Wabi-sabi and the Impermanence of 'New'

February 18, 2020 3 min read 0 Comments

Wabi-sabi and the Impermanence of 'New'

Before most of us worked at Knifewear, we were knife-nerds first. The mystique and allure of handmade blades drew us in and fascinated us. What attracted me most was the innate character of each knife, the way they changed and developed with age, just like people.


I’ve long been a fan of antiques. There’s an incredible beauty in the natural flaws of a well used object, and the subtle marks it picks up over the years. Having owned my Moritaka Ishime Gyuto for a good decade now, I’m seeing the same beauty develop. This is what drew me to buy a Moritaka as my first knife, because I had long admired the aged cast-iron pans owned by my grandparents. I loved antique and vintage things, objects that felt like they had “lived”. More than that, I knew they would continue to change. Possessions are impermanent, they age, degrade, change, and become more beautiful in that process. 


You can imagine I felt like a fool when I learned that there’s actually a word for what I thought was an indescribable quality. In Japan, this is called “Wabi-sabi”. Wabi-sabi isn’t a style or a discipline. It’s more an idea, a philosophy of sorts. Wabi-sabi is about acceptance, about transience, imperfection. It embraces the ever-changing nature of things.


In many ways, this thought has been at the back of our minds as we built Knifewear. Beyond just the knives we sell, other items we carry are also, in our minds, enhanced by the years they spend with us


Larchwood cutting boards darken, their surfaces darken and show marks from the thousands of tiny cuts you make on them while preparing dinner.

A brand new Finex pan, and the one I've been using every day for 5 years.

Cast Iron and Carbon steel pans embody the concept of Wabi-sabi almost perfectly. Although they can last forever, they’re continually changing. The seasoning on a cast-iron or carbon steel pan is almost alive, like sourdough starter and you must work with it rather than against it. They change, they darken, they lighten. They are always in motion.

Owning a good kitchen knife, especially one like a Fujiwara, Takeda or a Moritaka, is to embrace its nature. Like many other hand-made things, these knives feel ‘alive’. No two Fujiwara Maboroshis are the same, each knife has a distinct feel and look from its cousins. The patina on two Moritaka Ishime blades will change, develop, get scrubbed off, and redevelop like battle scars. Compare two identical knives that have seen decades of use and you’ll think they were made by different people. 


When I sharpen my Fujiwara Denka I always have to pause for a moment. The Aogami Super core develops such a deep beautiful patina, and the bevel is so beautifully polished. It’s hard to just scrape it off on a coarse stone and start all over again. The first time I sharpened by Moritaka, I had been desperately saving the patina for years, trying to preserve it exactly.  Eventually I had to sharpen it all off, hot rod my knife, and start all over again.

The Moritaka 240mm Gyuto I bought from Knifewear 9 years ago, and a brand new Moritaka

 

That’s when I had a realization; I got to build that beautiful patina all over again! I got to reconnect with one of my favourite tools and regain my appreciation for the carbon steel edge.


This cycle of change, age, and rebirth of the edge over the lifespan of the knife has become my favourite part. The knife is never the exact same pristine tool, and it changes with me. The more it changes, the more it becomes mine. As I notice subtle imperfections and changes on my favourite pan, knife or cutting board, the more I could pick it out of a crowd as mine.

Perhaps in this way, you will also find a newfound appreciation for your tools.

Nathan Gareau
Nathan Gareau

A famed cocktologist and axe man. Ask him about his world-famous Three Cherry Manhattan. Nathan also sits on the board of the Inglewood BIA and does his part to drive the neighbourhood forward. In his spare time Nathan can be found sharpening his axe, sabreing Champagne, or completing the fastest straight-razor shave around. He doesn't slur his words, he speaks in cursive.


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