Carbon Steel vs Stainless Steel

Discussion in 'General 1911 talk' started by pcar157, Apr 29, 2019.

  1. pcar157

    pcar157 Well-Known Member

    Jan 22, 2019
    I have noticed in many of the Wilson Combat descriptions of their guns they refer to the slide and frame being made of "carbon steel". Most other manufacturers refer to their slides and frames as being made from "stainless steel". Can anyone explain the difference between the two metals and is one superior to the other?
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  2. B81

    B81 Well-Known Member

    Aug 12, 2018
    Last edited: Apr 29, 2019
    Steve Owens likes this.

  3. dash

    dash Well-Known Member

    Apr 3, 2016
    Wilson may use carbon steel because it accepts parkerizing while stainless doesn’t. Wilson applies parkerizing to their carbon steel guns as a base layer followed by Armor Tuff finish. The Armor Tuff, or any Cerakote, adheres better to a parkerized finish than to raw steel. In theory, if the finish wears off the parkerizing below it may still provide some protection.
    Last edited: Apr 29, 2019
  4. Dangerous Brian

    Dangerous Brian Pigtails and butter please...

    Dec 9, 2013
    Carbon steel is superior for 1911s.
  5. Bloodhound

    Bloodhound Well-Known Member

    Apr 12, 2018
    I believe that you can get a tighter slide to frame fit, and a little more refinement with Carbon Steel. Not to mention more coating options: Bluing, Parkerizing etc...
    On the other hand, I believe Stainless Steel is better for Coastal climates, or high humidity areas. Overall I feel it is the tougher of the two (against corrosion). New coatings seem to be available fo S.S. every day.

    With modern manufacturing, I don't think you can really go wrong with either, so I don't hesitate to buy either from a reputable manufacturer. Buy what suits you, and try not to get too worked up about it. They're both very good options.
    That's just my personal feelings on the matter. YMMV.
    Last edited: Apr 29, 2019
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  6. Lou1

    Lou1 Well-Known Member Supporting Addict

    Sep 1, 2018
    Carbon steel has a higher carbon content, hence the name, which makes it harder and stronger than stainless steel. Stainless steel has a higher chromium content which makes it more corrosion resistant. Carbon steel in my opinion is probably the better material overall for a 1911 but stainless definitely has its place also. As has already been mentioned if your gun is going to be exposed to the elements regularly then stainless is the way to go. I own weapons made from both.
  7. seawolfxix

    seawolfxix Asker of the Obvious

    Dec 10, 2017
    Lou beat me to it.

    Carbon steel is stronger and harder, but more susceptible to corrosion. Stainless steel is less susceptible to corrosion, and the lower strength is adequate for frames, slides, barrels, etc.

    My personal preference is stainless. Less worry about humidity, fingerprints, etc.
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  8. razorbacker

    razorbacker Well-Known Member Supporting Addict

    Dec 2, 2011
    Guess I've been wrong, I've always considered SS harder than carbon. When we fabricate research equipment from SS, it is much more difficult to cut and machine than carbon steel bar stock. I'm sure also it depends on the grade of SS & Carbon. I'm no expert just an amateur observation.
    Last edited: Apr 29, 2019
  9. samuse

    samuse Well-Known Member

    Jul 29, 2013
    I strongly dislike stainless for a 1911.

    To get the alloy to where it doesn't gall you lose most of the corrosion resistance. Stainless doesn't have the impact strength of 4140. It's more prone to cracking, work hardening, and deformation.

    That said, it's good enough for a 1911, but why??
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  10. Bloodhound

    Bloodhound Well-Known Member

    Apr 12, 2018
    I'm with you, there are a lot of variables, and far too many different types of steel for me to recite. Tool steels, Carbon steels, Super steels... I bet some of the knife makers, or metallurgists could really shed some light here. I'm surprised there aren't more commonly available options for 1911's, but I am sure there is a reason, or some science behind it that I am not familiar with.
    razorbacker likes this.
  11. David R

    David R Well-Known Member

    Oct 7, 2018
    Stainless is much harder to machine. When drilling, if the bit is spun too fast, the stainless becomes really hard and can not be drilled. The bit is also trashed.
    This applies to turning and milling...

    Stainless has a lot more flex. When welded, If I stick the rod to the work, It takes a LOT of bending back and forth to make it beak. Carbon steel is much easier.

    Stainless warps and pulls when heated MUCH more than carbon steel. Its difficult to weld a square box and get it perfect. It even changes as it cools.,

    I build commercial grills from 304 stainless. The first one I built I had a pile of scrap as big as the grill, I learned a lot on the first one. Guns are not 304, but they have similar properties.
    Stainless cost me about tripple per sheet of Hot rolled.
  12. B81

    B81 Well-Known Member

    Aug 12, 2018
    Given modern surface treatments, is corrosion even a concern with carbon steel?

    Not to hijack OPs thread, but I think this question is relevant here.
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  13. razorbacker

    razorbacker Well-Known Member Supporting Addict

    Dec 2, 2011
    Probably not for most civilian users like us. Maybe if you are Navy Seal, Coast Guard, etc. Depends on the environment the gun will be subjected to. As far as I know all applied surface treatments can be removed by abrasion or chemical reaction (including heat).
    Last edited: Apr 29, 2019
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  14. Novak77

    Novak77 Well-Known Member

    Mar 1, 2019
    +1 for this.

    If you're going to CC and live somewhere hot and humid stainless is a great option IMO.
  15. seawolfxix

    seawolfxix Asker of the Obvious

    Dec 10, 2017
    I’m not a metallurgist, but I think SS is tougher and CS is harder.
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  16. Capthobo

    Capthobo NRA Endowment member Supporting Addict

    Nov 9, 2016
    Living in SoFla with high humidity, salt air and perspiration I mostly carry SS. My carbon guns get most of the range time though.
    Novak77 likes this.
  17. Dallas Knight

    Dallas Knight Max Otto von Stierlitz

    Jun 22, 2015
    ...and 9mm or 45ACP?
  18. SVG

    SVG Well-Known Member

    Mar 9, 2019
    I retired from the piping trades after 33 years. I've run many jobs that spec'd alloy tube (SS, Hastelloy, etc.). SS will corrode if not treated properly. When doing a traceable pharmaceutical project, all piping had to be passivated. This is a surface treatment that removes free surface iron and adds a layer of oxidation that provides corrosion protection.

    I'm not exactly sure what the gun manufacturers do to their SS guns but it certainly isn't raw SS.
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  19. Busa Dave

    Busa Dave Well-Known Member

    Mar 3, 2018
    Absolutely! Specific metals are designed for specific applications. SS is not SS it is very different with lower and higher amounts of chromium content minimum being 10.5%. Be surprised on how many people will tell you for example that the metal used in a rifle or pistol is "7075 T6" or "7075 T7" when in fact it is 7075 the "T" numbers only indicate the heat treat condition of the metal.

    Complicated to say the least when speaking in broad generalizations about metals..
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  20. razorbacker

    razorbacker Well-Known Member Supporting Addict

    Dec 2, 2011
    Hardness can be measured, not sure how "toughness" is measured.
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