When I bought Kumagoro gyuto I already had Akifusa(Ikeda) gyuto at home for couple months already and Watanabe Honyaki gyuto on order. To be honest the main reason for getting this knife was that one day, I saw a picture of this gyuto on the knifeforums kitchen section with custom made handle by Stefan Keller. I liked it so much that I've ordered the knife next day and sent straight to Dave Martel of Japanese Knife Sharpening for rehandling and contacted Stefan for the custom handle. One other reason for buying Kumagoro was it's rather unique finish, I'm referring to multiple dimples on the blade, which are formed by hammer finishing.
Initial inspection- Well, to be exact, I wasn't the one who did initial inspection, since the knife went directly to Dave. I've inspected it only after Stefan made the custom handle (about that, later in this review) and Dave installed it. So, whenever I got the knife it has already been customized. Gyuto was packaged in its original box, like most of the Japanese knives I've bought. However, the handle was covered with a nice silk pouch. Courtesy of Stefan and Dave. As for the knife itself, no complaints there. Fit and finish, especially after customization were just perfect! Balance is pretty even, still towards the blade. I assume it was even more blade heavy in its original version, since by default it comes with Ho wood handle, which is much less dense than Ironwood that I got from Stefan. The edge was sharpened to very even 15° per side, which makes 30° included. Rather thick for gyuto, but more on that below.
Overall, hammer finished knife with a desert ironwood handle visually looks very appealing and the knife really stands out in my kitchen knife collection, especially because of the handle made by Stefan. Those dimples serve functional purpose too, that is redusing the drag and preventing the food from sticking to the blade. That I can confirm from my own experience with this knife.
Blade- As the description said on the Epic Edge website, this gyuto was modeled after French style chef's knife. I don't know to be honest, to me it looks more like typical Japanese gyuto. In my opinion, Akifusa gyuto resembles French chef's knife a lot more than Kumagoro hammer finished, but anyway, that's what they[Epic Edge] said on their page.
What I really like on this gyuto is its thin blade. Distal tapered, only 3mm thick at the heel, thins down to 1mm closer to the tip. Midsection is around 1.7mm. All that makes Kumagoro Hammer Finished a very efficient cutter. Blade is quite wide too, ~52mm at the heel. This gives enough clearance for the fingers when chopping with it. Once again, chopping in the kitchen context means rocking motion cutting, not axe like chopping. I'd never abuse delicate cutting tool with real chopping :)
As for the edge, as mentioned above, it's 30° included. At least to my taste it's rather thick for gyuto, although compared to European knives with 45°-50° edges on them it's pretty thin. I've left it at 30°, since compared to other knives Kumagoro is softer, which is 60-61HRC according to the Epic Edge. Actually, 61HRC is not soft by any means, especially comparing to european knives where 52-56HRC is a standard. However, absolute majority of my Japanese kitchen knives are between 63-65HRC. At those levels 2 point difference in hardness can make significant difference in edge holding too. Which is why I think it's kindda soft, but after few months of use, I really can't complain about its edge holding ability. Although, again, if it was a harder blade I'd thin down the edge considerably from the beginning. I'll bring the edge down to 12° per side with next major sharpening to see how it holds up and then it all goes ok, even lower until I hit the limits of the steel. This is fun part of evaluating knife in actual, real life use :)
Handle- As I have already said above, handle was the deciding factor for buying this knife. I can't really comment on the original handle, never seen it, but it's Ho wood, have other knives with that type of hand, will replace them too. Not that I have something against Ho wood, but it's rather simple wood, and not too dense at that. Doesn't really belong on a good kitchen knife, in my opinion of course.
The handle I have now on my Kumagoro was made by master handle specialist Stefan Keller. Ok, he doesn't have official PHD in Japanese Kitchen Knife handlemaking science, but whatever he does works damn good and what's very important, also looks very damn good. Originally, I've picked(ok, with Stefan's help) Ironwood because it looked rather simple and for quite rustic looking knife such as Kumagoro hammer finished gyuto it looked as a good match. Handle construction is rather complicated, because the ferulle was made out of koa wood, the red spacer is from bloodwood, which would explain why it's red ;) and finally main handle is made of Arizona desert ironwood, phew! As for the gemoetry, it is Japanese traditional octagonal shape, uniform diameter throughout the whole length. Some prefer taperred octagons, but not me. Although, tapering should provide better handle ergonomics, but that's in theory, in practice everyone is different and has his/her preferences.
I have other knives with Ironwood handle, but never thought of it as something that great. Phil Wilson's Utility Hunter for example has desert ironwood handle. It has always worked good for me, but this gyuto really changed my opinion about ironwood. I figure mostly because I use it a lot, because it's a kitchen knife and gets pretty much daily use. If I didn't have 20+ other knives in my kitchen it'd get more use definitely. Anyway, I like ironwood handle because it looks very nice. As far as I know Stefan does quite a bit of post processing, that is after making the handle. Lots of sanding, waxing and some other stuff. Whatever it is(post processing) works very well. The handle feels very smooth and natural in hand. I really love using Kumagoro just because of its handle. Hard to explain, it's just an octagonal handle, but different woods feel different on touch, so this one works very well. Another pro of the ironwood is its density. In other words it's quite a heavy sort of the wood. Really helps with the balance on long knives. In short I love that handle and I'm already working with Stefan to make another one for Takeda Cleaver.