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What whetstones should I get?

What whetstones should I get?

There are many different grades of whetstones but the sheer amount of information may dissuade some people from ever sharpening knives themselves. But for the average chef we’d recommend 3 basic whetstones. The 3 types of whetstones you should have is 1000, 3000, and 8000 grit stones. Ideally, we suggest using a 1000 grit first and then finishing with the 3000 grit and then the 8000 grit finish. The 1000 grit stone is a must-have stone and if you don’t have a large budget, it would still work. However if you are only using a 1000 grit stone, your knife’s edge may be a bit rough but your knife would still be usable. A 400 grit stone is also recommended if you need to repair your knife. A 400 grit stone excels at grinding off metal material which is what you want if repairing a chip, broken tip, or resetting the edge on a super dull knife. Then after using a 400 grit to reset the knife, you would want to move to 1000 grit and then 3000 and then finishing up with 8000. For chefs who desire an extremely sharp knife, we suggest using a 10000 grit stone. A 10000 grit stone can be used for an extremely fine edges and mirror polishing but is recommended for individuals who are highly skilled with whetstone sharpening.

 

An important accessory for whetstones is the Nagura Stone. The Nagura Stone is used on finishing stones only (3000-10000 grit). The purpose of a Nagura Stone is to clean metal debris or small scratches on your whetstone surface. In addition to this usage, you can also use the Nagura Stone to make a slurry on the finishing stone which results in a better sharpening and polish.

 

Once you have used your whetstone 2-3 times you may notice your stone becoming hollow in the center. If you continue using the stone for sharpening, your knives may not touch evenly and will result in an uneven knife. The reason why is because you tend to use the center of the stone much more than the surrounding edges. This means that your knife needs to be cut in order to make your stone perfectly flat again. This sounds scary but there is an easy trick we like to use when flattening our whetstones.

 

Scratch your whetstone surface with a pencil and then use our Stone Fixer to grind off the uneven portions of the stone until all of the pencil markings are gone and that means the whetstone is perfectly flat. We have an example of this technique in our Stone Fixer Video.

There is a reason why whetstones is literally pronounced “wet stone” and is a clue on how you should keep your whetstones at all times. Keep your whetstones in very wet or damp conditions. Do not store your whetstone nearby heat sources (ovens or stoves) or in direct sunlight. If you do not store your stone in wet or damp conditions, your stone will become dry and you may see cracks appearing in the stone. We store our stones underwater, and is what we recommend as well but a wet towel wrapped around your stone works just as well.

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SG-2 and R-2

SG-2 and R-2

SG-2 and R-2

SG-2 and R-2

SG-2 stands for Super Gold 2 and was developed by Takefu Special Steel Co. based in Echizen, Japan. Originally, Takefu Special Steel developed the Super Gold steel but further developed and enhanced their powdered steel metallurgy to develop Super Gold 2. The Super Gold series is based on a modern cutting-edge powdered steel metallurgy that allows for the production of unique materials impossible to get from melting or forming in other ways. SG-2 contains the following amounts of the elements: Carbon: 1.25 – 1.45%, Vanadium: 1.80 – 2.20%, Chromium: 14.00 – 16.00%, Molybdenum: 2.30 – 3.30%. The SG-2 is very similar to ZDP-189 metal and has very high edge retention but has less wear resistance which makes it easier to sharpen.

SG-2 and R-2

R2 steel also refers to SG-2 steel. The reason why SG-2 steel is also called R2 is because Echizen blacksmiths initially referred to the SG-2 steel as R2. Over time, due to this confusion, R2 and SG2 are both established steel types but they are the same material.

SG-2 and R-2

SG2 Semi-Stainless Steel is forged with traditional methods of craftsmanship blended with modern metallurgy at extremely high temperatures to create a steel composition that is durable enough to be used in industrial machinery and power tools. With a HRC Scale of 64-65, these selection of knives will make and keep its superior edge for an extreme period of time. SG2 Semi-Stainless Steel is a high carbon steel that sits at the pinnacle of maximizing cutting performance and edge retention like no other before it. In addition to the excellent edge retention, the Stainless Steel aspect results in a high level of durability and ease of care. It is perfect for those professionals who have daily high-volume prep work for extended hours.

SG-2 and R-2

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The Types of Steel Used for Making Knives: An Overview

A knife is only as strong as its steel. While steel, in general, is an alloy of iron and carbon, it can take many different forms depending on what else the iron and carbon is combined with — along with how the steel is forged and what type of deoxidization process is employed. At the basic level, steel that is used for forging knives falls into three main categories: high carbon steel, stainless steel, and semi-stainless steel. Below you will learn more about how each is classified, and what benefits as well as drawbacks each might have.

High Carbon Steel:

High Carbon Single Edged | High Carbon Double Edged

High carbon steel is defined as steel that has 0.6% to 1.7% carbon by weight (totalmateria.com). Increasing the carbon content of a knife improves the strength of the steel as well as the hardness (totalmateria.com). The hardness of the steel allows for a sharper cutting edge and better edge retention. However, while having a higher carbon content can enhance the strength of a knife, it can have adverse affects on the corrosion resistance and overall durability of the metal (wordstainless.org).

Types of High Carbon Steel Used to Forge Knives:

  • White, High-Carbon Steel
  • Blue, High-Carbon Steel
  • Super Blue, High-Carbon Steel

Stainless Steel:

Stainless Steel Single Edged | Stainless Steel Double Edged

Stainless steel is defined as steel that contains more than 12% chromium. Chromium is the element that helps to create a protective layer over the steel’s surface. This means that knives made with higher chromium levels are more resistant to corrosion and acidity. They are also easier to care for and to clean. Stainless steel knives are sometimes also referred to as inox steel knives, which has a French etymology (wordstainless.org).

Types of Stainless Steel Used to Forge Knives:

  • • VG-10 Steel (Or V Gold 10 Steel)
  • • Inox Steel
  • • Daisu Powered Steel

 


Semi-Stainless Steel:

Semi-Stainless Single Edged | Semi-Stainless Double Edged

Semi-stainless steel is defined as steel that contains chromium levels anywhere between 3% and 12%. This steel can also be referred to as “stain resistant,” “rust free,” rust-resistant,” “semi-stainless,” and “stain free” (cheftalk.com). Though semi-stainless steel does not contain as much of the protective element, chromium, it does allow for higher carbon content, and therefor a sharper edge that has better corrosion resistance.

Types of Semi-Stainless Steel Used to Forge Knives:

  • Ginsanko
  • ZDP-189
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Don’t ever hone your knife, treat it like a lady

 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 17871, 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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High Carbon Steel Explained: White Steel, Blue Steel, and Super Blue

High Carbon Steel Explained: White Steel, Blue Steel, and Super Blue

high carbon steel

high carbon steel




Steel is a compound of iron and carbon. Yet to be classified as high-carbon steel, it needs to have anywhere from 0.6% to 1.7% carbon by weight. For premium cutlery and knives, the higher carbon content is typically better. For one, higher carbon allows for a sharper cutting edge. To be considered stainless steel, the steel must have a chromium content of more than 12%. While all steel contains carbon, typically steels that do not contain chromium are referred to as carbon steels.
high carbon steel
The differences between high carbon steel can be subtle, but they all work to create a specific knife experience. Below we explain the differences between white steel, blue steel, as well as the different types of each.

high carbon steel

White High-Carbon Steel #1 & #2
White steel is made from finely grained carbon steel that lacks a lot of contaminates within the iron, meaning that knives made from white, high-carbon steel are able to sharpen into a razor-like edge. Many sashimi chefs love white steel knives because they can create very fine, exact cuts of fish, vegetables, and garnish. Very volatile and difficult to forge, white steel varies in its level on carbon content. #1 has the highest and will, therefore, hold its cutting edge the best. However, it’s also the most brittle, which is typically why #2 is the most commonly used by chefs.

high carbon steel

Blue High-Carbon Steel #1 & #2, and Super Blue High-Carbon

As stated above, steel consists of iron and carbon but different alloys can be added to create different types of steel. For example, stainless steel is created from added chromium. Blue steel has tungsten and chromium added to the iron and carbon to create an easier tempering process and also a knife that holds its edge longer than a white steel knife, however while not taking on such a fine cutting edge. Just like white steel #1 and white steel #2, blue, high-carbon steel #1 has more carbon content than its #2 companion and super blue high-carbon steel has added vanadium for wear resistance and has the longest edge life of the blue steels.

high carbon steel

Carbon Steel
White Steel, Blue Steel, and Super Blue
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The 3 Single-Edged Japanese Knives Every Chef Needs

When it comes to knife making, the Japanese have a long-standing belief of practicality. They value usability, meaning that traditionally the Japanese have made knives according to purpose. A specific knife would be made for every task.

While all of these knives have the same single-edged blade anatomy, they differ in areas of shape, size, and thickness of the blade — all for the purposes of their tasks at hand. Here are the three traditional Japanese knives we recommend that all chefs need for chopping vegetables, fileting and slicing fish:

Yanagi Knife

Sashimi Knife | Cutting and Slicing Fish

Yanagi knives are meant for slicing fish. The blade of the knife is long and very narrow and thin. This allows the knife to gently glide through the flesh of the fish in one long motion, which preserves the texture and taste. If the blade were wider, it would require the sashimi chef to use more force that could potentially bruise and damage the cell walls of the fish.


Deba Knife

Filet Knife | Breaking Down Fish

Deba knives are perfect for fileting fish and cutting through bones. The thick spine and weight of the knife allows the chef to cut through the head of the body, as well as other bones, with ease and precision. By contrast, the small point on the tip of the knife is great for separating the flesh from the bone.


Usuba Knife

Vegetable Knife | Slicing, Chopping, and Dicing Vegetables

Usuba knives are made to comfortably cut vegetables with efficiency and precision. Their tall blade protects the chef’s knuckles, which allows him to move quickly through the vegetable. Kama-usuba knives have a sharp, beak-like tip for more intricate work, as well as a blunt tip for tasks such as removing the eyes of potatoes. It’s heavy enough that it can easily cut through tough root vegetables, but sharp enough that it can also slice through delicate vegetables.

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The Anatomy of The Japanese Single-Bevel Knife

Anatomy Japanese Single Edged Knives

Anatomy Japanese Single Edged Knives

Anatomy Japanese Single Edged Knives
Traditionally, Japanese knives were single bevel, and featured the same grind with three key parts: the shinogi surface, the urasuki, and the uraoshi. It wasn’t until Japan began modernizing in the late 19th century and early 20th century — and when they began incorporating western culture in to theirs — that they started crafting double beveled knives. The Japanese have continued to forge beautiful, sharp, and strategically designed single-edged knives that make slicing and dicing more efficient for any chef. To better understand how this is done, let’s explain the anatomy of a single-edged knife:

Single-Bevel Grind Terms & Definitions

Shinogi Surface: The flat surface of the blade that runs to the blade’s edge
Anatomy Japanese Single Edged Knives
Urasuki: The concave surface on the backside of the blade

Uraoshi: The thin flat rim that surrounds the urasuki

Anatomy Japanese Single Edged Knives
Single-Bevel Knife Design and Functionality


Anatomy Japanese Single Edged Knives
The Japanese are known for their culinary expertise and skills with knives. The very art of sushi alone requires a skilled chef, but in order to achieve the correct cuts of vegetables and fish, the proper tool is required. Many single-edged knives are perfect for chopping vegetables thinly and quickly, making the chef’s job easier. Above we discussed the brief definitions of the different aspects that make a single-edged blade, but below we’ll discuss their importance and use.

Shinogi Surface

The shinogi surface is the flat surface of the blade that runs to the blade’s edge in a single-bevel knife. This flat surface allows for a narrow blade angle, resulting in a sharper knife. The second you add another bevel to the shinogi surface — which would essentially make it a double-edged blade — you also effectively make the blade not as sharp. The geometry of the shinogi surface allows for an almost razor-like edge.

Urasuki

The urasuki is the concave surface on the backside of the blade that creates an air pocket when the blade is slicing through food. This helps to reduce drag and creates a smoother surface, so you can make faster, nicer cuts. It also works to prevent the food from sticking to the knife. The image below shows the air pocket created by the urasuki while cutting. The combination of the urasuki and shinogi allow for the blade to cut food with very minimal damage to the surface and cells, therefore not spoiling the texture and taste.

Uraoshi

The uraoshi is the thin, flat rim that surrounds the urasuki. Its purpose is to enhance the strength of the blade at its otherwise vulnerable edges.

Anatomy Japanese Single Edged Knives

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Explaining Kitchen Knife Bevels and Edges

The bevel of a knife is one of the most important aspects that help to define its sharpness, strength, durability, and use. To put it simply, a bevel is the ground angle and shape of the blade’s edge, and depending on what it’s made of and how it’s ground, it can dictate the type of knife you have. Traditionally, the Japanese have knives that fall into two categories of bevels: a double bevel, or a single bevel. It’s common to also hear this referred to as a doubled-edged blade or a single-edged blade.

Double Bevels:

A double-bevel knife, or double-edged blade, means that it has a bevel on both sides. These knives are the most common, especially in Western style knives like those of the French and German. However, the Japanese have many double-edged knives as well, such as the gyuto knife, the sujihiki knife, and the honesuki knife.

When talking about double-edged knives, you can mainly assume the angle of the blade on either side is in a 50-50 ratio, meaning that if one side has been ground to 11 degrees then the other side has also been ground to 11 degrees, and the total angle of the blade is 22 degrees. Asian knives typically have a slightly smaller angle than other traditional western knives, and both sides are sharpened to roughly 8 degrees, making them much sharper.

Single Bevels:

In the case of some knives, there is no angle on the other side of the blade. These knives are referred to as a single-edged blade. However, in practice, we have found that the vast majority of Asian knives sold in the United States are not single bevel, but rather traditional knives with a bevel on both sides. If you’re not sure, it is generally safe to assume that your knife has a bevel on both sides.

For most chef’s, using a single-bevel blade involves learning new knife skills and techniques. It may also mean custom ordering a blade if you are left handed, so that you can correctly use the knife. However, once able to use it correctly, a single-edged blade can make thinner cuts, especially with vegetables, which is great for sushi chefs.

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A Comparison of Japanese vs German Chef’s Knives

Whether Japanese or German, each type of knife has been influenced by its culture. The Japanese believe in having a perfect tool for an explicit purpose, and as such have many specific knives for specific tasks. Meanwhile, Germans value versatility and durability in their culinary efforts and therefore have designed knives that are good at many different undertakings. In the end, each knife has its own strengths and weaknesses. It’s not that one style of knife is better than the other — it’s just a matter of use and preference.

The Blade’s Steel

Your typical Japanese knife is known for its sharpness. A direct descendant from the samurai sword, these knives only have to lightly graze an object in order to make a slice or incision. The main reason they are so sharp is due greatly to the hardness of the steel used in the blade’s core. Japanese knives are constructed with steel that has a high carbon content, giving it anywhere from a high 50s to mid 60s on the Rockwell scale. Because of this, they hold their sharp edge well and for longer. However, caring for a sword with high carbon steel means they are more likely to rust.

Meanwhile, a German knife is known for being able to take a beating. They want a sharp edge, but also want to know that their knives are durable and easy to care for. They use softer steel throughout the blade’s core and surrounding, making them less likely to chip, break, and rust. However, because of the softer steel, they will never be able to hold as sharp of an edge as a Japanese knife, and you will need to sharpen more often. Ease of care comes with the cost of edge retention, and vice versa.

The Cutting Edge

First, let’s explain what is meant when talking about knives and their cutting edge. The angle of the knife is also referred to as the “bevel.” Most knives have a bevel on both sides, but some traditional Japanese knives have a single bevel, or even differing bevel sizes. Typically, however, when talking about knives that have a traditional bevel and a 10 degree angle, it means on both sides, making the total angle 20 degrees.


The bevel of a Japanese knife is smaller than a German knife, again making the blade sharper. The Japanese make both double beveled knives and single beveled knives. In either case, the angle of a bevel in Japanese knives are smaller than that of German knives. In Japanese knives, the bevels are typically anywhere between 7 and 8 degrees, allowing it to nicely slice through food, such as raw fish, without damaging the cell walls and therefore preserving the taste and texture. Again, they’re able to create this angle thanks to the hardness of the steel used. The Japanese value precision, and the angle of their knives allow for that.

German blades, however, are typically sharpened to around 10 degrees, making them not as sharp as a typical Japanese knife. Yet with their wider bevel they are able to compensate for the sharpness by being versatile and weighted. They may not have the cutting edge to slice through tough objects, but they have the strength to.

The Weight of the Knife

Culturally, the Japanese are not known for their strength. In war, they relied on battle technique and the sharpness of their samurai swords to defeat their opponents. In cooking, their strategy is similar. By forging a sharp cutting edge on their knives, they can cut through objects without having to put force behind the blade.

Typically German knives are heavier, meaning that while they may not have the extremely sharp edge that Japanese cutlery is known for, they utilize the weight of the knife to do the work for them. This is the reason why chefs who are used to German knives prefer using knives that are heavier.

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A Brief History of Japanese Sword and Cutlery Knife Forging

In ancient Japan, it was said that the samurai’s sword was his soul. Today, the same could be said about a chef and his knife. The art of Japanese cutlery derived from the traditions of Japanese sword making. Many of the same techniques, designs, and skills have been passed on from generation to generation—from the minds of the Japanese masters to the artisan workers. In fact, the city that was once known as the capital of samurai swords is now a hub for Japanese knife making.

During the 1300s, a time of war and conflict for Japan, the government established Sakai City as the reigning capital for samurai sword making by calling all sword masters to settle there and produce weapons. The government would only allow tamahagane samurai swords—or swords made of coveted, Japanese steel—to be produced by the most skilled masters. One of these sword masters stood out as the best sword craftsman since 1550, and his name was Yoshihiro. His swords were widely desired and nearly impossible to find. In modern day, few swords exist that were made by Yoshihiro’s studio and bloodline. Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a Japanese general known for unifying Japan at the turn of the 16th century, stated that “Finding Yoshihiro’s sword is like finding ghost,” as it was so difficult to do.

When the shogunate lost its power and the Meiji Restoration period began, efforts were made to modernize Japan and the samurai class started losing their privileges and power. The demand for swords began to shrink, and many manufacturers—even those who were direct descendants from Yoshihiro himself—turned their efforts to knife making instead.

Today, the techniques used by Master Yoshihiro almost 500 years ago are still being used to handcraft quality cutlery and knives in Japan. While the forging techniques are similar across the board when it comes to knife making, the honyaki knife is the style most similar to a traditional Japanese sword. Crafted from a single piece of high-carbon, hard steel, a honyaki knife stays sharper for longer and is often heavier than a typical chef’s knife. It also contains a hamon, or a wavy line that is created through the tempering technique, which is traditionally seen in samurai swords.

Modern Day Yoshihiro

Yoshihiro Cutlery receives our name from Master Yoshihiro, as we hold our knives to his level of craftsmanship, standards, and authenticity. We value the Japanese traditions of sword and knife forging, and honor them with the quality of our blades. In fact, we are even in possession of an original tamahagane samurai sword. From time to time we like to display this historic sword at our showroom in Beverly Hills. Seeing the craftsmanship of the blade and how it directly influenced the forging of the knives in our collections is an experience any knife connoisseur will appreciate.

Japanese knife forging derived from master samurai sword makers with their traditions, techniques, and skills being passed on through generations. When a chef uses a traditionally made, Japanese, kitchen knife, they are not using a factory-grade, manufactured tool; they’re using a handcrafted knife that has been made with the same techniques as master swordsmen and artisans. They are choosing to value tradition, experience, and skill. After all, when a knife can be compared to a chef’s soul, why use anything less?

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