Masakage Kujira: One last time

by Chris Lord April 02, 2019 4 min read 0 Comments

Masakage Kujira: One last time

This spring Knifewear is getting in what is most likely the final stock of one of my favourite knife lines, the Masakage Kujira. If you haven’t heard of this line, you will be forgiven, as it’s been a number of years since we’ve stocked it. This line of knives from Masakage that were made by a very talented, now retired, gentleman named Ken Kaguera. Kaguera-san makes homemade suminagashi steel out of recycled scraps and clads it around blue carbon steel to make truly unique knives. Due to the nature of the scrap metal suminagashi, or Damascus steel, their unique look evolves the more you use them.  I am the very proud owner of a Masakage Kujira 150mm gyuto.

In October of 2016, I was lucky enough to visit Kaguera-san’s home and workshop with Kevin and Visti. it was one of the most incredible days of my life. Words can’t express how beautiful Shikoku Island is. I strongly considered hiding in the bushes hoping to be left behind; maybe I could get a job stocking Coffee Boss at the Family Mart or pumping gas at a rest stop. I am sure I could have made it work.

When I got home, I wrote a piece (in two parts1 and2 ) about my trip to Japan. Below is the bit that pertains to Kaguera-san...

Kaguera-san working at the Springhammer - Photo Visti Kjar

We drove for about two hours through small towns and massive tunnels on our way up the mountain. Once we made it to Kaguera san’s shop, he got right to work demonstrating how he makes his own Damascus-style steel from recycled metal. Here is how it’s done as best as I can understand.

  1. Cut 7 pieces of steel about 4 cm wide and 8 cm long. Stack them up and smash ‘em together ‘til it’s nice and thin. (7 layers)
  2. Do that two more times.
  3. Take each piece and fold it into three equal portions, like you would a pamphlet. Smash it thin again. (21 layers)
  4. Stack the three pieces of steel that have been folded and hammer them together. (63 layers)
  5. Now you have a piece of Damascus-style steel. Hammer it out, cut into two equal portions and sandwich a piece ofAogami steel between them.
  6. Now you have something to make a knife out of.

Some other cool things we learned about Kaguera-san and his process.

  • He doesn’t have an apprentice. He would rather be able to come and go as he pleases, especially when it comes to fishing.
  • He uses electricity when he’s letting the steel cool down. He keeps it in some kind of ash that has a current running through it which gives his knives the cool rainbowy oil slick look.
  • When asked why we could see the line where the primary bevel starts but couldn’t feel it, his answer was, “Because I’m really skilled.”
  • He createssan mei steel in two different ways, by sandwiching three pieces of steel like Fujiwara and by splitting steel open like the Moritakas.
  • He makes kitchen knives, hunting knives, axes, hatchets, scythes… pretty much everything.

After our lesson in blacksmithing, we were invited into his beautiful home for lunch. The ceiling beams were all huge logs, the doors were made of paper and the entire house smelled like cedar. We sat around a long table and had a delicious meal of sushi, tataki, fruit, tempura, and sashimi. There was easily enough food for double those present.

After we ate, we visited a friend of Kaguera-san’s, Rogier. He is a Dutch ex-pat who has been living in the area for about 34 years making traditional Japanese paper. He grows the plants, harvests them and makes paper from scratch in his home. Back to the shop and Garage Sale shopping. I picked out about a dozen really slick knives, Kevin grabbed some Damascus axes, some badass hatchet/hammers, and a few hunting knives. I bought myself a really gorgeous santoku with a Western style antler handle. 

The Complete Masakage Kujira Line (Left to Right: Santoku, Nakiri, 210mm Gyuto, 240mm Gyuto, 180mm Gyuto, 150mm Gyuto.)

Funnily enough, I don’t have that antlered handled santoku anymore. I traded it to a friend for a damascus hatchet from that same trip which I haven’t used yet because it’s so sharp that I’m afraid that I’ll never be able to sharpen it that well again. It’s damn near perfect.

I know that some of our regulars in Ottawa will be excited to hear that we’ll be receiving a small run of knives from Kaguera-san. Rumour is that he has wandered back into the workshop to make a smattering of blades. I’m personally very excited about the possibility of getting a 240mm gyuto; hopefully there’s one left after the dust settles. Kaguera has a very unique technique and philosophy when it comes to making knives and that shows in his work. It’s a shame that he never trained anyone, but he must have had his reasons. Whether or not I get that 240mm gyuto, at least I already have a couple of his pieces to show off to all of my knife nerd pals.

Chris Lord
Chris Lord

Chris is a relocated Maritimer that can be found slinking in and out the back doors of Ottawa's restaurants, often with his daughter in tow. Chris has been a fixture in the Ottawa food scene for the past 10 years and has recently laid down his apron to learn the ways of Knifewear. Chris loves cooking big pieces of meat over a live fire and spends his summer feeding wood into his BBQ, Lemmy Smoke-mister.