Shunsuke Manaka is a relatively young, 3rd generation, blacksmith in Kasukabe, Saitama pref. His father-in-law was a wholesaler masquerading as a blacksmith, and Manaka-san didn’t like the dishonest way his father-in-law operated his business so he decided to become a blacksmith himself. He didn’t have anyone who could teach him, but he had a pile of equipment that he had inherited such as a spring hammer, a sharpening wheel, etc. He began making knives from scratch about 10 years ago and experienced many years of struggle and learning from his struggles. Through sheer force of effort, he developed the technique to forge-weld steels in house, even forge welding stainless steel which is no easy task.
Now he forge-welds everything in house, from hard carbon steel clad with soft steel, stainless steel clad with stainless, and carbon steel clad with stainless steel. He learned a wide array of heat treatment techniques including sub-zero heat treatment for stainless steel. He prefers ATS-34 stainless steel (A stainless steel made by Hitachi that is popular among knife makers in Japan). He also forges the extremely dense ZDP-189, as well as VANADIS 4 Extra.
Yoshikazu Tanaka is a blacksmith in Sakai, considered to be one of the best blacksmiths in the region. One thing that differentiates him from the other blacksmiths, is that he uses pine charcoal when he quenches knives, which heats the knives more slowly and gently. He also only forges 30 knives a day, which may sound like a lot but is actually half as many as a lot of blacksmiths. Additionally, he is one of only a few blacksmiths in Sakai who use a tempering kiln for tempering his knives.
This particular line is a collaboration between Knifewear and Sakai Kikumori, a knife distributor in Sakai who represents Tanaka-san. We have asked Yoshikazu Tanaka to forge the blades and Ajioka san to sharpen. The soft, misty finish was also specially chosen by us. The blade is forged with Shirogami #2, a traditional high-carbon steel beloved by knife makers and chefs alike for its extreme sharpness and excellent edge retention.
In the west, few of us realize the importance of sharpening in the art of knife making. Without the sharpener, the knife would simply by a well-forged paperweight The work of the sharpener is like that of a sculptor, to carefully remove the unnecessary material until a masterpiece is revealed. Few knife sharpeners can craft masterpieces the way that Tadokoro-san can.
Tadokoro-san is a famous knife sharpener hailing from Tosa, with 25 years years of experience in his field. He started his career when he was only 15 and he learned much of his skillset from Morihiro-san, who is considered to be the best knife sharpener in Sakai. His incredible skill and attention to detail is evident upon inspection of his knives. His double bevel series is forged with white carbon steel 2 by Nakagawa-san of Shiraki Hamono. Nakagawa-san is one of the best blacksmiths in the region, who then passes the knives Tadokoro-san. He carefully grinds them to the right shape, then polishes the blades, and finally gives them their edge.
Yoshida Hamono is located in Saga prefecture, a very rural area on the island of Kyushu. Like many blacksmiths in rural areas, they specialized in making farming tools such as sickles and hoes, but they are nationally recognized for their incredible kitchen knives. The first generation of the Yoshida family was, like many, a swordsmith. After WWII, they decided to open a small workshop to produce knives and other steel tools, and in 1971 they expanded to a large scale production to meet a growing demand from all over Japan. They invested early in modern machinery that made large-scale production possible, which is one of the reasons why they have the ability to clad their own steel, rather than buying it pre-laminated. Because Saga is not a major production center for knives and there are not many other craftsmen, they have built a facility that can handle the knife making process entirely from start to finish, whereas most knife-makers outsource their steel lamination and sharpening.
In 2017 when the ZDP-189 became first available, Osamu Yoshida quickly purchased the steel and tried it out. He was amazed by how insanely sharp the steel could get and how long it would keep its edge, so he started making kitchen knives using this super steel. Despite being hard steel to deal with, he feels a great sense of accomplishment when he forges with it compared to other steels.
In addition to laminating their own steel, they also sub-zero heat treat their knives to purify the steel, which allows the knife to perform and sharpen better. This is done after quenching, by treating the knives with liquid nitrogen to remove excess retained austenite which hasn’t been converted to martensite. This prevents the knife from bending with time by “stabilizing” its structure. While scientific gibberish to most, this is a seriously big deal in the knife making world.