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Sanetsu ZDP-189 Gyuto 270mm(10.6")
Japanese Kitchen Knife Review

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Sanetsu ZDP-189 Gyuto 270mm(10.6")

Sanetsu Gyuto was pretty much an accidental buy. There was an experimental run of 3 knives as far as I know, two were picked up by fellow forumites from Knifeforums.com, and the pictures were posted. It did look beautiful, was perfect length 270mm(12.5"), and most importantly, it was made out of very exotic, ZDP-189 steel, and I already mentioned in other reviews, I was really interested in that steel. Sanetsu Gyuto wasn't my first knife in ZDP-189, but it was my very first kitchen knife made from ZDP-189 steel. So, I've contacted Koki at Japanese Chefs Knife and ordered the last one. Can't say this is a cheap knife. 680$ for a single kitchen knife isn't quite cheap. However, comparable offering from Hattori, made of Cowry-X steel, is over 1500$. So, in a way, I've saved a lot of money ;) For the record, Kanji engraving was offered, for free by the way, but that's take another week, and I was already way too impatient to get my hands on this gorgeous knife.

General

 - Gyuto arrived pretty fast form Japan. Took only 2 days. It's good to live in CA ;) I was really impatient about this knife. Packaging was top notch. Nice box, well wrapped to prevent any damage to this rather delicate knife. Inspection, upon unwrapping the knife, revealed no flaws or imperfections. The knife is just perfect just about in any aspect. Fit and finish are superb. Sharpness out of the box was extremely high. Shaving in any direction and cutting free hanging newsprint was pretty much effortless. Edge grind was also very even and highly polished. Full tang, bolstered blade. Bolster itself, is nice satin finish and perfectly flush with the handle. Blade-bolster transition is very smooth and seamless. Handle slabs are very well finished, and handle geometry and ergonomics are very good. More about that in the handle section.

Overall length of the knife is 405mm. It is not a small knife by any standard. Lately, I favor 270mm chef's knives(or gyutos), better cutting and less efforts with them, compared to even 240mm knives. Damascus pattern is rather unusual, and looks very attractive in my opinion. Right side of the blade has engraved letters: ZDP-189, which as you remember is the steel it was made of. The knife is really light, only 273g, which is less than half the weight of comparable western knives. As of spring 2009, this is the thinnest gyuto I own, only 2.5mm thick at the handle.

Sanetsu ZDP-189 Gyuto 270mm(10.6")

Blade

 - Geometry-wise, 270mm Sanetsu gyuto is made more towards the French style chef's knife. Slender, more pointy shape, in contrast to more pronounced belly on German style chef's knives. Personally, I prefer pointy style, I find it more nimble and versatile, both Akifusa(Ikeda) 240mm gyuto and Kumagoro Hammer Finish Gyuto are the same style. Although I do have a few other gyutos that are much more wide, and have more substantial belly, Watanabe Honyaki Gyuto would be a good example of such knife. As mentioned above, the distal taper blade is only 2.5mm thick. Tapering is also very smooth and gradual.

As you can see on the pictures, the blade on Sanetsu Gyuto is pattern damascus. Blade construction is typical Warikomi Awase, where hard ZDP-189 steel core - hagane is clad in soft, damascus steel jacket - Jigane. The finish on the cladding is very fine, would be mirror polished or close to that, if not the pattern. Looks aside, polished, smooth surface does decent job in preventing sticking of the ingredients to the blade. Doesn't prevent sticking 100%, but compared to other knives Sanetsu is better in that area. Spine is nicely rounded, so is the choil area. I don't have any problems after 2-3 hour long non stop cutting sessions. Blade to bolster transition is smooth, no sharp edges at the transition point or on the bolster itself. Worth noticing, even though it is a clad blade, thickness is still 2.5mm, for a clad blade that is thin, and as I keep repeating in all kitchen knife reviews, thin is good :) At least when food knives are concerned.

In the end, it is a very efficient cutter, but a delicate one. Hardness on this knife is 64-66HRC. Very high hardness for any steel, in fact most of the steel alloys can't even be hardened that high, let alone being functional knives. Knife that hard and thin can break if subjected to substantial lateral loads, but rest assured I am real careful with it. Other than that, it's a cutting machine, slick, efficient and simply gorgeous.

As for the edge, I already said in General section, it was blazing sharp out of the box. Edge is asymmetrical, approx. 70/30. I don't really have strong preferences on the edge symmetry anymore, not after I have practiced with single bevel Aritsugu A-Type Gyuto. I guess, few months ago I'd have to struggle a little to get straight, long cuts, but now I don't really feel any difference in terms of the efforts to keep the cut straight.

One side of the edge is closer to the 10°, and the other is more of a microbevel, around 20°. I wasn't aware initially, but later tests by me and other ZDP-189 kitchen knife owners showed that at hardness approaching 66HRC edge lower than 12° per side, or 24° inclusive suffers from excessive microchipping. To what degree microchipping will represent itself depends on multitude of factors. Obviously, number one would be how do you cut, then what you cut, and no less important - on what do you cut, your cutting board in other words.

I've got the last two covered, I don't touch bones or any other stuff like that with gyutos, and my cutting board is end grain wood board. As for the cutting techniques, I am no Morimoto, but as far as taking care of my knives and their edges, I am good with that. Still, I keep Sanetsu gyuto around 30° inclusive angle. Certainly you are free to experiment, and I'd be curious to learn if you achieve interesting results. Keep in mind, thin blade and low behind the edge thickness are also key factors in knife's cutting performance, so don't get hung up on just acute edge.

Steel

 - ZDP-189 is a Hitachi made steel. I wrote a little bit about it in the Kitchen Knife Steel FAQ. Exact elemental makeup isn't officially published by Hitachi. Key promotion point is the extremely high Carbon content which is 3% and also very high Chromium content, 20%. More details were leaked later, and what's know now is that, ZDP-189 contains Molybdenum, Tungsten and Vanadium. Because of all that, in theory it should exhibit better wear resistance than similar Cowry-X, which also has 3% Carbon and 20% Chromium, but no Vanadium or Tungsten. Theoretical, upper limit for hardness is 68HRC. Although I have never seen a ZDP-189 knife hardened at 68HRC. The highest I have is William Henry Spearpoint folder, which is 67HRC. Some of the Japanese makers don't harden it above 66HRC, because hand sharpening becomes too difficult. This gyuto from Sanetsu is speced at 64-66HRC range. I sure hope it is 66HRC :)

One interesting, and perhaps not too exciting detail about ZDP-189 is that it's susceptible to rust. Yes, despite of its very high Chromium content - 20%, it still can rust. As I said many times in other reviews, there is no truly stainless steel. Al stainless knives will rust, if neglected. The correct term stain-resistance defines how well the given steel resists rusting. So, ZDP-189 isn't as good as you would expect from the steel with 20% Chromium. Let me remind you, that for the steel to be classified as stainless, it has to have 15% or more Chromium. I was really surprised myself, when I've learned about staining problems of ZDP-189. The explanation is fairly simple. A lot of that 20% Chromium is not free in the alloy. Lots of it is tied up with Carbon atoms, which in ZDP-189 steel, exists in much higher concentrations than in more ordinary steels. Around 3 times as much carbon as in many truly high-carbon steels, and 6-7 times more Carbon compared to all the kitchen knives made of X50CrMoV15 steel or similar steels.

So, that extremely high hardness based on the extreme composition comes at a price, and that price is reduced stain resistance. Although, to me, in California, that penalty in stain resistance is pretty much irrelevant. I have a lot of carbon steel knives that I never let to rust or stain, so less than average stain resistance isn't going to make any difference to me. So far, it doesn't have even a trace of patina.

Handle

- Lately I am really into Japanese, WA type handles. Most of my kitchen knives have octagonal handles, and whenever I have a choice I pick octagonal type handles. However, with Sanetsu ZDP-189 gyuto knife, you can guess - there was no choice. Never the less, the handle is superb. That goes for both, overall finish and ergonomics. Handle material is linen micarta, which is one of the more durable materials. Even after several years of use, there is virtually no sign of wear on the handle. Mosaic pins just add to overall finesse of the handle, nice touch.

As for the comfort and security, Sanetsu gyuto handle fits my palms pretty much perfectly. I've used relatively prolonged time, 1.5-2 hours of continuous use. While that is nowhere near to full day shift of the professional cook, still, that's a lot of cutting for a home cook. And most of the time that's how I use it anyway. No discomfort during those hours. In my book, if I can use the knife for couple hours and the handle won't give me sore spots and doesn't become uncomfortable, that is ergonomic and comfy.

Usage

- In short a lot of use, especially for an average home user. Obviously, not as much as the pro chef would use, but Sanetsu gyuto gets a lot of use. As far as testing goes, initially testing had two goals, finding out how comfortable and efficient it was as a general food prep knife, and obviously edge holding ability. Considering that Sanetsu Gyuto is my own kitchen knife, and an actively used knife at that, there was no problem or a special effort testing it, and jumping ahead I can say, using the Sanetsu Gyuto is a very much enjoyable experience :)

The usual test was 18-20lbs. veggie cutting/mincing/shredding test. That is a chore for any kitchen knife, but Sanetsu gyuto handles is better than just well. Anyhow, I was quite sure the knife would perform, main question was how comfortable it would be while cutting 20 different types of vegetables. Started up with the harsh stuff, I wasn't really concerned with the edge degradation during a single session. Started with about 3lbs Brussels sprouts. Cut each in half, then shred. 100K polished edge had no problem slicing through 3-4 sprouts simultaneously, I'd jst line them up and do a "group slice" if you will. Then, placed halves on the board and shred. All good, handle was comfy, cutting was a breeze.

Next up carrots. Batonnet first, then 5mm cubes. 270mm long blade has no issue slicing through the carrots. I've tried both, few millimeter thick and translucent slices as well. Actually, translucent slices were easier. Less resistance form the carrot. Next - broccoli. Shredded soft crowns, then cut up stems into matchsticks, and shredded that as well. Easy. Next from that harsh category was celery. Slicing stems lengthwise was easy, both, due to the very high edge sharpness and long blade. Perpendicularly it required more force, but it wasn't noticeable unless I bunched up doze of slices. Last one from the harsh category was the asparagus, just diced the whole bunch and that was it. Tested the edge using few methods, including cutting a cherry tomato using just knife's own weight. There was no degradation detected using any methods.

After that there was a fairly large mass of softer veggies left. Main challenge with them is that I tent to cut them in bunches and them mince if I have to. Italian parsley, baby spinach, etc. After years of doing it I am efficient, at least if the knife helps it. 270mm long blade is more than sufficient to handle 2 large bunches of parsley. After that chiffonade. Sharper the edge, the better off you are. Especially with basil, delicate leaves, any extra pressure easily bruises them, and in a way it's a sharpness test too. Roll a cigar from basil leaves, cut perpendicularly and examine the cuts. Bruised edges mean knife wasn't sharp enough, in case you didn't know ;) Sanetsu gyuto had no signs of any dulling in my case. Long story short, like other 270mm long gyuto, Sanetsu has no problems with large quantities of vegetables.

I've repeated the same test dozens of times. Main interest was to see how long the knife would go without the need for sharpening. As usual, before each use I would use Borosilicate Rod for steeling, I do that with every single knife anyway, before very single use. The indication to do a touchup was cherry tomato cutting test. If the blade would need more than 4"-5" length when cutting the tomato under its weight, that was the time to do a touchup or sharpen if touchup didn't help. After each of the first 4 sessions I could restore sharpness using just a borosilicate rod.

For the fifth session, just the rod wasn't enough, I would need 5" or more to cut through the tomato using the knife weight. I've decided to touch up on the leather strop charged with 0.25µm diamond crystals. That was enough to last next 2 sessions. Borosilicate rod before using, and it was all good, 2"-3" to cut through the control. Next session required touchup on the 0.25µm diamonds again. After 2 more sessions, 0.25µm wasn't enough to restore the edge and I went with coarser 0.50µm diamond charged strop, followed by 0.30µm Aluminum Oxide film, ad then again, 0.25µm diamond charged strop. That specific combination was enough to keep the edge going for the next 8 or 9 sessions. As you can guess, that's a whole lot of vegetables, 18-20lbs per session...

Eventually, I did fall back to Naniwa Chosera 10000x Super Finishing Synthetic Whetstone past that point. About 10 minutes on Naniwa, then the same combo of strops and films described above. The edge lasted another dozen sessions or so. You have to consider that I have dozen other gyutos, two Chukabochos a.k.a. Chinese cleavers. So, it takes a long time to rack up dozens of cutting sessions on a single knife, especially considering that I use the same test to evaluate all the borrowed, loaners, and other knives send to me for testing. Still, as you can see, I have used Sanetsu gyuto a lot, and that itself should be a testimony to its quality and performance. After all, nobody is forcing me to use it and I have a plenty of alternatives, very high performance alternatives at that :)

And to conclude testing session, let's mention the toughest challenge Sanetsu Gyuto has ever faced, which was something as mundane as mozzarella cheese. For the record, it was when I had to resort to 10k Naniwa stone the first time. I've mentioned in other reviews more than once that cheese it real tough on the knife edges, especially on acute, refined ones. I was making portobello(or is it portobella?) mushroom pizzettas, and the recipe called for the shredded mozzarella. I've picked up about 1lbs of the mozzarella cheese, and proceeded with slicing it first, and then cutting into 5-7mm cubes. Because cheese sticks so much to the knife surface, slicing was a lot more difficult compared to push cutting. On top of that, if I tried to slice rather delicate(compared to other types of cheese) mozzarella, it would fall apart.

In short, I've cut up 1lbs mozzarella piece into 5-7mm sized cubes and that was a workout for both me and my knife. Examined the edge afterwards, and it was very noticeably dulled. First time ever I've had that much edge degradation on ZDP-189 knife during a single cutting session. Considering that I was just cutting food, it was brutal, but I knew long time, cheese is bad for fine edges :) Well, you know the rest, 10K Naniwa, then 0.50µm, 0.30µm and 0.25µm abrasives ad the edge was as good as new.

Conclusions

- One of my favorites. Well designed and well built knife. Very high performance in both, cutting and edge retention areas. As I mentioned in the beginning, this specific gyuto was one of the 3 prototypes. Later on, altered design went into production, can't call it a mass production either, but became standard offering from Sanetsu. I like prototype better, standard model looks very similar, but a bit different.

~700$ or perhaps even more now, is quite a bit of money for a kitchen knife, no arguments there, but on the other hand, it is a working knife, I use it a lot. For my purposes it is a real workhorse, cuts a ton and requires minimal maintenance. No, it will not do as a boning knife, can opener and other "things" which are not supposed to be done with general food prep knives. It excels at what it is supposed to do. ZDP-189 is an excellent steel for kitchen knives at high hardness. It can't support edges as thin as Watanabe Honyaki knife can, 30° inclusive on Sanetsu vs. ~10°-12° on honyaki gyuto, but very acute edge is more maintenance, and for all practical purposes, with 100K finish on that edge, low behind the edge thickness, it is way sharpen that most of the people ever need. The rest is up to you as usual :) If you like the design, and the price feels right, and you like what you read above, then go for it.

Specifications:

  • Blade - 265.00mm(10.43")
  • Thickness - 2.50mm
  • OAL - 405.00mm(15.94")
  • Steel - ZDP-189 64-66HRC
  • Handle - Linen Micarta
  • Weight - 268.00g(9.06oz)
  • Acquired - 02/2009 Price - 680.00$

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Last updated - 06/21/14