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Bevels on Japanese Knives

post #1 of 22
Thread Starter 

Hey everyone,

I'm new to your site but I've been cooking at home for 50+ years.  Yeah, an old geezer.  My experience has been with Sabatier and Wusthof an old Henckels primarily.  I bought an inexpensive nakiri in 1988 from a small Japanese shop and it broadened my horizon, so to speak.  Shortly thereafter I bought a yanagi from the same shop.  Both knives are carbon steel nto stainless and are always my sharpest knives.  They were inexpensive ($7.00 for the nakiri in 1988).  Since then I've purchased a couple Masamoto gyutos, a Suisin petty, and a Fujiwara gyuto.  I've just ordered a deba.  My question has to do with bevels for the knives (the yanaga & deba) which are sharpened on only one side (or beveled only on one side).  I thought it was rather intuitive: sharpen the  beveled side, remove the burrs, keep the other side flat.  Then I saw a video of Nobu demonstrating the sharpening of a yanagi, and when he was finished with the beveled side, he lifted the blade slightly to sharpen the flat side.  This demo was on Martha Stewart.  He was saying 100 strokes on the bevel side, 10 strokes on the back side.  Since then, I've seen posts on your site about secondary or micro bevel on the beveled side, and a chart which showed a "back bevel", a very small bevel on the flat side.  I would greatly appreaciate your thoughts and instruction.  Thanks.

post #2 of 22
Still no answers, eh? I'll take a shot, but make allowances because I don't use chisel edged knives myself and don't have a lot of experience sharpening them.

Perhaps the best advice I can give you is to go to another forum where there's a greater familiarity with chisel edged knives. The Kitchen Knife Forum, Fred's Cutlery Forum, and the Knife Forum all have the sort of knowledge-base which can fill you in on the nuances as well as the basics. In the meantime...

You're talking about sharpening a "back bevel." It's done for a couple of reasons. The first is to strengthen the edge, the second is to simplify the burr/deburring process. The usual practice on the back bevel is to use the lowest possible angle that doesn't scratch the back of the knife. The alternative to back bevel sharpening is "flattening." In other words, you always have to deal with the "back" side of the edge to some extent or you'll have an extremely weak, wire edge.

Some sharpeners employ a hybrid method. They flatten first, sharpen the face side, then back bevel and deburr. It depends on the sharpener and (I suppose) the knife.

Traditional chisel edged knives come ootb with such wide primary bevels that the sharpener that "thinning" is very inconvenient. The sharpener either "clicks in" and goes with the factory angle or sharpens more obtusely. My advice is to go with the factory angle unless and until you find a compelling reason to modify it.

post #3 of 22

A good list of sharpening videos from JKI is here:


The seventh video begins the basics of single-bevel knife sharpening. 

post #4 of 22
Thread Starter 

Thank you kind sir.  To me it makes sense to follow what you said, create a small back bevel to strengthen the edge and remove the burr. I would rather do this than put a micro bevel on the face.   I've always used double beveled (two-sided) knives and prefer them, I suppose, because that's what I'm used to.  I thought I would try a deba to see what it's like.  I very much enjoy all my knives but I always find that my carbon steel knives are the sharpest and the easiest to sharpen.  Stainless knives are a must though--I'm married (for many, many years).  It took me a number of those years to get my wife to stop putting knives in the dishwasher, which in my opinion, is a stationary sand blaster.  Strange as it may seem, my wife's favorite knife is a nakiri I bought at a Japanese food and cookware shop almost 25 years ago for about $7.00.  I'm told the lettering is "Togoro".  I guess she prefers it because it is always very, very sharp.


Further question if I may:  What do you folks mean when you talk about profiling a knife?  Changing the angle or changing the contour?



post #5 of 22
Thread Starter 

Many thanks.  I will investigate.

post #6 of 22

Sal, if it's not too late -- sorry, I missed this one. I use almost exclusively single-beveled knives, and while I'm no super-expert sharpener, I can give you what I know.


If I understand correctly, the question is whether to back-bevel the inside (non-beveled, hollowed) face.


On the whole, I would advise against this. It can be done, but it's very tricky to do well.


There are two crucial things, when doing the back side of the knife. First, be sure that the knife has been set up by someone who knows what she or he is doing. Second, use minimal pressure and only go edge-trailing.


The trick about edge-trailing with minimal pressure is important. At base, the tendency when you grind is to have the leading edge press down harder than the trailing edge. This is irrelevant with double-beveled knives, obviously, because the leading edge is up in the air, but with single-bevels you have a tendency to grind the spine unduly. In a perfect world, you'd grind so gently at the spine that it simply does not abrade at all, but let's be reasonable. As you draw the knife toward you across the stone, have your fingertips resting as close to the blade edge as possible, and think about not putting pressure on the spine. That'll pretty much do it. And don't deburr all the time, either: grind the face until it's done -- no scratches from a previous stone, constant burr all along (as little as possible, really), and then deburr on the next highest grit. Just rub gently on the back, just barely enough not to have a noticeable burr, in a series of gentle draw-strokes. Then back to the face again. If the knife is set up properly, I doubt it would take 10 strokes on the back to remove the burr, unless you are using exclusively a very fine stone, which is doable if rather slow.


Once you are up to your finest polishing stone, whatever level that might be, you can think about burr-flipping and stuff, but it really should not take long at this level. Those burrs are very, very thin, because of the shape of the grind.


In the end, grinding knives like this isn't easy, but it is simple. Do not complicate it.


There is one important exception, which I don't think is what you have in mind, but I mention it anyway.


If you are grinding a 210mm or larger deba, as a principal-use deba in a more or less traditional kitchen, you should steeply back-bevel the heelmost third of the edge. When I say "steeply" I mean like 20 degrees or so -- steep. Just lift the spine right up and put that bevel right on there. The thing is, a traditional kitchen has no knife that can mince, especially under force. The heelmost third of the biggish deba is used for this purpose, and so it is back-beveled to produce an extremely strong blade section. If you are using a smaller deba, like a 180mm or so, exclusively for fish, do not do this -- you don't have enough blade to waste a third of it as a chopper, and a 180 doesn't really weigh enough to make a great chopper anyway. And if you use a gyuto for mincing, skip this whole process regardless -- it's completely pointless.


Hope this helps.

post #7 of 22

is the "flat" faces of your single bevel knife actually flat, or is it hollowed like a lot of Japanese chisels?  If it's hollowed, it's a lot easier to do that side flat on the stone since you're not removing as much material.

post #8 of 22

The primary bevel of this kind of Japanese cooking knife is normally flat, although in some cases (e.g. with a deba-bocho) the bevel may be gently curved (clamshell: hamaguri). The back face of the knife is slightly concave, with two small flat places at the spine and the edge, in some cases meeting at the point of the knife (depending on the knife's shape). As you say, the back is therefore not so difficult to grind -- indeed, a lot easier than the main bevel -- but it has to be done quite gently or you destabilize the edge by overgrinding or unevenness.

post #9 of 22
Thread Starter 


Thanks so much for the expert advice.  It's a 195mm deba from Bunmei.  Your advice reminds me of something a chef once told me about using a cook's knife (somewhere along the way it has become a "chef's" knife).  He said to keep a stronger edge at the heel of the knife because you use this for chopping things like chicken legs, etc..



post #10 of 22

Sal, I think with a 195mm it's all dependent on what you use it for --- and most especially what else you use. If you have something that minces, don't futz around with the back-beveling on the rear section. It's not worth it, trust me. On the other hand, bear in mind that it is the front 2/3 of any deba, and most especially the front 1/3, that is most important. So if you ding it up or something, rather than re-grinding and beating yourself up, just make sure the front 1/3 is terrifyingly sharp, keep the middle 1/3 effective and solid, and don't sweat the back 1/3. If you sharpen the whole knife at once, focusing this way, any nasties you introduced somewhere in the middle-back will mostly take care of themselves in their own time.

post #11 of 22

Hi All,

First post, As a new member who has just found these very interesting forums, I have a question for someone who may be able to help, I am considering my first Japanese knive's, but as a left hander I was wondering about the different bevels-ie 60/40-70/30, I have seen some nice western style 50/50 bevel knives but the bevels on some others I like the look of are meant for right handers, would I notice much of a difference or difficulty in using  say a 60/.40 bevel,?, I suppose a 70/30 bevel would be very much so, like the Masamoto VG and the Misono UX 10, I see on one site JCK that they do offer a left hand option, but probably quite expensive.


post #12 of 22

If you're a good sharpener, changing the symmetry from right handed to left handed is easy.  If you're not in a hurry, it's very easy.


There's very little difference between 60/40 and 70/30 -- to my mind they're only faint variations on 2:1, and 2:1 is about as accurate as you can get measuring by eye.  As it happens that range of asymmetry is a nice compromise between 50/50 and extreme asymmetry.  It's enough to for an increase in perceives sharpness, but without a great tendency to "steer;" and you can still use a steel as part of your regular maintenance.  


I'm a left handed cook, my wife is a righty (and so was my previous wife).  I've always sharpened our mutual use knives with a 2:1 right handed bias, and it doesn't bother me in the slightest.  That's partly a matter of good knife skills (good grip mostly), but it's mostly that 2:1 isn't extreme enough to be much of a problem for anyone. 


What we really need to talk about are the related topics of knife selection and beginning sharpening. When it comes to whether or not a given gyuto's factory edge will be a problem, don't worry about it.  It won't.  In any case, Korin charges too much for the service, but at least thei"resident knife master" does good work.  On the other hand, there are issues with the quality of JCK's "ES" service.  


If you're going to invest in a good knife, you should think about investing the time and money to become an adequate (at least) sharpener as well.   Want to talk about it?



post #13 of 22

Thank you for your reply, I have always wanted at least one good kitchen knife, just for me, one which my wife wont wreck, I have drawers full of cheap trash she keeps buying, every one without exception is blunt as, which is probably good as she has no idea how to use a knife it seems, (the steel got thrown out as it was old and worn out ??) I have watched her cut herself numerous times with edge up cutting towards herself mid air, it makes me shudder and if I say something  (well I guess you already know the outcome of that folly) it's not a battle that I will win, pointless really-lol.


As you and others here keep saying, ability to sharpen properly is paramount, so this is why I was asking about these bevels, as I figured using a 70/30 right handers bevel on those knives I mentioned would 'steer' the blade back towards my fingers quite a bit.


I have been in or around construction most of my life and am familiar with sharpening chisels, saw blades and the like, some of my wallboard broadknives for example get so sharp I used to dull them a little on a soft brick, in fact do this with all my tools like this that have developed very fine edges with use, I usually run a sander block over first before use as they do get these small nicks, so now I'm retired, sort of, I have this time on my hands and was rummaging through all these knives and have pulled out about 20 of them and started trying to clean them up, but presently do not have anything other than those rudimentary pull through sharpeners-which you can see the steel flying off when using, so I'm going to look for some whetstones to reshape these knives, most will probably be too poor to keep an edge on but they are my practice knives, I found one which said--Non Stain Steel-High Carbon, made in Japan but looks like some cheapie, no name except for some circle with what looks like angles in it.


So that's where I'm at presently, but I can see me really developing an interest in sharpening as a new found enjoyable hobby.


ps. as I am in Australia the time difference is quite large, so I'm in effect writing this tomorrow your time haha, maybe 12 14 hours ahead of US time






post #14 of 22

Sounds like you'll have plenty of knives to learn the time you're done, you'll feel great about buying some new knives, and maybe a new steel as well:>)

post #15 of 22

Just a question of BDL,

It seems that maybe the Hattori name, and quite a few others are now being exploited by mass blade producers , and many of these old craftsmen are now only figureheads maybe only inspecting the others products, Hattori knife prints look cheap to me, what about others in this category?, can you point me in the right direction here?, thanks cob

post #16 of 22


This has been going on for quite some time. Custom makers can't make enough knives so they use their brand name on a production product so they can make extra money. Nothing wrong with this since they don't tout them as being customs. Kramer is another example and there are others.

post #17 of 22


yep, of course there is no chance that these previously small workshops with their family figureheads could ever supply a world market, this is clear and as the Japanese knives which previously were regarded as exclusive rarities have gained  popularity with these old family names, the factories now taking full advantage of that relationship are now churning out these blades are marketing them off the old guys-who mostly look on their last legs, what's your opinion of the better massed produced products these day's?, as the japanese websites completely avoid this issue, they rather promote each brand as exclusive which is obviously not the case anymore.

post #18 of 22

There are a lot of good quality production Japanese knives in the 100-200 range. Here are some of my favorites, in order:


Konosuke HD

Kikuichi TKC


Masamoto VG

Mac Pro






post #19 of 22

Originally Posted by saxien View Post

Just a question of BDL, It seems that maybe the Hattori name, and quite a few others are now being exploited by mass blade producers , and many of these old craftsmen are now only figureheads maybe only inspecting the others products, Hattori knife prints look cheap to me, what about others in this category?, can you point me in the right direction here?, thanks cob

You have to understand the differences in marketing and manufacturing mass-produced, custom and semi-custom knives.  As I understand it, Hattori-san has quite a bit to do with the mass produced and semi-customs -- about as much as you'd expect from anyone who owns a company would.  I'm not sure whether or not he's still active as a knife maker.  He had some health and age problems which put Hattori customs on a very long waiting list indeed.


Hattori and Ryusen (pretty big knife company which does a lot of mass-production for the Japanese market) set up a joint factory to make "Damascus," san-mai knives.  The idea was that Hattori would benefit from Ryusen's expertise with mass-production, while Ryusen would benefit from Hattori's attention to quality.  After the blanks are made, the distributed to the two manufacturers and are finished, handled, and sharpened separately.  I hear that the Hattori branded knives are better finished but don't have enough experience to comment.


The "lesser" Hattori HD and FH knives are very good.  They're not on top of any of my lists for one reason or another, but that has more to do with feel in the hand, bang for the buck, etc., but very little to do with their quality.  IMO, the HDs are among the very best "Damascus" san-mai type knives; while the FHs -- more like semi-custom than mass produced -- are about as good as VG-10 "mono-steel" gets.  Offhand, I can't think of anyone who does VG-10 as well. 


Obviously ink-marking a blade as opposed to stamping or engraving isn't going to make a performance difference.  So we're talking about aesthetics -- not to say that looks aren't very important.  I don't know what to say other than that if you want a stamped or engraved blade, that's the way you should go.    


Lastly, all of Dave's suggested brands are excellent.  You could certainly do worse. 

post #20 of 22

Jeez , I love the look of those Hattori  HD damascus series knives, but Koki advised me--


You are currently interested in Hattori FH Series.
We can recomend Hattori's high level of quality, fine making process and his great policy for making knives.  We believe Hattori FH knives are one of best quality, most practical, great stainless steel kitchen knives for professionals and serious users.
Hattori HD knives have more thinner edge, and HD knife's edge is more delicate than most others if we compare.  Hattori FH Knives have better durable edge if we compare to Hattori HD knives.
If you are looking for the finest quality and you prefer easy maintenace of stainless steel blade, we can recomend Hattori FH knives.
post #21 of 22

You won't be disappointed in either of them. Just sharpen the HD if you get it right out of the box. What Koki is trying to tell you is they chip mostly because the edge gets detempered and brittle  when they grind the edge on a high speed belt grinder. Once you grind a new edge the problem quite predictably disappears. We've been selling them for many years now and they have always been this way. I actually use an HD all the time at home. It's a pleasure and it looks good too.

post #22 of 22

Hi Mark,


I noticed that a few Aussies have now found your excellent website and video's (I'm a big fan, as a newbie in this field) but are being put off by the high single knife postage costs, understandable of course from half way around the world but here is a part of a post from down here just for your info--


Check the ratings and the Artifex is really highly regarded – basically they've gone minimalist on everything so they can have super dooper steel in it at an entry level price! I like that approach.

Killer is the postage – nearly $USD40 for a single knife.


The guy was talking about a group buy-say 5-10 knives to lower costs, any comments?


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