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'Blacksmith finish' on Japanese Knives - why?

post #1 of 30
Thread Starter 

Humour a knife novice and tell me why J-knives have the KU, blacksmith's finish on them. I know it's meant to look rustic and such, but really, why not polished finish, or some kind of better finish?

 

I bought a Kurosaki gyuto and showed it to my pal who has always used Sabs and he said if that (about mine) that if that was a car, it would be called an unfinished project

 

OK, he was ribbing me a little as we prefer different knife styles, but I can see his point

post #2 of 30

From chefknivestogo website:

 

Kurouchi is not a type of knife but rather a traditional, rustic finish. Kurouchi roughly translates as blacksmith’s finish. Kurouchi knives retain the scaly residue left from the forging process. The finish reduces reactivity on carbon steel knives, reduces the cost of production, and give the knife a very characterful, rustic aesthetic prized by many knife enthusiasts. Kurouchi finishes vary widely in appearance, uniformity, and durability. Rarely do pictures do these finishes justice as they have a very complex look and feel to them.

Gebe Gott uns allen, uns Trinkern, einen so leichten und so schönen Tod! Joseph Roth.
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Gebe Gott uns allen, uns Trinkern, einen so leichten und so schönen Tod! Joseph Roth.
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post #3 of 30

It costs less to produce and is less upkeep.  I wouldn't say they are all "leftover" from forging.  It can be placed on very deliberately.  Some are flat, some have more texture. 

 

Polished knives are more upkeep if you want to keep them looking that way (and actually use them not just for display).

post #4 of 30
Adding onto the cost of production point- the KU knives I have don't have the top 1/3 of the blade face ground perfectly flat. But yes the finish will eventually wear away and I'll have to figure out if I will want to do anything about it at that point.
Often times if you see the same knife offered in KU and polished, there will be a price difference. There could very well be other factors that go into the price difference, but the KU vs polished finish almost definitely seems to be a big part of it.
post #5 of 30
Thread Starter 

Thanks, but it still doesn't get past the knife looking only half-finished. The KU is a matter of taste I suppose

 

Reactivity - well the KU wears off anyway, and if you look at polished carbon that patina's and enthusiasts like the colours and look of that finish. Each to their own I suppose

 

Some, Takeda immediately comes to mind, are particularly rough, and although I've not used one that rough or 'pitted' I can't help being uneasy about hygiene 

 

Was there ever an attempt made to stop knives of this kind sold looking - and smelling - straight from the forge?

post #6 of 30
Similar to you I think, just can't bring myself to like the ones that look pitted or spotty from the start.

I imagine with a typical home usage, the KU might hold up well for a few years. I'll be sad if I start to see mine going anytime soon. On the hygienic point, If you notice yours start to go you might make the decision to strip it all off then and there.

Haven't noticed any smells OOTB with mine. In fact, I think the strongest smell I noticed of my purchases, oddly enough, was the handle of my Tanaka VG-10 nakiri which reminded me of grilling fumes.

Could be totally off on this, but I want to say that I've read before on KU not being a very common traditionally standard aesthetic. The influx of how much we see of it could be playing on the western hype and sentiment of how "rustic" it looks. If traditionally you weren't supposed to see the knives that prepared your meal, that'd go doubly for a KU knife.

By the way, how are you enjoying your Kurosaki?
post #7 of 30

I personally think it's all aesthetics and tradition.

For instance, now a tradition is starting with people who restore older vehicles.  When they find them with a really nice aged patina they won't repaint. They will clear coat protect the patina.. I also think the origin of the knife which is in a rustic part of Japan represents the knife's use. I believe it was made for utility use. I don't believe that now a days it's done because it's cheaper, that just goes against most of Japanese philosophy. A lot of these knife processes were handed down  from the older sword makers which had to pump out swords for protection. I'm sure their swords were made the same way and the tradition just stuck. The swords just had to have a hard sharp edge to lop of someones head. :>)

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FOR YEARS I LIVED TO WORK! NOW I WORK TO LIVE!
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post #8 of 30

There is a big split between pro and home cook in japan.   Professionals have their knives in sight of customers and the mindset is that any patina is dirty.  Likely they clean and polish their knives at the end of every shift with daikon radish.

 

Home cooks probably are using german stainless steel santokus to be honest

post #9 of 30
I'm more inclined to think that keeping knives (and swords! ) polished and impeccable looking seems to be more in line with tradition. And I guess a better way to put the cost factor is not that the main motivation is corners are being cut to be cheaper, but that how would this KU finished knife garner the same price point as the polished one? Perception of cleanliness or possibly "quality" plays into that. I haven't browsed and run into a KU usuba or true chisel ground KU yanagiba yet tongue.gif

Edit- panini I think I understand what you're saying better now. Those knives which are from a more farming/otherwise rustic region within their Japan, representing their origins?
post #10 of 30

next knife i can justify getting, might be Kurouchi. I feel like even if i worked somewhere where customers saw it, that the finish would look seasoned, not dirty to them.

post #11 of 30
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by foody518 View Post

Similar to you I think, just can't bring myself to like the ones that look pitted or spotty from the start.

I imagine with a typical home usage, the KU might hold up well for a few years. I'll be sad if I start to see mine going anytime soon. On the hygienic point, If you notice yours start to go you might make the decision to strip it all off then and there.

Haven't noticed any smells OOTB with mine. In fact, I think the strongest smell I noticed of my purchases, oddly enough, was the handle of my Tanaka VG-10 nakiri which reminded me of grilling fumes.

Could be totally off on this, but I want to say that I've read before on KU not being a very common traditionally standard aesthetic. The influx of how much we see of it could be playing on the western hype and sentiment of how "rustic" it looks. If traditionally you weren't supposed to see the knives that prepared your meal, that'd go doubly for a KU knife.

By the way, how are you enjoying your Kurosaki?

Briefly, and must say my kitchen at home has been unusually quiet over the last few days, so haven't had chance to cut all that much with it, but so far it seems OK. 

 

Nothing mind blowing so far in any respect. I've seen it referred to as a beast, but I can't see it - seems very tame and friendly so far.

 

I'm really not sure if I'm a fan of the KU type finish for a start. I now have two with this look, the other being a Tojiro ITK I bought some time as a full carbon white taster and sharpening practice. The Kurosaki is all round nicer for sure, with a grind properly done but so far not a world apart. Both have almost an identical profile and almost same heights. I haven't sharpened the Kurosaki yet, and the OOTB paper cutting I would just about give a 6 to. As said used it very little so all that may change, and indeed I hope to like this knife more with time

 

The most impressive knife I have bought so far is the Kramer Zwilling 10" Chef's. Such a pleasure, capable and doesn't balk at anything

 

Others in the quiver

 

Kohestu AS 240 Western

CarboNext 240

Konosuke HD 240

Loads of other beaters Victorinox, boner, cleaver etc

post #12 of 30

Back to the KU issue - what about food release ? I assume that a Takeda with such an extensive KU aspect to it would have that advantage ?

post #13 of 30

Grind has much bigger impact on food release

post #14 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by bonesetter View Post

Briefly, and must say my kitchen at home has been unusually quiet over the last few days, so haven't had chance to cut all that much with it, but so far it seems OK. 

Nothing mind blowing so far in any respect. I've seen it referred to as a beast, but I can't see it - seems very tame and friendly so far.

I'm really not sure if I'm a fan of the KU type finish for a start. I now have two with this look, the other being a Tojiro ITK I bought some time as a full carbon white taster and sharpening practice. The Kurosaki is all round nicer for sure, with a grind properly done but so far not a world apart. Both have almost an identical profile and almost same heights. I haven't sharpened the Kurosaki yet, and the OOTB paper cutting I would just about give a 6 to. As said used it very little so all that may change, and indeed I hope to like this knife more with time

The most impressive knife I have bought so far is the Kramer Zwilling 10" Chef's. Such a pleasure, capable and doesn't balk at anything

Others in the quiver

Kohestu AS 240 Western
CarboNext 240
Konosuke HD 240
Loads of other beaters Victorinox, boner, cleaver etc

I did almost the same thing with buying a Yamashin then receiving a Moritaka AS as a gift! In fact if not for the Moritaka I probably would have caved and bought a Kurosaki by now. He looks like he's putting out some great stuff. Hope you've gotten a bit more time to use the Kurosaki by now. How does it look like behind the edge?
I haven't been wowed by that many of my knives' OOTB edges, and the ones that have seemed the keenest were largely brittle edges that I've had to sharpen out anyways. And I'm getting to the point where I can tell that even with my novice sharpening skills, that I can put on a better edge than I'm being given. Just have to get over the stray grit scratch marks on the blade face. Got an Ikazuchi 240mm from Jon last week and I forgot to ask him to sharpen it before sending it out (still kicking myself for that one). Got the knife, wheel ground edge, and just took a deep breath, took out the stones, and went at it. Definitely is cutting more to how I want that knife to cut now. cool.gif
Maybe the Kurosaki will come alive with a fresh stone edge! biggrin.gif

Edit- the addition on the Ikazuchi
post #15 of 30
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by foody518 View Post


I did almost the same thing with buying a Yamashin then receiving a Moritaka AS as a gift! In fact if not for the Moritaka I probably would have caved and bought a Kurosaki by now. He looks like he's putting out some great stuff. Hope you've gotten a bit more time to use the Kurosaki by now. How does it look like behind the edge?
I haven't been wowed by that many of my knives' OOTB edges, and the ones that have seemed the keenest were largely brittle edges that I've had to sharpen out anyways. And I'm getting to the point where I can tell that even with my novice sharpening skills, that I can put on a better edge than I'm being given. Just have to get over the stray grit scratch marks on the blade face. Got an Ikazuchi 240mm from Jon last week and I forgot to ask him to sharpen it before sending it out (still kicking myself for that one). Got the knife, wheel ground edge, and just took a deep breath, took out the stones, and went at it. Definitely is cutting more to how I want that knife to cut now. cool.gif
Maybe the Kurosaki will come alive with a fresh stone edge! biggrin.gif

Edit- the addition on the Ikazuchi

It's pretty standard practice for Japanese knives to be supplied with a mediocre, almost unfinished edge and it's down to the end user to put their edge on. Some smiths, Takeda and Teruyasu Fujiwara are two of the obvious names which come to mind who supply super sharp edged blades OOTB. If you're going for some of the more mass produced knives, eg Yaxell, Shun VG-10 stuff they tend to be decently sharp. I've just received a Sakai Takayuki hammered damascus Nakiri which is properly sharp

 

I have now sharpened the Kurosaki and it it is cutting very well now. I'm liking it more now. It's a knife you don't notice too much which to me is a good sign (in most things)

 

If you're getting grit scratching your blade face it sounds like your angle is too steep 

 

Is your Ikazuchi the stainless clad one - looks nice. Has it got a tiny bit of back belly?

post #16 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by bonesetter View Post
 

It's pretty standard practice for Japanese knives to be supplied with a mediocre, almost unfinished edge and it's down to the end user to put their edge on. Some smiths, Takeda and Teruyasu Fujiwara are two of the obvious names which come to mind who supply super sharp edged blades OOTB. If you're going for some of the more mass produced knives, eg Yaxell, Shun VG-10 stuff they tend to be decently sharp. I've just received a Sakai Takayuki hammered damascus Nakiri which is properly sharp

 

I have now sharpened the Kurosaki and it it is cutting very well now. I'm liking it more now. It's a knife you don't notice too much which to me is a good sign (in most things)

 

If you're getting grit scratching your blade face it sounds like your angle is too steep 

 

Is your Ikazuchi the stainless clad one - looks nice. Has it got a tiny bit of back belly?

Understood. I think one of the best actually usable past a few minutes OOTB edges I've gotten has actually come from my Tojiro DP O.o

 

Great to hear on the Kurosaki!

 

So what happened was that I still haven't fully understood how much water to use with this new splash and go stone I got...and the excess water carried small amounts of swarf or stone grit up along the blade face. And then I did a stupid thing while on my 500 stone trying to get the bevels in better shape since I don't like trying to match the bevel of the waterwheel grinder - kept way too much mud on after flattening and had a slight suction effect on a few strokes while trying to drop the angle to widen the bevel, which again carried abrasives up onto the blade face. :( It's stray scratches. I know what you're referring to, and I did that to one of my first knives, but it's not that.

 

Yep, stainless clad, with the cool cladding line. Feels great, definitely the lightest of my gyutos, cuts very easily. Not sure what you're referring to as back belly, can you explain? I'll check as soon as I understand your meaning.

post #17 of 30

Lighting doesn't capture it super well, but I've got slim horizontal scratches like that streaking along the blade face because I was dumb while the stones were out.

post #18 of 30
Thread Starter 

I've scratched a couple of blade surfaces, and gouged a stone when I started out. Heck, I even managed to drop a King combo and crack it across its width. All part of learning, and why I practiced on my cheap knife and stone set first :)

 

Carrying on the blacksmith finish - will the smell ever go?

 

Also, and I suppose this should be the topic of another thread, but the standard wa handles with plastic ferrules were a big surprise to me. I mean its like a piece of super cheap dowling rod stuck on the end. And this on a $300 knife

 

Combined with the half finished forge smell blacksmith finish I just don't get it 

post #19 of 30
Similar experiences here, except the stone dropping. I did manage to accidentally bang it on something which chipped out a small chunk though...
I suppose I'll have to smell my KU finish knives when I get home tonight.. I really didn't feel like the smell was that big a deal. Or are you referring to the smells generated by the soft iron cladding?
Holy smokes, which knife did you get? The KU Kurosakis I see online seem to pretty much all have rosewood handles with a black pakkawood ferrule. That's perplexing to hear about.
post #20 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by bonesetter View Post
 

 I've just received a Sakai Takayuki hammered damascus Nakiri which is properly sharp

Bump!

 

Do you have a VG-10 Nakiri or one of their other stainless nakiri's? I have a VG-10 Takayuki hammered damascus knife. It was one of my first japanese knife purchases. I'm not too big of a fan of that knife anymore and my wife uses it as her main knife now.

I am wondering if anybody has their AEB-L or other more expensive damascus knives and if they are any better? 

 

I have a 240mm Sakai Takayuki Wa-handled Grand Chef in AEB-L and it is very thin and sharpens like a dream. It really is my favorite knife I own and has been a crazy workhorse knife. It is my watermelon knife! I'm kinda curious about their $4-500 knives in silver-3 and other AEB-L knives they make.  

post #21 of 30

I'd take well made AEB-L over VG-10 any day.

 

Performance doesn't typically go up much over the $350 range, except maybe the Tanaka Ironwood.  Itonomon/Munitoshi give you about that performance for a lot less.

 

For AEB-L you might want to try a laser like the Geshin Ginga in the $350 range.  There are some Americam makers offering nice stuff in AEB-L at $400+.

 

Silver/Ginsan 3 is a courser grained steel with better edge retention, essentially identical to Swedish 19C27.

 

Suisin Inox Honyaki is a great example of 19C27 at around $350.  With the forging and HT I understand it doesn't trade off much in edge taking.

post #22 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by MillionsKnives View Post
 

There is a big split between pro and home cook in japan.   Professionals have their knives in sight of customers and the mindset is that any patina is dirty.  Likely they clean and polish their knives at the end of every shift with daikon radish.

 

Home cooks probably are using german stainless steel santokus to be honest

Some professionals have their knives in front of customers, others think this is a disgusting practice. As to what is considered attractive, certainly large bevels will be polished at least daily, but beyond that, it really depends on what the chef likes and what he thinks his customers will like.

 

Home cooks are probably using Japanese-made Kai santoku, stainless, possibly teflon-coated. You can get them for $10-$15 (USD) at any hardware or home supplies shop. Those who like to cook also have a small deba, perhaps 160mm, and a small yanagiba or similar, perhaps 195mm; these are likely inexpensive carbon steel jobs, about $70 total for the pair, depending on where they were purchased. An upgrade of one or both knives at a local knife shop that will also do sharpening, polishing, straightening, and handle work for free or close to it is likely if mom is into cooking at all.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by foody518 View Post

I'm more inclined to think that keeping knives (and swords! ) polished and impeccable looking seems to be more in line with tradition. And I guess a better way to put the cost factor is not that the main motivation is corners are being cut to be cheaper, but that how would this KU finished knife garner the same price point as the polished one? Perception of cleanliness or possibly "quality" plays into that. I haven't browsed and run into a KU usuba or true chisel ground KU yanagiba yet tongue.gif

Edit- panini I think I understand what you're saying better now. Those knives which are from a more farming/otherwise rustic region within their Japan, representing their origins?

Swords have nothing to do with it. You keep a sword polished because (a) it belonged to dad or grandpa or whoever and it lives behind the little family altar, and although it's a pain in the butt you do have to have it polished every few years; (b) if you don't, grandma will flip out when she sees it, and you'll never hear the end of that one, not to mention all the guilt; (c) if you don't, its value will go from modestly significant to nil quite quickly.

 

That all said....

 

 

KU knives are country knives, made in places like Hyogo and around Shikoku and so forth. They're traditionally made and sharpened and such by blacksmiths, and sold to ordinary people. Professional knives have very little to do with these traditions, and the main professional knives we know today (yanagiba/takobiki, usuba, etc.) are quite young, having been developed to their current norms only in the 19th century.

 

The practice of cutting things in front of one's customers is very young indeed: it originates with cheap street stalls in large cities (Tokyo, Osaka, etc.), after the Meiji Restoration gets going and you have this high-pressure rapid modernization of the urban male workforce. That is also, not coincidentally, the origin of edomaezushi, the style of sushi everyone thinks of in general as "sushi." Outside of this particular rather narrow tradition, cooks and servants and the like do not ever handle sharp blades around their masters, especially at close quarters. Once upon a time I suppose there was some practicality to that, but mostly it's just sort of rude and not done.

 

The result is that it is only very recently indeed that any professional might ever consider a KU knife. What's the point? They don't come in the right shapes, they're ugly and sometimes smell funny, and they're really not so cheap as all that.

 

Of course, if you do want a true chisel-ground nakiri to chop your veggies at home, then a KU knife like your grandmother had is a great option. After all, it's not going to cost more than, what, $25? And the guy you bought it from will happily set it on a wheel and put a scary edge on it every few months when you need it.

 

That all said...

 

 

You have to wonder: who's the intended audience for a KU knife priced north of $100 USD? Not a Japanese pro: either he needs his knives beautiful (edomaezushi etc.) or he needs pretty much exactly what he was taught to use (other traditions). Not mom: why should she spend more than $25 -- is she going to show off to her friends? I don't see a lot of conspicuous consumption going that way. So... let's see, maybe male hobbyists with more money than sense, who care more about the looks of things than their utility? And who quite possibly aren't in Japan and so that $100 price tag suddenly isn't daunting, because there's nothing lower on the market?

 

 

In short: don't overthink it, OK?

post #23 of 30

Chris, thanks for the info.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by ChrisLehrer View Post

 

You have to wonder: who's the intended audience for a KU knife priced north of $100 USD? Not a Japanese pro: either he needs his knives beautiful (edomaezushi etc.) or he needs pretty much exactly what he was taught to use (other traditions). Not mom: why should she spend more than $25 -- is she going to show off to her friends? I don't see a lot of conspicuous consumption going that way. So... let's see, maybe male hobbyists with more money than sense, who care more about the looks of things than their utility? And who quite possibly aren't in Japan and so that $100 price tag suddenly isn't daunting, because there's nothing lower on the market?

 

This kiddo here XD oops. Though I will admit it's nice to take care of regular patina removal just on the stones - the KU covers above the shinogi, and a stone gets everything under :3

post #24 of 30

Yes, well, just to be clear: I too am a male amateur cook who has spent quite a lot of knives he doesn't really need, because he likes them. I manage to pay fairer prices than most folks here, because I buy in Japan, but I can't really take credit for that, after all.

 

In short, to respond to the OP's topic question:

 

Why "blacksmith finish" knives? Either

  • traditional and very cheap, OR
  • because some people (mostly hobbyists) think they're cool / attractive
post #25 of 30
If you can have the same knife either kurouchi for $200 or migaki for $300, why is it bad to give the customer an option?  
post #26 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by MillionsKnives View Post
 
If you can have the same knife either kurouchi for $200 or migaki for $300, why is it bad to give the customer an option?  

 

It's not bad. As I say:

  • because some people (mostly hobbyists) think they're cool / attractive

 

If you like them, buy them.

 

The OP was asking in such a way that I think he or she meant, "what's so good about them?" As in, figured there must be some sort of functional thing, because the OP think's they're a bit ugly. And the answer is: some people think they're attractive, and that is all there is.

 

Tangentially, it's like me with fancy handles and those engraved dragons and stuff on blades, not to mention faux-Damascus whatnot. I hate all of it. Do I think it's stupid that someone else likes it? No. But if I were to ask, "why would anyone spend an extra $500 for a hand-carved handle with silver inlay?" the only answer would be, "because he thinks it's attractive." Same thing.

post #27 of 30
I get weird about how various knives get maintained. Monosteel carbons get to build a patina for the most part. Soft iron clad carbons get my never ending war against anything tinge-ing orange. KU knives get polished regularly from the shinogi line down
post #28 of 30

Too many knives.  I ignore them all unless they are rusting

post #29 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by MillionsKnives View Post
 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by MillionsKnives View Post

Too many knives.  I ignore them all unless they are rusting
lol.gif
post #30 of 30
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Vic Cardenas View Post
 

Bump!

 

Do you have a VG-10 Nakiri or one of their other stainless nakiri's? I have a VG-10 Takayuki hammered damascus knife. It was one of my first japanese knife purchases. I'm not too big of a fan of that knife anymore and my wife uses it as her main knife now.

I am wondering if anybody has their AEB-L or other more expensive damascus knives and if they are any better? 

 

I have a 240mm Sakai Takayuki Wa-handled Grand Chef in AEB-L and it is very thin and sharpens like a dream. It really is my favorite knife I own and has been a crazy workhorse knife. It is my watermelon knife! I'm kinda curious about their $4-500 knives in silver-3 and other AEB-L knives they make.  

Sorry for the late reply

 

When starting out on the knife acquisition journey I lusted for damascus, mainly as I hadn't come across it before and was smitten. Now, some while later and with a couple of faux damascus ( the Sakai Nakiri, a Bob Kramer 8" Meiji and a small Sakari) I rarely use them - they just hang on the mag rack un-uesed. To me, in almost all respects they are a far cry from a steel knife. They feel somewhat warm, thick and dare I say it plasticy in the hand...

 

But, to answer your question, yes it's a VG-10

 

Since getting the Wantanabe Pro 180 most of my other knives stay where they are - such a delight and versatile blade. Lick it on a carbon steel occasionally (haven't properly sharpened it since its arrival and it's my main knife)

 

Other knife I use is a carbon Steel Kramer 8" chef's, but I think that's enough waffle now

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