Japanese kitchen knives are known for their sharpness and durability, and a big part of this is due to the types of steel used to make the blades. As there are many different types of steel being used with Japanese knives it can be confusing. This article should help to get a better understanding of the most commonly used types of steel for Japanese knives to help you choose the best Japanese knife for yourself.
When talking about the performance of steel you might have heard of the term rockwell hardness or HRC. The higher the rockwell hardness the stronger the steel. A knife with a HRC of 60+ is usually considered to be on the harder side. Knives with a HC of around 55 are considered to be soft. Japanese knives have a higher hardness compared to Western knives because of which they will keep their sharp edge for longer.
On a basic level knife blades are made of of the elements carbon and iron. The more carbon the harder the blade. Next to carbon and iron there are other elements which are added to improve the performance of the knife. Below are some elements which are frequently added to Japanese knives.
Cobalt (Co): Cobalt enhances the hardness of steel and enables higher quenching temperatures during heat treatment, thereby amplifying the impact of other elements in more intricate steel compositions.
Molybdenum (Mo): Molybdenum enhances the toughness of steel and helps to maintain strength at high temperatures. It also improves resistance to corrosion, making it a common component in corrosion-resistant and stainless steels.
Nickel (Ni): Nickel is a corrosion-resistant element that is commonly used in stainless steel. It also increases the strength and toughness of steel.
Vanadium (V): Vanadium is a crucial element used to enhance the hardness and hardenability of knife steel. It also enhances wear resistance and toughness of the steel.
Here are some of the most common types of steel used in Japanese kitchen knives:
Carbon steel: Carbon steel is a traditional material used for Japanese kitchen knives. It's known for its sharp edge and durability, but it requires more maintenance than other types of steel. Carbon steel knives need to be sharpened frequently and are prone to rusting if not properly cared for.
Stainless steel: Stainless steel is a more modern material used for Japanese kitchen knives. It's known for its corrosion resistance and durability, but it's not as sharp as carbon steel. Stainless steel knives are easier to care for and don't require as much maintenance as carbon steel knives.
High carbon stainless steel: High carbon stainless steel is a combination of carbon steel and stainless steel. It has the sharpness of carbon steel and the corrosion resistance of stainless steel. High carbon stainless steel knives are a good compromise between carbon steel and stainless steel, but they can be more expensive than other types of steel.
VG-10: VG-10 is a type of high carbon stainless steel that's known for its sharpness and durability. It is one of the most popular stainless steels used for Japanese kitchen knives. VG-10 is a high end Japanese steel type which is good for beginners and intermediate users.
Honyaki: Honyaki is a traditional type of Japanese kitchen knife that's made from a single piece of high carbon steel. It's known for its sharp edge and durability, but it requires a high level of skill to manufacture and is therefore more expensive than other types of steel.
SPG-2: SPG-2 is a high-quality Japanese knife steel that offers exceptional cutting performance and edge retention, as well as good resistance to corrosion. It is considered a more premium version of VG-10 stainless steel. They come with a higher price tag, with good SPG-2 knives typically starting at around $200.
19C27 - Swedish Steel: 19c27 is high-quality steel that strikes a good balance between hardness and toughness. The steel is very corrosion resistant which makes it quite easy to care for while enjoying premium performance. It is also relatively easy to sharpen when needed.
AUS-8: AUS-8 is developed by Aichi Steel. They are considered entry-level stainless steels for Japanese knives. AUS-8 possesses solid overall properties such as wear resistance, toughness, and the ability to take a good edge. They are also easy to sharpen and budget-friendly, making them a great choice for first-time users of Japanese knives.
Molybdenum: Usually consists of Molybdenum and Vanadium. It will have increased hardness, strength, toughness and wear resistance. Molybdenum knives are usually easy to care for and to sharpen. Additionally, Molybdenum enhances the corrosion resistance of the steel.
Each type of steel has its own unique properties and characteristics, and the best one for you will depend on your needs and preferences. Whether you're looking for a sharp, durable blade or an easier-to-maintain option, there's a type of steel that's right for you.
For a detailed guide with everything you need to know about (Japanese) kitchen knives read our ultimate kitchen knife guide here.