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First Japanese knife. Sharp and smooth

Wed Dec 04, 2013 6:57 am

Been tooling around the site for 2 weeks salivating at all these knives but just saw there was this forum to talk to you experts today. :o

Here goes, thanks very much in advance!:
Shopping for my own present and looking for a Gyuto to replace the dull 8" chef knife and 6" Santoku mass produced department store brands I currently use.

I am right handed, gloves are a L sometimes XL 'normal' fingers' certainly not 'fat and short sausages'.
I got tuned into this site primarily looking for a Gyuto as I use a 'chef's knife' 90% of the time but as I am quickly learning about Japanese knives, and vegs. is what I will most likely use these more delicate blads on, I really like Nakiri, or Banno Bunkas too and probably be my 2nd purchase.
210mm is all I really need at home. I love to cook but am not a professional so I don't THINK I need 240mm especially if all its going to be is for 'show' or inferiority complex. But 240mm is only 1" longer and I have demo. one and the size doesn't differ to much.
Carbon vs. Stainless,= either or. I have learned the last 2 years to always wipe dry before putting down so unless I have to diligently use mineral oils and more process, I'm ok with Carbon. I have never owned a carbon.
My preference for now is western grip especially how the bolster flows from the blade(but not bolster down to the heel's edge) sculpted as one with the handle. I do know how to sharpen but hell NO would I sharpen a Japanese knife with my current skill level. I will practice on my crap knives a lot more when I can guarantee a consistent angle before I would attempt but yes I am willing to do so, no single bevels for now please. Price= something that is a great buy for the price. First knife less than $180. Hopefully much less, and if one of the $90 knives is a great fit for me, then even better then I'll order a Nakiri with it.

My priorities are in this order:
1.I would like to finally own a really sharp knife and keeping that edge sharper longer so I don't have to get it sharpened often.
2.Gyuto's (because its a chef's knife) that have a belly and smoothly rock. I hate past knives of mine that go THUD when rocked to the heel. Jarring.
3.At least have 44mm height at the heel. My index finger at a relaxed bend on the pinch grip should not tap the cutting board and on shorter chef's or Santokus, I have to keep my index finger flexed/curved more than it's relaxed to keep it nestled in place. 45mm and much taller feels awesome so again if that means I have to go to 240mm then that is justifiable for home use.
4. Might be dumb but I would like the Kanji on the blade to be hand engraved/welded or at least the blade indented/stamped then filled in with ink. Not just black ink painted on a smooth blade that will just wipe off after a few years use. Wrong or not, I feel it gives soul and lasting character and pride when I pass it down to my daughters.

I'm staying away from Shun but I would be perfectly happy with Tojiro DP if that is a good fit for my needs. Damascus would be a bonus if it doesn't look cheap and fake. In my days at the site, my eyes are on Moritaka 210mm Aogami super steel, Hiromoto 210mm, Maruyoshi HD 210mm Damascus (and especially wow if this is the same exact knife and made by Master Hattori just etched a different name?), Tojiro DP 210mm regular or Damascus.

No one near me has a Banno Bunka to demo. Is there a way to demo one of them from this site? Or is it norm to order a few blades and return the ones that don't fit right but incur the shipping charges and 10% restocking?

Thanks very much! I look forward to your knowledgeable inputs.

Re: First Japanese knife. Sharp and smooth

Wed Dec 04, 2013 2:34 pm

Ken - thanks for the great post! The more info the better. IMO if you're using a pinch grip as it sounds like you are, Wa handles should be no problem at all for you. I also noticed that some of your "likes" are Wa handled anyway. This will give you many more options.

I'm also totally with you on the profile at the heel, I don't like the thud either, just my style of glide cutting versus straight push cutting.

I'm recommending that you look for 210 Gyutos that are 46.5-50mm tall at the heel. Here are some recommendations:

Full Carbon:
Tanaka Sekiso Damascus 210: http://www.chefknivestogo.com/tanakagyuto2.html. This has everything you're looking for including nice engraved Kanji. Quite light, nice belly, great blade convexing.

That Moritaka AS 210 Gyuto you specified is very nice - light, thin, great performer as well: http://www.chefknivestogo.com/moritaka9.html.

Anryu Kurouchi 210 Gyuto: http://www.chefknivestogo.com/kaankusugy21.html. Mark has an incorrect height measurement on the product page, but this should be in the proper range. Same blacksmith who does the Masakage Mizu.

Maskage Mizu 210 Gyuto: http://www.chefknivestogo.com/masakagemizu.html. Nice choice but OOS as the moment.

Murata Boho 210 Gyuto: http://www.chefknivestogo.com/mugy21.html. If you want to try something less expensive to start. The others will most likely be better performers.

Stainless Clad:
If you can bump your budget a little - IMO this one would be a home run for you. I own one :-). The Masakage Yuki 210 Gyuto: http://www.chefknivestogo.com/mugy21.html. It's not quite as light as the Tanaka or Moritaka, but it's just a killer knife. Superb fit & finish and performance w/easier maintenance of stainless cladding.

The Goko 210 Gyuto is also very nice, but I think the profile might be a little flat for you - maybe Adam or others could add their opinion here. Definitely a great value - really good performer for the money.

Full Stainless:
The Maruyoshi HD 210 Damascus is a very good performer. Yes it's the same Hattori, Ryusen blade- one of the best VG-10 heat treatments around. Superior to most other VG-10 lines so I've heard.

Tojiro DP 210 Gyuto is a really good performer (I have one of these also :-)), but I think it's a little short at the heel for you.

Check these out and ask more questions - we'll get it narrowed down for you.

Also IMO, get a Gyuto and use it for a while, then re-visit the Banno Bunka issue armed with more hands-on experience, knowledge, and opinions.

Re: First Japanese knife. Sharp and smooth

Wed Dec 04, 2013 3:50 pm

Ken - I'm going to add this new CKTG offering to your list. No performance feedback yet, but it looks very promising. Check out this thread for some photos from Mark of the grind and profile: tanaka-ginsan-handles-t4422.html.

Tanaka Ginsan 210 Gyuto: http://www.chefknivestogo.com/tagi21gy.html. It's a little shorter at 202mm, but nice height at the heel and should have a little more belly because of this.

Re: First Japanese knife. Sharp and smooth

Wed Dec 04, 2013 4:20 pm

Looking at the pics of the 210mm and 240mm, it looks like there is a gentle sweep along the entire blade. While I like having a flat spot at the heel and a curving belly at the front (I do a lot of push cutting and a gliding rocking cut for lack of better terms), these knives look VERY nice for the price!

I agree with Elfstone about the kanji thing. As an American, I find the markings on the Japanese blades to be pretty cool even if I can't read them. ;) It is nice to keep them on the blade as opposed to having them wear off. If it were in English I probably wouldn't care at all... lol I also prefer the way they are done on these new Tanakas. No antiquing or anything, just very nice, simple looking engravings or stamps in the metal. Definitely a knife I would consider for myself if it had a flatter edge towards the back. Oh well, if everyone liked the exact same thing, there'd only be one knife manufacturer. lol Gotta love variety! :D

Re: First Japanese knife. Sharp and smooth

Wed Dec 04, 2013 4:29 pm


Your post screams TKC to me. Western handled, great steel, great profile, great geometry. Nearly stainless, so no worries.

Now, you said you would prefer western handled, but some of the knives you mentioned are wa (Japanese) handled.

If wa handled is an option, there are some great one's there as Steve laid out.

Re: First Japanese knife. Sharp and smooth

Wed Dec 04, 2013 6:34 pm

Thanks for all the great feedback!
I can go Wa handle if my priorities get accomplished with it. I just meant I currently prefer western if all things being absolutely equal. What's the difference between Wa and Ho (octagon vs. oblong)?
Yes I will get a Gyuto first and gain experience to know what I'd like on my future Japanese knife additions.

Adam, that TKC looks nice but is 43mm height so it is not a good fit for me sorry.

DefMunkey, thanks for the confirmation.

Steve,you laid out some great choices and a few thoughts that is making my mind spin with great possibilities.
Questions please?
Carbon is obviously much sharper which to me means its because its harder and more brittle than stainless and so Aogoami is the 'better' of those? Which in that category also has multiple levels which are blue and white paper steel?
Stainless steel I have really just concentrated on VG-10 but some of the offerings you had me look at are different WITH higher Rockewells at 62! (Tanaka's Hitachi Stainless Steel @HRC 62) So that is considerably better right?
Full Carbon needs the Kurouchi finish to protect the outside of the blade correct? My eyes don't gravitate to that type of finish at the moment.
In the Full Carbon category there are 2 you listed that seems a great fit for me, of those,the WOW is Tanaka Sekiso Damascus 210: http://www.chefknivestogo.com/tanakagyuto2.html. But if its Carbon blue steel why only a HRC60? But you hit everything on my wish list right on the head! 48mm :D , damascus with chiseled kanji, since you did the video review I trust you approve of the smooth curve at the heel. The only worry I have is that it is full carbon and I have never owned one and if I would start off it would have stainless cladding to ease me to it. I have learned/use good habits about taking care of knives above the obvious no dishwasher or soak/sit in the sink, but is that enough to assure I don't destroy a full carbon knife? Do I need to treat is with mineral oils and other steps each time I use it?

Thank you for confirming Maruyoshi HD Gyuto 210mm is Hattori and you seem to be think its one of the top of its VG-10 class!
Can someone add their thoughts and chime in on performance, the heel height, and the edge profile of belly and heel of this knife, and what HD means please?! It does not have a review video. This also is a WOW but need those 2 facts of heel and profile.

So far its narrowed to 3 choices.
Full Carbon Tanaka Sekiso Damascus 210
Maruyoshi HD Damascus 210
Tanaka Ginsan 210mm Gyuto (though the edge looks a bit flat on the pic. as it has no video)

I would be very grateful for other opinions of other veterans still.

Thank you very much!! I can't wait to to have one in my hand.

Re: First Japanese knife. Sharp and smooth

Wed Dec 04, 2013 7:26 pm

Ken - others here are much more knowledgeable on steels and their characteristics, but to offer some basic info:

Carbon steels tend to be easier to sharpen than many (but not all) stainless steels, but I think this is mainly due to the physical composition of the steel and not necessarily because of hardness. Carbon steel comes in various "flavors" with Hitachi Shirogami (White paper) #1, #2 and Aogami (Blue paper) #1, #2, and Aogami Super (AS) being the most common. Another popular carbon knife steel is 52100. There are of course others as well.

Great performing kitchen knife steel is all about balance and compromise between various characteristics such as hardness, toughness, edge retention, strength, corrosion resistance, and other aspects. In general, steels with a higher Rockwell hardness rating can often take more acute sharpening angles, be ground thinner behind the edge, and offer longer edge retention, but sometimes at the expense of being more brittle and prone to chipping if mishandled or abused. It's all about balance and each steel has it's particular strengths/weaknesses.

Good stainless steels can compete well with carbon IMO - the VG-10 in the Maruyoshi and the Ginsan in the Tanaka are very good steels.

I wouldn't worry too much at this point about all the Rockwell ratings. IMO if it's 60 or higher, you'll be plenty pleased with the steel. Knives with lower HRC values (say 58-60) tend to be more forgiving than those made with harder, more brittle steel. Also, the thinner behind the edge a knife is ground, the more delicate that edge can be if torqued while cutting (especially if it's embedded a little in the cutting board surface) - in general.

The Tanaka Sekiso is a fully reactive blade, but it's got Damascus cladding instead of cladding with a Kurouchi finish. Kurouchi is but one type of finish that blacksmiths can put on a knife, and even that can be done in different ways with differing results.

Look all the way through this post to see some info on knife care: first-japanese-knife-purchase-t4421.html.

It sounds like you can handle a full carbon blade if you like the knife.

Re: First Japanese knife. Sharp and smooth

Wed Dec 04, 2013 8:30 pm

Wa-handled or japanese handled have a rat tail tang with a simple handle installed over it. The typical entry level handle is made out of ho wood. They can be octagonal, d-shaped, or oval to offer a comfortable grip. They are lighter than western or yo-handled counterparts and because the weight savings is in the handle it move the balance point (center of mass) forward.

Most people who use a pinch grip (pinch the blade in front of the bolster) a natural transition. The pinch keeps the grip close to the center of mass so it does not feel unbalanced. Additionally, the pinch means only two or three fingers are wrapped around the grip, and they are not under much load, so the handle does not influence the use of the knife as much as a racket style grip with all five fingers on the handle.

Carbon steels have very fine grain structure, picture stone aggregate in concrete, than most stainless steels. This means it can take a finer edge with less effort when sharpening. Modern stainless can attain similarly keen edges but at either higher prices, more difficulty sharpening, or both.

Blue 1, 2, and super and White 1, 2, and 3 steels are Hitachi brand steels that are very highly regarded by most aficionados. Blue will tend to keep its edge longer but white will tend to take a keener edge. For a novice user like yourself, you would likely not see a huge difference. If you have a choice you might lean toward blue steels since they require less frequent sharpening.

Hardness has little to do with carbon vs stainless. High end steels can be hardened to anywhere from the mid 50s to the mid 60's depending on what the blacksmith is trying to accomplish. Higher hardnesses take steeper angles on the edge than softer steels. Softer steels are more durable, ie less likely to chip. A blacksmith may soften a steel to suit their customer needs.

Owning a fully carbon steel knife does require more diligent upkeep and a tolerance for patina, but it is not much more work. Most people who own carbon steel knives allow a patina to develop. A patina is a mild discoloration that can vary tremendously in color and pattern. The patina becomes a barrier to further discoloration. Normal use involves rinsing and drying the knife during prep and washing and thoroughly drying when done. If left wet or dirty a carbon knife could rust, ie orange colored, flaky rust. Usually you can clean it all up with some Barkeepers Friend and start all over, but you should know that this could happen.

+1 to all the recommendations above. I have a soft spot for both the Masakage Yuki and the Tanaka Sekiso, but I don't think you would be disappointed with any of these.

Hope this helps,

PS damn you for typing faster than me Steve :) I'll go ahead and post this for whoever finds it helpful

Re: First Japanese knife. Sharp and smooth

Wed Dec 04, 2013 8:34 pm

Awesome post Ryan - well put! Great analogies :-).

Re: First Japanese knife. Sharp and smooth

Wed Dec 04, 2013 9:04 pm

Thanks, Steve...I got warm fuzzies :)
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