Carbon steel corrosion over hyped?

Discussion in 'Edged Tools' started by heresay1, Feb 4, 2019.

  1. heresay1

    heresay1 Tracker

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    I have read several threads over the years in which someone will ask what is the better steel choice when it comes to buying a knife. Stainless or high carbon? Generally the response is if you live in a wet environment get a stainless steel knife. If you live in a dry hot environment then get high carbon. I've used carbon steel knives in wet environments and found it takes a minor effort to keep them rust free.

    Is the lack of corrosion resistance over exaggerated when it comes to carbon steel knives?
     
  2. Outdoor Dauber

    Outdoor Dauber Woods Bum Supporter

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    IMO....yes. Some people want to cut up an apple or some fish bait with a knife, throw it in a drawer or a tackle box and not think about it again for a few months. Then, when they pull it out and find rust, they say, "carbon steel rusts so easy". Wash it when you are done, dry it and put a light coat of food grade oil on it before putting it away. Easy, peasy...
     
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  3. whtshdwwz

    whtshdwwz Supporter Supporter

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    When was stainless steel first developed?

    Therefore, the first stainless steel was patented as a knife steel. ... Stellite is a cobalt-based alloy (not a steel) and is known for its very good corrosion resistance. Haynes had first filed hisstainless steel patent slightly earlier than Brearley, but it was not granted until 1919.


    So what that being said.....stainless steel is 100 years old, prior to that we did just fine since the advent of the iron age....selection of the best tool for a job like a knife is 100% subjective and compromises....every steel has a plus column and a negative column, that's the joys of options....the added bonus is this site is great for trading, borrowing or buying what tempts you....be well.
     
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  4. Winterhorse

    Winterhorse Supporter Supporter

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    I live in Kansas which is not terribly wet but we have a lot of humidity.
    I have a few carbon steelknives As well as some stainless knives. I take pretty good care of my stuff and have never really had a problem with rust.
    Living about as far from salt water as it’s possible to get in the United States may have something to do with it as well as a not too super wet environment. I guess, “it depends” as to what you do with the knife and where you do it.
     
  5. Enzo

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    I think the generalized “carbon steel” moniker is what leads to the over-exaggeration. Some carbon steels are way less resistant to rust than others. For example, both 5160 and 1095CV are “carbon steel” but while 1095CV will never see rust as long as it has a thin coat of mineral oil, 5160 will rust the second you take a break from its maintenance.

    In my personal experience I’ve had O1 and 5160 rust heavily on me. The 5160 was my bad, as I forgot to oil it for about a week and I kept it in it’s sheath/scabbard dealio (was a kukri). The O1, however, was just ridiculous. It was a Cold Steel Recon Scout and I kept it oiled. I would use it, wipe it down with a dry cloth, and then set it on a shelf in my bedroom. The next day, the uncoated edge would have some rust. Not just a bit of oxidation, but actual rust. Granted, I lived right outside LA at the time and it was a coastal environment, but still. It was ridiculous.

    As for my other carbon knife, my BK2, I’ve never had an issue with rust so far. I’ve oiled it once, and put it through hard use without oiling it again. Zero rust. Just goes to show the differences within the “carbon steel” category, and how corrosion resistance can vary greatly.
     
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  6. Seeker

    Seeker Woods Bum Supporter Bushclass I

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    I think it's overstated... if you take care of your stuff, and use it frequently, you don't end up with a carbon steel knife put away in a wet sheath that gets pulled out a month later by a disappointed schrafter who's upset by the amount of rust he finds on it. I think this situation might be found more in the safe queen/collector realm, but as I have none, and am not, my carbon steel knives get their rust knocked off through frequent use.

    I think an exception might be folks who work in/on saltwater.

    Take care of your carbon steel tools. Sharpen/strop them with every use. Oil them before putting them up. Don't store them in the sheath if you aren't going to look at them for awhile.
     
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  7. GunGoBoom

    GunGoBoom I'm not lost, I've just misplaced myself. Supporter Bushcraft Friend Bushclass I

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    I would say it depends on the type of use. When I go camping in the woods, even when I lived in Louisiana, I have no problems. When I go on bowfishing trips and wade several miles over multiple days things get different. I can't always dry out my sheath and sometimes I have a knife in a wet sheath overnight. I also agree with the statement above about different "high carbon" steels having different properties. I carried a 1075 Condor on one of those trips and seemed like you could watch it rust in your hand. My 3v knives are good to go for a few days of neglect and 52100 isn't too bad but falls somewhere between. You can most definitely use a high carbon steel knife and be totally fine but stainless or at least alloy steels buy you a little forgiveness when you can't or won't keep up with maintenance.
     
  8. Kyle363

    Kyle363 Supporter Supporter

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    I think it’s over hyped to the point that some people make it seem like carbon steel will disintegrate in your hands while your using it.

    However there are some people out there that like to have a flawless knife, they even don’t want patina. That’s when you should opt for stainless. I love patina on my blades and I’ve never had an issue with rust on my carbon steel blades.

    I took an O1 blade on a fresh water kayak trip for a day. It got wet and so did the leather sheath and I had no issues with corrosion.
     
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  9. goon

    goon Tracker

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    Stainless steel can also rust. I’ve seen rust on Elmax and 8cr13mov - and not from wild neglect either.

    I don’t much worry about carbon steel. As long as you clean the active rust off, it’s fine. A little patina doesn’t hurt me at all.
     
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  10. charlesmc2

    charlesmc2 Scout

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    I have the impression rusting is a bit chaotic, at least from a user's perspective. I've seen tests of rust preventives that gave quite different results. My own experience is that carbon steel tools such as a hoe or branch loppers can be left out in the weather due to my neglect and suffer relatively little rust, usually. Then, another time same tool is left inside but rusts.

    That said, I've seldom (never?) seen rust on tools that required more than a touch up to restore the edge. That said, I like stainless for a lot of tools, or at least an alloy such as 3V which exhibits a good degree of rust resistance. For what it is worth, I remember when razor blade manufacturers switched to stainless and my uses per blade went up substantially. I always assumed the reason was not something like increased wear resistance--rather the edge resisted corrosion and so held its edge.

    There is something about carbon steel I like. Rust and all. So I am inconsistent. Coastal waters are far away and I'm not inclined that direction. However, Texas summers are both lengthy and hot. I sweat. So, warm weather I lean to more rust resistant alloys. If I lived further west in the state, I'd be less inclined to think of rust.

    Mulling this over, I think I can rationalize my preferences this way:
    • Majority of utilitarian tools such as machetes, shovels, hoes, rakes and implements are going to be carbon steel.
    • Knife prices do not seem to be driven greatly by steel. I don't think I give up much if anything by opting for 3V for larger knives.
    • Smaller knives can be 3V or a less tough but more stain resistant alloy such as VG10, S30V or what have you.
    I'm still going to have some knives in O1, 1095, 5160 or whatever. I like the edges I get on them.
    If you have read this far, you probably have figured "this guy is still working this out." Guilty. But that is part of the challenge and part of the fun. I am just about sure that I could get by with either if my livelihood or life depended on it.
     
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  11. central joe

    central joe Supporter Supporter Bushcraft Friend

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    I've never had a problem with carbon steel knives in over 50 years, yes overhyped. joe
     
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  12. Enzo

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    50 years of carbon steel ... so what’s your favorite one?
     
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  13. JeffG

    JeffG Scout

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    You have to care for, and maintain carbon steel. Take proper care of it, it will take care of you. Frontiersman's trick: wipe the blade with a rag with boiled linseed oil, and leave in the sun to cure. The only exposed steel, is the edge you sharpen. ;)
     
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  14. 08H3

    08H3 God, Family and Freedom Vendor

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    Bad idea if you ever use it to process food. There is a reason you dont use blo on wood bowls or spoons
     
  15. arleigh

    arleigh Guide

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    Stainless that has been formulated for strength will rust because carbon was added.
    Steel knives that have a high demand against them get used a lot so rust issues are few but neglect them and rust will find a way.
    I bought a laminated stainless Morakniv blade only ,and shortly out of the packaging it began rusting microscopically , now it is an embarrassment to show .
    I have worked with a lot of Swedish steels in air compressor valves and not see this rust but there you have it.
    the harder you demand it the more carbon and thus more rust issues.
    I have loads of knives made from all kinds of steel and not so vulnerable but they are older steels . on the other hand I have machine tool steel and very high carbon steel lathe tools and must care for it like a shepherd .
    Metals that have had a lifetime of oil applied in them may have better chance of survival ,but water lifts oil right out of every thing so prepare thusly .
    tools used for food , needs food grade oils imbedded in them .metals are porous by the way . Some penetrant oils cannot be easily removed once applied . This does not prevent surface rust.
    the more highly polished the surface the better chance it has for survival. it is why nickel and chrome plating were invented .
    A highly polished surface performs better cutting as well .
     
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  16. TheDandyLion

    TheDandyLion Scout

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    Years of using knives in the very wet PNW has taught me that nearly all steels will develop little dots of rust eventually but a carbon steel knives will develop heavy pitting or scarring when mistreated. If I use my Mora Carbon in the morning in the rain and toss it in the sheath, it will have little rust dots and stains on it by lunch. If I use it to clean a fish that morning and leave it, it'll have a deep rust and a "fuzz" of corrosion by the afternoon. Of course, with proper cleaning and maintenance you can completely avoid these issues, but I rarely will choose that when a stainless blade will have no such issue at no real cost to functionality.

    I don't hate my carbon steel blades, but if I'm bringing a knife with me on an outing that will last multiple days in wet conditions, the last thing I want to deal with is keeping it dry and oiled constantly.
     
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  17. haunted

    haunted Guide

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    most generally yes but sometimes like navy seals yeah stainless is a better bet
     
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  18. Solphilos

    Solphilos Guide

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    Never had a rust issue with my woods/camp knives. Pocket knives are another story; riding all day in my swampy pockets in summer quickly leads to rust.
     
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  19. Barry J

    Barry J Scout

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    In my location I find that a carbon steel pocket knife will rust rather quickly. I figure it is from me sweating. Therefore, I choose stainless for a pocket knife. With reasonable care, it doesn't matter what steel I use for a knife carried on my belt in a sheath.
    I think some of people's problems with carbon steel has to do with the sheath material. I know that I will only use vegetable tanned leather for sheaths. Salt tanned is a big no-go.
    Regardless of sheath material, drain holes are good.
     
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  20. Kyle363

    Kyle363 Supporter Supporter

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    Another side note I built a knife from A2. It didn’t turn out the way I wanted mostly because if the handle. I left the blade outside in the elements (I live in the northeast) for at least 6 months. The blade is covered with surface rust however a minute or less on a buffing wheel with fine compound removed most of the corrosion. First photo is untouched and second photo is a section of the blade buffed. Ive also done this test with an Elmax blade and while the rust wasn’t as extensive it still developed rust.

    6E65C441-FE9C-429E-AE68-CFED8B27C18D.jpeg 4C06EE4D-5269-4CBA-9ADE-A5F7FBE69ACA.jpeg
     
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  21. central joe

    central joe Supporter Supporter Bushcraft Friend

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    Kabar USN MK1 Had several, so not the same one all the time, but I always came back to one. joe
     
  22. Barry J

    Barry J Scout

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    Kyle 363: It's a shame such a beautiful knife rusted! Good information though.
     
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  23. CSM1970

    CSM1970 Guide

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    Please permit me to correct a small inaccuracy. Cast irons are slightly porous owing to the graphite flakes throughout the iron. It is the graphite that absorbs cooking oils to form the stick-free surface. Steel has carbon existing as carbon atoms distributed through the iron. If metals were porous, steel ships would sink and pressure vessels would weep.
    Corrosion on carbon steel begins at the interface between the iron and metallic carbides. Corrosion requires an electrolyte and contact between the iron and the carbide. Oil is not conductive and separates the water from the steel to inhibit corrosion.
     
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2019
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  24. Kyle363

    Kyle363 Supporter Supporter

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    The handle is a mess and the scandi grind is too steep. It’s not even close to ruined though. I’m going to do a video on removing the rust and resharpening it. I keep it around as a beater knife. The blade profile is quite nice though.
     
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  25. Barry J

    Barry J Scout

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    I really like the blade shape.
     
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  26. OrienM

    OrienM Guide

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    I've never had many issues with rust...it may be because I live in a desert, lol. I carry a stainless folding knife (and handgun) as I've found these items will rust a bit from sweat exposure. Most of my knives are carbon steel, though, and I use them often enough to keep the oxidation knocked off.
     
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  27. backlasher

    backlasher Supporter Supporter Bushcraft Friend

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    I think the whole carbon vs. stainless argument is overhyped. I live in a very corrosive area and never had a problem with carbon knives. I just dry and oil them. When I go saltwater fishing, I use a Mora stainless with the plastic sheath and never have a problem. A little maintenance will head off most rust issues.
     
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  28. CSM1970

    CSM1970 Guide

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    And don’t put your carbon steel blades in the dishwasher!
     
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  29. Prairiewolf

    Prairiewolf Supporter Supporter

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    I have an ESEE3 (1095 steel) that came without coating, polished to a satin finish. I keep it in the standard plastic ESEE sheath in my basement. Once in a while, I wipe the fingerprints, etc off of it with a Tuf Cloth. It never has any rust on it.
     
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  30. Enzo

    Enzo Scout

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    Try that test with a Bos-treated 420HC blade. They’re almost twice as corrosion-resistant as Elmax.
     
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  31. CaliforniaCanuck

    CaliforniaCanuck Guide

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    My oldest knife is from ww2, carbon steel, heavily used but still looks great.

    I don't have a preference, and even in the kitchen I have a mix of stainless and carbon blades. Neither go in the dishwasher.
     
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  32. Enzo

    Enzo Scout

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    Could you post a picture of it? I really enjoy WWII knives.
     
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  33. CSM1970

    CSM1970 Guide

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    But 420 HC has mediocre abrasion resistance. The Elmax has very high carbon, very high chromium, high molybdenum and high vanadium. All these elements form a lot of extremely hard carbides for extreme abrasion resistance. And as I have said before, corrosion starts at the carbides so the Elmax may not be as corrosion resistant as 420hc but the Elmax will hold an edge longer.
     
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  34. Enzo

    Enzo Scout

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    I’m not arguing that 420HC is better than Elmax overall (that would be stupid), I’m only talking about corrosion resistance. The test that i was referring to, described above, only tests corrosion resistance. I was comparing Elmax to 420HC only under the context of how susceptible they are to rusting.
     
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  35. NWPrimate

    NWPrimate Supporter Supporter

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    Rust rubs off.
     
  36. CSM1970

    CSM1970 Guide

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    Bronze corrodes less than 420 HC but makes a poor blade. All I’m saying is a knife is made to cut, not to sit on your hip and not corrode. I can make a carbon steel highly corrosion resistant with a spritz of oil. I cannot so easily make 420 HC hold an edge. Fortunately, you have a large choice in blade materials and you can find one that suits your needs.
     
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  37. Dubhelix

    Dubhelix Hobbyist Hobbyist

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    As others have mentioned, “carbon steel” only requires a modicum of care.

    So, I have carbon steel knives I use frequently (1095) that have no problems even though they get wet, dirty, bloody, etc.

    On the other hand I have carbon knives that sit periodically, and I find rust in them, like the mora basic carver I just found rust on.

    I keep cotton patches damp with oil in a small container in my kit to make maintenance convenient.
     
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  38. Enzo

    Enzo Scout

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    I like your cotton patch idea @Dubhelix
    I keep a small travel-sized bottle of mineral oil in my pack, and I just use my t-shirt to rub it in when I’m in the woods.
     
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  39. Oldguy59

    Oldguy59 Tracker

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    My favorite knife is an old Herters skinner that was a gift when I was 9 years old, I don’t know what kind of carbon it is but it’s been used and abused for 50 years. Skinned and prosessed countless game. With more or sometimes less proper care it has developed a nice brown patina. I have other knives both stainless and carbon that ride on my belt or pocket but that one goes in my pack every time I go into the woods. Buy the knives you like, use them take care of them then give them to your grand kids.
     
  40. ra2bach

    ra2bach Supporter Supporter

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    Caveman Joe's.

    oh sorry, I see now you weren't asking me...

    :4:
     
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  41. mauiarcher

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    yes, over hyped. I am on the wet side of Maui (essentially a rain forest) and just completed one knife challenge with 01 and used knife for essentially everything for a month. May have put some obenaufs on it one time. Rest of the time was just rinse and dry (occasionally hit it with some soap and a sponge). It did develop a great patina though. As stated above, just requires a tiny bit of maintenance. If it is constantly in use it is a non-issue for me unless on the ocean. I have more issues storing carbon steel (has to be lathered in grease of some sort) than any in constant use.
     
  42. JasonJ

    JasonJ Supporter Supporter

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    And then the rag, sitting out in the sun, spontaneously ignites. See? Fire prep isn't so hard after all!
     
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  43. JD Miller

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    Ive left a linseed oil used rag out on purpose to see if it would spontaneously ignite for years and Ive never had one ignite...
    Bumber ...:(

    .
     
  44. Gruntinhusaybah

    Gruntinhusaybah Fallbrook Forge Hobbyist Supporter Bushclass I

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    The gasses have to be trapped by something, leave a big pile of em and you might get a surprise!


    @NWPrimate did a thread awhile back where found his ESEE laser strike that got lost and left out in the rainforest PNW for a year? I think. And was no worse for wear.

    It’s incredibly overplayed. Even if you took a bone dry 5160 blade out and didn’t use it and it rusted all up, whole thing turned orange, just dip it in boiling water. Or hit it with a little bacon grease, or heck the oil from the crook of your nose and it’ll turn black.

    Watch a couple videos of people in South America and other tropical locales, they’re all swinging around carbon steel blades that are all black save the edge.
     
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2019
  45. JasonJ

    JasonJ Supporter Supporter

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    Me too.. nothing. But people show it happening.. so maybe we do need to start a whole pile of 'em. Dunno. I don't use it much anyhow.
     
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  46. NWPrimate

    NWPrimate Supporter Supporter

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    My Favorite Way to Keep Blades Rust-Free (Cheap & Easy)
     
  47. MJGEGB

    MJGEGB Guide

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    I've used carbon steel knives plenty with nothing more than a natural patina to protect the blade. Rust can and does happen on occasion and I clean it up and move on. The patina of course it's good rust which helps protect the blade.

    I use stainless knives and have found plenty of stainless knives that have steel that behaves very similar to high carbon steel. It can be very nice to have a knife that requires less care. Unless you are a strict fair weather camper then a carbon knife and leather sheath is asking for trouble.

    I used to use my Mora Classic #1 sheath as a fire bellows, it worked great. But no matter how hard I worked to ensure that the sheath was dry before putting the blade in it would inevitably have rust spots in the morning. I've been on trips where there is rain, lots of rain. You have to be mindful of your carbon knife, but my Victorinox Farmer I'll use and put away wet without a second thought.

    Stainless is stainless because it rapidly oxidizes. That's right your stainless steel has a transparent layer of patina on it. That's what keeps it from rusting. No one should have any problem with folks wanting to use either or. I like them both. I'm building a stainless knife with a Juniper handle currently for the specific use case of dealing with fowl weather conditions. The steel behaves like carbon, but is highly rust resistant, the handle is highly rot resistant, and the sheath will be some sort of plastic. That way I don't have to concern myself with one more piece of kit on backpacking trips. I won't love my carbon steel knifes any less as a result of it I'm certain.
     
  48. JeffG

    JeffG Scout

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    Can you use boiled linseed oil on cutting boards?
    This is good for oiling cutting boards because it will stay a bit liquid in the wood and flow into cracks and scratches. It is also food-safe and won't go rancid or support microorganisms. Linseed Oil (AKA Flaxseed Oil, or Flax Oil) is also a good choice, for a different reason.

    The old formulas (1950's) used chemicals and heavy metals to process. That's not the case anymore. If you're worried, you can use walnut oil instead.
     
  49. 08H3

    08H3 God, Family and Freedom Vendor

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    Pure linseed oil, flaxseed oil and walnut oil is fine. However Boiled linseed oil is not food safe
     
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  50. Luke Dupont

    Luke Dupont Tracker

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    I must agree that it is over hyped.

    I prefer carbon steel any time I can get it for my tools and knives; it sharpens easier, and performs better overall.

    I keep my tools sharp and touch them up at the first sign of dullness using oilstones. The oil applied from sharpening keeps them rust free, and I don't need to even think about it.

    One thing I will mention is that they will rust easy if using waterstones, if care is not taken. Occasionally, for long sharpening sessions that require a lot of grinding to reshape an edge, I have had a tool or knife start rusting before I was even done sharpening. Newly abraded steel seems to be prone to rusting. So, in part for this reason, I prefer oilstones over waterstones -- they're more headache free, as I needn't worry about rust or flattening, and they're less messy. If you do use waterstones though, you need to dry your tool and apply oil after sharpening.

    Lastly, if a bit of rust does start to develop, it's not a difficult thing to remove. Heck, some of my favorite woodworking tools were covered in rust, with dull, nicked irons and all manner of damage suffered from years of abuse and neglect. A bit of elbow grease, sanding, grinding, sharpening, oiling, and tweaking, and they're better than the day they came from the factory, or even expensive modern equivelants.

    Overall, unless you simply abuse and neglect your tools, I wouldn't worry about rust with carbon steel tools. And, I'm speaking as someone who has lived in a humid, wet climate all of his life.

    Just get a good sharpening stone or two and some 3-in-1 oil, and you're set.
     
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2019
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