Don’t ever hone your knife, treat it like a lady

Posted by Yoshihiro Cutlery on


Often times our customers ask us a question, “Can I use a honing rod to sharpen my Yoshihiro Knife?” The answer is No, a resounding No. Let me explain why.

A honing rod is commonly used in Western kitchens, to maintain the sharpness of a knife by scraping its blade edge against the honing steel. This is because the blade steel used in Western knives is soft, making the edges curl easily and requires daily maintenance to realign. The softness of the steel derives from the alchemy developed in old-time Europe, and knives such as German inherit this feature. This is not true when it comes to a Japanese knife. There are many types of Japanese knives, but fundamentally its steel is much harder than their German counterparts. Their edges do not curl easily and do not require daily honing.

The history of knife making in Japan goes back to the time of war in 14th century. At that time, the Capital was not Tokyo unlike our fascination to Harajuku nowadays, it was Kyoto in the west. Kyoto has always been a city that attracts a lot of people from all over, but back then it was not because there were inspirational temples, but it was to become a feudal lord who possesses one state and one castle. What would they do to achieve that? Of course not by negotiating over a cup of green tea, but by fighting with swords. Sakai city, Osaka prefecture, is the place that warrior leaders chose to gather their master craftsmen to supply swords they use. The city was relatively close to Kyoto, and it was the place where people and supplies would pass through when transporting across the country, so basically it was like LA, while Tokyo was NY.

The developmental emphasis on these swords were their sharpness and their ability to slice through objects with ease. I would choose not to mention what the usual object was, as you can imagine the reality was not so romantic. In 16th century, the power moved to the East again and the demand for swords started to decrease. The final stroke was the arrival of firearms from Portugal, when Japan was opening up trade to the world. The craftsmen then switched to gun making, and later knife making, which I think was the smart choice. The knife making technique developed exclusively in Sakai city and in Shikoku area, and those still are where a lot of high quality Japanese knives are manufactured. Because the Japanese knives is a product of the sword making technique, we still can see these traits in a traditionally crafted knife. In particular knives such as the Honyaki knife, which is like a bottle of Château Margaux 1787, is intricately made and nothing surpasses it in quality and performance. The blade is very hard like Samurai sword, but because it is made to be used on food, it is a lot thinner, and as a result more delicate.

What happens if you hit a material so delicate? It could break. The same logic can be used when considering honing a Japanese knife. The honing rod is too aggressive on the blade edge and may result in chipping. So, please don’t.

Then what do I need to do to maintain the sharpness of my Yoshihiro knife?

The answer is a water whetstone (it is not wetstone, yes, it is whetstone). This is because the whetstone and Japanese knives developed together and have a symbiotic relationship. A whetstone is the best surface for maintaining a Japanese knife. There are various combinations of whetstones that may be used for sharpening a Japanese knife. The most common procedure starts with a whetstone #1000 grit to roughly arrange the angle of the edge to your preference, and then switching to a finishing stone (#3000 - #10,000 grit). By using multiple whetstones, the blade edge can be nicely maintained with less force to a varying degree of sharpness and refinement.

Lastly, using a whetstone takes off far less steel than using a honing rod. Taking off less steel means a longer lasting knife. As for a more detailed sharpening tutorial, please watch the videos, or if you are not so sure please contact us for sharpening service.

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