Yet another request of advice on knives and sharpening stones!

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Joined Apr 22, 2020
Hello everyone, I’m a first time poster so please go easy on me. :)

As I’m going to spend my birthday in isolation next week, I have decided that I am going to finally treat myself with a quality Japanese knife, which has been on my wish-list for a long time. I have three questions:

We are a vegetarian household so I’m tossing between a Nakiri and Usuba knife. I believe the main difference between the two is the fact that the former has a symmetrical blade (double bevel) while the latter has a single bevel blade. My understanding is that this means that the usuba is more appriopriate to fine decorative work for very thin slicing which I won’t be doing, and makes it more delicate and harder to sharpen properly, so this would suggest that the Nakiri is more appropriate for my use. But it appeals to me that the single bevel concave blade of the usuba is said to effortlessly slice through vegetables like a hot knife through butter, and I’m attracted by the challenge of using a knife which requires higher skills. Would it be horrible to use and wasted in the hands of a non professional cook?

I’ve done some online window shopping, and have ready many negative posts about Shun knives being overpriced, but I’ve found a very good deal online for a Shun Kaji 6.5” (16.5 cm) Nakiri down to AUD 250 from AUD 400. Bear in mind that in OZ quality japanese nakiri knives start at around AUD200. It looks like a pretty good deal to me, would you go for it? From their website:
65-layer blade features a premium SG-2 powdered steel cutting core clad in 64 layers of forged nickel/stainless steel Damascus. exceptional hardness of 64 ±1 HRC. hollow ground with indentations that keep slices from sticking.

I also would like to learn how to sharpen my knives properly (on a crappy $5 knife first, obviously!) so I’ve done some research on sharpening stones in here and in other blades enthusiasts forums. I am incline to go for a stone which does not require lubrication, and I am looking at the spyderco fine ceramic stone (8” x 2”), alternatively the Eze-lap fine diamond stone (also 8” x 2”), which are pretty much the same price, with the intention of adding maybe a coarser stone later on, as currently my knifes are all in good shape and only require fine sharpening (ie no big chips etc). These two stones are recommended by many to sharpen “outdoor” knives but I haven’t read much with regard to using them with kitchen knives, are they still a good choice for these?

TIA!
 
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Joined Apr 22, 2020
Afternoon Rusty, ref your post, what website have you been looking? I am looking at a Shun Classic Santoku, however, for that price in Aussie dollars i could be swayed to a Nakiri. Also ref the Sharpening, if you are in Aus, either Sydney or Melboune, try Chefs Armoury, Ben in the Sydney Store is very knowledgeable and willing to help.
 
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Joined Oct 9, 2008
Okay, there are a lot of confusions in this post. Before you go spending any money, here's some hard detail.

1. Nakiri come in single and double bevels. There's no absolute rule about it. You need to know what you're buying before purchasing. Make sure whoever you buy from knows exactly what the difference is and can speak intelligently about the knife in question.

2. I am a happy convert to an usuba; I use a 210mm kamagata from Aritsugu Tsukiji, if it matters. It is quite simply the most versatile and effective vegetable knife there is. It's not a question of fancy cuts or thin cuts or decorative work; it's suitable for all vegetable work, period. A nakiri is smaller and less versatile. I would never, ever recommend a nakiri over an usuba, in the same way I'd never recommend a santoku over a chef's knife.

3. An usuba is also very difficult to learn to use. Usuba technique is like nothing else. Standard forward-push cutting that you'd use with a French chef's knife (gyuto, etc.) will break off the point, for example. So if you go usuba, you've got to learn everything over again. And I do mean everything. This is not a choice to make lightly: you will need to use the thing constantly for some months, going slowly and carefully and being super mindful of what you're doing, in order to get comfortable with it. In the process you are going to cut yourself badly at least once or twice, and you're going to chip the blade many times. That's the way it goes. If you're serious about taking up an usuba, I recommend that you buy Nozaki's book on Japanese Kitchen Knives and study it hard. (If you have access to the wonderful world of Japanese publishing, there are scads of competitors to Nozaki, but not in English or any other Western language to the best of my knowledge.)

4. If you're going single-bevel, forget the whole "buy a $5 knife and learn to sharpen" bit. It won't work. All techniques with single bevels are different and must be learned separately. I am only just getting to the point that I'm happy with my usuba sharpening, and I've been tinkering with it for a few years now. You cannot learn this on a cheap knife unless it's a cheap usuba, and that's not easy to come by.

5. For sharpening a single-bevel, you're going to need a coarse stone, a medium stone, and a fine finishing stone -- at the least. Do not skimp on the coarse stone: you're going to chip this thing, I promise, and you don't want to be trying to grind out chips on a medium stone. I have come to like hard magnesium stones like the Naniwa Chocera series -- I believe there's now a new version called the Pro series -- for coarse and medium; I have a 400, an 800, and a 2000. For finishing, a vegetable knife doesn't need more than about 5000, and many would argue for less. I think an usuba is better with a little more polish than that, but my point is, you don't need anything over 2000 or so. To learn how to do the work, watch Jon Broida's videos on his youtube channel at Japanese Knife Imports. It's through those that I finally figured out what I'd been doing wrong with the heel of my usuba, and now I'm pretty happy with my sharpening... after quite some years.

6. DO NOT buy an inexpensive usuba -- get white #2 steel, nothing less, from a good maker. I think stainless is also a bad idea here. A good knife like this is going to set you back $250 US at least. The stones will probably be another $75 or so. If you buy cheap you will regret it, because it won't sharpen properly and then you can't use it properly, so all you'll learn is how to cut badly.

7. ABOVE ALL I strongly recommend that you get in touch with Jon Broida ( @jbroida ) at Japanese Knife Imports. He's an expert sharpener and a former professional cook in both Japanese and Western kitchens, and he knows what he's talking about. He's also very articulate and deeply committed to having his customers happy with their knives. As an example, he constantly tries to deflect people from buying kiritsuke because pretty much nobody asking for them knows what they're getting into -- this despite the fact that he could make good money selling them. Jon is also the guy who demonstrated to me that nakiri come in single bevels, which I had not previously known.

Final remark: I very much doubt that an usuba is the way to go -- nor, quite frankly, a nakiri. If you're going that kind of route, spend the money and time to go usuba, but be prepared for a few months of hardship. But unless you're going to commit to a major project in terms of skill, study, and blood (I mean it: you're going to cut yourself, as it's basically a long, heavy razor-blade), I'd say go with a great gyuto. I say this as an usuba convert. I love my usuba (not that I don't also have and sometimes use an excellent wa-gyuto), and I've put a lot into learning to use it passably, but I have yet to meet another home cook who's converted this way.

If you have further questions, I'll be happy to try to answer, but Jon really is the guy you should be talking to.
 
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Joined Apr 22, 2020
Very well put together Chris. In your one post you have talked me out of a Santoku and upgrading my Gyuto. I dont think i am anywhere near the skill required to wield it. Regards.
 
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Joined Apr 22, 2020
Thanks Chris for the very comprehensive reply. You confirmed my initial assumption that an usuba is not the right knife for me. And that probably carbon steel and single bevel blades are also not what I’m after either. At least not at this point in time, maybe later in the future.
I still think that probably a Gyuto is going to be too similar to my current chef knife, which I would like to move away from as I’ve always had the natural tendency to use push/pull cutting with no rocking so I think a straight blade would suit me better (hence the initial choice of either nakiri or usuba).
I don’t think I’m going to find many shops here in Brisbane which would let me handle all the knives they sell before buying, so unfortunately it would have to be a blind purchase with regard to assessing how the knife feels in my hand. Also I’m not very optimistic about finding a shop manager sufficiently knowledgeable in Japanese knives, so I will have to decide without considering this as a source of information on which I’m going to base my choice. Not ideal I know, but I am where I am.
I am very keen to read also your replies to my other two questions if you’ve got time.

Kalgoorlie 68: the shun Kaji nakiri is on offer on the Australian importer website. I’m not sure I can post links to commercial retailers so I won’t, but you should be able to find it easily.
 
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As far as I see, rusty, your other two questions are (1) what about a nakiri, presumably a double-beveled one, and (2) what about a Shun nakiri in particular. And I just spotted (3) about sharpening equipment....

1. As I say, a nakiri is basically a third-rate usuba, in much the same way as a santoku is a third-rate chef's knife. The nakiri is, historically speaking, the old-fashioned Japanese housewife's vegetable knife. It was largely supplanted, in Japan, by the santoku, with the expansion of meat-eating over the first few decades of the 20th century. Both the nakiri and the santoku are designed -- in the santoku's case, quite consciously -- to be easy to use in a very small kitchen by someone who has little time for or interest in knife skills. In my own experience, I have seen precisely 2 nakiri that I would consider buying, both of them black "country" knives I saw in Kochi, both of them under $35 US. I cannot imagine spending more than $50 US for a nakiri, because it strikes me as a silly thing to do unless you've got money to burn and something of a collector's fetish. If you're looking for utility, you've got the wrong knife.

2. The usual objection to Shun knives is that you get relatively little bang for your buck. You can get equal quality for a much lower price if you go with other makers. The knife you list strikes me as a typical Shun creation. It's very thin-profiled, with a wide upper surface, because it is a nakiri. But it is nevertheless Damascus-clad, which is expensive and adds nothing to functionality (there are some who argue that clad knives are actually rather "dead" in the hand, but I haven't used enough to have a strong opinion on this). Because that clad surface is large, and the knife thin, you are pretty much guaranteed to scratch it as soon as you try any sharpening, unless you go to a great deal of trouble about swaddling the whole area with tape and so forth. In my view, the end-product is a mediocrity (nakiri), clad to make it extra-difficult to sharpen, at a very high price.

Now you mentioned something about not wanting a gyuto because you want a flatter blade profile. Sounds to me like you want a gyuto, then. Unlike the rather deep-bellied German-profile chef's knives, most Japanese chef's knives (i.e., gyuto -- same thing) have a rather flat belly. In addition, if you get a knife with a really proper blade length, like 270mm, you're going to have a much larger (shallow) belly to deal with, which is to say, the total belly of the knife is "stretched" along a greater length. I'm not up on particular knife pros and cons, prices and availability (including in OZ), having made my purchases years ago, but there are lots of people here who do know about it. At one point the "hot" purchases were Tojiro and MAC, but that's a long time ago now. I still say you should get in touch with @jbroida to see what might be a good selection for you.

Incidentally, with these knives, holding it and waving it about isn't going to tell you much anyway, so a "blind" purchase is just fine. Your grip should be so far forward in a "pinch" that the handle is just resting on your third finger, its principal function being as a counterweight to the blade. This is why "wa-handled" knives work so well: simple, cheap, easy to care for, and easy to replace if you do something dreadful to them.

You also mention that I've convinced you against carbon steel. If so, I didn't intend this. One of my favorite former contributors here used to say that stainless and carbon knives need exactly the same care, only the carbon ones need it now. This has been my experience as well. In fact, I think that for a home user carbon is often preferable, because it forces you to focus and take care, whereas stainless allows you to get away with bad habits. As a rule, you also get a lot more knife for your buck if you buy carbon, and it's generally a heck of a lot easier to sharpen. But if you like stainless, that's perfectly reasonable.

3. (Just noticed another question buried here.) As to sharpening equipment, I really hate the whole Spyderco thing, but I recognize that some love it. I've only used one a few times, and I found it inflexible and counterintuitive, but I'm not going to claim that this is a deeply-considered view. Still, I'd rather see you learn to sharpen on bench waterstones, which fortunately are inexpensive and simple. I always push the King 800/2000 combi stone, which is in my view one of the best deals going. With a double-beveled knife sharpened only when necessary, it'll last you a long time.

What I'm saying, grand total, is that I think you are making a mistake, and will regret it. I think that if you drop $200 on a Shun nakiri, you will ultimately stare at the thing and think, "why the hell did I spend money on this?" I could be wrong, obviously, but I think it's likely. I think that an usuba is a much better purchase, but it doesn't sound like a good choice for you (or for most people, as I've said). I remain solidly convinced that a carefully-selected flat-bellied inexpensive gyuto, carbon or stainless as you prefer, is going to be the thing you wanted but didn't know to look for.

On reflection, I realize that I have imposed a very particular interpretation on your question. I read you as wanting a single knife that will dominate your vegetarian kitchen. You are willing to spend a fair bit on it, and to learn to sharpen it. Your primary concern is utility: what's the best knife for the situation? You don't care much about appearances. On that reading, I'd say a 270mm lightweight gyuto, possibly wa-handled, and a King 800/2000 combi stone. But if that reading is inaccurate in some way, I'm barking up the wrong tree.
 

phatch

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It's an easy way to learn certain angles, but only those preset angles. It's slow compared to other methods. There are ways to manipulate a Spyderco sharpmaker for other angles. I don't regret mine though i now have some waterstones as well. What I grab to sharpen with depends on what im sharpening and the particular result I'll be happy with for that circumstance.
 
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Joined Oct 9, 2008
Never used a Spyderco bench stone, so I can't comment, except to say that it seems rather expensive.

Diamond lap stones are usually not used directly with knives, I think because they lose their diamonds rather quickly, but they're quite popular for flattening other bench stones.

What's the objection to water as a lubricant, btw? It's certainly simple to use.
 

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