A closer look at how sharp Japanese knives are

Ever wonder how Japanese knives compare to other brands and makers?

Here's a little comparison of the cutting edge of 3 different knives under our  microscope!

Pic 1: Global Knives - Nakiri

Most people will be familiar with Global Knives, they're often a first choice for people looking to spend a bit more money on a knife and you'll frequently see people buying a set of 12 varying sized knives (when you only really need a couple to get you started).

How do Global Knives stack up in reality though?

Close up of a Global knife edge under a microscope

Out of the box, Global knives can feel like they have a reasonable level of sharpness and for many people, they might be the first knives on a level above a supermarket special so there is an upgrade for sure.

Their significant "weakness" however is that made using Global's proprietary steel, Chromova18 which is treated to a lower HRC of 56-58 (what is HRC?) so that initial sharpness quickly goes which leaves you with a knife that simply blunts after a short time period.

(Global are actually a Japanese brand but heavily slanted towards the Western market and mass produced)

As you can also clearly see on a close up, that edge looks more like a saw and this is an unused knife out of the box!

Every one of those teeth will be tearing at your food rather than slicing it which damages the food and makes for poor cuts.

You will also end up either having to do a lot of work to sharpen them regularly or they're just a bit dull which defeats the point of the knife entirely. It's certainly not unusual to visit a friend who still has a set of Globals to find they're basically blunt.  

Pic 2: A Sheffield Steel chef knife from Taylors Eye Witness

Close up of a Sheffield Steel chef knife edge under a microscope

We've had countless comments in the past on Facebook and Instagram from people when we run a story or an advert and they're almost always along the lines of "why sell Japanese knives when you can sell Sheffield steel because you're in the UK".

Well, the simple answer is they're seldom as good. Here's why.

The finish of the knife is actually pretty good and consistent for a £35 knife. Sheffield steel has a long tradition of quality so perhaps it's not unreasonable to expect although in reality, most knife making in Sheffield these days is mass produced cutlery and not kitchen knives.

Perhaps it's a little unfair to compare it to handmade knives that can cost hunderds of pounds but hey - Facebook commenters want to know why!

It is however let down by being dull straight out of the box. Using a sharpness tester, it scored 374. For comparison, most Japanese knives comfortably score under 200 (The lower the number the better).

Often, knives like this (and other Western knives) will be sharpened to an angle of 20 degrees rather than the typical 15 degrees of a Japanese knife. This makes the edge bevel look more like a wider triangle shape and so is phyiscally blunter as a result but is more common in the West because 20 degrees tends to offer a more robust edge so there is a little tradeoff between overall sharpness and chip resistance.

They simply don't compete on either hardness or sharpness so we can put the comparison to bed and answer the question on why they're not something we sell.

Pic 3: Yu Kurosaki Senko.

Close up of a Yu Kurosaki Senko Bunka cutting edge under a microscope

So, you've seen the rest - now lets look at the best!

We've chosen one Yu Kurosaki's Senko range simply because it was one of the most recent knives we've added to the site (View all his knives here). It's a good representative knife from a skilled craftsman who has both an eye for design and skill in finishing his blades by hand. 

Obviously our overwhelming joy in life is Japanese knives but when you look at the edge under a microscope what you see is an incredibly thin cutting edge that is so consistently smooth along the length of the blade it's amazing that it's sharpened on a giant stone wheel - by hand and eye only.

Combine the thinner cutting edge, harder steel and the mind blowing skill required to create a finish of this standard you'll see why we're so enthusiastic about the knives and blacksmiths!