Blue vs White Steel

I revived a Japan Woodworker catalog the other day and saw many of their edged tools listed as being made with Blue or White steel. Does anybody know what the properties and characteristics (carbon content, alloying metals, heat treatment, etc.) of each are?
Art
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Sigh. Dyslexic fingers again. Make that "I received a ..."
Art

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Gee, I thought he was talking aout reviving a catalogue. How could you make the presumptious leap to "received?" Why, it changes the whole meaning of the post!
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wrote:

Probably someone does, but there's no widespread agreement on them outside Japan. Try reading rec.knives and the very good Steel FAQ.
Either one is better than almost any other grade of steel you're likely to find.
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Smert' spamionam

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Bernard R
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FWW #139 (December 1999) did a review of 16 different brands of chisels.
The "blue steel" came in second, the "white steel" came in first. Both were stated to be from Japan Woodworker in the text of the article. The author also stated that JW told him the blue should have a "more durable edge and will hold up better in abrasive woods like teak or exotic hardwoods."
Wood Butcher wrote:

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Hi Art,
Check the link below.
http://www.njahs.org/communitybb/messages/798.html
check the bottom of the webpage for additional links.
Check this site for shirogami's (white steel) chemical content:
http://www.brisa.fi/jap.html
I don't know the exact chemical content of blue steel, but chances are it has more carbon in it. It can take a higher temper and thus a harder, longer lasting edge.
From what I understand only a select group of toolmakers are allowed to work with blue steel as it is more difficult to work compared with white steel. If a maker has blue and white steel tools buying either should be a good investment...as opposed to buying white steel tools from a maker who only offers white steel tools. Does that make any sense?
FWIW, Fine Woodworker found almost no difference in the edge taking and holding ability of either metal in a review of chisels a while back.
Keep in mind too that cheap Japanese chisels and plane irons are just that. If you buy from a well known maker, though not necessarily the most expensive maker, you'll wind up with very good tools.
Layne
wrote:

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it depends on the tool and the blacksmith. for the average tool blue steel will hold an edge longer in abrasives woods. but with a really high end blacksmith good white steel is king. I have a really good sword steel chisel that blows away my blue steel tools. so it depends more on how the tool is made and it's quality.
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I suppose the logic goes that a superior material in the hands of one less skilled will be inferior to the product produced by some one more skilled using lesser quality (read: quality being relative) materials.
FWIW, blue steel is supposed to be harder to work correctly and only select toolmakers are sold this type of steel.
Layne
On Tue, 11 May 2004 05:50:50 GMT, Steve Knight

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Layne <> wrote:

A master toolmaker isn't going to say "well, blue steel is good so I'll make my tools out of it". He's going to say "I want to make a chisel (or saw, or plane, or semiconductor fabrication machine) so what's the best material to use". He'll (being a master and specialized in that art) have experience with a number of materials and a number of designs and so will (unless there is some very unusual requirement that requires some experimentation) be able to pick from his experience the best material for the particular tool and his particular working techniques. Since his techniques are different from those of the other master toomaker across the road he'll likely choose not quite the same material. One may choose some specific formulation of Hitachi blue label steel while another another may choose a white label steel and a third might choose pieces cut off of hundred year old anchor chains while a fourth might choose to laminate two or more steels that may or may not be any of the above together. And this leaves aside the fact that Hitachi doesn't run the only steel mill in the world. Now, if all four of those are at the same skill level then all four of them will produce absolutely excellent chisels or plane irons or saw blades that will cut anything you need to cut and last a very long time and hold an edge like grim death. As to which will last longer or cut better, at that level I doubt that you're going to be able to tell a difference.
There are hundreds if not thousands of varieties of steel. The Japanese "white steel" and Japanese "blue steel" are apparently both families of tool steels made by Hitachi with a little bit of chromium and tungsten added to that sold with a blue label vs none added to that sold with a white label. They are by no means the only steels in existence. One company I worked for had a large row of bookshelves filled with specification sheets for different steels, and those were just the standard formulations from the SAE and the like, not the proprietary and special-purpose formulations, each of which has subtly different properties. The added chromium and tungsten don't make "blue steel" "better". They make it "different". Improving one property generally costs somewhere else--whether that cost outweighs the gain depends on the application and the toolmaker. The forging techinque used, the total amount of deformation of the metal, and the heat treatment all account for a great deal, and they are not interchangeable between steels--follow the steps that make an excellent tool with one formulation and you'll get crap with another one whose properties do not fit well with those techniques.
Whether some master toolmaker somewhere has a process that will make a better tool using some particular flavor of Hitachi white label steel than any toolmaker can make with a Hitachi blue label steel I don't know, but to simply assert that it is a matter of skill overcoming an inferior material is a gross oversimplification of the situation.

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--John
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On Wed, 12 May 2004 08:51:14 -0400, "J. Clarke"
big snip

What else is there? Luck?
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Layne <> wrote:

<Sigh>. Please reread the part you snipped. It's called "appropriatechoice of materials".
You need to get out of your head the notion that one particular formulation of steel is "superior" to another in any absolute sense.
Do you consider "blue steel" to be "superior" to laminated sword steel that has never seen the inside of the Hitachi mill and is thus neither "white" nor "blue"?
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--John
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On Thu, 13 May 2004 07:46:23 -0400, "J. Clarke"

You never read the part where I said "quality being relative". I never said blue steel was superior.

What I meant by my posting *was* buying a tool made with white steel from a toolmaker who's qualified to make tools with *both* blue and white steels (because Hitachi sells blue steel only to toolmakers with experience and knowledge) is logically better than buying a white steel tool from a maker who doesn't offer blue steel tools because he's not qualified (by Hitachi) to use blue steel.
Layne
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Layne <> wrote:

Or he doesn't get his steel from Hitachi or he doesn't like "blue steel" for any application.
Basically you're substituting the judgment of some bureaucrat at Hitachi for proper research.

--
--John
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On Wed, 12 May 2004 21:42:40 -0700, Layne <> wrote:

knowledge. the master toolmaker is unlikely to choose an inappropriate steel for the tool at hand.
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Thanks all for the replies & links. I've been away from the computer for the last couple of days & have some catching up to do.
JWW also emailed me this: "Blue steel is an alloyed high carbon and White steel is an unalloyed high carbon. Both hold an edge better than any western chisel and are hardened to 54-56 Rockwell. The Blue steel will hold an edge longer when used on tropical hardwoods and holds up against abrasives in woods such as Teak. You cant really compare these steels to High Speed Steel they are much harder but you will never want to put a Japanese chisel on a grinder you will ruin it. Our chisels should only be sharpened on flat stones. Hope this helps."
Art
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is almost kitchen knife soft. my blades are about rc60 and I have not found a japanese tool as soft. water hardening steel tend to be able to be hardened harder then oil or air hardening steel.
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Wood Butcher wrote...

Hitachi's Yasugi facilities produce a number of steel and other metal products. They are sometimes identified as "Yasuki" (because they're made at the Yasugi plant) or "YSS". The steel stock sold to tool makers is wrapped in paper or labeled. The color of the paper or label indicates the type of steel.
White steel is a common shorthand name for white paper steel ("shirogami hagane") which can be any of several simple high carbon, water hardening steel grades. The carbon content varies by grade, but runs in the 1 to 1.5% range; tolerances are fairly tight at around +/- 0.1%. There are trace amounts of the impurities sulfur and phosphorous. Other alloying elements may be present as well (Hitachi doesn't publish the exact formulation), but all reliable indications are that there are none.
Blue paper steel ("aogami hagane") is also offered in multiple grades, with carbon content ranging similarly to the "white" grades. However, blue steel also contains tungsten and chromium, and at least one grade contains molybdenum. I haven't been able to determine the amounts of these alloying elements, though, and their percentages and ratios would significantly affect the heat treatment and performance characteristics. If anyone has further details, please do post them.
There are other "colors" besides white and blue, but they are not important to the Japanese woodworking edge tools trade.
I haven't seen anything from Hitachi indicating that they limit distribution of these products to qualified smiths. However, I have been unable to find a source from which I can buy them. Hitachi has not answered my email inquiries.
Jim
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limited.
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