Steel is used in a variety of items including kitchenware to aerospace. The many different applications call for an incredibly versatile material, and steel fills the requirement.
“Steel” is an entire class of metal alloys that include hundreds of specific grades for particular applications However, most people think of steel as two groups: carbon steel and stainless steel.
Both stainless and carbon steel share the same elements of carbon and iron. The primary difference is the alloy content. Carbon steel has less than 10.5 percent of alloy and stainless steel needs to contain 10.5 percent chrome or more. This fundamental difference is what makes carbon steel and stainless steel their distinct physical properties.
The main components of steel are carbon and iron. In general, steels that have high carbon content are brittle and hard, and steels that have a less carbon percentage are more ductile and durable.
However, it’s never as easy. The alloying elements like chromium manganese, molybdenum, or silicon may be added to enhance the corrosion resistance or get an improved equilibrium between toughness and strength.
Carbon steel is made up of iron as well as 0.12 to 2.00 percent carbon. The broad definition encompasses alloy steels, which may also have the equivalent of 10.5 percentage alloys. Even within the confines of under two percentage points of carbon, there is a huge variance in physical characteristics–especially hardness.
When people speak of carbon steel, they’re typically referring to the very high carbon steel that is used in tools and knives. Carbon steels with high carbon content are extremely robust, which makes them ideal for holding shape and resisting abrasion. They can withstand massive pressure without breaking down. However, they are also brittle. When they are subjected to extreme tensile stresses steels with high carbon content tend to crack than bend.
Steels with low carbon are more popular than high carbon due to (1) lower manufacturing expenses, (2) greater ductility, and (3) the ease of making. Steels with low carbon tend to expand under stress, instead of breaking. And that their ductility makes them simple to weld and machine. They have often been employed in automotive body panels and fixtures bolts seamless tubes, as well as steel plates.
The use of stainless steel is in food and chemical plants due to its capacity to work in damp conditions without rusting.
Steel made of stainless steel has carbon, iron, as well as a minimum of 10.5 percent chromium. The chromium element is crucial because it reacts with oxygen to form an active layer that protects against corrosion. This protects against the possibility of stainless steel rusting–important for outdoor furnishings such as bollards placed in moist conditions. The more chromium is present is, the better the corrosion resistance.
It is important to consider the stainless steel quality when buying appliances and other expensive things. All steels are not created identically. Stainless steel with a minimum 10.5 percent chromium content is far less expensive in terms of durability and strength than one that has 16%. The differences will be apparent in costs for maintenance as well as service life.
Carbon Steel vs. Stainless Steel Knives
The majority of home chefs choose stainless knives. Professionals typically choose high-carbon stainless steel.
Why? The stainless knives are generally available and easy to store. Martensitic stainless steel is mostly used to cut edges. However, they’re not as hard as the harder high-carbon steels that are similar to them: They can be used in the dishwasher or smashed against the marble.
For those who cook at home and don’t perform precise knifework, this can be enough. The prevention of rust keeps the blade sharp in this situation. Iron oxides that are present on the cutting edge can make a knife dull as much they wear.
Professional chefs typically (but never always!) prefer high-carbon steel knives. They can be sharpened to razor-sharp edges and are usually more durable than stainless. High-carbon knives have a more refined edge, even in the face of tough use. Extremely hard metal is extremely brittle. If the forces of impact are too high it won’t be able to bend, and it could break. That means high carbon knife edges are less likely to break or be pulled out of shape when struck and lose the edges to the series warps. Instead, they’ll keep a nice straight line and when they break into pieces, they’ll break.
Steel with a hard surface requires greater attention. It is recommended to apply oil before putting away to avoid rust, washing it after using it in extremely acidic or salty conditions, or re-edging against stones (rather than iron). These steps to maintain high-carbon steel are an option for the top-of-the-line and professional cook who cuts thin slices, rather than the typical home cook for whom precision is more important than simple maintenance.
Should I Choose Carbon Steel or Stainless Steel?
Stainless and carbon steel are two different materials however neither is necessarily superior to the other. It’s all about the context. Every material has strengths and drawbacks. The most important thing is to choose the right steel for the needs of the job.
High Carbon Steel
- Highly susceptible to corrosion
- Resistant to corrosion
- Less Brittle