While you may already know everything about steel and different blade’s components used in Japanese knives, we thought to also give a quick explanation on how different kitchen knife handles can be, their prons and cons and what price tag they usually carry.
While many people think the most important part of a knife is the blade, that assumption is very misguided. The handle is an equally important aspect of the knife because without it, the knife would lose its functionality. For anyone looking to buy a new knife, whether a chef, a hobbyist cook, or outdoorsman, the handle is a significant feature that should not be overlooked. Here is some information about common styles and types of knife handles.

Wood Handles

Sakai Takayuki 45 Layer Damascus Gyuto 210mm AUS10 with Octagonal Magnolia Handle

Wood had been used as a knife handle since knives came into existence.  A good quality wood handle can be durable and attractive, making wood a relatively inexpensive material for heavy-duty knives. Wood also adds a lot of beauty to a knife, making wood handled knives popular among collectors.

Various different types of woods are used in knife handles, so you have to choose wisely based on how, how often and where you’re going to use the knife. If you are going to use it in wet conditions often, you don’t want your knife handle to be made of soft or fine woods like black walnut; better to use a hardwood or a stabilised wood, where the wood is injected with plastic.

Wood also makes it extremely easy to carve artsy designs and create handles unlike any other types. Some of the common types of wood used for handles are cocobolo, ebony and rosewood (shitan). Of course there is a wide variety of pricing among wooden handles depending on the type and scarcity of the wood used.

Wood does have a number of drawbacks that you should keep in mind when thinking about buying a knife with a wood handle. The biggest factor is its maintenance. Wood is difficult to clean and harder to maintain as it can be damaged easily.

Hardwoods originate from deciduous trees whereas softwoods largely come from coniferous trees.  There are hundreds of so-called exotic hardwoods used in knife making today and each displaying unique characteristics that excite us as knife collectors.
Examples of stabilised woods include are plywoods typically made from birch. Manufacturers inject polymer resin and then compress under high pressure to create a very dense and durable material that still exhibits natural beauty.

Pros: Lots of variety, attractive, durable, very comfortable to hold
Cons: Porous if not stabilised, rare woods can be pricey

Micarta® Handles

Yu Kurosaki R2 Gyuto 210mm Hammered

Yu Kurosaki R2 Gyuto 210mm Hammered

Micarta is a popular branded example of a phelonic, which refers to different substances made with the organic compound Phenol – a type of resin. This type of resin is a synthetic material that is a composite of linen or paper.

Thin layers of linen cloths are soaked in a phenolic resin, producing a product that is lightweight, strong, and looks more aesthetically attractive than similar materials. It was originally introduced as an electrical insulator and easily one of the best plastics out there for making knife handles.

Unfortunately, Micarta in and of itself has absolutely no surface texture, is very slippery and smooth, and requires quite a bit of hand labour to produce and then carve some sort of texture into the knife. This makes it pricey, which translates to a higher priced knife. Many will tell you that Micarta can be easily scratched but fortunately, this is not the case.  Micarta is very hard and is not easy to scratch at all.  If enough pressure is applied e.g. scratch under attack from sharpened steel, then it may get leave a mark, just like G-10 and carbon fiber, will but in general it holds up very well.

It also comes with many different colours, such as black, white red, tan and other bright hues.

Pros: Tough, light, durable
Cons: Expensive, brittle

Metal Handles

metal knife handle kitchen knife

Metal is a very popular choice for handles because of its durability and strength. There are two common types of metal typically used for knife handles: titanium and stainless steel. The benefit of stainless steel is that it’s resistant to corrosion but is not particularly lightweight. In addition, stainless steel handles can be rather slippery so manufacturers have to incorporate etching or ridges to provide the required friction.  Quite often, you’ll see stainless steel used in combination with plastic or rubber, to improve the grip, but stainless steel handles are typically to be avoided in kitchen or heavy-duty knives, because of the added weight.

Titanium is similarly corrosion-resistant and lightweight, but has a higher threshold to withstand tension. It’s a little heavier than aluminum but still considered a lightweight metal and much stronger. Alas, it’s also more expensive to machine.

Titanium is one of those rare metals that has a warm feel to it, so it doesn’t make you suffer nearly as much in the winter time as something like aluminum. It’s very sturdy and yet springy, which is why you commonly see titanium used as the liner material for a locking liner knife.  Note that both Titanium and Aluminum suffer from being prone to scratches as compared to stainless steel.

Titanium can be given a unique and attractive colour through the anodization process which is particularly common on custom knives and it can be texturised through bead-blasting.

Chefs stay away from these types of handles because if they’re near a flame for too long, they can become scorching hot.

 

Stag Handles

knifehandle deer handle

Stag handles are made out of naturally shed deer antlers, which makes these handles increasingly rarer and costlier. Two of the major advantages of stag is that the rough texture makes a sturdy grip and the shape of the antler gives it natural curves.

Pros: Tough, durable, natural curves
Cons: Lacks elegance, causes pain to the animals

Bone handles

bone handles kitchen knives ancessors

Bone handles have been used since the dawn of man and are still very popular among the knife collector community; in fact, this is the most common material today for classic pocket knives. bone handles kitchen knives ancessors

The bone is derived from naturally deceased animals, and a wide variety of animals at that—including elephant and giraffe. Still, the most common and cost effective bone used today is the abundant cow bone.  Aside from bone, similar materials like antler  (deer, elk, etc.), horns (sheep, cow, buffalo, etc.) and tusks (i.e. elephant, walrus) will often be used. Of course, many collectors like bone handles simply because of tradition.  The bone can be dyed to achieve bright colours, and can be textured to make for an easier grip.

Unfortunately, bone handle is somewhat slippery for heavy-duty usage and it’s porous which affects its stability and makes it susceptible to deformation and cracking. Temperature, light and moisture can all impact the characteristics of a bone handle which makes them unsuitable for many.

Pros: Often inexpensive (cow bones), use of dyes create eye-catching designs, traditional
Cons: Porous, susceptible to cracking, somewhat slippery

And you? What handles do you prefer and why?

Exciting times are coming to Japana.
We’ve never wanted to be just a shop selling standard handcrafted Japanese knives. We never wanted to popularise mass produce either. And while the handmade Japanese knives we import and sell are unique on their own, we decided to go one step further. We decided to gather the best talent, centuries of tradition and newest technology to bring you something, you won’t find anywhere else: kitchen and knife accessories inspired with the sharpest cuts and Japanese tradition. We brought in house the most talented product designers and skilled blacksmiths to connect tradition with the creative mastermind.

While we can’t reveal everything now, know that we’re put our hearts, energy and a lot of sweat into creating completely unique, highest quality signature lines of products. You will be able to enjoy results of this very soon.

For now, watch this space closely and subscribe to our newsletter to be informed when the products are available.

Japana signature X - First models of our new knife and kitchen accessories

Japana signature X – First models of our new knife and kitchen accessories

Until then!

Konnichiwa! Today we’ve prepared for you a compilation of our dear friends and clients using their very expensive, very sharp knives… just to cut tomato (of course Kill Bill style) 🙂

1. Kaminari Knives

2. Slawek Jedrzejczyk 

3. Gadzeciarz Szeroki

4. Japana friends 

5. Eduardo Castro

6. Brakoniecki

Filmed cutting tomato with your Japanese knife? Send us a link, we will publish it here 😉

What do the Portuguese and tobacco have in common with Sakai knife making tradition in the Sakai region?
A lot.
Sakai, the residential Osaka’s prefecture is a port town and back in the day the Portuguese sailed to this area and began trading guns and tobacco to the Japanese starting in 1543. The Japanese took well to both items and Japanese farmers began tobacco farming soon thereafter. Initially, most of the production was made for the elite class of the Japanese society. The tobacco leaves were cut finely and smoked in pipes. Of course farmers needed well-made, sharp knives to process the leaves and some entrepreneurial blacksmiths developed the necessary techniques to manufacture a high quality tobacco knife for such purpose. The original Japanese knife resembled a tall cleaver.

Today we’ve gathered for you the best 15 tips from professional chefs for that’ll save you time, money, and a whole lot of trouble. Enjoy!

1. Know your meats

1meatswagyu

After more than five generations in the butcher business, we know that home cooks are baffled when they buy meat. Look for beef with ivory-colored marbling and a dark red hue. Don’t be seduced by the cherry-red steak with no marbling. This will be tasteless and tough. And always buy the best quality you can afford or find.

Stanley and Mark Lobel, coauthors of Lobel’s Meat Bible

Kitchen sometimes resembles a war field, especially if you are trying to prepare fancy dishes for your guests to come and have little time to organise everything. Today we’ve prepared top 25 kitchen and cooking tricks that will help any hobbyist cook.

Kitchen scenario #1: I have lots of dough to cut into shapes.

We suggest: Use a pizza cutter!

A pizza blade can be wheeled around a slice of pastry or dough with fluid ease, saving you the expense of buying shaped cutters, or time spent fiddling around, twizzling the point of a knife into strange angles.

Kitchen scenario #2: My sugar has clumped in the packet.

We suggest: Undo the damage with a slice of bread.

If your brown sugar has clumped into pieces, place a piece of soft white bread in the packet and the sugar will break back down into sandy granules in a few hours (no, rice won’t help). To stop it happening again, make sure the storage space is nice and dry.

Kitchen scenario #3: Un-juicy lemons

We suggest: Microwave them.

Save yourself the disappointment of a unsqueezy lemon by microwaving it whole for around 20-30 seconds on high. It’s just enough time to release the juices, but be careful not to go overboard and dry the flesh out.

Kitchen scenario #4: I’ve run out of bread.

We suggest: Make instant flatbreads.

If you have plain flour in the cupboard, you always have bread on hand. Just take one mug of plain flour combined with 1-2 teaspoons of olive oil per person, then slowly add cold water until it’s a soft, smooth dough which leaves the bowl clean. Divide the dough into balls, roll out to a 2mm thickness then dry fry in a non-stick pan. They’ll only take a few moments and are ready when both sides have golden brown patches all over. Ps. Flatbreads are great for storing – they stay fresh for many days.

Kitchen scenario #5: I need to line a springform cake tin with no fuss.

We suggest: Clamp it.

Bypass pencil outlines and fiddly scissors by lining a springform cake tin – one with a clippable ring and removable base – the easy way. Lay the parchment onto the flat base of the tin, then press down and clamp the ring into place, leaving edges around the outside to easily tear off.

Kitchen scenario #6: I want to make an easy rainbow cake.

We suggest: Ditch the liquid food colouring.

We love our stripy rainbow cake, but it’s perhaps one for the keen baker to take on. If you want your sponge to sing with Technicolor joy but don’t have the food dye resource, pick up a tub of multi-coloured hundreds and thousands instead. Weave them through your sponge batter and watch them dissolve into a beautiful polka dot design during cooking.

Kitchen scenario #7: I want to peel a kiwi the easy way.

We suggest: Spoon it.

To peel a kiwi fruit, just chop off the top and bottom, then push a dessertspoon in between the fruit and the skin. Turn the kiwi fruit until all the skin falls off the back of the spoon.

Kitchen scenario #8: I need to ramp up the flavour of my dish.

We suggest: Don’t just use salt and pepper.

Don’t just stick with salt and pepper – experiment with other store cupboard seasonings. Try sprinkling a crushed up chicken stock cube over a whole chicken before roasting or add a splash of soy sauce to boost the flavour of your gravy. (If you have none, wine is always great to add a flavour 🙂

Kitchen scenario #9: My boiled eggs are difficult to peel.

We suggest: Add vinegar.

You probably already know that adding a dash of vinegar to egg poaching water helps coagulate the white. But did you know adding a dash of vinegar to the water when boiling eggs helps the shell peel off more easily? Say goodbye to piles of tiny egg shell shards.

Kitchen scenario #10: My herbs are about to go off.

We suggest: Freeze them.

frozen herbs with oil

Photo credit: Laughing Spatula

‘Hard’ herbs like rosemary and thyme can be frozen whole. When you come to use them, they’ll naturally crumble into pieces, bypassing the mezzaluna completely.

Kitchen scenario #11: I have a rind of expensive Parmesan I don’t want to waste.

We suggest: Use it as seasoning.

parmiggiano reggano kitchen knives japanese

While the hard rind of cheese such Parmesan, pecorino and Grana Padano is difficult to grate, it’s a shame to waste such an expensive by-product. But there’s no need to – try using it as a makeshift cheesy bouquet garni. Add the rind whole when you’re sweating onions in the first stage of making a risotto or sauce. It will impart lots of its flavour but save you taking to it with a chainsaw. Don’t forget to remove it before serving though 🙂

Kitchen scenario #12: I’m finding it hard to peel shallots.

We suggest: Boil the kettle.

Dinky shallots can be a pain to peel, but cover them in boiling water and the skin loosens, making the process far quicker.

Kitchen scenario #13: I need a tiny squeeze of citrus juice but not a whole fruits-worth?

We suggest: Spike it.

Don’t cut a whole orange, lime or lemon and risk the rest going to waste for the sake of one small squeeze of juice. Use a skewer to pierce it to release a few drops without having to break the fruit open.

Kitchen scenario #14: I’m entertaining and need a quick starter.

We suggest: Spice up shop-bought dips.

Stir a few extra ingredients through your favourite shop-bought hummus and everyone will think you’ve made it yourself. Add a dash of lemon juice, chopped fresh coriander, some ground cumin, smoked paprika or a smidge of harissa paste to give it a kick. Alternatively add a few whole chickpeas and a drizzle of olive oil to really make it look homemade.

Kitchen scenario #15: My bag of salad leaves is about to go out of date.

We suggest: Cook them.

Plastic bags of washed and ready-to-eat salad leaves are really convenient but don’t seem to last very long at all, even in the fridge. If you find yourself with leftover leaves, that are starting to lose their crispness, ensure they don’t go to waste. Instead, pop them in a pan with a little olive oil or butter, garlic and seasoning and wilt down as you would for spinach. This works particularly well with leaves like watercress and rocket.

Kitchen scenario #16: Garlic cloves that are tricky to peel.

We suggest: Don’t bother.

Garlic cloves are one of the trickiest items to prepare, and if you find it a frustrating feat, invest in a sturdy garlic press and voilà – the whole clove can be passed through it with the skin intact. It might take a bit of pushing, but once through the flesh is passed through the holes while the skin is left in the press to be easily removed.

Kitchen scenario #17: I need a quick white sauce.

We suggest: Cream cheese

Making a roux from flour and butter isn’t too difficult a process, but if time is of the essence, it might be easier to reach into the fridge. A tub of cream cheese watered down until the same consistency as béchamel makes a super-simple alternative. If you want to boost the flavour, add a grating of nutmeg. Alternatively, use crème fraîche and grated cheese.

Kitchen scenario #18: I need brown rice to cook quickly.

We suggest: Soak it.

Nutty brown rice can take a long time to cook until tender, so speed up the process by soaking it in water overnight, as you would hard pulses like lentils. It’ll cook far quicker as a result.

Kitchen scenario #19: I can’t keep my supermarket herbs alive.

We suggest: Get snipping.

As soon as you buy herb plants from the supermarket or greengrocer, remove the plastic wrapping and trim the top leaves quickly to use in your cooking. By trimming off the top leaves first you’ll help the plant shoot out from lower down the stem making it stronger. Water every other day or according to the instructions on the pack.

Kitchen scenario #20: I want perfect fried eggs.

We suggest: Steam them.

avocado eggs recipies japanese knives knife

Credit: WhatShouldIEatForBreakfastToday.com

Achieve the perfect set white and creamy runny yolk with a few splashes of water. Fry the eggs in a non-stick pan and when the whites are almost cooked, put a few drops of water into the pan, quickly cover it with a lid and turn the heat down low or off completely and leave for a minute or two to finish cooking. The effect will be a perfect semi-poach.

Kitchen scenario #21: I don’t want my avocado to go brown.

We suggest: Twist it.

If you don’t always manage to eat a whole avocado in one go, keep the surplus from turning brown with our clever storage technique. Cut the avocado in half and twist into two pieces, then use a spoon to scoop out the flesh from the side without the stone and eat it. Return the empty skin to the other half, which still contains the stone, and use the skin to cover it over. Keeping the stone in and covering it with the skin helps retain colour and freshness until the following day.

Kitchen scenario #22: I want to make pastry with a difference.

We suggest: Customise it.

Spruce up shop-bought pastry by dicing a block of shortcrust and popping it into a food processor. Being careful to match it to your filling, add a flavouring – herbs, vanilla, cheese, cocoa powder, honey or spice are all great ways of giving your pastry an edge.

Kitchen scenario #23: I’m having a party and don’t have fridge space for drinks.

We suggest: Salt water.

Not enough space for your party loot? Save space for food by putting drinks into big tubs, buckets and bowls filled with salted ice water – the salt will cause the temperature to drop, giving you icy cold drinks in seconds.

Kitchen scenario #24: I need breadcrumbs but don’t have a food processor.

We suggest: Go manual.

Make your own dried breadcrumbs by grating stale bread on the coarse side of a grater, then spread the crumbs in a thin layer over a baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes at 140C, giving them a good shake halfway through. The golden, crispy crumbs will last in a sealed container for up to two weeks.

Kitchen scenario #25: I need a marinade for my meat but only have half an hour before cooking.

We suggest: Reach for the wine.

If you need your meat injected with a short, sharp burst of flavour, choose marinade ingredients wisely. Red wine quickly penetrates meat, giving it a deep colour, while citrus zest and juice tenderises it rapidly.

 

Do you have any other tried tricks that work miracles? Share them with us and our community in the comments below 🙂

Cover photo and few copy photos credit: our favourite WhatShouldIEatForBreakfastToday.com

You often ask us: how does a ceramic knife differ from a metal knife and which is better? The short answer is: it depends on what purpose you want the knife for.

Both types of knives perform really good if used for the right purpose. The only difference is the material the blade is made out of. If you know anything about knives, you’ll know the blade is the most important part of the knife, thus making ceramic and metal knives very different. To make things simple for you, we’ve compared and listed all main pros and cons for ceramic knives with regards to metal/steel knives. Enjoy!

The PROS

  • SHARPNESS – The materials that make up a ceramic blade are very hard. Ceramic is the second hardest material, right after diamonds. After it has been sharpened, it can keep its razor sharp edge and will not wear out. If you ever do need to sharpen it, most of the manufacturers will sharpen it for free. Manufacturers of metal knives will never offer you that service since they need to be sharpened so often. The situation with traditional Japanese knives looks slightly different – most blacksmiths require sellers to provide sharpening service as it’s seen as a matter of pride and prestige of Japanese products. Those who sell Japanese knives online (like us, however, we DO have plans to open physical shops in Poland, UK and Italy) shall provide sharpening tools such as whetstones and comprehensive information on how to sharpen the knife and maintain it.
  • ODOURS – Ceramic material is not very porous at all. This keeps the blade from transferring odours from one food ingredient to another. You can cut something spicy, give it a quick rinse and then cut something else. The spiciness won’t transfer to the next food item.
  • RUST – That should go without saying – no metal means no rust.
  • SANITARY – Ceramic blades are very dense, with very little pores. Just like your face, the fewer pores there are, the less dirt and grime can get into the pores. A quick rinse in warm water will get your ceramic knife a lot cleaner than a thorough scrubbing on a metal knife.
  • WEIGHT – Ceramic material is very light. The lighter the weight, the less strain on your arms and shoulders. You can rip through all your cutting like a pro. On the other hand, you want to feel that you are holding a tool in your hand. The good thing with Japanese and German knives is that they tend to be well-balanced, giving the sturdy feel when working.

CONS

  • BRITTLENESS – As you may remember from our latest post, more hardness means more fragility (a paradox? :). High hardness doesn’t mean it isn’t breakable. Ceramic knives aren’t meant to cut hard food such as frozen foods, bones, or anything that isn’t easily sliced. The blade is sharpened so thin that anything hard can put a chip on the tip. The knife can be dropped tip down without shattering, but the thin tip and edge can chip away. Chips can be fixed with a sharpening but we still do not recommend it with ceramic knives (Japanese knives is a whole different story…). If you dropped a metal knife tip down, the blade would bend and most likely require a professional alignment as well.
  • PRICE TAG – Ceramic knives tend to be a bit cheaper than the high end steel knives. Almost all ceramic knives are very high end, but the lack of low end models makes cost an issue.
  • VERSATILITY – It is not the most versatile knife in the kitchen. It doesn’t make a great all purpose knife (unlike those Japanese gyutos), but it does excel at it’s intended purpose – slicing! Save those rough tasks for your deba knife.

Should I consider ceramic over a metal knife?

Our eternal love towards Japanese knives does not allow us to be objective. While ceramic knives win a bit in terms of price tag , we are still standing by superiority of Japanese knives; for their versatility, beauty, history and nowhere-else-to-be-found sharpness and edge retention.

Example of a ceramic knife: Kyocera Ultimate Ceramic Chef Knives 3-Piece Set

 

kyocera ceramic knife knives 3 set

Example of a steel knife: Yoshihiro Yamawaki Kurouchi Nakiri 165mm Yasugi Blue Steel

Yoshihiro Yamawaki Kurouchi Nakiri 165mm Yasugi Steel

What’s interesting about this Yoshihiro knife is that it’s made of Yasugi steel – an equivalent of Aogami Blue Steel #1. (To read more about qualities of Yasugi steel, check our other article here.)

Happy knife hunting!

This guide is to help you select the best Japanese knives suitable for your needs.
Although we all like to have choice, majority of work (~70%) you do in the kitchen is done on one or two knives – usually these are the gyuto (chef’s) and petty (utility) knives.
Knowing that will guide you to focus on selecting and trying your must-have. Next time you are in the kitchen notice that whenever you need to use a knife, you probably have and choose between one or two of your favourites.

When buying a new knife, it’s not a wise idea to go for a set of knives because of their aesthetic value.
Also, quality always trumps quantity. Rather than buying a set of knives – some of which are either used very rarely or at all, it’s best to buy a couple of really good knives that you enjoy using all the time.
Once you feel like it’s not enough, you’d like to experiment with different knives for a particular purpose (sushi anyone?).

We always advise our clients to select the knives they need and are comfortable with. Life is about choice and preferences, so while majority of people like Guyto (chef’s) knife of 210mm, you may prefer a knife that is longer, shorter or bit narrower than the one with “bestseller” tag. Or, you may find a slightly different paring or utility (petty) blade more comfortable.