If you are into Japanese knives, or watching Iron Chef, then you certainly know about Nenohi's Nenox knives. Thanks to Iron chef Morimoto, who uses three custom Nenoxes exclusively for all his Iron Chef battles, and bunch of other chefs taking an example from him, Nenox knives are considered to be one of the best or simply the best Japanese kitchen knives in the world. At least that's the impression I am getting from the questions emailed to me. I have had my reservations on that assumption, and after very intensive teststing, which wasn't really planned to be that intensive, I disagree with that idea 100%. I'll discuss the reasons below. Very simple fact is, many people not really interested in knives, know about Nenohi Nenox knives and think that's the best there is, which they're not. There are better knives out there. Anyway, I knew about Nenohi and their Nenox knives for a while, but never bought one. Main reason, based on their price, description and reports I have seen on knifeforums kitchen section, I felt they were way overpriced for what they are. Then, in March/April 2010 the group by was put together by forum member Chef Niloc and we all got 20% discount. Well, as usual group buys rarely go without any hitches, and this time too, in the middle of the whole thing the dealer decided to bump up the price a little bit, and even though I still thought even with 20% discount the knife wasn't really worth it, I've decided to go through with the deal. 10$ or so don't make huge difference when spending ~500$ on a single knife anyway. Besides, I've been wrong about new knives before, may be this time I was gonna get a very good surprise too. That is how I have ended up with the Nenohi Nenox S-1 Honyaki knife.
General- Nenohi Nenox S-1 Honyaki gyuto arrived in a very nice packaging. One of the classiest and better made of whatever I have ever seen. The photo attached here shows the complete packaging. One of the key selling points, and the reason, Nenohis have such a high reputation for their build quality, fit and finish. All that is simply super, at least in the knife I got. Unfortunately all is not that rosy, not always. I've seen enough reports on small problems with the handle, gaps around bolster, pins and buttcap. As far as I know, Hattori himself is making those knives for Nenohi. I was examining the knife for a while, simply no flaws in this knife. Everything is well machined, polished and fit together. No uneven surfaces, no grind marks, no defects of any kind. A+ in quality department for sure. Their reputation would be well deserved, if it was always consistent. Overall, it's what a gyuto should be, thin, light, just 256.60g(8.68oz), well made knife. The knife is a looker, that's for sure. Very classy and elegant looks. Taste is a very personal matter, but most of the people who saw my Nenox, considered it very pretty, and out there, in the knife world, a lot of knife and non knife folks like the design. For the record, and to avoid the confusion, Nenohi is the company name, and Nenox is the lime of their knives. I'm stating this separately, since their US website is Nenoxusa, which is clearly done because of the brand association, given Morimoto and all the other celebrity chef's using Nenox knives. That had me confused for some time too.
However, what was really sub-par for the knife that has such a reputation and price tag to match it, was the edge. The edge was sharp, but it was rather rough finished. That may sound like nitpicking, but you know what? When I pay over 500$ for s single chef's knife, which has all that hype surrounding it, I do get to nitpick and look for every single detail, no matter how small. And the edge, at least on a knife, or any other cutting tool is its business end, that's what makes it useful. Anyway, looked like it was finished on something around 3000 grit or less. It wasn't mirror polished in short. Considering that 40$ Messermeister Meridian Elite E3691-4 paring knife had a better polished edge on it is not speaking a whole lot in favor of Nenohi. Although, Messermeister edges are consistently better compared to the other western knives. I'm not saying Meridian knives overall are better than Nenohis, but the edge on those two I am comparing was better on Meridian elite. Anyway, it's not really a biggie for me because I do put my own edges on all the knives I own and use, the rant above, it was based on the knife price and reputation.
Polish levels aside, the initial edge on the knife was really thick. I made a mistake assuming it would be sharpened at 15° per side, as it is on majority on Japanese kitchen knives I have tested or handled. Sadly, that was wrong, and so was I, assuming things about this knife based on its reputation. When the knife performed poorly in first tests, I've sharpened it again, at lower level, and it still had worse cutting performance compared to Miyabi 600D Fusion Gyuto, which had ~15° per side angle. I measured that using the Edge-Pro apex sharpening system and a magic marker. It was obvious the edge angle on the Nenox S1 was higher. I measured it and it came about 18° per side. Which only means, the initial edge on the S1 gyuto was at lest 20° per side angle. That's way too thick for a gyuto, especially the one that's worth ~580. edges that thick are typical on much cheaper and softer western kitchen knives. Also, worth nothing, my knife wasn't the only one. In a discussion on knifeforums kitchen section, quite a few members stated the same, they had to thin down the edge considerably to get acceptable cutting performance out of it. In short, for almost 600$ you get a knife with a lousy edge and a good design. Now, it is true, in Japan, knives are sold unsharpened and the require grinding of an initial bevel and the edge, called honba-tsuke, however for one, those knives come completely unsharpened, and second, those Nenoxes are sold in western world. Basically, sharpening that thick edge has nothing to do with honba-tsuke. It's justa bad sharpening job.
The Honyaki issue- Nenohi officially calls S1 line honyaki knives. And as you can guess I have an issue with that. A more detailed definition of the honyaki can be found here, in Japanese Kitchen Knife Terminology Glossary, but in general it refers to forged knives, hardened pretty much to the limit, for the ultimate edge holding. It does require very serious craftsmanship, as the blades, especially the long ones tend to warp, break, etc. Because of this, honyaki knives are rare, and quite expensive to make. On the other hand, there is no absolute, official and acknowledged definition of the term honyaki in the knife industry. I figure, that's what Nenohi is using. Stainless steel used in the S1 knives isn't exactly forging friendly, at least in traditional terms. S1 series knives are not forged, or to be more precise, probably they are drop forged and then machined. The process is automated, not manual labor. There is no hamon line on them either, which means it's not a Mizu-Honyaki, i.e. differentially tampered blade. There are several methods of quenching, Simply put, honyaki when applied to Nenohi knives is simply denoting their highest quality knives, nothing more, and it has nothing to do with the honyaki forged knives in traditional Japanese knifemaking. I don't insist that honyaki problem alone makes Nenox line a bad choice, just the term is used in non-traditional manner, and it can be misleading, so if you are looking for the real honyaki knives, in traditional understanding, then Nenohi Nenox S1 is not for you, look elsewhere. To be fair, Nenohi is not the only one using the term Honyaki in that fashion, Susin does the same, labeling their top of the line knives honyaki. Like I said, the true definition of Honyaki is not very clear, there's water quenched, oil quenched, differentially tampered, forging method, steel, etc. Still, one can come up with certain criteria, and to me that's carbon steel, truly forged by the craftsman, may or may not be differentially tampered.
Blade- The slim and slender blade of the Nenox S1 gyuto measures 270mm(10.5") in length, a little over 50mm wide and at its thickest it's just 2.30mm thick. While this is not the thinnest 270mm gyuto I own, e.g. Tadatsuna 270mm Shirogami(white steel) gyuto measures just 2mm in thickness, still, 2.30mm is very respectable thickness, or thinness if you will. If you read my other kitchen knives reviews, then already know, I prefer them gyutos and chef's knives thinner. They just cut better. Well, most of the kitchen knives should be thin, in my opinion ;) If you need to chop through something hard, like chicken or fish bones, then there is always a Deba knife, or a meat cleaver. For most of the knives extra thickness is a waste of metal and cutting ability, let alone added weight to the knife. Blade geometry of the Nenox S1 gyuto is quite typical gyuto-ish design too, Smaller belly, compared to classic German chef's knives, longer straight section on the blade. Spine was nicely polished, and choil area also has rounded shape, not the straight angle found on most of the Japanese and western knives. Those are all the pros of the knife and its blade design. Overall, I've totaled a little over 14 hours of cutting, 4 sessions, and for each session I've processed about 4kg(~9lbs) vegetables, plus soft meat on two occasions. For some time I couldn't really decide whether I liked the rounded choil on Nenox S1 better vs. the straight choil on most of my Japanese kitchen knives. Although, for the record, I do round and polish the choil on all of my kitchen knives in use. In the end, I feel straight choil is working out than the rounder one on the Nenox. Other than that, no complaints whatsoever on the S1 gyuto blade design, dimensions and geometry.
What I do have a problem with, is choice of the Takefu VG-1 steel at 60-61HRC in this knife, to be precise, the way it performed in all tests. I know, heat treatment can make a huge difference in steel performance, but somehow, I never felt any magic. ~1% carbon in VG-1 is quite a bit, and there's 13%-15% chromium to make it stain resistant, but other than that there isn't much to speak of in it. I'm not judging the steel by its composition alone, but that itself does define majority of the steel properties and no matter how good the heat treatment is, it can only achieve so much. After all, Takefu made VG-10 as an improvement over VG-1 steel, if you are curious, here it is - VG-1 vs. VG-10 steel composition comparison. Basically, using VG-1 steel in top of the line knife... I don't know how to justify that. There are far better steels available out there and this knife could've had much better performance with any of those. In the initial review, after first use, I said I was going to holding on my final judgment of the steel and its performance. Well, after 3 sharpenings and 4 intensive tests, totaling over 14 hours of cutting, I have my very firm opinion of this knife and its performance. It is not worth the price in short. Details in usage section.
Handle- The dealer had two types of Nenox S1 knives for sale, karin and corian handles. Since the one I have isn't corian, then it is Karin, which as the description states is a quince burl wood. As the rest of the blade, it is very well made. The wood is polished nicely, rivets and Nenox logo are fitted perfectly, no gaps or unevenness are present. The knife has a full tang and the handle also has aluminum(?) buttcap, which is not one piece, you can see the tang in the middle, but the fit and surface smoothness are perfect. The only complaint, or an improvement I'd think is to have that buttcap more horizontal. You can see on the knife photo at the top, the cap is inclined and if you intend to use it for crushing garlic or some similar work, the incline is a problem, you'd have to tilt your wrist awkwardly. Other than that, I like the handle, western type, quite user friendly in several different grips. I was quite happy with it during the use. One strange thing I've noticed though, after the very first use, even though I thoroughly washed the handle its surface became noticeably coarser, compared to its initial state that is. Nothing like to the point of irritating palms, but the change was noticeable never the less. After that, I did wash the handle two times with warm water and soap, while it did improve things, didn't completely fix it. Still a nice handle, but it was definitely better out of the box.
Sharpening- All in all, I've sharpened Nenox S1 gyuto three times. Out of the box sharpness was no good and it didn't make any sense to do comparative testing of the knife with the edge that dull. I still wanted to try as it was. First time sharpening - #1, I just used 5000 Grit Naniwa Chosera whetstone and 10000 grit Naniwa Chosera Finishing whetstone, followed by 0.50µm, 0.30µm and 0.25µm micro abrasive loaded leather strops and a plain leather strop. The resulting edge was very sharp, shaving in both directions, push cutting through the free hanging newsprint, etc. However, that alone doesn't guarantee high performance cutting edge, and I got poor cutting performance during next use. Second sharpening - #2 was much more substantial, I've sharpened at a lower angle, freehand. I already knew the knife was easy to sharpen, so I started with the 1200 grit King Japanese waterstone. Next was the 3000 grit Aoto Blue synthetic whetstone. Following steps were the same as during the previous sharpening. Still, the knife couldn't match the performance of the Miyabi 600D gyuto. Later, I've measured the edge angle, it was about 18° per side, which explained lack of its cutting performance. Final sharpening - #3 session involved lowering the edge angle to 15° per side using the edge-pro Apex sharpening system with coarse stone and then same steps as above, except that the starter stone was the 1000 grit Bester synthetic whetstone. Finally, Nenox S1 gyuto could match the cutting ability of the Miyabi 600D fusion gyuto, but as you will see later, it couldn't match Miyabi 600D gyuto's edge holding ability.
Last updated - 09/01/11