Friday, February 24, 2012

How To Take Care Of A Carbon Steel Blade

It is generally accepted as "fact" that stainless steel blades are better than carbon steel blades. I was at my local Bass Pro Shops looking at knives a few months ago. I asked to look at a folding pocket knife with a carbon steel blade. The young man who was helping me obviously knew very little about the products he was selling. This is a common problem with large outdoor stores. He couldn't tell me if any of the knives they carried had a carbon steel blade. He even commented, "Stainless is better anyway." When I asked why he thought so he replied, "Because they do not rust."

I didn't argue. Defending the benefits of carbon steel to a person who believes that stainless is best is like explaining to a Apple computer user why you prefer a PC. They just don't want to listen.

The fact is, I prefer carbon steel to stainless steel. I am at a point in my life that I will not buy a stainless steel knife unless I have no choice. Many people shy away from carbon steel because they believe carbon steel blades are hard to take care of. Let me take the mystery out of taking care of a carbon steel blade.

Top: 25 year old carbon steel blade
Bottom: 2 day old carbon steel blade
Carbon steel will rust if left out in the elements. Let me tell you a secret that knife makers do not want you to know; stainless steel will also rust! Although, at a much slower rate. All knives need to be cleaned and all moisture wiped off before they are stored. This is the key to taking care of a carbon steel blade. Simply wipe off the moisture when it gets wet.

There is a difference between a patina and rust. Do not expect your shiny, new carbon steel blade to stay shiny. If you want a shiny blade, buy stainless. Over time carbon steel will develop a grey/blue patina. This is good. A knife with a healthy patina is protected from rust. To promote a good patina on your blade, simply use it!

See any rust? No! The patina has protected the blade.

You can promote a faster development of a patina by cutting acidic fruit or getting blood on it. Because I often clean game, my knives have a blood patina on them. This type of patina is usually blotchy. I find it very appealing.

Do not polish your carbon steel blade. This will remove the patina and all of the rust protection. A patina-less carbon steel knife will rust quickly.

I call this a "blood" patina. You can see the areas that contact blood the most.
I have never oiled this knife.
Some people like to oil their carbon steel blades. I personally think this is unnecessary unless you are planing on storing them for a few years. If you do want to oil your blade, use mineral oil. Another secret knife makers don't want you to know; honing oil or knife oil is just mineral oil repackaged.

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 easier to sharpen! (Plus a handful of other benefits. More to come.)

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