Introduction to Japanese Kitchen Knives Part 1

Part 1- The Basics

Choosing the ideal chef knife is a challenging task, made even more difficult when you are unable to physical hold the knife in hand.

In this series we will discuss various aspects of choosing your knife,

from the type of steel used, to the handle material and shape.

The modern kitchen knife world is full of variety. So, let’s look at its many amazing points.

We will focus on Chef Knives for this series, much of the information will relate to other types of knives also.

Remember that all these points are general and there are often exceptions to each.

What is a Chef Knife ?

A basic chef knife consists of blade of 200mm and above, with a handle often made of wood.

Historically, the Chef’s knife is for cutting down beef and eventually grew into the roll as the all-purpose kitchen knife.

There are two basic styles of Chef Knife; The German style, which features are deep belly along the blades edge.

The French style is much straighter.

Japanese “Gyuto” tend to be more in-line with the French style of straighter edged blades.

The size, shape, and handling of a Chef knife have made it the ideal kitchen tool,

versatile enough for breaking down large cuts of meat, finely slicing vegetables,

and the occasional intricate work for the skilled user.

How are they made ?

For Steel based knives, there are two methods for production, “Stamping” and “Forging.”

Stamped chef knives are made from a large thin sheet of Steel.

The blade shape is cut out from the sheet, then ground, hardened and sharpened.

Forged chef knives are made from a piece of steel known as a “billet,” the steel is heated up to a bright glow

(Can vary depending on steel type) and hammered by hand, or power hammer into shape,

then follows the same steps as a stamped chef knife.

The ultimate difference is cost versus performance.

Most Japanese knives are forged.

Are there disadvantages to Damascus Steel?

Stamped knives are much cheaper to produce but generally offer poorer performance in comparison to forged blades.

Stamped blades are usually made from low end Stainless Steels, which tend to be softer and have a uniform thickness from one side of the blade to the other.

The forging process refines the steel grain and structure of the steel used, it also allows the craftsman to choose the appropriate steel for the task,

hammer in additional bevels and taper the blade from the spine to the edge, which all helps to improve cutting performance.

Also, stamped blades usually sit shorter in the handle, whereas forged blades have a “tang” (Handle part of the blade that sits inside the handle)

that extends to the end of the handle or two-thirds of the way through.

(There are a lot of exceptions to this in modern knives)

The extra steel in the handle provides balance, security, and comfort in handling.

What does this mean to the consumer ?

In the end, there is a place in your knife bag for style of knives, depending on your needs.

It’s fairly common for young aspiring chef’s to start out with a stamped chef knife and progress onto a hand forged blade.

Many chef’s will keep a stamped blade around for some heavy duty cutting, where a softer steel may be more useful.

In our next piece, we will discuss Steel types and how to choose based on your needs.