Honyaki is a term describing a special method of knifemaking in Japan. There's a short definition of the term on Japanese Kitchen Knife Terminology page. I'll try to elaborate a little bit more here. Literally, the word Honyaki means true-forged. Although all other forged knives are just as forged as honyakis are, the difference is that, unlike san-mai technique, when the soft jacket is wrapped around the hard code of the blade, honyaki blades are made entirely out of single piece of metal, that same ultra-hard core that is sandwiched between soft stainless steel layers, in san-mai case. Because of this hard core, finishing and in general, making a honyaki knife if extremely difficult and time consuming. It also demands great skills from the knife maker. However, the benefits are worthwhile. Honyaki blades have the highest kirenaga - edge holding ability. Simply put, honyaki blade will hold its sharp edge longer compared to non-honyaki knives from the same steel. There are two types of honyaki knives, uniformly and differentially tampered. Later is referred as Mizu-Honyaki. The spine of the blade is covered with mud, which is let to dry on the blade. The mud covered blade is heated to desired temperature and the quenched in the water, well may be oil too, I am not aware of specifics of heat treatment with each knifemaker. This achieves a relative flexibility of blade. Because of this process, the hamon line is formed on the blade. That is the true wave on Japanese knives, not that acid etched patter on el cheapo knockoffs. Pattern depends on the mud obviously. If you look carefully on the picture you'll see the hamon line on even on this mirror polished blade, starts in the middle and goes to the top. Don't know how simple all that sounded to you, but in reality, it is a complicated and labor intensive process. Not all of the blades make through the complete process either. Some crack due to metal defects or other mishaps. Whatever makes it out of the furnace and quenching bath, is the highest quality knife though :) You could say - the pinnacle of kitchen knife making. And, I am sure, you've already guessed that honyakis are the highest priced knives. You get what you pay for. You want the best - then honyaki it is.
Aside from knifemaking troubles, honyaki blades require special care, because they're so hard. So far I have only seen carbon, or non-stainless honyaki knives. That means extra care to prevent rust. Also, knife that hard is hard to sharpen, especially for novices. On top of all that, harder knives are more fragile if you happen to drop them. So, be extra careful. Is all that worth it? Depends on you. To me extra money and extra care was well worth the joy of owning the honyaki knife. Besides, extra care here, is probably irrelevant for anyone, who knows how to take care of their knives. If your carbon steel knives don't rust on you, nothing extra you'd have to do for honyakis. Dropping any knife is a mistake and accident I hope ;) So, nothing extraordinary with that requirement too. So, to any knifehead it is nothing too different, besides the price. On average, honyaki adds anywhere from 100% to 150% of the original price for the given knife model. That is if the maker offers honyaki version of the knife. Considering that 300$-400$ isn't even very expensive Japanese kitchen knife, you can get the idea... But, on the other hand, you can get lots of honyakis from very famous makers under 1000$.
This particular, 270mm long honyaki gyuto was ordered in 2008 from Shinichi Watanabe. Six weeks later is was ready. Then it went to Dave Martell - Japanese Knife Sharpening, to install the new handle from Stefan Keller. Unfortunately, all that shipping didn't go without troubles. On its way, from Japan to Dave, the blade got damaged. Couple millimeters of the tip was broken. Luckily, Dave is the guy who fixes broken tips too, that saved me another trip back to Japan. As you can see on this picture of the honyaki gyuto, Dave's fix is flawless. It was a long journey, from Japan to me. Anyway, the wait was painful, but in the end well worth the exceptional knife I had in my hands when I've finally unpacked the box.
Initial Inspection- Watanabe Honyaki Gyuto came in a standard box with maker's logo on it. The knife itself is perfect. I already had several gyutos in my possession (see Gyuto Reviews). This was the widest of them. On average gyuto width varies form 48-56mm, at least whatever I have handled before, this one is 60mm wide, exactly. Anyway, craftsmanship on this knife is as superb, as it deserves. Fit and finish are just excellent. Obviously, I was examining the knife very carefully, nothing that I could complain about. Handle well centered and sealed. Sharpening job was excellent too. Very thin edge, extremely sharp. One of the very few knives that I couldn't improve sharpness right away.
Last updated - 09/01/11