AEB-L is a very common steel from Europe. It was originally developed by Bohler-Uddeholm as a razor blade steel and it takes a very keen edge. The steel is chemically similar to the Sandvik series of steels—12C27 and 14C28N. It is almost identical to Sandvik’s 13C27 with only minor differences in chemical composition.
AEB-L enjoys a very good reputation among makers, as it is a very consistent steel. It has a very basic heat treat, apparently similar to 440C. It can be worked with relative ease on a grinder and it can easily take a full mirror polish. In an interview I did with the legendary Michael Walker, he stated that he preferred AEB-L, if he couldn’t use Damascus (which, of course, he can make himself). Similarly in speaking with Jesse Jarosz, he too indicated a strong preference for AEB-L.
As a user, my experience has been all positive. AEB-L tends to be very hard and get very sharp very fast. It also has above average corrosion resistance. I have had AEB-L on two knives, my Jarosz JFS and my Jarosz M75. I have owned and used the JFS for more than 3 years and the M75 is just a year younger. The JFS is a knife I like and use quite a bit. It is my small fixed blade, resting between my Ver Steeg Imp (which is my EDC fixed blade) and the Bravo 1 LT, which I use as a general purpose knife. I have found the JFS to be an excellent knife to take on a hike and it rides well on my Maxpedition Pygmy Falcon II.
I have stropped both knives and fully resharpened the JFS multiple times. I believe I have a good amount of experience with this steel, probably less than I do with ZDP-189, S35VN, AUS-8, and 1095, but more than most steels.
Here is the composition chart. Here is the closest thing I can find to a datasheet. Finally, the price per cubic inch, as of February 10, 2018, is about $5.05 (as taken from American Knife Supply).
Hardness: 4 out of 5; as good as non-powder steels get
Its not ZDP-189 hard, but it typically hits 62 on HRc with the standard heat treat protocol, which is close to ZDP-189’s 65-66 HRc. It is certainly harder than other decent non-powder steels, performing much better than VG-10, AUS-8, and being a virtual clone in hardness to 154CM. Its a great bang for your buck.
Toughness: 3 out of 5; meh performance
Toughness is clearly where B-U decided to save some pennies. In the two knives I have, there is no tendency to hold instead of chip and though it is infrequent because of how I use my knives, it is a notable difference compared to the other three fixed blades I have and their steels (TM Hunt’s O1, 3V, and KaBar’s 1095 Cro Van in the Imp, Bravo 1 LT, and BK 9 respectively).
Corrosion Resistance: 4 out of 5; its designed to be used in wet environments
I’m not sure how to tarnish this steel. I have used my JFS for all sorts of mucky tasks and I haven’t been the most assiduous cleaner after the fact and it has been fine. The acid-camo wash Jesse did hides a lot of stuff on the main part of the blade, but the edge is still bare steel and it has remained rust free for years.
Sharpenability: 5 out of 5; zip, zip, zip=sharp
AEB-L’s best attribute in my mind is how fast its gets its edge back. The steel here seems to want to BE sharp and comes screaming back with a simple stropping. I like it quite a bit.
Overall Score: 16 out of 20 with no price premium
As a value steel, it is hard to beat AEB-L. It, along with 14C28N, are my two favorite non-powder steels for general use. The lack of a price premium and its extremely maker friendly composition make it a great steel for custom makers. From the perspective of a custom maker, it can look nice and perform well without costing a ton. I am not sure why it is not more commonly used in production knives, but its rare combination of high hardness and easy sharpening make it something I really, really like.