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Knife Thrills. Part II: Purchasing

Peter Hertzmann - November 25th, 2013

My interest in coming to Sakai, Japan and learning how to forge knife blades wasn’t in the three traditional Japanese knives or in the new Western-style knives. My interest was in knives for butchering. I was curious as to what the Japanese had to offer as an alternative to the stiff boning knife I use in the United States. I had seen pictures of honesuki, garasuki, and sakabone knives, all of which are described in catalogs as for boning. These all looked promising on paper, although there were unappealing features, such as large size and clipped tips. Then a miracle happened.

When we returned to the forging shop after lunch on the first day, the workers had spread out a selection of their personal work. Most of the knives were usubas and yanagis, but there was one small knife lurking near the edge of the display. It wasn’t quite a traditional honesuki. Nor was it a similar knife the Japanese call a “petty knife.” The blade was 20 percent shorter than a standard honesuki. Both the spine and cutting edge curved gradually and equally toward the tip, which wasn’t clipped. The blade was built in the traditional white-steel method, but it had three layers instead of two. With the hard-steel center layer forming the cutting edge, the blade was ground to a double bevel with the total angle equal to about 13 degrees. At ¥4,500, it was three times the price of my standard Victorinox boning knife, but it had one-third the total angle of the cutting edge. It was also made from significantly harder steel, with better edge retention, but at the same time, it is significantly more brittle and less flexible. Since there was only one of these knives on display, I was hoping that none of the other group members would snatch it up before me. Even so, after committing to its purchase, I found out that the forging group could not sell to me directly, and it would take two more days until I could pick up the knife at the Kikuichi Headquarters in Nara. I was tempted to do a little jig when the honesuki was finally mine, but I restrained myself and simply grinned.

The main feature I sought in purchasing this new knife was the tip. I wasn’t interested in replacing my Western-style boning knife but to augment it. The standard Western boning knife, when viewed from the side, has a rounded cutting edge with a squared-off tip. The honesuki has an almost straight cutting edge, ending in a pointed tip, and the particular knife I purchased has an even tighter point than the standard. Ideally, this should make my honesuki better than a Western-style boning knife when seaming out muscles joined by filmy membranes, and possibly better for transecting ligaments and tendons at joints.

The same day I arrived home, I went to my local market to purchase some dinner items. One was a pork loin. I could hardly wait to get home to remove the fat and tendon covering the loin and to seam out the remainder of the multifidus dorsi muscle attached to the side of the loin. I really wanted to play with my new toy, and I was ecstatic with the results. Now, in private, I could dance the jig.