What is Stainless Steel?
Stainless steel is defined as having 10.5% or more chromium, which makes the steel less susceptible to rust or corrosion. Having said that, there are many varieties of stainless steels that meet that 10.5% requirement, but have other subtle differences. A common measurement of hardness is HRC (Hardness Rockwell C). This is a hardness scale based on the indentation hardness of a material.
Stainless steel kitchen knives are by far the most common and require the least amount of maintenance. As such, they are definitely the knife we recommend for someone just starting this knife journey, or just looking for a solid workhorse.
Common Japanese Kitchen Knife Stainless Steel
VG-10 is a very common stainless steel used in Japanese kitchen knives. VG stands for V Gold, gold being the highest standard. VG-10 has 1% carbon, so it is still a relatively hard metal with an HRC of 60-61. AUS-10 is another commonly used stainless steel. It has a slightly higher carbon content at 1.05% but an HRC of 59-60, so as you can tell there are other factors that affect the HRC.
One more slightly less common stainless steel that also makes for a great kitchen knife is Ginsan, also known as Silver-3. This metal has carbon between .95-1.05% and an HRC of 59-61.
What is High Carbon Steel?
There are a few types of carbon steel, most of them considered high carbon steel with carbon contents higher than the stainless steel used. Shirogami, also known as White steel, is the purest with carbon at 1.25-1.35% and an HRC of 65. Aogami, also known as Blue steel, has a similar carbon content but adds Tungsten and Chromium to the composition to make it more durable and increase corrosion resistance. I do like to point out, the amount of Chromium added to Aogomi, 0.5%, is significantly lower than the level in stainless steel. We will get into the specifics of Aogami in an article Aogami 1 vs 2 and Super Aogami.
Why You May Want A High Carbon Steel Kitchen Knife!
High carbon steel can be sharpened to a razor-sharp edge and maintain that edge for generally a very long time. However, the higher the carbon content the more brittle a knife becomes. Additionally, as the name suggest, stainless steel is much easier to maintain than high carbon steel. High carbon steel knives need to be wiped down right after use. If you have ever noticed a master sushi chef, they have a rag and wipe down their knives right after use. They do this purely out of habit after decades of practice. High carbon knives, when they are cleaned, need to be dried immediately. Stainless steel knives are more forgiving.
Thus, it becomes a balancing act between sharpness and usability. As mentioned, there are a couple of different types of carbon steel that are used in Japanese kitchen knives, check out our article about different high carbon steel variants Shirogami and Aogami.
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