types of japanese steel in laymans terms?

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10160

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so everytime i search for "differences between japanese steels" its just an article that talks about how each steel has a different amount of tungsten than the other, or another chemical difference. It does not say "this steel is hardest to sharpen" or "this steel can hold its edge the longest", etc. Can anyone explain the different steels to me like I'm 5? I do not care about what chemicals make up each one.
 
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carbon steel: rust
stainless steel: no rust
semi-stainless: tends to discolor instead of rust, but can still rust
powder steel: edge lasts longer

Properties are what the steel is formulated to do . . . heat treat can emphasize different characteristics

carbon
white : finer edge
blue : hold edge longer
blue super : less tough, hold edge longest if it doesn't chip, most saw-tooth like
sk: basic steel

stainless
vg-10: basic good steel that feels more rubbery when sharpening
aus - 8 or aus - 10: basic good steel that is easy to sharpen
aeb-l: extra fine grain steel that is easy to sharpen
ginsanko: crispy and feels like carbon steel

powder
sg-2 or r2: fine grained, somewhat like carbon steel
zdp: lotsa alloy so long edge life
hap40: long edge life and more toughness

semi-stainless
skd: a bit like carbon steel
sld: a bit like stainless steel
 
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10160

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carbon steel: rust
stainless steel: no rust
semi-stainless: tends to discolor instead of rust, but can still rust
powder steel: edge lasts longer

Properties are what the steel is formulated to do . . . heat treat can emphasize different characteristics

carbon
white : finer edge
blue : hold edge longer
blue super : less tough, hold edge longest if it doesn't chip, most saw-tooth like
sk: basic steel

stainless
vg-10: basic good steel that feels more rubbery when sharpening
aus - 8 or aus - 10: basic good steel that is easy to sharpen
aeb-l: extra fine grain steel that is easy to sharpen
ginsanko: crispy and feels like carbon steel

powder
sg-2: fine grained, somewhat like carbon steel
zdp: lotsa alloy so long edge life
hap40: long edge life and more toughness

semi-stainless
skd: a bit like carbon steel
sld: a bit like stainless steel

thanks. what is each steel good for? In terms of its use in the kitchen. Also is there one that has the perfect balance of sharpness/edge retention, and ease of sharpening?
 
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For each, start with a fine-grained steel

Carbon: white
Stainless: aeb-l or fine-grained swedish steel
Semi-stainless: any one is fine
Powder steel: sg - 2 or r2

That is the basic setup, and if you find you want greater edge retention or other properties, choose the other options. Of course if you think you want more edge retention first of all . . .then choose those knives.

Think about the kind of edge you want
 

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10160

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For each, start with a fine-grained steel

Carbon: white
Stainless: aeb-l or fine-grained swedish steel
Powder steel: sg - 2 or r2
sorry, I meant like what is each steel good for in terms of "x steel is good for veggies, y steel is best for cutting meat and fish, and z steel is good for overall sharpness"
 

josemartinlopez

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Not a helpful way of thinking about it. Try to understand what properties steel can have and what tradeoffs need to be made to improve one of these properties, like how a metallurgist would think about it. Then understand how, beyond the steel, the particular shape of the knife and the method of sharpening would affect how it cuts a particular protein or vegetable.
 
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Thats up to each person . . .and the stone grit / sharpening technique can change the edge quality quite a bit.

The quality of the edge can even be very different at the same grit . . . depending on the shape of the abrasive, the pressure applied, the stone itself.

The main arguments are synthetic stone edges (more saw tooth teeth) vs natural stone edges (more shallow, varied teeth)
and
alloyed steel (more saw tooth and longer edge life and a kind of icy feel going into food sometimes) with purer steel (more crisp feel)

and
harder steel heat treat (kinda but not always correlates with sharper, but also more fragile) vs something more tough and balanced
 
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sorry, I meant like what is each steel good for in terms of "x steel is good for veggies, y steel is best for cutting meat and fish, and z steel is good for overall sharpness"
There is no such thing. All steels used for kitchen knives can be good for anything in the kitchen. There is no perfect steel. Everything is a compromise. If you want ease of sharpening then you give up edge holding and stain resistance. If you want edge holding you compromise ease of sharpening. The best all around steel at the moment seems to be MagnaCut. Z-wear and that class of steels is there too, but all of these are not the easiest to sharpen.
 
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M1k3

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sorry, I meant like what is each steel good for in terms of "x steel is good for veggies, y steel is best for cutting meat and fish, and z steel is good for overall sharpness"
Semi stainless and stainless for acidic stuff, although it can cut other stuff just fine. All steels can cut all the things.

Acids react with steel. So if you're cutting lots of lemons, use semi stainless or stainless steel.
 

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The steel doesn't really determine what kind of food it works well in. The grind (cross-sectional shape) is more important for this. Steel is important for ease of sharpening and deburring, ability to hold an acute edge, edge retention and corrosion resistance.

Simple steels have a low carbide volume so they can take an acute edge angle (assuming adequate hardness- say 62 plus hrc) volume. Almost all are carbon steels so they will rust if you leave them wet. Edge retention is short to medium. Many are very fine grained (especially the simplest steels such as white or 1095), so will take a high polish. Easy to sharpen and deburr easily.

Examples from simplest to least simple (fewest to most alloying elements): White paper steel, blue paper steel, superblue steel. In Western steels, look for 1095 (or any steel starting with 10xx), 52100 and W2.

Complex steels: vary from moderately fine grained to coarse grained. Higher carbide volume, so don't take as acute an edge angle. The more complex (higher carbide volume), the less acute an edge they can sustain. Good to extreme edge retention (depending on carbide volume). Many have a decent amount of Cr so are stainless or semistainless. Can be a bugger to sharpen and especially to deburr, (especially the highly alloyed ones. And VG10).

Examples fom simplest to least simple: Ginsanko, AUS8, AUS10, VG10, SG2/R2, SRS15, Hap40, ZDP189.

Semistainless steels are somewhere in between. Many think that they offer the best of both worlds. Examples include SKD11, SKD12 and YXR7

Note that the heat treatment that the Smith uses is at least as important as the actual steel uesd in determining the characteristics of the final knife.
 
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Delat

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sorry, I meant like what is each steel good for in terms of "x steel is good for veggies, y steel is best for cutting meat and fish, and z steel is good for overall sharpness"

You’re approaching it from the wrong direction. You’d be better off first asking what maker is best for your needs, then choosing a steel from among the maker’s offerings, assuming he offers multiple steels. If you look at “recommend a knife” threads, responses are never “buy any knife with blue 1 steel.” Instead they’re “buy a Yoshikane/Wakui/Wat/etc”.

A Kurosaki in AS, VG10, or R2 will all cut about the same but in a vastly different manner than any Saji in AS, VG10, or R2. Some people here wouldn’t buy a half-price Shibata AS for $150, but would pay $600 for a Y Tanaka AS.

The grind and profile are way more important than the steel. The exception is unless you need stainless or semi-stainless for something really specific where stainless makes a difference - e.g. salty humid environment, acidic foods, lazy cook, etc. Over time you might develop a preference for a particular type or class of steels (I’m partial to AS myself), but you’d still buy a knife based on the maker first and not the steel first.

If you’re interested in the strengths and weaknesses of steels, a better way to formulate your questions might be around things like edge retention, toughness vs hardness, ease of sharpening, fineness of the grain/carbides, etc. Those are somewhat higher level than “which steel is best for vegetables” but more applicable.
 

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Very good article, thanks for posting!
 

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I get where OP is coming from in asking the question, so to add a little concreteness to the answers--

If you're a home cook looking for a good all around gyuto, know how to sharpen reasonably well, and aren't fussed about reactivity, practically any steel will work for you. 'Middle of the road' steels that sharpen pretty easily but react a bit less and retain an edge better than simple carbon, e.g. 52100, SKD, Hitachi blues are probably good choices, but many many others will work well too.

If you're a home cook and know your partner/kids/roommate is going to beat on your nice knife and leave it dirty on the counter overnight, a tough stainless steel like AEB-L at lower hardness might be a good choice. The same might be a good pick for a petty you'll be using for a lot of acidic fruit.

If you have relatives who are gentle with their knives but will never bother to sharpen them (so you'll have to do it when you visit), something wear resistant, reasonably priced, and not too unpleasant to sharpen like R2 would be good.

If you're after a slicer that won't make much board contact in a home context when you can touch it up easily anytime, a simple carbon like the Hitachi whites or 1095 is a great choice. These are great for learning to sharpen with too.

A line knife used in a pro environment where it needs to stay sharp through service on a variety of tasks might be better be suited by a very wear resistant steel like ZDP-189 or HAP40.

Hopefully this gives a feel for some common use cases, but definitely don't take it as overly prescriptive.
 
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