This post was updated in December 2019 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. 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.
2. Benchmade Adamas
“This knife is a tank.” I’ve heard that about the Benchmade Adamas a million times, and it’s not hard to see why the folding version gets so much love. The 3.82-inch blade is 0.160 inches thick while the handle features liners and G-10 handle scales. Coming in at more than 7 ounces, the weight would be a liability in a lesser knife but the Adamas uses it as leverage in heavy-duty tasks.
The manual-opening version of the Adamas was our Badass Knife of the Week in the past and it’s sold well over the past few years. With a heavy-duty knife like this, it’s no surprise Benchmade decided to go with a workhorse steel like D2.
3. ESEE Avispa
ESEE is a purveyor of some of the cheapest D2 knives you can get; unfortunately, we rarely have them in stock at Knife Depot. One of those knives is the Avispa. This is a frame locking blade with a 3.5-inch D2 steel blade. The knife is designed and endorsed by the same guys behind the RAT series, which is why the handle looks so similar.
A smaller version of the Zancudo is also a worthy D2 folder.
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. Artisan Cutlery Shark
Artisan Cutlery is an up-and-coming Chinese company that’s offering low end and high end versions of its knives. The “low end” knives aren’t exactly gas station knives though. For example, the Shark uses D2 steel and carbon fiber scales — all for under $60.
There’s also an S35VN version but that doesn’t factor into this list.
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. Brous Blade Exo
Few people are more fanatical about D2 steel than Jason Brous, so we thought we had to include at least one Brous Blades model here. We went with the Exo.
The Brous Exo is considered a flagship model with premium materials and construction. It has a 3.375-inch D2 blade and 6AL4V titanium handle. There are great flourishes like skeletonize steel liners on one side of the handle and a reliable flipper.
13. Ontario Bob Dozier Arrow
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. 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. Steel Will Cutjack
Steel Will did something interesting in 2017. They made a line of knives called the Cutjack with two tiers: one with D2 steel and one with M390 steel. The Cutjack is a surprisingly affordable flipper knife with great ergonomics and great steel.
I am partial to the mini version of the Cutjack with a 3-inch blade.
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. Boker Plus Lateralus
Yes, this is the third Boker on the list, but that’s because Boker likes to work with D2. The Lateralus is a great knife designed by JB Stout that highlights his creativity and feel for knives.
The 3.5-inch D2 blade flows well into the stonewashed steel handle.
18. DPx Gear HEST/F 2.0
This was a Badass Knife of the Week not long ago because of its excellent design, useful features, and quality. The DPx Gear HEST/F 2.0 is jam-packed with features and things to explore, and it’s likened to the strength and durability of a fixed blade.
19. Benchmade Infidel OTF
The Infidel is one of Benchmade’s most popular knives. It is an out-the-front automatic knife with smooth action and a great build. It has a 3.95-inch D2 steel blade and a black anodized, machined 6061 T-6 aluminum handle.
Unfortunately, you can usually only buy these online if you’re a member of the military.
20. Artisan Cutlery Tomahawk
We had to add one more Artisan Cutlery on here because its D2 models have been earning major kudos from users all over. After the Shark, the next popular model is the Tomahawk.
This model has an interesting cleaver-like design with a sub-4-inch D2 blade that opens via flipper. The handle is carbon fiber and there are some nice flourishes like the orange pivot collar. This is another great value D2 folder.