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?
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.
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
Wood Butcher wrote:
Check the link below.
check the bottom of the webpage for additional links.
Check this site for shirogami's (white steel) chemical content:
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
FWIW, Fine Woodworker found almost no difference in the edge taking
and holding ability of either metal in a review of chisels a while
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.
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.
Knight-Toolworks & Custom Planes
Custom made wooden planes at reasonable prices
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.
On Tue, 11 May 2004 05:50:50 GMT, Steve Knight
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.
Reply to jclarke at ae tee tee global dot net
<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"
Reply to jclarke at ae tee tee global dot net
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.
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."
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.
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