What is Ginsan Steel? (properties and comparison)

Shigeki Tanaka Ginsan Steel knife

What is Ginsan Steel?

Ginsan steel is stainless steel with a pure composition of Carbon, Chromium, and Iron. Ginsan steel is also referred to as Silver #3 Steel or Gin-3 and is manufactured by Japanese Hitachi Metals Ltd. The purity of Ginsan steel ensures it is a top performer in terms of edge retention and corrosion resistance.

Ginsan steel is closely identical to Shirogami #2 steel, but its high purity reduces its Rockwell hardness making it easier to sharpen than the Aogami and Shirogami steel series.  It is designed to be stainless steel that can achieve a sharp edge and be easily maintained, making it perfect for kitchen knives.

Ginsan Steel Composition

  • Carbon C 0.95% – 1.10%: Increases edge retention, hardness, and tensile strength. It also improves steel resistance to wear, abrasion, and corrosion.
  • Chromium Cr 13.00%-14.50%: Formation of Chromium carbides. Increases the blade’s hardness, tensile strength, and corrosion resistance.
  • Manganese Mn 0.60%: improves the strength and hardness of steel. When the steel is heat-treated, hardenability is improved with increased manganese.
  • Phosphorous P 0.03%: Considered an impurity but may Increases the strength and improves machinability of steel
  • Silicon Si 0.35%: Increases strength and heat resistance.
  • Sulfur S 0.02%: Improves machinability but is regarded as an impurity in high quantities.

Properties of Ginsan stainless steel

Ginsan Steel Hardness

Ginsan stainless steel has a hardness of 61HRC as per the Rockwell hardness scale. This hardness level is high, thanks to the high carbon content of up to 1.1%. With high carbon content, Ginsan steel is expected to be excellent in other properties like edge retention and wear resistance, as discussed below.

Ginsan Steel Edge retention

The edge retention of steel is directly proportional to its hardness. Thanks to the high hardness, Ginsan steel offers excellent edge retention properties. The blades do not dull fast, even with repetitive usage. Therefore, if you are out for a Japanese kitchen knife that does not require frequent sharpening, check knives with Ginsan blade Steel. 

Ginsan Steel Wear resistance.

Because of regular usage, knife blades are expected to wear from abrasion and sharpening. The wear resistance of steel is directly determined by its hardness, Ginsan being hard steel with a hardness level of 61HRC offers excellent wear resistance. When choosing a knife, it is essential to choose a blade that does not wear out faster; otherwise, you will be out shopping for a knife all the time.

Ginsan Steel Corrosion resistance

The corrosion resistance of steel blades is determined by many factors, including use, and care. Steel with more than 12% chromium is categorized as stainless steel and corrosion-resistant. Ginsan steel contains 13% to 14.5% chromium which is enough to make it stainless steel.

Ginsan Steel rust

While Ginsan stainless steel can fight rust and corrosion, it is not 100% corrosion resistant. This means that it can still rust and stain if left in corrosive environments. For instance, you cannot leave the knife in salty water overnight and expect it not to stain. With that said, ensure to keep Ginsan knives clean and dry. You can also apply a coat of mineral oil on the blades for long-term storage to keep rusting at bay.

Ginsan Steel Toughness

As a rule of thumb, hard steels tend to offer poor toughness, which is true with Ginsan stainless steel. Because of the high hardness, the steel does not provide the best toughness. This means it is highly susceptible to breaking, chipping, and cracking under impact and force. 

Note that Ginsan blades do not offer the worst toughness out there, but do not use them for very tough or challenging applications if you want them to last longer.

You will often find Ginsan steel used in most kitchen knives with a blade length of up to 9 inches; these kinds of knives do not require high toughness as they are used for light work. If you need a tougher knife for cutting bones, find knives made from Sandvik 14C28N blade steel.

Ease of sharpening Ginsan Steel

The ease of sharpening steel is determined by its hardness and wear resistance. By now, you can already tell that Ginsan steel is not easy to sharpen because it has high hardness and great wear resistance. This is not to say that the blade will never get a sharp edge, but it will take you more time and energy to get a crisp, sharp edge. 

Ginsan stainless steel equivalent

Ginsan stainless steel is made to offer the same properties as high carbon steel while maintaining its stainless property. It is very similar to Shirogami #2. Ginsan and Shirogami #2 have the same hardness level, but Shirogami #2 offers slightly better edge retention.

Ginsan vs Blue steel

The main difference between Ginsan steel and any other blue steel is that Ginsan is stainless steel with chromium (13.5%) in its alloy composition. On the other hand, blue steels are high carbon steels with little chromium in their composition hence do not qualify as stainless steel.

In terms of hardness, Blue steels tend to offer higher Rockwell hardness of up to 65HRC. The high hardness gives them better edge retention than Ginsan steel. The better edge retention is at the expense of corrosion resistance and ease of sharpening. 

Despite having a high HRC of up to 65, Blue blade steel will offer better toughness than Ginsan blade steel. This is due to the alloy composition of Blue steel that contains Tungsten which greatly improves its toughness even when the steel is hardened at high temperature. This is the same property you will find in T10 steel for katanas.

Due to their superior edge retention capabilities and toughness, high carbon Blue steel knives tend to be much more expensive than Ginsan steel. However, it is worth noting that Ginsan steel edge holding and retention is pretty good and can easily much the lower Blue steel#1 and Blue steel #2.

It will be much easier to achieve a sharp edge with the Ginsan blade than with blue steel blades. Maintaining a Ginsan steel knife will also be much easier than maintaining any blue steel blade as they require care to prevent rusting.

My personal preference would be a knife with Ginsan as it is stainless, easy to sharpen, offers good edge retention close to Blue steel #1, and finally, it is much cheaper. 

Ginsan vs VG10

Ginsan stainless steel and VG10 stainless steel offer almost similar performance. The Rockwell hardness of Ginsan is about 61HRC, while VG10 is approximately 58-61 HRC. However, there is something unique about Ginsan steel. Its high purity level enables it to achieve a very sharp edge beating VG10 steel blades in edge retention. 

Ginsan steel edge retention properties behave like that of other high carbon steels. In my experience, I have also found it a bit easier to sharpen Ginsan knives than VG10 knives, perhaps due to Ginsan being more fine-grained and lacking Vanadium Carbides which tend to be highly wear resistant.

Ginsan steel is however limited in terms of toughness.  VG10 steel will offer a slightly better toughness due to its alloy composition that incorporates Cobalt and Vanadium, which improves its hardness and wear resistance and enhances its toughness.

Both blade steels are stainless, but VG10 will offer slightly better corrosion resistance due to the high amount of Chromium and the addition of Vanadium in its alloy composition. I prefer Ginsan steel over VG10 Steel due to its high  Edge retention capability.

Is Ginsan stainless steel good knife steel?

Ginsan stainless steel has all the properties of good knife steel. It has great corrosion resistance, excellent edge retention, and good wear resistance. It is a great fit for kitchen knives; the only downside is that it exhibits poor toughness due to its relatively high Rockwell hardness. Sharpening Ginsan steel is not that hard and can be done with Whetstones or normal aluminum oxide abrasive sharpeners. 

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