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Japanese laminate construction in kitchen knives

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 
I apologize in advance for what may be a bit confusing. I'm going to start this thread off with a little bit of context then a long quote. This thread is an offshot of a different thread, and needs post in its entirety in order to give this thread context.

The seminal thread was all about matching a particular person with his first good chef's knife. I wrote something to the effect that there was no "single best knife." My premise was not only there no single best knife for any purpose, there was usually no single best knife for any person -- especially not when there were as many competing choices as there are for chef's knives/gyutos. Moreover, the best anyone could do in terms of advising a prospective purchaser was to help them limit their choices to a selective group where all of the choices were excellent.

All of the knives I suggested were "single steel" as opposed to "laminates." It should be mentioned that along the way I've been a bit dismissive of most san-mai/warikomi construction.

Although the topic of Japanese knife construction is the heading, the existence of "the best" is also fair game.

Getting on with it, Chico (aka The Tourist) responded to my post(s) with the following:
post #2 of 6
As an NRA life member who shoots 1 inch groups with my Colt Government 45 that I personally 'smith. It's all about what feels good in your hand and handles well and precisely. My next step will be either the Browning Hi Power or an S&W snub nose. I just love making increments via bullet casting and resizing; the same can be stated when in comes to cutting instruments. Whatever feels great, not just good but great. It's like that one club that smacks the ball soooooooooooooooooooo straight. Ain't nothin' that could ever step 'tween the shooter and the shot when the feeling's just right.

Best and I'm a foodie.   I know very little but the little that I know I want to know very well.



Brot und Wein
(1 photos)

Best and I'm a foodie.   I know very little but the little that I know I want to know very well.



Brot und Wein
(1 photos)
post #3 of 6
I'm a 1911 fan myself. I shoot a Tussey Custom with tailored ammo from a Dillon SQB. Now, back at the ranch...

As for BDL's points, there is a validity, but at best it doesn't include me. At some level, that's an important issue.

For example, I know that Cat Cora used a Global santoku for a while, even mentioned it by name. I would happily eat anything she prepared even though that santoku costs about 44 dollars.

I own an Hattori, but I doubt that my PBJ sandwiches are even sliced straight.:lol:

At the end of the day, however, an Hattori is still way better than a Global. And that's my point.

Now granted, even after two decades I have not sharpened ever make. But having said that, there just isn't a singular steel knife that has passed through my care that cuts even as well as a Tojiro for which I pay 53 dollars.

Oh, there are Japanese singular steel kitchen knives which are great. But that's because of craftsmanship, superior steel, quality control and 1,000 years of experience.

So if there is a singular steel kitchen knife out there that is better than a laminate, I'd like to know the name and number so I can obtain one for tests and polishing. If it's better, I'll report it.

Edit: In fact, to have some fun, BDL must have an old knife he no longer uses due to age, tarnish or minor damage. For this fun debate, he could send it to me...
post #4 of 6
Thread Starter 

You've given dispensation for strong, frank criticism before with the proviso that the conversation start with the statement, "Chico, I disagree."

Chico, I disagree.

The statement is muddled. The odds of someone getting hit by lightning are dependent on lots of factors the most important of which is the size of the population in areas where lightning strikes are probable. The odds of a statistician (or anyone else for that matter) randomly choosing an individual who will be struck by lightning are high. The odds of the particular individual (who it later turns out was struck by lightning) getting struck are exactly 100%. Ditto for the lottery.

We can go deeper into this, but it's a highly technical, dissertation-level area where "philosophy of science" and math theory meet. In turn, that's a consequence of statistics being the most completely mathematical of all sciences.

Over certain courses, a humble Jeep will thrash the World Land Speed holder -- which also wouldn't do well in F1. Similarly, the "strongest man" in terms of performing which feat of strength?

And with the knife, again it depends on what you mean -- both in terms of the particular characteristics you've selected (which can be quite ambiguous and circumstance dependent), and whether that or any particular set of characteristics can exclusively define "the best" kitchen knife.

In my opinion the whole question is highly dependent on what the knife will be used for and who will be using it. Because a gyuto/chef's is meant to be such an all-rounder any given knife -- no matter how well it performs some tasks -- will be bettered by other knives for other tasks. Any given blade, no matter the alloy and no matter how well smithed, will be bettered in some significant paramters by a great many others. Indeed, some very important blade qualites are mutually inimical (if not mutually exclusive).

"A kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh ... " And a guess is just a guess.

Geeze, that's pretty conclusory considering you've offerred no evidence to support it. Furthermore, costly cosmetics aside, typically the most expensive AND highly prized knives are almost all honyaki, which are all (by definition) "single steel," and not laminate. It bears mentioning that most of the highly patterened forge welded jigane are made by other manufacturers and sold, by the inch, to knife smiths for subsequent forge welding to their chosen hagane. To my mind it says something that nearly all of "the best" patterned jigane are available to anyone with a checkbook. I.e., when there's competition "the best" has a tendency to get spread out fairly democratically.

Returning to laminates vs "single steel," at the upper levels I have no dog in the fight, no preference towards honyaki and no animus towards any of the various forms of Japanese laminate construction.

At some point we're going to need to go into some depth to figure out which sorts of lamination you're referring to when you talk about "Japanese laminates." When it comes to most culinary knives, the better honyaki knives are significantly better than the best hon-kasumi knives, and absolutely trash the best warikomis. One exception to the rule is the type of lamination called kitaeji in Japanese which is the Japanese version of "true damascus.

I suppose you could assert superiority for ni-mai/hon-kasumi construction in that it allows the maker to use otherwise very expensive and failure prone hagane, and also that ni-mai knives are tougher and more abuse resistant than honyakis. That is, everything else being equal, which it never is.

"Tough" and "strong" aren't ideas. They're steel, alloy, and/or blade qualities. The terms have specific meanings. Toughness refers to a material's ability to resist tearing, breaking, cracking, chipping, abrading, etc. In a negative way it can be said that a tough steel bends before it breaks. Strengh refers to a material's ability to resist deformation such as bending, rolling, and waving. In a negative way, it can be said that a strong knife breaks before it bends.

Usually, very strong steels are not very tough and vice versa. However, over the past decade (or so), several steels exhibiting a high proportion and good balance of both properties have been introduced and used for culinary knives.

When discussing knives technically, it's probably a good idea to keep "tough" and "strong" out of the same sentence unless you're using them for their technical meanings.

Very tough knives can take extremely sharp edges. The Aritsugu "A" series which uses "gokinko" steel is an excellent example. Also, although it doesn't score a particularly high Rockwell "C" number, around 60HrC, it takes forever to profile and sharpen -- much longer than knives with blades which score significantly higher. On the other hand, the "A" knives exhibit extreme strength.

In addition to contradicting much of what Chico said, this also goes to show that hardness, at least as expressed by Rockwell C testing (surface hardness), neither shows the entire story, nor as much as most prospective buyers think it does. It's a mistake to think a higher Rockwell number always represents a better blade.

We can dream.

Not all laminates are hagane/jigane. The exception is kitaeji, referred to already.

You probably should go ahead and type a short treatise if for no other reasons than to make your reasoning clear to others and to yourself. Writing has a wonderful of organizing and clarifying one's thinking, at least for me.

By "differential hardening" of "singular steel" knives you're presumably referring to mizu-honyaki. By "300 layers in a perfect strata" you may or may not be referring to kitaeji rather than kasumi, hon-kasumi, or san-mai. It would be nice to know for certain. That said, you'd at least get quite an argument from most high-end Japanese kitchen knife smiths as to whether there's anything better than a well done mizu-honyaki.

Swords, sword making and sword construction is a different, if related, subject. I suggest leaving "samurai swords" out of the discussion or else (you) writing the specific nexus.

Several knives can be sharpened to the same (and higher) sharpness than a KD by a competent sharpener using appropriate tools. Hattori-san would be among the first to tell you that the KD's jigane performs very little service in terms of performance. Almost all of the action is at the KD's Cowry hagane. By way of analogy, the Hattori FH, a VG-10 single steel, takes just as good if not a better edge than it's less expensive, "laminate" brother, the Hattori HD.

In terms of edge taking alone, most aficianados Japanese manufactured knives and the alloys used to make them, would give pride of place to a carbon over any stainless alloy such as the KD's Cowry-X; particularly to one of Hitachi's three shirogamis -- probably S1. In my experience, a G3 Ikkanshi Tadatsuna gets every bit as sharp, if not sharper, than an Hattori KD. Even I (pretty good, but not the world's best sharpener by any means) can get (even) my old Sabs (pretty good, but not the world's best edge takers) to fall through tomatoes with no more polish than a surgical black Arkansas. What I can't get them to do (as opposed to either a white steel, or G3 "Inox") IKT is fall though by mistake.

Furthermore, as good as the Hattori KD is, it is very chip-prone. This brings us back to the awful truth that there are always trade-offs, and those make determining "best" impossible. It depens on which qualities take priority under a given set of circumstances.

Moreover, and also completely subjective, I think the KD is gaudy beyond ugly; not to mention obscenely overpriced considering its competition. Cosemtics aside, and even at the ridiculous price level, it's nowhere near my top choice.

Of course you're not only entitled to your opinion, consider it well respected.

post #5 of 6
Ahhh, a good debate...

My point was meant more to be humorous. In other words, if we are talking about anything, somewhere out there is the "best one," no matter how unfavorable the odds. I was thinking "Highlander."

BTW, I'm referring to kitchen knives here. If we were talking "all knives of all times" then Striders and Grahams would be in the mix. They don't make kitchen knives--yet.

Oh, to be sure, the facets may vary even from one individual to another. Despite some overwhelming assets, some people think the best trait is price. I'm sure you've heard it, I know I have..."For that price I can buy three cheap ones and afford to throw them away..."

I'm referring more to usefulness in a professional kitchen setting. And yes, a gyuto has differing talents than a nakiri or a can-opener. I see no reason why we cannot debate from the standpoint of "best in class." If that were the case alone, a singular steel chef's knife is simply not as good as a Japanese laminate gyuto.

There we can agree. At least one problem with forum debates is space and brevity. That is why I used the simplistic terms of "singular steel" and "laminates." Never assume, but considering the folks we have here, I think most professionals knew what you and I meant. I suppose some one could ask if a "clad" knife was in consideration.

That was my point. My Dad worked for Master Lock. Some of my first toys were padlocks. I knew about the term "glass hard" when I was five years old. My no-brother-good-inlaw is a metallurgist, and I pick his brain for info I ccannot find on the Spyderco steel chart.

But not everyone knows that. Most folks looking for a durable hunting knife use the term "strong" in defining a knife that can take abuse. Kabars are made to bend and not break. I feel this is an important issue because laminates with a thinner edge and higher Rc HT rating just slice better. And I am one who defines himself as a "slicer," and again we are only debating the performance of kitchen knives.

There we also agree. I would expect a superior slicer to chip more often. But 'hard' knives chip for one and only one reason--abuse. Bang a hard edge on a metal counter-top, a cement floor or twist with enough lateral stress and you get chips. As for trade-offs, I rather sacrifice that hard edge and the possibility of chips than simply succumb to a chocolate bar edge and playing it safe.

Eh, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as you point out. At the end of the day I'm a "form follows function" kind of a guy. I know that laminates look the way they do because of the forging process. I've also sliced with an Hattori, as well as work the polish. There is a "creaminess" that is more felt than seen. Shoot me, I'm a romantic.

That is why I enjoy your debates, BDL. I think that not only do we disagree, but we arrive at our diverse opinions using differing criteria. At one time I mentioned the annoying sound of the WRX STi, and I truly feel that way. You could bore me to tears with a sheet's worth of crunched numbers, but I'd take the V-engine any day of the week.

Same with knives. To me the "worth" of a knife is not only utility, but style, sheen, ergonomics, history, the act of polishing, and yes, romance.

Hey, I get the idea of "hammering a hunk of steel." But watching the actor portraying Hattori Hanzo deliver that finished sword with a sad admonition got me all misty.

It's more than the metal. But I feel if "metal" was the sole element of the debate, my money is on the laminate--as simplistic as that definition might be.

Thank you, sir.
post #6 of 6
OK. Best in class... which class is worth considering, but still... you say a single-steel knife is simply not as good as a laminate.
Now I'm lost. BDL was saying, as I understand it, that a honyaki knife -- i.e. a knife made of a single piece of steel -- is superior to a hon-kasumi knife -- i.e. a knife made from a piece of steel bonded to a piece of softer iron. Every laminate I know of, in the ordinary run of high-grade knives, is of this kind. There are of course san-mai knives, where the softer metal is wrapped around the hard steel, but this is basically the same thing as a kasumi knife only constructed with a double-bevel in mind.

Then there would be knives clad with a suminagashi / Damascus surface, which look different from but are in fact precisely the same as san-mai knives.

Then there would be actual Damascus knives, made by folding layer upon layer from a single piece of steel. So far as I know, knives made like this are not normally available to anyone for any price; indeed, I have read a number of interesting papers about the complexities of recovering the techniques needed to make these, and whether in fact they were especially superior even when they were made back in the 16th century or so. I wouldn't think this is what you meant by a laminate, though, since it's not laminated.

So I take it that your first remark says "hon-kasumi is better than honyaki." Your second remark says "we know what we mean, honyaki is of course better, but that's not the point." What is the point, then?

If "in class" means "of inexpensive knives," it's a non-starter: that's like saying that in the $50,000 range, a BMW will thrash a Ferrari. Sure, but there aren't Ferrari's like that, so what's that mean?

If "in class" means "where the knives can be aligned at a price point," you're talking about comparing (for example) a honyaki Aritsugu (Tokyo) 300mm yanagiba against about the highest-end (or overpriced) hon-kasumi knife made by a reputable maker. The price here is going to be about $350 if you buy in Japan. So on what do you base the comparison? I mean, which one is superior will depend on what is desired.

I know a top-end Kaiseki chef who insists on honyaki for his kitchen's yanagiba, but never buys honyaki for any of the other knives (except himself, as a collector, but he doesn't use them much). Why? Because the honyaki holds its edge a fraction better, and that means it doesn't have to be sharpened in the course of service, and that's better because he feels a knife straight off the stones makes fish taste a little imperfect. For everything else, that doesn't make a lick of difference, so why spend a fortune?

Anyway, the question returns. Why do you insist that a laminate is better than straight steel? On what basis?
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