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Choosing a Japanese knife.

Recent Forums Main Forum Knife Specific Discussion Choosing a Japanese knife.

This topic contains 18 replies, has 7 voices, and was last updated by  MarcH 04/17/2019 at 10:16 am.

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  • #44589

    Alan Ryder
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    I have been wanting to get a nice Japanese kitchen knife for a while now but before I drop a lot of cash on a really nice one I was hoping to find a decent but inexpensive one to try out. I have only used western style as of yet. Any suggestions on brand and knife? I was thinking a Gyuto would give me a good all round intro to them. Preferably something that is also fairly easy. I figure a less expinsive knife may need more touching up so don’t really want to deal with asymmetrical bevels and suck yet. Thanks.

    #44590

    Organic
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    Do you have a price range in mind?

    #44591

    Alan Ryder
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    I was hoping for around $80 but not sure if that is reasonable or not for a decent Japanese. If not what range would you recommend? Cheaper is always better. I was thinking of maybe trying the traditional handle but not sure on that yet. Is there any pro or cons of that over the western hadlenon the Japanese style?

    #44593

    MarcH
    Moderator
    • Topics: 58
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    Welcome Alan, looks like you registered some time back and finally had a question.  I have several Japanese Chef knives of various sizes, shapes, styles and steel.  I, like you’re scenario, started my collecting after I got my WE.  I too looked for an inexpensive knife, shied away from asymmetrical bevels and thought the western style handle would feel more comfortable being most similar to what I was used to.  All are very reasonable and valid reasons for your choice.

    It’s funny though my first foray into the Japanese Style knife was actually a German Wusthof “Santoku”.  This is the knife style, Santoku, most commonly used in almost every Japanese household.  Very good for cutting and chopping, and a good choice if you were limited to only one knife.  The Gyuto is more like a common chef’s knife in shape.  The 210mm is roughly an 8″ Chef’s knife.  It is a better slicer than the Santoku and allows for a variety of knife cutting motions and grips.

    The western handle is often shaped with curves and scallops to made it comfortable to hold securely.  Many Japanese style knives are available with the Western Style Handles.  Some though are only available with typical Japanese handles.  Two of the most common Japanese handles are the “D” shaped handle used on probably the most common or well known Japanese Knife Brand, “Shun”.  It is shaped exactly like it’s name-sake. The other common handle shape is the “Wa” handle or octagonal shaped handle.  This handle allows a secure grip from a variety of hand sizes and allows the handle to be gripped at any place along the handles length due to it’s consistent shape.  Handle style is a matter of taste and comfort associated, usually, with past experience.  It’s really not difficult to get used to different shape handles when the knife cuts well.

    One of the first Japanese Brand Chef’s Knives I purchased was a “Tojiro DP” Gyuto with Western Handle in VG10 Stainless Steel.  I subscribed and did a lot of reading on the “Kitchen Knife Forum”.  A lot of the information is more in depth then necessary for my knife needs but there is a lot of information you can sift through and take away.  This Tojiro brand was touted for all the reasons you listed Alan, and it was a terrific entry level knife, and a very good knife too.  VG10 is still IMO the top bang-for your-buck steel to buy.  It’s relatively hard, HRc 60 or 61, fairly easy to sharpen with the WE, well, not too chippy and very durable.

    Now after owning a few more knives I have tried a larger variety of sizes, shapes and styles and steels.  The most important lesson or advice I will share is use your new knives as they come.  Open it up. Take it from the box.  Clamp it in your WE and inspect it under magnification.  Look at how the makers sharpened them.  The grind pattern and the direction.  Look at the quality of the knife edge.  Are the bevels even?  Does the bevel apex the edge?  Then unclamp it and use it.  Feel how it cuts and slides through food.  Use it a while. Not 30 minutes!  Use it a couple weeks.  Then when you decide to sharpen it you’ll have a good basis for comparison.  You’ll truly know how your Wicked Edge compares to the cutting edge it came with.

    Hope this helps.

     

    Marc
    (MarcH's Rack-It)

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    #44594

    Organic
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    Given the budget, I would second Marc’s recommendation of the 210mm Tojiro DP. I haven’t owned one personally, but they are highly regarded as solidly preforming knives and a great value.

    Another option in this price range is the Tojiro ITK. This knife has shirogami high carbon steel and is not stainless, so it will require extra care to prevent it from rusting. A lot of people make this sound like it is a ton of work, but it is not really much different than the extra work it takes to maintain a cast iron skillet. The advantage of the high carbon steels over the stainless steels is that they are easier to sharpen and will take a sharper edge. The downside is the extra maintenance.

    The Japanese handled knives are lighter and tend to have a blade heavy balance as where the western handled variants are often handle heavy and weigh much more overall. I prefer the blade heavy balance point and lighter feel of the traditional style handles because I use a pinch grip. If you use a racket grip, you will probably prefer the western style handles.

    Other knives to consider:

    Fujiwara FKM: Similar to the Tojiro DP with a AUS-8 stainless steel blade and western style handle. The edge is described as 30 / 70 favoring a right handed user on this one.

    Yahiko VG-10: Stainless VG-10 blade with a Japanese style handle.

     

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    #44598

    MarcH
    Moderator
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    I recently purchased a smaller model Fujiwara FKM Gyuto, 150mm, with western handle, from a different importer then Organics link.  This knife is made of AUS-8, another good choice for stainless steel knives, although a little softer than VG10.  This model knife FKM, I bought from JCK Imports . It has asymmetrical bevels 70/30 and is sold in left and right hand models.  My point being, when you start shopping and buying Japanese Knives be careful and wary of what your looking at.  It can become confusing.  In the printed description at CKTG, Organic’s link, it doesn’t show it is 70/30 asymmetrical beveled.  It wasn’t until about 2/3 the way through the descriptive video when it was mentioned!

    Marc
    (MarcH's Rack-It)

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    #44600

    Alan Ryder
    Participant
    • Topics: 6
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    Thanks for all the replies. I’ve been searching through the forum for a while now getting advice. So far I’ve kept it simple and straight forward but just ordered the 1500 diamond with 6m lapping and the 4/2 strops so trying to get a bit more advanced with my sharpening techniques and such.  I have been using up to the 1200/1600 ceramics. How are the 70/30 bevels to sharpen?  Pretty straight forward or do they tend to be tricky?  What about flattening the blades?  Are you able to do it on the WE, how often you recommend doing it? What are your recommended grit progression on the Gyuto style?  I like the idea of inspecting the blade before use and using the blade before sharpening.  Will a 40x jeweler loop work or do I need a USB Microscope?

    I forgot to mention I was going to look at getting a Wa handle over western. Do you notice much difference in performance of the 70/30 over the even bevels. I was actually looking at the Torijo ITK. I’ve seen some people complain about it rust fast even for a high carbon blade.  I like the idea of the high Carbon blades for performance and am ok with the extra maintenance but don’t want to have to steep a learning curve that I spend all my time worrying about cleaning and drying the knife.  I have two higher carbon blades but they are on the very cheap end and I only use them for a very few specific task. I keep a light coat of oil on my high carbon knives but they also sit for sometimes months between use. You recommend doing that on a daily used knife or just clean and dry enough?

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    #44601

    MarcH
    Moderator
    • Topics: 58
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    Alan, Lots of good questions.  I’ll try not miss any.

    With what stones you’ve ordered, “keeping it simple and straight forward” you can sharpen most everything.  Your gyuto’s will be fine with this progression.  I  have found some of the harder super stainless steels sharpen easier, for me, with whetstones.  I use Shapton Glass.  But to be honest I haven’t tried to sharpen them with diamond stones, in quite a while.  Since I first got these steels I have learned a lot more about sharpening these knives with these steels.  I probably should go back a give the diamond stones another try.  Especially since the 1500 grit wasn’t available when I last used the diamonds stones on these knives.  My sharpening theory and technique for knives made with these steels has changed since I first attempted to sharpen them.  I may be able to do them now using the diamond stones without issues.

    70/30 blades can be a bit more tricky to sharpen, then a even grind bevel, (50/50), especially for the beginner.  Please read my Forum post on Asymmetrical grinds.  I have gathered good explanations and other insights that help explain the handling of these edges, well. Now that I have that info I will be going back and trying to sharpen those knives, I have, again, correctly, this time.  With the WE, you should be able to sharpen these grinds.  Some bevel angles may be quite acute, (12-13º), so they may require the LAA, (low angle adapter) to achieve these angles without bumping the vice and jaws with your stones.

    Your question about flattening the blade, I’m not really sure what you’re referring to.  If you mean thinning the profile behind the shoulder, there are probably better methods then using the WE. It can be done but probably will require the LAA.  That’s a challenging proposition even on a stone free hand stone for an experienced sharpener.

    For visually inspecting knife edges, the USB microscope IMO is hands-down easier then a loupe or hand magnifier.  The microscope allows you to sit back and safely see your edge and finger tips while sliding the scope along the sharp knife edge while the knife is clamped in your WE.  I didn’t care to lean my face down close near the clamped sharp knife edge.  It was hard for me to judge where my fingers and my face was leaning in that close to the sharp exposed knife edge with that little lighted loupe stuck up to my eye and my other eye closed.

    I have no problem with Wa handled knives.  I like them just fine.  I don’t make my living holding a knife in a kitchen so it may be different for a professional chef than a home cook.  I do prefer the Wa handle over many Western Handles because they tend to be longer and wider around.  But I do have some Western handled knives that are really killer too so there’s an exception to everything.  I do like linen Micarta handles because it doesn’t seem to get slippery and it has grain-like feel.

    I prefer to buy stainless steels knives most of the time. Use these, hand wash then with soap and water, and dry them.  Simple and easy with no special care.  I do have a couple high carbon steel knives.  One is quite old, a French Sabatier boning knife.  It has long since formed a patina so it not very reactive.  My newer, Suisin High Carbon Gyuto is quite reactive with foods often imparting an off-putting Sulfur smell as it reacts with acidic foods I’m cutting, like tomatoes.  I recently read up on creating a patina and plan to that soon.  It’s supposed to fix the surface with a thin layer of gray/black corrosion that keeps the raw metal from reacting.  Then all you should need to do is rinse and wipe the knife after use.  I bought some sort of tree-oil made to apply to knife blades to keep them from corroding and turning.  It’s sort of messy, IMO, to put up a knife with oil on the blade.  Then I want to wash it off before I use it.  Just more work.

     

    The High Carbon Steels do sharpen very easily and get extremely sharp.  Noticeably sharper than some other steels.    But, the steel is softer and less durable.  A very good in-between option is Aogami or Aogami Super steel.  It’s high in carbon but also less reactive.  It’s hard like stainless.  Easy to sharpen like high carbon steel and gets very very sharp.  I wash it with soap and water then dry it and put it up, like it was stainless steel.   As I wrote earlier in this thread I do like VG10 stainless steel. It’s fairly easy to sharpen, plenty durable, (Hrc 60-61) and get very sharp.  Here’s a chart that shows the different steels and their relationship.

    Sharpness, as our long-time forum participant and contributor, TCMeyer, points out, is more about the preciseness and acuteness of the apex and the thinness and profile of the blade, then about the steel.

    The same exact steel type, made into knives then heat treated and tempered, by different knife makers, can be very different.  That’s where, what you’re doing, research by reading, pays off.  Don’t get too hung up on buying a bad or wrong knife.  We Wicked Edge users usually don’t have one or two knives.  We tend to acquire knives, to sharpen.  We like to use knives.  Sometimes we just use them, so we can dull them, so we can sharpen them again.

    Marc
    (MarcH's Rack-It)

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    #44641

    Alan Ryder
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    • Topics: 6
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    So I just order a Yahiko VG-10 Gyuto. Can’t wait to see how the harder steel does with holding an edge and then sharpening. I plan to use it till the Tojiro ITK (white steel#2) and funds come back into stock. Then I’m hoping after some good use to sharpen them at the same time and see how the sharpening and then edge formation and retention go. Any advice on how to actually quantify sharpness beyond it cuts paper well and shaves my arm so it just be sharp which are my current go to methods. Hopefully I’ll have a good micro in time to get some factory grind shots in.

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    #44643

    sksharp
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    Use It!!!  The best test is real life use in my mind. Unfortunately this is time consuming without instant gratification.

    There are a ton of things to cut you can use for tests. I like to use phone book paper, notebook paper, magazines, paper plates, cardboard, napkins, toilet paper, take a phone book and try to push cut through the corner of the book. Try and find a material that mimics what you’ll be using it for. I’m just trying to determine what feels right in the knife.

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    #44645

    MarcH
    Moderator
    • Topics: 58
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    Alan, enjoy your knife.  From what I read and the video review, it looks like it’s made well with good VG10 SS clad for durability.   It is a sturdy knife, a little thick and on the heavy side of comparable knives.  It should be fairly easy to sharpen and maintain.  I would test it in the real world by cutting food.  Chop carrots and celery.   Slice onions and shave lettuce.  See how fine you can slice radishes.  Paper is a good indicator of the smoothness and sharpness of just the edge, when just sharpened.  It’ll help you find snags and rough spots.  Paper and cardboard doesn’t really let you feel how it transverses food.  You really need to bury the knife half or three quarters deep to really feel how the profile cuts.  Try to cut a crisp apple.  That always is a good indicator.

    Marc
    (MarcH's Rack-It)

    #44654

    Organic
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    • Topics: 17
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    I think that will be a good choice for your first J-knife. It isn’t going to be an ultra performance blade, but as a trade off you get a knife that will be less prone to chipping and will have a sturdy feel to it. It will probably out preform most name brand western style chef knives that cost twice the price and it looks very nice with the wa handle.

    When sharpening I like to test the edge on thin paper. News print, phone book paper, and wax paper (like you use for baking) are all good. For food, I find that bell peppers, onions, and carrots are both a good test of a blade. People like to cut tomato slices and grape slices to show off.

    Check out this video by Josh of Razor Edge Knives (a Wicked Edge user).

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    #49820

    Expidia
    Participant
    • Topics: 39
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    Re: picking out a Japanese chef knife:   I’m looking to add a cleaver, 4 inch parer, 6.5 utility and a chef knife.   Coincidently, past few days I’ve been looking at Shun’s Premier line as they have a good assortment of Shun knives on Amazon.  I bought and received a Chef knife from a company called Honcho in Japan and to my surprise when I opened the box it was not as described or what they pictured on their website.  They won’t pick it back up because they claimed they can’t pick up an international shipment and my local PO won’t accept it for return as they claim it is a weapon (big mistake ordering directly from Japan). So I contested the purchase and my bank took the charge off.  It was a Yu Kuroski VG10 Damascus 210mm Gyuto chef knife.

    So until thats resolved, I’m holding off on getting another 8 inch chef knife.  I’m also about the aesthetics of these beautiful Damascus blades as I’m a collector of high end Damascus folders.  I’m really liking the aesthetics of their Shun 8 inch Hiro SG-2.  But for the $145 extra for that model, I could drop down to their premier chef knife and with that savings it buys me another smaller Shun knife that I need.

    Who is happy with their Shun brand or is there another brand you might like better now?

     

    #49821

    Readheads
    Participant
    • Topics: 20
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    I have been collecting my ~30 kitchens knives over ~30 years. It started with a Henckel set and evolved into Shun across the different models. If I were starting over I would most likely have a much more varied collection. I will never buy another knife that I haven’t actually held in my hand. It is the feel to me. I really like the design of the Shun Premier handle as it is oval with a bulge in the middle which fits my hand great. The Premier line is also on the thin side which I like. I hate the Global handle which is cold and slippery. IMO, the carbon (blue, white, etc) steels get the sharpest which is why I like the Shun Blue line, I like the sort of pebbled look and feel on finishes, I have never seen any of the fancy “potatoes won’t slick” finishes, dimple cuts, etc actually work. I am not big on the Damascus look unless it is custom as too many of them look fake (even if they aren’t). I met Bob Kramer once and held one of his $10K carbon chefs knives in my hand and it was wonderful. In the stainless land, the powdered steels (SG2, etc) are real nice but can be chippy. AEB-L is my current favorite especially if it is correctly cryo treated. Nitro-V (AEB-L + vanadium) is a steel I would like to get a custom knife made out of but there is risk involved and everyone wants ~$500.

    In summary, its how it feels in your hand and does it make you smile. Pretty much all the $100+ knives use good steel.

    The problem is that it is very hard to find stores where you can touch the knife. The best places I have been are William Sonoma (Columbus Circle in NYC) where the knife section is over 100 feet long. I spent 2+ hours there picking out my first Shun Blue. District Cutlery in Wash DC has a lot of hand picked brands from Japan which you can play with. Knife shows are more folder oriented. If anyone knows of a Kitchen Knife show please let me know. Maybe we should organized one in Vegas !!

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    #49822

    Expidia
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    • Topics: 39
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    Great info readheads and thanks for taking the time answering my question.  I spotted those Premier handles right off as I liked their bulge in the middle and it looked comfortable over the standard tubular looking wooden Japanese handles.  The Premier line really adds to the aesthetics of already beautiful designed Shun knives.

    Organic had mentioned to me before I bought into my other knife debacle. . .   He pointed out the harder steels can be chippy and harder to sharpen and I’d probably be happier starting out with the VG10 steel.  I did not know Williams and Sonoma carried higher end kitchen knives.  We have a store in Albany too but I’m sure with a lot less stock.  We also get to NYC several times a year and I’ll be sure to look at their selection next time we are there.

    I wonder what its like to slice up a hotdog holding a $10,000 kitchen knife ;o)

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