High Carbon vs. Stainless Steel

I will start with a brief list detailing how the two different types of steels we use to build your knife, are different. If you would like to read further, I continue to explain the reasoning behind the attributes listed.

HIGH CARBON

STEEL

  • Harder Steel
  • Longer Lasting Sharpened Edge
  • Susceptible to oxidization and rust
  • More Care is needed

STAINLESS
STEEL

  • Resistant to oxidization and rust
  • Less Care is needed
  • Easier to Sharpen
  • More Frequent need for Sharpening

Culinary Steel is most commonly split into two categories. High Carbon Steel and Stainless Steel. To begin, we should define what steel actually is. When we say “steel” what we mean is “Iron mixed with another element”. Steel is essentially an “alloy” or “mixture of metal elements”. Steel in its most basic form, is Iron and Carbon. From there, a huge list of alloys can be added. The basic premise between differentiating High Carbon and Stainless Steel; is how much Chromium will be added to the Iron and Carbon steel alloy.

High Carbon Steel is defined by how much carbon is added to the steel alloy. When the carbon content is around 1.5% – 2.0% by weight, the steel is considered a High Carbon Steel Blade.

Stainless Steel is defined by how much chromium is added to the iron and carbon steel alloy. When the chromium content is around 15% by weight, the steel is considered a Stainless Steel Blade.

When a High Carbon or Stainless Steel blade is heated (specific temperatures differ between steels) and then cooled very quickly in oil (or sometimes water) the steel changes its molecular structure, and becomes hard. This process is casually referred to as Heat Treating. The resulting Hardness is measured on a widely accepted scale, called the Rockwell scale (HRC). This is a very deep and complicated subject of study, as with all metallurgy, however for the purposes of this summary we will discuss things very simply. Generally speaking, and in our specific work, the resulting hardness of High Carbon Steel is harder than Stainless Steel. This does not always mean that a High Carbon Steel is a better fit for purpose than a Stainless Steel.

Stainless Steel is not as hard, however that makes it easier to sharpen. Also, as noted in its name, the steel can be quite resistant to corrosion or oxidization through moisture, otherwise known as rusting. If you live in a very moist environment or plan to use the knife in a moist environment Stainless might be the best fit. For example, many fisherman who come to us for Fillet Knives, want them in Stainless Steel.

High Carbon Steel is a harder steel, which means the sharpened edge will last longer, however, that also makes it harder to sharpen. High Carbon steel is also not resistant to a moist environment. It can rust quite easily when compared to a Stainless Steel Blade. When the environment is controlled and dry, such as an indoor kitchen a High Carbon Steel Knife can be a good fit.

There are trade offs between these two different types of steels. A give and take depending on how and where you use your knife. High Carbon does have a longer lasting edge, but you need to take care of the knife. Stainless Steel is easier to take care of, but will require more frequent sharpening.