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Carbon vs Stainless survival blades

Discussion in 'Wilderness & Survival Skills' started by Hoodoo, Apr 23, 2001.

  1. Hoodoo


    Aug 18, 1999
    Yeah, I know, you've seen this discussion before. But I thought it would be interesting to discuss it within the context of survival knives.

    I see a lot of carbon-steel "survival" knives out there. TOPS, Newt Livesay, Busse, Randall, etc. Jeff Randall has one and Ray Mears is selling a knife made of O1. But what about stainless? Grohmann makes a stainless survival knife. There are some machetes out there in ats34. Lots of D2 knives floating around, if you want to call that stainless or semi-stainless. The Fallkniven A1 in VG-10 is surely no slouch.

    So what are the pros and cons? Things like ease of sharpening, corrosion resistance, ability to take an edge or serve as a flint striker all come to mind as issues. Let's hear it guys. Is stainless all that bad? Is carbon all that good? Enquiring mind wants to know. [​IMG]


    I get some pleasure from finding a relentlessly peaceful use for a combative looking knife.
  2. sgtmike88


    Oct 15, 2000
    Although I was always been preached to about the benefits of carbon steels, I find the modern stainless steels to be very efficient at all the tasks I throw at them. I'm currently using several in 420 HC, VG-10, 154CM, and ATS-34. Not one of my stainless blades has failed to produce a spark from a ferro rod. Not one has failed to cut when I needed it to. They stay clean and hold their edges relatively well for stainless. Additionally, I've not had a problem maintaining those edges with my Sharpmaker.

    It's not the pace of life that concerns me, It's the sudden stop at the end.
  3. CH


    Dec 10, 2000
    After a few week long canoe trips here in Arkansas, I was sold on stainless blades. Every carbon steel blade I had rusted, regardless of what I put on it. Constant use and exposure to water will rust any satin finished carbon steel knife, even with Tuf-Cloth. I now use a Fallkniven A1/F1 and a Gerber MPT or Leatherman Wave. Much better performance.
  4. Coonskinner


    Mar 28, 2001
    Certainly stainless isn't all bad, nor is carbon all good. I believe there are good choices for survival blades to be found in both steel configurations. Personally, I tend to prefer carbon steel blades. I find them easier to sharpen, which is a signifigant advantage out in the boondocks where you may not have access to high-tech sharpening equipment. As far as corrosion resistance is concerned, of course stainless steel gets the nod. But I think the rust issue has been blown way out of proportion in most cases. If you are a salt water fisherman, you may have a point. But with very minimal care, most carbon steel blades won't do more than acquire a dark patina that I find appealing anyway. It all boils down to what you want to spend your money on. My favorite thing about carbon steel is that it seems to take a keener edge than most stainless steels. However, I will admit that I have a VG-10 blade that will take a superb edge. I guess the bottom line is, everybody likes something different.
  5. allenC


    Jun 18, 2000
    I think the choice depends alot on economics.
    For an expensive survival blade I will go with stainless every time, because I want to use that knife for a very long time (and I don't want to spend alot of time in the field on knife maintenance).

    But I also like a high carbon blade like an Ontario machete because it cost so little. I can take it out and abuse it on a trip, and if it rusts to pieces, I'm not out alot of money.
  6. Cobalt

    Cobalt Gold Member Gold Member

    Dec 23, 1998
    Here are my choices in both, the way I see it:

    Carbon Steel: CPM-3V, INFI, Forged O-1, Forged 5160 and 52100, D-2, M-2, A-2, A-8, A-7, blah, blah, blah.

    Stainless Steel: 440C, A, B, ATS-34, VG-10, BG-42, 420V, and a host of others

    If I had only one choice, either Carbon or Stainless, it would be one of the better Carbon Steels, which I consider Tougher. Probably something like 3V, A-2, D-2, INFI

    If I were to get Stainless, I would go with 440C and BG-42, but I would choose 3V or INFI over Stainless.
  7. Happy Camper

    Happy Camper

    Jan 8, 2000
    Stainless is the only one for me.

    I actually had my AUS8 Cold Steel Voyager blade get a mild rust stain in the period of one very wet and salty weekend in the Superstition wilderness! My Parkerized Kimber pistol fared much, much worse, and I didn't even use that (kept it holstered).

    Today, the only carbon steel knives I have are those that I don't use in survival situations, like my big fighting knife.

    Realistically, if I don't bring a truing device with me, hard use will make a sharp edge less sharp. Carbon or stainless. So carbon steel can often get a little sharper, and can stay sharp a little longer. Not worth it to me.
  8. Alberta Ed

    Alberta Ed

    Jun 29, 1999
    I prefer carbon steel (Carbon V, 52100, 5160 or 1095) because of ease of sharpening and the fact that they hold an edge better than most stainless... but my F1 in VG-10 held up as well or better than my buddy's Carbon V North American Hunter from CS when we skinned a black bear last fall. Takes a little longer to sharpen, but that's no problem with a DMT diamond hone, and corrosion isn't a problem. I don't mind the patina my carbon steel blades take; I think it gives 'em character. Never had a serious problem with rusting.
  9. backpacker


    Oct 2, 2000
    Doc Ron has talked about using smooth river stones to sharpen a knife within a survival situation. Can stainless steel be sharpened this way?

    In a true survival situation isn't there many more options in sharpening carbor steel over stainless steel?
  10. amalgam


    Aug 10, 2000

    can worry about staying alive instead of preventing rust on the blade. [​IMG]

    Forrest says: "That's good. One less thing."

  11. chad234

    chad234 Banned BANNED

    May 14, 2000
    It hase been my experience that any of the top end stainless steels are equal in any performance measure to carbon alloy/ tool steels, if properly heat treated (and this is the real key.
    i.e. BG-42, 420V, 440V and I would include IFNI/ M-INFI as a stainless steel, not based on its chromium contentbut rather based in its corrosion resistance as I have observed it. I believe that other elements are responsible for its corrosion resistance such as Cobalt/ Ti. D2-E shows great promise).
    I also think that the "rust with alricity" problem of carbon steels is overstated. I wear a 1095 neck knife (Livesay Woo) everyday, and have many hours of hard use on a number of other Livesay blades, all in 1095, and have never had any corrosion problems. My neck knife doesn't get tuff clothed anymore as I tend to use and wash it frequently, even with no protectant it has not rusted.
    The primary restriction of stainless is the cost. On a dollar for dollar basis carbon steels far outperform stainless, given equally good heat treats.
    Given a choice I prefer a high quality stainless, but I prefer carbon steels over lower end stainless (i.e 420j, 44a, 420 HC and Mystery stainless). Of the carbon steels I prefer those with a high alloy content as I have observed an increase in the performance of steels that contain certain alloys (especially vandium).
    I have no problems sharpening stainless steels, but I rely on diamond whetstones for removing metal and maintain my edges with frequent steeling and stropping.
    Stay sharp,

    Wicked Knife Co.
    Hoods Woods
    [email protected]

    [This message has been edited by chad234 (edited 04-24-2001).]
  12. Cliff Stamp

    Cliff Stamp Banned BANNED

    Oct 5, 1998
    Yes you can sharpen a stainless blade on a rock. When talking about carbon vs stainless you want to be clear what you mean by carbon steel, if it is a plain alloy (1095) that is one thing, if it includes the very high alloy steels then it is another. There are many of them that are more brittle and harder to work than the common cutlery stainless steels.

  13. Happy Camper

    Happy Camper

    Jan 8, 2000
    I don't think I'm overstating rust issues of carbon steel when I say my stainless steel knife etched and my parkerized carbon steel gun rusted hard in one weekend - It actually gave my shirt rust stains where it was touching.

    There had been many camping trips that I didn't encounter rust, but my trip into the Superstitions was much more of a survival trip than a comfy camping trip or a walk about town, and rust was tangible and inescapable.

    To be fair, it's safe to say that survival equipment must be tailored to the environment expected. It seems plausible that the knife steel selection would be a part of that equation.
  14. GLP-1


    Apr 5, 2000
    I have, in the last 15 years of survival training, camping, and hunting, never had a serious rust issue with a carbon steel knife. I am not doubting your experiences, just saying that they do not match mine.

    Typically, it a carbon knife develops a bit of rust, it gets cleaned by use. Making a few "fuzz sticks" for fire making cleans up a blade purty good. A charred stick, or a penny, do well for cleaning heavier damage.

    I normally use my knives in the Great Lakes area, which is not too abusive to steel. However, I have quite a bit of experience in the coastal South East, and in South East Alaska. These environments are not so carbon friendly, but I have still had little problem.

  15. Cobalt

    Cobalt Gold Member Gold Member

    Dec 23, 1998
    ---This has not been the case in my experience. Carbon steels are usually tougher and can definitely be made tougher. Forging does wonders for carbon steel, but does not improove stainless steels much. The toughest steels are those that are considered non-stainless. As for edge holding, there is probably little difference, since some of the best edge holding steels are stainless steels.

    ---Steels are classified stainless by their chromium content and that number is usually in the 12.5 to 13.5 % category. That's why ATS-34 is barely a stainless steel and D-2 could be called either way. Splitting hairs here I guess. The fact that INFI resists rusting is amazing but it is still a carbon steel as is 3V which I have heard people say resists rust well. I would agree that classifying a steel based on it's performance and not it's chrome content would be more accurate. Unfortunatelly it is not done, but it doesn't really matter.

    [This message has been edited by Cobalt (edited 04-25-2001).]
  16. Hoodoo


    Aug 18, 1999
    I see no one has addressed the issue of using the blade as a flint (as opposed to ferrocium) striker. I was hoping maybe Jeff Randall might weigh in here. Jeff?


    I get some pleasure from finding a relentlessly peaceful use for a combative looking knife.
  17. backpacker


    Oct 2, 2000
    I just don't like the feel of stainless.

    I guess its just a personnell thing.
  18. Hoodoo


    Aug 18, 1999
    Hey backpacker,
    You should check out this thread:

    THIS GUY just LOVES his stainless-steel knife. [​IMG]


    I get some pleasure from finding a relentlessly peaceful use for a combative looking knife.
  19. allenC


    Jun 18, 2000
    Don't you just hate when that happens!
  20. bigvon


    Jan 3, 2001
    Tt's a love hate thang.... [​IMG]

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