During my knife collecting years I've learned that I've had to wait for custom knives quite often. Even for semi-custom knives. With custom knives it's more understandable, the knife doesn't exist yet, and the maker has to make it for you. Sometimes it takes a few months, sometimes takes a year or even longer. As I write these lines two custom knives are in process of making and those have been in project state for over a year now. Things happen. more frustrating waiting for semi-customs or production knives. Supply and demand problem, when the supply is behind. Anyway, I've heard of Shigefusa knives before, and those are one of the most coveted kitchen knives amongst knife cognoscenti and aficionados alike. In particular, I became interested in Shigefusa damascus kitchen knives. Sadly epicedge had them backordered for 6 months at least. So, I went to my usual source, Takeshi of Aframes Tokyo. Takeshi didn't have them either, but he gave a good price and placed an order for me. The original order was Shigefusa Kitaeji(damascus) 240mm Gyuto. That was back at the end of November 2008. About that time I have started using 270mm gyutos, Aritsugu 270mm A-Type Gyuto, which was later followed by Watanabe 270mm Honyaki Gyuto and little bit later, rather unexpected by of beautiful and exotic Sanetsu 270mm ZDP-189 Gyuto. After all that I've come to conclusion that I preferred 270m gyutos over 240mm ones. Sadly, Shigefusa order was placed long ago. Few weeks later Takeshi contacted me and told me that the blade was ready. I didn't even ask him, just told him that I regretted ordering 240mm knife instead of the 270mm. So my surprise and astonishment, Takeshi gave me his 270mm Shigefusa kitaeji gyuto that was on order also. So, basically I got lucky with this one :)
The Maker- Shigefusa brand knives are made by Mr. Tokifusa Iizuka. He is an old Japanese knifemaker, born in 1942, living in the Sanjo city, Japan. That is where his small workshop is located and where he makes his magnificent knives. Currently, as far as I know his two sons are helping him and that's the whole operation. Overall, they produce around 1000 blades annually. Which is not much by mass production or even semi-custom shop standards, but as the knives they are a stellar example of quality and craftsmanship. When Tokifusa Iizuka was young, he started out as an apprentice of the famous Japanese swordmaker - Kosuke Iwasaki. In 1964, ten years later he started making his own knives. I have never seen his early blades, and this is my very first Shigefusa knife, first that I have even seen live. However, for years his knives are very highly prized and coveted by many, including knife collectors and top chefs of Japan and around the world. Even today, it is pretty much 100% hand operated process. As the story goes Iizuka did buy once a machine for blade surfacing, but never used it, as he feels his skills are still not matched by the machinery. Whatever it is, I can only attest to his skills, and the surface on his kitaeji(damascus) knife is silky smooth and the smoothest damascus I have ever seen. Actually the blade surface is far better than on most of the knives I have seen.
General- Obviously, I was waiting for this knife very impatiently. In the end it took almost 5 months to get it, which in fact was a good result, because original order time was 6 months, and I got it one month earlier. It got stuck with US customs for 3 weeks, otherwise I'd have it even earlier. The 270mm Shigefusa Kitaeji gyuto arrived packed in a nice blue box. Saya, or a wooden scabbard for the knife was attached to the box. Interesting detail about the saya - it doesn't have a pin holding the blade in place. It's a first saya I see made that way. Nevertheless, it fits the blade perfectly, and holds the blade quite tightly. In other words, precision and tolerances are really high. The knife itself is just a work of art. Yet it is a very functional tool at the same time. Fit and finish on this gyuto are simply top notch. It's the best I have had or seen. As I mentioned, the knife has damascus cladding, and unlike all the damascus knives I have seen, the surface is very smooth. As you can see on the photos in Shigefusa Knives photo gallery, it's not only smooth, but rather reflective smooth, it'd probably be closer to mirror polished if it wasn't for the damascus pattern, which by the way looks beautiful. Overall, everything is ground precisely and fitted perfectly in this knife.
Blade- Shigefusa gyuto has 270mm long, distal taper blade. At its thickest part, right at the blade and handle juncture it is almost 6mm thick, above the heel, which is less than 2cm down, the spine is already 3.68mm thick and the midsection is just 2mm thick. One good thing about the blade is its width. This is the second widest blade in my gyuto collection. First widest is Watanabe 270mm Honyaki Gyuto at 58mm wide, while Shigefusa kitaeji gyuto is just 2mm shy, 56mm at the heel. Wider gyutos, obviously, up to certain size, make them better and safer cutters, especially in pinch/claw grip, and more easy with scooping the food from the cutting boards. I've already described the damascus surface in general section, so we can skip that here. The original edge on the knife was quite thin, mirror polished, convex edge. The polish quality was pretty much perfect, as the examination under the microscope showed. You can see the magnified edge photo by clicking on the icon attached to this paragraph. Even at 300x magnification the edge looks a lot smoother compared to the other edges even at 30x :) Initial edge on the blade was approximately 10°-12° per side, or alternatively, 20°-24° included angle. Initial sharpness was also very high. The simple tests with shaving hair in both directions and free hanging newsprint cutting went fine. Other than that I've tried hair whittling, which went ok, but I felt it could've been better. So, I've used the strop charged with 0.25µm diamond spray. 10 strokes per side on 0.25µm diamond strop and then 10 more per side on plain leather strop.
Steel- I don't have much to say about the steel, as it is Shigefusa or Iizuka proprietary steel, and exact composition is not published. Some sources list is as Swedish steel, and others state that it is a high carbon steel, that has similar characteristics with the swordmaking steel "tamahagane" that still exists in small quantities in Japan. So, the only information we have for sure is that it is a high carbon steel, it is not rust resistant, and it is hardened to 63-64HRC. Mr. Iizuka himself refers to this steel as spicy. If this information ever gets published I'll most certainly update this section. The steel is hardened to its maximum, it's easy to tell observing the way the blade dulls, mircofracturing to be precise.
Handle- The stock handle was simple Magnolia wood handle, with a black horn ferule, but what a handle that was :) It's a true champion of the handles in my kitchen. 152mm long handle is quite traditionally D shaped and it has the widest diameter of all the knives I have in my kitchen. Considering that Japanese folks are relatively smaller compared to westerners and thus have smaller hands, it's really strange to find a handle that large on a Japanese knives. Although, it might be the case that Iizuka is making larger handles for his western customers, but I have no idea if that's the case. Anyway, the handle was really comfortable. It is so strange, the same D shape, and feels really different on different knives. I hated D handle on Shun Classic Chef's knife, but I really liked it on Shigefusa gyuto. After using it for two sessions, one hour each, I had strictly positive opinion. I've used the knife in all the basic cutting techniques, at least whatever was suitable for the kitchen cutting and kitchen knife. Very nice, comfortable handle and its width only makes it better and comfortable, well designed and well balanced for the blade of that size. As I planed, I did replace the stock handle with the custom one form Stefan Keller. Premium, black ebony handle, with damascus steel buttcap and collar ring. In my opinion it looks just beautiful and fits kitaeji pattern aesthetically just about perfect. Considering that the new handle was done to my specifications and it has my favorite, WA type, I couldn't be happier with the new knife.
Last updated - 02/27/12