Thursday, June 9, 2011

The "problem" with ZDP-189 and a short comparison to other steels

All of the reviews I had done thus far are from items that I own or have owned. Generally speaking I don't review a knife until it needs a sharpening. When I get them I usually run them through some cutting tests, like paper and shaving, but I also give them a quick swipe on the Sharpmaker. Then I let them live in my pocket for a few months doing normal EDC tasks with them. Finally, once they have lost their edge, I sit down with the Sharpmaker and bring them back. No second sharpening, no review.


Well, ZDP-189 is presenting me with some problems. I have had my DF2 for a month now and I have used it almost exclusively and yet I can't tell any difference whatsoever in terms of is keen edge. I also didn't need to sharpen it when it came out of the box. So, I guess I will just have to wait. And wait. And wait. At this pace, the newest super steel will be released before my ZDP-189 blade dulls.

I can also report that it does excellent, even with its extremely high carbon content, with rust. It has been a damp couple of months here in New England and I can't find a speck of rust on the blade. It also is quite stain and tarnish resistant. I cut through an old pizza box and then didn't have a chance to wipe down the blade and the next day the grime came right off. Cardboard AND grease.

An early check on the steel tells me that it outpaces S30V by a noticeable amount in terms of edge holding. It is, thus far, just as stain resistant. I can't really find anything to complain about with the steel. It seems obvious to me, at least, that this is the new top of the heap. But you probably already knew that.

If I had to put them into tiers based on my three point scoring system (0=doesn't work; 1=works; 2=works well) with an eye towards edge holding, rust resistance, and durability (hardness v. toughness) it would be something like this (order in the tier from best to worst):

Top Tier (Score of 2)


Middle Tier (Score of 1)

Kershaw's 8Cr13MoV

Bottom Tier (Score of 0)

Buck Heat Treated 420HC
Spyderco's 8Cr13MoV
Benchmade's 154CM

This is, of course, just my opinion, based on my own experience, but it seems pretty accurate with other people's experiences. For more on steels, see the link to Joe T's guide to the right.


  1. My new and beloved Dragonfly 2 in ZDP-189 steel. Found here:

  2. so after a month of usage, does it still push paper and shave?

  3. Well that's great with the concave grind it has when you get it of the box. Now try sharpening it. Everyone has the standard opinion from marketing. Try it out before you offer an opinion. Otherwise it i just smoke and mirrors.

    1. Three years later I and I still love the steel. Sharpening is a chore, but if you strop the steel regularly its not a problem.

  4. Thanks for coming back on the knife! I was interested in the particular steel.

  5. Hows the steel doing in the tarnish department? Did ever consider the G10 DFly?

  6. I have a spyderco delica 4 and have had it for many years, and there is very little rust and/or tarnish I agree with you very much on this as I use my knife daily

  7. My Delica with the ZDP 189 Blade broke while I was cutting an apple. 1/4" inch of the tip broke right off, I could not believe it. Then I realized that ZDP 189 is made from powdered metal and is sintered so there is the possibility of a fault in the blade. I sent it back to Spyderco for warranty we will see what they say.

    1. That is the problem with many spider knives the tips break off. I have had this happen to a delica and a manix. I have never had the problem with my benchmade mini griptillian in m390, 940-1 or my very large contego 810. My 940 is the best edc ever. That broken blade tip is one thing that really turned me off on the spidey knives. Now i find that i am getting much more partial to benchmade. sorry about your knive, it must have been a flaw in the metal

  8. And Yesterday I got a letter offering me a discount of 45% on the list price of any Spyderco product if they can keep my Delica. Guess what guys I can do better than that from Amazon or any online retailer. Very disappointed in their response that it is NOT a warranty issue or a defect. I called them yesterday and politely let them know I was not satisfied, and the knife should not have broken so easily when being used as a cutting tool. I was told that today a higher level manager is supposed to call me back. We will see what the outcome is..

  9. Hmmm, how much of a chore is sharpening? I am new at that, in this moment only have a diamond stone and a ceramic stab.

    I cannot find the link of Joe T about steel.
    I am trying to chose my first knife (never had a real good one) basing on edge retention, wear resistance, and ease of sharpening.
    Normal corrosion resistance and toughness is ok. Mostly slice cut, some push. Thick paper sacks, plastic, cardboard, some wood.
    I am considering many CPM (154, s30v, s35vc, m4, 3v, 4v, s90v), cts (204p, 20cp), m390, elmax, and this one.

    1. If you plan on doing the sharpening yourself I would get a steel that is easy to sharpen (s35vn, 3v 154cm, elmax aus8 14c28n) for your first knife until you get good at sharpening i would stay away from some of the steels with really high edge retention. generally the higher the edge retention the harder it is to sharpen. It takes a while to develop the skills to be good at sharpening and its very difficult to learn on a crazy hard steel.
      However companies like spyderco benchmade kershaw zero tolerance offer free sharpening if you send your knife in. If you want to do that then i would get a steel with really high edge retention (s90v, s110v m390 zdp-189 cts-204p, cpm- m4) so you wont have to send it in as often.

      one of my first good knives was a manix is s110v and i wasnt very good at sharpening which lead to me being frustrated with that knife. however now that i am good at sharpening and have the propor tools to use i really like that knife. I would never recommend that knife steel to anyone who is new at sharpening and plans on doing the sharpening themselves. It would be a great choice though if you dont mind sending it back to the factory to be sharpened.