Carbon steel vs stainless steel
Carbon steel will patina with proper care, and rust if not cared for. To avoid rust, clean and dry the knife immediately after use. Storing with a thin layer of food grade oil will help prevent spotting from moisture in the air. Food grade mineral oil is one possibility for this, but there are a variety of other options.
A patina is a thin oxide layer that forms on steel. A properly maintained carbon steel knife will begin developing a light patina after the first few uses and will darken with time. A patina will help protect the surface of the knife from more harmful pitting and rust. While a patina won’t affect the performance of a knife, it will be very difficult to remove and may require a full refinish of the blade.
If your knife has a sheath, take extra care in making sure its dry as moisture can easily get trapped.
On the left is a knife with a heavy patina, and on the right is one with a light patina. Both of these are relatively gray, but with the right care, many people are able to bring out blues purples in their patinas. Here is a link to a knife forum thread where people share pictures of patinas on their carbon steel blades.
Although more resistant to oxidation than carbon steels, stainless steels can still rust. Some stainless steels are more “stainless” than others, but all will corrode in the wrong environment. In a normal kitchen, simply cleaning after use and storing the blade dry should remove any concern of corrosion.
Which is best for you?
Choosing between carbon vs stainless ultimately comes down to personal preference. Some people like the aesthetic of a patina on a well used knife, while others prefer the cleaner look of stainless steel.
Depending on the knife, the prices will vary, but usually will I charge more for carbon steel vs stainless steel since the heat treatment is typically more risky.
Stainless steel is much more difficult to forge than carbon steel. Nearly all of my stainless knives are ground, and the few that are forged are priced much higher.
Forging Vs Stock Removal
Stock removal knife making is a knife making process that doesn’t involve forging. Knife profiles are instead cut from sheet, bar or strip steel then Ground to shape. My stock removal knives are entirely hand made, but taking forging out of the equation means that I can work with a wider variety of steels, and keep cost a little lower. Many modern knife makers practice stock removal because modern steel can be supplied in sheets which largely eliminates the need for forging for most knife designs.
Forging is a hot shaping process that has been used for thousands of years. During the forging process, steel is heated in a forge, then formed using a hammer and anvil. Forging very labor intensive, so my forged knives generally will cost 2 – 3 times the price of an equivalent stock removal knife. Some people claim that a forged knife will be stronger than a stock removal knife, but this is simply not true. A properly forged knife will be of equivalent quality to a stock removal knife.
Some potential benefits of using the forging process on a knife:
Less material waste – Since forging is a forming process, there is less material waste.
Damascus steel- Pattern welded steel (often called damascus steel) cannot be made without forging. While you can buy pre forged pattern welded bars to make a stock removal knife from, I prefer not to do this and typically forge my own steel. For more information about damascus, please see the information page here
Tradition/historical significance – Blacksmithing has been used for thousands of years, but is still being practiced today.
Design flexibility – Some designs are more easily made using forging as the shaping process.
Different Finish options- Forged texture can be left the knife for aesthetics (see below)
3 Knives that show the as forged texture
Some drawbacks of using the forging process on a knife:
Cost – In addition to the high labor cost, a forge needs fuel (propane or coal) to run.
Time – Since there are more steps involved in a forged knife, the lead time is typically longer.
Material limitations – The materials are more limited for a since some steel alloys do not forge well.
A few examples of my forged knives
Before and after forged railroad spike BBQ set
Forged integral chefs knife
Integral hunting knife forged from ⅝ round
Caring for a wooden knife handle
Every species of wood has different properties and will require different levels of care. Wood will expand, contract, and warp as it takes on or loses moisture. Harder denser woods usually experience less movement, but there are exceptions. Most of the woods I use on knife handles are very dense and full of natural oils. This means that they require little maintenance (if they are stored dry). Maintaining a proper finish will also help mitigate warping problems on less naturally stable woods. Re-coating handles with a wood finishing oil occasionally, is a good idea (time will vary greatly depending on the amount of use, type of wood, and the environment). There tons of tutorials for finishing wooden knife handles online, so I won’t go into too much detail here, but in the past, I’ve used Tung oil, Tru oil, Danish oil, linseed oil and many others. A finish coat of paste wax can be used to give the handle some extra shine after the oil is dry. Even with frequent re-coating and proper care, some movement of the wood is to be expected.
Most woods will darken with age, exposure to sunlight and oils from the user’s hand. This is often unavoidable without a UV stable coating, but thick coated finishes are usually not a good option for a working tool because as they start to wear, re-coating can be difficult.
In the end, wood is a natural material, and will age accordingly, but if properly taken care of can last a long, long time.
Sharpen by hand. Most electric sharpeners tend to remove way more material than necessary and will dramatically shorten the life of a knife. Some kitchen stores will offer sharpening services as well, but make sure that they are sharpening by hand. While there are some good electric sharpeners (like the Tormek TS-740), they are uncommon and expensive. I recommend using either diamond sharpening plates, oil-stones, or Japanese water-stones. Each of these options has pros and cons, but ultimately it comes down to personal preference. If you’ve never sharpened before, do some research before you dive in! It’s also a good idea to practice on a cheaper knife first.
The best sharpening angle for a given knife can vary depending on the intended use, steel and heat treat, but a 15 degree sharpening angle is typically what I recommend. A more acute angle will cut better, but be less durable, while a more obtuse angle will be stronger and require more force to cut.
Depending on what the knife will be used for, you can leave the edge at a coarser, or more polished finish. Coarse edges will slice better, while more polished edges will make a smoother cut. A simple analogy is a saw vs a razor. While the saw won’t cut if you try to use it like the razor, the teeth allow it to cut well with the sawing motion. You can think of the knife edge as a saw with microscopic teeth. The coarser the finish, the larger the teeth and the more aggressive the edge. Finishing between 1000-3000 grit is a good range for most knives.
In terms of equipment, my go to for general sharpening are the “DMT dia sharp” bench stones (diamond sharpening plates). I’ve used Japanese Waterstones from Suehiro and King, as well as oil stones from Norton with good results.
Most of sharpening is technique; you can get a shaving edge off of a clay brick if you know what you’re doing, so don’t stress too much about equipment!
I also offer a sharpening service, so feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org ! (prices and timing may vary)