Pros and Cons of Carbon Steel Bushcraft Knives

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Are you thinking about adding some carbon steel bushcraft knives to your collection but just don’t know where to start?  To make things easier on you, here’s a quick and simple guide to the pros and cons of using carbon steel!

Pros: The Sharpest Tool In The Shed

The carbon steel knife is arguably one of the most popular knives among master chefs, home cooks, and hunters alike. This knife can be quickly sharpened to acquire that perfect edge, which is why they’re great addition to your bushcraft collection and outdoor cooking gear.

After sharpening, carbon steel blades keep their exact sharpness for much longer then stainless steel knives for example.  Many users find that sharpening carbon steel knives comes much quicker and easier than their stainless steel counterparts.

As of now, carbon steel is still the metal of choice among popular survival knife manufacturers.  In terms of blade edge and quick re-sharpening capabilities, this knife is definitely the most efficient out in the field when you’re hunting, skinning game, and preparing meals.

But, perhaps one of the most important reasons to own and carry a high carbon steel bushcraft knife is its ability to rock the firesteel. To a seasoned outdoorsman, knives and firesteel go hand-in-hand. The higher carbon content of a typical bushcraft knife means that your ability to throw a spark off the spine of the knife is much easier than with a stainless steel blade. Don’t get it wrong, however, there are very high carbon stainless steel blades (CPM S3V, I’m looking at you), but a cheap Mora blade will often beat the ass out of a much more expensive blade in terms of casting off a spark. These are all things to consider when searching for YOUR best bushcraft knife.

Firesteel and Bushcraft Knives go together like Kim Kardashian and stretch pants.

So what could possibly be the downside to carbon steel bushcraft knives?

The Cons: High Maintenance!

While carbon steel knives can be quickly sharpened outdoors and retain that long-lasting perfect edge, it does come with a couple inconveniences.  To start, it’s important to prevent your knives from rusting.  Rusted blades are not only harmful to your food, but can exacerbate infections of minor accidental wounds.

Rusty knife in need of some love. credit:

Since they’re not vulnerable to rust unlike carbon steel, this is one of the reasons why some hunters and chefs prefer to also keep stainless steel knives handy as well.  Plus they aren’t prone to drastic discoloration either, unlike carbon steel.

Blade Care Tips

Make sure to immediately wash and dry off your carbon steel knife after chopping up citric fruits and other acidic foods.  These are some of the most common causes for rapid blade discoloration!

While carbon steel is often the ideal blade for our purposes, it obviously requires a little more upkeep to ensure its condition.  This is okay because you know you’re ultimately using the best, but it’s vital to make sure your knife is cleaned after every use.

Aside from washing your carbon steel knife, you can rub mineral oil on the blade to help protect the steel.  There are also special formulas developed to better address blade corrosion from harsh weather conditions and intense outdoor use, like cutting wood and slicing game.

In my opinion, the benefits outweigh the sacrifice of carrying carbon steel blades – especially for field use. That being said, I still have plenty of stainless steel blades that are amazing that I use primarily at home or while on a boat. But, perhaps the greatest benefit of carbon steel is that once you’ve formed that lasting patina, it is truly YOUR knife. There will never be another one like it, plus you get that sensation that your knife is alive because the surface changes over time. To me, it’s part of the character of the knife.

Whatever you decide, don’t be afraid of carbon steel blades. Companies like Mora and Marttiini make entry into a carbon bushcraft knife insanely affordable, so there’s really no excuse to not at least try it for yourself.

Let me know how it goes!

About the author

Jack Thompson is a seasoned outdoorsman, bushcraft expert, and knife aficionado. With over a decade of wilderness experience, Jack is passionate about teaching others essential outdoor skills and providing insights on bushcraft knives. As a writer for Best Bushcraft Knife, he shares his knowledge and adventures, inspiring readers to embrace nature and thrive in the wild.