Japanese Knife Steel Types - Best Japanese Steel Grades

Posted by Tara Hohenberger on

Japanese Knife Steel Types a Complete Guide

Japanese steels are celebrated for its diversity of range, including high carbon steel known for its hardness and sharpness, as well as stainless and Damascus steel varieties, each offering unique qualities. This variety found in Japanese steel caters to different needs, from traditional single-edged blades, to modern designs emphasizing ease of maintenance and aesthetic appeal.

With all the available steel types available for Japanese kitchen knives it can be pretty overwhelming to make a decision. There are a range of qualities that make one steel better for some people, but not necessarily the best choice for others. Nothing is black and white, but keep in mind that all the knives we select are appropriate for use in professional kitchens.  When it comes to choosing which steel is best for you, a lot depends on what you’re cutting, how much daily use the knife sees.

How to Select the Best Type of Steel

The first question to consider when choosing a type of steel is — do you want a carbon steel knife blade, which can get incredibly sharp, but might be subject to oxidation or rust, or a high-quality stainless or semi-stainless steel, which when made in Japan will typically have a very sharp edge that stays that way for a long time.


When selecting a type of steel, durability is key. All of our knives are designed to last a lifetime and our warranty covers any issue or manufacturing defects. One steel that is a favorite of chefs is Aogami Super. This high performing steel is one of the most sought after in knife making. It is a high carbon steel, but is very durable and tough with great resistance to chipping.

Other high hardness steels, with high scores on the Rockwell scale like powdered steels are durable in that they can hold an edge for an extremely long time.


Knives crafted from pure carbon steel get crazy sharp. Their high carbon content makes for quality chef knives, drawing from the history of Japanese swords. Top steel options for carbon blades include any of the blue steel options and white steel like shirogami. Newer powdered steels offer a sharper edge, but with easier maintenance.

Edge Retention

Generally, the harder the steel (higher number on Rockwell scale, the better the edge retention.  The hardest of all is found in HAP40, a high technology powdered steel. Other great options include SG2, R2 and HSPS (high speed powdered steel)

Ease of Sharpening

For ease of sharpening, especially for beginners, VG10 is a great option. It is still a hard steel but is very responsive to sharpening stones. Other common steels and blends include Inox and some composition of chromium, molybdenum, vanadium and tungsten.

Japanese Knife Steel Types

The following section breaks down some essential details about various Japanese steel types used by blacksmiths.

Powdered Steel

    • Powdered steel was originally developed for industrial use but has been used in kitchen knife making to great success. There is some variation with different blends in this type of steel.

    • R2 /SG2 This ‘super steel’ is a stainless, powdered steel blend that gets very sharp and holds an edge for a long time.

    • HAP40 - This powdered metallurgy high speed tool steel is manufactured by f Hitachi Metals Ltd. It has a fine microstructure, which results in blades with a notable toughness and edge retention. It’s among the hardest steels we carry.

High Carbon Steel

    • White Steel #1 + #2 - This pure carbon steel is favored by blacksmiths because it responds well to different types of forging, creating a great end product. 

    • Blue Steel #1 + #2 - Blue Carbon Steels are a bit tougher with better edge retention than white steels.

    • Aogami Super -  This blue steel is one of the most sought after in knife making because it’s tough, gets super sharp and holds an edge for a long time.

Stainless Steel / Corrosion-Resistant Steel 

    • VG10 - This high quality stainless steel is one of the most widely used steel types, it is easy to sharpen, has solid edge retention while still being easy to sharpen.  It is manufactured by the Takefu Special Steel Company and has an HRC of 60-61.

    • Inox is a stainless steel with a long history of use in knife making. The specific blend is created by adding chromium to carbon steel which creates the rust and corrosion resistant property that Inox is known for.

    • AUS-10 - A tried and true stainless steel prized for its durability, ease of sharpening and affordability.

    • Damascus Steel - damascus is not one specific steel type, but refers to a technique of folding various numbers of layers to create an aesthetic detail. It doesn’t necessarily affect cutting performance but makes for attractive blades with a rippled wave effect.

Japanese Knife Steel FAQs

    • What type of steel is used in Japanese knives? There are a lot of steel types used by Japanese craftsmen, but the first question to ask when choosing a steel type is whether you want Carbon vs. Stainless Steel.

    • What is the difference between blue steel 1 and 2? The differences are subtle and depend greatly on the skill of the blacksmith, but generally Blue Steel #2 is tougher.

    • What is HRC for Japanese knives? The HRC range for Japanese steel is 56-66. The average for the knives we carry is 60 and up.

    • What is the hardest knife steel? Powdered steels are typically the hardest, with HAP40 at the top.

    • Is blue or white steel better? Like so much in knife selection, this depends on personal preference.  It’s also dependent on the skill and heat treating done by the individual blacksmith. Typically blue steel holds an edge a bit better but so much depends on how it’s made.

    • Why is Japanese steel so good? Japanese steel itself is made at a higher hardness which equates to longer edge retention.  Talent of blacksmiths is unparalleled.

    • What is tamahagane steel? It’s a steel made of iron sand, it’s somewhat rare due to its lengthy production process. 

    • What is r2 steel?   It’s a powdered Steel, also known as HSPS (high speed powdered steel) or SG2

    • Why is Japanese steel so good? The production process results in a very high quality product that is ideal for knife crafting.

    • What is hrc? The Rockwell C scale, abbreviated HRC (Hardness Rockwell C) is a rating on the hardness of a material. The higher the number indicates higher levels of harness.

    • What steel does Sakai use? Sakai Takayuki are masters of many types of steel. They are particularly renowned for their use of White Steels in traditional single edged knives.

Next Steps 

In choosing which steel is right for your knife, consider how the knife will be used and what properties are most important. Choose between carbon or stainless steel, find a price point works and

Shop our website for Japanese Chef Knives in a wide range of steels for every skill level and budget.

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