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If you want to buy a Japanese knife, you quickly notice that the selection is very large, there are confusing terminology and the price differences are enormous. That is why we put the most popular knives in different price ranges under the microscope in the test and introduce you to the test winners in our list of the best Japanese kitchen knife sets of the year.
Before you decide, you should understand the basic characteristics and different types of Japanese knives and how to sharpen them.
What is the best Japanese kitchen knife sets of 2020?
- 8″ Chef Knife / 1.5mm
- 7″ Santoku Knife / 1.5mm
- 8″ Carving Knife / 1.5mm
- 8″ Bread Knife / 1.5mm
- 5″ Utility Knife / 1.2mm
- 5″ Paring Knife / 1.2mm
The hardness of the blades is very decent at 60 ± 2HRC so that the knives are very suitable for everyday use. They are coated with corrosion-resistant titanium, which gives them a very stylish look. The handles are very easy to hold and are made of fine wood.
The set is highly recommended, but you should note that these knives are only supplied pre-sharpened. This already gives them a good sharpness, but they only become sharp if you regrind them accordingly.
They are characterized by extreme sharpness, look very high-quality, and offer a hand-worked hammer-blow surface, which ensures a chic design. The degree of hardness is very high at 61 ± 1 HRC, which makes the knives extremely robust. Nevertheless, it is practically impossible that they break into everyday life.
The 32 layers of Damascus steel are not quite as hard as traditionally handcrafted Japanese knives, but they are significantly harder than classic knives. This perfectly combines flexibility and sharpness and the result is a professional, highly recommended product, which, however, also has its price.
However, if you are willing to invest a little more and are looking for a sturdy professional knife with precise cutting performance, you will not be disappointed with the knife set from Victorinox.
It includes a sashimi knife, which corresponds to the Japanese sushi knife, a Deba knife as a robust meat knife, a Santoku knife as an all-purpose knife, and a Nakiri knife for chopping herbs and vegetables. With this grain, however, you can only give the knives a basic sharpness and under no circumstances sharpen them extremely sharp.
Also note that these are single-ply knives, not traditional Japanese knives. Only the shape is based on the Japanese knives and the wooden handle supports this look. However, they are made of stainless steel. They are already well pre-sharpened at the factory so that overall, it is an inexpensive and functional knife set at a relatively low price.
Features of Japanese knives
Compared to conventional knives, Japanese knives often perform better. This is because traditional knives are made of particularly hard steel – often by hand – which contributes to a very high degree of hardness. To prevent them from becoming brittle in return, they often consist of several layers of steel and softer metals such as iron are also forged. This process, known as damascene, results in the well-known Damascus steel. However, not all Japanese knives are made of Damascus steel, but knives that are based on a Japanese knife due to their shape can also be called Japanese knives. Inexpensive Japanese kitchen knife sets will also just like to be looked at as if they consisted of many layers.
The special sharpness and the special process of fire welding and hardening have made the traditional models world famous. If the individual layers are etched in hydrochloric acid, the layers appear even more clearly when the knife is later sharpened – the typical grain is created. The manufacturing process is very complex, which means that traditional knives are significantly more expensive than industrially manufactured, modeled knives or conventional knives. The differences in the degree of hardness are particularly clear. A hand-forged model has a hardness of up to 63 to 66 Rockwell hardness units (HRC), while classic knives made in Germany usually have a hardness between around 53 to 58 HRC.
The wooden handle is also one of the traditional features of a Japanese knife, but this is no longer a must. In particular, the models produced for the Western market include many with plastic or horn handles or with handles made of combined materials.
Different types and blade shapes of Japanese knives
There are many different types and styles of Japanese knives. Particularly popular is the Santoku knife, which is very suitable for meat and fish and has a blade that tapers towards the front. Usually, a Santoku knife is between 15 and 25 centimeters long and the blade protrudes far from under the handle. However, there are also many other Japanese knife types on the market, as is the case with classic knives. Depending on the intended use, one or the other knife is better or worse. Many different variants are used, especially in the professional sector.
The frequently used knives also include the Gyuto knives, which are designed for fine work, with a length of up to 20 centimeters. Compared to the Santoku knife, it is significantly narrower. The smaller representatives are like our models known as paring knives. There are also other well-known Japanese knives such as the Deba knife, which is used for dividing and has a blade length of up to 30 cm, or Naikiri knives, Yanagiba knives, Sashimi knives, Usuba, Ajikiri or Kasumi knives. Some manufacturers also come up with fantasy names to give the Asian knives an exotic touch. A well-known example from the professional sector is the Shun knives from Kai.
Sharpen Japanese knives
If the particularly hard blade becomes dull over time, it should be sharpened. This can be done by a professional, but with the right equipment, you can do it yourself. Japanese combination Waterstones with a grain size of 300 and 1,000 are ideal. The duller the knife, the coarser the grit should be at the beginning. A 1000 grit is usually sufficient for regrinding.
Be sure to follow the instructions exactly, water the stone well before use, and always set the knife at an angle between 15 and 20 degrees. Also, the knife should always be moved away from the body. The finishing touches can then be carried out with a 1,000 / 6,000 combination stone, for which you must increase the pressure on the stone. You can tell from the description that all of this requires some practice. But once you have figured it out, it’s no great art. With a practiced grip, a Japanese knife can even be sharpened beyond its original sharpness. To keep the sharpness as sharp as possible, you should always make sure not to clean the knives in the dishwasher and only use them on special cutting boards made of plastic or wood.