Two years ago I've placed an order for the Shigefusa Kitaeji usuba, I was expanding my kitchen knives collection, well, ok I am always doing that, but at that time I was going at a higher rate, at least as far as kitchen knives were concerned. Already had 3 other Shigefusa Kitaeji knives and I wanted something new. Coincidentally, I was exploring and training with usuba style Japanese kitchen knives. That pretty much sealed my decision. I've asked Takeshi from aframestokyo.com is was my usual source for Shigefusa knives, to order 170mm long Azumagata usuba from Shigefusa shop for me. The choice of Azumagata style was also obvious, because I already had two Kamagata usubas, you can find all usuba knives Reviews if you follow the link. I was quite enthusiastic about getting the new style usuba, but unlike other Shigefusa knives, this one came after a very long wait. I was still very happy about getting it though. Still the same superb quality, beautiful knife and because the knife was in making for two years, I already had a new handle ready for it, by the time it came in.
General- Shigefusa Kitaeji Azumagata Usuba arrived packed in a traditional Shigefusa blue box. The box is large enough to accommodate the knife and its saya. Being my fourth Shigefusa kitaeji knife I had a pretty good idea what to expect, nevertheless for the sake of being methodical, I've done the usual inspection armed with 10x magnifying glass. Happy to report that the results were spectacular as usual. No flaws or defects were found in the usuba, flawless fit and finish, excellent execution in every aspect and sense. Sharpening job was also superb and the edge mirror polish was very high quality as well. For an 170.00mm(6.69")long blade, Shigefusa usual is relatively heavy - 198.00g(6.7oz), I've had 270mm(10.5") long gyutos that weighted that much. However, this is how usubas are supposed to be, stiff and thicker than Nakiris. They(Usubas) are considered sort of high end, pro versions of nakiris, or vice versa, nakiris are simplified and generalized versions of the Usubas. As they say, no self respecting Japanese pro chef will use nakiri instead of the usuba. I don't know how much of the truth is in that, but I do know Japanese chef's are very sensitive and proud about their equipment, which I consider to be a good thing. I don't really see the benefits of abusing knives and equipment. Ok, back to usubas, simply put, they are highly specialized knives and unless you are prepared for them, you will be severely disappointed. Damaged edges are no rarity amongst first time usuba users, and I wasn't able to avoid that part myself, with Tadatsuna Kamagata Shirogami Usuba. While I still think the edge failure on the Tadatsuna usuba wasn't entirely mu fault, in that the edge was way too thin for anything, it was my lack of experience that added to the problem. On the other hand, if you are careful enough, there is nothing mysterious or super special about using usuba without any damage, just a knife with a very thing edge. However, learning how to use usuba correctly is a process that could take years. Can't say I spend all of my time learning that, but I try :) Either way, it's a fun knife to use, even if challenging sometimes.
Blade- The blade on the Shigefusa kitaeji usuba is 170.00mm(6.69") as you already know. At the heel the blade measures 48mm in width, and at the same spot the blade measures 4.5mm in thickness. Well, entire blade is that thick, and wide too. Azumagata usubas are pretty much rectangular shape, very slight curve at the tip, but other than that the blade geometry is very simple. The edge is straight, and according to my measurements done using two different methods, it's about 10° on the right side, the left side, or back side is flat, the usubas are chisel grind edge knives. The back side, or Urasuki, is slightly concave, and the surface is very even, the ground bevels are perfectly even, in my opinion just one more indication of high quality and superb craftsmanship. The hard core, or hagane is made out of the Shigefusa proprietary steel, which is referred as Swedish in common and as Spicy by Shigefusa himself. Sadly composition is unknown. It is a carbon steel, will rust quite easy if neglected, although as I keep reminding readers over and over again, rust resistant steels, incorrectly called and marketed as stainless will rust too, when neglected. just takes more time. The steel is hardened to 64HRC, which is on the upper limit of the alloy. I've used three other knives from the same steel, and to be specific, it was the Shigefusa Kitaeji Gyuto that provided most empirical data on that subject. In short, the edge dulling is quite specific, practically no rolling, just microchipping. As far as its edge holding ability is concerned, I'm very happy with it, for kitchen use all Shigefusa knives have excellent edge holding ability and sharpening and maintenance is quite easy. Steel sharpening is not as complicated as other alloys with high vanadium for example.
Sharpening usuba is even easier, as one side is flat and the edge has no curve anyway. Just that thin edge requires more attention. As for the Jigane, or the outer cladding, is made out of the wrought iron, which is highly reactive, in other words discolors easily, and for patina lovers, takes patina very easy. Initially, with my first Shigefusa knife I've mistakenly assumed it was a stainless steel cladding, which is quite common with factory and custom knives alike, but I was wrong, as I found out very soon :) Anyway, I didn't have issues with that cladding, except for the gyuto, which had rather strange smell in the beginning, but after few cleanings and washings things went to normal. Didn't have the issue with smell on any other knives from Shigefusa, but I've heard about the same issues with other knives clad in wrought iron. It's pretty easy to deal with though. Few washes in very hot water plus soap, and if you have flitz, couple good scrubbings with flitz will do. At least that did it for me. Other than that, kitaeji pattern looks very elegant and the blade finish very refined and well done. To complete the description, let's mention Shigefusa logo in kanji on the right side of the blade, can be seen clearly on the photos attached here.
Handle- The stock handle on the Shigefusa usuba is the usual magnolia wood handle, which is all too common on the Japanese kitchen knives as a default option. As with other Shigefusa knives, actually as with most of my Japanese kitchen knives, I've had a custom handle made for it, again by Stefan Keller, and it is also premium black ebony, complete with damascus steel buttcap and collar ring. Because the usuba took 2+ years to make Stefan did the handle before the usuba actually came. Can't say I was happy about the usuba delay, but I was happy the handle was ready when it arrived. Obviously, I like my custom handle better than the stock magnolia wood, it's denser, more durable and has special finesse to it. However, I have to say, Shigefusa magnolia wood handles have the best finish on them amongst all the Japanese kitchen knives I have ever seen. I am not sure how or what does he do with it, but the magnolia wood form Shigefusa has rather special feel to it and the finish is very smooth. Come to think of it, Watanabe sabaki was one knife that had similar quality magnolia wood handle. Otherwise, they're just ok, but that's understandable, sort of, in that simple handles don't get too much love, but on the other hand, not many makers offer custom handles, at a reasonable price at least, and the knives are still hundreds of dollars. Well, Shigefusa handles definitely receive very good attention to every small detail, just like the rest of the knife. Almost forgot, the stock handle was the usual D shape, and the new handle is my favorite, octagonal shape. In my opinion, or for me in other words, octagonal handles work better, especially for the light grip and precision cutting. As far as durability and resistance t moisture is concerned, Ebony is a tough, dense wood, so I don't have too many concerns about that. As a part of the usual maintenance, I use mineral wax to coat the handle once every few months, just as a precaution.
Last updated - 03/03/12