When I decided to get Aritsugu Wood pattern yanagiba, I already had Aritsugu Aoko Honkasumi Yanagiba, which on its own is a very good knife. Plus I had Mac Cutlery FKW10 Yanagiba. Lesser knife, but still pretty good representative of the type. Anyhow, one way or the other, Yanagibas are visually one of the most stunning knives from Japan, and not surprisingly, they're one of the most collected knives in Japan and I'm sure outside of it too. The other day, while reexamining (or marveling) my kitchen knives collection, after all that's the purpose of any collection, knife or not, right ;) So, during that process, I realized that I did need another yanagiba, more fancy one, but I wouldn't want to downgrade from Aritsugu honkasumi yanagiba performance. Well, it was not very difficult to figure out what I wanted, same steel code, clad with pattern damascus steel. Then I went to check with Takeshi from aframestokyo.com. The knife wasn't in store, but Takeshi managed to arrange the knife straight from Japan. The price was pretty good too. All in all, few weeks later I had one more yanagiba, which was almost exactly what I wanted. Almost, because the handle was magnolia wood, and that knife did deserve better. Ok, about the handle later, in the handle section.
General- Aritsugu wood pattern yanagiba arrived from Takeshi in a large box with Aritsugu logo and some Kanji on it. Packaging was pretty good and secure. There was no damage inflicted to the knife, lucky me. By any standards, wood pattern yanagiba is a large knife, totaling at 445.00mm(17.52"). Not something you'd wanna use in a crowded or small kitchen. Like almost all yanagibas(almost, because one can screw up anything, sadly), it sure looks beautiful. Long, slender blade, gentle curves, lethal beauty in short. And like other Aritsugu knives from Japan this one came without any edge on it whatsoever. What a surprise... Well, not really, and by that time I was expecting a knife with no edge. I wrote about that in other reviews too, but in short, it's a common practice in Japan, selling high end knives without an edge ground on them, because in store, there is a professional sharpener who can perform honba-tsuke for you. I can see the benefits of that, buying an expensive knife, if you really want to use it, you'd want to get the best performance out of it, and in that case, the edge has to be, or better be matching your skill set and requirements. Alas, nothing like that in the western world, and grinding the initial edge bevel on 65HRC+ knives is not for the faint of heart. Actually, even if you are very brave, you still need a good set of appropriate sharpening stones to perform the feat. I did describe in great detail my sharpening adventures of the Aritsugu honkasumi yanagiba, very futile effort in the beginning, like for 8 hours... All because of the lack of the coarse stone.
Anyway, this time, I already had plans for the knife, to be specific, Stefan Keller was making the new ebony handle for it(original handle shown in the image attached to this section), Dave Martell at Japanese Knife Sharpening was gonna install it, and since Dave is top notch sharpening expert, I've figured to ask him to do the honors, rather dubious honor, but never the less, even if I think I'm very good at sharpening knives, I also know that Dave is way ahead of me. I did want the best initial edge, and maintaining it later is much easier than grinding the initial one. Alright, enough about the missing edge. The knife was carefully inspected, and no flaws or defects were found. Damascus pattern is quite nice, although I was hoping for higher contrast, but it's beautiful as it is. So, I just put it in the block and waited for the handles from Stefan, he was making a few of them at that time. Finally the handles arrived, then the knife went to Dave, and came back with the new handle and superb edge. Well, Dave did comment on the knife, in that sharpening it was problematic even for him, the steel is way too hard and wear resistance for any major metal removal. Well, that's the drawback when you want highest levels of edge holding, what can I say.
Blade- The blade on the Aritsugu wood pattern yanagiba is 300mm(12.25") long, measured 35mm wide at the heel, and 4.5mm thick in the same spot. Yanagibas are supposed to be stiffer and sturdier compared to similar knives, I'm referring to its much slimmer cousin Fugubiki, and double grind edged relative Sujihiki. Well, the wood pattern yanagiba does fit the bill, stiff, thicker than any fugubiki I have and wider too. As for the blade geometry, Yanagi in Japanese means willow, and that describes the blade geometry quite well. Otherwise, it's a drop point. As a classic Japanese blade, yanagiba features chisel grind edge, with concave back side - Urasuki. All that makes a very efficient cutter, granted that you have sharp edge on it. That I did. As I mentioned in the beginning, the knife is clad, to be precise, it's a Ni-Mai awase type cladding, and the hagane, or hard core, which is the cutting piece is made out of the Hitachi Aogami 1 steel, also known as Hitachi Blue or blue paper #1, etc, there is no shortage of the aliases for that steel. It is a very good steel for the knives. I have quite a few knives in Aogami 1, here check them out Hitachi Aogami 1 steel kitchen knives reviews. Although, needless to say, a lot depends on the maker. just buying an Aogami 1 steel knife won't guarantee top performance. On average, probably you'd relatively safe, because it's rather rare an expensive steel, can't really get that outside of Japan, but on occasion I have seen suspiciously low quality looking knives claimed to be Aogami steel. In short, to be safe, it's best to get the knife from the maker/brand you know and trust.
Handle- By now you should've seen both, the original and the new, custom made handle for the wood pattern yanagiba. Later is at the top of this page, and former in the general section of this review. Obviously, I do like custom handle better, which is why I had it made and installed. Premium grade Ebony wood and damascus steel buttcap and the collar ring. I was discussing the handle details with Stefan for a while, when I asked if he'd use damascus steel as the material for the buttcap and the ring, considering that the handle was being made for the damascus clad knife, he said yes. That's how the new handle came to be. Needless to say, ebony handle is heavier than the magnolia wood, and that in turn altered the knife balance, however to be honest I can't say if it's significantly better or not. I was fine with both handles as far as the knife balance was concerned. Considering that the knife has a very long blade, it is blade heavy, and adding/removing 20 or even 50 grams wouldn't change the balance much. Other than that, I do like the new handle better, because of its higher density and feel, that besides it being a lot more refined and I think simple black goes very well with damascus patters. So, in the end, anesthetically and physically, new handle works much better for me. Plus, durability of the Ebony handle, especially with protective coating is far better compared to magnolia wood.
Usage- Unlike other yanagibas, which get used for training purposes, as in when I try to learn how to use a yanagiba as a multipurpose knife, wood pattern yanagiba remains exclusively as a protein knife. Soft meat, fish, etc, that's all. As far as its performance goes as a dedicated mean/fish knife, I'd rate it very high. Cutting performance is very good. One might say, what's the big deal cutting soft meat or fish, but in reality picture is a little bit more complicated. After all, if it was that simple, there wouldn't be dedicated knives would it? The goal is to have clean cuts, in fewer strokes to avoid jagged edges, damaged protein texture, etc. While I am nowhere near to real sushi experts to appreciate properly cut pieces and all that, I still can see and appreciate clean, smooth cuts. At any rate, fewer cuts mean less work and more precision. To achieve those goals, you need a long knife, with the edge as thin as possible. Having 65HRC+ steel does help with later, and 300.00mm(11.81") blade does achieve former. I've cut all types of meat with it, occasional fish as well. All I can say, works like a charm. Superb performer. Even with hard boiled meat which always tends to break down instead of being cut, thin edge on the wood pattern yanagiba always managed to do a clean job. As for the use, even though the job is limited to just proteins and I have a dozen knives for the similar purpose, including other yanagibas, sujihikis, and fugubikis, the wood pattern yanagiba still gets used quite a bit, as meat is significant part of my diet, and a lot of that meat gets cut into very small cubes. Wood pattern yanagiba on occasion doubles as a sujihiki, when I want to experiment or just fee like that, and it works fine in that role, although having a chisel ground knife in the beginning did pose a challenge, especially when I tried to use it in place of normal, V type edged knives. Basically, I had to learn how to use chisel edge kitchen knives properly, and while my skill level is still debatable, at least I don't have troubles making straight cuts or feel like I am struggling with the knife :)
Edge holding on wood pattern yanagiba is just as good as on the honkasumi yanagiba. As usual I cut meat on the dedicated boards, either a bamboo or hard rubber. I use them interchangeably. Both are harsher on the delicate edge than the end grain board I use for vegetables. Still, after more than 2 years of use, I still have not had to sharpen the wood pattern yanagiba seriously. So far, all I ever needed to maintain laser sharp edge, never went below 10000 grit Naniwa Chosera Super finishing whetstone. Most of the tame, I have just used 0.25µ and 0.50°m diamond loaded leather strops to keep the edge sharp. Very easy job, and does justify difficult sharpening of the initial edge bevel.
Conclusions- Excellent knife, even considering its high price. Yanagibas in general are not cheap knives, especially 300.00mm(11.81") long ones. Just the sheer size, amount of metal and mainly the difficulty of making the perfectly straight, super hard steel knife of that size, all contribute to the costs. Add there damascus cladding, which always costs more, and you get one expensive knife. Well, all things are relative in this life, so given its performance I do think it's a pretty good price/performance ratio. Of course, if you are trying to save money, then there is always honkasumi or even more budget friendly versions of the same knife, from the same Aogami 1 steel produced by Aritsugu. I was just looking for more refined knife with very high performance and I have it. I'm happy with it. The rest is up to you.
- Blade - 300.00mm(11.81")
- Thickness - 4.50mm
- Width - 35.00mm
- OAL - 445.00mm(17.52")
- Steel - Aogami 1 65+HRC
- Handle - Ebony wood
- Weight - 218.00g(7.37oz) Original Handle; 244.00g(8.25oz) Custom handle
- Acquired - 01/2009 Price - 480.00$
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Last updated - 02/14/12