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A unique(for me at least) knife buying opportunity

post #1 of 11
Thread Starter 
I have a co-worker whose wife is from Tokyo. She is going back to visit some family and, knowing that I am a knife nut, asked if I wanted her to pick up something for me.

The answer is yes but I was wondering, are there any high quality Japanese makers that I may have never heard of here?

By the way, I'm looking for a deba, a nakiri, a yanagi ba, and a tako hiki.

Also, I know it will be asked, if "a" is significantly better than "b", I don't mind paying for quality.
Dammi un coltello affilato e vi mostrerò l'arte più belle del mondo.
Dammi un coltello affilato e vi mostrerò l'arte più belle del mondo.
post #2 of 11
Which makers have you heard of? I assume you're familiar with Masamoto and Aritsugu. They're sort of the big two for pro Japanese knives. Masamoto is especially big around Tokyo, while Aritsugu is the name to be reckoned with around Kyoto.

A high zoot maker who's become very popular recently here is Ikkanshi Tadatsuna. Are you familiar with them?

What's your price range for each knife?

What's your price range for the whole set?

IMO, an expensive deba isn't cost effective unless you're trying to put together a one-maker set. Are you? Would you consider a less expensive deba?

You said you're willing to spend more for better. Define "better." Once you get to a certain level they all take an edge, hold it, and make a nice cut for a skillful user. What characteristics do you value over others? If you use a well known "quantity" like a Masamoto KS as a yardstick it will make comparisons easier to understand.

For instance, how much more, if anything, would you spend to buy honyaki over honkasumi?

Honkasumi or honyaki?

What lengths for each blade?

Any particular steel preference? A2? S2? AS? Inox? ???

Handle material? Ebony? Magnolia? Other?

Ferrules? Buffalo horn, presumably; but with or without metal banding?

Do you want a suminagashi or other pattern, or plain? Country style kuroichi finish? High polish? One side or both? Or just plain ol' regular?

Presumably you're aware a nakiri isn't the traditional knife to partner with a deba and yanigaba (and/or takobiki) -- a chisel edged usuba is. So why a two sided bevel nakiri instead of a usuba?

If you do change your mind and decide you want a usuba, kamagata or square nosed?

As you know, Japanese knives do not usually come sharp and you'll most likely have quite a bit of work when you receive your toys. If you don't already have a really good sharpening set, you're going to need a few stones too. Do you want to talk about those as well?

post #3 of 11
Thread Starter 
I have heard of Masamoto and Aritsugu but never Tadatsuna.

About $1200 total is a rough budget.

I'm not really one for matching sets unless every knife in the set is the best I can afford/find in it's profile, which almost never happens. Tidbits like this are why I asked. If a mid-range deba is just as good as a high-end deba, I'm all for the mid-range. That leaves more cash for knives where a step up in price will make a profound difference in quality.

Edge retention and balance are my two biggest focuses. Slightly tip heavy in a long knife and balanced around the bolster for short. Also, let's call Masamoto a minimum benchmark.

I would be willing to just about double the price if folded steel is considerably better in either of the above mentioned categories than layered bi-metal.


I like A2 for edge retention.

Doesn't matter.

Unbanded horn.

Again, doesn't matter.
Although, for honyaki, I would prefer plain with just the maker's marks.

I was aware of that but I've never had a chance to test drive an Usuba and am a little nervous about it coming from Tokyo and all.

If I were to switch, Kamagata. Rounded is always nice.

I have an old man named Ralph with a good set of water stones to handle that for me. I've never been able to put down a good edge as I have a slight shake in my hands from an old injury that did some nerve damage in my wrists.
Dammi un coltello affilato e vi mostrerò l'arte più belle del mondo.
Dammi un coltello affilato e vi mostrerò l'arte più belle del mondo.
post #4 of 11
Don't forget to add Suisin to that list. Mr. Togashi is very easy to work with.
I really like my Masamoto KS yanagi. The Ikkanshi Tadatsuna line has been getting a lot of press lately. I have their catalog setting on my desk. (droool)


Ikkanshi Tadatsuna Japanese Kitchen Knife: High Quality Kitchen Knife from Sakai, Japan
I think the most wonderful thing in the world is another chef. I'm always excited about learning new things about food.
Paul Prudhomme
I think the most wonderful thing in the world is another chef. I'm always excited about learning new things about food.
Paul Prudhomme
post #5 of 11
Suisin seems like a great call! They have a great rep for all of their Japanese style knives. They make a series from Hitachi A2 (aoni-ko), and its slicing profiled knives fit your budget well.

However, there's no nakiri; and as I said, I'd probably look for a less expensive deba.

I't's not that you can't get a nice nakiri from a big maker, but it won't necessarily be from the same makers and lines you'll choose for your other knives. Those others are "pro" knives, a nakiri is more for those who play the game at home. This isn't advice to get a deba -- you're not apprenticing yourself at a sushi bar. The only requirements of ideological purity in knife acquisition are those you impose yourself.

That you don't sharpen is a fairly big complication. Knives of this type can't be maintained on a steel and must be "touched up" frequently to maintain their true as well as their incredible sharpness.

Consequently, your priority of "edge holding" is very well taken. If I were buying these sorts of knife, I'd almost certainly choose S2 (or the equivalent) for the hagane because it gets so sharp so easily. But S2 -- or any "shiro" steel -- is probably not the best thing for you. Still, as a practical matter, it's hard to assess the degree of difference between alloys without experiencing the particular knife with an edge by someone who sharpens like your knives will be maintained and sharpened.

Japanese knife retailers usually provide a sharpening service free with purchase (and often free lifetime maintenance and sharpening as well), but that sort of sharpening isn't the type that's appropriate for these types of knives.

All of which is a long winded (who, me?) way of saying -- the alloy type, taken by itself, may not be enough to predict the relative edge holding characterstics from knife to knife. For insance, Ikkanshi Tadatsunas are made very thin and consequently even the Shiro type steels act sharp for a very long time.

Perhaps I should have this at the outset of the first post. I want to be very clear that I'm not a good choice as the last person to talk to about the subject. I don't have enough experience with any of the chisel profiles to give good advice about makers and lines. In fact, if it were my friend going to Japan with my knife money -- it would be for western profiles. I don't do enough nearly enough Japanese style fish or Japanese style cooking in general to justify learning the special skills which go with the knives.

Duckfat may be able to give you better advice. But, even if he can...

Go to Fred's Cutlery Forum (on the Foodie Forums), sign up and ask there. If you feel you want some advice on whose advice you should weigh most heavily and whose you should ignore, PM me, and/or ChrisLehrer, and/or Buzzard (I'm not sure if Duck's been there or not) here or there. There are several knowledgable people there having pro-level experience with a broad array of sushi sets. By way of examples, "kcma" and "blwchef" leap to mind immediately.

post #6 of 11
With the budget you've listed, and not wanting your friend's wife to be completely put out, I suggest buying from a single maker. (Yes, I know, heresy, sue me.) If you're buying at this price range, it's not going to hurt you.

The thing is, this set makes no sense to me.

Deba: filleting fish. You say 180mm, which is fine, presuming you'll never use the back 1/3 for mincing like the old-fashioned guys do; I assume you'll use a gyuto/chef's for that like any sane person. No problem.

Nakiri: pointless. If you want a serious vegetable knife for a professional, you want an usuba, and as you say, you want a kamagata, because Kyoto is better. Certainly at vegetables. And not being a hellhole. (Er... anyway, get a kamagata, the point is nice.) But expect to suffer horribly trying to learn how to use it: it's a nightmare. Wonderful, wonderful knife, but horrible to learn. If you do buy one, don't mess around with a little toy like 170mm, get 210-225mm like the big boys do and learn it right.

Yanagiba and Takobiki: pointless. They do the same thing. The yanagiba also does it better, but is harder to learn. Get at least 270mm and preferably 300mm: any less than 270 and the weight of the knife is insufficient to make the balance work right.

So if you ask me, you want three knives:

180mm deba
225mm kamagata usuba
300mm yanagiba

Now you've got $1200 to spend, which is Y108,000. Let's see. If your friend's wife goes to Tsukiji, and visits Aritsugu Tokyo, here's what you can get:

18,500 Blue steel deba, 180mm
22,000 White steel kamagata usuba, 225mm
48,000 White steel honyaki yanagiba, 300mm
88,500 = $985 US

Why these? Well, the blue steel is probably better with the deba, because it's a hair more durable and that knife needs all the durable it can get. The usuba is something you're going to have to resharpen constantly as you learn to use it, so you don't want blue steel which will be especially unforgiving and harder to sharpen. The yanagiba is of course the prize of the whole thing, so why not get honyaki?

Result: a truly fabulous set. To this you should add matching sayas and the like, and you should probably ask to upgrade the handle of the yanagiba -- try itchii wood or else ebony -- to balance the weight. Grand total is still going to be well under $1,100.

Sure, Masamoto has a bigger name, but not by all that much. What's more, Masamoto doesn't sell in stores, and Tsukiji (where Aritsugu is) is on the subway, so it's a lot less of a favor to ask.

Of course, you could also go one big notch down with the yanagiba -- try a suminagashi-patterned one at 31,000, or a blue steel for 21,000. Then you could turn the extra $200 or so into whetstones, which you are surely going to need. Your friend can order them all on Rakuten, cheap, from one of the big woodworking supply places -- I have a URL somewhere if you want it. I'd suggest (as long as you're going whole hog):

pink flattener
400 Naniwa Chocera
800 Naniwa Chocera
2000 Naniwa Chocera
6000 Synthetic Arashiyama or Naniwa SuperStone
10,000 Naniwa SuperStone

That set shouldn't set you back more than $250 or so, so you'd end with three great knives and a fabulous set of stones, and you're all set and ready to kick butt.
post #7 of 11
Thread Starter 
Sounds like we have a winner. I showed the above suggestion to my Sushi chef buddy and he got the same look that I would have if someone were to turn me loose with a big budget in a Sabitier K dealer.

I know that I have a tough learning curve ahead of me but I know the reward of mastering a new knife technique as well.
Dammi un coltello affilato e vi mostrerò l'arte più belle del mondo.
Dammi un coltello affilato e vi mostrerò l'arte più belle del mondo.
post #8 of 11
I have to say IMO it takes brass tacks to turn over your knife purchase to a third party. Is the savings that significant when you can find so many brands on line? Many are shipped direct from Japan. Even when you select a single maker and indicate a type of steel there may be several grades of each knife. Don't you wat to be specific in your choices? If had had some one that could read Japanese then I would consider having them over to interpret and order direct from ichimonji (link below) or from one of the other Japanese sites where you could shop and personally select each knife.

I think the most wonderful thing in the world is another chef. I'm always excited about learning new things about food.
Paul Prudhomme
I think the most wonderful thing in the world is another chef. I'm always excited about learning new things about food.
Paul Prudhomme
post #9 of 11
Privately, someone mentioned to me that maybe blue steels would be preferable to white in this instance, because they retain their edges better. There's truth in that, certainly. But it seems to me that if you're going to make a purchase like this, you MUST plan on learning to sharpen, and for that you want something relatively forgiving. For all the reasons white steel is slightly poorer on edge retention, it is also easier to sharpen.

I suggested a blue deba, because edge retention against brutal usage is crucial with this knife, and they're not difficult to sharpen anyway.

I suggested a white usuba, because over the first three months of learning to use the darn thing, you're going to ding and roll the edge periodically no matter what the steel is, so you want something you can fix relatively easily.

I suggested a white honyaki yanagiba, because (a) the edge retention is spectacular, even though it's white; (b) it will make every Japanese chef you meet drool; (c) the initial sharpening is something you should NOT do anyway -- get an expert to "open" this knife, which is not a simple matter; and (d) once it's been opened effectively, keeping it sharp is really not at all difficult if you do it very regularly on a high-grit stone (which also makes it relatively difficult to screw up).

Don't think you're going to get very much out of this purchase if you don't start doing your own sharpening. You won't.

A note about "opening." All of these knives really should be "opened" by an expert. Chances are, they will not be opened by Aritsugu -- I would expect them to charge extra for such a service, though I don't really know. So you need to find someone to open them for you -- this is not something you want to do yourself, first time out.

I would strongly advise you to look around for a Japanese-trained knife expert, quite possibly a chef, who is willing to do this service for you and let you watch. I'd expect to pay somewhere in the vicinity of $75-$100 for the three knives, and possibly more. Don't let him do it and just pass them on: you need to understand what he's doing and why. In the process, you will learn a great deal about how to sharpen a single-beveled knife, which is emphatically not the same thing as sharpening a double-bevel.

Once your knives are sharp, plan to polish them up regularly, ideally daily. To do this, simply lay the bevel flat on your well-soaked 6000 or 10,000 stone, with the point angled away from you and the edge toward your belly. With your right hand, grip the handle lightly, forefinger extending along the spine. With your left hand's first three fingers, press down gently but firmly right near the edge, raising the spine with your right, until the edge is just level with the stone. If the knife has been opened properly, it should rest like this without a lot of effort. Now gently, gently, slide the knife straight back on the stone, then toward you again, about 15 times. Lift the knife and shift the handle down so that the next section of the blade is on the stone, shift your left fingers, re-check that the edge is right flat on the stone, and repeat the grinding. Continue all the way to the tip. Follow the tip the way your friend who opened the knives did, again about 10-15 grinds. Now flip the knife over, nearly perpendicular to the stone, with the flat lying dead flat on the stone. Grind up and back about 5 times, then move up a section, and keep going right up to the tip. Last, very gently set the heel of the knife edge on the corner of a wood board or the like and, using no force whatever, draw the handle straight and smooth back in a gliding motion until the tip is off (don't let it drop on the counter!). If you do this every day, very quickly you will understand what you're doing and your knives will stay freakishly sharp. Then when you need to fix something, or you find something not sharp enough, or whatever, you can start the whole process on the 2000 stone (or lower, if need be) and feel for a definite burr; with a 10k stone you probably won't feel a burr until you've gotten the hang of what you're doing. But because a single-beveled knife, properly opened, has a flat strip right at the edge that lies flat on the stone, all you have to do is keep that edge down and the angle will take care of itself -- and if you keep sharpening every day, even a superfine stone like a 10k will keep your edge in good shape. After a year, you'll be very good at this and your knives will be terrifyingly sharp.

Good luck!
post #10 of 11
Thread Starter 
It sounds like, once I get it down, honing a single bevel should be doable for me as there is no mirrored angle to match, if I read the above, very helpful BTW, instructions.
That's the part, with western knives, where my twitch really becomes a problem.
Dammi un coltello affilato e vi mostrerò l'arte più belle del mondo.
Dammi un coltello affilato e vi mostrerò l'arte più belle del mondo.
post #11 of 11
That's right, Ray. The part that would be well-nigh impossible would be the opening, which a new sharpener shouldn't attempt anyway. When you have the knives opened, you may want to stress this, and have your expert put a considerably flat bevel on the knives. This is abnormal with a deba, but should not make much difference if the bevel isn't too acute. With an usuba, it's not unusual to have a flat bevel, though it's debated. With a yanagiba, you certainly want a flat bevel -- it's a question of where it is in relation to the primary bevel. Once that flat bevel is set, you just have to follow it, which is not difficult so long as you (a) go slow and gentle, (b) pay attention, and (c) use a high-grit stone; the last means you must sharpen fairly often, however. The back is easy: you could train a chimp to do that one. Just lay it flat and grind a little bit, evenly, to remove/thin the burr.

What makes sharpening single-bevels difficult is quite different from what makes double-bevels difficult. A double-bevel is hard because you have to hold those angles. A single-bevel is hard because you have a fair-sized flat surface to grind, which (a) takes quite a bit of grinding if you have to raise a strong burr, and (b) tends to stick down flat by suction to the slick surface. That's another reason to go slow and gentle: if it does stick and you're pushing or pulling hard, the knife can jump into your fingers, which is not fun.

Keep us posted!
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