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Japanese knife Steel Types: The ultimate guide

So you’ve decided to get a Japanese chefs knife! You sit down to choose one and suddenly you realise it’s not so simple. Not only are there different types of knives, but each is available in a range of different steel types! 

Don’t worry! In this article we will tell you everything you need to know about the different steel used in Japanese chefs’ knives and by the end you will know exactly which is best for you!

There are 2 main types of steel used in Japanese chefs knives. They are carbon steel and stainless steel. Carbon steel is a blend of carbon and iron and comes in varying degrees of pureness. Some carbon steels are blended with other metals to improve edge retention. 

Types of high carbon knife steel:

      • SK5/4/3
      • Yellow 1
      • Yellow 2
      • White 3
      • White 2
      • White 1
      • Blue 2
      • Blue 1
      • Super Blue

    Types of stainless knife steel:

        • Ginsanko steel
        • ABL/ C 13 26
        • Takefu V2
        • AUS 8 AND AUS 10
        • DG2/R2
        • VG10
        • ABL/ C 13 26 
        • 19 c 27

      One of the most important factors is how the steel was processed. Siver 3 steel

      What are the different types of Carbon Steel?

      There is a wide variety of carbon steels used in Japanese chefs knives. They rage in quality, with some containing impurities with effect the quality, some are very pure and only contain iron and carbon, while some have had tungsten and chromium added to improve corrosion resistance and edge retention. 

      Below is a breakdown of the main carbon steels used in Japanese knife making as well and the pros and cons. 

      SK steels – basic carbon steels

      SK steel is typically used in cheaper carbon steel Japanese chief knives. 

      Due to the inexpensive materials they are a great steel for entry level knives and those wanting to experience a high caron blade without breaking the banks. 

      SK Steels come in 3 types. They are:

          • SK 5
          • SK 4 
          • SK 3

        The number related to the amount of carbon the steel has. The lower the number, the higher the amount of carbon. The more carbon, the higher the hardness of the knife. 

        SK steels ave impurities like sulphur and phosphorus, which inhibit toughness. They are slightly more brittle and less likely to get sharp.

        These steels are a cost effective way to produce knives and will typically been seen in entry level knives. 

        Yellow Steels

        Yellow steels have less impurities than SK steels and is a more pure steel.

        There are 2 types of yellow steels. They are:

            • Yellow 3
            • Yellow 2

          Often found in wood working tools, however some knife makers do use yellow steel in their blades.

          White steels

          There are 3 types of white steel. The are:

          • White 3
          • White 2
          • White 1

          White paper steels have a very basic structure, mainly containing carbon and iron. This allows for a very fine grain structure which allows white steel to sharpen very easily and take a very good edge on the blade.

          White  3 will be the most durable but least sharp due to its lower carbon content.  White 2 will have moderate durability and moderate sharpness. White 1 will have the sharpest edge, however this comes at the sacrifice of some durability. 

          Blue steel

          There are 3 types of blue steel. The are:

          • Blue 1
          • Blue 2

          Blue number 1 is white number 1 with chromium and Tungsten added and Blue number 2 is white number 1 with chromium and Tungsten added.

          Blue super

          This is where they take blue 1 and add additional carbon, chromium and tungsten. This improved the hardness of the steel and improves the steels ability to hold an edge. 

          As with the steels above, there is a trade of for this additional edge retention. Adding in the additional carbon, chromium and tungsten will make the blade harder to sharpen, you will not be able to get it as sharp and it will become more brittle. 

          • chromium – helps with corrosion resistance and increase edge retention
          • Tungsten – improves edge retention

          If you take white 2 and add chromium and tungsten to it, you get blue 2. This makes for longer edge retention, however it will make it harder to sharpen and you will not be able to get the blade as sharp and white steel.

          Larger carbites prevent some sharpening

          Carbites – compound comprising of carbon and a metal. 

          Blue steels will be more brittle than white steels. This can seem confusing. Surly a steel with a longer lasting edge would be more durable? Unfortunately that is not the case can can be more prone to chipping. 

          Additional carbon steels

          What to look for when choosing a carbon steel japanese chefs knife?

          If this is your first time choosing a japanese chefs knife and you feel completely overwhelmed by the choice of steel, don’t worry! Everyone feels like this the first time. 

          It’s best to choose a steel that is somewhere in the middle. A great option is white 2 or 1 or blue 3 or 1. 

          If you don’t want to sharped the knife as frequently, go with blue steel. If you want a super sharp edge and don’t mind sharpening more frequently, go with a white steel.

          Stainless steel

          Stainless steel is classified as steel that has more than 11% chromium by weight. The higher the chromium content, the more corrosion resistance the steel has, meaning it requires less maintenance than a carbon steel. 

          This increases the carboy structure of the steel, meaning the edge will not get a sharp as a carbon steel, but it will have better edge retention. 

          Stainless steels are not completely stainless. There are a wide variety of factors that effect the corrosion resistance such as carbon levels and chromium levels and stainless steel can still rust if not looked after. 

          Vg10 steel

          Vg10 10 is one of the most common stainless steels used in chefs knives. Vg10 is know known for its great edge retention, ease of maintenance and corrosion resistance, while being easy to sharpen.

          You will find a lot of chefs knives made with this steel and choosing a knife with Vg10 steel is a great choice, especially if this is your first chefs knife.

          DG2/R2 (Powder steel)

          Powder steel is created by blending different types of powdered metals to create a very strong and hard steel. 

          Powders steels have fantastic edge retention, however, the hardness of the steel can make them hard to sharpen.

          Ginsanko steel

          Ginsanko steel is a very common stainless steel used in Japanese knife making. It has a very fine grain stainless steel, meaning you car sharpen it to have a very, very fine edge as well as being easy to sharpen (for stainless steel)

          Ginsanko steel is slightly more brittle than other stainless steels, so it is best for those more experienced chefs and home cooks, and isn’t the best choice of steel for your first Japanese chef knife. 

          Rockwell hardness

          The Rockwell scale is a measure of a material’s hardness. The higher the number, the more hard the material, the lower the number, the less hard the material. 

          This is important when choosing a japanese chefs knife as it will affect the sharpness and edge retention. 

          A knife with a higher rockwell hardness will retrain its edge better than a knife with a lower rockwell hardness, however it will be more brittle. Knives with a lower rockwell rating won’t hold an edge quite as well, however they will be more durable. 

          I recommend going for a higher rockwell rating if you are more likely to look after your knife. If you’re someone that is partially heavy handed and go through things quickly, it would be best looking for a knife with a lower rockwell rating.

          Conclusion – Which steel is best fo you?

          Choosing the best steel for you is going to come down to one main factor…

          How much maintenance are you willing to do?

          High Carbon Steel: 

          If you opt for a high carbon steel, you will need to be extra careful when using the knife as high carbon steel is far more brittle than stainless steel and is prone to chipping or snapping when used for heavy duty kitchen tasks such as chopping hard foods or bones.

          You will also need to dry clean your knife frequently when using it, especially on acidic foods in order to prevent rust. You will also need to clean it careful after, dry very well and store it in a safe place. 

          If you don’t mind keeping up with maintenance, a high carbon bland will reward you with an incredibly sharp blade that is incredibly fun to use.

          Stainless steel:

          Stainless steel will still require some maintenance, and you should still store it well and look after the blade.

          Where stainless steel really shines is its rust resistance and durability. 

          If you’re performing heavy duty tasks where the blade is going to be use frequently and on harder items, a stainless steel chef knife is going to be your go-to option. 

          This is especially true if you’re using the blade frequently throughout the day.

          I recommend the following steels:

          • High Carbon: Blue 1 or 2
          • Stainless: Vg10 or Powder steel

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