Brief introduction to Japanese knife steel

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So, by now you’ve seen our knives and yes, we know, it’s magnificent, spectacular, stunning, awe-inspiring utensils to both visually appreciate and functionally use in and around the kitchen.  One very significant aspect we forgot to talk about is the steel used when crafting Japanese knives.


We felt that since we’ve started exposing this beautiful craft over the last few months to our followers that now is as perfect time as ever to educate and inform current knife users as well as prospective followers about making an educated decision. If you would still like to make a purchase based on visual perception, please ignore this post. Or read it.


Sharpness is arguably the most important characteristic of any Japanese knife. The sharpness of the knife is dependent on various factors which includes the angle of the edge, the thinness of the blade and the hardness of the steel. We understand that it’s difficult to cut without a handle but are you really going cut a tomato to 1mm slices with a bladeless handle or a handles blade? We thought as much.


For now, we will be focusing on the steel and the various types of steel used to produce Japanese knives. Hardness of steel is measured on the Rockwell Scale. While it is a very comprehensive subject to discuss the basic principle is that a higher Rockwell rating implies that the steel is relatively harder than a lower, softer Rockwell rating. Harder steels normally retain their edge for a longer period whereas softer knives are easier to sharpen with a shorter blade retention time. Softer steels are less brittle but is not as sharp as harder steel knives.


First on our types of steel list is VG-10 (V-Gold 10) steel, probably the most used by kitchen knife craftsmen. The reason for its popularity is evident, the edge retention on these knives are amazing and the steel itself is corrosion resistant. VG-10’s composition also allows for incredible designs on the blade itself which adds to the authenticity of the knife and the maker to express their creativeness. Even though VG-10 is a very durable steel it is still prone to chipping because of its hardness but with careful use and respect for the blade this should not be an issue. VG-10 is a High Carbon Stainless Steel.


Next up is White Steel (Shirogami Steel) which is the purest carbon steel of them all. White steel is named for the white paper over the steel in the Hitachi factory. White Steel can be incredibly hardened which allows for a very sharp if not the sharpest edges, good edge retention and is relatively easier to sharpen than other steels. White Steel knives are more prone to corrosion, but a lot of knife wielders feels the corrosion adds to the character of the knife. The hardness also leads to brittleness in the blade which makes it easier to wear or chip. White steel comes in 3 variations namely Shirogami #1, Shirogami #2 and Shirogami #3. #2 is the most used in knives. #1 can be hardened more than #2 and #3 but this means it’s the most brittle. #3 is the toughest White Steel and hardest to chip. #2 is most recommended for first time traditional Japanese knife users.


Blue steel (Aogami Steel) is essentially White Steel but has some added elements which enhances the blade and gives it a different character. Blue steel is named for the blue paper over the steel in the Hitachi factory. Blue like White is a carbon and carbon steels are reactive to corrosion when used but Blue not as much as White. Blue Steel was designed specifically for knives and has a supreme edge retention but is not as hard as White which means the edge will not be as sharp but also more difficult to chip. Blue Steel is more difficult to sharpen but cuts better than White when dull. Blue Steel also comes in 3 variations: Aogami #1, Aogami #2 and Aogami Super. Aogami Super/Blue Super is one of the greatest Japanese carbon steels. It has excellent edge retention, can achieve satisfactory edge sharpness but the steel can be extremely hard without being too brittle. Aogami Super is highly rated by knife makers around the world.


Stainless Steel knives are incredibly corrosion resistant unlike its carbon counterpart. Stainless mainly gets used by users working with moisty, wet, salty and acidic foods as this can corrode a carbon blade easily. Swedish Steel has an excellent reputation for its quality and purity and its Stainless Steel version did not let this reputation down. Swedish Stainless Steel is very popular with Japanese knife smiths as it reacts in a predictable manner whilst crafting and allows for good edge retention.


In conclusion, carbon steel knives need more care as the steel is not as wear resistant as stainless steel or high carbon stainless steel knives. A lot of users prefer carbon steel knives because of respectfulness towards traditions and the notion that carbon knives can achieve a sharper edge and retains it better than the stainless steel knives. Stainless steel knives are easier to maintain and do not wear as quickly as carbon steel knives.


Selecting an appropriate knife is based on an array of factors– and steel is only one of them. Deciding which steel is right for you depends on the frequency and nature of use and the care and attention that will be going into maintaining the blade.


Personally, we do have a preferred type of steel. Let’s put it this way: as our love for Japan and the Japanese Knives are forged into us, this steel can only be found in that same place.


By AJ Connoway

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