Caring For Carbon Steel - Jonas Blade & Metalworks

Caring For Carbon Steel

You Need To Know…

A handmade knife is an heirloom quality object, and it will last for generations if you give it proper care. Most commercially available knives are made of stainless steel, which manufacturers use because it is cheaper and easier to sell—not because it makes a better blade. The alternative to stainless is called high carbon steel, and when it is worked carefully by a skilled bladesmith it will out-cut and out-last its stainless cousin every time.

High carbon steel lacks the chromium that makes stainless steel resistant to rust, so a few simple steps must be taken in order to maintain it. The most important rule is to clean your blade after each use, and then dry it thoroughly. Even a fingerprint or the acid in an apple or a tomato is enough to discolor your blade if the juice is not cleaned away quickly, and water will cause it to rust given enough time. Most knife owners allow their blades to “season,” electing not to clean them so rigorously. The blade will take on a rich patina of use that some owners (myself included) enjoy.

Your blade should be oiled from time to time in order to prevent ambient humidity from tarnishing the steel. If you need your knife to be food safe, use mineral oil; if not, WD-40 is a good option. Put a few drops on each side of the blade and spread the oil over the whole surface with a clean cloth or paper towel, then use another to wipe off the excess.

Most of my knives have wooden handles, and these deserve the same amount of care as the blades themselves. Wood is fairly simple to maintain; like steel, its number one enemy is moisture. As wood absorbs moisture, it swells, and then as the moisture evaporates the wood contracts. This can strain the material to the point of cracking or even decomposition. This does not mean that you should avoid getting your handle wet, but rather that you should dry it after use, and never allow it to soak for any extended period. Do not ever run your knife through a dishwasher.

There are oils in the skin that are mildly corrosive and will eventually dull the finish on your handle. Every six months or so, use a rag to rub some boiled linseed oil (available at any hardware store) into the handle, and allow it to dry overnight. The oil will polymerize as it dries, sealing the handle once again. Once it has dried, buff it with a cloth rag to bring out the natural sheen of the wood. You can apply wax for additional protection.

If you follow these simple steps, there is no reason you shouldn’t have your knife for the rest of your life and be able to pass it along to another generation and generations beyond. May it serve you well!

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