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Bushcraft knives: carbon vs stainless

Bushcraft knives come in many shapes and sizes. With many different philosophies on blade shapes and handle shapes.But there is one fundamental division that runs through all these different choices: carbon steel vs stainless steel. We explain how these two choices relate to each other.

Bushcraft knives made from carbon steel

Carbon steel is steel that contains low levels of chromium and other alloying elements normally added to make steel stainless. It is therefore not stainless, and often changes colour if you use a knife with this steel for the first time. A big disadvantage, you might say. Nothing could be further from the truth: it offers opportunities. In general carbon steel is namely tougher and easier to sharpen. Great when you are out in the field. And when the steel is enhanced with a coating, or a natural patina, the rust is not so bad. Examples of this steel are: 1095, 1075, 5160, O1, Böhler K720.

Bushcraft knives made from stainless steel

The name already gives it away: this steel is stainless. As such you don't have to worry about maintenance. Many of the modern types of stainless steel also retain their sharpness better than types of carbon steel. However! There are disadvantages. Stainless doesn't mean 'free from corrosion'. It can, and will, under certain circumstances, start to rust. In addition, nine out of ten times stainless steel is more difficult to sharpen than carbon steel, and it is, in most cases, less tough than carbon steel knives. Examples of this steel are: Böhler M390, Böhler N690, Sandvik 12C27, Elmax.

The hybrid: bushcraft knives made from tool steel

Between these two there is a happy medium: tool steel. . This is steel that contains a little more chromium than carbon steel, but not enough to be called stainless. The result is a type of steel that retains its sharpness well, is tough and often quite easy to sharpen. It is, however, not completely stainless. Examples of this type of steel are: CPM 3V, CPM CruWear, D2, Sleipner.


Of course there are many more differences between bushcraft knives than the type of steel alone. But the type of steel is a good starting point when making a choice.