Caring for High-Carbon Steel

Not all steel is created equal. While the most common steels used today have low to middling carbon content, many antiques, especially edged and bladed items, were made from higher-carbon steel. Keeping high-carbon steel in good condition is a challenge, but knowledgeable collectors can do most of what’s necessary at home.

The first and most important piece of proper care is treating your high-carbon steel item with respect. If it’s a weapon, don’t swing it around carelessly or strike it against another blade in a cinema-style “duel.” Knives and swords were made for battle, not for cutting into inanimate objects, and hitting your weapon against a tree, a wall or another weapon will leave a mark. Keep in mind that even an ancient weapon could still injure or kill another person as well.

Exposed high-carbon steel is fairly vulnerable to rust, and if it’s touched, the oils in your skin will start to eat away at it. The simplest solution is to avoid touching your steel item directly. If it’s touched accidentally, wipe it down right away.

Periodically inspect your high-carbon steel item for any visible rust or discoloration. If they’re caught early, minor imperfections are easy to remove. Wipe the antique down with a clean, soft cloth, then apply a mildly abrasive polishing paste. Don’t go overboard; a few drops or sprays on each section will do. Apply it with a clean towel, let it sit for a few moments and remove with the same towel.

Another way to remove rust from high-carbon steel is to apply a weak acid. When in doubt, start with the mildest available chemicals, such as vinegar and diluted lemon juice. If that doesn’t get the job done, try using a stronger acid, such as phosphoric or muriatic, but be careful! Left unattended for too long, an acid will start to eat away at the steel itself instead of just working on the rust.

Light pitting is a bit more difficult to remove than surface rust or discoloration. A grinding belt will do the job, but unless you’re an expert already, we don’t recommend trying it at home. A somewhat easier option is a metal rust eraser, but that treatment tends to remove the finish as well, giving the steel a worn, uneven look.

At Premier Gold, Silver & Coins, we’re proud to be the Buffalo, NY, area’s premier gold, silver and antique dealers. We pay cash for gold and valuables, and we specialize in repairing and maintaining those beautiful metal items. To learn more about what we do, visit us online or contact us today.