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Watanabe Nakiri 150mm(6")
Japanese Kitchen Knife Review

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Watanabe 150mm(6") Nakiri

Watanabe Nakiri was a part of my first set of hi-end Japanese kitchen knives that I acquired in Jun. 2008. Considering that at that time I wasn't really sure what I wanted or what would work for me I decided to try out several options and a specialized tool like nakiri was a perfect candidate for the experiment. In general Japanese tend to have lots of knives with rather narrow specialization and nakiri is clearly one of them. If I am not mistaken, it translates into something like vegetable leaves knife. Frankly, it works amazingly well for that and many other types of vegetable cutting. Picking nakiri was relatively easy, Shichichi Watanabe is pretty well known maker amongst Japanese kitchen cutlery enthusiasts and has plenty of good recommendations. Besides, he makes exactly what I wanted, i.e. high-carbon, non-stainless steel knives at very high hardness. Both were important criteria to me when I was picking a nakiri, thus I went for Watanabe. Plus, his pro line is very reasonably priced for the knives of this class. 150$ wasn't that expensive for the quality knife such as this nakiri.

Initial inspection

- Small nakiri from Watanabe came in traditional box. Pretty much all Japanese knives I've ever received come in the box, which is nice. It is a hidden tang knife, relatively small. Well, at least it is small compared to 240mm Akifusa Gyuto I got around the same time. No damage to the blade or handle, no scratches. No visible defects or imperfections. Overall fit and finish are very good considering that it is kuro-uchi finished knife. Blade finish is much smoother than that of found on Takeda knives, e.g. Takeda Cleaver or Takeda Deba. Although, that part clearly depends on the maker, how much kuro-uchiish look it will have. I personally prefer Watanabe style kuro-uchi finish, mainly because it's smoother than Takeda's, but that hardly ever affects knife performance. Though, does affect ease of cleaning.
    NIB edge was really sharp convex edge. Shaving in both directions effortlessly, hair whittling was easily achievable. I was pleasantly surprised how thin the edge was. It is really rare to get NIB knife with high performance edge on it. Watanabe nakiri was one of those pleasant exceptions in my knife-life :) Kudos to Shinichi.

Blade

- Well, it's a typical nakiri as one would expect on nakiri bocho or hocho(both words stand for knife in Japanese). Almost rectangular shape blade, which is pretty thin. The tip is slightly rounded and that's pretty much it. It's a rectangle, thus the cutting edge is a straight line, save for the very tip. As I've mentioned already, it is a fairly thin blade. On the average it's 2mm thick. In details, then the blade is dual taper. At the heel, spine is 4.02mm thick, at the tip spine narrows down to 1.8mm. Closer to the edge, 10mm behind it, blade is 0.6-0.7 mm thick already. As per Watanabe, that geometry is their strategy to keep knives rigid and prevent flexing, which is not desirable for vegetable knife. I do agree with this statement.
    I've already commented blade finish above, so the only thing to add here is that the blade is traditional Japanese san-mai, ultra-hard core sandwiched between layers of soft, stainless steel. Serves dual purpose, prevents the rust, except the expose edge of course and adds protection to the core. As for the steel core, it is made of Aogami(Blue) Steel, for more info on Aogami and other Japanese cutlery steels check out the Kitchen Knife Steel FAQ.

Handle

- By default Watanabe has two options, basic is ho wood, no idea what is that or even if it has western name, and burnt chestnut for a little extra. The nakiri I got already had burnt chestnut handle. However, later on I've discovered the master(on knifeforums of course), the guy who makes really beautiful handles for Japanese kitchen knives, Stefan Keller. To be honest I haven't seen handles like that even on 1500$-2000$ Japanese knives. Man really has a talent for design and color, let alone craftsmanship. In short I really liked his work and contacted Stefan to discuss details. Long story short, Stefan makes handles, then the handle installation is done by another master, sharpening and knife restoration guru Dave Martell of Japanese Knife Sharpening. For the results you can see Watanabe nakiri before and after. As you can see all three men, Watanabe, Stefan and Dave did very good job and the knife looks just gorgeous. Matter of fact several of my custom ordered Watanabes went straight to Dave to get new handles from Stefan installed on them. Watanabe didn't even put basic handle on those, since I knew what I was getting from Stefan already. For those who like details, the handle is made of the following components: Ferulle - select grade ebony; Handle - Hondurian rosewood burl; Spacer - Copper; That's pretty much it :)

Usage

- As we already know, nakiri is a knife designed for cutting vegetable leaves, that is if you take its name literally. Otherwise, for me it worked perfectly well for cutting not only vegetable leaves, but everything else vegetables have on them to cut. As a specialized tool it excels in certain types of cutting and doesn't work that well for others, or not suitable altogether.
    What nakiri is really good for - precision cutting of delicate vegetables. And it's not only the leaves that fall under that category. Slicing, push cutting with forward/down or backward down motions is a breeze with it. Thanks to its really thin blade and acute edge angle this knife just glides through the medium. During last three months I have this nakiri, I've cut various types of vegetables and sometimes fruits as well.
    You'll really appreciate nakiri's straight cutting edge and thin blade when working with small members of Allium's family, such as garlic or shallots. Mincing those small, pesky beasts isn't nearly as convenient with anything else, but Nakiri does work wonders. Especially when you need to make horizontal cuts, i.e. when you're pressing down the clove with your finger on the board and the blade is parallel to the board. I've experimented with that type of cuts using gyuto, yanagi and even small paring knives. Nakiri wins hands down. The only thing that came close to Nakiri in terms of convenience and ease of cutting was another knife from Watanabe, which he simply called small knife(SK). Given the small size of the SK, practically straight edge and thickness similar to nakiri that was an obvious result. However, Nakiri's wide blade makes is more convenient for scooping the processed food from the board. Although, sometimes wide blade has its downside too.
    I never took Nakiri to cut meat though, since I have much better suited knives for that task, including couple of the debas - Takeda kuro-uchi and Kobayashi, Aritsugu Yanagiba and several gyutos - Akifusa, Kumagoro. Therefore, no comments on that, but again, nakiri isn't designed for it.
    As for the prolonged use, the longest, continuous use of nakiri was around 1.5 hours so far. That is with the new handle. Which I just love, not only for its looks, but for its feel too. In those few months I've started using Japanese type handles I really got used to them and prefer over western type handles. Partly because in the kitchen, using sharp knives you pretty much never have to exert great force on the knife. For kitchen use they work better for me and for visual cue they look much better, well it's all a matter of taste anyway.
    I guess I am stating the obvious, but for the record and fairness, nakiri won't work for rocking motion technique, because of its straight edge blade geometry. Also, nakiri, at least small one, won't do well on large or hard vegetables. Gyuto will fare much better for those works, may be santoku too.

Maintenance

- Because it's a high carbon, non stainless steel knife, I have to mention this aspect separately. Basically it's absolutely nothing to be afraid of if you are willing to take minimal care of your knives. required steps are very few, simple and easy, not time consuming after all. During the use, if you have to stop for few minutes to wash next portion of vegetables, step outside or whatever else, just wipe the blade with cloth or paper towel. This may sound a bit of a hassle, but think of this, during quite popular competition show "Iron Chef of america", pro chefs have to make 5 dishes in an hour competing with each other, quite a pressure. Even they find 3 seconds to wipe their knives before putting them down during that hour. I can't believe you're ever pressed that hard for time not to find those 3 seconds to do the same and if you're that hard pressed, then you clearly picked very wrong time to cook :)
    Once you're done wash the knife immediately and finally make sure to wipe it dry. The last step is critical, simple carbon steel knives will rust practically in an hour or less if left wet. That's all to it. Don't worry when you see oxidation on the edge, after literally first hour of use. That is patina, not rust and patina helps to protect your knife from rust.

Conclusions

- All in all, I am very happy with nakiris in general and Watanabe Nakiri in particular. I liked nakiris so much that while Watanabe's nakiri was at Dave's place for rehandling I couldn't wait and bought another nakiri, this time Kobayashi suminagashi. Later on, once I really got used to it, I've decided that smaller and thinner nakiri would be very appropriate for my kitchen cutlery arsenal and ordered one more nakiri from Watanabe, 120mm long, 1.5mm thick. That will be more of a scalpel I think. We'll see. Basically, Nakiri is a specialized, vegetable knife and does its job very well for appropriate cutting chores. It's not a multipurpose or universal knife, so don't expect it to be one knife do it all thing in your kitchen. Small cousin of the Chinese cleaver does its work :) If you're confident you can take care of the non-stainless knife in your kitchen and can maintain proper edge then you'll be very happy with Watanabe nakiris.

Image Gallery

Specifications:

  • Blade - 150.00mm(5.91")
  • Thickness - 4.15mm
  • OAL - 290.00mm(11.42")
  • Steel - Aogami I 63-65HRC
  • Handle - Thuya Burl (Ho Wood originally)
  • Weight - 136.00g(4.6oz)
  • Acquired - 09/2008 Price - 192.00$

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Last updated - 06/27/15