High Carbon Steel Vs Stainless Steel

Ever wondered what the difference is between high carbon steel and stainless steel? The tldr is that it all comes down to definitions and chemical compositions. For a steel to be classified as 'stainless' it needs to have a chromium content of 10.5% or more. For a steel to be classified as 'high carbon' it needs to have a carbon content above 1%. 

There are stainless steels that have carbon contents higher than 1% - technically making them 'high carbon' steels too. Confusing right?

For simplicity, most knife makers will refer to steels with more than 10.5% chromium content as stainless steel, regardless of the carbon content. Knife makers will also commonly call steels with less than 10.5% chromium content 'carbon steel' and 'high carbon steel'. The difference between the two again comes down to chemical composition. Only steels with more than 1% carbon fall into the high carbon bracket. There are many different classifications of steel (high speed, tool, spring etc) but when buying a knife the main choice you will need to make is between steels that resist stains and those that don't. 

If you want a knife that will take on a patina over time, showing the story of its use, then a high carbon steel knife is the way to go. Some carbon steels can also form a hamon during heat treatment which looks spectacular. Due to carbon steels having less than 10.5% chromium they must be cleaned and dried straight after use to prevent rusting and pitting. High carbon steels are, generally speaking, tougher than stainless steels and slightly easier to get hair-splitting sharp. 

If you, like me, are slightly messy and forgetful in the kitchen then a stainless steel knife is likely the better choice. They won't rust anywhere near as quickly as carbon steels and don't need washing and drying immediately after use. Modern, high quality stainless steels can get as sharp as high carbon steels though may need a little more effort when sharpening. However they typically also hold an edge longer than many high carbon steels.

So it really comes down to what best fits you. Have a look through the gallery to see photos of both high carbon and stainless steels to get an idea of what you like the look of. We only use high performance steels so you'll get a super sharp knife that'll hold an edge nicely regardless of which steel you choose. If you have any questions just drop us an email; we always love a chat.

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