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Cheap Carbon Steel Knives Once Upon a Time

Discussion in 'Kitchen Cutlery & Tools' started by MKP, Jan 1, 2013.

  1. MKP

    MKP

    145
    Sep 25, 2011
    I was visiting my folks over the Holiday and noticed that my mom's knives were really dull and crappy. I offered to buy her a new set. She then proceeded to reminisce about the knives she commonly used when she was still a young girl in Vietnam. My mom is in her early 70s. She said that they were grayish/blue in color and was much sharper, remained sharp much longer, and lasted forever. She must be talking about non-stainless carbon steel. She said they were very cheap too.

    Then today during our New Year feast, one of the relatives was my cousin's wife. She came from the countryside in Vietnam and just arrived to the U.S. a few years ago. She was helping out in the kitchen and commented that she preferred the knives she used in the countryside. They were uglier but better. I asked her to describe them; and again she described non-stainless carbon steel. She said that blacksmiths still forge knives in the villages, but in the cities they used mass produced stainless knives from Thailand or China.

    While neither my mom or my cousin's wife are professional chefs. They came from a very large extended family, 20 or more people, and had to cook for all of them. They must know a thing or two about kitchen knives. Is this sad that we traded good performance and inexpensive tools for more expensive but convenience tools?
     
  2. kalaeb

    kalaeb

    172
    Aug 4, 2012
    Good story, there is definately something to be said for some of the vintage knives. Some of that old carbon is bullet proof. I still use many pieces from my grandfathers set and love every second of use. Keep on the lookout- good quality carbon steel, even heirloom quality still exists and is being used in more frequency than you might think.
     
  3. bluntcut

    bluntcut KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Apr 28, 2012
    Dân Bến Tre đây :cool:

    My family had many of those knives your relative mentioned, even one forged (by a black smith - over 200 man hrs) from a bomb shrapnel. I'd used them all the time in the countryside, sharp knives but edge-retention weren't great (need sharpen twice daily for chopping works). In the last few years, I modernized my relatives in San Jose with kitchen knives in blue#1, white#2, vg-10 and skd-11. If your relative want patina looks, get them blue/super-blue/white. If they want something to abuse and carbon feel, get them knives in skd-11.
     
  4. jimnolimit

    jimnolimit

    Oct 28, 2009
    you can still get inexpensive, carbon steel kitchen knives. check out the old hickory line from ontario knives. you can get the 5 piece set for around $30.

    [​IMG]
     
  5. me2

    me2

    Oct 11, 2003
    I can vouch for the Old Hickory knives. My butcher knife (8" blade) has been through a lot. I don't recommend any sort of power sharpening unless its cooled with water or other liquid, but a good hand sharpening with a coarse and medium waterstone followed by the Sharpmaker will give an edge that will go through at least a couple of 2x4's without loosing it's ability to shave my arm.
     
  6. franzb69

    franzb69

    230
    Dec 6, 2012
    i love me my old hickory knife.

    they say the older ones are better, because they have better heat treat than the ones that are out now.

    so i bought a "vintage" one and it works awesome. no clue about the newer ones though.

    =D

    the bullnosed butcher knife is even often used by folks as a bushcraft/camping knife. they chop wood with it and all that. tough and bang for the buck. makes me think of getting one just for that purpose.
     
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2013
  7. MKP

    MKP

    145
    Sep 25, 2011
  8. maysbasement

    maysbasement

    34
    Apr 5, 2011
    +1 on the Old Hickory. Plus you don't get mad when your relatives abuse them, unless they put them in a wet sink and leave them.:grumpy:
     
  9. jimnolimit

    jimnolimit

    Oct 28, 2009
    reminds me of a square point knife. you can actually get square point knives pretty cheap.

    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2013
  10. Rich S

    Rich S

    Sep 23, 2005
    Ragweed Forge (Ragnar) sells a good line of Old Hickory knives. Also you can get some real bargains on old carbon steel kitchen knives off eBay. 99% of my kitchen knives are 30+ years old carbon by various makers. Wouldn't trade them for the top of the line of some fancy brand.

    Rich S
     
  11. Bernoulli

    Bernoulli

    355
    Jun 15, 2007
    I bought some Old Hickory to re-sell. They came with poorly finished edges and no protection from oxidation. In addition, they are too thick. I would second Rich S and look on ebay for carbon steel by Henckels, Wüsthof, etc.

    Carbon steel means about as much as stainless steel when it comes to information.
     
  12. jimnolimit

    jimnolimit

    Oct 28, 2009
    how do you expect a non stainless carbon steel knife to protect against oxidation? a factory coating?

    by the way, i wouldn't expect too much with the finishing on the old hickory knives, after all they're only a few dollars each.

    p.s. old hickory knives are 1095 steel.
     
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2013
  13. franzb69

    franzb69

    230
    Dec 6, 2012
    1095 steel is wonderful stuff. lots of makers use them coz they're tough and easy to grind into a knife.

    patina is key.

    the chinese and the japanese have been using carbon kitchen knives for centuries and even still to this day. once you establish a patina, the steel will not put a metallic taste or an odd odor on the food. it eventually won't "stain" your food with the steel.

    if you're too impatient to naturally establish a patina on your carbon knives then you can force a patina. tons of youtube videos on this subject on how. you can even make your own "pattern" if you want. if you want cool patinas, go for a meat patina. gives you hues of blues and purples. a vinegar based patina is what's normally used to force a patina. mustard is commonly used also. cut brooklyn knives, a brand made by a guy in new york uses 1095 as well. he charges $400-500 a knife. for 1095 steel! it's pretty cheap steel. but it's his skill, and his name are what you are paying for. he forces patinas on his knives before he sells them to protect the knives.

    old hickory knives are a bang for the buck. the new stuff aren't the same as the older ones that came out back in the day. heat treat is different. handles are still the same. tons of folks actually buy old ones and recondition them and even rehandle them with exotic materials just because they love them that much, and of course nostalgia.

    =D

    some japanese and chinese knife makers use a clear lacquer to keep it from rusting and leave the part that needs sharpening "naked" and naturally form a patina on it's own. but those are usually done on wa handles / japanese style handles.
     
  14. MKP

    MKP

    145
    Sep 25, 2011
    I doubt that those cheap carbon kitchen knives my mom grew up with had more than 0.8 percent carbon in them. So 1095 is plenty good. But even a plain 1075/1080 carbon steel would still out perform the cheaper stainless steels. I notice that even established companies like Henkels, their stainless steel knives rarely exceed 0.55 percent carbon. I cannot imagine what stainless steel the cheap knives at Target or Walmart used.

    The benefit of plain carbon steel is that it does not need all the crazy alloys like vanadium or molybdenum to perform. Those alloys are expensive. Chromium, the main ingredients of stainless steel, are expensive too. Of course the heat treating of stainless steel require more precise high tech tools and instruments, further driving up the cost.
     
  15. Raymond1000

    Raymond1000

    Oct 8, 2006
    Google Tosagata Hocho Knives. They are made old school, by rural Japanese smiths.

    Sai Mai construction, with a layer of blue steel between softer surface layers. Handles are wood.

    They aren't as cheap as Old Hickory Knives.

    They aren't as cheap as they used to be.

    But for Japanese kitchen knives, for what you get, they are a bargain.
     
  16. franzb69

    franzb69

    230
    Dec 6, 2012
    thanks for the info raymond1000

    uhm tosagata hocho knives would be redundant as hocho means knife.

    =D
     
  17. Raymond1000

    Raymond1000

    Oct 8, 2006
    Oh, Lord! Now the Redundancy Cops will be after me again! :D
     
  18. Aotea

    Aotea

    9
    Oct 22, 2012
    A couple of years ago I traveled through Vietnam keeping alert to what knives were used in the markets for processing cattle and pigs. The most commonly used that I noticed are shown below.
    They have thin blades that quickly take a good edge then quickly loose it when worked. I've tried them on skinning and boning cattle. They do the job but need regular steeling before swapping to the next. They are a soft carbon steel.

    [​IMG]

    I purchased these in a Hanoi market for 100 000 dong. About $5 for the three.
     
  19. franzb69

    franzb69

    230
    Dec 6, 2012
    they are similarly shaped to these knives that i got from ebay:

    [​IMG]

    korean kitchen knives. just got these today. $7-8 per knife.

    they're alright. haven't tried cutting with these yet. just sharpened them tho.
     
  20. drail

    drail

    346
    Feb 23, 2008
    I have changed almost every knife in my kitchen block to old 1095 blades. Mostly Old Hickory. I understand completely why the old folks loved them.
     

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