440 Stainless Steel vs. “Carbon” Steel

In my personal knife collection, I have both carbon steel and stainless steel knives. I use them for work and have to cut a LOT of boxes that I use for shipping materials around the country. Both types of knives work well for this and both wear well. The environment is dry so neither types of knives have the opportunity to get wet and possibly rust. Even though the carbon steel knife maintains a sharper edge for a longer period of time, both are easy to sharpen and I have to sharpen both the carbon steel and stainless steel knives on a regular basis. I would have never figured that cardboard boxes are so tough on a blade edge, but they are. Here’s a bit of information on both types of steel that are commonly used in camping and utility knives. I got the information from wikipedia.

“Type 440—a higher grade of cutlery steel, with more carbon, allowing for much better edge retention when properly heat-treated. It can be hardened to approximately Rockwell 58 hardness, making it one of the hardest stainless steels. Due to its toughness and relatively low cost, most display-only and replica swords or knives are made of 440 stainless. Available in four grades: 440A, 440B, 440C, and the uncommon 440F (free machinable). 440A, having the least amount of carbon in it, is the most stain-resistant; 440C, having the most, is the strongest and is usually considered more desirable in knifemaking than 440A, except for diving or other salt-water applications.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SAE_steel_grades)

“Carbon steel is steel where the main interstitial alloying constituent is carbon. The term “carbon steel” may also be used in reference to steel which is not stainless steel; in this use carbon steel may include alloy steels.” ” Case hardening processes harden only the exterior of the steel part, creating a hard, wear resistant skin (the “case”) but preserving a tough and ductile interior. Carbon steels are not very hardenable; therefore wide pieces cannot be thru-hardened. Alloy steels have a better hardenability, so they can through-harden and do not require case hardening. This property of carbon steel can be beneficial, because it gives the surface good wear characteristics but leaves the core tough.”  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_steel)

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