Birthdays are good :) Whether it's your own or your friends. Perfect opportunity to grab a new knife, test it out and then give it as a present to the birthday dude or dudete. And if you are at all concerned regarding the old myth about knife as a present being a bad luck or cause break up a friendship(I do get asked that few ties a month), empirical evidence accumulated through my knife collecting/gift giving years so far shows 0 reason for concern. Still friends with everyone I gave the knife(or knives) and everything is fine and dandy. So, as you can guess, the 280mm Watanabe Kuro-Uchi Gyuto was a present for my friend. Not a first Japanese Kitchen Knife in his kitchen either, so this time I wanted to make it special. Email chain with Shinichi Watanabe ensued.
I was already decided on a gyuto knife, the questions to answer were the size, the finish, the handle material, etc. I already knew the future user's habits, so I wanted something more of a work knife vs. presentation piece. Hence the kuro-uchi finish. There are a few kinds of Kuro-uchi finish, I've had at least two different kinds of that finish from Watanabe himself, check them here: Watanabe Kuro-Uchi Ko-Deba knife and Watanabe Kuro-Uchi Sakekiri knife have more rustic looking, rough finish, while Watanabe Kuro-Uchi Nakiri has more refined, smooth kuro-uchi finish. I went with the smooth type, aside from the looks, it's less sticky and easier to clean, and more resistant to scratching too. I was going to go with the standard ho wood handle, but Shinichi suggested keyaki wood. Based on my design, he did pick the best option for the handle I must say. A few weeks later I did have this gorgeous gyuto in my hands.
General- Watanabe Kuro-Uchi Gyuto came in a standard box with maker's logo on it. Inside the box there was a knife wrapped in a paper. Packaging is pretty secure, protecting the tip. The knife itself is perfect in terms of making quality and execution. Kuro-Uchi finish is very nicely done, smooth, no imperfections. Handle is well fitted, no gaps or wobbling. Kasumi line is well defined, even and Kasumi itself is very nice, smooth, just "misty" enough. The edge is very well ground and sharpened. Overall, Watanabe Kuro-Uchi Gyuto is a large knife. I wouldn't say it's a very thin knife, not for a Japanese gyuto, but 4mm thick spine is thinner than that of the much smaller western kitchen knives. Therefore, Watanabe Kuro-Uchi gyuto weighs only 348.30g(11.78oz), which isn't all that much for knife with 280.00mm(11.02") long blade and 448.00mm(17.64") overall length. The design is a typical Japanese gyuto. Long, slender blade, quite wide, at least as far as the gyutos are concerned - 60mm. I think the keyaki handle worked just about perfect on this knife, in conjunction with the kuro-uchi finish. In the end, I was very happy with the knife, and I am considering getting one like that for myself. Although, I do like my Watanabe Honyaki Gyuto Knife a lot, one of my favorites.
Blade- The blade on the Watanabe Kuro-uchi gyuto is 280.00mm(11.02") long, and at the heel it is 60mm wide, having 3.80mm thick at the same place. The blade tapers both towards the tip and the edge. The tip is fine enough for delicate work. The blade is a traditional Awase type. In other words, hard core - Hagane is clad in softer outer layer - Jigane. There are several types of awase, so if you are curious, then Watanabe Kuro-Uchi gyuto is a Warikomi Awase type, i.e. cladding covers blade spine too. Generally speaking, cladding serves as a protective layer for a hagane core, plus it adds to the overall blade strength, as the soft steel in jigane is more flexible and not brittle as the hagane is. Kuro-Uchi finish adds extra layer of protection, protecting the jigane or cladding layer itself. All that may sound like a whole lot of protection, but it really isn't :) Cladding is from the wrought iron, which rusts super easy, and while Kuro-Uchi finish does offer some level of protection from the elements, the knife is not stainless by any standard, so proper care needs to be taken. Still, it's better in terms of resisting elements than the bare steel like I have in Watanabe Honyaki Gyuto Knife. I have no issues keeping the said gyuto rust free, therefore, keeping the Kuro-Uchi finish gyuto in a good shape is even easier.
For the record, the edge, the most important part and the most sensitive to corrosion as well is never protected y any finish or cladding, so unless the knife is made out of the stainless steel, that edge needs care no matter what. I already mentioned very nice Kasumi line on the gyuto, here's a Kasumi line close-up picture. As you can see it's a very smooth, even finish and transitions to both Kuro-Uchi and edge sections. Out of the box edge was about 10° per side, and sharpness was very high, but I still managed to improve on that using 0.25µm diamond powder charged leather strop and then stropping on the plain leather strop. Obviously, that hair splitting edge doesn't last too long, but it sure feels good to make it. Other than that, there isn't much else to be said about the blade, there's Watanabe logo on the left side, otherwise it's a minimalist, clean blade.
As for the steel, Watanabe Kuro-uchi gyuto uses Hitachi Aogami 2 steel. Ultra pure alloy, high carbon, with small amounts of Tungsten(W) and Chromium(Cr). I own and used quite a few knives made out of the Aogami 2 steel. Unless you are looking for a stainless steel, or really don't want to spend time taking care of your knife(in which case, you most definitely shouldn't be buying 400$+ kitchen knives'), then there is no downside to Aogami 2 steel in the kitchen. It's not a high abrasive wear resistance steel, but that's not what you need in the kitchen, especially for delicate cutting. What I prefer, and I think is needed is the ability to sustain acute edge, highly refined with 100K edge finish, and good edge stability. I can easily go with edges as low as 5°-10° with Aogami 2 steel kitchen knives ~64HRC. No issues with chipping, not if you use them right. In other words, if you go all Bobby Flay with your kitchen knives and start opening cans with your blades, then you better stick with western kitchen knives or even better, use the damn can opener ;) Flay is a very good chef, and I'm not a chef at all, but no way in hell I'd trust him with a good knife. For the record, there are a lot of very good chefs who treat their knives with respect. Yup, you can be a good chef and treat your knives well at the same time. Ok, enough about the chefs, back to Aogami 2 steel, last thing I'd want to mention it's a good one to sharpen and work with. Even at high hardness, unless you need to perform honba-tsuke or full rebeveling, you won't have any issues sharpening it. Takes good polish, works well with very high polish edge, and a bit tougher than Hitachi Aogami 1 steel, having a bit less edge holding ability, although that really depends on maker's skill.
Handle- The handle on the Watanabe Kuro-Uchi Gyuto is Keyaki wood. It's one of the high(er0 end woods used in kitchen knives. Like I said in the beginning, the handle was Shinichi's idea. The color works very well with black Kuro-Uchi finish. WA type handle was chosen by me, I prefer it over the traditional D-Type handles. Keyaki wood itself is quite hard and dense. Does stand up well to moisture and food acids, at least so far. The knife is not mine, but I do get to examine it on occasion at my friends place, so I can tell how it is holding up. There's a black horn ferrule on the handle, main purpose for which is to protect wood in the handle from the food acids and moisture, standard feature. I've mentioned in other reviews, I like WA type handles for kitchen knives. Comfortable in any grip, doesn't rotate much even when my hands are oily or wet. Otherwise, nothing special about that handle, nicely made, good finish, no cracks, no visible defects. Not too heavy, and the overall balance is good for me, although I always say, the whole balance thing is rather overrated unless it's something really atrocious. - Based on my past experience with Watanabe Kitchen Knives and experience with Hitachi Aogami 2 steel kitchen knives I had pretty good idea what would the Watanabe Kuro-Uchi Gyuto be able to do and how would it hold up. I didn't have a real reason to perform prolonged tests, but I did go through the full session of the veggie cutting. Mainly, I was comparing it to my beloved Watanabe Honyaki Gyuto Knife. Geometries are very similar, so are the sizes. One difference that does stand out immediately, the difference in weight. Honyaki blade is almost 100g lighter. That's due to the cladding used on the Kuro-Uchi gyuto. On the other hand, on its own Watanabe Kuro-Uchi Gyuto is lighter than western counterparts of a smaller size, let alone something of the same size. In general, a honyaki gyuto made by a master craftsman like Watanabe is a very high bar to beat for any kitchen knife, and I wasn't expecting Kuro-Uchi Gyuto to outcut Honyaki Gyuto at all. However, I did say in the beginning, I am considering similar knife for myself and just wanted to use it and get the feel. As far as handling goes the two gyutos were very close. Honyaki is thinner and has more acute edge. For prolonged use, like 8 hours of straight cutting, sharper and lighter Honyaki wouldn've been preferred choice, but then again, compared to average wester kitchen knife Watanabe Kuro-Uchi Gyuto is heads and shoulders above in terms of cutting ability and it's lighter as well. Overall, Honyaki is a better performer if you are careful with it, and Kuro-Uchi Gyuto can take a bit more abuse. It mainly depends on the user's skill and techniques though, banging on the bones and similar neglectful use common for the western knives will render both knives useless real quick.
As for the test itself, started as usual with harsher stuff including Brussels sprouts, carrots, broccoli, celery. All minced or cut into small cubes. All very easy to deal with considering the laser sharp blade with respectable width(60mm) and length 280.00mm(11.02"); Slicing translucent slices of carrot was a breeze. Same for the brussels sprouts, cutting was easy, just the numbers made it boring. After I was done with all that, control test with the cherry tomato, and Gyuto cut through it0, using just its own weigh under 2" slicing motion. Very close to what it was before I started the test. For comparison, at that stage average wester kitchen knife made out of the X50CrMoV15 stainless steel or a similar alloy, looses half of its initial sharpness, in that the distance the knife travels to slice through the same cherry tomato is either doubled or in worst cases the test fails completely. Worth mentioning, western knives at ~58HRC are not capable of sustaining sub 10° per side edge at all. You sure can grind it, but won't hold through the first batch of carrots or Brussels Sprouts, let alone all of the above ingredients. Anyway, harsh stuff was done, fairly quickly and the res was much easier. Soft leaves, baby spinach, kale, collard green, green onions all shredded or minced. Basil was chiffonaded, and then I've proceeded with red radish. Mainly because I was experimenting with precise, translucent cuts. Worked out very well. The blade is wide to provide good support for guide hand with claw and at the same time very high sharpness allows for precise cuts. Overall, an excellent performer in the kitchen.
So, in the end, usability and comfort during use are very good. Cutting performance is very high, in real life you will not be able to tell the difference between 5° per side edge and 8° or even 10° per side in 90% of the cases, and an untrained user won't tell any difference whatsoever. That is if we continue comparison with the Honyaki gyuto. Otherwise, comparing to standard issue western kitchen knives is so lopsided it's not even interesting. Edge maintenance was easy, I was asked to check it out and touch up few times. Doesn't get used daily, but gets enough use to need maintenance. First two times I was able to restore edge without stones, just 0.25µm diamond powder charged leather strop or 0.50µm diamond powder charged leather strop. One other time I did use Naniwa Chosera 10000x Super Finishing Synthetic Whetstone. Over the course of one year that isn't much at all, but again, the knife isn't used heavily, vegetables and soft proteins most of the time. I did have to clean up few discolored spots from the Kasumi line, but Kuro-Uchi finish was fine. Point is, it's not that had to maintain, but does need care to prevent corrosion as mentioned above. It was obvious the Kasumi line would be the most susceptible, it's just a bare wrought iron. Wiping down the blade before putting it down and washing/wiping dry does work to prevent rust, but patina will develop anyway, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, protects the ret of the metal from further corrosion, and a lot of knife aficionados view it as a sigh of character for a knife.
Conclusions- Excellent knife, even for 440$ price. Mix between a workhorse, very high cutting performance and good looks. It's a custom knife, so obviously you won't get one like that from just any dealer, and if you want to order it, you will get to discuss your preferences and adjustments. As it is, I liked it a lot and I'll be getting one for myself.
- Blade - 280.00mm(11.02")
- Thickness - 3.80mm
- Width - 60.00mm
- OAL - 448.00mm(17.64")
- Steel - Aogami 2 steel at 63-64HRC
- Handle - Keyaki Wood
- Weight - 348.30g(11.78oz)
- Acquired - 05/2014 Price - 440.00$
Last updated - 04/04/16