I've picked up Mac's 10" Japanese Series Yanagi knife by Mac Cutlery in April 2008. I was experimenting with new kitchen knives, got a few new Globals and when I saw Mac 10, I really
liked it visually. Other than that, I didn't have a dedicated slicer anyway, so I went for it. I didn't keep it too long though, not because it was a bad knife, but because I
really liked how it performed and went for an upgrade just month and a half later, which is now :). As I write this review, a better knife, namely - Aritsugu Ao-Ko Hon-Kasumi
Yanagi is on it's way :). Like I said Mac 10 wasn't a bad knife. I didn't have any complaints in quality or packaging department and it performed very well too. However, out of the
box sharpness wasn't that good, but it'd still outperform 90% of the factory knives out there.
Overall, knife is really well made. Quality is noticeable as soon as you open the box. By the way, packaging is nice too. Not too fancy, but still, it's nice. Unfortunately, this yanagi doesn't come with saya and that does pose a problem, because storing a knife that long in an average knife block is problematic, but you can use original box as a storage too.
Blade- 10.5"long, traditional style yanagi, single bevel, pretty pointy at that. In short it's a sushi slicer, although with enough knowledge and experience it can be very versatile knife. Blade geometry is exactly what you'd expect. Made of a plain stainless/tungsten steel, no damascus layers there, simple and functional tool. Except, safely handling razor sharp blade that is over 10" long does require quite some practice and care :). As for the steel hardness I am not clear. Some Mac's are specked at 57-61HRC, others at 59-60HRC. Japanese series have no specs at all on their site. In general that is my major gripe with this and any other knife. HRC spec range of 4 points it way too high! We're talking approximately 100% difference or even more in extreme cases in terms of edge holding. How can the hardening process be so inconsistent on high end knives?
Initial sharpness- My Mac10 was quite sharp right out of the box. However, I was expecting better from a Japanese kitchen knife that costs 145$. Edge was nicely finished to be fair. It was mirror polished, convex edge. No nicks or dimples or any imperfections. In short it doesn't leave an impression of a rush job, like you see on so many factory knives including hi-end knives unfortunately. Lately Global knives clearly decided to join that club, because I got 4 blades few days before this yanagi and all of them had really sub par edge on them, not even close to fine polished edge they used to have. Mac was clearly heads and shoulders above of their sharpening job.
The problem was the angle at which it has been sharpened by factory. I've measured it, came out approximately 40°. That's way too high for a kitchen knife, especially for a dedicated slicer like Yanagi and especially for Japanese kitchen knife, since they're known for acute, high-performance edges. I'm not sure why was it done that way and whether or not that is a case with all Mac Knives. As Mac cutlery website states they[Mac knives] are highly prized and valued by professional chefs around the world, and I can see that happening, but I doubt that's due to overly thick edges on yanagis. Anyway, may be it was a fluke, but the thing is I had to lower the angle on that knife myself, and if you've ever sharpened a knife yourself then you can imagine how much efforts it take to grind 40° to 18° on the hardened steel that is 12" long. I've spent around 4 hours getting the edge to what I wanted and frankly as it should've been. I'm not complaining or requesting 0.3 micron thick edge on a factory knife, though it'd be nice :) For comparison, human hair is 50 micron or more. However, at least initial angle should be closer to traditionally accepted standard for that knife. I had to use edge-pro from rough to finest(3000grit tape), then continue with Japanese waterstone at 12000 grit and then move to CrO loaded strop followed by Aluminum oxide film at 0.3 micron and finally strop on the leather. However, the result was very good. Knife took crazy sharp edge. To slice through tomato I didn't have to apply any vertical pressure, just pull back slightly.
Even 18° is still high for yanagi, or a slicer. Just at that time I already knew I was getting a new yanagi, so this one was gong as a present to my family. Since they're not knifenuts like me I've decided to grind slightly higher edge. Besides, at best those knives are 60HRC, and I am not sure how would it perform should I grind 8° edge on it. Well, later tests with harder stuff showed that on softer steel thin edges are bad idea and 8° is too low for the steel that is 57-61HRC. Actually that range is very wide in my opinion. There is a huge difference in knife performance between 57 and 61HRC. I'd never sharpen 57HRC knife to even 15° per side, while I have 61-62HRC knives that work fine even at 10° edges per side.
Steel- It's a mystery for now. Officially it's a stainless steel, so we can guess it has at least 14% Chromium in it. Plus perhaps 1%+ Carbon. Tungsten is also advertised as a component. That's all I know. As I've mentioned above some of their knives are listed as 57-61HRC and others as 59-60HRC. I am always skeptical when a manufacturer gives that wide of a range for their knife hardness. To me that's a sign of sloppy heat treatment right there. 1-2 points variation in hardness is inevitable for factory knives since blades go into the furnace in batches so they don't get heated up and cooled down perfectly evenly. But 4 points in HRC variation is too much. I'd rather have 59-60HRC knife.
I've emailed Mac's sales department with the question regarding the steel composition and asked them to let me know at least hardness if steel chemical composition was their trademark secret. I never got any answer. In general not publishing steel name used for the product isn't a good sign. As usual knifemakers proudly, or at least openly tell you what was the steel used in the knife and if it's at least qualifies as a good steel amongst knife crowd then you get descriptions like super steel, ultimate steel blah blah. Not telling it at all is suspicious. Chemical composition is a different matter, many proprietary steels are classified like that. Anyway, so for now it's some no-name, stainless steel with tungsten.
All in all it seems to be a good one, holds reasonably good edge, I haven't encountered chipping or rolling. However, bear in mind that is all based on my limited experience with a very specific type of a knife. Slicers are just that, you are supposed to slice soft materials, like fish, cooked food, vegetables, etc. I don't know how will it work for chef's knife or paring knife. However, since I haven't seen complaints about Mac knives falling apart perhaps it's doing ok. Just depends what do you expect from a knife and how do you use it. Lots of people out there are just fine with 10$ no-name kitchen knives which they never sharpen anyway.