What is better carbon or stainless steel for making knives

February 4, 2023
carbon vs stainless steel

Carbon and stainless steel are the two most popular materials used in the manufacture of knives, which are essential tools for everyday use. There are several key differences between carbon and stainless steel depending on the user’s needs and budget, which can influence a person’s decision when buying knives. And before deciding which type of steel is best for knives, it’s important to understand what carbon and stainless steel are, their similarities and differences.

What is Carbon Steel?

Carbon steel is a commonly known type of steel that is an alloy of iron and carbon. Carbon steel has high tensile strength and hardness, but is much more susceptible to corrosion. Carbon steel typically contains from 0.01% to 1.5% of the concentration of carbon in this alloy.

This range of variation gives us different types of carbon steel. Low carbon or mild steel, where the carbon concentration is 0.25%. Next, medium carbon steel containing a carbon concentration of 0.25% to 0.70%. And high-carbon steel that used in knives and tools, where the carbon concentration reaches from 0.7% to 1.5%. 

High-carbon steels are very hard, so they retain their shape for a long time and resist abrasion well. Unfortunately, hard metals are brittle. Under extreme tensile stress, high carbon steels will crack rather than bend.

carbon steel knife

What is Stainless Steel?

In fact, stainless steel is a general term and can be attributed to different types of steel. Stainless steel, like all other types of steel, is made primarily from iron and carbon in a two-step process. Stainless steel is distinguished by the addition of chromium (Cr) and other alloying elements such as nickel (Ni) to create a corrosion resistant product. When chromium is added to steel, it forms chromium oxide, which acts as a protective surface that prevents rust from forming as it does with regular steel. 

Chromium is added in an amount of 10.5 to 30%, depending on the application or environment in which the steel will be used.

There are a huge number of different grades of stainless steel, but they can be divided into five main types. Austenitic stainless steel used in the manufacture of utensils, industrial pipelines and vessels, construction and architectural facades. It has excellent corrosion and heat resistance with good mechanical properties over a wide temperature range. Ferritic stainless steel has the same properties as mild steel but has better resistance to corrosion, heat and cracking. Such steel is commonly used in washing machines, boilers and interior architecture. Duplex stainless steel is a combined of austenitic and ferritic steels. Duplex steel is both strong and flexible and is used in the paper, pulp, shipbuilding and petrochemical industries. Martensitic stainless steel, with approximately 13% chromium, is very hard and strong, although it is not as resistant to corrosion as austenitic or ferritic grades. It is mainly used for the manufacture of blades and turbine blades.

stainless steel knife


Similarities between Carbon Steel & Stainless Steel

The main similarity between carbon and stainless steels is the content of the main component of iron. Both steels have similar properties such as malleability, ductility, tensile strength, etc. However, they differ significantly in corrosion resistance. Both types of steel also come in different grades depending on the amount of carbon present in the alloy. The higher the percentage of carbon present in any type of alloy, the harder it will be but more brittle than its low carbon counterpart will. 

carbon vs stainless steel

Why High Carbon Steel Is Better Than Stainless Steel?

High carbon steels are generally better suited for knives due to their superior hardness and ability to hold an edge longer than stainless steels without the need for frequent sharpening or honing. They generally tend to be less expensive than stainless steels. The reason for this is the simpler composition, containing only iron and carbon, compared to the numerous additional elements into stainless alloys, which contribute to their high cost. In addition, due to their higher amounts of carbon, high carbon steels can also take on more intricate shapes than are possible with stainless steels.

custom knives

Durability & Sharpening Tests:

To test durability one should look at how each type fares when performing certain tasks, such as chopping wood or cutting rope/fabric, etc. High carbon knives tend to perform much better in these conditions due to their superior hardness, making them much less prone to chipping or dulling over time compared to knives made from stainless alloys. In terms of sharpening tests, when comparing both types, while both types sharpen very well (with the exception of very hard grades), high carbon blades tend to sharpen faster, again primarily due to a higher level of hardness compared to its softer stainless steel counterparts.


Q1: Which is cheaper – Carbon or Stainless Steel?

A1: Generally speaking Carbon Steel tends to be cheaper than most varieties of Stainless Steel.  Due mainly because it contains fewer elements within its composition compared with Stainless Alloys requiring less material extraction during smelting/forging processes. This resulting in cheaper prices per unit produced compared with Stainless Alloys requiring greater amounts material extraction leading ultimately resulting in higher prices per unit-produced overall.

Q2: Which holds an edge longer – Carbon or Stainless Steel?

A2: Generally speaking Carbon Steels hold an edge longer than most varieties of Stainless Alloys due mainly because they possess superior levels hardness giving them greater ability resist wear over prolonged periods without needing sharpening nearly as often when compared against softer variants found within many varieties contemporary kitchen cutlery manufactured today.

hunting knives

What should to choose: Carbon steel or stainless steel?

When it comes to choosing carbon or stainless steel, it ultimately depends on what you use them for and the requirements that need to be met. If strength and durability are important factors, then carbon steel is a great option, while stainless steel can provide corrosion resistance as well as withstand higher temperatures without compromising structural integrity. When deciding which material best suits your needs, it’s important to weigh all your requirements so you can get the most out of the steel you’re using. Whether you’re making knives or anything else, understanding these materials and their properties can help ensure your product is exactly what you envisioned!

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