or Connect
ChefTalk.com › ChefTalk Cooking Forums › Food & Equipment Reviews › Cooking Knife Reviews › How do we "handle" this issue?
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:

How do we "handle" this issue?

post #1 of 7
Thread Starter 
It should come as no surprise that I am a big fan of Japanese laminate knives. And while many of my clients feel the same, they do differ on one major topic.

And that is the subject on "handles." Just about every Japanese knife comes in varying styles.

In short, this category has two sides. One being in the use of traditional Japanese grips, as opposed to what is referred to in shorthand as "western style" handles.

Many chefs are quick to point out that they can "choke up" on the traditional style for subtle changes in their slices, while some side with the "ergo" advantages of the western grip.

I would like to know how you feel.
post #2 of 7
I am more used to Western handles, but I'm starting to appreciate Wa handles more and more. Still, in a commercial kitchen I kind of feel Wa handles aren't appropriate, at least not for everything. The tang often doesn't seal perfectly to the handle, creating a haven for bacteria. Wood can also be a no-no, especially if it isn't stabilized/laminated. Working the night shift I'd probably chance it knowing the health inspector isn't gonna show up. But I honestly don't know what he would say if there were a couple Wa handled gyutos or yanagibas sitting on the cutting board.

Of course it's technically possible to have a traditional Japanese shaped handle that isn't wood, but if you don't have either a Kai Wasabi or one redone by Stefan it's pretty unlikely.;)
"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
Reply
"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
Reply
post #3 of 7
For me, it depends on the knife. I'm not worried about health inspectors, because I'm not a pro, so it's entirely ergonomic.

With a chef's knife/gyuto, I have found that a Japanese-style (wa) handle is very useful in convincing me not to rely on the handle. I've learned that with a very, very sharp knife, you should be holding the handle super-lightly, just barely enough to keep the knife guided. And if you're doing any form of the pinch-grip, it's going to be the fingers on the blade that do the work: the back three fingers just barely hold the handle. I find that because the Japanese-style handles are sort of ergonomically neutral, by which I mean not in any way molded to a hand shape, it's quite natural to ignore them and let the knife do the work, whereas with a Western-style molded or shaped handle there is a terrible temptation to grab on there and grip.

With a Japanese-style knife (usuba, yanagiba, etc.), those handles are certainly superior, in part because the handles really are more like blade-ends than handles: you barely hold them at all.

With a petty or paring knife, I've never seen one with a Japanese handle, and I'd think they would be too large around. For those I want something very small and comfortable because I'm going to choke well up the knife most of the time.

With more specialized knives, I doubt it makes much difference. I doubt I'll ever use a butcher's cleaver enough that a different handle would be something I'd care about.

Based on Phaedrus's remarks, I wonder whether there might be a potential market in Japanese-style handles made of some health-inspector-approved material, sealed around the blade with resin or epoxy or something. Since you don't actually hold those handles, it wouldn't make any difference to the cutting, and it would be easy enough to weight them appropriately to the knife. Then again, I've never understood why someone would go to a lot of trouble to get a special fancy handle: all I care about is the weight, and then only where it matters, as with a full-length yanagiba where a ho (magnolia) handle is simply too light to balance the blade properly.
post #4 of 7
Thread Starter 
You and Phaedrus are indeed right! If that epoxy sealed Japanese handle ever becomes a standard feature, I'm showing it to all of my clients! I'll even buy one for myself.

Not to mention names, but there is a highly publicized line of Japanese-ish knives, some with bent ergo handles, that already provide this superior addition.

Other than that, I can't say much. You might find this hard to believe, but in all of my years, I've never sharpened one of those--not one. I held one once at a supply store, but never even got to make a single slice.
post #5 of 7
I saw a handle on Stefan's website that would great for a pro kitchen- it's made of linen micarta (made by Butch Harner, iirc). A very nice traditional Japanese shape with a rather flamboyant, non-traditional color scheme. I wonder if he still has it...
"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
Reply
"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
Reply
post #6 of 7
Let's mention names. You mean that Wusthof line? I've heard very mixed things. I guess you haven't got enough info to add to that mix. (Me, I've never even seen one in the flesh, so I have no comment at all.)

The basic problem, I think, is that Japanese knife makers really don't give a darn about the Western market, because it's such a trivial part of their sales. The Westerners mostly want gyutos and stuff, which are generally cheap (relatively speaking), and they buy individually. The people they focus on buy 15 300mm honyaki yanagiba at a shot, plus 15 240mm hon-kasumi usuba and 20 210mm hon-kasumi deba, oh and throw in a couple eel knives just for in case. And then let's do it all again in a few years, OK? That's the account they care about, and those guys aren't under silly restrictions about wooden handles and epoxy bonding and so forth. Until Western chefs become a major factor in the thinking of the Japanese knife industry -- the serious people, I mean, not the mass-production folks in Seki -- you're not going to see a lot of bonded micarta handles on top-quality knives outside of hand specialists like Stefan.
post #7 of 7
Thread Starter 
I meant Shun, and as a new member here still trying my best not to offend anyone, I didn't want to gore anyone's oxen.

As for an overall market strategy, yes, traditional Japanese manufacturers of anything resist change. But there's a lot to be said about "old world craftsmanship."

But when change is needed in Japan they move many times faster than western markets. They pride themselves on having fewer layers of management heirarchy.

The issue here is our modern economic situation. Money fuels the Japanese economy as well as ours. I got a e-mail about eight months ago from one of my suppliers (Blue Ridge Knives) annoucing some serious across the board price increases. It seems that China had purchased 30% of the Japanese steel.

That's a lot, but then Japan still has to sell the other 70%. If the brain-trust in Japan finds out that westerners like easy-to-clean resin impregnanted, onyx black handles, then they will drown us in the new technology.

And Shun and Yaxell Ran are some good examples of this idea already filtering into our markets.
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:
  Return Home
  Back to Forum: Cooking Knife Reviews
ChefTalk.com › ChefTalk Cooking Forums › Food & Equipment Reviews › Cooking Knife Reviews › How do we "handle" this issue?