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Buying Japanese Knives in Japan

163 posts in this topic

I feel nothing when I pick up my wusthof

Now THERE I can't agree! I know I spend ten minutes looking for my favorite ballpoint pen to write a one-line memo...it's a pleasure to use something that works efficiently!

Yes, it is always nice to have something that works well, which is becoming increasingly rarer these days... :hmmm: I just meant that my wusthof, and many western knives, don't carry the same kind of traditions in its manufacturing. New wusthof knives are developed in laboratory style settings and finished in marketing rooms. The high end knife makers of Seki and other areas have a much more organic approach to the evolution of their knife designs. They seem more... alive.

Maintenance...the plain carbon steel ones are not only the highest maintenance, they are not supposed to be cleaned with hot water, or anything much harsher than soap. Since most Japanese cooking is not really greasy, and regular sharpening also cleans off dirty surfaces, that's no problem for home use. If you are using your knives in a professional kitchen, it is an important consideration - why not send an e-mail to some place like the JCK site and see what blade types they recommend for pro use?

Korin makes a line that are traditional Japanese knives with honiki wood handles and resin bolsters, but utilize a blend of stainless steel for blade construction. You can see them here. I think this is the route I might have to go. At work I am required to wash my knife in hot soapy water, which worries me about the impact of this on the carbon steel blades of other lines of Japanese knives. In the future I may buy some really nice, really expensive carbon steel Japanese knives for home use where I can use only hot water (no soap) to clean them, as recommended by Japanese knife manufacturers' sites. At least at home the health inspector can't get me.


Edited by itch22 (log)

-- Jason

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I prefer German style knives myself, but my husband has knives similar to the two that helenjp has in that second picture. He bought his for about $20 each at the local Asian market though. They're ok now that I'm used to them.


Cheryl

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I just happened across this thread and can add some comments.

You can get decent traditional knives at very reasonable prices. I'm not a sushi chef but I do eat a lot of sushi at various places around town. Every one of them use stainless of some form so I can't really comment on what is widely used carbon steel or stainless. I do know that carbon is the traditional material and gives the knife an extra weight to it over stainless because of the addition of iron to support the hard carbon steel core. There are white steel and blue steel. White steel can take a sharper edge but Blue steel holds it's edge longer. If you haven't purchased wetstones or waterstones and learned how to sharpen your own knives, this is a must if you are to own Japanese knives. Norton and King are excellent brands and are inexpensive. I would get a 200 or 400, 1000 and a 5000 grit stone. There are combination stones that give two different grits on both sides and is cheaper than buying the stones individually. HERE is a site that has them the cheapest.

THIS SITE as mentioned above has plenty of brands and lines to view. I have made several purchases from Koki and am fully convinced that the prices are the best on the net, the customer service is outstanding and the $7 shipping from from Japan for delivery in less than a week can't be surpassed. I have heard of people ordering their knife on a Thursday and getting in the mail Tuesday...from Japan!!

THIS SITE is another site that has many inexpensive traditional knives. I bought my wife a carbon steel Hon Kasumi Yanagi for $70. Look around, they're stuff is quality and their located in San Francisco bay area.

THIS SITE is the same as Japanese-Knife.com but is better organized. These guys are typically higher in price than anyone I've come across so keep that in mind when you make your purchase. My very first Yanagi was from Korin. I purchased Korin brand Ginzanko stainless Yanagi in 240mm. I got it on sale last year but their not on sale now. But I like it a lot but not enough to keep. Why? Because it's short and it's too light for a Yanagi. As I've ben told, there should be no downward pressure as you slice the fish. The weight of the knife is all that is exerted as you move the knife across the fish to slice. This knife doesn't cut it so to speak.

THIS SITE is Shinichi Watanabe's website and he hand makes every single knife. I have a blue steel deba from him that only cost $160. His knives may be out of some people's price point but I have to tell you that his knives are very high quality and you will be hard pressed to find better quality for the price...anywhere! Plus, his knives come sharper out of the box than any other brand (other than Murray Carter). My next Yanagi will be from Shinichi ever since I've seen one first hand and was in awe of his work. Seriously consider these knives as they will be the best you'll likely ever own. For example, you can get a 240mm Yanagi in white steel for $150 in his Master Grade professional knive's area. It's a no brainer to me.

THIS SITE is another place that I've looked at but have yet to buy from them so I can't lend an opinion about their offerings. Check them out as they also have a great selection. Check out the Kumagoro brand Yanagi. I heard about someone who just bought this and really likes it. $80 and you get a saya. Not bad at all.

Well, I gotta go, but you should be able to find something you can afford. To make a choice between stainless and carbon steel is tough. It depends on your personal thoughts, can you keep it clean and wipe it down or do you lay it down without wiping it? Carbon steel is the hands down choice for sharpness capability, weight and durability. SS will not be as sharp nor will it stay there as long as CS. White versus blue is a close call. The Blue has some stainless properties (but not stainless) in it but is more expensive than white. Many people can't tell the difference in shaprness and kurenga or duration of sharpness between the two so why spend the extra bucks on something that you won't notice? My next Yanagi will be in white. There is also Aogami super steel. This is a very good steel and if you see it at a reasonable price, get it. Koki has Miromoto and they make knives in AS.

Hope this helps. If you have any questions feel free to send me a PM.

Cheers,

Bob

p.s. There is a huge amount of information on Japanese knives here at Knife Forums.com in the Kitchen forum.


My Photography: Bob Worthington Photography

 

My music: Coronado Big Band
 

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I'm in Tokyo for the week - are there any places one can purchase Japanese cutlery ?

Any problems with traveling back home (US) with such purchase in stowed luggage ?

Will be in Shanghai and Bangkok next couple of weeks - any options on purchase there ?

Thanks

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Looking for a couple of recommendations for knife shops/makers in Osaka. The corporate chef (of the company I work for) and one of my sous chefs will be in Osaka (the Hyatt) for a chefs' exchange program, and I want them to pick me up some blades.

Looking for deals, but more importantly looking for something that I wouldn't normally find in the USA. I know this is rather vague, looking more an 11" slicer and a 6" boning knife, thin blade, not flexible-very much like the misono style handles, as well as the MAC handles. Quality and "something special".

Open to any suggestions. Need to know by this weekend.

Thanks in advance for the help.

Ducphat30


Patrick Sheerin

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have you checked out knifeforums? those guys are mad dog. i'll bet they know.

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take a look at 2 previous threads we have had, this first one also specifically discussed palces in Osaka:

http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=32371

http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showto...64983&hl=knives


<p><strong>Kristin Wagner</strong>, aka "torakris"

Manager, Membership

<a class="bbc_email" href="mailto:kwagner@egstaff.org" title="E-mail Link">kwagner@egstaff.org</a></p>

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JC tells us that there are two Masamoto knifemakers in Tokyo, one at Sumida and the other at Tsukiji. Is this like Sabatier in the fragmented old days? Certainly, there were vast quality differences then (I speak of late 1960s, early 1970s Sabatiers). I ask for this reason: I ordered a western-shaped Masamoto from Korin a while ago and had to return it because, while the blade was quite good, the handle was like a junior high school shop project: projecting metal made it enormously uncomfortable to use. Are the Tsukiji Masamotos different/better? Or is it a completely different outfit - different steel, different shapes, different sharpening, etc.? I'll be in Tokyo for a few days in April, and this information will find a practical application.

Thanks.

Does anybody know what/if there is a difference in workmanship? I understand that the shop in Tsukiji is the original location for Masamoto. There are only three distributors in the US for the Tsukiji blades (wholesale only) and there are quite a few retailers for the Sohonten blades. I'm guessing it is the same family but must have split off at some point.

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Does anybody know what/if there is a difference in workmanship? I understand that the shop in Tsukiji is the original location for Masamoto. There are only three distributors in the US for the Tsukiji blades (wholesale only) and there are quite a few retailers for the Sohonten blades. I'm guessing it is the same family but must have split off at some point.

I googled, only to find that there is surprisingly little information on the subject.

I sent an inquiry to someone who might know.

Hope I get a reply from him.

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Does anybody know what/if there is a difference in workmanship? I understand that the shop in Tsukiji is the original location for Masamoto. There are only three distributors in the US for the Tsukiji blades (wholesale only) and there are quite a few retailers for the Sohonten blades. I'm guessing it is the same family but must have split off at some point.

I googled, only to find that there is surprisingly little information on the subject.

I sent an inquiry to someone who might know.

Hope I get a reply from him.

I went to the presentation and show on Saturday and they said that all of the knives made at the Tsukiji shop are made by hand. Several of the Sohonten knives are machine manufactured (some hand finished, others all machine).

I am still a bit confused about the knife I purchased at the Tsukiji shop. I know that Masamoto is stamped on the knive and there a small circle stamp they put on the knives that are better quality but my knife also has an "A" stamped on the knife which I think means that it is Aoko (blue steel). There are also a couple of characters stamped on the back side of the knife.

When talking to the woman working at the show, I was unclear which Masamoto made the knife. She said that she thought it came from the sister company (Sohonten) but wasn't sure and said I should talk to the president of the company (he gave a knife sharpening demonstration at the show). Of course, he spoke very little English and I speak no Japanese.

Anyway, I didn't purchase another knife at the show even though they had the knives marked down 25% from wholesale price (I think it is still cheaper to purchase them in Tokyo). I'll probably have my sister pick up a 240mm or 300mm Honyaki Yanagiba from there. The other nice thing about purchasing the knife there is that you can choose which buffalo horn ring you want for the handle at the shop (most are black and mine is white with brown streaking). And, they will stamp your name on your knife for free there.

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Got a reply from him.

He said he didn't know, but said he will ask someone the next time he goes to Tsukiji.

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I am not really a knife person and don't want (and can't afford to) spend a lot of money on knives.

I just found this set of 6 knives made here in Japan for an unbelievable price.

I have really wanted a sashimi knife and shellfish knife for a while now. The price in US $ is $190 but the Japanese site gives a price of 15,000 yen (about $130), this almost seems too cheap.....

I have never owned a Japanese knife before.. :sad:


<p><strong>Kristin Wagner</strong>, aka "torakris"

Manager, Membership

<a class="bbc_email" href="mailto:kwagner@egstaff.org" title="E-mail Link">kwagner@egstaff.org</a></p>

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As an Enigneer with background in metalurgy, A long time custom Knife Collector and amatuer chef, I purchased my first sashimi knife about 20 years ago from a commercial Japanese supply house in the US. It is a laminate with a hard steel core and soft steel outer. This makes it much easier to sharpen. It can attain a razor edge, fairly quickly. It will discolor/rust if not kept oiled but after 20 years, no problems.

Wanting a true honyagi for many years, i surveyed the Japanese knife commercial market and found that i could spend over $2000USD for a top quality knife from a commercial supply house in the US. I contacted Murray Carter who was making knives in Japan at the time and asked him to act as a broker for an artizen made Honyagi sashimi knife with ebony/ivory handle and scabbard. Murray had one made for me by Kenichi Shiraki from Hitachi 1 White Steel. Cost was $3000USD delivered. Murray makes this type of knife but understood that I wanted one from a top Japanese maker. These knives are rare in the West and are used only by the purchaser and have to be valued by the user. This knife is an excellent performer as well as a stunning knife cosmetically. A Sushiya will probably get one of these at some time in career and it will stay with him always. They start out at 33cm and wear down. 33cm is quite long, so i like 27 to 30 cm as I probably won't wear it down much. Certainly the price is not for everyone but there are many good Japanese makers at a lower price point. This smith http://www.shop.niimi.okayama.jp/kajiya/en/index_e.html makes as good a knife as anyone. I have met him personally and have one of his Yanagibabocho AS (double-edged) 27cm. It is the sharpest knife i own. Since it is double sided and not a mirror polished like a yanagi, it has some drag while cutting raw fish for Sushi/Sashimi. I currently have a traditional Yanagi with Ivory/Ebony on order from him.

For a first time Japanese knife user, I would purchase a commercial laminate blade with honoki wood handle. Learn how to correctly sharpen and care for the blade as well as how to correctly use. After gaining some experience, purchase a higher grade knife that may be slightly sharper but will have more hand work.

I believe that the top Japanese knives rarely make it out of Japan because of the expense and maybe the Japanese don't believe Westerners are worthy.

BTW- For normal kitchen cutlery, i have an extensive collection of Wusthof learning long ago that most of the custom knives available may cut extremely well but the hodgepodge of blade shapes and handles makes going from one style of knife to the next difficult. The wusthof traditional handle knives all feel the same and the blades all cut with the same shaprness. To view the entire line of Wusthof knives, you need to acquire a full set of catalogs as what is generally listed on sites is short blades for smaller stature individuals. -Dick

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gallery_12051_2431_12834.jpg

From top to bottom:

Wusthof 32cm Slicing knife

Hamono double sided

Shiraki Yanagi

Commercial Sashimi knife


Edited by budrichard (log)

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I am not really a knife person and don't want (and can't afford to) spend a lot of money on knives.

I just found this set of 6 knives made here in Japan for an unbelievable price.

I have really wanted a sashimi knife and shellfish knife for a while now. The price in US $ is $190 but the Japanese site gives a price of 15,000 yen (about $130), this almost seems too cheap.....

I have never owned a Japanese knife before.. :sad:

Torakris,

Watanabe san makes really great knives and his service is 2nd to none. He custom made 2 knives for me about 3 years ago. A white steel deba and yanagiba. As he was trying to add knife engraving to his repertoire then, I told him to do whatever etchings he wanted on the deba and it blew me away. His knives are excellent in quality and make and many knife nuts at the Knife Forums recommend him.

Late last year, I needed a kasutera knife and asked him to make a special sujihiki. It would've cost me a bomb and made him quite a bit of dosh, but he refused coz he knew my usage purpose and didn't want me to be disappointed with its performance. Instead, he recommended Masahiro's knives. He knew I knew that the sujihiki could perform the job, but just slightly not as well as a real kasutera knife. Yet, he still turned me down! I respect him for that.

My honyaki usuba which I got at an incredibly low price from Mizuno-san at Mizuno Tanrenjho is 'blackened' in vinegar. You could do that to the knives to help protect against rust, though tomato cutting will give it an awesome greyish/bluish/blackish hue as well as offer a bit of protection against rust.

Other than the pesky rust problems.......Japanese knives are awesome. Alternatively, there are a few manufacturers that use Molybdenum or VG-10 stainless steels for their Japanese knives. Global Pro, Hattori and Shun (US Owned). I'm partial to Global Pros and Hattori KD's....though Shun makes a really nice damascus cleaver but the balance is not as good. There's also a powdered steel called Cowry-X but perhaps the performance, hardness and price is more suitable to knife nuts.

The downside to Japanese stainless knives is that they are very hard, around 56 to 62 rockwell hardness, depending on brands. This usually means having to use ceramic or diamond steels.

However, if you are looking at purchasing a sashimi knife, you won't need a steel. However, you will need a very fine waterstone to sharpen it. Sharpening in itself is another challenge, but its learnt easily. I use a 3000 and 8000 grit stone. The key is to sharpen it even before it has a chance to get dull by the slightest bit. Its really a 2 minute job, with 20mins spent soaking the waterstone beforehand.

If anyone else is interested in Japanese knives but don't know where to get good ones or get them cheaper from a reliable source, check out http://www.japanesechefsknife.com/

Koki is an amazing guy who has bent over backwards many many many many times for lots of us gaijin knife nuts, to the extent that some unreasonable ones get him to hand choose $50 knives. The prices are much cheaper than anywhere and I've compared several prices from them and from Japan.....only a $5 to $10 difference.

Check out their specials.....it always makes me reach for my credit card before having to slap myself back to reality.

Hope this helps!

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The second is more of a concern.  Traditional Japanese knives are made from carbon steel or a carbon derivative.  According to Chad's knife clinic, the high acidity of fruits, vegitables, and other sources in a kitchen can cause micro-rusting and will eat away at the blade's edge.  However, is this really a problem or any seriousness?  Many Japanese and non-Japanese chefs must use carbon I am sure.

So what I am asking is, anyone here who has used carbon steel Japanese knives please let me know how they preformed for you.  I'm primarily interested in how they preformed in the professional kitchen environment, because that's where my knives will be, but all experiences are welcomed.

Hi itch. Indeed many Japanese and non-Japanese chefs use carbon knives. Japanese carbon knives tend to be much harder (62-63 on the Rockwell C scale) than their western counterparts (54-58 Rockwell C). That allows them to be thinner and sharpened to a more acute angle. I have two carbon knives a Korin shiro-ko honkasumi usuba (usuba=single bevel vegetable knife; shiro-ko = Hitachi #1 white steel, honkasumi = high grade kasumi construction which is a hard carbon core forge-welded to a softer outer steel for strength and ductility) and a Murray Carter nakiri (double bevel vegetable knife). Both are wonderful and cut like crazy. They also require a fussy level of maintenance. Many chefs and knife enthusiasts are willing to make that tradeoff to get the performance of these knives. But you do have to rinse them after cutting acidic foods, dry them immediately after washing and maintain the edges on waterstones nearly daily to keep them in peak condition.

Carbon knives will develop a patina with use. Many chefs will actually force the patina by leaving the knife in stuck in a potato overnight. The patina is a benign form of rust that helps keep more aggressive forms of rust from attacking the knife. Having a patina on the knife means that it won't look as clean as a stainless knife. It is perfectly safe, however, and, as far as I've been able to determine, perfectly acceptable to health inspectors for use in a commercial kitchen.

Hope this helps.

Take care,

Chad


Chad Ward

An Edge in the Kitchen

William Morrow Cookbooks

www.chadwrites.com

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I am not really a knife person and don't want (and can't afford to) spend a lot of money on knives.

I just found this set of 6 knives made here in Japan for an unbelievable price.

I have really wanted a sashimi knife and shellfish knife for a while now. The price in US $ is $190 but the Japanese site gives a price of 15,000 yen (about $130), this almost seems too cheap.....

I have never owned a Japanese knife before.. :sad:

Kristen, I also have a custom Watanabe wa-gyuto. I love it. Fit and finish are excellent, the blade geometry is amazing and it cuts extremely well. Shin is a good guy to deal with. I'd say go for it.

Take care,

Chad


Chad Ward

An Edge in the Kitchen

William Morrow Cookbooks

www.chadwrites.com

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Chad's the man when it comes to knives.........ahahah certified Knife Nut that is. In case the rest of you don't know yet.....he is currently writing the ultimate book on kitchen knives. The only problem is.....I want the book NOW!

Cheers Chad, keep up the great work.

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sorry if I'm reviving an old topic...but I just returned from Japan on a quest of finding knives.

One obstacle I ran into: finding export knives.  Apparently they don't sell export knives (duh on my part) someone had asked me to find them a "Kasumi" brand knive (not the knive-making process; the brand). When I asked about this, the guy said "never heard of this brand". And when I said it was sold in North America, he said, "we don't sell exports here in Japan, they are second-rate stuff, so we ship them overseas."  :sad: I don't have the nerve to tell the person who wanted this knive what they said....

I was able to get my hands on a Misono UX10 for 30% less than US price...but I'm wondering if they're secretly laughing at me because this model is also for "export"...sigh..I guess at least I got what I went for.  I also swiped a Kyocera ceramic for only $30 US!! Now that's a deal! :biggrin:

goyatofu...

Welcome back!

You need to be aware that it's common for some brands to be made by other people. It's the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) business process where the actual manufacturing is outsourced to another company. That's probably the case with Kasumi. "Kasumi" is just a brand (probably owned by a non-Japanese co) and the maker will be someone else, which is why when you mention "Kasumi" they aren't familiar with it.

But it's interesting what the person said about export knives, though I'm skeptical if it's true that these are 2nd rate stuff. This would amount to "dumping".

As for the Misono UX-10, I know that it's also sold locally in Japan (obviously, since you managed to buy it there) so I don't think your model is for export only. Also Misono itself is a manufacturer based in Seki.

These are super old posts, but I wanted to add what I learned in the process of doing a short piece on Global knives recently for Newsweek Japan. A lot of the brands marketed as being "Japanese" in the West are actually hybrid knives, like Kasumi. They are made by Japanese manufacturers but are not truly traditional Japanese knives. They are completely different products aimed at adapting Japanese knivemaking ideas to the specific demands of the Western market. It doesn't make much sense to look for these in Japan, although they probably are available somewhere.

For a variety of reasons already mentioned in other posts, custom-made, high-performance traditonal Japanese knives stay almost exclusively in Japan, but these are like exotic sports cars. Few people period have them. The basic traditional Japanese knife, still a superior mass market product even compared to the best German and French knives, has found little commercial success in the West because of maintenance issues, cost, differences in Western and Japanese cutting habits, and even health regulations in some areas that forbid wood and carbon steel. Japanese knife manufacturers (I'm not talking about the artisans here) decided to develop knives for Western cooks as well as hassled home cooks who didn't want to deal with rusty knives anymore.

There are different degrees of hybrid. The Global is one of the most radically non-traditional, while others like Shun can get quite close to the traditional knives. The main points of difference are the type of metal used, whether the blade is sharpened on one side or two, the size and material of the handle, and the shape of the blade.

That said, most Japanese and Western knife snobs do sniff at these knives, which usually sacrifice edge performance for ease of maintenance, sharpening, or Western-style cutting. Quite frankly, I think some of them in Western knife emporia are vastly overpriced for their quality--they are cashing in on the samurai sword cache. Then again, hybrids are by definition mass-market and made for export and ease of use. With so many different cooks out there, there is a knife to fit everyone. Torakris, these might be the knives for you! The hybrids are a step up from Wustofs in edge performance and should be perfect for a Westerner cooking in Japan. :biggrin:

If you're hardcore and want to try a traditional knife, Budrichard's advice to start learning on a modest one is right on. You must learn to sharpen it on 3 whetstones and keep it oiled. Aritsugu in Kyoto is an excellent source for good quality knives that a novice doesn't have to be afraid to use, and the manager is very friendly to foreign and first-time buyers. I think their products are also available online and in Takashimaya in Tokyo. Since the knife should fit the cook, I figure I have a ways to go before my skills warrant a honyaki knife. :raz:

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Hi Culinista,

I'm a Global Knife fan and have been for a couple of years. Is there any way to get my hands on the article you are writing? Will it be published in a normal newsweek edition that I can get here in Thailand?

Love them Globals but I'm not sure about one thing though......other than the hand polished edge and the V edge in the pros, what other difference is there between the normal Globals and the Global Pros?

Is the RC for the pros a bit harder? Different steel alloy? I know the normal Globals use Molybdenum, but how bout the Pros?

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I'd like to add a dimension not covered yet:

I am a cabinet/furniture maker, and two of my most prized tools are Japanese dovetail chisels using "blue steel". They are three-piece laminates of stainless on the outside and high-carbon blue steel in the center. I bought them razor sharp, and after more than five years of hand-chopping (cutting) dovetail joints THEY ARE STILL RAZOR SHARP! And that type of use involves striking with a mallet for almost every cut. A couple of years ago Fine Woodworking magazine tested chisels and found that the "blue steel" japanese chisels overall were the toughest and sharpest they tried.

One of my tool suppliers is Japan Woodworker in California and I just purchased two blue steel knives from them, a santoku and a fruit knife. Again, razor sharp, and they are laminated with stainless outside and high-carbon blue steel in the middle layer. I have large hands and the handles fit pretty well (riveted handles). I intend to use them almost exclusively (in the kitchen) and will report back with my observations. An immediate note, though, is that they cost a small fraction of what a damascus knife costs. And I know enough metallurgy to not assume that damascus is automatically better.

Ray

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It's been more than a month since I got my two relatively inexpensive Japanese knives, and I can put in my first report:

On the down side, it's a bit of a drag to have to remember to oil the blades after use (I don't like to leave dirty knives for the next time).

On the up side, they are breathtakingly sharp, and are staying that way, without resharpening or using a steel. An unexpected plus is the fact that the food does not move when cut, because the blades are so thin and the bevel angles are so shallow.

More reports to follow.

Ray

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