When buying a knife as a gift you want it to be the coolest present ever. When the recipient opens the box you want them to squeal with delight. The last thing you want is for them to say "Oh, a knife. That's nice thank you." You want them to shout "Holy Bananas! that is the coolest thing I've ever seen!" as they do a victory lap around the room with the knife help high above their head. In a safe manner of course.
This is how to get the right response:
1. You need a knife that has the look. There are tons of average looking knives in the world, but ignore those. For gifts you need something sexy. One that is always a winner, with a beautiful look is the Konosuke Sakura Western Handle Nakiri. (pictured above)
A knife can also be gasp-worthy because of a great shape, like this Kotetsu Bunka.
2. You always want to give a gift thats easy to care for. No bunnies or puppies. I say look for a stainless steel knife because they will not rust. All of the examples in this post fit the bill, but also one of our most popular stainless steel knives is the Haruyuki Kasumi Uchi.
3. Get something they can use every day. If it is their first Japanese knife I'd recommend a multi-purpose knife like a 210mm gyuto. Here are some of our favourites. If it is not their first, a supporting knife like a petty or nakiri is a great option. The Masashi Damascus Nakiri, and the Kurosaki Sasame Petty 120mm are great examples.
Every knife set starts with a chef's knife (multi purpose knife), also sometimes called a French knife or gyuto. People often ask for a santoku, as it’s a name they’ve heard before but I find them a bit small for use as a multipurpose knife as they generally come in a 165mm (6inch) size only. They are far too small for cabbage or watermelons, and those large onions from the farmer’s market for example. I think a 210mm gyuto is the best knife for home sized jobs. If you are a chef I’d suggest a 240mm or 270mm but that’s a different story, as chefs demand more and a larger knife makes turning 100kg of potatoes into hash browns a much easier task.
Kato-san who makes this knife is one of my fave blacksmiths because of his skill, and because he is a cool guy. He’s been a blacksmith for over 50 years and figured something out by now. This line of knives gives incredible performance and doesn't break the bank. Chefs all over the world swear by this knife.
I love mirrored knives. I do. They look great if you're gonna be on TV and great when cooking for friends. Masashi-san makes knives that slice through food like magic but are also a more rugged than one would think. This knife is super fun to use when cooking by yourself, but even more fun when someone is watching you cook. We all get dressed to impress on special occasions, why not have a knife for those occasions as well?
This is a handmade knife with all of the romance that brings but has a very gentle price tag. I think it's a great knife for home chefs as it's easy to keep sharp and easy to care for. It, like the Masashi blade above is a bit heavier and therefore slightly more rugged than some of our other knives.
Want a great looking knife that is easy to take care of and doesn’t break the bank? This is for you. This knife is the easiest to sharpen of the bunch (but sadly will also need to be sharpened more often) and looks awesome. I love how these knives feel and I think they are great for home and especially for a gift.
Except republished from the Calgary Herald:
Crocodile Dundee would approve of Kevin Kent.
Not that large Bowie knives — like the one Dundee flashed in front of a mugger in the 1986 movie, exclaiming ‘that’s a knife’ — are a staple of Kent’s Knifewear store in Calgary.
But Kent knows knives — especially large, sharp ones — and that knowledge is paying dividends as his company opened a fifth store last month in downtown Vancouver.
Kent, who trained as a chef, has a fondness for imported Japanese knives, which are a popular item at his flagship store in Inglewood.
“The reason I love the Japanese knives is that they use harder steel and that means they can be made to last longer and they can be made sharper, which are the two things everyone wants in a knife,” he said.
Kris Armitage, the Manager of our Edmonton shop, got to tag-along with Kevin on a pre-Garage Sale trip to Japan. You can catch part 1 here and part 2 here. And now here's the conclusion to Kris’s adventure.
After an unforeseen stop-over in Kanazawa, we made our way to Tsubame Sanjo. It seems that they make everything in Niigata prefecture, factories making all sorts of stuff are everywhere you look. We visited all kinds including Iwasaki-san's cramped and cluttered shop to the multi-building machine that is Tojiro.
The thing that sticks with me most about this part of the trip though is how much human labour goes into what we call “factory knives”. Just because a knife is stamped, not hand-forged, doesn't mean that there isn't an actual person straightening the blade, grinding the bevel, polishing the edge, turning the handle or using some kind of electro-chemical magic to emboss a logo on the steel. Many hands touch a "factory knife” and we should be careful not to under-appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into making each one.
Also worth noting is that Tojiro is the only place in our travels that we saw a woman doing blacksmithing work. When Sayaka-san started work at Tojiro she was uninterested in doing the jobs that women traditionally did in the factory, (handle making, polishing, etc.) she was more interested in learning to forge. She's only been working at it a short time, but even as an apprentice she's making waves.
Masashi-san is a badass, the lone wolf of blacksmithing. He has a little workshop with one employee... him. We sat around his desk, ate snacks and drank tea; it was like a cooler version of my grandfather’s garage. This dude has some serious swagger, he’s a perfectionist and a craftsman at heart but is well aware that attitude can sell knives. Lighting a cigarette with a glowing piece of steel or wearing flip-flops at the forge are just a couple of ways to show that you mean business.
Visiting the Hinouras was more than a little intimidating. The tiny office was adorned with many awards and had some very impressive knives displayed in it, they do much more than the beautiful River Jump knives. The younger Hinoura-san makes many types of hatchets and tools. The thing that impressed me the most was their sharpening room, there was enough stones that each of the Three Little Pigs could build a house and a custom sharpening sink with a cushioned bench. This room was clearly well used, some of the knives in their shop are the sharpest things I have ever touched.
Our last day was spent learning about Sake and making Miso in Suwa, Nagano prefecture. It was great to see how both products were made and the passion of the people behind them. It was also nice to have a bit of a relaxing last day in Japan. The overall experience left me with an even greater appreciation of the work that goes into the products we carry. Going to Japan and getting to witness the things we love being made reinforces why we do things differently. The pride that was shown by all of the blacksmiths I met was intense. Visiting Japan was an eye opening and enlightening experience. Easily the best work experience I have ever had.
Kris Armitage, the Manager of our Edmonton shop, got to tag-along with Kevin on a pre-Garage Sale trip to Japan. The fellas visited several of our favourite blacksmiths, ate a tonne of food, drank all of the sake in several cities and sang some karaoke with Takamura-san. If you missed part 1 of his story, you can catch it here.
We had a brief stop over in Kyoto and did a bit of the tourist thing. Visited Kiyomizu-dera temple, saw many lovely kimono (and some that were a little tacky), drank the best coffee in Japan at % Arabica, and enjoyed the nightlife of that wonderful city. We wandered up and down the buzzing streets enjoying random grilled animal parts on sticks, amazing and beautiful sashimi and maybe a little bit of Nihonshu (sake).
We had met up with the impeccably dressed Shibata-san on the way to Kyoto and he joined us for the next day’s trek to Takefu, home of Masakage Knives. We were picked up at the Takefu train station by Ikeda-san, who from what I can tell is the hardest working man in Fukui. He then brought us for the largest lunch I had in Japan; 3 huge breaded pork cutlets and a breaded soft boiled egg over rice. I barely managed to finish, while Ikeda finished his and the other gaijin's leftovers and still ordered more rice; the man is a machine. We then headed to Knife Village to get to work. After some quick intros with the blacksmiths, I was taken to the “Learning Shop” with Wada and Ikeda to start my brief immersion into the world of blacksmithing.
Wada was my sensei in Takefu. He was unnecessarily shy about his English as it is much better than my non-existent Japanese. Over the course of the afternoon and the next morning, I completed my first and only knife from start to finish. I forged, I annealed and I straightened. I did all of the grinding on the huge water wheel. I attached the handle, sharpened the edge and even engraved initials into the blade by hand. It was amazing.
The appreciation that had grown while working with the Moritakas, grew even more while working at Takefu. I can fully understand why these guys apprentice for as long as they do. Making a knife is all about practice, practice and more practice. I used to be a chef and I can cook a steak and know when it is cooked perfectly just by looking at it. I have literally done it thousands of times. It took many over or under cooked pieces of meat to get to the point where I am perfect 99.8% of the time. We shouldn't take these knives for granted because it took many hours of back breaking, sweaty work to get to the point where those knives are as close to perfect as they are.
Knife Village is an impressive complex. So many amazing craftsman sharing the same space to create a wide array of sharp things. It is loud, hot, dirty and produces some of the most fantastic knives we have the pleasure of using.
Stay tuned for part 3 of Kris’s Japan adventures.
After a short rest after showing the blacksmiths of Masakage the sights of Western Canada, we have another world class blacksmith visiting. Tsunehiro-san, blacksmith at the 750-year-old Moritaka Hamono will be at Knifewears Vancouver and Calgary to engrave knives. So pull the Moritaka you have on your knife magnet down and bring it to the shop to get engraved. Knives will be engraved on a first-come-first-served basis, so arrive early!
If you do not already own a Moritaka, they are 10% off for the entire month of August. Seems like the right time, no?
Vancouver: August 20th 9 a.m. - 11 a.m.
Calgary: August 21st 10 a.m. - 12 p.m.
The Moritaka family have been making blades since the days of the samurai. They still have the capability and expertise to make swords, but since that hasn't been a booming industry for the past hundred years or so, they've moved on to more practical applications of their skills.
Below is an interview with Tsunehiro-san's uncle, Takuszo-san and his father, Tsunetake-san, to get you “fired up” (get it?).
Examples of the stages of making a sword:
With the Masakage blacksmiths visiting, the Vancouver store opening and the Omatsuri festival in Calgary, there's been plenty to get us excited at Knifewear. We're glad that Vancouver Magazine and Swerve Magazine are also feeling the excitement.
Vancouver Magazine's article “5 Things You Should Know Before Spending $500 on a Knife” is a great primer for people wondering what the heck is just so special about the knives at Knifewear. It features many great quotes from Kevin explaining why the knives we carry are so popular.
“Why shouldn’t you go to Ikea and buy a mass-produced set of knives for $30? Because you can’t fall in love with some trinket that’s been stamped out of a machine.”
True that, Kevin.
Also in the news today is Swerve’s Article “Five facts about Masakage Knives” (are we sensing a pattern here?) Which once again brings us some knowledge from Mr. Kent.
Japanese craftsmen use harder steel, which allows the knives to stay sharper longer. This is particularly important with cuisine like sashimi, which, to retain its visual appeal, requires the raw fish to be sliced evenly. “I don’t know if the demands of the cuisine made the knife or the knife made the cuisine,” Kent says. “Either way, you can’t have one without the other.”
We hope to see you at the Vancouver store for the Grand Opening Garage Sale going on now, or at the Calgary Omatsuri Festival August 13 to meet the blacksmiths of Masakage knives.
To celebrate Knifewear Vancouver’s Grand Opening at 4215 Main Street they are bringing some of their most popular blacksmiths for demonstrations and a party. The photo above is of Yu Kurosaki creating what looks like a nakiri. He'll be one of our esteemed visitors.
August 10: Grand Opening with Masakage Blacksmiths
10am-1pm Masakage Blacksmiths will be doing some demonstrations (sharpening, engraving, putting on handles)
6pm-9pm join the blacksmiths for a beer and hotdog party
The men of Masakage Knives will also be bringing special edition versions of their usual knives. The white handled Masakage Zero knives are especially beautiful.
August 11 -16: Knifewear Garage Sale
Twice a year Kevin Kent, Knifewear’s founder and exchef, travels to Japan to meet with blacksmiths, find new knife makers, source new knives, drink sake and sing karaoke. Their garage sales have become legend. The prices are great and you will find prototypes, knives from new blacksmiths, one-of-a-kind knives, blacksmith projects, lightly used sample knives, and unusual items. Chefs have been known to line up an hour early to get the best selection on the first day of the sale.
August 20: Meet the 27th Generation Master Blacksmith of Moritaka Hamono
9am-11am Tsunehiro Moritaka will be engraving customer knives.
Time to get your cherished Moritaka knife personalized, or an even better time to pick up the Moritaka Ishime that you’ve been eyeing up. To celebrate Moritaka-san’s visit, all of his knives are 10% off at all locations and online at knifewear.com until the end of August.
Knifewear Vancouver is pleased to announce their permanent location. They look forward to serving Vancouver’s chefs by bringing them the same high-quality Japanese knives and famous customer service that those in Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa have been enjoying for years.
Blacksmith photography by Down North Photography.
Kris Armitage, the Manager of our Edmonton shop, got to tag-along with Kevin on a pre-Garage Sale trip to Japan. The fellas visited several of our favourite blacksmiths, ate a tonne of food, drank all of the sake in several cities and sang some karaoke with Takamura-san.
How is it that 12 days can feel like a year and a minute at the same time? An overdose of culture shock would be a good guess. When you are an Albertan, you haven’t got much choice but to feel like a foreigner while in Japan. Strangely enough, everywhere I went was extremely welcoming regardless of the fact I am a head taller than most and can’t speak a lick of Japanese.
In those 12 days, Kevin and I managed to cover a lot of ground. 2500km is a long way to go in under 2 weeks, but it allowed me to witness a great cross section of the country and its people. We spent the majority of our time in the more rural parts of Japan and it was the beginning of rice season. I got to see farmers tilling and prepping the fields in the North and the sprouts growing in the South. This is definitely a country fueled by gohan; we had rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner everyday. That being said, we didn’t travel to Japan to talk about rice, we traveled to Japan to witness the Blacksmiths in action.
Blacksmiths are badass, all of them. No exceptions.
Our first stop was in Yatsushiro, on the southern island of Kyushu, to visit the Moritaka family. This family as been making blades for over seven centuries and 27 generations. The workshop isn’t that old but it obviously isn’t a new build and is located within arms reach of the family home. This has helped the Moritaka blacksmiths achieve a healthy blend of work-life balance. It was great to see the kids come home from school and pop into the workshop to say hello; even during break-time everyone sat down for lunch and tea together.
As much fun as it was to get to play with a katana and chuck some shuriken, the highlight was easily getting to forge not 1 but 2 knives and trust me when I say that it isn't as easy as it looks. The masters make it look pretty effortless to grip a glowing chunk of steel in a pair of tongs and let a massive hammer smash it flat. The truth is you better be holding on damn tight because that hammer is going to toss you around or knock that scalding metal out of your tongs and across the room. It feels pretty good when you've got that thing banged into shape and a man with decades of experience gives you a thumbs up.
In their dimly lit and cramped shop the Moritakas do it all from forging their own Sanmai steel to the final grinding and sharpening of the blades. It was evident to me that there is a great deal of pride and care that not only go into their craftsmanship but also into their long family traditions. I've always found it easy to appreciate the beautiful knives that we carry at Knifewear but it changes everything once you shake the hands that actually do the work. It doesn't hurt either when they freely pour shochu (a distilled liquor of rice, barley and sweet potato) and serve you delicious basashi (horse meat)!
We missed being trapped on Kyushu by a large earthquake that rocked Kumamoto approximately 10 hours after we had left. Our friends were lucky to not be affected directly but some of their friends and family in Kumamoto were not so lucky and incurred some serious loss of property. 48 people in the area lost their lives. Very scary situation indeed.
Parts 2 and 3 of Mr. Armitage’s Japan adventures will be posted in the near future. In the meantime enjoy 10% off Moritaka Knives the entire month of August to celebrate their Calgary and Vancouver visits on August 20 and 21 respectively.
In 2013, Masashi Yamamoto started his own workshop after working alongside his brother, Kazuomi, at Yoshikane Hamono. An exception to the rule that all the great blacksmiths are old men, Masashi-san is just a young’un but just as awesome. His knives are beautifully polished, incredibly sharp and a tonne of fun to use.
The VS1 Tsuchime is the third line created by Masashi so far and is influenced by some of the knives that he made with his brother, the Yoshikane Tsuchime, which are now discontinued. The hammered finish gives the impression of large fish scales and helps prevent food from sticking to the blade. Eric in the Ottawa shop swears that they look like a dragon made them. Who knows, maybe Masashi-san is part dragon. We’ve seen him work, and he does handle heat rather well.
The blade is made of VS1, a relatively new steel from the Metal Wizards of Takefu, and is clad in a softer stainless. VS1 is very similar to SKD12 and will develop a patina as time goes by, but is relatively resistant to rust. Expect a hardness of 60-62 HRC, which in normal-people terms means it’s wickedly sharp with great edge retention.
This line is similar in profile to the Masashi SLD, tall blades with a bullet-like shape. The handle is oval-shaped chestnut and would comfortably fit in either a large or small hand. I had been holding out on getting a new knife until I saw these. Now I know what my next one will be!