FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
I am often messaged by people simply looking for information. Whether on bladesmithing, or kitchen cutlery, how to order my knives, or any of a dozen other topics. I figured I might take a handful of the more popular questions, and answer them here for you all.
This is a difficult question to answer in a limited space. Partly because it can mean different things to different people. For me, a 'quality' kitchen knife should be able to be made exceedingly sharp, and hold that edge under reasonable (or sometimes unreasonable) use. The edge should not be 'chippy', nor should it be excessively soft. It should have a cutting geometry and edge angle that is appropriate for the type of usage it is designed for. The handle should be firmly affixed to the blade, though this does NOT mean a 'full tang and three rivets' as so many young culinary students are taught. It simply means that you should not easily be able to 'remove' the handle from the blade. Many Japanese knives have removable handles, and all of my honyaki knives do as well. The handle, in a proper grip, is for balance and sometimes to apply leverage from the heel of your hand or curled fingers. It is not the primary surface the knife should be gripped from, except perhaps in certain cuts.
Surprisingly, aesthetics don't really play into this for me, in that that is an entirely different subject. This assumes it's put together in a quality manner of course. Poorly assembled junk is...well, junk.
In the end, for me...a quality knife does the job it is intended to do efficiently and without damage or excessive wear to the knife. What makes that knife a 'quality' knife to someone else, is going to depend entirely on the parameters that person holds highest, and the compromises he's willing to make in order to reach those parameters.
Again, this question is very subjective, and will probably have a different answer for different people. Also, I want to clarify I am not speaking of true 'Japanese knives' here...but of Japanese 'style' knives as interpreted by myself and certain other Western smiths.
For me, it comes down to overall feel. This includes everything from the feel of the knife passing through food, to my feelings about the knife directly, which can be influenced by everyting from overall performance to aesthetics. My Japanese style knives tend to be lighter overall than their European counterparts, though they can have a similar level of forward balance depending on the handle materials used and the blade geometry chosen. This gives a sense of performance that I simply don't get from European style knives. A level of precision and speed...pure effortlessness, that the European knife fails to deliver. The Japanese influence on these knives tends to promote a flatter edge profile with a lower tip, as well as much less material behind the edge itself. The net result is a knife that feels like it is purely designed to cut food and nothing else. It can't be used as a hammer. It can't be used to punch open cans of tomato base or pineapple juice. You cannot use it to bludgeon someone who is annoying you. It requires care and maintenance to work to its ultimate potential, and so...should perform to a higher level than knives that don't require such care. It is a cutting tool at the purest level.
For me, this is why I choose to make Japanese stye knives.
I prefer to use high crbon AISI W2 tool steel almost exclusively. This is an approximately 1% carbon, low alloy steel having a very low manganese content, a smidge of chromium and vanadium, and not much else. Think of it as a slightly lower carbon cross between Japanese white and blue paper steels. This is an over simplification, but in the end it gets the point across. The few alloying elements included make for excellent grain size and when properly treated, truly exceptional carbide sizing, volume, and placement. In my opinion, this allows it to take an edge just shy of the purest white paper steel, and maintan that edge just behind the most durable blue paper steel.
As for 'why honyaki'? Well, there are a few reasons for this. The first is that what the Japanese call 'honyaki', Western smiths call 'clay hardened' or 'differentially hardened'. This is the method with which the smith produces the 'hamon' or 'hardening line'. That line is what drew me into bladesmithing, and up to the point of this writing, every blade I have ever made has had one. Traditionally the reason for this kind of hardening was twofold. It provided a more durable, soft back in a Japanese sword (which is where my background in smithing comes from), which then allowed the edge to be kept much harder without fear of the sword snapping. Now, in a kitchen knife it would be exceedingly rare for one to apply the same kind of force to the blade that could be applied to a sword, and so the line is 'mostly' cosmetic. However, the ultra hardness is absolutely something that is desirable. When combined with my chosen steel as listed above, properly heat treated to perform to its highest potential, I can provide a honyaki blade that is as hard and sharp as the best Japanese honyaki, while maintaining a level of durability and toughness that cannot be equalled, much less surpassed by the oldest Japanese masters.
I certainly do if a customer requests it. I will also forge my knives in order to save on steel in certain areas, etc. For example, I will generally forge in my bevels for this reason, prior to grinding for heat treating, though this isn't always the case.
That said, I do NOT feel that forging is in any way necessary to provide the highest quality blade, and depending on the smith, can actually dramatically lower the quality of the end product. With the process I use for thermal cycling and heat treating, all trace of how the blade was formed to shape (be it forging or stock removal) is erased anyway...and so unless forging is required for some other reason, it is simply a time sink. If a bladesmith doesn't have a handle on proper forging methods and temperatures, and/or doesn't understand how to properly thermal cycle and heat treat his steel, the end result will have a grain structure, and more importantly, a carbide structure that is all over the place. This is in no way, shape, or form beneficial. You cannot affect the grain 'flow' or 'size' with a hammer. Pointing your anvil north does nothing except give you more/better light if you have an east/west facing window. A skilled smith with his hammer and fire can and will control the grain size through the combination of work and temperature control, but that same smith skilled in metallurgy will erase all traces of his work before the blade is ever hardened anyway.
What I call a 'stock' or 'shelf' knife, is simply a knife that is created and hardened for some other reason than as a 'custom' order from the person who eventually buys it. These reasons may include the initial person who ordered the knife backing out for some reason, to..very simply...that being the knife I felt like making that day. Often I try to include one or two stock knives per 'batch' of knives shaped and hardened (I create knives in groups of five most often, and then once they are hardened move to finishing them individually. This gives me something else to work on while various time based processes are being applied to a given knife). These knives are offered to those on my custom list who have ordered a similar knife first, and they make it through that gauntlet they are offered for public sale. The benefits of purchasing a 'stock' knife include not having to wait a year or so on my custom list. Your new knife is scheduled to be finished within the batch it was created with, so at most you would only have to wait through four other knives being completed. From the point that you commit to purchasing that knife, it becomes a full custom, with all of the handle and finishing options available at your disposal for finishing it out.
So, to clarify. The only thing you don't get to choose for yourself when purchasing a 'stock' knife, is the pattern of the hamon (such as it can be 'chosen'). From there out, the sky is the limit.
This is the easiest of these questions to answer. Simply use the contact form below to send me an email. In that email include your name, email address, phone number, mailing address, and what type of knife you think you might be looking for. I will return your email as soon as possible, and we can then go over current pricing, your overall needs, as well as satisfying any other questions you have regarding my work, the process, costs, or anything else. If you are simply interested in pricing you would use the same contact form and we would go from there (no personal information would be necessary of course). There is no cost to join my list, though I do ask that you be serious about buying a knife, as I use this list to plan my schedule, as well as to calculate a rough financial forecast for myself. When it comes close to being time for your project to begin, I will contact you, and we will begin to discuss more seriously what you are looking to order. You are not bound by your initial request of course. I've had customers change their order from a 90mm paring knife to a 320mm sujihiki, and vice versa. The only obligation on you is the moral one to follow through with your order of a knife. For me, whatever knife you choose to have me make will be an honor.
Once we're actually making your knife, we will be in pretty much daily contact. You will receive pictures and video on a regular basis, and I will be available virtually 24/7 to communicate with you about your project (or work life, or relationship advice, or pretty much anything else lol). I truly feel that when you are paying $1000 (give or take) for a kitchen knife, you are buying something far more than just a kitchen tool. For me, you are purchasing the experience of being involved in creating a customized tool, where virtuall every facet is subject to your approval.