A Q&A from a customer interaction- A question about knife steels and quality?
I had an interesting question from a customer today and wanted to post about it here, since i thought it was a great question and i'm sure many of you probably were thinking about the same thing...
Question- Is it true that white steel #1 is considered the top of the line steel since it is so clean and offers a blacksmith a "white canvas" more than the blue steels that have additional alloys?
Answer- I don't believe that any steel can be called top of the line... all of the steels require different skill sets to heat treat well. Even though blue steel is technically more forgiving in the HT process, it doesn't mean that a very skilled craftsman couldn't bring out the best in it through great finesse. White #1 is a very simple, very pure, and very high carbon steel, so it does require great skill to work with well, but there are a number of blacksmiths who i do not consider to be so great who often work with white #1 and get so-so results, so just seeing white #1 is not an indication of a high quality knife. Obviously, there is great potential with white #1 for a skilled craftsman to showcase his technique, there are only a few ways to know this for yourself with any certainty. First, try for yourself and see- this also means that you have to know enough to be able to assess the steel well. Second, rely on reputation- this only works when the people describing the steel know what they are talking about. Or third, find a retailer whom you can trust and who has experience using and sharpening the steel so that he/she can talk about it effectively- the only works if the retailer knows what they are talking about and has the experience and training to validate their opinion.
Anyways, the gist of this is that just knowing a steel type doesn't tell you if that steel has been forged and heat treated well. Even steels that seem simple and nothing special on paper can be amazing when skillfully forged and heat treated (aeb-l is a great example of this... when its great, it can be really great, but without a good heat treatment, its really nothing special).
Hope you guys enjoy this quick read.
You know I was just wondering about the quality of blue carbon steel versus what carbon steel. Interesting. Thanks. So in essence it still boils down to who is working the steel?
Good stuff sir, thank you
This seems very closely tied to Murray Carter's public justification for switching predominantly to White #1. He could well be sincere, or he could be using it as a marketing technique to emphasize his competence as a master smith (something like, "I'm so awesome I need a steel that has infinite potential", which also subtly implies that inferior smiths will use Blue/other steels as a crutch or shortcut to a "good enough" knife). There's also some connection between the promotion of "pure" steel with the mysticism of tamahagane, which though a messy and unclean steel is generally very low alloy.
It's a shame the "not so great" smiths are almost always unnamed. I understand the reasoning for not disclosing information like that publicly...I guess sometimes user reviews and feedback help, but it seems that those who are qualified to have opinions tend to reserve their opinions. There are a handful of makers I'd love to hear qualified opinions about, but typically the feedback I find is average purchase justification praise and confirmation bias, or vendor promotion.
Thanks Jon for posting your response on the matter.
nope... has nothing to do with murray... i think he does a great job with white #1... this was actually more in relation to a question asked about blue super steel and why more craftsmen arent using it in japan for kitchen knives
Canada's Sharpest Lefty
Sorry, I'm reading this after a call at work, so my brain might be a tad off but:
As usual, I think Jon is very right. In a nutshell, he's saying that don't let the steel type be your guide, but rather allow for the maker to be. There are guys who do wonderful things with 1095, despite it being a fairly pedestrian carbon steel in the US, while the same can be said for other types, in Japan. To take this a step further, it could be argued that 52100 is an inferior steel to O1, but in our circle, guys like Bill Burke and More recently, Marko, have turned it into a bit of a hot steel. What it has come down to is that these guys put a crap to of effort and knowledge into what they're doing, which yields great results.
For the record, White #1 as done by Murray Carter is exceptional (in my opinion). He takes it to a point that allows it to take an exceptionally keen edge, while maintaining some "spring" for durability. If you ask me, the majority of the chipping one might see with Murray's white #1 is as a result of cutting something too hard wit too fine of an edge. A chef knife like his was not made to ban up against bones, or cut through the grit found in a leek.
Steel type has been overhyped by many as a way to quantify hard-to-measure results, and in turn qualify a knife for a higher price tag. Let the proof be in the pudding, and not in the mix.
i was also thinking about how so many now days are using steels that have been popularized by people amazingly talented with them, but not having the same heat treatment means that the same steel will likely not perform the same way. This is not to say that many people cant do great things with the same steels, but it is to say that you cant rely in simply steel type when making decisions.
I will also like to add to this that i have seen white 1 very in quality a lot so is with all other steels. White 1 or blue 2 is not all similar !
Have seen yellow 2 had more carbon in it then white 1, depending when it was made