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Very specific questions re Japanese knives

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 
I'm a reasonably sophisticated at home cook who has been using western knives for years. I was given a Global knife as a gift and while I don't love it, it's made me very curious about Japanese knives and I plan to purchase one. I've done a fair amount of online shopping, but I'm left with a couple questions I was hoping this forum might answer. Before I ask, a little background. I'm left handed, but others in my household are right handed. I know I want a steel knife, not ceramic, and style-wise I'm likely going santoku.

Seems like most if not all higher end Japanese manufacturers still employ asymmetrical beveling, such that the knives are either for right or left handed use. For example, if I weren't left handed I probably would have already ordered a Misono UX-10 or a Shun -- however, I've learned that both Misono and Shun, and most other manufacturers, asymmetrically bevel their blades. So here are my questions.

1. Are there any of the higher-end Japanese knife makes which don't asymmetrically bevel their blades?

2. Even if asymmetrically beveled, would, say a left-handed Misono be unusable by a right-handed user?

Thanks for any input!!
post #2 of 9
Several makers use a 50/50 bevel. I checked only a few websites, so don't consider this an exhaustive list:

RyuSan Blazen
JCK Kagayaki VG10
Yoshikane Hammered Damascus
Hiromoto AS
Hattori HD
Togiharu Hammered Damascus
Togiharu Cobalt Damascus
Tojiro DP
Yaxell Ran Damascus

Probably the best 'bang for the buck' is the Yaxell Ran Damascus from Amazon. VG10 core, 33 layer SanMai construction, $55 shipped. I have one and it is a real value.

I can't answer the question about the asymmetric bevel affecting handedness from personal experience, but from what I've read, it isn't really a factor, as it is in a single-bevel knife.

Hope this helps.
post #3 of 9
Many. However, most manufacturers take a fairly cavalier attitude towards sharpening at the factory. Many knives which intended to be asymmetric come out of the box with near 50/50 symmetry and vice versa. Hiromoto, for instance, is notorious for shipping knive which range anywhere from 50/50 to 80/20 (right).

Furthermore, retailers who provide sharpening services will reprofile a knife to left-handedness or 50/50 at a cost.

Usable? Depends what you mean by usable. The higher degree of asymmetry the more the knife tends to defeat the intentions of someone of opposite "handedness." This is also complicated by factors such as grip type, grip pressure, how well the food is blocked, and the degree to which the user can keep her knife square to the food and square to the board -- with optimum symmetry.

I'm left handed, my wife is right handed. I have good, professional level skills; she has average home skills. I sharpen the knives 60/40 right, because it makes it easier for her and doesn't effect me much at all.

And here's where we get to the nub. A decent sharpener can change the symmetry to whatever he wants. Before you buy invest in a high quality Japanese knife you should have a good plan in place for sharpening. If you don't, you're just throwing your money away.

Good luck,
post #4 of 9

Lefties & Japanese blades

I took the plunge into Japanese forged blades years ago. Getting a tad excessive, I amassed a notable collection of kitchen cutlery in Damascus R2 Steel (stainless); stag scales. The knives were individually crafted by Hiroo Itou, and sold through JCK; compliments of Koki Iwahara.

The asymetrical bevels never seemed to bother me; a Leftie. Regardless of single or double bevel, a top tier Japanese knife seems forgiving and allows the Leftie to work unhampered. I personally don't see the need for Lefties to purchase higher cost knifes designed for left handed use.

Do your homework; study up on the different knife makers and their products.
Research a bit on the different styles and intended uses of Japanese blade design; then go for it.

FYI: I suggested to Lamson Sharp that they forge Santokus, and be the first producer in America. The Santoku is over exploited; be careful whose design you purchase. Another design, more heavy duty with thicker blade is called a "Western Deba". At least, that is the name bestowed by Hiroo Itou.

FYI: a San Mai Damascus blade, properly crafted, will cost far more than $55.00. Most true Damascus San Mai exceed $1,000.

Hope this helps your decision making.

post #5 of 9

No offense, but some of your opinions are a tad unusual.

Cool. However, the "bother" threshold of asymmetry depends on the degree of asymmetry and the user; there mostly how tight the user grips the handle. The tighter the grip, the more likely the knife is to fight and steer.

This is one of two statements which got me to respond.

First, let's make sure we're on the same page -- by "double bevel," I assume you mean a single, flat bevel on each side of the knife; and by "single [bevel]," I assume you mean a chisel grind; i.e., a single flat bevel on one side only.

With that out of the way, I've got to say that very few left handed users are comfortable with a right handed single bevel. They not only steer, you can't use your "claw" to measure thin slices -- something most people with good skills rely on.

When it comes to regular two-sided geometry -- yes. With chisel edges -- no.

Lamson makes excellent knives; and their LamsonSharp line is very typical of the "German" group which includes Wusthof, Henckels, etc. This includes a particular type of alloy used for the blades which is very soft, very tough and not at all like Japanese knives. In addition Lamsons are sharp.

I'm not sure what you mean by "over exploited." The santoku is a good shape for people who don't want to work on their skills.

Itou-san didn't invent the name or the profile. A western deba (aka yo-deba) is an extremely heavy knife which isn't much like a chef's knife (although it has a similar shape) or a santoku. It's intended for very heavy-duty tasks like splitting gourds, trimming pineapple, splitting poultry, beheading fish, and so on. In my opinion, most owners are better served by ordinary European chef's knives or the heavy-duty version we call "lobster crackers," and the French call "chef de chef."

This is the other remark.

I'm not sure if you know what "san mai" means. It means "three layers," and by the way doesn't need to be capitalized. San mai construction (aka "warikomi") means the alloy used for the edge (hagane in Japanese), is encased in outer layers (jigane) on both sides.

San mai construction provides several few benefits to the manufacturers, who then (one hopes) pass them on to the consumer in the form of lower prices. In the case of most san mai knives, the only benefit to the consumer is cosmetics. Many Japanese manufacturers use a pattern welded jigane resembling damascus as a form of decoration. Not only does it not have any significant practical value, it's easily damaged and once damaged very hard to restore.

To the extent "Damascus" has a generally accepted meaning, it's restricted to pattern welding two different types of steel in order to get the best and eliminate the worst properties of each. Knife people think "true Damascus" means the knife is made of a single piece of Damascus steel (kitaeji or tamahagane in Japanese). The expression "true san mai Damascus" is an oxymoron.

Hope this clarifies,
post #6 of 9

Rotera! Dude! Where are you?


It would help all of the people trying to help you if you could supply some feedback. Please post again.

Also, why a santoku?

post #7 of 9

Damascus San Mai

Damascus San Mai has two side panels/layers, and a center layer; each of which is already Damascus folded. Try substituting "Triple laminate of Damascus".

I have one Itou Drop Point hunter. Three layers of Damascus; 165mm blade.
Perhaps his only one, from years ago. Makes a great addition to the kitchen set.

South American (Brazil?) knife maker also does them; Alex Saveera(sp?).

post #8 of 9
Again -- please don't take offense. It's a question of terminology and you're entitled to use terms however you please, but you're not using "Damascus" in the same way knife people mean it.

San mai construction is NOT a Damascus fold. It's ordinary, everyday, san mai (jigane/hagane/jigane) construction. In the case of most of the Japanese knives the jigane is faux Damascus, pattern welded into a suminagashi pattern. Not all multi layer pattern welding is Damascus, even if it looks like it. Two of the things one looks at first, are whether the pattern welded steel is made of (at least) two different steels; and whether the pattern welded steel is used for the cutting edge.

In the case of the type of knives you're talking about, the alloy used to form the entire cutting edge is not folded at all. At most the jigane is folded around the hagane (a technique another knife company calls hon-warikomi), and this may very well be the case with Itou knives. However, the overwhelming majority of san mai knives are cut, stamped, ground, and/or forged from billet-sheets which come from the steel maker with the "Damascus" jigane already applied to both sides. Shun is an obvious example.

The "overwhelming majority" is even more overwhelming when a Takefu steel, like VG-10 for instance, is used for the hagane. Takefu is well known for their san mai. For what it's worth, the R2 Itou-san uses is made by Kobe steel (aka Kobelco) -- a fact now on JCK's website.

It's also worthy to note that in those cases where the core steel doesn't already come with the decorative pattern attached, the knife makers usually purchas the pattern welded steel "ready made." Almost no one makes it themselves, especially in Japan; and yes, that includes Itou-san.

Itou's pattern welded jigane is made from soft stainless only, it's purchased "ready made," and is attached san-mai style to a single sheet hagane. "Damascus?" I say no.

To return this discussion to the thread's context, I don't believe Rotera (the OP) is interested in knives at Itou cost or cosmetic levels. They're not exactly daily drivers.

I expect you to disagree with my analysis, and want to let you know that we've hijacked the thread to this subject as far and as much as I'm willing to do. So even though I won't be responding to your (expected) answer, I will read it with interest. If you want to delve more deeply, by all means start a separate thread.

Better still take the discussion to a forum with a big interest in Japanese kitchen knives, like Fred's Cutlery Forum, Fred's Cutlery Forum - Foodie Forums.

post #9 of 9
The term "western deba" is a term that seems to be a bit imprecise/fluid; perhaps it's a translation issue or just a result of the language barrier. Many importers (most, perhaps) seem to use the term to describe a gyuto that's roughly twice as thick as their usual offerings. Aside from the heavier blade it essentially is a gyuto.

I can see why the OP is seeking a santoku. This pattern is pretty "hot" right now. I'm not trying to be condescending when I say this but many amateur cooks will go with what they see on the cooking shows. And the santoku isn't a bad pattern at all. It may not be as versatile as the gyuto but it's handy for cramped spaces. At home when I don't have much space and use a smallish cutting board I'll grab a santoku, sometimes even a Henckels one! :lol:
"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
"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
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