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Yaxell Ran - where to buy?

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 
I've seen this brand mentioned quite a few times while reading through this forum. They sound like a good "bang for the buck" knife, but I haven't been able to figure out where to shop for them.

I'm pretty good at Googling, but this search hasn't been very successful.

Am I looking in the wrong spots? Are they sold under a different brand/name?
post #2 of 14
Go to www.japanwoodworker.com
post #3 of 14
Thread Starter 
Thank you. I saw the link to the Raxell Yan petty knife at JWW you posted in another thread. I didn't get any hits typing "Raxell" or "Yan" into their search box, but now that I know what to look for, I'll browse through all the pictures and see if I can find more.
post #4 of 14
It's Yaxell Ran. I don't know if that was a simple typing error, a true misunderstanding or just dry humor.

I must add one thing. I believe this brand is an under-appreciated lower cost knife company. These are incredible knives.

There's an old saying I thought was odd when I first heard it. "Good things are good because they are good."

No one had to explain 'chocolate' to you the first time you sampled a piece. No one had to explain 'sports cars' to you the first time you put your foot down in a turocharged Audi TT.

And just about everyone to which I hand a Yaxell Ran makes a slice and says something like, "Ohhhh, that's nice..."

Yes, I love the Hattoris. But a kitchen full of Yaxell Rans wouldn't bother me, either.
post #5 of 14
I believe on JWW, the maker name is Ran Damascus
post #6 of 14
Thread Starter 
:blush:

I think it was a typo when I posted here in the forum. If not, it would certainly explain why my searches were coming up empty. I will try again & make sure I get the name right.
post #7 of 14
Amazon carries several Yaxell Ran knives, but they appear to be 33-layer, rather than the 69-layer as sold on Japan Woodworker. Has anyone any experience with the 33-layer knives? Both are advertised as having a VG-10 core.

Sorry I can't give a URL, due to posting restrictions. A Google search will return several hits at Amazon.
post #8 of 14
I don't have any direct experience with Ran knives so won't be commenting on their quality, feel or sharpening qualities. But maybe I can clear things up a little.

First, the manufacturer's name is Yaxell Corp. They make several lines, including "Ran damascus." (IIRC, "ran" means "orchid.") The knives are not only available at JWW but you can find a few of them from several other e-tailers including Amazon.

Here's a description from JWW. The ad copy is a bit confusing.

"#10 V-Gold Cobalt Steel," most often called "VG-10" is an (excellent) alloy developed and made especially for knives by a Japanese company called Takefu. One of Takefu's product lines is VG-10 already cladded in a Damascus-like pattern which the Japanese call "suminagashi." It is not Damascus, it just looks like Damascus.

Typically Takefu provides the cladded steel to the manufacturer in the form of blanks at various degrees of shape and finish with the VG-10 cladding already forge welded to each side (and sometimes over the spine). A few manufacturers buy the core steel (hagane) and the cladding (jigane) separately, and forge weld them together themselves. Some buy the hagane and jigane from different manufacturers -- more common as you go upmarket. A very few manufacturers make their own cladding, but their knives are almost always incredibly expensive.

This type of construction is sometimes known as "san mai," which means "three layers." The three layers are the VG-10 core and two layers of cladding (one for each side).

The damascus cladding is made by "pattern welding" one or two types of steel together. Kinves at this level are almost always made from a single type of soft stainless steel like 405 or 420J2. The pattern is formed by folding the steel over on itself, repeatedly. Thus, the number of layers in the pattern itself will be some function of 2 -- like 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, etc. This means the number of layers making the knife is usually double the number of layers for the suminagashi pattern, plus 1 for the core (in this case, VG-10).

The multiple layers of the suminagashi allow the manufacturer to claim higher numbers than "san" (three), even though the construction is still san mai. "33 layers" really means (16 x 2) + 1, and "65 layers" means (32 x 2) + 1.

Another variation, becoming more common, is to fold an extra piece of steel and forge weld it over the top of the spine, covering some portion of the suminagashi. The layer is sometimes then hammered. If that's the case you might see "35 layers" or "67 layers." It would be quite unusual (but not impossible) to mass produce a "69 layer knife."

There are any number of makers using sumingashi over VG-10. Since all VG-10 and something 95% of cladded VG-10 is made by Takefu, the major performance differences in these knives are going to be funtions of grinding, hardness, blade profile, and edge profilie. They're important distinctions (think of how different a Shun is from a Hattori HD). If you're shopping for one of these faux Damascus types, investigate those qualities carefully.

San mai construction, whether suminagashi or not, provides few actual benefits to the consumer -- other than appearance. It will not make a VG-10 knife any easier to sharpen or stronger. It is not real Damascus -- kitaeji in Japanese -- and provides none of the benefits at all. More, be aware that the soft stainless used for suminagashi tends to scrach very easily in normal use and cleaning, causing the pattern to fade. Although, some knives hold up better than others. For instance, Ryusen damascus/Hattori HD hold up far better than Shun. But in any case, the pattern cannot be restored by buffing but only by immersion in an acid bath. It is not a DIY job.

Hope this helps,
BDL
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post #9 of 14
BDL,

Thanks for the informative post. I just ordered the paring knife from Amazon, so I'll have something to compare to my current Wusthof in a few days. I guess I was curious about the difference in price between Amazon and Japan Woodworker - $36.82 vs $86.50. Time will tell.
post #10 of 14
I just checked my wife's five-inch just to be sure. The left side says:

Yaxell
Damascus Steel
69 Layers
Made in Japan

The right side has a large Japanese icon, followed by the name "Ran."
post #11 of 14
The Yaxell Corp website has Ran at 69 layers as well. Assume arguendo the infromatoin is accurate.

It's not impossible to make a 69 layers (34 layers of jigane on each side + 1 layer of hagane in the middle), but it's not the most common way of making it -- which would be 65 layers. I don't know offhand whether Takefu makes ready to go "69 layer" or not, and if they don't -- who does make 68 layer. I believe Ryusen and Hattori buy a proprietary 63 layer (31 + 31 + 1) directly from Takefu for their respective Damascus/HD lines. Similarly, Kai/Shun buys whatever it is that it uses from Takefu as well.

As to Yaxell, quen sabe?

Anyway, perhaps I exaggerated the difficulties of designing a pattern welded steel with some number of layers which aren't a direct function of some two raised to some power. My knowlege base, such as it is, is old -- things change. The pattern welded patterns from big makers are designed by computer and made with computer controlled machinery. It's not some guy standing in front of a forge with a hammer. There are quite a few factors which control the actual number of layers (not to mention how they're counted). So...

Although I've never handled a Ran, I'm sanguine it's not true Damascus, but mundane san-mai suminagashi instead. True damascus aka kitaeji is just too expensive to sell at anything like a Yaxell price. "True Damascus knife steel" vs "Damascus like decorative layer" is not a "truth in advertising" issue, while the number of layers in the pattern is. I'm not sure how the disparity between the JWW copy and the Yaxell information came to be. But if Yaxell says "69 layers," I'm not going to argue.

BDL
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post #12 of 14
Knowing the Japanese, if they say it's 69 layers it is no doubt true.

But consider this, when we say 'vintage Shelby Cobra' there's a good bet that Carroll Shelby actually wrenched on and may have driven that actual car. But Ford now sells a "Shelby Mustang." In truth, Carroll might have only set up parameters for performance, suggested certain parts or simply "signed off" on the final design.

I'll bet there are 65 folded layers as you point out. I wonder is there are an additional four clad layers of super steel(s) sandwiched into the traditional process to aid in superior edge retention.

I suggest this because I've used and sharped the Yaxell Ran product--I even own one. In fact, I sharpened their paring knife for a client last night.

I'm not a metallurgist, but I can verify that these knives sharpen like a upscale folded Japanese knives, hold an edge, slice incredibly smoothly, and cost very little.

The Yaxell Corp. has found a way to do all of this at a reasonable price. Do you think there's a "clad something" in their blade blanks to provide all of this?
post #13 of 14
The thing that gets me is that I'm not sure how they count the number of layers. Is it number of layers per given length? Number of layers at the heel of the widest knife in the line? Or, what?

63 and 69 layer may be the very same steel, rolled out to a different thickness or blocked to a different size. Or not.

Just don't know. No surprise.

I think VG-10 is incredibly good knife steel as stainless steels go. The edge taking qualites are wonderful -- given appropriate geometry. In stainless, everything else being equal I'd rather have a VG-10 edge than almost anything else -- especially high speed, ball-bearing, and powder metallurgical steels.

As I wrote earlier, I haven't any personal experience with Ran Damascus knives. They may well be a great choice for other people, even lots of other people, but as you know, I'm not a big fan of VG-10 in san-mai suminagashi. It's mostly a "feel" thing, which few other people share. To my mind (and hand) a good single steel VG-10 like the Masamoto VG is preferable to a really good cladded VG-10; a Hattori HD for instance.

Your remarks about the sharpening qualities of the Ran are gospel as far as I'm concerned; and although you haven't specifically mentioned it they say reams to me about edge geometry -- particlularly that it's not incredibly thick (like the heel of a Shun) when it comes from the factory. Or, at least you haven't mentioned thinning -- which you presumably would have if it were an issue.

BDL
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post #14 of 14
My friend in Wyoming thins everything--but not willy-nilly. He's a very learned knife collector and user. He is a careful 'slicer,' and he would never thin a blade without study and a consultation.

As you know, a gentleman by the name of Dwade Hawley, the best sharpener/polisher I know of--at least on our hemisphere--gives my friend parameters and suggestions on alloys and use. They take good quality nakiris past 8 degrees, but leave Striders at 15 to 18 degrees. They're not metal butchers, they just like thinned blades--if appropriate.

That is not my situation. Unless the client specifies, I pretty much refine and repair the existing edge and factory degree setting. Yes, in making a bevel uniform from front to back and then left to right, this refinement by use and definition thins part of the blade.

For my use on personal Japanese knives (the ones without that thick bolster) I thin the heel, and on most good quality Japanese laminates, at least the 'gooder' type, this thinning is minor. It's more making the entire edge more uniform.

Yes, most Ran Damascus knives arrive a bit thicker and some near +/-20 degrees. Even if I re-profile just a smidgeon, the edges get incredibly sharp, if a good buff finishes the procedure.

I have what is known in the trade as a "soft" or a "slow hand." I always did, but I'm even more careful after studying the strokes I've seen watching real Japanese sword polishers on youtube.

My overall opinion is that if you need to thin off that much steel you either have the wrong knife or an ego problem.

Pictured below is a nakiri I refined, thinned, polished and 'repaired.' That front portion was amazingly poorly formed from the factory. I made it perfectly round so it would 'roll' smoothly if the chef made a backstoke through a tomato by keeping the edge in contact with the cutting board.

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