How are kitchen knives made

Some words and pictures about the production of Japanese knives

Japan has a great tradition in blacksmithing. There is not just one knife center such as B. Solingen in Germany, rather the production locations are distributed throughout the country. The companies differ considerably in size and technological equipment. The products, their quality (often invisible from the outside) and their aesthetic appearance are correspondingly different.

In simplified terms, this diversity can be divided into three categories:

  1. The blacksmith, who largely works alone, as a craftsman and artist: All the steps that are essential for the manufacture of the product are carried out by a blacksmith who personally vouches for the product with his name. These forges are very small, less than 20 square meters is not uncommon. Sometimes several blacksmiths share a larger room, e.g. B. in a cooperative. Nevertheless, everyone makes their own product for themselves, the merger only serves to better utilize the resources. However, this type of association is rather the exception.
    As a rule, such a blacksmith has many years of training and practical experience behind him. You can expect the best quality knives, but also the most expensive ones, in this segment. The price depends on the effort and reputation of the blacksmith, the quality is not necessarily visible, it can only be experienced in use. The aesthetics are often influenced by Zen Buddhism, are not immediately apparent to every western eye and therefore seem a bit bulky to some.
    Example: Takeshi Saji in Takefu, Fukui Province
    Example: Hideo Kitaoka in Takefu, Fukui Province
    Example: Katsushige Anryu in Takefu, Fukui Province

  2. In-house production: The individual work steps are retained, it is still forged by hand. The difference is the resignation of the individual craftsman in the manufacturing organization. Such businesses can have between 5 and 20 employees and appear much more like a large craft business than a factory. One cannot say here: this knife comes from the blacksmith, it is rather a collective effort and yet it remains a craft because every work step is carried out according to manual methods.
    Handcrafted, d. H. Hand-forged knives in particular can be made much cheaper this way. In this segment you will find premium quality that is hardly inferior to the knives described above. Professional cooks or the tuna cutters in the wholesale market are the customers for knives in this category.
    Image: Grinding of the forged and hardened knife blanks on the wet grinding machine. The knife blank is clamped in a wooden template and then sharpened freehand. The posture of the grinder is a mixture of lying down and standing on a cushion attached to the grinder. At least three years of practice is required to master this technique.

  3. Industrially manufactured knives: Here you will find the typical industrial characteristics during production: forging in the die (the forging is placed in a forging mold, which results in exactly the same knife blanks), hardening and tempering in a continuous furnace, sometimes automatic grinding. This method is only suitable for sufficiently large series.
    As a rule, such a manufacturer has not abandoned its roots: knives that are only in demand in small quantities are manufactured in the same company using a manufacturing method.
    The main target group for these knives is the private consumer. The companies that supply us prove that they can ensure excellent quality even in industrial production. With us, these knives are often bought and recommended by professional chefs, you cannot have a better recommendation. These knives are cheaper than manufactured ones.
    Example: Fujitora in Yoshida, Niigata Province
    Image from the Fujitora knife factory: The blades move through the hardening furnace under computer control.

Recommendations to buy

If you are looking for a Japanese knife, the first thing you will notice is the enormous price differences, which the layman cannot easily understand. Nevertheless, the rule of thumb is: Japanese knives are no more expensive than European knives. The prices essentially result from the differences described above.
Right picture: Blank of a paring knife after the first forging pass from the Hirotomo knife factory. Such a hand-forged knife has its price, it has to have it, by the way surprisingly moderate, as we think.

In addition, jewelry forms that have no influence on the cutting quality must always be paid extra, e.g. B. a blade made of Damascus steel. Such knives are beautiful and a pleasure to work with. But contrary to a widespread misconception, Japanese knives always have a core made of carbon steel - the Damascus fold can only be found in the outer layers of the blade.

It is important for you that no one manages to sell you a knife of the lower category for the price of the higher one or, even worse, to sell you a quality product that is questionable and should not be seriously regarded as a cutting tool. Beware of offers, whether in shops, on supermarket parking lots or on the Internet, that do not show a clear correlation between price and quality. A 3-part set of "hand-forged knives" is not available for 30 euros. This is embellished, punched sheet metal - nothing else.

It is also a popular marketing ploy to put cutlers close to famous swordsmiths. A knife is supposed to be ennobled with it, but in reality only the price is ennobled. A kitchen knife has different requirements than a sword, and so the working methods and the professional careers of the blacksmith are correspondingly different.

Buy according to your needs. In each of the three categories you will find the highest quality for the price. If you don't know how to start: Use an all-purpose knife, the three-ply knife is the best way to get to know the merits of Japanese knives. Then later a Sashimi Hocho (fish knife) and a Nakiri Hocho or Usuba Hocho (vegetable knife), or vice versa, depending on what your food preferences are.

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