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How To Take Care Of A Carbon Steel Blade - The ABKT Way

Posted by David McHan - ABKT President

It is generally accepted as "fact" that stainless steel blades are better than carbon steel blades. The reality is that most people don't understand what you are getting in a carbon steel bladed knife. Not knowing the benefits of a carbon steel blade can be a common problem with the younger generation, and even big chain retail stores.

Most people will tell you, "stainless is better anyway." If you ask why they will reply, "because they do not rust." The fact is, carbon steel and stainless steel knives both have their benefits depending on how they are used. ABKT is here to explain the difference for you. 

Stainless Steel knives are, overall, less hard than carbon steel, and wearability is less but care is minimal. Stainless steel knives are great for a first knife, a knife that is rarely used, and/or a knife for a collection that will not be used. If you are going to carry it in your pocket and use it for light use (Cut strings, pick your nails, cut the tags off of clothes, etc.) then stainless is the way to go.

Carbon steel knives are harder than stainless blades, will hold an edge longer, and have better wearability; but care must be taken with carbon steel knives. However, if you are going to use it (Skinning, castrating, etc.) then you need a carbon blade.

Many people shy away from carbon steel because they believe carbon steel blades are hard to take care of, let’s take the mystery out of taking care of carbon steel blades.

Carbon Steel Blades

Carbon steel will rust if left out in the elements. Don't expect your shiny, new carbon steel blade to stay shiny. If you want a shiny blade, then buy stainless. However, let us tell you a secret that knife makers do not want you to know: stainless steel will also rust, but at a much slower rate. All knives need to be cleaned with all moisture wiped off before they are stored. Proper care for your knife is the key to taking care of a carbon steel blade. 

Carbon steel blades will eventually develop patina, which can be mistaken for rust. There is a difference between a patina and rust. Rust is Iron Oxide. It is normally red in color. It is formed from the reaction between Iron and Oxygen in the presence of moisture(air). Patina is a thin layer that forms on the surface of copper, bronze, some stones, wooden furniture and so on. 

The patina(a blue/gray color) that your carbon steel blade will develop is good. A knife with a healthy patina is protected from rust. To promote a good patina on your blade, simply use it!

You can promote faster development of a patina by cutting acidic fruit. We have some pictures of a carbon steel Roper knife that we just simply stuck it in an apple.

This is what your blade will look like after 24 hours in an apple. It has a dark patina to it and it will greatly diminish the rust to your carbon steel blade. Anything acidic will place this patina on your carbon steel blade. (Including blood if you cut yourself).

Carbon Steel Blade Patina  Close-Up of Patina

Do not polish your carbon steel blade after it has a patina. This will remove the patina and all of the rust protection. A carbon steel knife without a patina will rust quickly.

It’s always good to oil your carbon steel blades. ABKT personally thinks this is necessary if you are planning to store them for a few years. If you do want to oil your blade, then use mineral oil.

To sum up:

1. Clean your knife when you put it away

2. Develop a healthy patina on the blade

3. Apply a coat of mineral oil when storing for long periods

That's it! Taking care of a carbon steel blade is really no harder than a stainless steel blade and it is much better blade material.

To summarize:

Carbon steel is tough and long-lasting steel and it will keep an edge for much longer than stainless steel. When used properly your knife should only have to be put on a sharpening stone once a month. This is if you are using it on a daily basis.

Some common do’s and don’ts:

• Don’t put knives in the dishwasher

• Don’t leave a knife soaking in a sink full of water

• Don’t store in a sheath

• Do keep your knife sharp

• Do keep it stored correctly and responsibly

• Do use the knife for the purpose it was made for

• Don’t use a knife as a lever, hammer, shovel, screwdriver etc

• Don’t cut on a glass, stone or steel surface, do use wood or plastic

• Do remember to clean and oil the handle as well as the blade

Please feel free to email ABKT with any questions on the care and maintenance of your blade.