Looking for a Japanese Knife

Discussion in 'Cooking Knife Reviews' started by bhwtt, Dec 10, 2012.

  1. bhwtt

    bhwtt

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    Hi folks. I've spent the last few weeks reading a lot of  postings on this forum, and thought it was time to make my own.

    I'm searching for a Japanese chef's knife that is best suited for me, and would appreciate any input, recommendations, etc..

    Knife Skills---average to good, but no expert

    Sharpening Skills--none, but willing to learn. Indeed, that is part of the appeal of buying a good knife.

    Aesthetics--not my primary concern, but an important consideration.

    Handle--no experience with "wa" handles, though not averse to trying a knife with one

    Current Knives--Henckels: 8" chef, boning and paring

    Budget--$250-300

    Some knives I"ve been considering:

    Konosuke HD/HH Wa-Gyuto

    Kanehiro Wa-Gyuto 

    Masakage Koishe Wa-Gyuto and/or Petty

    MAC Pro

    I'm an avid home cook and work part time as a line cook, though the knife will be used exclusively at home.

    I trust this is enough information to get started, if not, ask away and I'll try to answer any of your queries.

    bhwtt
     
  2. rdm magic

    rdm magic

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    Is your 250-300 budget including sharpening equipment?

    Personally, as a first J-knife, I'd stay away from lasers, unless you specifically want one. You won't be able to bring the best out of it without good sharpening skills, and from what I hear great knife skills.

    I know the MAC Pros were highly recommended - but, I think that since the last price raise there is better knives for the cash. I'm not sure what these knives are, just that I've heard that said.

    What length are you looking for?
     
  3. bhwtt

    bhwtt

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    Thanks for the prompt reply rdm magic.

    The budget of $250-300 is for the knife only.  I was thinking that a 240mm chef's knife would be in order, given I currently have two 8" chef knives.

    I sometimes use a Misono(badly in need of sharpening, so not indicative of how well a Japanese knife can cut) at work and it's fairly thin and about 240mms in length.  How much thinner are lasers?
     
  4. duckfat

    duckfat

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    Stay away from lasers if you are new to sharpening. Buy some stones and learn to maintain your current knives before spending more $$. Lasers are more difficult to sharpen for many and certainly for noobs and they are not the best all around work knives. That only makes sense when you think about how much thinner they are. ;)  There's nothing wrong with a Misono and 240mm is a very comfortable length for many.

    Dave
     
  5. eiron

    eiron

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    Keep in mind that the flatter profile of many J-knives gives you more 'cutting length' than what you might be used to with Euro-style chef's knives. My 210mm Kanetsune gyuto has about as much 'cutting length' as a 10" Henckels or Wusthof chef's knife, & only loses the longer up-turned nose. This is ideal for me, as it provides a lighter knife with more maneuverability and more usable edge.

    That's not to say that you shouldn't get a 240, only that there may be inherent unconsidered advantages already embodied in a 210.
     
  6. bhwtt

    bhwtt

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    DuckFat, is it the thinnest of lasers that makes them difficult to sharpen or is it the steel they're made of?

    Maybe you're correct and I should look at some good stones  and work on my sharpening skills before buying a new knife.

    Thanks,

    bhwtt
     
  7. rdm magic

    rdm magic

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    You could get a knife that isn't a laser?
     
  8. bhwtt

    bhwtt

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    Of course, rdm magic, but I'm mostly concern with having a good knife and being able to maintain it. If that entails firstly learning how to sharpen knives, I'm okay with that. Though it may the case, as you say, that I could get a knife other than a laser; one that is more amendable to sharpening than lasers.  I'm certainly opened to purchasing such a knife along with some beginner's whetstone. The question still remains, which knife and which stones? One such recommendation has been the Kanehiro Wa-Gyuto. Any thoughts on this?

    Regards,

    bhwtt
     
  9. duckfat

    duckfat

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    Primarily the edge is so thin it can be very hard for a new sharpener to work with. FWIW the current trend really is away from lasers for working knives.

    Buy some stones and work on those sharpening skills. After all you will need those stones no matter what knife you buy.

    Dave
     
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2012
  10. bhwtt

    bhwtt

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    Quote:

    Primarily the edge is so thin it can be very hard for a new sharpener to work with. FWIW the current trend really is away from lasers for working knives.

    Buy some stones and work on those sharpening skills. After all you will need those stones no matter what knife you buy.

    Dave

    Any recommendation on what stones to buy? As a neophyte should I be looking for a particular grit(s) and/or type(s)?

    Keith
     
  11. phasedweasel

    phasedweasel

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    I would venture a guess that a laser (ie, a very thin knife) is harder to sharpen for reasons of geometry: the thinner it is, the smaller the bevel will be.  A bevel at the same angle on a thick knife will be wider, and therefore easier to sharpen more consistently.

    I would also venture that most of the knives which are considered lasers are not made with san mai, or layered, construction.  Therefore the whole bevel will be made of the hard edge steel and harder to grind off, as compared to a clad or layered knife where the hard core material is clad with a softer metal.

    Both of these are just my best guesses, we'll have to wait for some of the veteran honemeisters to weigh in.
     
  12. Iceman

    Iceman

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    Interesting thread. 
    BDL ... that usually means for you to come in and give us your wisdom.     Please do that for us.

    WOW. This is my #1111 post.                   I know ...................... BFD. 
     
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2012
  13. wubu

    wubu

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    My understanding was that lasers are more likely to flex while you are sharpening on a stone, causing uneven sharpening and other issues. Until you learn proper technique (like the right pressure and angle holding) a stiffer blade would be more forgiving.

    I like how the term "ductility" hasn't made its way into the conversation on hardness and toughness yet.

    As for stones, the 5piece starter waterstones set over at CKTG's is a common starting point. Though you probably won't need the 500 grit till you need to repair a knife, you'd start with the 1.2k (and a sharpie to make sure you are working the right bevel and a stack of quarters to check angle) and either do the burr raise method or the stroke count method. You can start messing with your current Chef's. videos on technique can be found on CKTG's website and egullet and chad ward's site.
     
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2012
  14. boar_d_laze

    boar_d_laze

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    The Trend:

    Very few dealers retail lasers.  I don't know one way or the other whether the trend is away from lasers, but suspect that there haven't been enough laser sales at any time to constitute a trend of a size that would make a dent in ordinary, Japanese made knife sales.    To the extent that there was a trend at all, it was probably mostly a product of the knife forums.  Those of us who spend in the forums tend to forget the limits of their reach.   

    I've used a few laser gyuto including the Tadatsuna Inox, Suisun Inox Honyaki, Gesshin Ginga (Inox), Konosuke Shirogami #2, and currently own a Konosuke HD 270mm gyuto and 300mm Konosuke HD suji (which I use as a gyuto).  I've also owned and used a great many typically thin (by Japanese standards) chef's knives.    

    Sharpening a Laser:

    Dave could very well be right about lasers being difficult for beginning sharpeners, but I'm not sure what he's getting at.  In my experience lasers aren't more difficult to sharpen than other knives.   True, it's been about forty years between learning to sharpen competently and buying my first laser, so maybe I'm missing something.       

    Using a Laser:

    I got the idea that lasers needed better skills than ordinarily thin knives from a friend of mine who broke in a lot of new cooks on the line, but it turned out that he and I were wrong -- at least as they related to home cooks.  As long as you don't force the knife to bend by torquing it, or getting it out of square in the cut, your fine; and those problems seem to occur under the sort of time pressure you get on the line, but not at home. 

    So if someone doesn't mind working a little bit to improve his or her skills -- especially grip and keeping the knife square -- and doesn't work in such a hurry as to force the knife, an ultra-thin knife isn't a problem.  That doesn't mean you need one or that you should want one.  Some people like stiffer knives. Personally, I like 'em all, and my latest purchase is a "mighty" wa-gyuto -- a Richmond carbon Ultimatum -- more or less the opposite of a laser.  Because why not?

    Hard and Soft Steels:

    The Rockwell Hardness scales measure indentation hardness, and not impact hardness.  Furthermore, unless the alloy is made too hard, hardness doesn't have much to do with how it will sharpen.  Strength does.  Because strong alloys harden better and stronger than tough alloys, hardness can be considered a metaphor for strength, but they're not the same things.  File this under "Things Knife Retailers Never Tell You."

    Alloys which resist bending are called strong.  Since given enough force everything's got to give, that also means that strong alloys tear and break more easily than they bend.  On the other hand, tough alloys bend more easily than the break.  Strong alloys actually sharpen a little easier than tough alloys because sharpening is abrasion, and abrasion means tearing off little pieces of alloy.  Tough alloys "steel" (i.e. can be trued on a rod hone) better than strong steels.  But while tough alloys suffer less from wear than strong alloys, they ding out of true more easily. 

    That makes for a nice sort of maintenance relationship.  Strong alloys need more sharpening and sharpen more easily, while tough alloys need more steeling and steel better.      

    Most -- but not all -- of the best alloys are not only "balanced" in terms of those qualities, but are also score on the high side for each.  A few good alloys aren't balanced but are strong OR tough.  One thing ALL good knives have in common is that their blade alloys are appropriately hardened. 

    Sharpening san-mai knives (three layer laminates with soft outsides surrounding a strong/hard core) is no more difficult than sharpening knives made from a single layer of steel -- as long as you use appropriate stones.  

    The Dreaded List of Knives:

    I don't know enough about the Kanehiro or Masakage to comment, other than to say that they're the kind of knives I don't like and would never buy.  But that doesn't mean you shouldn't, just that I'm not the right guy to ask. 

    I love the MAC Pro for a lot of reasons, but it's no longer the deal it used to be.  I think if you're seriously considering it, you should also consider the Masamoto VG, which shares a lot of qualities.  The MAC's stiffer, the Masamoto has a better profile, the MAC has better manufacturer support and a great guarantee, the Masamoto is a Masamoto, and just about everything else is a push. 

    One of the first things you need to figure out -- and no one can really help you on this -- is whether you want a "yo" or "wa" handle. 

    The Konosukes are seriously good knives, and contenders for best knife at any price if you like lasers.  In a similar price range at a similar level of quality you might also consider a Gesshin Ginga. 

    The Gesshin Uraku is a relatively affordable single steel, stainless wa-gyuto with a lot of good buzz.  I understand the Richmond Addict is very nice, and I'll have something to say about the (mighty) Richmond Ultimatum in a week or so. 

    Recommended Stones:

    I spent a little time on the phone with Mark Richmond the other day and we were talking about a reasonably priced, good to go, soup to nuts sharpening kit aimed at beginners who have nothing, but want to start with good equipment.  He's got it online as the Eight Piece Set, around $190.

    Just some thoughts,

    BDL
     
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2012
  15. michaelga

    michaelga

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    Nice one!

    I just received a shipment almost like that... one click shopping from now on (for everyone else!).
     
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2012
  16. bhwtt

    bhwtt

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    Thanks BDL for you insights and comments.

    As to whether I desire either the "yo" or "wa" handle I've no preference either way, given I've never used a "wa" handle. I certainly like the western-styled handles on many knives that I've worked with(not all, but many), but that's no strike against "wa" handles. Wa-handled knives are  aesthetically pleasing and that's an important consideration as I indicated, but not having any experience with them I can't assess their  merits relative to "yo". Unfortunately there is no dealer in my neck of the woods that carries Japanese knives where I could go to test them out, so if I choose a "wa" over a "yo" it will be for aesthetic reasons and out of curiosity.

    Forgive me if I'm somewhat obtuse here, but I'm still not clear on the "strong" vs "tough" alloys distinction. Which alloys are "strong" and which "tough"? And are you suggesting( that its better for beginners to buy "strong alloy" knives because they're easier to sharpen or are you saying that beginners need to find a knife that is "balanced" in regards to these two qualities? If so, what do I look for? If I read you correctly, I think you're saying the a "balanced" knife is the better choice. Again, how do I determined which is which?

    As to stones, the selection you referenced from Mark Richmond  seems to be more than adequate for a neophyte sharpener. I'm going to borrow a friend's stones (1000 and 8000 grit) to try on my Henckels before I take the plunge.

    Wubu,

    I read somewhere (I can't recall where because of late I've been reading too far afield on this subject) that 500 grit stones are often the grit you start with for German knives, because they're so soft. Is this correct? Or is this too coarse  of a grit for a soft steel that is not in need of repair?
     
  17. duckfat

    duckfat

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    I'd suggest staying away from the "kits". You wind up buying items that you won't need and probably won't ever use and they cost more upfront for items you probably wouldn't pick if buying separate.

    FWIW my view on that applies to all dealers with starter kits.

     I think the best way to start is with a single combination stone. Don't take on a big expense only to discover that you find sharpening about as exciting as pulling teeth. If you want multiple stones the Naniwa SS Mark carries are great for starting out and you can buy a 1K and 3K or 5k stone with out breaking the bank. You can go for years even in a professional kitchen with just two stones and have much sharper knives than the average cook. Keep that in perspective when looking at multi-stone kits and stay away from  stones lower than 1k to start!

    Dave
     
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2012
  18. eiron

    eiron

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    +1 on this suggestion. I'd also recommend against using the 8000 grit stone your friend has, for two reasons:

    1) It's a huge jump from 1000 to 8000, & that itself can be frustrating when you're just starting to learn

    2) Your Henckels won't benefit from polishing at this stage in your learning process; give yourself some time to get the 'feel' of sharpening before you worry about polishing, & then use a smaller jump between grits.

    My suggestion would be to start with a 1000 or 1200 grit stone from Mike's Tools  for $24. If you want, you can add in their Suehiro 6000 grit for another $28 & have two full-sized stones for the cost of a single combination stone. If you go with both, I'd suggest buying the 1200 to make the gap between the two just a bit smaller. I used the two 1000 & 6000 stones for the first 2 years, & added a 3000 the 3rd year. After that, you'll need a flattener at some point in time, but not immediately (unless you end up gouging your stones early in the learning process; I added in a flattener after a year). A wine cork works about as well as hard felt for deburring.

    This will give you a good, functional sharpening setup that will teach you how to sharpen without spending a ton of money. And when you decide to change stones, you won't be leaving as much 'money' gathering dust in the closet.

    I almost forgot:

    If you have a Bed Bath & Beyond nearby, they might carry Shun Classic knives. While not a 'true' Wa handle, it might give you an idea of whether or not you could use one for extended periods.
     
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2012
  19. bhwtt

    bhwtt

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  20. jimbo68

    jimbo68

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    I have both a 210 and 240 Kanetsune Gyoto,(100's)  and I go for the 240 90% of the time.  The extra length is useful, and there are times that a 210 is just too short.

    I also have their Santoku.  It almost never gets used.