Thinking about Shun knives but curious about other possibilities

Discussion in 'Cooking Knife Reviews' started by brconner, Feb 19, 2013.

  1. brconner

    brconner

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    Hi Everyone,

    I've found this forum recently and there's a wealth of information that has been very enlightening. Basically I'm about to move on my own and start my own kitchen. Part that kitchen will be a nice set of knives. I cook almost every day so I've been itching to get knives with a good blades. By the way I apologize that this will be a bit long of a post, but I figure I my as well lay out all my thoughts to try and answer any questions people may have.

    My brother has a Shun 6" chef knife which so far has been the best knife I've tried. I've tried Wustof, but I liked the Shun more. As I'm sure many people were, I was turned onto Shun by Alton Brown. So I've basically been sold on the idea of getting Japanese knives. One attractive feature of the Shun brand to me is their lifetime sharpening.

    Anyways, after reading through this forum a bit it sounds like there are many other alternatives to Shun which may be nicer for the same price or not much more. Here is where I could use some guidance. I already know the style of knives I'd like, but I'm not very familier with the differences in steel and quality of the various brands. The Hattori FH series looks pretty interesting from what I've read and am looking to that series as a possibility.

    Here are the knives I'm looking to buy along with a few notes....

    Essential knives I'd like to get

    - 8in chef knife (Maybe a 10in, but I've been using an 8 and I don't see much reason to go larger for now)

    - bread knife 

    - paring knife (I don't use these often, but they're nice to have around when the chef's knife is too large)

    Less essential knives I'd like to get

    - serrated utility (For tomatoes, but if the chef is sharp enough maybe I don't need this)

    - santoku (I like slicing a lot, but this isn't a good for mincing and a chef knife slices fine for the most part)

    - slicing (for fish mainly, sashimi or removing skin)

    As another note, I'm left handed. Now, I've read several lefties on here that don't have problems with right handed knives, but when I tried a left handed knife it was a glorious experience so I'd like to get left-handed knives.

    So the big question. What am I willing to spend. Currently, my budget is around $1000 for get all the knives I mentioned above from Shun. Not necessarily all at once, but my intention is to probably get all of those styles at some point. However, if a different brand which may be more expensive but higher quality I'm definitely interested. 

    Thanks for reading all of this, I realize this post was rather long, but I figure the more research I can do that happier I'll be in the end!

    Thanks for any advice!

    Best,

    Blair
     
  2. mike9

    mike9

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    Welcome Blair - I started out with Shun classic 8" chef, santoku and paring.  I gave the santoku to my wife, sold the chef and kept the paring knife.  There are much better performing knives out there for less money and they will not give you the headaches that Shuns can especially with the VG10 - core.  They seem to over harden them and they are prone to chipping and can be a biotch to sharpen. 

    Now for the question part -

    Carbon, or stainless?

    If you're going Japanese I'd get at least a 240mm knife.

    Western handle or traditional Wa handle?

    What kind of cutting board do you use?

    How will you be touching up and sharpening your knives?

    How will you be storing your knives?

    There are lots of makers to choose from and I have knives from half dozen different ones + some good old USA carbon I've converted.
     
    Last edited: Feb 20, 2013
  3. brconner

    brconner

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    Thanks for the reply! I'll answer your questions the best I can.

    Carbon, or stainless?

    - Currently I'm thinking stainless, because it sounds like they're easier to maintain. On the other hand, based on what I've read on this forum the carbon knives are sharper but require more maintenance. Honestly I could go either way. I don't think the extra care would be a problem for me and I'm already very thorough in how I clean and maintain what I own.

    If you're going Japanese I'd get at least a 240mm knife.

    - Also a common suggestion I've been reading. I guess I've just never used a knife that large, so honestly I'm a bit nervous haha. It seems like the larger knife may making mincing more difficult, but I've never tried one so that may not be true.

    Western handle or traditional Wa handle?

    - Western. Maybe I'll get a traditional Wa handled knife in the future, but not now.

    What kind of cutting board do you use?

    - I will be purchasing a hardwood end grain board in the near future. I'm looking at the Proteak 20x14x2.5 end grain board currently, but am open to suggestions.

    How will you be touching up and sharpening your knives?

    - I haven't done much knife sharpening in the past, which was one reason I was thinking about the Shuns with their free life-time sharpening service. If I don't get Shuns I'll get some wet stones. Regardless, I'll get a honing steel.

    How will you be storing your knives?

    - Currently I'd like to get an in-drawer knife storage tray. I think blocks take up a lot of counter space and the in-drawer tray would be easier to clean if I ever need to.
     
  4. himself

    himself

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    Maple, cherry or birch would be better choices.
     
  5. brconner

    brconner

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    I'll look into them. Any particular cutting board suggestions? or knife ones for that matter?

    Also, the more I think about it I'd like stainless knives unless I'm shown a convincing reason to go carbon. The more I read about the carbon ones the more work it looks like and while I could do that, I'd rather not have to spend too much time on it if its not worth the additional function since I'm only cooking at home.
     
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2013
  6. agfromdc

    agfromdc

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    Hey. I'm fairly new here as well. I can tell you that if you want to look into getting nice knives and are ok with spending Shun money, you should check out Korin. They can sharpen knives for the left-handed though it may be a bit extra. They have great choices, all of them easliy on par with Shun. They sell some of the finest pro knives available. Mark at Chef Knives to Go is really helpful too and has nice prices for a large selection for sure. He has his own line of knives that I'm told are outstanding. The guys at Japanese Chef Knives are cool too and have brands that you might not see elsewhere. I'm in the process of upgrading my kit, so I can't be of much help when it comes to specifically having clear recommendations for chef and paring knives, but I do know that my Tojiro ITK bread knife is the outright favorite bread knife of just about every cook in a kitchen filled with about 30 cooks, most of them knowing a good knife when they use one. Nothing but raves on that one...Good luck with the rest...
     
  7. agfromdc

    agfromdc

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    PS.: I can say that I used Shun knives exclusively at my overnight gig and I was never really that impressed. Definitley don't like how fragile they seem to be. You can surely find something more durable than that in the same price range, but if you like Shuns, you like Shuns and they will get the job done in style....
     
  8. brconner

    brconner

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    Thanks AGfromDC! I'll definitely check out that bread knife you suggested. I figure if I get the Shuns I'll be happy with them since they're significantly better than what I have currently, but if I can spend less for the same quality or spend the same for higher quality I certainly wouldn't mind! 
     
  9. chrislehrer

    chrislehrer

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    You're mostly asking brand questions, not fundamental ones, so I don't have all that much to say. Unlike some folks here, I haven't handled a huge number of knives enough that I could compare knowledgeably. But a few underlying questions arise.

    In no particular order:

    1. 8" is good, but if using a knife as light as any of these Japanese ones are, I would encourage a 10" if countertop real estate is not drastically threatened. If you expect to be working at a code-standard US countertop in anything but a teeny unrefurbished galley kitchen in an old urban apartment, I'd say go 10": you will never look back.

    2. If you are seriously interested in Shun's lifetime sharpening, I take it you don't care much for the idea of learning to do it yourself. That's a pity, because it dramatically limits your options. Still, if that's what works for you, I would say avoid a yanagiba or any single-beveled knife, as these need regular maintenance. For slicing, a long sujibiki or slicer is your best bet. 300mm is ideal, but as a home user you could get away with 270.

    3. If your chef's knife is not sharp enough to slice an overripe tomato cleanly, it is dull. Don't buy a serrated tomato knife. I also wouldn't waste money on an expensive paring knife, as these are much of a muchness.

    4. I am very much of the opinion that the santoku has no place in a kitchen that already has a chef's knife. The santoku does nothing as well. If you have trouble mincing with your chef's knife, you need practice, not another knife. Watch Jacques Pepin mince garlic and practice.

    5. Carbon and stainless are no longer straightforward propositions. It depends which steel, how tempered, in which knife. Stainless is easer to care for and harder to sharpen. In a middle price range or upwards, probably you get a hair more bang for your buck with carbon.

    6. Shuns sometimes get slammed out of snobbishness, sometimes for better reasons. In essence, for the price, you can get unquestionably better Japanese knives. Should that matter to you? I'd say no, not if you aren't planning to do your own sharpening. And don't let anyone tell you that's not OK, either: Shuns are good knives, and they continue to do good business because their knives do compare favorably against most of the international big-name brands. And off the top of my head, I can't think of someone better with that sharpening guarantee.
     
  10. brconner

    brconner

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    Thanks Chris! Here are my responses to your statements. Lots of good stuff to think about. I'll just number my responses according to yours.

    1. I don't think my countertop real estate will be drastically threatened so 10" is an option. Honestly I hadn't thought about Japanese knives being less weight which is a good argument to get a larger knife to keep a little more weight. That's basically convinced me to the 10" so thank you for bringing that up.

    2. I don't have a problem with learning how to sharpen. It's more so that since I haven't done it before I'm afraid that if I get a knife that I need to do my own sharpening and I happen to suck at that well I'm kind of screwed haha. It sounds like there are some good DVDs on sharpening kitchen knives, so I feel pretty confident that I could learn it with some practice. I'm just nervous about ruining an expensive knife really.

    3. I've been slowly convinced to this thought as well on the serrated tomato knife and am no longer looking for one. As for the paring knife, I don't use them very often but they are handy.

    4. I don't have any problems mincing with a chef knife. What I find attractive about the santoku knives if the flatter cutting edge. I suppose if I get the 10" chef knife though I would already have that quality in the chef and still be able to rock back and forth pretty easily. You're really selling the idea of a 10" chef knife to me!

    5. That's interesting that I would get more bang for my buck with carbon. I guess for me to decide carbon or stainless it really depends how much more maintenance is required. If it is really just making sure I dry the knife quickly and don't let it stay wet I wouldn't mind that, but I imagine there's more than that. Maybe someone could give me an overview of the maintenance required for carbon steel knives?

    6. That's whats really attractive about the Shun's too me. Lets say there's a worst case scenario (within reason) and I get a big chip or break off the tip of the knife, how difficult is that to fix or how expensive to repair? 

    Thank you again for the replies! This is really helpful.
     
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2013
  11. chrisclemens10

    chrisclemens10

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    My favourite is my MAC 8" French knife. Perfect balance and comfortable to use.
     
  12. chrislehrer

    chrislehrer

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  13. boar_d_laze

    boar_d_laze

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    +1 to everything Chris said, plus a little clarification and a little food for thought on the way to getting specific about recommendations. 

    Just to clarify:

    Nearly all Shun chef's knives have German profiles; and in the case of the Onion/Kershaw designs (includes the Classic, the Onion, and quite a few more) the profile leans towards the extreme because the point is high.  Typically, a higher point means more belly and Shuns are no exception.

    There are three basic types of chopping actions.  The two you hear about most often are "rock chopping," and "push cutting."  The third is the classic, silent, and oh so very French, which doesn't have an official name, but I call the "guillotine and glide," and is more commonly called  "gliding action."  German profile knives are especially suited to rock chopping; very flat traditional Japanese shapes like the usuba are especially suited to push cutting; while the French does the guillotine and glide like nobody's business.  Also, the French profile is a little more adaptable to both rock chopping and push cutting than German or very flat profiles. 

    It's tempting to make too much of this, so bear in mind that it's one of those "on the one hand... but on the other hand" types of things.  On the one hand, any given type of knife can perform any of the actions well as long as the user has the skills and the desire.  On the other hand, certain profiles do tend to promote certain actions and its as natural to find yourself adapting your style to the knife as it is to force the knife into your style. 

    Rock chopping a German profile is a way of transferring a lot of power through the food and onto the board.  That sounds like a good thing, but really isn't -- or at least isn't very important -- as long as you keep your knife sharp.  So, as long as you keep your knife sharp (sensing a theme?), there's no real advantage to a German profile, but there are some draw backs, "handle pumping" for routine chopping, awkward hand positions for point work, and comparatively lousy agility. 

    At the end of the day, there's no superior profile.  It's entirely a matter of style and 'druthers.  But if someone who doesn't have an established style and wants to develop good knife skills asks for a recommendation, I almost always recommend away from German (including Shun) or Asian and towards French. 

    Food for Thought:

    It's easy for me to just throw out a few brand names without providing much more information, but if you're into this stuff at all it's going to be of greater benefit if you learn enough about knives so that you can make your own, informed choices.

    BDL
     
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2013
  14. brconner

    brconner

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    Thanks BDL! I hadn't heard of the "guillotine and glide" technique before. After reading you post, it sounds like that technique is easier on the knife, the food, and whoever is using the knife so I think I'd like to get a knife with a French profile and begin using that technique. While I still think a 10" knife is large, if that length is the optimal size for the French profile I'd like to go with that. 

    It looks like my knife list is as follows...

    - The Tojiro ITK Bread Knife (from what I've seen this thing get's rave reviews and its an excellent price. Thanks AGfromDC for the suggestions! Any other suggestions are welcome though.)

    - Looking for 10" chef knife with French profile (I believe the Japanese version is called a gyuto?)

    - Looking for a paring knife (chef knife has a significant priority over this though)

    So I guess the main advice I need now is if the knife should be carbon or stainless. If the maintenance for carbon is as simple as Chris said, then I'm still interested in carbon as a possibility.

    What are the advantages of carbon steel? From what I've gathered, they can be sharper than stainless because they're harder. Does that mean the carbon knives need to be sharpened more or less often? I think I read that they're easier to sharpen than stainless, but correct me if I'm wrong.

    While I don't want to be lazy, I would rather have a knife that doesn't need to be sharpened as often. I don't have a problem honing a knife whenever I use it, but if I really need to sharpen the knife every week that's too much for me. 

    Getting a very durable knife is my goal. My intuition tells me that stainless in the long run is more durable than the carbons, but since the carbons are harder maybe that isn't true. I would rather sharpen a knife less often even if it takes a little longer than sharpen a knife more often in less time. 

    Thanks again for the help everyone! 
     
  15. chrislehrer

    chrislehrer

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    Notes from the peanut gallery:

    1. I was apparently wrong about the Shun profiles. I am sure BDL is right about this: he's right about most things, but also he has actually compared scads of knives head to head, which I haven't. If the Shun is a German profile, I for one am against it. I agree with BDL: a really sharp knife wins over a rocked one any day.

    2. The extremely straight edge of the usuba, which is the Japanese traditional professional's vegetable knife, is not "difficult" to rock -- if you do it, you'll chip the corners. Bad bad bad, as the thing is a b&*$h to fix.

    3. Carbon is not "sharper" or "harder" than stainless. On the whole, carbon takes an edge more easily and finely at a given price point. That is to say, $300 in carbon buys something you can do terrifying things with very easily using decent stones, where the same in stainless is a little trickier to bring to that level of shock and awe. Since you don't already have stones, this doesn't make all that much difference, because you can choose stones appropriate to the steel, and there are folks here like Phaedrus and BDL who can help you do that with stainless. At the outset, it's not realistic to think you're going to take any steel to that level anyway, and you may want to think twice about investing in that kind of quality initially.

    Case in point. Suppose, like me, you decide to get a Masamoto KS 270 wa-gyuto. A thing of beauty and a joy forever. Carbon. Takes one of the most disturbing edges I have ever encountered, and I know others who agree. If you like carbon, Masamoto KS is glorious. Cost? About $350, I believe, plus shipping. Stones? Another $100 for basics, but you'll quickly want another $100 worth to bring it to perfection. Total outlay: $550. In 3-6 months, all things being equal, you will be confused by almost everything you used to think "sharp," because it now seems so horrendously dull.

    Suppose instead you buy a MAC Pro 9.5" chef's knife. Stainless. Cost? About $185, give or take -- if you search you can probably get it for less. Stones? Again, about $100 for basics, and you'll end up spending more in the end. Total cost is going to be roughly $200 less than the Masamoto. Is MAC as good? Weeeelllll, it depends. Probably not quite, no, but we're really up in the nosebleed seats here, you know? I mean, nobody needs any better than the MAC Pro. Would I take it over the Masamoto? Heck no, but can I honestly say that the $200 differential is worth it? Umm. Don't tell my wife, OK?

    And so it goes.

    In essence, if you are starting out on this, and don't want something exotic, and are willing to listen to experts like BDL about stones and stuff, you won't get out for less than $300... but you will be happy with it. (This isn't including a slicer, obviously.) And you can spend more if you want, and, if you're careful about it, you will get more for the money. But more of what?

    With Masamoto KS, you get about the most fun-to-sharpen carbon steel you'll likely encounter, and a freakishly sharp edge which can take more than you can give. Is that honestly worth it to you? If so, why? The difference between what a MAC can take, edge-wise, and anything you have ever experienced is like night and day.

    Advice: decide on your price point, figure $100 for stones, and then figure out what's the very best you can get for the remainder. Carbon vs. stainless isn't the way to decide: they have ups and downs. Decide what you care about, and ignore the rest.

    One last example: Some people get hot to trot about what the blade looks like, in various ways, or handles, or whatever. I'm not talking about silliness. Some people love the look of this or that knife, and that matters to them a lot. So, given that two knives are about the same functionally, and one looks better, they go for that. Me, I don't care at all. Masamoto knives aren't especially pretty, they just look like plain-Jane Japanese knives. I doubt anyone has said they patina beautifully. What's nice about them is exclusively function. Since I don't care about looks, that's how I gravitate, and I can scrape up the cash to make it happen. But you must decide what you like, because whatever you buy, you're likely to live with it for a long while.

    So. Long-winded, but I generally am.
     
  16. chrislehrer

    chrislehrer

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    One more thing, as Columbo used to say.

    Durability and hardness aren't at all the same thing. Unfortunately, there is no absolute measure on durability: you have to go largely by anecdotal data, and even then it's going to depend on how you sharpen.

    Since you do plan to hone often, and don't want to sharpen constantly, just be sure you sharpen your knife pretty much symmetrically. That is, grind it at the same angle on both sides. Most instructions in English on sharpening double-bevel knives encourage you to do this anyway, so that's no trouble. As an edge becomes increasingly asymmetrical, honing becomes less and less effective, and more and more likely to produce micro-chipping.

    I am not aware of any decent Japanese chef's knife that, if sharpened symmetrically or close to it, would require weekly sharpening if you are not a total lunatic about freakish sharpness and don't use it constantly in a professional, high-production setting. I could be wrong about this, but if so, I wouldn't buy a knife that fit this description. To reference my previous examples, both the expensive carbon Masamoto KS and the mid-priced MAC stainless should behave impeccably in your situation.

    So, once again, I have to tell you that this is unfortunately not a way to winnow down the choices. Sorry!
     
  17. brconner

    brconner

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    Chris, your advice has been great and I don't mind how long winded it is either! I have plenty of time to research and discuss my options before actually buying the knife. I won't be purchasing a knife for at least two weeks and I may even wait up to a month so time isn't an issue for me right now. I'd rather be thorough now than regret my decision later.

    For the chef knife I'm willing to go up to $300 as an absolute maximum. I'd prefer to spend between $150 and $250 though if possible for just the knife.

    In general, I prefer the look of the western handle. So far from a looks perspective, my favorite is the Hattori FH series with the cocobolo handle. They have a very clean and elegant look which I really like. I love figured woods and cocobolo happens to be one of my favorites in general.

    As for the traditional handles, I don't like how the handle doesn't flow into the blade like the western ones do usually. It seems like many of them have a "step" in the steel before it enters the handle. This isn'y always true though. For example (I'm just looking through the JCK site to find what I'm talking about) the JCK Kagayaki Aogami Super Series handles look great to me even though its not a western handle. The blade looks great as well, but I don't need a damascus pattern by any means. Its cool and I wouldn't mind if my knives had that, but it won't be a major part of the decision. The JCK Fu-Rin-Ka-Zan White Steel No. 1 Series handles I do no like. It has the "step" I mentioned in the steel before the handle. 

    Honestly, while I like the western handle more than the traditional ones, if I can get a better knife with the traditional handle I'd still consider it. 

    EDIT: After looking the JCK website a bit I've decided I'm absolutely open to the idea of a traditional style handle. I just prefer that the handles have a more finished look to them though. I could even get over the "step" thing I mentioned earlier if the quality if that much better. Honestly I have opinions about looks, but function is more important to me and eventually I'd get used to how a knife looks regardless of its style.
     
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2013
  18. wobelix

    wobelix

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    I noticed the same thing and do not like it either.

    It's plain ugly.

    Is there a reason for such a step ?

    it looks like sloppiness, to be honest, but I'm sure that cannot be the case...

    Is it the same philosophy as the 'finger rest' cut out of the blade ?

    http://www.epicedge.com/shopexd.asp?id=88980&photo=2&size=b

    Which of course is a step further then the 'step'...
     
  19. boar_d_laze

    boar_d_laze

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    The "step" is called the machi.  It's a small, visible segue between the emoto (neck of the blade) and kakumaki (handle ferrule) as the blade transitions from neck to tang.  It gives you some space and helps prevent you from cutting yourself on the heel or back* of the knife.  It shows the maker (or whoever installs the handle) that the only the tang is going into the handle.   It also helps the handle last longer by not carrying as much moisture from a wet blade into the handle as might happen otherwise, and by reducing the effects of the differential in expansion and contraction between handle and blade.

    All of the high quality, wa-handled, western blade knives I can think of have a machi.  That means that if it really bothers you, you're stuck with western, yo-handles... which would be a shame.  Fortunately there are plenty of beautiful, yo-knives.

    I'm not sure what that little cut out does on the Terayusu Fujiwara Denka No Hoto, other than force the user to either pinch the knife close to the spine or well forward of the kakumaki.  While it might act sort of like a choil* in placing the hand, I don't see any practical value in it myself.  By the way, this maker, Terayusu Fujiwara is not the same Fujiwara which  makes the entry-level FKM, FKS, and FKH series.   

    *Note:  Many people, including just about all kitchen knife hobbyists, erroneously refer to the back of a Japanese kitchen knife as the choil -- including Gator at the excellent zknives.com -- but that's incorrect.  A choil is an indentation which helps make for a more secure grip.  It can be stretched to mean the part of the back of the blade just in front of the finger guard (if there is a finger guard) because the outer swell of the finger guard makes the blade itself feel narrow.  However, at some point, the meaning of words is determined more by usage than tradition and it seems likely that the term choil will come to mean the back of the blade, whether there's an indentation or not. 

    Hope this helps,

    BDL
     
    Last edited: Feb 23, 2013
  20. brconner

    brconner

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    Thanks BDL! I figured there was probably a reason for it since most of the high end knives have that feature. I can't argue with the logic behind it either. 

    After reading all of this extraordinary advice and some of my own research, here's what I'm looking at now. I just put it in alphabetical order, since I'm making a table in excel (I like to stay organized haha). 

    Requirements for other suggestions:

    - Less than $300

    - 50/50 bevel

    - Is a gyuto 240mm

    What I'd like to know about the following knives:

    - Edge retention

    - Chipping

    - Sharpening/maintenance 

    - "Nimbleness"

    My current list of contenders:
    Brand Price SteelHardness
    Tojiro DP $99.95VG-1061-62
    Ryusen Tsuchime Damascus Series $218.00VG-10-
    Ryusen Blazen Series $291.00SG-262-63
    JCK Original KAGAYAKI CarboNext Series $128.00Honko Carbon59-61
    JCK Original KAGAYAKI Aogami Super Custom Damascus Series $288.00Aogami Super62-63
    JCK Original Fu-Rin-Ka-Zan Series $230.00White Steel #163
    JCK INAZUMA Damascus Series $139.00Sweden Steel60
    JCK Gekko Damascus Series $135.00VG-1060-61
    Hattori HD Series $213.00VG-1060-61
    Hattori Forums FH Series $255.00VG-10-
     
    Last edited: Feb 23, 2013