Carbon steel or stainless steel: which is the best for your knives?

 

Most kitchen knives have blades that are made of steel, but there are several types of steel, and each one has different characteristics due to the different percentages of components present in the steel. The types of steel used for the blades of kitchen knives are commonly classified in two big groups: carbon steel and stainless steel.

The ones known as "carbon steel" are mainly composed of iron and have a carbon content that can range between 0.6 and 1%. On the other hand, the so called "stainless steel" combines components such as carbon (0.2 to 1%), chromium (12 to 17%), molybdenum (0 to 1%) and vanadium (0 to 2%). Each component is helps to guarantee a steel of high quality. The carbon, for example, is what provides more hardness to the blade, the molybdenum and vanadium provide great resistance against corrosion, and the chromium is what allows the blade to be stainless.

In the end, choosing the right type of steel depends on finding a balance between the resistance to corrosion and the strength and rigidity of the blade. That is why when you are about to buy a kitchen knife, it is important to pay attention to the components present in the steel. As a general rule, the less components in the steel, the lowest will be the price of the knife, and thus the lowest will be its quality.

Carbon steel:

This type of steel is composed of pure iron with dispersed carbon grains. There are 3 main variations of carbon steel: soft steel, medium-carbon steel, and high carbon steel. What diffentiates each variation from the others? The content of carbon present in the steel.

The content of carbon influences the resistance and rigidiy of the blade. The knives with the hardest blades are the ones with the highest percentage of carbon content. Anything between 0.6 and 1% of carbon content is considered to be high, thus you can be sure that a knife with that percentage has a truly hard blade.

Advantages: knives with carbon steel blades have more durable cutting edges, thus they remain sharp for longer time. Carbon blades are also thinner, so their cuts tend to be more precise.

Disadvantages: given their high level of rigidity, carbon steel blades are actually more fragile as they can be broken easier because they lack flexibility. Due to the high carbon content, these blades are also more sensible to corrosion, thus they require a higher level of care to keep them always dry.

Japanese knives with carbon steel blades

 

Stainless steel:

In presence of air and humidity, it is normal for iron to get oxidized. However, in the beginning of the twentieth century, metallurgists discovered that by adding a great amount of chromium to the steel, this last one becomes resistant to corrosion. Therefore, to create a stainless steel, there should be at least 16% of chromium content.

Combining a steel with carbon content and other metals such as chromium, molybdenum, and vanadium offers an enhanced resistance to corrosion. Technically, even blades with 0.5% of carbon content can be resistant to corrosion if the presence of chromium, molybdenum, and vanadium is high enough.

Advantages: stainless steel blades require less maintenance than carbon steel ones, because they are resistant to corrosion, and they can remain humid for longer time (although it is still recommendable to avoid it).

Disadvantages: due to the high content of chromium, stainless steel blades are often less sharp than carbon steel ones. This means that they need to be sharpened more often.

Knives with stainless steel blades

 

Other peculiar types of steel blades:

- Hammered blades: some kitchen knives (especially high end Japanese knives) have blades with irregular surfaces with bumps all over it. This is original design is caused by the hammering (literally) of the blade, thus giving the knife an authentic and aesthetic look. On top of that, the hammered surface helps to reduce the stickiness of the blade, so the food won't stick to the blade's surface when being cut.

- Damascus blades: characterised for their mesmerizing and astonishing look, this types of blades are composed of several layers of damask steel. The combination of soft and hard steel layers gives the blade both hardness and flexibility. The overlapping layers of steel create wavy lines on the blade's surface giving the knife a truly original look. In general, kitchen knives with damascus blades are known for being very sharp.

 

Now that you know the main differences of the types of steel used in the blades, you are able to make a better decision in choosing the type of steel that is more convenient for the knives that you need in the kitchen. Of course, if you still have any doubts, you can also send us a message via our Contact page or give us a call at 020 3445 5205. We'll be glad to help you! :)

 

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