This post was originally written in September 2017 and updated in July 2021 to include newer models.
Finding the perfect steel is tough. Not only are there so many types available but there are also tons of factors to consider — price, ease of sharpening, hardness, corrosion resistance, and more.
The perfect steel is ever elusive, but you can pick the right steel for the job. If you want a steel that’s nearly stainless but has great edge retention and wear-resistance, opt for D2.
D2 tool steel has been around for a very long time. It became popular as a tool steel during World War II in factories. In terms of knives, knife makers Wayne Goddard and Bob Dozier pioneered the use of D2 steel in knives. In fact, Dozier is sometimes called Dr. D2.
Here is an excerpt from Steve Shackleford’s Blade Magazine post on why D2 is still so great after all these years:
While D2 may not be stainless, it remains a top performer due in no small part to its high wear resistance/edge-holding ability. “It will hold an edge for a very long time before it will go dull,” says Paul Tsujimoto, director of engineering at Ontario Knife Co. Combined with its relatively inexpensive price, this makes D2 a favorite of manufacturers and custom makers alike. “For us, it’s the perfect combination of performance and an affordable price,” notes Dietmar Pohl of Pohl Force Knives. Agrees Devanna, “It’s the best bang for the buck because it’s priced reasonably and works well.”
While D2 does sacrifice ease of sharpening and some corrosion resistance, it remains an excellent choice for knife users everywhere.
If you’re interested in seeing what D2 has to offer, I collected a list of 20 knives that showcase the variety of D2 knives. Take a look.
1. CRKT Pilar III
The CRKT Pilar has been an unexpected hit the last few years. Although the larger Pilar was fine, it didn’t live up to the original. But the Pilar III definitely does.
CRKT offers the Pilar III in D2 or 8Cr13MoV, but the D2 is obviously better. The larger blade is nearly 3 inches, and the handle is still perfectly angled.
2. KA-BAR Dozier D2 Folder
As I said earlier, Bob Dozier is one of the pioneers of D2 steel, so it was only apt to put one of his knives on this list. Strangely enough, although the Dozier Folding Hunter has been around at KA-BAR for years, it only got the D2 treatment in 2021. Still, it’s better late than never!
This knife has a tried-and-true folding hunter design that also works as an EDC.
3. SOG Terminus XR
The Terminus XR has been an excellent EDC option, but this D2 version makes things even better. The 2.95-inch blade has a stonewashed finish while the Olive Drab G-10 handle adds some color.
The thing I love most about the Terminus XR is the fidget factor, thanks to the XR lock and multiple opening options.
4. CRKT Helical
The last few years, CRKT has been experimenting more and more with D2 steel in its higher end knives. The Helical is a perfect example.
The Helical is billed as a Ken Onion thought experiment with a rectangular handle that doesn’t seem like it would work but actually does. The 3.5-inch D2 blade has black coating while the handle is 6061 aluminum.
5. Kershaw Natrix in Copper
The Kershaw Natrix is a popular little EDC knife from Kershaw and that’s allowed the brand to make it in different iterations. This copper version is quite intriguing, and it also has stonewashed D2 steel. The blade itself is 2.75 inches while the copper handles give the knife a different look and feel.
6. CJRB Crag
Artisan Cutlery is an up-and-coming Chinese company that’s offering quality knives at affordable prices. Believe it or not, CJRB is Artisan Cutlery’s budget brand. These “budget” knives aren’t exactly gas station knives though. For example, the Crag uses D2 steel and carbon fiber scales — all for under $40.
7. Kershaw Leek Composite
Composite blades are a great invention. You get the best of two knife worlds combined in a single blade. Technology has advanced far enough so that the composite blade is reliable and seamless. In true Kershaw fashion, the company took the iconic Leek and equipped it with its composite blade technology. Although the blade is not completely D2 steel, the cutting edge is while the spine is Sandvik 14C28N.
This is an iconic knife that I’m sure most of you already have in your collection, and the composite blade makes it even better. I love the look of the wavy copper line that fuses the two steels together. Other than the composite blade, there’s not much left that needs to be said about the Leek.
8. Ontario Carter Prime Flipper
The RAT 1 isn’t the only Ontario knife to feature D2 steel. The Carter Prime was introduced only a few years ago and has already risen through the ranks as an underrated EDC knife. The knife is designed by Robert Carter, the son of Joe Pardue of Ontario Utilitac fame and grandson of Mel Pardue of Benchmade Griptilian fame.
The Carter Prime is a flipper with a 3.37-inch D2 blade and a lightweight anodized titanium handle. The sheepsfoot blade profile is surprisingly versatile and the knife works well as a hard-use EDC — somewhere between the Adamas and Kershaw Leek.
9. KA-BAR D2 Extreme
The KA-BAR is one of the most iconic designs out there. So if you want it in different steel, you’re in luck.
The D2 Extreme is essentially an updated KA-BAR that uses the same general design with a few updates, including tough D2 steel, Kraton G handle materials, and a gray look. This redesign has been well-received over the years.
10. Cold Steel Leatherneck SF
Cold Steel has its own take on the classic fighting knife in the Leatherneck SF. This knife features the overall same design as the KA-BAR with a long clip point blade, hand guard, and ergonomic handle. The black-coated D2 blade is 6.75 inches long and the handle is not stacked leather but rather Griv-Ex.
The SF stands for Semper Fi, and the knife is considered an excellent alternative to the KA-BAR at a lesser price.
11. Boker Plus Caracal
Boker doesn’t dabble much in D2 steel, but it did use D2 in its Boker Plus Caracal. The knife is touted as a modern and rugged utility knife and fewer steels fit better than D2. This is a sleek flipper with a 3.42-inch blade and black G-10 handle scales. Ball bearings make opening the blade smooth and reliable.
A deep carry pocket clip and an impact element are nice touches on this EDC. Although this post is only about folders, there is a fixed blade version of the Caracal with D2 steel as well.
12. CRKT Trask
D2 is one of the hardest working steels around, so it only made sense to match it up with Flavio Ikoma’s Deadbolt lock on the CRKT Trask.
The blade is 3.33 inches and opens with the thumb notch. Designed by Eric Ochs, the Trask works well as a hard-use everyday carry folder.
13. Ontario Bob Dozier Arrow
While most of his D2 knives are customs, the Ontario Dozier Arrow is a production knife. It has a spear point D2 blade that’s 3.6 inches and G-10 handle slabs. A narrow profile helps keep the weight down to a lightweight 2 ounces.
This is a knife you can use for everyday carry or for defensive purposes.
14. CRKT Provoke
If you want innovation, CRKT is the place to look. Just take the CRKT Provoke, for example. Designed by Joe Caswell, the Provoke is a morphing karambit with a unique opening mechanism.
The blade on this version has a 2.41-inch D2 blade with black coating. The handle is made from 6061 T6 aluminum.
15. ABKT Scavenger
This one is kind of a wild card. I wrote a review about this knife from relatively obscure brand American Buffalo Knife and Tool (ABKT). While I really loved the knife, there were problems with quality control in the other knives from the company.
You can get this D2 flipper knife with ball bearings for $50. It might be a risk in terms of quality (though again, the Scavenger I received was top notch), but it could be worth the price.
16. Boker Plus Wildcat
The Boker Plus Wildcat is an interesting knife. The folding karambit has a D2 blade that’s under 3 inches and G-10 handles. The handle itself is very ergonomic and conforms right to the hand.
If you’re really interested in learning the knife for self-defense, there’s also a trainer version.
17. Kershaw Tumbler
Dmitry Sinkevich knows how to make a darn good knife. The Kershaw Tumbler is a sleek, sexy, and curvaceous folder. The flipper blade is 3.25 inches of D2 steel while the handle is a composite of G-10 and carbon fiber. This gives it a unique look and feel.
18. Ontario RAT 1 D2
The RAT 1 is one of the most beloved budget knives of all time. It (and its smaller brother the RAT 2) are praised for their designs and overall utility. The only major complaint the RAT 1 gets is its adequate AUS-8 blade steel. So Ontario Knife Company came back with a D2 version of the knife.
The one I’m highlighting here is an all-around fantastic limited edition version with a D2 blade and a carbon fiber laminated G-10 handle. It doesn’t cut down on the weight as much as I’d like, but it looks and feels great in the hand. Other than the upgrades, the limited edition RAT 1 maintains the same design elements as the original.
19. CJRB Rampart
Because it’s prices are so reasonable and reviews are so high, we had to add another CJRB knife to this list. The Rampart was our choice.
It has a long 3.5-inch Wharncliffe blade made from stonewashed D2 steel. The black G-10 handle scales offer a ton of texture that makes it comfortable to hold.
20. Kershaw Emerson CQC-6K D2
The Kershaw Emerson CQC-6K has always been one of our favorite budget folders. It just offers so much in a compact package at a great price. So when Kershaw discontinued the old version and made it in D2 steel, we were ecstatic.
This version has the same exact design and specs of the original Kershaw Emerson collaboration but with D2 steel. You can’t go wrong with it.