This article in part of our Small Makers Collection. This series celebrates blacksmiths that make some of our favourite hand-made blades, but not enough for us to stock full time. You can learn more about our Small Makers Collection here.
Sakai Kikumori was founded in 1926 by Kawamura Hamono, as a wholesaler of Sakai knives. They’re a relatively small player in the region, but that allows them to be very flexible and open to new ideas. Their number one goal is to see their knives put to use, making people happy in their kitchens. Food is an essential part of life, and a great meal is a great place for gathering. The great gathering leads to conversations and happiness. Their focus is always on the customers who use their knives, and they want the customers to enjoy cooking with them. All of their knives are handmade by local craftspeople, who they collaborate with to achieve these goals.
At Sakai Kikumori we were introduced to some blades forged by Yoshikazu Tanaka-san, and they also showed us knives that were sharpened by master sharpeners in the area. We really liked the blades that were sharpened by Ajioka-san, so we decided to have a small line of knives made that would be a collaboration between Ajioka-san and Tanaka-san.
Yoshikazu Tanaka-san, at work in his forge.
Considered to be one of the best blacksmiths in the region, Yoshikazu Tanaka-san has been blacksmithing for over a half-century. Now now works with his son and one apprentice. He is a traditionalist, yet he always seeks to improve his process and skills. He uses the traditional method of quenching with pine charcoal, and he uses the ash of straw for annealing. This is a super oldschool way to make knives. He does not use a thermometer for quenching, rather he tells the temperature of the steel by examining its colour. Tanaka-san is always seeking improvement. He uses a temperature-controlled kiln for tempering, which only a few blacksmiths in the region use. He and his team only forge 30 knives a day between the three of them. For reference, some blacksmiths forge up to 100 blades in a single day. The reason he only forges 30 is that he takes his time, forging carefully at very low temperatures. At lower temperature the steel does not stretch as fast, but it will retain the grain size of the steel much better. Stretching the grain size will make the steel brittle, which he works hard to avoid. He uses pine charcoal to heat the kiln, because it heats the steel a bit more gently than other fuels.
Tanaka-san's forge, using pine charcoal.
When we visited his workshop, he was kind enough to show us how he quenches the knives. It was amazing to see him determine when to put these steels into the water to quench purely by sight. He moves the steel in and out of the kiln frequently to check the colour, then when the whole blade isa specific shade of bright orange, he dunks the steel in the water.
Ajioka-san is a very important knife sharpener in Sakai, having been in the knife sharpening industry for more than a half-century. Like Sakai Kikumori, Ajioka-san always has the end-user in mind when he sharpens knives. His blades taper from the spine to the edge in a way that allows the knife to glide into food extremely smooth. He is also a great mentor and educator, hiring many young apprentices in his workshop and going to local high schools to teach the craft. He is very keen to pass down the skills and traditions to younger generations.
A Shironiko Kasumi 210mm Gyuto, from our collaboration line between Tanaka-san and Ajioka-san.
We are very proud to introduce this knife line, Sakai Kikumori Yoshikazu Tanaka “Shironiko Kasumi”, as a part of the small makers series. This series combines the century worth of skill and knowledge between the two blacksmiths into a gorgeous, and very unique feeling knife. These blades are like nothing else that we’ve sold at Knifewear, and we couldn’t be happier to share them with you!