Stainless vs carbon blades


jim in Anchorage
October 1, 2009, 05:17 AM
I prefer carbon. Seems to me to hold a edge better. Any thoughts?

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October 1, 2009, 08:47 AM
I think you're right. I had a Schrade carbon sheath knife when I was a kid that was just awesome, held an edge forever and took a good edge fairly quickly, better than the stainless knives I've had since. Just kinda hard to find a good carbon steel knife anymore for a reasonable price.

October 1, 2009, 11:04 AM
I have an Old Timer two blade carbon steel folding hunter. That knife holds an edge better than any of the others I own. I have a couple of old Kabars both fixed and folding that don't run to far behind the Old timer. Too bad carbon steel knives have become so scarce. I really like the looks of the patina the metal developes as they age.

jim in Anchorage
October 1, 2009, 09:06 PM
I was at a Store in Anchorage a while back that sells nothing but knifes. Not a carbon blade to be found. Have people just gotten to lazy to swipe on a bit of oil at the end of the day?

October 2, 2009, 10:04 AM
Have people just gotten to lazy to swipe on a bit of oil at the end of the day?

Apparently. I've been on a few fruitless carbon steel knife hunts, myself. Seems if you want a knife of carbon steel, you have to get a custom knife and it'll set you back enough to buy a new handgun. :rolleyes: That's why I haven't bothered. I sure wish someone would produce a good carbon steel knife for at least under a hundred bucks, if they can't get it down to 30 bucks which is what a decent Buck or Gerber sheath knife runs. I currently use a Gerber which is a decent knife, but often think of that old carbon steel Schrade and how good a blade it was. I lost it in a move somewhere down the line. It'd probably still be butchering with the best of 'em, otherwise.

October 2, 2009, 06:48 PM
If you really want carbon, here's a decent one for under $100:

The 3" is even less.

October 2, 2009, 07:16 PM
Even though Russell knives is the oldest manufacturer of knives in the US, since 1818, from reading these posts you would think the firm never existed.

If you want an inexpensive ($21.50) but high quality carbon steel knife, American made, then get a Russell.

Their Green River patterns were around well before the 1840’s. Their Butcher, sheep skinner, buffalo skinner, Dadley (a sticking knife), were the knives that pioneers and mountain men carried on the Oregon Trail.

I think the sheep skinner is the best all around pattern. But I have used the buffalo skinner and it worked just great for skinning.

Incidentally, that paper label dates back to the 1830's.

I have a number of Green River knives and have never been disappointed with the edge holding ability.

Stick it Up to the Green River!

October 2, 2009, 07:27 PM
You will never find precision woodworking tools made from stainless steel. And there's a reason. Stainless has many strengths and applications but the ability to take a truly fine edge isn't one of them. That having been said, stainless is a good choice in any application where corrosion resistance is more important than sharpness. For everyday carry, and for diving and kayaking my knives are stainless steel, as there generally is no need for anything better than a utilitarian edge. For carving and whittling and woodworking-carbon steel where I'm going down to 2000 grit wet/dry on a glass plate with a four step strop.

October 11, 2009, 01:57 PM
The question, and assumption of what is stainless and what is carbon, are much too broad. There are dozens, if not hundreds of varieties of knife steel, all of which contain carbon, most of which contain chromium, and many, many of which could be considered stainless or semi-stainless. Most high-grade custom makers of high quality blades seem to gravitate toward one of the semi-stainless versions. Probably less than 20% of everyday hunters/knife owners even know what particular steel is in their blade, much less what it's characteristics are.

Art Eatman
October 11, 2009, 04:27 PM
I have found that it's easier to get a shaving edge on a carbon blade than on a stainless blade. I've yet to have a problem with a carbon blade dulling on just one deer, including gutting, skinning and butchering. Second deer? Yeah, some. Which then gets back to my earlier comment about "easier". :)

Vern Humphrey
October 11, 2009, 04:51 PM
Have you considered making your own? For the cost of one knife, you can get enough materials to make a dozen. I make knives on a belt sander, and heat them in a charcoal fire -- using a piece of pipe as a tuere with a shop vac to provide the draft. Heat the steel until it won't hold a magnet, and quench in oil (I like to set up my oil trough so I can quench only the edge portion.) Then heat your oven to around 450 degrees and let the blades "soak" an hour or two, the cool naturally.

Pre-drill your rivet holes, or use an adhesive to attach the handle scales. Do your final sharpening on your belt sander, and strop the wire edge off with a strip of leather glued to a piece of wood.

October 12, 2009, 06:51 AM
My firends and I went 5 for 5 on mule deer bucks this week and I managed to get the Spyderco s90v mule in on every one of them. First let me say that when the mule arived I thought it could have been sharper but I used it as it came and I am very impressed. I broke it in with a complete gut job including spliting the sturnum and battoning through the pelvic bone. Used it to remove all four legs at the knee joint and skin the deer. No touch ups to the blade. Helped my little bro skin and remove legs on two more deer, he swears by Knives of alaska and even he was impressed with the edge holding of the s90v, I noticed he was touching up his blade as we went. Finished off the week with another full gut job, pelvic split, sturnum split, leg removal, skinning of the last buck, still no touch ups. Ok it needed a good touch up at this point about ten min with the lansky and its as sharp as when it came.
My mule has a cord handle and cardboard scabard and got a quick wash job every night. No corrision of any kind as far as I can tell. That thing just kept right on cutting like no other blade I have ever used. I was a little unsure how the leaf shape would be for this kind of work but I am sold now it worked very well but it was easy to slice the hide while skinning if I wasn't carefull. I also have a zdp mule but didn't have a chance to use it so I will see if I can get it bloody on my doe hunt next week. I have been hunting deer and elk for 19 years now and have used many diffrent knives and I will say that I don't think that s90v mule will ever leave my hunting pack. It's light, seems to hold an edge forever, the blade shape works better than expected, it is just an outstanding knife. (plus its way easier to sharpen than the knives of alaska D2)

I posted this on the spyderco fourm a few days ago but it may apply here. The S90V steel really impressed me with its ability to keep cutting at what I consider an acceptable level even after a fair amount of use. The fact that it's a little more rust resistent than the KOA D2 blades doesn't bother me at all. As a "stainless" goes this is the best steel I have tried as far as edge holding.

October 12, 2009, 07:20 AM
Mora of Sweden at Ragsnar. Swedish Army knives are cheap and stays sharp and easy to sharpen as well. Stainless or carbon.

Loyalist Dave
October 12, 2009, 07:58 AM
I have a Swiss Army Tool (Victorinox says if the blade locks it's a tool not a knife), that is stainless and very very sharp. As for sheath knives I like the carbon steel, and as Nathan points out, MORA makes very good knives, and they are very inexpensive carbon blades that will also sharpen very sharp and keep their edge.


October 12, 2009, 10:53 AM
You'll never see a surgeon operating with anything but a stainless blade, so yes stainless can be sharpened. There are too may variables, too many types of steel in both stainless and carbon steel to make blanket statements about which is better. I have and like both types, but will take a good stainless blade over a good carbon blade.

October 12, 2009, 04:00 PM
Here's a good chart showing most, if not all, of the steels used in today's knives. Depending on the usage and hardness requirement, I have both carbon and stainless and some of each will outperform some of the other....

October 12, 2009, 05:36 PM
All alloys of steel have strengths and weaknesses. That is why there are so many of them. In the past, carbon steels offered better qualities for knives and cutting tools. Thats not really the case today. There are stainless steels out there that can easily perform as good or better, but they are generally not cheap. There are also semi-stainless steels that have their own attributes and can make very very good knives.

There are several factors that drive the perception that stainless steel is inferior to carbon steel. Mainly the price points are different. A basic carbon steel like 1095 is dirt cheap and simple to heat treat, giving you a good quality blade(that will rust away in a heartbeat without care) at a bargain price. This is the type of steel you find in an old timer pocket knife. 440A stainless is going to come in at the same price point, but its a bottom of the barrel stainless. You have to spend more to get into the high performance stainless steels.So yeah, for the price carbon steel wins, but flat out performance there are stainless steels that can out do it.
Secondly, most of the high performance stainless steels are harder or contain more carbides than the carbon steels we're used to. So they require a higher performance abrasive when it comes to sharpening them. If you want to sharpen both steels on your old arkansas stone, the carbon will come out the winner. If you step up to diamond hones and ceramic you will find that the stainless is no big deal.

Demand is definitely for stainless blades in the commercial market, and your choices for carbon steel are getting fewer all the time. Another factor many people don't know about is the heat treating process. Carbon steels generally are oil hardening (some are also quenched in water or brine) which gives off all kinds of fumes and smoke, and generally leaves a good bit of scale behind to grind away. This is getting harder to do on a mass production basis because of the environmental restrictions, and it can be expensive. Most stainless steels on the other hand, are air hardening alloys which means that you pull them from the oven/furnace and simply air cool them or press them between aluminum plates to harden them. This eliminates the need for a temp controlled oil bath, all the fumes, and some of the scale, making it much easier to set up for and probably more cost effective in a mass production setting. So there's another reason you don't see carbon steel blades used commerically as often.

October 12, 2009, 10:28 PM
I love old timer pocket knives. They are very easy to sharpen and hold a good edge. I also have some Puma knives which are made of very hard rockwell 57 and even with a diamond "stone" they are hard as heck to get a "decent" edge and don't hold worth a darn. I had the same problem with Buck knives too.

My vote is for carbon steel.

October 13, 2009, 12:06 AM
I vote carbon.I have an extensive ,eclectic collection.Cheap/costly,,new/old.After a lifetime of fooling with knives the carbon blades hold an edge long enuff and are easy to re-sharpen quickly.I have an old German-made sheathknife w/2"blade made circa 1940.Can shave with it,strop it on leather shoe and shave again!Got a new Buckknife about 20 yrs ago.When it got dull,I tried for 2 days to re-sharpen.Threw it away.

October 13, 2009, 12:48 AM
Made in the USA, the Ontario Knife Company at They make great kitchen knives, namely the Old Hichory series that I was luckey enough to get my grandparents old used ones and liked them enough to try new ones. Find the blade you like, cut some leaher for it, and cut up a few animals. Stays sharp a lot longer then SS knives unless you want to pay big bucks that would make your wife ask for her own. Lots of other knives and extras at their site. I just checked in advanced search for brand and old hickory for current retail. Check them out, buy some for your kitchen and go from there.

jim in Anchorage
October 13, 2009, 04:51 AM
You'll never see a surgeon operating with anything but a stainless blade, so yes stainless can be sharpened. There are too may variables, too many types of steel in both stainless and carbon steel to make blanket statements about which is better. I have and like both types, but will take a good stainless blade over a good carbon blade.
Difference is when they get dull they go in the trash and the nurse hands them a new one.

October 13, 2009, 05:54 AM
I vote carbon and agree with Vern, Try making your own.

Here are two I made.

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