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EVERYDAY CARRY FOR LIFE’S JOURNEY

Ⓒ Gallantry 2022

THE BATTLE OF THE STEELS: CARBON STEEL VS. STAINLESS STEEL

THE BATTLE OF THE STEELS: CARBON STEEL VS. STAINLESS STEEL

David Spielman
14 minute read

Battle of Steels 20211215 Steel Movie “YUP! IT’S A STEEL-OFF!”
- John Henry “Steel” Irons (Shaquille O’Neal), probably, Steel (1997)

THE REAL STEEL

When we talk about steel, what are we really talking about? Well, we’re talking about a blend of iron and a wee bit of carbon that makes an entire family tree of alloys (an alloy is a combination of two or more elements, one of which is metallic, that is ultimately an improvement over either of its two parts by themselves) with hundreds of application-specific grades. Iron and a hint of carbon – that’s steel, baby!

Enter everyday carry. In the world of EDC knives, the two big players everyone in town knows about are carbon steel (i.e. high-carbon steel) and stainless steel. You can find these steels all over the place. Here, there, everywhere. It makes sense, too. After all, steel is the most versatile component there is, making it the perfect match for knives.

How well a blade performs, how much a knife costs, how long you can expect a knife to last for – all these factors are determined by one thing and one thing only, and that one thing is the makeup of a knife’s steel.

Battle of Steels 20211215 Steel Movie
“Steel is important! Keep reading!”

As a general rule of thumb (though, of course, there are exceptions), steels containing a higher carbon content tend to be hard and brittle, while steels with a lower carbon content tend to be tougher and ductile.

If there’s a moral to the beginning of this story, it’s this - literally all steel must have carbon as a part of its makeup, even if it is just a speck. Nevertheless, different chemical compositions affect final steel categorization.

Battle of Steels 20211215 Steel Movie
“I hope you’re ready to learn about what differentiates carbon steel and stainless steel.”

This all brings us to the primary dividing line when it comes to differentiating carbon steel and stainless steel. While carbon steel is composed of less than 10.5% alloy, stainless steel has to contain at least 10.5% chromium (if not more). This distinction right here distinguishes our two steel heavy hitters and imbues them with their distinct, unique physical characteristics.

Now that we’ve laid out the steel basics and begun to explore both carbon steel and stainless steel, let’s dig deeper into what makes these two common types of steel distinct from one another as well as which steel type works best for which tasks.

It’s about to get real, alright. It’s about to get real…steel.

Battle of Steels 20211215 Steel Movie“Tell me more about this high-carbon steel, fellow Gallantry Man. A lot more.”

WHAT IS CARBON STEEL?

Let’s start with carbon. You see, carbon is the special ingredient that helps iron become steel. Depending on how much carbon is present, the hardness, strength, and wear-resistance of the resulting steel will vary.

What can occasionally be confusing to casual EDC observer out there is that steel and carbon steel can sometimes be synonyms for one another. However, when you see carbon steel (especially high-carbon steel) mentioned, chances are that the term is being used to describe a steel alloy that’s packing a higher percentage of carbon (the average is between .6% and 1% of the material weight, it can go as high as 2.5%). The most high-end pocket knives are made from a process known as powder metallurgy, which means that the steel in the knife is created from powder as opposed to just a melting process. Believe it or not, pocket knives with carbon steel made via powder metallurgy can contain a percentage of carbon even higher than 2.5%!

The biggest pro to having high carbon content in your everyday carry knife’s steel is, without a shadow of a doubt, the hardness (which is usually denoted as HRC when it is measured on the Rockwell scale, a way of evaluating a knife’s overall strength) that it provides. In other words, when you make the decision to invest in a high-carbon steel knife, you’re investing in some seriously hard steel, and that hard steel allows a blade to resist abrasion and seriously withstand blunt force trauma so that it can retain its shape (you know, not deform).

All this is not to say that there isn’t a flipside to the high carbon knife coin. After all, these bad boys tend to be more brittle (i.e. more likely to crack, chip, and/or break when faced with extreme stress), and, well, aren’t exactly reputable for their resistance to corrosives like rust.

Here’s the thing. If you take good care of your high carbon knife? All of these potential downsides? You better believe they can be tempered.

Heyo!

Battle of Steels 20211215 Steel Movie“My interest is piqued. Now tell me about this stainless steel.”

WHAT IS STAINLESS STEEL?

Most of the everyday carry knives that we carry at Gallantry are composed of stainless steel, a 100% recyclable iron and chromium alloy. This type of steel provides superb corrosion resistance, high-strength, features a visually-pleasing aesthetic, and is extremely practical usage-wise. Short story? There’s a reason that stainless steel is the most popular steel on the block.

Like carbon steel, stainless steel absolutely still contains its fair share of carbon. What distinguishes stainless steel from carbon steel is the x-factor known as chromium (stainless steel must contain at least 10.5% chromium, otherwise, you know, it’s not stainless steel), a metallic alloying element that reacts with oxygen to create a passive layer that protects the steel. Chromium instills stainless steel with a super silvery sheen, a high melting point, and a stellar ability to resist corrosion (which can be even further enhanced with regular mineral oil maintenance).

Stainless steel, meanwhile, does also have a few shortcomings of its own. Compared to high-carbon steel, it is less tough (blame the chromium), more malleable, more susceptible to deformation (despite being less brittle), and dare we say, well, springier.

Still, when you full circle this thing, the fact remains that when you make the decision to buy a stainless steel blade, you’re making a decision to invest in an all-purpose blade that is going to resist rust and chipping better than a high-carbon counterpart. This isn’t to say that a stainless steel blade is 100% rustproof, but, you know, it is more able to avoid deformation in wet environments.

Battle of Steels 20211215 Steel Movie
“Carbon or stainless? While high carbon steel is vulnerable to rust, tends to be more brittle, and is wear-resistant, stainless steel is rust resistant, albeit less brittle and wear-resistant. So, you know, they each have their own pros and cons. I like ‘em both!”

WHO WINS THE BATTLE OF THE STEELS?

Hate to let you down, compadre, but the truth of the matter is that both of these steels rock. They’re both different, each containing its own unique advantages and disadvantages, so it’s a fickle exercise in futility to make sweeping generalizations just for the sake of claiming that one steel is superior to the other.

What we can tell you, however, is that one type may be superior to the other for specific activities. It really just all comes down to how much corrosion resistance, edge retention, strength, toughness, wear resistance, and ease of sharpening is required for the task at hand. After all, different jobs require different skills, you know what we mean?

If you’re a Gallantry Man looking for that perfect hunting/combat knife, a carbon steel blade might your best bet because this type of blade is super strong, holds up like a champ to rough and tumble use, can easily be made razor sharp, and, well, knows how to seriously cut something fierce (there’s a reason why professional chefs tend to prefer high-carbon steel in their premium kitchen knives, as they’re wear-resistant and stay sharper for extended periods of time).

If you’re a Gallantry Man looking to get his fishing and cooking on (i.e. excursions that will inevitably expose your blade to more moisture), a stainless steel blade could be the move for you. This is not to say that you can’t use a stainless steel blade like you would use a hunting/combat blade, it’s just that using such a blade for such activities will require that you get a replacement knife sooner rather than later. A stainless steel blade also may be the better selection for the Gallantry Man just not looking to spend a ton of time on blade upkeep, since stainless steel blades generally last longer (remember, they’re very resistant to chipping and corrosion) when used for most everyday carry scenarios.

At the end of the day, as with all everyday carry, the “right” choice here is entirely contingent on the needs of you (although getting at least one of each type of steel blade is obviously the most legendary move you could possibly make).

Context, as they say, is everything.

With all this in mind, let’s check out some of our favorite fixed-blade high carbon steel knives (perfectly crafted for hard use) and stainless steel pocket folders...

Battle of Steels 20211215 Steel Movie“Holy smokes! Look at that collection of high-carbon steel knives from Gallantry!”

CARBON STEEL KNIVES

THE KA-BAR 1252 SHORT USMC SERRATED FIGHTING KNIFE FROM KA-BAR

THE KA-BAR 1252 SHORT USMC SERRATED FIGHTING KNIFE FROM KA-BAR

Iconic for decades, the KA-BAR USMC Fighting Knife is exactly the knife you automatically think of when you hear the words "fighting knife". This edition, the 1252 Short USMC Serrated Fighting Knife, is perfectly sized at 5 1/4". It’s the ideal choice for camping, carrying and general utility.

Made from powder-coated 1095 Cro Van steel, it’ll provide you with the toughness that you need to tackle any task. Extremely comfortable to wield with a traditional leather oval-shaped handle, it is also equipped with a matching leather sheath.

Whether you're a Rocky, a Rambo, or just more of a weekend warrior, with the USMC Fighting Knife you’ll be able to survive anything life throws at you.

SPECIFICATIONS

  • Made in USA
  • 1095 Cro-Van high carbon steel clip point blade with blood groove
  • Partially serrated
  • USMC tang stamp
  • Oval, stacked leather handle with black epoxy powder coated carbon steel guard and butt
  • Black thermorun handle
  • Includes leather sheath with USMC embossment
  • Overall length: 9.25"
  • Blade length: 5.25"
  • Weight: 6.4 oz

Available in Black/Leather

KA-BAR 1252 Short USMC Serrated Fighting Knife

KA-BAR 1252 Short USMC Serrated Fighting Knife

$129.95

[tab-section data-sc-active-background="#ffffff" data-sc-other-background="#ffffff" data-sc-color="#555555"][tab title="Details"] Iconic for decades, the KA-BAR USMC Fighting Knife is exactly the knife you automatically think of when you hear the words "fighting knife". This edition, the 1252 Short USMC Serrated Fighting Knife, is right-sized at… read more

THE SERRATED KA-BAR USA FIGHTING KNIFE FROM KA-BAR

THE SERRATED KA-BAR USA FIGHTING KNIFE FROM KA-BAR

This 1214 edition of the classic USA Fighting Knife features a full-sized 7" blade made from powder-coated 1095 Cro Van steel, so you know its got the toughness you need to tackle any task that comes your way. With a polymer oval-shaped handle and a matching Kydex sheath, this iconic fighting knife is also unbelievably comfortable to wield. Tang stamped with USA, this beauty is American-made and American-loved.

SPECIFICATIONS

  • Made in USA
  • 1095 Cro-Van high carbon steel clip point blade with blood groove
  • Partially serrated blade
  • USA tang stamp
  • Oval, stacked polymer handle with black epoxy powder coated carbon steel guard and butt
  • Includes Kydex sheath with USA embossment
  • Overall length: 11.75"
  • Blade length: 7"
  • Weight: 1.3 lb

KA-BAR USA Fighting Knife

KA-BAR USA Fighting Knife

$119.00

[tab-section data-sc-active-background="#ffffff" data-sc-other-background="#ffffff" data-sc-color="#555555"][tab title="Details"] Iconic for decades, the KA-BAR Fighting Knife is exactly the knife you automatically think of when you hear the words "fighting knife". This edition, the 1213 USA Fighting Knife, features a full-sized 7" blade made from powder-coated… read more

THE STRAIGHT KA-BAR USA FIGHTING KNIFE FROM KA-BAR

THE STRAIGHT KA-BAR USA FIGHTING KNIFE FROM KA-BAR

This edition of the iconic KA-BAR Fighting Knife, the 1213 USA edition, features a full-sized 7" blade made from powder-coated 1095 Cro Van steel, so you just know that its got the toughness you need in order to tackle any task. Like its serrated counterpart, its super comfortable to wield with a polymer oval-shaped handle and it is equipped with a matching Kydex sheath. Tang stamped with USA, this American-made stunner beams with Americana through and through.

SPECIFICATIONS

  • Made in USA
  • 1095 Cro-Van high carbon steel clip point blade with blood groove
  • Straight blade
  • USA tang stamp
  • Oval, stacked polymer handle with black epoxy powder coated carbon steel guard and butt
  • Includes Kydex sheath with USA embossment
  • Overall length: 11.75"
  • Blade length: 7"
  • Weight: 1.3 lb

KA-BAR USA Fighting Knife

KA-BAR USA Fighting Knife

$119.00

[tab-section data-sc-active-background="#ffffff" data-sc-other-background="#ffffff" data-sc-color="#555555"][tab title="Details"] Iconic for decades, the KA-BAR Fighting Knife is exactly the knife you automatically think of when you hear the words "fighting knife". This edition, the 1214 USA Fighting Knife, features a full-sized 7" blade made from powder-coated… read more

Battle of Steels 20211215 Steel Movie “This is the most amazing collection of stainless steel knives that I’ve ever seen in my life. Man, Gallantry never disappoints with the EDC they showcase in The Dispatch!”

STAINLESS STEEL KNIVES

THE CARTER XL KNIFE FROM THE JAMES BRAND

CARTER XL KNIFE FROM THE JAMES BRAND BLACK G10/STAINLESS

CARTER XL KNIFE FROM THE JAMES BRAND BLACK/BLACK

CARTER XL KNIFE FROM THE JAMES BRAND OD GREEN

Whether you’re trekking through the foliage of the wild or driving on a seemingly endless road, you can be rest assured that The Carter will perform well in any scenario. This enlarged version, The Carter XL, features the same breathtaking design as the original, but receives a beefed up makeover that gives it a 3.3” VG-10 drop point blade and a corrosion-resistant G10 or Micarta handle. It also features The James Brand’s Ambi-Slider, which is an ergonomic ambidextrous locking mechanism.

Wherever you’re looking to roam and seek adventure, The Carter XL is your perfect sidekick.

SPECIFICATIONS

  • 3.3” drop point VG-10 blade
  • Black G10 handle
  • 416 Stainless steel/ black-oxide hardware
  • Phosphor bronze washers
  • Ambi-slider Locking mechanism

Available in Black G10/Stainless, Black/Black, and OD Green Micarta/Stainless

The Carter XL Knife

The Carter XL Knife

$159.00

[tab-section data-sc-active-background="#ffffff" data-sc-other-background="#ffffff" data-sc-color="#555555"][tab title="Details"] Whether you’re trekking through the foliage of the wild or driving on a seemingly endless road, you can rest assured The Carter will perform well in any scenario.  This enlarged version, The Carter XL, features the… read more

The Carter XL Knife

The Carter XL Knife

$169.00

[tab-section data-sc-active-background="#ffffff" data-sc-other-background="#ffffff" data-sc-color="#555555"][tab title="Details"] Whether you’re trekking through the foliage of the wild or driving on a seemingly endless road, you can rest assured The Carter will perform well in any scenario.  This enlarged version, The Carter XL, features the… read more

The Carter XL Knife

The Carter XL Knife

$179.00

[tab-section data-sc-active-background="#ffffff" data-sc-other-background="#ffffff" data-sc-color="#555555"][tab title="Details"] Whether you’re trekking through the foliage of the wild or driving on a seemingly endless road, you can rest assured The Carter will perform well in any scenario.  This enlarged version, The Carter XL, features the… read more

THE SAGE 5 COMPRESSION LOCK KNIFE FROM SPYDERCO

THE SAGE 5 COMPRESSION LOCK KNIFE FROM SPYDERCO

Like all blades from Spyderco’s Sage Series™, this gem features a full-flat-ground, leaf-shaped CPM® S30V® blade, an ergonomic handle design with textured forefinger coil and thumb ramp, and a reversible tip-up wire clip. The Sage™ 5, meanwhile, is a cut above the rest with its own Compression Lock mechanism.

The blade’s tang ramp faces upward toward the handle’s spine, rather than toward the butt of the handle (as in a LinerLock), so this innovative mechanism is substantially stronger than most LinerLocks. Plus, its location allows the knife to be safely closed with only one hand so that you don’t have to place your fingers in the path of the edge. The ingenuity doesn’t stop there, though, as the skeletonized stainless steel liners that form the framework of the Sage 5’s lock are nested into textured carbon fiber/G-10 laminate scales.

Finally, open-backed construction reduces the knife’s weight (in turn allowing for easy cleaning), while a reversible deep-pocket wire clip provides convenient tip-up carry on either side of the body.

Yeah. The Sage™ 5is an extremely capable all-purpose cutting tool, alright.

SPECIFICATIONS

  • Blade Length: 3.00" (76mm)
  • Overall Length: 7.17" (182mm)
  • Blade Steel: CPM S30VPocket clip
  • Closed Length: 4.17" (106mm)
  • Edge Length: 2.64" (67mm)
  • Lock Type: Compression
  • Tip-Up Carry Handle

Available in Black

Sage 5 Compression Lock Knife

Sage 5 Compression Lock Knife

$149.95

[tab-section data-sc-active-background="#ffffff" data-sc-other-background="#ffffff" data-sc-color="#555555"][tab title="Details"] Spyderco’s Sage Series™ features a full-flat-ground, leaf-shaped CPM® S30V® blade, an ergonomic handle design with textured forefinger choil and thumb ramp, and a reversible tip-up wire clip. The Sage™ 5 highlights Spyderco’s own Compression Lock mechanism. … read more

THE ZT0452CF CARBON FIBER/TITANIUM FRAMELOCK FLIPPER FROM ZERO TOLERANCE

THE ZT0452CF CARBON FIBER/TITANIUM FRAMELOCK FLIPPER FROM ZERO TOLERANCE

Designed by renowned bladesmith Dmitry Sinkevich, the Zero Tolerance 0452CF is a revision of the award-winning 0454. Its 4.1" blade is exquisite S35VN steel, among the very highest quality steels available for blade crafting. The handle is carbon fiber on one side, which makes it light to the touch, with a titanium framelock for toughness. In other words, if you're looking for a high-quality tactical folder with beauty and brains to match, the ZT0452CF could (and should) become your new main squeeze.

SPECIFICATIONS

  • Made in the USA
  • Designed by renowned bladesmith Dmitry Sinkevich
  • CPM-S35VN stainless steel blade for strength and durability
  • Carbon-fiber handle with a titanium framelock
  • 4.1" blade, 9.27" overall length
  • Flat-ground drop point design with a satin finish
  • 4.64 oz

Available in Carbon Fiber/Titanium

ZT0452CF Carbon Fiber/Titanium Framelock Flipper

ZT0452CF Carbon Fiber/Titanium Framelock Flipper

$300.00

[tab-section data-sc-active-background="#ffffff" data-sc-other-background="#ffffff" data-sc-color="#555555"][tab title="Details"] Designed by renowned bladesmith Dmitry Sinkevich, the Zero Tolerance 0452CF is a revision of the award-winning 0454. The 4.1" blade is exquisite S35VN steel, among the very highest quality steels available for blade crafting.  The handle is… read more

Battle of Steels 20211215 Steel Movie“Stay down! This week’s issue Dispatch from Gallantry is totally EXPLOSIVE!”

CARBON STEEL VS STAINLESS STEEL: THE BATTLE CONTINUES

By this point in the game, you should be feeling like the money as it pertains to your

everyday carry steel blade selection (or shall we say selections?). Carbon steel and stainless steel are different, for sure, but they’re both extremely badass in their own way.

Hey! That’s why we’ve got ‘em all!

GET SOME!

STREAMING THE STEEL

Battle of Steels 20211215 SteelPhoto Credit: Netflix

Are you ready to get Forged in Fire? After this week’s The Dispatch, we most definitely are.

Check out the competition reality television show that pits bladesmiths against each other as they vie for a cash prize by forging the best metal weapons in history before a panel of expert judges on Netflix right HERE!

Battle of Steels 20211215 Steel Movie “You know what’s covered in steel and has every single knife highlighted in this week’s The Dispatch? This guy! Time to hit the streets with my legendary Gallantry Man collection of everyday carry carbon and stainless steel knives, baby! BOOM!”

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