Few months before getting Aritsugu kamagata usuba, I did acquire another usuba, also kamagata style, a little smaller one though, from Tadatsuna. Can't say it left me all too excited, mainly due to the edge holding problems, and probably smallish size too. Details are in the Tadatsuna White Steel Kamagata Usuba Kitchen Knife Review file. Usubas are very specific use knives and to properly use them you'd have to have very good skills, which I do not possess, sadly, but I'm working on it. Anyhow, to me, because I was interested in Usuba knives, and the first one didn't exactly live up to high expectations, Aritsugu usuba was the next logical step, to get the usuba that worked as I wanted. Yeah, never forgot that I didn't know how to use usubas properly, but edge holding is edge holding, and sharpening is still sharpening. I've checked with Takeshi from aframestokyo.com once again, and asked him to arrange wood pattern usuba, and because at that time I was more into Aritsugu knives, I've decided to get one from Aritsugu. Usuba is the type of the knife that can benefit from very hard steel, since it's dedicated to delicate vegetable cutting. Harder the steel, thinner the edge the knife can sustain. Aritsugu knives using Aogami and Shirogami steels are hardened to the max, at least in my experience. So, now you know what and why about this knife. Takeshi did excellent job as usual and few weeks later I had my brand new Aritsugu wood pattern kamagata usuba in my possession.
General- Aritsugu wood pattern kamagata usuba arrived packed in the cardboard box from the Aritsugu store, with their logo and kanji on it. As usual, after opening the box I've inspected the knife very carefully. No need for a magnifying glass this time, because that I use mainly for the edge examination, and the knife being inspected arrived with no edge on it. Once again, I got the dubious honor to perform honba-tsuke procedure myself. if you haven't read in other review, basically the thing is that in Japan, it's a common practice to sell high end and may be low end knives too without a real edge. Professional sharpener in store will take care of that for you, or may be the store can do it on their own. Anyway, to be honest, grinding the initial bevel on the knife that has 65+ steel is no fun, and shouldn't be taken lightly. I've learned that a hard way when attempted to sharpen Aritsugu Honkasumi Yanagiba knife very first time. Gory details are in the review, but short recap is that I was grinding 8 hours straight without much success, all because of the lack of the good coarse stone. This time I was well prepared, 120 grit DMT Dia Sharp D8XX is more than adequate for any steel at any hardness, the stone is a brute, when properly used. Another feature that I wasn't very happy about was the very low contrast of the wood pattern cladding. Of course, it will still do its job, but the point of getting and making damascus pattern cladding is to show the damn pattern, isn't it? Otherwise, why bother pounding almost indistinguishable layers of steel into submission. Oh well, it's not something to worry about too much, I could've returned it, if I wanted to, but not for that reason. Other than that, there was nothing to complain about during the inspection. Quality made knife, everything looked pretty much perfect. Well, of course the handle was a magnolia wood, which wasn't satisfactory, and Stefan Keller was already working and the new handle for it. I said everything looked perfect, because there was a defect, which I couldn't notice, the back side wasn't ideally straight and that became an issue during sharpening, but about that read the sharpening section, it's covered in details.
Blade- The blade on the Aritsugu kamagata knife is 210.00mm(8.27") long, 49mm wide and at the heel it measures solid 5mm. Blade geometry is what kamagata usuba is supposed to be, the straight chisel grind edge, rectangular, with rounded tip, Kansai style. Deemed to be a little more versatile than the traditional Azumagata Usuba, also known as Kakugata usuba, which sports completely rectangular blade. The blade is made using type of a traditional Japanese cladding called Ni-Mai Awase, you can see details on the linked diagram. Also Inner, hard core Hagane is made out of the Hitachi Aogami 2 steel. Otherwise known as Hitachi Blue 2, very popular, high end cutlery steel. Aogami 2 is a little tougher than the Aogami 1 steel, and has little bit less wear resistance compared to Aogami 1. In theory Aogami 1 would be a better choice for an Usuba type knife, but that's not cut in stone either. Depends on the maker and heat treatment. At 65HRC Aogami 2 is definitely less prone to chipping than Aogami 1. On the other hand I have 65+HRC Yanagibas from Aogami 1 steel, there is no sign of chipping either. The soft cladding(jigane) is pattern weld damascus steel, although as I've noted above, there pattern is hardly visible with naked eye, good luck seeing that on the photos ;) Also traditionally, the blade features concave back, called Urasuki. Helps with cutting and sticking ingredients. Kiriba or a blade path is very straight and well defined. Section above the kiriba looks a lot more satin finish than damascus. No scratches or imperfections though. Considering that there was no initial edge on the knife there isn't much to say about the blade at this point. More on that in the sharpening section.
Sharpening- Considering that there was no edge I had to prepare full set of my sharpening stones to do the proper job. I knew it wouldn't be easy, but still, there are always surprises and I was in for one, not too pleasant either. I've started with the back side, because for one it's simpler, or supposed to be simpler, and because it was the first sharpening I was expecting that I'd have to remove more metal from the back. Normally, that's not the case, grinding of the back side vs. front is about 1/3 ratio and is done after front side, but this time I figured reversing the order was better approach. I've started with DMT 120 grit diamond stone, theoretically all I had to do, keep the blade flat, grind a bit to raise the burr on the front side, ideally having even, parallel ground sections on the edges of the back side. And that's where things got complicated. I didn't notice the problem during the inspection, and I can't tell that even now, but apparently the blade isn't perfectly straight, because try as I might, I couldn't hit one spot on the back, right at the heel. And the top side had wider ground section as well. I've spent about 2 hours trying to make things perfectly straight and aligned, but I did fail. I figured, eventually, with more use and sharpening, things will get straightened out, as the deformed section will be ground off, just had to postpone that perfectly ground urasuki.
The rest wasn't very difficult, usubas have thin edges, and grinding that with proper stones was not a challenge. After 120 grit DMT diamond stone, I've used Beston(Bester) 500 grit Japanese synthetic whetstone, followed by mandatory(after Bester and coarser stones) Bester 700 grit Japanese synthetic whetstone to remove deep scratches and get nice satin finish bevel. Then the real sharpening started with 1200 grit King Japanese synthetic whetstone. That part took about 10 minutes work and I've switched to more gentle 3000-5000 grit synthetic Aoto Japanese whetstone. Once I was done using Aoto, both sides were semi mirror polished and the knife could whittle hair already, but I wasn't done with sharpening, not by a long shot. Next step was finer stone set, starting with the 5000 grit Naniwa Chosera synthetic whetstone, followed by 10000 grit Naniwa Chosera Super finishing whetstone. By that time, I had super sharp, mirror polished edge. And as usual, the final touches, 0.50µ and 0.25µ diamond charged leather strops, and the last step, plain leather strop. All in all, about 3 and a half hours of intense sharpening. It would've been much faster, If I didn't try to get that perfectly parallel grinds on the urasuki side, or in other words if the blade was perfectly straight on the back side. For the record, later on, when the knife was sent to Dave Martell for rehandling, I asked him to examine the sharpening job and see if it was my fault of the knife trouble, that made uneven grinds and that inaccessible spot at the back side of the heel. Dave came to the same conclusion that the blade wasn't ideally straight.
Last updated - 01/21/13