Broadly, knives are categorised as carbon steel or stainless steel, with each option having its pros and cons. Generally, a carbon steel chef’s knife is harder than stainless, which means it has a longer lifetime. It’s also superior when it comes to sharpness and edge retention. As for the downside, carbon steel can be prone to rust, making it unsuitable for cutting highly acidic foods such as lemon and apple. To avoid issues, the user must follow a proper maintenance practice.
On the other hand, stainless steel is strong, resistant to rust, hygienic and easy to maintain. It’s also easy to sharpen, however it has lower edge retention and a shorter lifetime.
Below, we take a closer look at the general types of steels used in Japanese knives:
Manufactured by Hitachi Metals,Ltd. Contains carbon 1.3% and manganese 0.25% with a Rockwell Hardness of 61-64 HRC. This is a very hard material made from fine particle pure carbon. It’s commonly used for Honyaki knives, which are made with the traditional method of sword blacksmithing.
The same composition of White-1 steel but with lower hardness.
Manufactured by Hitachi Metals,Ltd. Contains carbon 1.3%, adding tungsten 1.5% and chromium 0.4% to white steel. Has a Rockwell Hardness of 61-64 HRC. Thanks to the additional carbides, blue steel achieves higher durability than white steel. It’s also used for Honyaki knives for those seeking the best quality.
The same composition of Blue-1 steel but with lower hardness.
Manufactured by Hitachi Metals,Ltd. Contains carbon 1.4%, adding molybdenum 0.4% and vanadium to blue steel. It has a Rockwell Hardness of 61-65 HRC. As well as having the highest durability and hardness, it can be sharpened to the maximum thinness for superior sharpness. It requires top-class skills to quench this steel, which means only master blacksmiths can make a blue steel super chef’s knife.
Steel used for general industrial tools. It’s often used for economical knives but has better sharpness than stainless knives in the same price range. Most Japanese knives that don’t mention the type of steel are likely to fall into this category.
|Type of Carbon Steel||HRC reference (the higher, the better in sharpness, edge retention and longer lifetime)||Price reference for general chef's knife 21cm|
|Blue Steel Super||61-65||$$$$$ ($800-1500)|
|Blue Steel 1 and 2||61-64||$$$$ ($500-1200)|
|White Steel 1 and 2||61-64||$$$ ($300-800)|
|Standard Japanese SK Steel||58-60||$$ ($100-200)|
Manufactured by Hitachi Metals,Ltd. Contains carbon 1.05%, chromium 13% and manganese 0.8%, with a Rockwell Hardness of 59-62 HRC. This is the highest quality stainless steel, with similar characteristics to carbon steel. Made from very pure, fine particle components, it provides the best performance among stainless steel knives.
Manufactured by Takefu Special Steel Co.,Ltd. Contains carbon 1%, chromium 15%, molybdenum 1%, vanadium 0.2%, cobalt 1.4% and manganese 0.5%, with a Rockwell Hardness of 58-62 HRC. This is a quality stainless steel that has only recently been introduced to the market, used for variety of industrial tools. Because of the added cobalt, it can be quenched in very high temperatures, resulting in superior hardness. It makes for a strong chef’s knife with good sharpness and edge retention.
Manufactured by Takefu Special Steel Co.,Ltd. Contains carbon 0.95%, chromium 14%, molybdenum 0.30% and less than 0.25% of nickel. This high concentrated carbon with molybdenum added is strong and resistant to wear and rust. It has similar characteristics to VG10 steel.
Known as Swedish steel, it contains carbon 1%, chromium 14%, molybdenum 1% and vanadium 0.2%, with a Rockwell Hardness of 59-61 HRC. Misono uses this steel for their high-end chef’s knife range. This steel has similar characteristics to VG10 steel but with a lower hardness due to the absence of cobalt.
|Type of Stainless Steel||HRC reference (the higher, the better in sharpness, edge retention and longer lifetime)||Price reference for general chef's knife 21cm|
|VG10 and VG1||59-60||$$ ($100-200)|
We recently received the new Ginsan knives, and after trying them out, we can assure that they deliver outstanding performance. We’ve tested them with cutting in the kitchen and sharpening on a whetstone, and they’ve all been a joy to use. However, the Ginsan Kiritsuke is particularly special.
First of all, it’s very comfortable to use. The Gyuto 23cm has a lovely weight and easy grip that makes prep easy. The sharpness exceeds the VG10 Damascus Gyuto, and it has ultimate sharpness after using a #12000 whetstone. This level of sharpness isn’t possible with VG10 steel, but can be achieved with Ginsanko (silver-3 steel).
According to the specifications of Ginsanko, it contains Carbon 1.05%, chromium 13% and manganese 0.8%, with a Rockwell Hardness of 59-62HRC. Ginsan knives have a very similar hardness and sharpness to carbon steel knives and are among the best stainless knives we’ve used! In fact, Ginsan knives are widely used by professional Japanese cuisine chefs in Japan. If you’re looking for sharpness in a stainless chef’s knife, this is absolutely the best choice.
(1) Forge welding
Bonding the jigane (malleable iron) and the blade (carbon steel). The red-hot metal jigane is beaten and fired together with the blade...