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Non stainless steels, why?

Discussion in 'General Knife Discussion' started by Mrs_Esterhouse, Apr 9, 2019.

  1. Mrs_Esterhouse


    Apr 9, 2019
    Why are so many knife enthusiasts into non stainless knife steels like 52100, M4, 4V, etc., when they can get the same edge retention with actual stainless steels like M390, 20CV, S90V, S110V, etc.? I can understand wanting a large variety of options from a collecting standpoint, but for an EDC, why would anyone choose a steel that can spot or rust if not dried after a rainy hike or wet day in the yard?

    I guess there has to be something advantageous in the edge people are getting with those tool steels that is absent from the stainless steels. Do they hold a fine, hair popping edge longer than the stainless? This has not been been my experience.

    I'm trying to figure this out before making my next purchase. I have a Kershaw with D2 and a Spyderco with XHP. I can get both of the edges razor sharp on my stones, but I haven't experienced any real positives with the D2 edge over the XHP edge to justify going with a non stainless blade. Any thoughts?
  2. Alberta Ed

    Alberta Ed

    Jun 29, 1999
    Generally tougher and easier to sharpen. Plus, corrosion is not really a problem given reasonable care.
    hugofeynman, AntDog, cbrstar and 4 others like this.
  3. Comeuppance

    Comeuppance Fixed Blade EDC Emisssary Gold Member

    Jan 12, 2013
    It’s often a preference founded primarily in impractical reasons. Some people like patinas / oxidation, some people eschew modern steels for various reasons, etc.

    That said, there isn’t always a direct analog stainless for each kind of non-stainless. Maxamet and ZDP are non-stainless and are basically the top dogs of edge retention. 4V is the tank of blade steels. The outlier highest performers are all non-stainless as far as I know.
    SV-97, KHarper, willc and 1 other person like this.
  4. DocJD


    Jan 29, 2016
    For toughness/impact resistance and economy in large blades (wood choppers , heavy machetes , swords etc) when corrosion is not a prime concern .

    Makes less sense for small fixed and folders , unless you're really gonna beat on them . :eek:
    LuckyC and Therom like this.
  5. Ajack60

    Ajack60 Platinum Member Platinum Member

    Apr 21, 2013
    I would guess that a good tool steel such as 4V, 10V, M4, 52100 are easier on equipment for makers than stainless steels like M390, S110V, S125, S90V. I would also guess that with stainless steel the heat treat has got to be correct where a tool steel may be more forgiving if the heat treat is off a bit. If I can get a knife with tool steel at a more reasonable price that will hold an edge like a stainless steel and is easier to get a sharp edge, then I'll opt for the tool steel.
    I'm referring to fixed blades, don't know if I'd want a folder in 4V or 10V due to the hidden areas that will be prone to rust.
    I've got slip joints with 1095 and often wonder about rust in the pivot area even though they are oiled regularly.
  6. b00n

    b00n Gold Member Gold Member

    Dec 15, 2016
    I would personally add there is also a misconception when it comes to rust/corrosion of a none stainless steel, the thing is most of them don't immediately rust within in a matter of minutes or hours. Yeah there are some steels that corrode very fast, and even then it's surface rust you can easily get rid off. So it is often blown out of proportion and made out to be a bigger deal than it is.
  7. Bob6794


    Apr 21, 2013
    All steels have characterics they are known for. The usual suspects we have for carbon steel blades are known for toughness and ease of sharpening which are two desirable traits for hard use and ease of use. The trade off is corrosion resistance, for most minimal care will do and maybe switching from pocket carry to a sheath. For some it's just not advisable due to circumstances as even that and more extreme methods won't work for long.
  8. K-Lastima


    Jul 2, 2009
    I just love a great looking patina. It gives a good knife character .
    KHarper, Dobe_1, silvaticus and 5 others like this.
  9. oldmanwilly

    oldmanwilly Gold Member Gold Member

    Mar 7, 2014
    I'd like to piggyback off of the quoted comment. My carbon steel blades have been subjected to many types of use, abuse and periodic neglect. None of them have crumbled away from rust.

    I value carbon steel's ability to hold an edge well and be easily touched up with primitive (i.e. cheap, non-diamond related, and/or natural) stones in a matter of minutes. In exchange, they do rust/patina much faster. I think it's a fair trade: a little surface rust for ease of use.

    That said, I opt for stainless in modern folders and for fixed blades used for saltwater fishing. I'm not averse to modern technology under approproate circumstances.
    b00n likes this.
  10. K.O.D.

    K.O.D. Banned Platinum Member

    Aug 21, 2013
    As I've delved into the world of pocket knives, I've learned a lot. I like tool steel in knives that will see heavier use. I realized too late that grind, edge geometry, and stock thickness greatly affect how I use the knife.

    As said previously, tool steel is great for harder use activities. If I know there is a good possibility I'll need to cut through a difficult material, I'll carry my Gayle Bradley.

    Camping, I'll usually have my BK5 with me, and whatever pocket knife I feel the need for.

    Everyday use, it doesn't really matter.

    If I'm going down to Galveston to visit family, tool and carbon knives stay up here in the Chi. Aqua Salt, Yojimbo 2, and maybe my Domino will be hiding in my shoes in my checked bag. ( I wear a size 14, hide them under my insoles) Corrosion is no joke down there.
  11. midnight flyer

    midnight flyer Basic Member Basic Member

    Jan 12, 2009
    I enjoy both and I am not a "either/or" guy. But at this time I don't think I have bought a 1095. 1087, or any of its non stainless relatives in decades.

    Working in the trades, I got my first stainless knife (Browning folding hunter) in 440C in the late 70s. I couldn't believe it... almost no maintenance! Sweating through my pants is daily thing for me but I was used to getting a bit of oil off my dipstick, some 3-in-1 from the truck, and anything I could smear on my blades to keep the rust down. So along comes a great knife with a great stainless blade. Sold! Just about all I had to do with that was sharpen it. Found out it was great camping, cleaning fish, didn't rust when I got caught in the rain when hiking/hunting, and it has been a great fit for me.

    These days, I wouldn't think of going back to carbon. I know on the traditional side of this forum there are dozens that claim they have never seen a carbon steel knife rust unless it was abused. They stick their knives in potatoes overnight, stain the blades with mustard, vinegar, and do all kinds of things they believe protects their blades. I started carrying carbon blades daily back in the mid 60s, and none of the mumbo jumbo works for me. The rust was just harder to see when the blade was darkened.

    Maybe if I was an office guy... a weekend warrior type... I dunno… the carbon would be great. But as a full time working contractor, my knives are just more tools to me than anything else. Don't get me wrong, I really like using good knives, but part of what makes a good knife is that it is a tools that performs with a minimum of fuss. I don't want to worry about my knives rusting up (like they did all through the 60s and 70s) and needing maintenance on a daily basis. Believe me, a little oil on the blade works great until you cut a lot of materials or use it in the rain and then fold it up and put it back in your sweat/rain drenched pocket.

    All that being said, I have a couple of old favorite CASE folding work knives that I love to carry in the Fall, and in the Winter. Little or no sweat means I can carry some knives that I have had since the 60s (!!!) and 70s and I get a really warm feeling thinking about how long I have had them and how much service they have provided. The little bit of maintenance I do on them in the cool weather is easily overcome by the amount of satisfaction knowing I have them in my pocket.

    Wogger, Pomsbz, The_Iron_Joe and 2 others like this.
  12. DrRollinstein

    DrRollinstein Gold Member Gold Member

    Feb 20, 2018
    When it comes to plain old carbon steel, its often said around here that you can grab any old rock lying outside and sharpen the old carbon blades with it.

    The fancy tool steels just seem to perform really well. Every steel has trade offs one way or another. 154cm is easy to sharpen but not as SUPER, whereas S110V apparently will hold an edge till the end of time, but once it runs out you will have a hell of a time getting it back.

    Plus preventing a knife from rusting, or just removing the rust, is never that hard.
  13. NapalmCheese


    Aug 24, 2006
    1. Gets really sharp.
    2. Easy to get really sharp.
    3. Easy to keep really sharp.
    4. Easy for manufacturers to heat treat (mostly).
    5. Cheap.
    Comparing my $75.00 1075 kitchen knife with my $60.00 'whatever stainless' Henckels, my carbon knife is easier to keep sharp and takes a better edge. When it comes to scoring my sourdoughs I can use a razor, or I can use my carbon Opinel, both seem just fine. When it come to shaving my face I sometimes use a carbon straight razor, in the straight razor users community few people like stainless (I've never tried it).

    Seems to me carbon steels are the better deal for most things (unless you're not a maintenance person or do nothing but cut fish all day).
    The Zieg likes this.
  14. DeadboxHero

    DeadboxHero Triple B Handmade Knives, Big Brown Bear

    Mar 22, 2014
    The edge performance is superior.

    The top carbon tool steels offer more
    Strength, higher working hardness, more toughness, ease of sharpening and wear resistance than comparable stainless steels

    That's why
  15. DeadboxHero

    DeadboxHero Triple B Handmade Knives, Big Brown Bear

    Mar 22, 2014
    No, difficulty in making is directly related to carbide volume and hardness.
    So if it's carbon or stainless is irrelevant.

    The HT needs proper control regardless as well.
    4v, M4, and 10v need high temp soaks, atmosphere protection and good control just like the stainless steel you listed.

    The 52100 can be more rudimentary but still takes advantage of good control

  16. KenHash

    KenHash Gold Member Gold Member

    Sep 11, 2014
    In Japan most people in the seafood and restaurant business "cut fish all day" with Carbon steels. This despite that I can make rust spots appear on my White 2 Yanagiba and Deba by simply leaving it wet on the dishrack. Trick here is that everyone wipes it down after every use. That's all it takes.
    herisson likes this.
  17. DeadboxHero

    DeadboxHero Triple B Handmade Knives, Big Brown Bear

    Mar 22, 2014
    They vigorously clean off the patina in Japan as a sign of discipline and cleanliness.

    They use rust erasers and polishing pastes

    Here in the West, we just wipe it dry and let the patina build.

    Bar keepers friend powder is a game changer for cleaning rust.
    NapalmCheese likes this.
  18. Bad Ninja

    Bad Ninja

    Dec 19, 2018
    "Willing to spend hundreds of dollars on tools, and hours online discussing them....too lazy to spend 2 minutes taking proper care of said tools."
  19. 115Italian


    Nov 13, 2015
    Esee and BRK didn’t consult me when they chose d2 for the avispa so that’s what I get because I wanted that knife.
    Lance Leon likes this.
  20. dirc


    Jan 31, 2018
    just a minor point - if you mean zdp-189, then it certainly is 'stainless', in fact it has 20% chrome - which is normally very stainless, however...


    ... the devil in the details part is that with 3% carbon, zdp ends up having less chromium in solution than all other 20% chrome steels - read Larrin's article which specifically talks about zdp


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