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 Post subject: Knives making process - Traditional VS Mass-prod
PostPosted: Mon Feb 09, 2015 4:27 am 

Joined: Mon Feb 09, 2015 3:27 am
Posts: 3
I would like to broaden my understanding of Japanese knives making.
To my understanding there are several degrees in this spectrum.

1. Big factories like Kai or even Global, that produce knives by machines in massive quantities.
2. Big factories in Seki or Sakai that use pre-laminated steels. They still have humans doing the work, where each employee is responsible for a little part on the production line.
like: grinding, polishing, attaching handles, heat treatment, tempering and so on.
3. Blacksmiths that use pre-laminated steel like Tanaka (to my understanding), they use modern tools, they work in a small workshop, and each blacksmith is responsible for the entire process and signs the knife.
4. Blacksmith that attach the clading themselves, they use modern tools, they work in a small workshop, and each blacksmith is responsible for the entire process and signs the knife.
5. Blacksmiths that are purists that don't even use a mechanical hammer and do everything by hand.

Could someone shed some light on:
* What are the differences of qualities for each of the mentioned degrees? Is it significant?
* What would be the price difference between these types of processes?
* Which maker on CKTG belong to which degree?

If I'm wrong in my perception, please feel free to enlighten me.


 Post subject: Re: Knives making process - Traditional VS Mass-prod
PostPosted: Mon Feb 09, 2015 6:53 am 

Joined: Sun Jul 29, 2012 7:36 am
Posts: 1275
Location: Victoria, BC
I cannot answer any of your questions with confidence, especially the last one. My guess is that Mark would really hesitate to get into the details of every maker, too. I'm not sure any makers fit #5, either—even the most diligent "made by hand" makers seem to use a mechanical hammer at some point in the process, even if they hand-hammer for most of the process.

One thing I can say is that I very strongly believe there are not "absolute" differences between these various processes, and claims such as "grinds and heat-treats are definitely better for category 3-4 knives" are, to my ears, extremely suspect. In other words, I believe you can make an excellent knife using virtually any method. In fact, I think you can make a stellar knife with any process, or at least 2-4. Mind you, companies that mass-produce knives are always going to compromise the absolute performance of a knife to cost considerations, so it is hard to know their true upper limits (such read about Kramer talking to Shun, for example, to get a sense of the kind of details they want to alter even on the most high-end of their products—this is not a sign that they cannot manufacture it using their usual means, but just that it costs more.)

The most significant and consistent difference between each level, if I had to provide one, would be that people really value the imperfections and individual variety of types 3-5. These imperfections vary from cosmetic features to vary important differences in the grind of each knife and its size/profile from knife to knife (of the same brand/type). And especially for clad knives, some of these differences are undoubtedly related to the fact that blacksmiths who clad their own steel can control the thickness of the raw product.

Some might say that it is hard to machine process a great knife, but I don't quite get this. I've seen "machine" grinds (or "mass-produced," non-forged knives) that had exquisitely done grinds. Whether or not they were as good as the best grinds is somewhat irrelevant: they "could" be as good, as they were not lacking at all in precision, consistency, etc.

One might equate the difference to a Ferrari and a Corvette: the Ferrari isn't necessarily better because it is hand-made, it is better because it is better engineered and tested to perform better under different conditions. It does seem that some mass-produced knives or knives made from pre-laminated stock tend to be more limited by the starting materials (how thin the stock is), which further limits variations in grind and the potential of the knife; these makers also make compromises as regards performance in order to make the manufacturing process cost-effective. That "may" be less of a case with types 3-5, and it may not be. Mark certainly carries a number of hand-forged and finished knives that do not perform as well as knives that fit categories 1-2. However, most of the more revered knives on the site for absolute best performance tend to be in category 4.

I will say that, if you like knives with thicker spines that have a bit more heft, you're likely going to value a maker that attaches the cladding himself, or a mono-steel construction (Honyaki or otherwise). My impression is that pre-laminate sheets tend to be a bit thinner in design, which allows makers to make thinner, higher-performing knives for mass production without as much error in the manufacturing processes.

Others will have much more detailed comments about specific makers and processes, no doubt. It is worth noting, however, that most comments about "hand-made" knives on this forum are about the value of human error and "soul," and not about the lack of performance potential of machined manufacturing processes which are, at this point, fairly extraordinary.

 Post subject: Re: Knives making process - Traditional VS Mass-prod
PostPosted: Mon Feb 09, 2015 11:35 am 
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Joined: Tue Feb 05, 2013 12:00 pm
Posts: 4638
I don't think you'll get a better answer than what Joe just provided.

My own advice is to decide what really resonates with you. Sometimes people like multiple styles, like me :-).

Do you like a hand crafted blade with a lot of the blacksmith's soul showing through? These knives often have a rustic or refined rustic aesthetic with variances from blade to blade. They can be a bit rough around the edges or quite elegant.

Do knives in the middle ground appeal to you? These can be hand made blades with a more consistent and refined fit & finish and aesthetic. They can often be great performers as well, but sometimes they don't exude as much soul. Konosuke Fujiyama knives come to mind.

Do you value knives with a more manufactured aesthetic? There is something very elegant about a Konosuke HD, or a Richmond SKS-15 for instance, even though they don't have a true hand-made appearance.

I own knives that span these different categories and I like them each for different reasons, as Joe outlined.

 Post subject: Re: Knives making process - Traditional VS Mass-prod
PostPosted: Mon Feb 09, 2015 12:55 pm 
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Joined: Wed Nov 21, 2012 10:17 pm
Posts: 7740
Location: Derby City, Kentucky
It would take a book to fully answer your questions. Best way to learn is through Google and skimming through threads on this forum and read, read, read. That's how most of us garnered our knowledge and most of us are still learning!

If God wanted me to be a vegetarian he wouldn't have made animals taste so good.
 Post subject: Re: Knives making process - Traditional VS Mass-prod
PostPosted: Tue Feb 10, 2015 6:44 am 

Joined: Mon Sep 08, 2014 5:34 am
Posts: 16
thanks for the information provided in this thread. I have found it very useful to my introductory knowledge about knives.

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