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When knife myths become “facts”

By: Johnathan Kilburn

When a statement or an idea is repeated constantly over a long period of time, it becomes “factual” to some. They tend not to question it, or test it, or do anything else except pass it down to the younger generation and thus, the cycle begins anew. This type of misconception runs rampant in the knife world, as much as anywhere else. And knife myths can be debunked.

As a child, anything my grandfather told me about tools became the undeniable truth. As an adult, I have the option to explore the truth, or untruths, behind such age-old statements. Now is the time for enlightenment, as we take a deep dive into common knife myths and correct those that are just long-standing fallacies with some modern and updated information.

PART 1

Myth: Stainless steel doesn’t rust

Fact: Ask any Floridian about stainless steel, and they will tell you that anything will rust in Florida. It’s accurate that a stainless knife performs well and lasts longer in a humid environment, but this does not mean it is impervious to the elements. Stainless knives are generally made of slightly softer steel that is more corrosion-resistant with the inclusion of chromium. For winter-use blades and humid environments, this steel remains an excellent option but still needs to be maintained.

Myth: You shouldn’t use carbon steel knives around water.

Fact: I can’t tell you how often I hear from people that they will only use stainless steel in the kitchen. Granted, there are benefits to stainless, but a properly maintained carbon blade may last longer, remain sharper and can indeed become more water-resistant with age. High-quality kitchen knives are primarily made from carbon steel since they remain incredibly sharp for prolonged periods of time. With all that use, they develop a nice patina over time that does minimally preserve the blade.

Myth: Knives created from railroad spikes contain the highest quality material.

Fact: No, they do not. Everyone has seen railroad spike knives. They are easy to forge, and materials are pretty inexpensive, comparatively. But there is a reason why. The carbon content of the spikes is drastically low and will change depending on where the spike is. The same can be said about the track itself. Straightaways have only 0.12% carbon and curves have 0.30% carbon. The standard and acceptable carbon content for high-carbon steel in knifemaking is 0.851.05%. That is a considerable difference. So, put away that railroad anvil, it’s not going to satisfy the requirements; files remain a superior alternative.

stainless steel knives

Stainless steel is corrosion-resistant, but that doesn’t mean it won’t rust.

Myth: All stainless steel is the same.

Fact: People tend to shy away from the term “stainless” for very compelling reasons. But, that has improved over the last 20 years. Stainless steels have some significant benefits compared to other alternative alloys. There are five types of stainless steel — ferritic, austenitic, martensitic, duplex, and precipitation hardening — which vary in strength due to the additives and alloys included in the steel itself. CPM S30VN, a modern stainless, is one of the hardest steel types available for knifemakers today and contains more carbon than a “high carbon” railroad spike.

Myth: Only sharpen a knife when it needs it.

Fact: The most efficient way to keep a blade in tip-top shape is to constantly sharpen and hone the edge. Harder steels make it incredibly challenging to get a top-quality edge from a dull one. As it is used, it will become more and more difficult to sharpen, but these materials will retain an edge better than alternatives. Keeping “constant sharp” will limit the amount of time needed to refine the blade and also keep it in its best shape, in case a disaster or necessity strike. Honing a blade also doesn’t require much effort, as you can hone a knife on the palm of your hand after each use and before sheathing. There’s nothing wrong with preventative maintenance.

Stay tuned for PART 2 of our Top 10 Knife Myths!