Shirogami: A Guide to Japanese White Paper Steel
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When it comes to Japanese knives, the reason they’re so much sharper and hold their edge so well is the STEEL they’re made from.
Shirogami steel, also known as White Paper Steel, is one of four main types of Japanese high-carbon steel commonly used in making knives. Its superior edge retention and ability to take a very sharp edge has made it one of the most popular types of steel used by knife makers.
I’ll tell you all the ins and outs of shirogami steel so be ready because this article will keep you on the “edge” of your seat!
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In this post we'll cover:
- 1 What is Shirogami steel?
- 2 Variations of Shirogami steel
- 3 How is Shirogami steel made?
- 4 Why is Shirogami steel popular?
- 5 What are the advantages of Shirogami steel?
- 6 What are the disadvantages of Shirogami steel?
- 7 What are the best types of knives made with Shirogami steel?
- 8 What’s the history of Shirogami steel?
- 9 What’s the difference between Shirogami and Aogami?
- 10 What’s the difference between Shirogami and VG-10?
- 11 FAQs
- 12 Conclusion
What is Shirogami steel?
Shirogami steel, also known as White Paper Steel, is a type of Japanese high-carbon steel commonly used in making knives.
It is one of the most popular types of steel used by knife makers due to its superior edge retention and ability to take a very sharp edge.
Shirogami Japanese high-carbon steel has the least amount of impurities.
It’s made up of carbon (C) (up to 2.7%) and iron (Fe) and is often referred to as ‘white paper steel’ due to the white paper manufacturers use to wrap the blade after forging.
The steel’s name comes from Shiro, meaning white, and gami meaning paper, referring to its white appearance.
The steel has a relatively high carbon content of between 0.6%-0.75%, with trace amounts of other elements such as Manganese, Silicon, and Phosphorous.
Shirogami steel is often used in combination with different cladding materials, such as stainless steel, which creates an aesthetically pleasing contrast.
Its high carbon content makes it particularly suitable for making hard-use knives, such as bushcraft and outdoor knives, due to its toughness and durability.
Its high performance in kitchen knives is due to the combination of its hardness, which allows for very sharp edges, and its superior edge retention, which allows for long periods between sharpening.
Shirogami steel is one of the most popular types of steel used by knife makers and is highly sought after for its superior edge retention, ability to take a very sharp edge, and toughness.
It is perfect for professional-grade cutlery.
Despite its popularity, Shirogami steel can be difficult to work with and tends to rust easily if not properly cared for.
As a result, many knife makers often opt for stainless steel or other cladding materials to reduce the risk of rusting.
Proper maintenance and sharpening techniques are essential for getting the best performance out of this type of steel.
Variations of Shirogami steel
Different variations of Shirogami steel exist, with the main difference being the amount of carbon in the steel.
These three variations are called Shirogami 1, Shirogami 2, and Shirogami 3, and they’re used to make Japanese knives, razors, and other sharp utensils.
Shirogami 1 is a type of Shirogami steel, which has lower levels of carbon and higher levels of chromium.
This steel is harder than Shirogami 2, making it more difficult to work with but also less prone to corrosion.
Shirogami #1 contains around 1.25–1.35% of carbon (C) and is the hardest form of high-carbon steel.
It rates at 61–64 HRC on the Rockwell hardness scale and is an excellent choice for making razors and other fine-cutting tools.
Shirogami 1 is known for its exceptional edge retention and toughness.
It is also quite hardy and can be honed, polished, and sharpened to create a beautiful finish (like the mirror-like kyomen finish).
This type of Shirogami steel is great for knives that will be used infrequently or for more demanding tasks, such as heavy-duty chopping or slicing.
It is also perfect for chefs who need to make precise and clean cuts.
Shirogami 2 is a type of Shirogami steel, which has higher levels of carbon and lower levels of chromium.
This steel is slightly softer than Shirogami 1, making it easier to work with but also more prone to corrosion.
Shirogami #2 has slightly less carbon than Shirogami #1, containing around 1.05–1.15% of carbon (C).
It rates at 60–63 HRC on the Rockwell hardness scale and is often used in the manufacture of Japanese kitchen knives.
Shirogami 2 is also known for its superb edge retention, allowing it to hold an extremely sharp blade.
It is also quite resilient and can be honed and polished to create a beautiful finish.
This type of Shirogami steel is perfect for knives that will be used regularly, such as kitchen and outdoor knives.
It is also great for more delicate tasks, such as filleting fish or sushi preparation.
Shirogami #3 is not as common. It has less carbon than Shirogami #2 and more chromium than Shirogami #1.
Shirogami #3 is the softest form of Shirogami steel, with only 0.80–0.90% of carbon (C). It rates at 58–61 HRC on the Rockwell hardness scale and is less likely to chip or break.
This type of steel is the hardest and most difficult to work with, but it still has great edge retention (although not as good as #1 and #2) and toughness.
Shirogami 3 is perfect for knives that will be used in demanding situations or tasks requiring precision, such as deboning poultry or filleting fish.
This type of steel offers less edge retention properties, but it’s tougher than the other two Shirogami steels.
How is Shirogami steel made?
Shirogami has a high carbon content but low alloy content. It is made by combining pure iron ore, ball-milled carbon, and clay in a furnace.
This process is done repeatedly until the desired hardness of the steel is reached.
Once this hardness is achieved, the steel is quenched in an oil bath to refine it further and eliminate any impurities.
Finally, it is tempered to ensure that the steel has the correct hardness and will not become too brittle.
This process can take several days to complete, as each step requires precision and care.
Shirogami steel is then ready for knife making and can be further honed, polished, and sharpened to create a high-quality knife.
Why is Shirogami steel popular?
Shirogami steel is a popular choice amongst chefs as it can be sharpened to a mirror-like finish and has great edge retention.
Shirogami steel is unique because of its purity and reliability.
It’s the purest form of high-carbon steel, which makes it great for knife making and other uses.
It has excellent properties, making it a great choice for knife makers and users alike.
Plus, it’s not uncommon for a Shirogami knife to retain its edge for months with proper care and maintenance.
It’s also relatively easy to sharpen and can be done quickly with a good-quality sharpening stone.
Furthermore, Shirogami steel is often combined with different cladding materials, such as stainless steel, which creates a beautiful pattern and contrast that is aesthetically pleasing.
Finally, Shirogami steel is well known for its toughness and durability.
This makes it an ideal choice for long-lasting kitchen knives used to cut through meat, fish, and vegetables.
What are the advantages of Shirogami steel?
- Superior edge retention: Shirogami steel is well known for its superior edge retention, allowing knives to remain sharp for longer periods of time.
- High quality cuts: Shirogami steel can be sharpened to a mirror-like finish, allowing for clean and precise cuts.
- Aesthetically pleasing: Shirogami steel is often combined with different cladding materials, which create a beautiful contrast and pattern.
- Toughness & durability: Shirogami steel is known for its toughness and durability, making it an ideal choice for long-lasting kitchen knives.
- Low maintenance: With proper care and maintenance, Shirogami steel requires very little upkeep to maintain its edge.
What are the disadvantages of Shirogami steel?
- Expensive: Shirogami steel is typically more expensive than other types of knife-making steels, making it a less attractive option for some knife makers.
- Rusts easily: Shirogami steel is prone to rusting if not properly cared for, as it is made of high carbon content. It’s also highly reactive and will rust or corrode when exposed to extreme conditions.
- Difficulty to work with: Shirogami steel can be difficult to work with due to its hardness. As a result, many knife makers often opt for stainless steel or other cladding materials to reduce the risk of rusting.
- Brittle: Unfortunately, Shirogami steel is quite brittle, making it susceptible to chipping and breaking. This can be especially problematic when attempting more complex tasks.
What are the best types of knives made with Shirogami steel?
Shirogami steel is also used for boning knives, which are useful when cutting through meat or fish.
These knives are ideal for sushi and sashimi preparation.
But let’s not forget shirogami is also popular for outdoor knives, such as bushcraft and survival knives.
Shirogami steel is a great choice for many types of blades because of its edge retention properties and toughness, making it ideal for both professional chefs and experienced outdoorsmen.
What’s the history of Shirogami steel?
Shirogami steel has a long and rich history in Japan.
Since the Edo period (1603-1868), Japanese bladesmiths have been making their own types of steel.
They experimented with different quantities of carbon, chromium, and other elements to create their own unique alloys.
Shirogami was first developed in the late 19th century by blacksmiths in the Nara region of Japan.
The steel was initially used to make tools and weapons, but it later became popular for making kitchen knives and other cutlery.
In the 20th century, this steel was further developed and refined to become one of the most popular types of steel used in kitchen knives.
Today, Shirogami steel is still widely used in the knife industry and is known for its superior edge retention, toughness, and corrosion resistance.
It is also popular for its traditional Japanese look and feel, making it a favorite among knife enthusiasts.
What’s the difference between Shirogami and Aogami?
We cover the differences between Japanese Shirogami (white paper steel) and Aogami (blue paper steel) here, but here’s a short breakdown of the main points:
- Shirogami is purer – it has fewer impurities like phosphorus (P) and sulfur (S).
- Aogami has tungsten (W) and chromium (Cr) added to it, which makes it more durable and resistant to corrosion.
- Shirogami is more brittle than Aogami.
- Aogami is harder to sharpen, but it holds its edge for longer.
- Aogami is more expensive because of the additional elements.
- Aogami holds its edge better than Shirogami.
- Shirogami can become sharper than Aogami, but the edge won’t last as long.
What’s the difference between Shirogami and VG-10?
Shirogami and VG-10 are two types of steel used to make knives.
Shirogami is a high-carbon steel that is known for its sharpness and edge retention.
It is also known for its ease of sharpening, but it is prone to rusting and corrosion.
VG-10, on the other hand, is a stainless steel that is more resistant to corrosion and rusting. It is also known for its hardness and edge retention, but it is more difficult to sharpen.
If you’re looking for a knife that’s easy to sharpen and will stay sharp for a long time, then shirogami is the way to go.
Its high-carbon steel makes it super sharp, and its edge retention is top-notch.
But if you want something that won’t rust or corrode, then VG-10 is the way to go.
Its stainless steel makes it resistant to corrosion and rusting, and its hardness and edge retention are also impressive.
So, it’s really up to you to decide which one is best for your needs.
Is Shirogami high-carbon steel?
Yes, shirogami is a high-carbon steel.
It contains 0.6-0.95% carbon and 1.00-1.30% manganese, making it relatively hard and difficult to work with compared to other steels that contain lower amounts of these elements.
However, Shirogami’s high carbon content makes it ideal for creating strong and durable blades with excellent edge retention properties.
This is why Shirogami steel is widely used for kitchen knives, outdoor knives, and Japanese-style knives.
High carbon steel is like a superhero of the steel world – it’s got more than 0.6% carbon content, which gives it extra strength, makes it super resistant to wear and tear, and keeps it sharp for longer.
Are Shirogami knives good?
Yes, Shirogami knives are good and can be used for many different tasks.
The steel is known for its exceptional edge retention and toughness, making it perfect for both kitchen knives and outdoor knives.
It is also great for more delicate tasks such as filleting fish or sushi preparation.
Overall, Shirogami steel is very well-suited for a variety of uses, making it an excellent option for anyone looking for a high-quality knife.
Can Shirogami knives be sharpened?
Yes, Shirogami knives can be sharpened. The steel is very hard and difficult to work with, so you will need special tools to sharpen the blade.
You can use a whetstone or sharpening stone to sharpen the blade and keep it in good condition.
However, you should be careful with how often you sharpen the knife, as over-sharpening can cause damage to the blade.
It is best to use professional tools and techniques for sharpening Shirogami knives.
If you are serious about sharpening your Japanese knives, consider buying a special sharpening jig for a precise angle
Does Shirogami steel rust?
Yes, Shirogami steel can rust if it is not properly cared for.
The steel is more prone to corrosion than other types of steel, so it is important to keep the knife clean and dry after use.
You can also apply a thin layer of oil to the blade to help protect it from rust.
If the knife does rust, you can use an abrasive cloth or steel wool to remove the rust and polish the blade back to its original shine.
It is also important to store the knife in a cool, dry place so that it does not get exposed to moisture, which can lead to corrosion.
The main reason why Shirogami steel rusts is because it contains high amounts of chromium.
Chromium helps to increase the hardness and toughness of the steel, but it also makes it more prone to rust and corrosion.
Why choose Shirogami steel?
If you’re looking for a reliable and pure steel, then Shirogami is the way to go. Here are some of the reasons why:
- It’s a traditional steel that has been around for centuries.
- It has a high carbon content and very few impurities.
- It’s the purest form of high-carbon steel, making it great for knife-making and other uses.
- It has excellent properties, making it a great choice for knife makers and users.
Yes, shirogami steel is a high-quality steel that can be sharpened to a mirror-like finish and has great edge retention. It’s made using a high carbon content.
However, Shirogami is also quite brittle and highly reactive, so it’s important to take PROPER care of it to avoid chipping or rusting, so it might not be for everyone.
Oops, your shirogami knife has chipped! Here’s how to properly remove the chip and restore it to health
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Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.