Knife Steel Overview

A picture of steel particles

High-quality steel is a key factor in the capability and performance of a Japanese kitchen knife. Historically, iron mined in Japan was of very poor quality and required the smelters and bladesmiths to develop complex and advanced processes to produce workable steel. This legacy of developing high-quality steel from raw iron and elements continues today with modern technology in steel factories across Japan. Japanese steel makers produce over 20 different types of style for kitchen knives, with new varieties hitting the market every few years.

Below we break down the most common Japanese knife steels and what makes them unique. As we create more educational content about our steels, more materials will link to individual blog entries, so please feel free to explore further if you want to know more about specific steels as we deep dive into material construction and what purposes the material is suited for.

As a reminder, steel alone does not determine the quality of a knife - heating method, craftsman ability and many other factors also contribute to a knife's quality. Particular steels will generate particular knives however, with a focus on sharpness, edge retention or other properties so it is a great place to start learning about the knife you may want to purchase.


Steel Type Steel Description

White #1 has a very high carbon content, giving amazing sharpness at the cost of brittleness

White #2 reduces the carbon content compared to White #1, removing brittleness

White #3 further reduces the carbon content, and is designed to be easy to sharpen.

Blue Steel 1 has tungsten and chromium added, improving edge retention compared to White Steel

Blue Steel #2 has less arbon than Blue #1, further improving edge retention with a slight cost to sharpness

Blue Steel Super has extra vanadium added, creating the strongest edge retention possible

Tamahagane (Traditional Japanese Kilm Steel)

Historically, Japanese Iron was low quality and thus the Tamahagane smelting process developed to refine and improve the iron that was available. The process is laborious and time consuming. The final piece of Tamahagane requires further refining by the bladesmith to be used in a knife or sword. Tamahagane usually has a carbon content of 1% and is very expensive.

Steel Type Steel Description

AUS-6

A good all-round steel for beginners, AUS-6 is low maintenance and easy to sharpen.

AUS-8

AUS-8 is tougher than AUS-6, yet still relatively easy to sharpen.

AUS-10

AUS-10 is stronger than the other AUS steels, but is less corrosion resistant.

Coreless

Very finely grained high carbon stainless steel that improves on the performance of VG10.

Molybdenum Vanadium

A standard stainless steel offering reasonable performance. Ideal for your first knife.

SG2

A modern powdered steel offering fantastic performance, but can be expensive.

Silver #3

Silver #3 has a high carbon content, and offers a similar feel to a carbon steel blade.

VG1 is the predecessor to VG10, offering less wear resistance but good edge retention.

VG2

VG2 has more corrosion resistance than VG1, at the cost of edge hardness.

An evolution of VF1, VG10 offers improvements in edge retention and durability.

ZDP-189

A high performance powder steel, it can achieve a hardness of 67 Rockwell, giving a great edge.


As you can see, there are many kinds of steel available and each has their own purpose from price point, to sharpness, edge retention and corrosion resistance among other factors. As we also see new steels coming into the market, it's important to pick the steel that is right for you and your needs. Feel free to contact us if you have questions or don't know where to start and we will always be happy to help you find what works best for you.