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Thread: Japanese knife questions

  1. #1
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    Japanese knife questions


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    Hi Everyone,

    I'm a hobbyist knifemaker, and I've been interested in japanese cutlery lately. I have a few questions (mostly about usubas) that I'm hoping people here can help me with:

    1) I understand that the nakiri is typically for home use, whereas an usuba is for professional use. Why is there this distinction?
    2) Some usubas have a sort of chisel grind at the tip. Is this sharpened? Either way, what purpose does it serve?

    Thanks,
    Chris

  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hesparus View Post
    1) I understand that the nakiri is typically for home use, whereas an usuba is for professional use. Why is there this distinction?
    2) Some usubas have a sort of chisel grind at the tip. Is this sharpened? Either way, what purpose does it serve?
    a good explanation - http://www.kitchenknifeforums.com/sh...akiri-vs-usuba

  3. #3
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    Thanks. I think I understand the benefits of the usuba now. Anybody know about the chisel grind on the tip?

    Also, here's a picture of what I'm working on, for your viewing pleasure:

    Top to bottom:
    I don't know whether to call this one a short santoku, an ajikiri, usudeba, or what. It's got a 5" blade, single bevel, 1/8" thick
    Usuba: 6.5" blade, single bevel, 1/8" thick
    Usuba: 6.25" blade, single bevel, 1/8" thick (I think I'll be giving this one away to a charity auction)
    Santoku: 7" blade, 1/8" thick (in the process of grinding it right now. it will have a high single bevel)

    - Chris

  4. #4
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    Anybody know about the chisel grind on the tip?
    I am not sure about the correctness of my usage, so IMHO. Chiseling out stuff in tight-space (abutt, inset, so on). Also to relief cleavering pressure for end-point-connected of low pliable sheets.

  5. #5
    Do these have hollow ground backs?

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    Quote Originally Posted by bluntcut View Post
    I am not sure about the correctness of my usage, so IMHO. Chiseling out stuff in tight-space (abutt, inset, so on). Also to relief cleavering pressure for end-point-connected of low pliable sheets.
    These are kitchen knives.

    I think the chisel tip is for Teppanyaki cooking and is there to clean the hot plate.

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    Quote Originally Posted by parbajtor View Post
    These are kitchen knives.
    Gotcha

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by parbajtor View Post
    These are kitchen knives.

    I think the chisel tip is for Teppanyaki cooking and is there to clean the hot plate.
    I don't think a usuba would ever be used by a teppanyaki chef at the table. Perhaps back of house.....but never at the table. A usuba would make an exceedingly poor knife to use for a teppanyaki show. The edge is insanely thin and would chip to beat holy hell if used like the teppanyaki chef's use their knives.

    I've never heard a good reason for the differing tips of a usuba other than the region in which each originated.

    A usuba is used primarily for katsuramuki.

    A santoku would never have a single bevel...it's a double bevel knife....traditionally that is.

  9. #9
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    Watercrawl: They do not have hollow ground backs (I don't have the right equipment for that) but I'm going to try to keep them as flat as possible.
    I'd never heard of a single bevel santoku, either, but http://zknives.com/knives/kitchen/mi...nkabocho.shtml says that the bunkabocho is typically single-beveled and that it is another name for a santoku. The entry for santoku lists it as typically double-bevel, it seemed like a good idea anyway. At any rate, I'm not super concerned with being traditional here — this is all just for my own experimentation anyway. I may try a double-bevel santoku in the future.

    Thanks for the discussion on this.
    - Chris

  10. #10
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    My usubas are not sharpened at the chiseled tips. I second what Adam said, both about the super thin edge and the katsuramuki cuts on veggies. Typically they are hollow ground for the cuts not sticking.

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by Hesparus View Post
    Watercrawl: They do not have hollow ground backs (I don't have the right equipment for that) but I'm going to try to keep them as flat as possible.
    I'd never heard of a single bevel santoku, either, but http://zknives.com/knives/kitchen/mi...nkabocho.shtml says that the bunkabocho is typically single-beveled and that it is another name for a santoku. The entry for santoku lists it as typically double-bevel, it seemed like a good idea anyway. At any rate, I'm not super concerned with being traditional here — this is all just for my own experimentation anyway. I may try a double-bevel santoku in the future.

    Thanks for the discussion on this.
    - Chris
    Gator did a lot of work on that site...I even helped with parts...but that description I would have to disagree with. I've never seen a single bevel santoku. I have seen knives roughly shaped like a santoku that were single bevel though....the Suisin Momiji knife comes to mind. Semantics though....it is what it is.

    You said this is for your own experimentation....so please have fun. Don't let me detract from that. I'm just having a discussion.

    The worry with a flat backed, single bevel knife in the kitchen is that it will be difficult to use. The back of traditional knives like usuba/yanagi/deba/etc. are there for reasons. Sharpening ease being one, food release being the other (as Mike mentioned).

    Another thing....traditional Japanese single beveled knives are usually made for a very specific task.....that's why there are so many types. Very, very few work well in a western kitchen.

    But have fun....it's why I make knives I know that.

    If you ever have any questions, let me know.

  12. #12
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    I've been thinking a lot about the comments that everyone has made, and I have some thoughts.
    1) I've heard lots of people say that usubas are primarily for katsuramuki cuts. This seems inconsistent with other things that I've read and heard. First is the fact that an usuba is what professionals use instead of a nakiri. Nakiri are for slicing vegetables and I've seen and heard of the usuba being used primarily for this, as well. Second, I've heard of the yanagiba being used for katsuramuki as well. I know that the japanese love to have lots of different types of knives, but it doesn't seem economical to have a type of knife exclusively for one type of cutting when another knife will do it just fine.
    1.5) A friend of mine attended (but did not finish) culinary school with a japanese master chef. He says they used an usuba for slicing most things (including meat on occasion).
    2) From what I've read, one of the advantages of the usuba over the nakiri is that the single bevel geometry allows for more precise, straighter cuts. If the back of the knife is not flat, wouldn't this negatively affect its ability to make very straight cuts? I understand about the ease of release, though.
    3) I asked a question about usubas in the shop talk forum, and was told (by Stacy Apelt) that some have a flat back instead of a hollow-ground one, whereas I'm hearing here that they always have a hollow-ground back. I don't know what to make of this.

    I hope I'm not coming off as argumentative on any of these points. I know very little about japanese knives and I'm just trying to understand.

    4) Watercrawl: are you talking about a bunka funayuki-bocho? (http://zknives.com/knives/kitchen/mi...ki-Bocho.shtml) I agree that it may be a semantic issue, but I want to be able to call it what it is.

    Thanks,
    Chris

  13. #13
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    IMO

    1) Some instrument designed perfectly suited for specific tasks. e.g. A scalpel.

    1.5) In a pinch, sure.

    2) & 3) Flat back has greater friction than bevel face side, plus steering from bevel, together the knife edge will steer bias toward the back - difficult to make a straight cut. Hollow-ground reduce friction to balance the bevel side (friction+steering), conducive for s straight cut. Of course, friction/stiction coefficient value is depend on subject/food.

  14. #14
    1. It's not used exclusively...sure. But, it's one of the knife's main tasks. Yes, I've seen a yanagi used for katsuramuki. I've also seen a deba used to slice sashimi...blasphemy I tell you. That doesn't mean it's very good at it. The Japanese most definitely have knives made exclusively for one thing. A Unagi-Saki is made exclusively to prepare unagi (eel). There are actually several knife designs used solely in the preparation of unagi. A soba-kiri is made exclusively to cut soba noodles. You could certainly cut soba noodles with a usuba...but they make a knife just to cut soba noodles. A fugu-hiki is designed to cut fugu (blowfish).

    The point is that you could use any of these knives for other things, but they are designed for a specific purpose.

    1.5 Sure they do...see above.

    2. If the back of a knife like a usuba is flat (I might have to go find some drawings for this....we'll see) it's impossible to sharpen as you have to grind the entire back every time. The back of the edge has to be perfectly in line with the back of the spine or the knife won't function properly. If the knife back was completely flat (like I see a lot of sort of non-traditional single bevel Japanese style knives made) most people sharpen a bevel on the back side of the knife. That pushes the center of the edge away from the back and more to the center of the mass of the knife....like a 50/50 ground knife if you will. This makes the knife cut poorly for it's intended purpose. The knife will not cut true and will actually steer.

    Sure, you can make katsuramuki with a gyuto/chef knife....but making it with a usuba is much easier and part of that is due to the fact that the edge is where it is.

    3. Stacy is a smart guy, but I don't agree with that statement. I've NEVER seen a flat back usuba. They may exist though.

    4. That Takeda knife Gator is talking about is not single bevel. It's a double bevel knife.

    Now, this is going to tax my brain cells a bit and I could be remembering wrong....but I believe a funayuki is traditionally single bevel and is quite thin....I believe it might have been the basis for the Suisin Momiji knife I mentioned. It would be the closest to a hollow back, single bevel santoku.

    I didn't proof read this, sorry. And I need to get back to work....I'll add more later.

    Edit: Picture:

    http://www.knifeforums.com/uploads/1..._Japanese_.jpg

    I'll explain later.
    Last edited by watercrawl; 10-01-2012 at 09:12 AM.

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