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Why do Cooks Prefer High-Carbon Stainless Steel Knives?

When it comes to kitchen knives, there are a variety of materials to choose from. Carbon steel, which is composed of iron and carbon, is a popular choice due to its excellent sharpness. The downside is that it is also prone to rusting and requires regular maintenance.

Stainless steel, which is composed of iron, chromium, and other elements, is a more durable material that is resistant to rusting. The drawback is that it does not stay as sharp as carbon steel

High-carbon stainless steel is a third type of steel that combines the best of both materials, offering exceptional sharpness and resistance to rusting. It is generally more expensive than the other two, but it can be a worthwhile investment for those who want a high-quality, long-lasting kitchen knife.

The image shows the manufacturing of a KOTAI knife.

High-carbon steel has approximately 0.60 to 1.00% carbon content. The quality of steel depends on its chemical composition. How much carbon, chromium, molybdenum, vanadium, and other elements have been added to its formula?

Carbon increases the blade's capacity to be hardened and therefore take a sharp edge and hold it. Chromium increases the blade's corrosion resistance. Molybdenum and manganese improve wear resistance and toughness. 

All these elements must be carefully balanced. Too much or too little of certain elements may cause the blade to become brittle and prone to chipping and corrosion. It might lead to an inability to hold an edge for more than a few cuts. 

Composition of a KOTAI knife. Composed with iron, molybdenum, manganese, chromium and carbon.

Traditional Japanese knives are typically crafted from high-carbon steel, which is known for its strength and sharpness. However, because of their high carbon content, these knives are more prone to rust than other materials, such as stainless steel. Therefore, it is important to take proper care when cleaning and storing these knives in order to prevent corrosion.

On the other hand, stainless steel is an alloy of iron with approximately 10–15% chromium with small amount of carbon. Thus, stainless steel kitchen knives are rust resistant, easy to maintain, and have good sharpness, edge retention, and re-sharpening ease. However, the steel’s softness makes it difficult to take an acute angle while sharpening. These knives dull faster than carbon steel knives. 

Keeping the pros and cons of both types in mind, KOTAI engineered their knives with Japanese 440C high-carbon stainless steel. KOTAI combined the best characteristics of carbon steel and ordinary stainless steel. KOTAI’s knives have 1% carbon content added with 81% iron for strength and hardenability (refers to the extent to which they can be hardened through heat treatment). Thanks to its high-tech vacuum heat treatment, KOTAI’s 440C carbon steel knife is hardened to an optimal HRC 60

The blade has a razor-sharp edge out of the box and retains it, cut after cut. To protect the steel from corrosion and improve wear resistance, it contains 17% chromium (compared to a threshold of 13% set by the European Union for a steel to be considered stainless). We added 0.53% manganese to build more resistance to wear and tear, making it an excellent choice for applications requiring long-term endurance. 0.45% molybdenum is included to increase blade flexibility and toughness, which will prevent the blade from chipping even under stress.

Here are some reasons why cooks prefer high-carbon stainless steel knives over any other type when discussing their benefits.

KOTAI Japanese high carbon stainless steel knife displayed on a black background.

A high-carbon steel knife remains sharp for long

High-carbon steel blades are not only sharper than stainless steel knives, but they will also stay sharp for a longer time.

To sharpen a high-carbon steel knife, simply use a honing steel for regular maintenance and a sharpening stone (also called a whetstone) to resharpen the blade's edge. High-carbon steel is extremely simple to sharpen, making this operation quick and easy to complete at home.

Displaying KOTAI's honing steel and whetstone.

You may choose from KOTAI's honing and sharpening solutions. Even the toughest steel alloys can be fixed by KOTAI's honing steel in a few strokes. The honing steel features a 12-inch (30-cm) extra-long rod that is long enough to sharpen your longest knives. It also has a Pakkawood handle for a secure grip and long-lasting use.

 Our sharpening stones are available in two grit combinations: 400/1000 and 1000/6000. For basic sharpening and maintenance, a 400/1000-grit combination stone may be sufficient. For more advanced sharpening and polishing, you may require a 1000/6000-grit combination stone. It really depends on the level of sharpening and maintenance required.

KOTAI's cleaver chinese chef knife slicing a pumpkin.

Easier to maintain:

Knives made of high-carbon steel have the capacity to attain and keep a razor-sharp edge. It is one of their key advantages. It requires less frequent sharpening. Please read our article, "A Basic Guide to Knife Sharpening," for more information on sharpening.

Focused image of KOTAI's blade on white background.

Better edge retention:

Knives made of high-carbon steel also have the benefit of having longer edge-retention. This is caused by a number of elements connected to the chemical composition and physical characteristics of high carbon steel.

Compared to other forms of steel, high-carbon steel includes a higher concentration of carbon, making it harder and more durable. This allows a sharp edge to last a longer time. 

High-carbon steel is heated to a certain temperature and then quickly cooled down (this process is referred to as heat treatment). This process changes its molecular structure and makes it stronger, thus making it more resistant to wear and tear and preventing it from losing its sharpness and becoming dull.

KOTAI's bunka petty knife displayed on a white background.

Increased durability:

Carbon steel knives are renowned for their sharpness; however, they also require more care and maintenance than stainless steel knives. The harder a blade is, the more brittle it gets.

To counter this, the vanadium and molybdenum added in KOTAI 440C’s alloy increase the blade’s toughness and make it less likely to chip. The 17% chromium present in the alloy also helps with corrosion resistance, thus improving the knife’s durability.

KOTAI’s high-carbon stainless steel knives are designed to meet the needs of both professional and home chefs, offering a range of options to suit any skill level. Our knives are crafted with the utmost care, ensuring that each knife meets our high standards of performance and quality. Whether you are looking for a versatile chef's knife, a precision Santoku knife, or a robust cleaver, we have you covered. Visit our boutique to explore our entire range of kitchen knives and find the perfect blade for your needs.