes the metal brittle, soft, or more easily degraded. More isn’t better. Correct is best, and the sales guy pushing it on you definitely doesn’t have a clue what that is.

The only other major thing to worry about is either ignorant or shady sellers. Sharpeners and retailers are human beings, and some humans are swindlers. They will tell you a shear is 440C, and then sell you the 440A version which cost them half as much.

Look at the shear itself, where the manufacturer has engraved the steel grade. If it says the shear is 440A, then it is 440A, regardless of what the sales guy is telling you. Send it back and get your money back.

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