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karloevaristo
01-27-2012, 08:50 AM
Just read Carter's newsletter...

It included a very interesting history of Blue and White Steel... I think everyone should read it, especially people who are still confused with the differences between the two steels...

I don't know if it's okay that I post it, but I think this is very good info and everyone should have a read... here it is...

From The Murray Carter Newsletter...

Many connoisseurs of fine Japanese cutlery are well acquainted with the terms white steel and blue steel. These terms refer to the Hitachi high carbon steel that is smelted exclusively for use in laminating to mild steel for the production of the world's finest blades ever known to man. When skillfully joined to the mild steel laminate through a process known as forge-welding, the result is a blade with superior metallurgy that will sharpen easily, take a scary sharp edge and hold that edge longer than others.

After the end of World War II the leadership at Hitachi Metals decided to create a blade steel that was better than the best steel available at that time, Swedish Steel. As Japan had a long tradition of samurai swordmaking, it was decided that the new steel be modeled after the best blades ever forged. Several swords were analyzed for carbon content and alloy composition. What was discovered was that the swords averaged a little over 0.7% carbon and amazingly, they were very free from alloys and contaminants such as phosphorus and sulfur. This was the result from careful forge-welding and forging multiple times in a very clean fire made from pine charcoal.

Unlike swords which must be designed to withstand a lot of impact, the new steel was primarily going to be used in shorter lengths and used for daily cutting tasks which were not as abusive in nature. With edge holding capability in mind, a higher carbon content was considered, between 1.2% and 1.4% to be exact. To get the other advantageous qualities of the swords in their new steel, namely superior cutting performance and ease of sharpening via excellent carbide dispersion within the steel matrix, special attention was paid to ensure minimal impurities (phosphorus and sulfur) were present in each new batch of smelted steel.

The result of the engineer's efforts at Hitachi was a brilliant success. The old-school bladesmiths were quick to adapt to the new steel and apply their long years of forging experience to bring out the best potential the white steel had to offer. White steel #1(1.4% C) and White steel #2 (1.2% C) soon replaced Swedish steel as the premium choice for forge welding to make the finest blades on the Japanese domestic market.
However, there was one drawback to this new "White Steel". The problem was when young apprentices and inexperienced smiths made blades from it only a portion of the steel's potential was realized. These guys just didn't possess the skills to bring out all that the white steel had to offer. Edge retention and edge keenness were lacking. The engineers at Hitachi went back to the drawing table again to try to find a resolution to this problem.

The engineers discovered that by adding small amounts of chromium and tungsten they could alter the new steel just enough to greatly enhance wear resistance in the finished blades. Wear resistance meant better edge retention. Hitachi named this new innovation Blue steel. The great success of blue steel was that it didn't take a masterful bladesmith to bring out this attribute of edge retention in the finished blades. Average skill was all that was necessary. So long as the smith forging the steel didn't do anything wrong during the forging and heat-treating process, such as over-heating or forging while too cold, a fine blade could be produced. However, the one drawback to this steel was that the alloys chromium and tungsten affected the carbides within the steel in such a way as to reduce the ultimate keenness of edge that the white steel was widely known for.
So while white steel was regarded as the very finest Japan had to offer the cutlery world, it was openly recognized that it took a true mastersmith to realize its full potential. Blue steel on the other hand was regarded as the best choice for mass blade production by the majority of smiths. Blade wholesale dealers came to realize that large orders of blades had to be made in blue steel because the quality would not vary as much, even when the blades were forged by multiple bladesmiths. While orders in white steel had to be made by the mastersmith, hence large numbered orders were nearly impossible to fill. The other option was to enlist the help of journeyman smiths and accept varying degrees of quality.

The end result was that salesman marketing the blades, in both catalogs and other media, pronounced blue steel as "superior" because that is what the majority of their blades for sale were made from. When their blue steel blades sold out it was a simple matter of ordering more. Production of white steel blades was not as reliable or predictable, because of the rarity of capable smiths who could produce them.

In conclusion, blue steel is a success from a marketing and sales point of view, but white steel reigns from a purely metallurgical point of view when its full potential is realized.

At Carter Cutlery, after having forged and completed more than 16,000 blades in 24 years out of both steels, Murray has decided to drop blue steel from his repertoire in favor of dedicating the rest of his career to truly mastering white steel and harnessing its full potential.

ajhuff
01-27-2012, 09:10 AM
Lot of mythology on there but nice write up. I wonder where the idea of Swedish steel being the best came from?

-AJ

Eamon Burke
01-27-2012, 09:32 AM
I wonder what his apprentices will work with.

Marko Tsourkan
01-27-2012, 10:06 AM
...Lot of mythology on there but nice write up...

-AJ

I can't agree more

Swedish iron ore is relatively pure, and resulting steels have long had reputation of quality and have been used for chisels (and other cutting tools) and razors for a long time.

Sweden's steel production has not been disrupted (similarly to Japan, Germany, etc) by WW II and combined with the reputation, that would seem like a logical choice to use them in Japan while they were rebuilding after the war. Some makers never switched to Japanese steels - in Sanjo some knife and razors makers use Swedish steel to this day.

M

CalleNAK
01-27-2012, 11:51 AM
Fun read. Thanks for sharing.

El Pescador
01-27-2012, 12:44 PM
Lotta crap there but the man still makes a really good knife!

Pesky

Larrin
01-27-2012, 01:18 PM
I skimmed the newsletter and didn't even notice the thing about dropping blue steel.

DevinT
01-27-2012, 01:23 PM
I talked to Murray this morning to see if he had any blue steel that he would sell me. He has a small quantity left that he said he is holding on to to fill some remaining custom orders. We talked about his book and some upcomming DVD's that they are producing.

White steel is a good choice for kitchen cutlery, I'm not sure that I would abandon all other choices and just use white though.

Hoss

jaybett
01-27-2012, 03:20 PM
If Blue Steel is so easy to forge, then why are knives made out of it, generally more expensive then white steel? Maybe he is talking about White #1 versus Blue #1.

After having forged and completed 16,000 knives in 24 years, he is now going to drop blue steel, so he can focus on mastering white steel? Jeez that makes me feel good about the white steel knife that I bought a few years ago.

I don't understand the need for such a convoluted story to justify his reason for dropping Blue steel. All he needed to say was, the best steel, for my style of knives is White. A good option to add would be: Blue steel knives are available through special order.

Jay

stevenStefano
01-27-2012, 04:38 PM
That was a pretty interesting read. Seems a little odd to me though, do his customers not have some sort of say? Personally I like blue steel better despite it being more expensive

Benuser
01-27-2012, 05:19 PM
Does anyone has an idea about the costs of blue steel vs. white per knife? Is it about cost reduction?

Pensacola Tiger
01-27-2012, 05:25 PM
It's not cost reduction, as Carter's prices were about 10-15% more for blue.

Rick

Andrew H
01-27-2012, 05:25 PM
That was a pretty interesting read. Seems a little odd to me though, do his customers not have some sort of say? Personally I like blue steel better despite it being more expensive
Only if they custom ordered a blue steel knife before he made the change.


Does anyone has an idea about the costs of blue steel vs. white per knife? Is it about cost reduction?
His rate for the SFGZ line when he did both steels was $31 a sun for white, $36 for blue. Now his white SFGZ line costs $36 a sun.

Justin0505
01-27-2012, 05:45 PM
I saw that news a few weeks back and also hadmixed feelings about it.
I own a Cater blade in each steel and was surprised that the two steels are actually fairly close when it comes down to actual real world perception. Yes, the white sharpens faster and gets sharper, and the blue does seem to hold the edge longer, but the difference is very, slight. The ease/pleasure of sharpening and the edge retention on both is really fantastic. The only place that ive noticed a significant difference is in microchipping: despite much harsher use, the blue remains (to the naked eye) undamaged where as the white took a few very small chips after comparatively gentle use.

If I where buying a Carter deba, cleaver, boning or utility knife, I would want blue. However, he doesn't seem to make as many of thoes and his style gravitates more towards light and delicate designs.
Maybe he's feels like his success /demand is such that he can just make the stuff that he likes making most.
IMO, that's cool, and should result the highest possible quality.

SpikeC
01-27-2012, 06:57 PM
I found it a bit odd as well. I wonder what Takeda would say about that?
I agree with Justin about him being able to use the steel that he likes the best.

Adagimp
01-27-2012, 07:14 PM
I've only ever used white steel Carter's and I must say that he does really excellent work with white. If he thinks that he can do even better work by focusing on the white, then more power to him. Further, if he actually does get even better by focusing on white, then that seems like a win for everyone.

mhlee
01-27-2012, 08:37 PM
I called Carter Cutlery today to find out more about this. The person I spoke with said that Blue takes more time to forge than White. So the higher cost for blue was because of this greater amount of time spent, which makes perfect sense to me. Time is money.

JBroida
01-27-2012, 08:40 PM
its also a more expensive raw material

ajhuff
01-27-2012, 10:27 PM
Chrome is ungodly expensive.

-AJ

EdipisReks
01-27-2012, 10:30 PM
i've had several blue knives, #2 and AS, and a bunch of white steel, and i've never seen a particular difference in edge holding or sharpness between them, in actual practice. the fact that the white knives in the SFGZ line will be the same cost as what the blue knives were is interesting.

mainaman
01-27-2012, 10:30 PM
Lot of mythology on there but nice write up. I wonder where the idea of Swedish steel being the best came from?

-AJ
Iwasaki uses Swedish Steel for his famous razors because White is inconsistent in quality, according to his own words.
Heiji IIRC and Shigefusa use modified Swedish steel from Iwasaki for their blades, I wonder why they prefer that to White steel.

ajhuff
01-27-2012, 10:51 PM
Iwasaki uses Swedish Steel for his famous razors because White is inconsistent in quality, according to his own words.
Heiji IIRC and Shigefusa use modified Swedish steel from Iwasaki for their blades, I wonder why they prefer that to White steel.

Ummmm... cause White is inconsistent in quality. :D

-AJ

Schtoo
01-27-2012, 11:14 PM
Just a few points to ponder.

The cost of the raw material is largely insignificant. There's what, 100g in a knife? Direct from Hitachi that much white or blue steel will cost about $3, plus tax (or import duties and shipping in the case of someone overseas).

But the conditions are you have to unload the truck and the minimum order is 1 metric ton. That's a lot of steel, you need somewhere to keep it and you need the facilities to break it down. There are very few places that actually buy direct from Hitachi because of those conditions. The conditions may have changed since I last asked about it though.

When it comes down to making something from the stuff, white is a darling, blue is a female dog. Well, blue isn't that bad but it's more difficult to weld, it's more difficult to forge and it's more difficult to grind both as a material and by visual cues (it doesn't spark very much, white is like fireworks!). But any bladesmith worth their salt can work with either easily enough. In the case of the artiste blade makers, it's about what they like to work with. In the case of working blade makers, they use what's going to work best for whoever's hanging off the blunt end of the blade.

White is made from decent raw materials refined to the nth degree. Blue is white with chrome and tungsten added. Swedish steel comes out of the ground as a cleaner material, so needs less fooling around with to make 'clean' which is why the argument of it being a better material comes from most likely. I won't argue the point at all, since I'm not bashing on it for a crust. The original tamahagane was made from sands, was graded and then the folk took their pieces and refined them further by hand, which is essentially what white steel is, decent steel refined in a factory.

And that's about all that's worth saying. Blue is good stuff, white is good stuff but neither is 100% perfect for every application, so that's why you have all kinds of choices out there.

I've got no dog in the fight, other than knowing folks who bash on the stuff for a living and going by what they tell me.

Have fun debating it all further. Just giving you some things to think about is all.

Stu.

tk59
01-27-2012, 11:28 PM
I can't say I felt anything either way other than it would save me from having to buy an extra knife. Maybe I still need another Carter, now that I know he's going to master the steel at some point. I doubt he'll announce his arrival as master of white 1, though. I suppose I'll need to buy one every couple of years and see if they improve somehow. :)

EdipisReks
01-27-2012, 11:57 PM
the white 1 Carter i owned seemed just fine, in terms of mastering the steel. now, mastering the grind...

Wagstaff
01-28-2012, 01:06 AM
Is that the first post I've seen critical of a Carter grind?

EdipisReks
01-28-2012, 01:57 AM
Is that the first post I've seen critical of a Carter grind?

maybe, but i doubt it's the first observation of it.

Wagstaff
01-28-2012, 02:01 AM
Yah, I know I didn't phrase the question in the most answerable way (alas, alack!).
I'm much more familiar with the praise for all things Carter 'round here

EdipisReks
01-28-2012, 02:25 AM
it is pretty well known that Carter's tend to not be well finished. it's not a terrible thing to finish, and, if the knife i owned is anything to go by, under grinds are the problem. not that bad to fix. i would have kept it, it just wasn't long enough for me (270 suji).

heirkb
01-28-2012, 02:34 AM
So instead of a little hole in the side of the knife that wasn't getting hit by the stone, you had a little hill that was the only thing being hit?

EdipisReks
01-28-2012, 02:38 AM
basically. reminded me of the vintage Sabatier chef's i have. i let the buyer know.

ajhuff
01-28-2012, 04:30 PM
I can't agree more

Swedish iron ore is relatively pure, and resulting steels have long had reputation of quality and have been used for chisels (and other cutting tools) and razors for a long time.

Sweden's steel production has not been disrupted (similarly to Japan, Germany, etc) by WW II and combined with the reputation, that would seem like a logical choice to use them in Japan while they were rebuilding after the war. Some makers never switched to Japanese steels - in Sanjo some knife and razors makers use Swedish steel to this day.

M

There's a kernel of truth to that but the reality is that as a whole, Swedish ores are all over the map in grade quality. I'm sure there was and is excellent steel production in Sweden, after all, the ship building industry consumes a large amount of steel. I would be willing to bet the claim of superior steel from Sweden started out as a sales gimmick and it has just been repeated over and over until it has become an understood truth. It may even be cultural as a lot of Japanese steel originated in Korea and there were negative feelings toward Korea. Sweden may have been more palatable for the Japanese post WWII.

Prior to WWII I would hazard that the best steel in the world came from Krupp Stahl in Germany, of course Herr Krupp was probably buying Swedish ore. :)

Now if the argument was that Sandvisk produced a better product than Hitachi, I would buy into that, but it doesn't have the mystique the phrase "Swedish Steel" has, not as sexy or exotic. But suppose "Swedish Steel" does indeed come from Sandvisk, does it actually come from Sweden? :o

Carter's newsletter sounds like a great story.

-AJ