Bark River A2 vs CPM 3V Steel

A2 vs 3V
By DLT Pro Staff Writer Matt Westendorf

When it comes to steel choices we are fortunate to have a lot of options be it stainless, good old tool steels or the new breed of super steels. Bark River Knife & Tool over the past few years has started making more and more of their models available in a variety of steels including A2 (the old standby), CPM 3V and many more. The focus here will be on A2 and CPM’s 3V. 

So how does 3V stand up against A2? 3V has a leg up on A2 in toughness and wear resistance which means in the field it should hold its edge longer but will be more challenging to sharpen once the edge has deteriorated. A2 on the other hand will be a little more likely to chip, won’t hold an edge as long as 3V but will be much easier to bring the edge back up to sharp when the time comes. I have also found that 3V is far more resistant to patina and corrosion than A2. One other key variable to keep in mind is the heat treat which varies from maker to maker. In other words, a 3V or even an A2 knife from one maker may not necessarily perform like that from another maker. 

Toughness and wear resistance comes with a price however. 3V is much more expensive to buy than A2, takes more abrasives to grind and finish out which all comes down to a premium price tag. 

I spend a fair amount of time hunting, butchering (hogs and deer) and camping and have had the chance to compare a Bark River Canadian Special in both 3V and A2. The Canadian Special has been on my belt for a number of successful whitetail hunts and for field dressing tasks, I saw no performance difference between the two knives. They both made quick work of the task and were still hair popping sharp when complete. 

When it comes to butchering and processing a lot of meat, the 3V’s wear resistance starts to shine. The extra wear resistance means less time touching up the edge and more time processing meat. That is a good thing because touching up a 3V edge for me is not a quick thing. I have been successful at maintaining an edge on my 3V knives with a leather hone and some compound but it is much more difficult (at least for me) than my other knives. If I let the knife get dull, it was a big challenge for me to bring it back to sharp by hand. 

On the camping sides of things I have batoned and processed a lot of fire wood with both 3V and A2 knives. I will gladly take either steel to the woods with confidence that it will get the job done with ease. 

So which is the right steel for me? At the end of the day, the added cost along with the added challenge of maintaining the edge just isn’t worth the price of admission for 3V. When a model is offered in both 3V and A2, my choice will always be to go with the old standby A2. With the right heat treat, A2 can take on and hold an incredible edge and it is fairly easy to maintain the edge with a simple leather hone and some compound. A little mineral oil or gun oil keeps the corrosion at bay even in the nastiest of conditions.

Which is the right steel for you? The only way to find out is to buy a couple knives and head out to your hunting grounds or woods and find out for yourself.

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