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I recently purchased a Dexter-Russell carbon steel Chinese cleaver, because they're supposed to be amazingly useful.

I'm used to caring for good stainless steel knives, but don't know what special things I should do for carbon steel. So far, I always wash and dry it immediately after use, and do normal honing/sharpening.

The problem is that after a week or two of use, it is developing spots of rust, deepening to slight pitting. The rust appears as an orange sheen, and does not disappear readily with scrubbing.

Is this slight rusting normal with use, and will it turn into the patina I've seen on other people's carbon steel cutlery? What else does one need to do to care for a carbon steel? I've heard something about oiling and am not sure how that works...

Picture of of edge below, to demonstrate:

Closeup of knife

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3 Answers 3

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For my carbon steel knives (including my cleaver), I make very sure to wash & completely dry them after use. Especially, when I've used it on something acidic, this is especially true. I've never had a problem unless I've forgotten, or haven't completely dried it. When rust does happen in those cases, it's the only time my knife sees the scruby side of the sponge, I use to wash dishes. It comes off easily with that.

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Do you find the oven drying TFD specifies is necessary for your carbon steel cutlery? –  BobMcGee Jul 8 '12 at 15:03
    
Perhaps it's the mostly dry climat here, but no I've never had to do that. I do make sure it's really, really dry. I have a microfiber cloth just for my knives. I can't imagine putting my knives in the oven. shrug –  talon8 Jul 8 '12 at 18:52
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  • Wipe your blade along the flats with a clean, damp towel (or sponge) - set upon the counter or cutting board - frequently when cutting acidic items like onions, tomatoes or fruit. Japanese sushi chefs will have a wet kitchen towel folded into a neat pad on a lower corner of their cutting board for this purpose. When you are done with one cutting chore and not yet ready to move on to the next or wash the knife, wipe with the damp towel, and then with a dry one similarly folded. Do not delay washing the knife once you're done using it. Wash and dry it before the meal, not after.

  • Work on your knife's patina. It's a layer of mottled gray oxidized metal that develops on your blade, but will protect the steel from full blown rust or pitting. Gray is good, rust is murder. You can force a patina (search online for "mustard patina" or "hot vinegar patina" for various schools of thought on the topic), or encourage it to develop naturally - the easiest way to do the latter is to scrub your blade with baking soda and a disposable kitchen scouring towel (like a Scotch Brite cloth) to remove stains after washing the knife - be sure to watch your fingers, and rinse and dry when done. After a few weeks or months of this, the metal will dull, and dark stains will come off in the wash rather than requiring to be scrubbed off. This is the patina at work. Japanese chefs will often scrub their knives to a mirror finish nightly with a scouring powder and rust-eraser rather than let a patina form - but this is a lot of work, and can damage the blade if done improperly. Many European and American chefs find patina appealing aesthetically - the mark of a quality knife used well.

  • Wash the knife with warm soapy water using a dish-mop or a sponge-on-a-stick now popular in the cleaning aisle of most grocery stores, and rinse briefly but completely. Do not use a dishwasher, or immerse the knife entire into the dishwater. Dry carefully with a towel - folding the towel on the counter, and pulling the flats and spine of the blade across to dry, and then move to the handle, holding the blade securely at the spine, before storing.

  • If possible, store the knife away from sources of humidity: the sink, dishwasher and cooktop. A drawer block in a drawer with a few silica gel packets would be ideal. If the knife isn't used frequently, a very light oiling with mineral oil (available over the counter from any pharmacy) will keep it from rusting. Barely dampen a paper napkin with the oil, and brush lightly over the knife, wiping away any excess with a paper towel. Some wood handles (non-stabilized olivewood and walnut especially) are better off with occasional oiling as well.

  • Steel the blade frequently using a ceramic hone to take advantage of the edge-holding ability of carbon steel. Asian knives are typically sharpened briefly on very high-grit stones in lieu of steeling before use, due to asymmetrical or highly acute edge geometry - most cleavers, gyutos and santokus may be steeled on a ceramic hone, though. Check with the manufacturer or reseller.

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Carbon steel knives, especially those with wooden handles have to be dried using heat. It is also best to store them in a warm place too

Moisture will get into the tang/handle join, and will rust the metal away if not forcibly dried using heat. So after cleaning, dry the knife in a previously heated oven (<70°C), or warmed storage area (hot water cupboard in English culture)

Over time the knife surface will slowly pit and colour, this is hard to avoid. This should not effect normal operation of the knife for many years

Do NOT oil and heat like a cast iron pan, as this will ruin any hardness in the edge

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So, the discoloration is okay, but rust is not? What about storing lightly oiled? –  BobMcGee Jul 7 '12 at 20:50
    
@BobMcGee unless you pull the tang out of the handle, it's more important to store warm then oiled. Oil wont hurt it but not really going to help –  TFD Jul 7 '12 at 21:10
    
I have never in my life heard of drying a knife in the oven. It seems like a sure-fire recipe to split the wood. When washing any knife, do not immerse completely in water - wash with a sponge and soapy water, rinse, and towel-dry. –  RI Swamp Yankee Sep 9 '13 at 14:27
    
@RI Swamp Yankee why do you think is would it split the wood? it's bringing it only too hot climate temperature to dry it, not baking it with the oven on. Anyway this is normal technique in many cultures for wooden handled metal implements, so it's fine –  TFD Sep 13 '13 at 7:11
    
After a year and a half of use without warming, I find it doesn't appear to be necessary after all. Rinse and dry does the trick (as long as you don't get any moisture into the handle) –  BobMcGee Sep 24 '13 at 12:13
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