The Pros and Cons of Stainless vs. High Carbon Steel Knife Blades
When it comes to knife blades, there is a laundry list of metals that can be used. But generally speaking, there are two classifications in knife blades, stainless or high carbon steel knife blades. Each has their pros and cons and for the most part, you are just trading the shortcomings of one with the strength of the other. It all comes down to what you are willing to sacrifice on and what you are hoping to get. But which knife blade is stainless and which ones is high carbon?
Stainless steel blades generally have at least 12% chromium which does two things for the blade. This makes the blade able to resist rust and corrosion a lot better than high carbon blades but the downside is stainless steel is generally softer than high carbon knives. This means that although they are relatively easier to sharpen, they also tend to lose their edge just a tad quicker than harder, high carbon blades. Some of the most widely used stainless steel blades include 440’s (A, B and C), AUS 6, 8 and 10 and of course the Japanese made VG-10 which is one of the most sought after blades in the world. But stainless steel blades are definitely not perfect. So here are the advantages of stainless steel blades.
Durability. Stainless steel knife blades are generally tougher than high carbon blades. Tougher but not necessarily harder. There is an ongoing debate between the definitions of the two because, for the longest time, they have been considered synonyms. Stainless steel blades do not rust, chip or stain easily. Technically speaking, stainless steel can still rust but it resists it a lot better than high carbon knives.
Flavor Preservation. Stainless steel knives do not require any protective or non-stick coating so there is less chance of contaminating your food is you do use it for food preparation. Stainless steel also tends not to leach off its metallic properties onto your food. Some discerning pallets sometimes can tell if the knife used in the preparation of the food was high carbon because it sometimes leaves that slight metallic taste.
Recyclable. Stainless steel is one of the most recyclable materials today. They are in fact almost everywhere metal is used. This means that if you do happen to wreck your knife, which is quite hard to do with stainless steel, you can always have it recycled. It’s a simple way of helping Mother Earth.
Appearance. Of course, the biggest pull of stainless steel knives is the fact that they look good for a very long time. Less time used in maintaining the knife gives you more time to do what it is you like to do.
The ESEE 4P-MB-SS is an excellent example of a stainless steel:
High Carbon Steel
Carbon is the hardest element and knife blades made from high carbon steel is no exception. The strength and hardness of the blade makes it ideal for edge retention which means less time required for edge maintaining the blade but since it does not have a drop of chromium, it has a very poor rust resistance capability. This means that you need to thoroughly clean the knife after use and make sure that you guard it against moisture before you store it. More commonly used on fixed blade knives, high carbon knife blades are known to last throughout the years. I would bet my bottom dollar that you’re grand-daddy’s fixed blade knife blade is made from some kind of high carbon steel, most likely 1095. There are a lot of professional chefs and survivalist that swears to the quality of high carbon steel blades but here is a short list of the advantages of having a high carbon blade on your knife.
Sharpness. There is simply no matching the sharpness that high carbon steel blades have. With skill and a lot of time, you can get a stainless steel knife sharp but not to the level that high carbon steel blades. That added level of sharpness allows you better precision in cutting and requires a lot less effort thus making the knife a lot safer. This is the main reason why professional chefs still prefer high carbon steel for their personal knives.
Affordable. Of course, the price of a knife generally depends on various factors, but high carbon steel knives tend to be a lot more affordable than their stainless steel counterparts. I didn’t use the word cheaper because you might get the wrong idea. High carbon steel blades are cheaper in price, not in quality.
Hardness. High carbon steel blades are a lot harder than stainless steel which makes it a lot more dependable on precision cuts. Most blades for hunting knives are made from high carbon steel specifically because of this reason. One may argue that high carbon rust easier which makes it a terrible choice for an outdoors environment but that can easily be resolved by some proper knife maintenance.
Edge Retention. Because they are harder, they also tend to hold their sharp edge longer. This means that you do not have to worry about sharpening your knife every 5 minutes and you know that you will cut through anything especially when you need it most. One thing’s for sure, you can skin a deer faster with a carbon steel blade that a stainless steel one.
As with almost everything in the knife world, it all depends on what you prefer. No blade is perfect for every need, some blades are well suited for particular tasks but might be lacking the qualities of another. It all depends on what are you willing to sacrifice for what you aim to gain. Stainless steel may be recyclable but high carbon blades will not burn a hole in your pocket. High carbon steel may be harder that stainless steel, yet on the other hand, stainless steel really chips as high carbon blades will. When it comes to looks, some prefer that clean shiny look of stainless while some appreciate the patina of a high carbon knife. As they say, to each his own.