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Japanese Steel for Kitchen Knives: Understanding the Best Types

by Angelique Kim 15 Feb 2023

Japanese knives are some of the most highly prized kitchen knives in the world. They are renowned for their sharpness, precision, and durability, and are favored by professional chefs and home cooks alike. But what makes Japanese knives so special? One of the key factors is the type of steel that they are made from. In this article, we will take a closer look at the different types of Japanese steel used in kitchen knives and what makes them unique.


Steel for Japanese Knives

In short there are 4 main types of steel for Japanese Knives. Each consisting of a containing a handful of variations, serving different needs and different price points, the list is as follows.
 

  • Low and Mid-range Stainless Steel
  • Premium Range Stainless Steel 
  • Powder Steel (High-Speed Steel)
  • Carbon Steel 

Low and Mid-range Stainless Steel

1. 420J2 Steel (stainless)

A low-end stainless steel that is often used in budget Japanese kitchen knives. It is not as hard or durable as other steels, but it is relatively cheap to produce and can be a good choice for entry-level kitchen knives.


2. AUS-8 Steel (stainless)

A lower-grade stainless steel that is often used in more affordable Japanese kitchen knives. It has less carbon content than VG-10 and is not as hard, but it is still a decent choice for home cooks. 

Check out our range of entry level kitchen knives here. 


Premium Range Stainless Steel For Japanese Knives

1. AUS-10 Steel (high-carbon stainless)

Another popular type of Japanese steel for kitchen knives is AUS-10. This is a lower-grade stainless steel that is often used in more affordable Japanese kitchen knives. AUS-10 steel is not as hard or durable as VG-10, but it is still a decent choice for home cooks who are looking for a quality knife that won't break the bank. It is also relatively easy to sharpen and offers good corrosion resistance.



2. VG-10 Steel (high-carbon stainless)

One of the most popular and highly regarded types of Japanese steel for kitchen knives is VG-10. This is a high-quality, high-carbon stainless steel that is renowned for its ability to hold a sharp edge and resist rust and corrosion. VG-10 steel is relatively easy to sharpen and offers excellent edge retention, making it a popular choice for high-end Japanese kitchen knives. Our range of Premium VG-10 Steel Kitchen Knives can be found here. 


3. Sweden Steel 

The Pure Stainless Steel material from Sweden. We heard several makers use Sweden Stainless Steels for the stable quality control. Selected Sweden Stainless steel material are easier for making process, heat-treating process, and it will help for making stable good quality control.


a vg-10 steel japanese knife
Hephais Vg-10 Damascus Steel Kiristuke Knife

Powder Steel (High-Speed Steel) For Japanese Knives

1. HAP40

This high-speed steel is developed by Hitachi Metals and has a very high concentration of tungsten and vanadium. It is known for its excellent wear resistance and toughness, and its ability to hold a sharp edge. Although it's not typically used in kitchen knives, it is often found in high-end outdoor and hunting knives.


2. SRS-15

Developed by the Japanese steel company Takefu Special Steel, SRS-15 is a powder metallurgy stainless steel with a high concentration of vanadium. It has excellent wear resistance and toughness, and is known for its ability to hold a sharp edge. It is often used in high-end kitchen knives.


3. S90V

Developed by Crucible Industries, S90V is a high-performance stainless steel with a high concentration of vanadium and niobium. It has excellent wear resistance and toughness, and is known for its ability to hold an extremely sharp edge. It is often used in high-end outdoor and hunting knives, as well as some high-end kitchen knives.


4. ZDP-189

This is a high-end powder metallurgy stainless steel developed by Hitachi Metals. It has a high percentage of carbon, chromium, molybdenum, and tungsten, which give it exceptional hardness and corrosion resistance. It has a very high Rockwell hardness rating of around 64-66, making it one of the hardest stainless steels available. It's commonly used in high-end Japanese kitchen knives.

All of these steels are considered to be high-performance steels with excellent edge retention and toughness. However, they can be more difficult to sharpen than some other steels and may require specialized sharpening equipment and techniques. They are also more expensive than many other steel types and may not be suitable for all budgets.


Carbon Steel for Japanese Knives

1. Hitachi White Steel (carbon steel)

Hitachi White Steel is a carbon steel that is widely used in Japanese kitchen knives. There are several different grades of Hitachi White Steel, including #1, #2, and #3. White Steel #1 is a premium steel that offers excellent edge retention and is relatively easy to sharpen. White Steel #2 and #3 are lower-end alternatives that are more affordable but not as durable.


2. Blue Steel (carbon steel)

Blue Steel is a carbon steel that is known for its excellent edge retention and ability to take a very sharp edge. It is often used in high-end Japanese kitchen knives, but it is more difficult to sharpen than other steels. Blue Steel is also prone to rust and corrosion, so it requires careful maintenance to keep it in top condition.
 

3. Tamahagane Steel

Tamahagane Steel is a high-carbon steel that is made using traditional Japanese techniques. It is a premium steel that is used in high-end Japanese kitchen knives and is known for its exceptional edge retention and sharpness. Tamahagane Steel is also relatively easy to sharpen, making it a popular choice among professional chefs.

Conclusion

Japanese kitchen knives are renowned for their exceptional sharpness, durability, and performance. The type of steel used in the blade is a critical factor in determining the knife's performance and maintenance requirements. High-quality, affordable options like VG-10 and AUS-10 are popular choices, while high-end options like Hitachi White Steel, Shirogami White Steel, and Blue Steel offer superior sharpness and durability. Additionally, Japanese powder steel, such as ZDP-189 and HAP40, offer unparalleled edge retention and toughness. Regardless of the type of Japanese steel chosen, proper care and maintenance will ensure that the knife retains its sharpness and longevity for years to come.

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