stainless steel knives vs carbon steel knives

Stainless Steel Knives vs Carbon Steel Knives – Why Chef Love Carbon Steel Japanese knife over stainless steel knives

(Last Updated On: October 19, 2020)

A knife is just not a piece of steel but a much-sharpened one with a finer cutting edge which being involved in heavy kitchen task. For years, Japan is the most popular country for its swords and knives which have been combined with today’s technology and generations of knowledge. With the several ways of manipulating the steels, Japan has created a new line in traditional and intergenerational knives. Every individual knifemaker does their best to make the knife thinner, sharper bevels and uses harder steels to keep the edge longer.

When you choose the best knife for your kitchen, you have to pay attention to some particular things such as what is the edge geometry and design, what type of steel has been used to make the knife. If we consider the ability to resist rust and corrosion of knives, then stainless steel knives and high Carbon Steel Japanese knife are best.  

Knife With Stainless Steel

Steel means iron with carbon. So it is obvious that stainless steels also have carbon in it but it does not have that much hardness like carbon steel knives. Stainless steel has gained so much popularity because of its high class of material to make knife blades and this type of blades is very easy to maintain as it has plenty of chromium which is helpful to resist high corrosion relative to carbon steels.

A stainless steel knife contains at least 10.5% chromium to be considered stainless. In the early stage of stainless steel history, there was no significant achievement until the 1960s. According to record, In the approximate timeframe of 1920-1960, people started to contribute to producing a knife with low hardness and sharpened edge but it didn’t bring any fruitful results.

In that time, the knifemaker started to use 420 steel and later 440A to make typical low hardness knife and to avoid edge rolls and wears they used heavier edge geometry which directly affected the cutting ability. That some people only used stainless steel for table knife because of its low performance and it worked for 50 years before they were able to make stainless steel with a high edge.

Knife With Carbon Steel

A carbon steel knife is made of hardest elements with high carbon steel which does not contain a drop of chromium. As it has no chromium, so it is obvious that it has very low rust resistance capability. But its hardness and strength make this blade perfect for edge retention and it requires minimum time for its edge maintenance. With the easiest way to sharpen, being harder and staying sharper than other steels, carbon steels become the household choice for their knives over the years.

At the very beginning, carbon steel was not reliable metal for knives as the highest containing carbon content was the reason for the brittleness within the steel and in time to time, people tried to reduce the amount of carbon present in the steels with little success. Around 1784, there was a tool named pudders has been invented which allowed oxygen to reduce the carbon-dioxide combining with the carbon within the steels.

But the attempt failed because of the extensive need for high fuel and labor to produce .Around  1856 there were rapid dynamic improvements in producing high carbon steel which brought a revolutionary success in the history of carbon steel knives.

Stainless Steel Knives vs Carbon Steel Knives

Japanese carbon steel knife is purely a traditional knife that is made of a small percentage of carbon. According to ancient methods, This knife has pure steels incorporating carbon so that it can increase the hardness and give an extremely fine edge. It required careful maintenance because of its high cutting performance. Apart from everything, carbon steel knives have become the most appreciable knives among top chefs.

On the other hand, because of holding 10.5% chromium within its steels, Stainless steel has become the modern steel alloys. High consistency of chromium makes the stainless steel knives very resistant to rust. Japanese steel manufacturers brought variants of excellent kitchen knives. Which is made of stainless steel.

It is a quite complex task to differ these most popular knives. Eventually, Carbon steel knives and Stainless steel knives both are highly demandable among chefs because of their separate beneficial aspects and we tried our best to make it very straightforward and easy to understand. Here is the difference between Carbon Steel Knives and Stainless steel Knives:

Carbon Steel  Knives Stainless Steel Knives
  • Contain iron and  high chromium content
  • Contain iron and high in carbon
  • Less rust resistance 
  • High rust resistance
  • Much harder and wear-resistant
  • Softer relatively to carbon steel but doesn’t stay sharper for long
  • Required careful maintenance
  • Very easy to maintain
  • Brittle
  • Non-brittle
  • Easier to sharpen
  • Harder to sharpen compared to carbon steel
  • Required routine application of  oil
  • Stainless steel also requires routine application of oil but shows rust quickly.
  • Less expensive than stainless steel
  • More expensive than carbon steels.

Why Chef Love Carbon Steel Japanese Knife over Stainless Steel Knives

A knife is every individual’s personal choice as what feels right in anyone’s hand, may not feel right in other’s hands. As a consumer, we have so many options when we think to buy a new kitchen knife. Everyone is not acknowledged about the finer points of metallurgy but it is very important to know about the difference between carbon steel knives and stainless steel knives that we already discussed in our above section. Regarding steel choice, in every workspace moisture, acidity, and tidiness should be matter. Where stainless or carbon steel both are competent of rusting and discoloration and both capable of making excellently durable and sharpen knives. But carbon steels are comparatively better as it is way more reactive to acids and moisture.

 In stainless steel knives, carbon incorporates chromium to increase the resistance to corrosion and rust where carbon steel knives incorporate with iron and carbon. But the rust resistance strength which is the beauty of stainless steel knives comes at an unaffordable price as stainless is the softer form of steel. As a result, it does not hold its edge as long which is the most beneficial aspect of carbon steel knives. But carbon steel holds the edge longer and it cuts far better than a stainless steel knife. So it is proven that carbon steel knives hold its sharpness longer than stainless.  

Knives which are used frequently, lose their sharpness very often and do not perform well. Every chef has a desire to sharpen their knives once a year and have better performance with minimum maintenance. But in using stainless steel knives, they can have a bitter experience where the blade can lose their gems and spark within a few weeks of moderate use. With a mixture of iron and carbon, carbon steels are harder than stainless steel that makes it easier to sharpen the carbon steel knives which is difficult in the case of stainless steel knives because of its softness. Once you sharpen the knife, it will hold its edge well, even in case of repeated uses. 

The Problem With Carbon Steel that is actually not a problem

There are some downsides to carbon steel which can give it the lowest marks. As it is more fragile and made of brittle materials, it has a lot of possibilities to get chip if you accidentally leave it into the dishwasher. It has lower rust resistance and it immediately rusts and discolors upon contact with certain foods such as onion, tomatoes, citrus fruits, wine or vinegar. Upon contact with this acidic food, this steel becomes darker.

Why we don’t call these problems actually not a problem? The explanation is _ darkness or discoloration can not reduce the cutting ability or the performance of the knife or does not bring any odd test in food. With regular scouring and caring the darkness is easily removable and the knife gets its clean and shiny look again.All we can recommend not to drop the carbon steel knives in wet conditions or underwater for any significant length of time which can be a cause of rust and discoloration.

Carbon steel or stainless steel for knives – Why we can consider both beneficial

Because of its hardness, the edge of carbon steel stays a lot longer and they need to be sharpened very rarely or get razor-sharp with a bit of technical sharpening. But it rusts very easily as it does not contain any other metals in their alloy. So it requires constant cleaning and needs to keep it dry. On the other hand, stainless steel extremely rusts resistance but because of the lack of hardness and edge retention, it requires frequent sharpening. So both can be useful if you use it in the right way.

Final Words

One thing that we must discuss that your knife liability depends on the way you use your knife and you care for it. Think about how you keep your chopping board, the things around your kitchen while you are using your knife. You can make the one right that you are using with a little bit of care. It depends on how much meticulous person you are who keep clean, tidy and dry their kitchen.

Cooking style does matter where some people make it little haphazard, leave their cutting board wet with a mix of products. Some people do not clean their knife until finishing dinner. So which one should you choose – stainless or carbon steel knife, it totally depends on the way you like to work in your kitchen and what type of knife person you are. 


Leave a Comment:

Wilbur Clemens says

You’re right for the most part, however, you need to be more up to date on metalurgy. Me, as a metalurgical engineer studied knife manufacturing for years & have noticed that it depends on the usage of the type of cutting & later the care of the blade. For example, yes the carbon steel blade can be honed to a razor sharp edge & cut effortlessly, and like you have stated, will nick & chip more than regular stainless steel due to its being softer.

A lot of stainless steel blades, back in the day, were made of 303 stainless, rarely made of 316 stainless which have much more nickel in the composition than 303. Nickel, being an element that resists rust & oxidation. However, the 400 series stainless steel can be hardened to a degree where the 300 series stainless cannot.

It has been established over the years that the 400 series stainless steel has been advantageous in knife blade manufacturing because of its ability to resistance to rust and have the hardening ability.
It still remains that each usage of blade type & composition has its advantages over the other, but for the sake of “over-all usage” the 400 series stainless blade gets the nod.


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