Why carbon knives? / Use and care.

macro photograph of carbon steel for knives

The soul of the knife

No, I’m not getting all woo-woo-y on you, but it’s difficult to discuss the inherent greatness of carbon steel without somehow referring to the energy and internal character of the steel.

Carbon steel, by definition, is steel that contains less than the necessary 13% Chromium content of stainless steel. Two steels: stainless steel (though no steel is fully stainless) and carbon steel. All steel contains some amount of carbon but it is, often, carbon steel that contains far higher percentages of carbon. Though some of the modern, stainless, super-steels have similar capabilities of carbon steel, the stainless steels knives primarily available to you are inferior to a similarly-priced carbon steel counterpart.

Carbon steel knives can get harder, get sharper, stay sharper longer, and, when you do go to sharpen them, they sharpen far more easily. Not only do carbon steel knives sharpen more easily but putting a carbon steel blade on sharpening stones can actually be a damn joy. There is something lively, something energized, about the way the feel when you use them. It no longer feels like you’re exerting your force on a thing to cut a thing, but it instead feels like a partnership. A partnership where you and your knife are working together. While you’re using a carbon steel knife, you get to feel feedback from your knife. Feedback that not only guides you to finishing that job with better cuts but feedback that helps to guide the improvement of your knife skills as a whole.

The liveliness is not just in the way the knife feels but also the way it looks and ages with you. The face of your carbon steel knife will show your care of the knife, show a patina as the history of what you’ve accomplished with it, and it will start to show your hand and your grip. There are few things as beautiful as seeing wild indigo blue patina spread across the face of your knife.

Letting a fresh carbon steel edge just fall through a tomato, glide through an onion, or slice the most beautifully untouched piece of sashimi, feels so great. Instead of fighting your way through dinner prep, feel like you spent the day, with your knife, slicing clouds and dicing air and mincing the souls of boring ass knives.

The Commandments of Care and the Carbon Steel Knife

Thou Shalt:

  1. Remember that Wood is Good – we don’t get to choose our cutting boards all of the time but, when you can, use wood.
  2. Keep Thy Knife Sharp – your knife will become sharp more easily if you don’t let it get to so dull. Try to hone or steel your knives before each day of use. A sharp knife is an important, and beautiful, thing, but you know that already.
  3. Keep Thy Knife Clean and Dry – carbon steel will rust. You don’t need to baby your knife, but you should be wiping your knife dry immediately after use. Before putting the knife away, clean the knife with a tiny bit of soap, rinse, and wipe dry.
  4. Store Thy Knife Respectfully – primarily I mean for you to not put your knives, loose, in a drawer or against an exposed-metal magnet rack. That is for their safety. For your safety, don’t store the knife in a way that could accidentally stab you.
  5. Use the Proper Tool for the Job– do not use your laser-thin gyuto to crank-into the joint of chicken bones. Do not use a paring knife to slice sashimi. You get what I mean, right?
  6. Place Thy Knife in a Dishwasher Fucking Never – no, really. Never. Never should your knife go in the dishwasher. Not once.
  7. Enjoy and Proudly Use Thy Knife – a knife is a tool. They can be beautiful and precious, but they should be used. Enjoy them!