KnifeSteelNerds: How to Heat Treat K390

K390 Steel and Heat Treating Background

I already have a video and article about the history and properties of K390, which you can see here. K390 is a powder metallurgy non-stainless steel with high wear resistance due to very high vanadium, 9%. It is in a similar category to CPM-10V and Vanadis 8.

Since that article and video were published, new samples were heat treated by Svetlozar Chaushev; funding and logistical help was provided by K390 enthusiasts Manuel Meyer and Othman Fahim. I finished machining the samples and tested them for hardness and toughness. The main additions to the previous information we had is a comparison of tempering temperatures. My samples were tempered at 400°F (205°C) but these new ones were tempered at 500°F (260°C) or 1000°F (538°C). Some steels that we have tested in the past showed a reduction in toughness by tempering at 500 rather than 400°F, despite the reduction in hardness. An example of this behavior was seen with CPM S35VN. This is referred to as tempered martensite embrittlement. However, the temperature range of tempered martensite embrittlement is different for different steels and can be suppressed to higher temperatures than 500°F, so it is worthwhile to test.

I am slowly grinding my way through Larrin’s latest book – History of Knife Steel. I got sidetracked needing to read Oliver Twist to help my daughter with her honors literature schoolwork.

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How to Heat Treat K390