The search for my Sujihiki, or suji went of for much longer than I have anticipated.
All because of the problem in the area where I was least expecting it, at least with Japanese knives. As you might've noticed I have a soft spot for the slander, hard blades in my
kitchen :) Obviously sujihiki is one of those must have knives, not just because it meets the criteria, but also because it's quite versatile knife. It's is rather
strange, but I've read and heard about that more than once, experienced Japanese chefs using a single knife to do it all, save for bone crushing. Strange, because Japanese are the
guys who invented the dedicated knife for pretty much every imaginable use in the kitchen, extremely specialized knives like Deba, Fugubiki
and many more, still many chefs after working 15-20 years pick a favorite Yanagiba, Fugubiki or
Sujihiki and do most of the cutting with it. So far, the only knives I've hears such stories about were the three listed here, other than that, well I am sure some chefs have
favorite gyuto to cut them all. Anyway, for multiple reasons, including more familiar double bevel
format I wanted to get a good sujihiki.
Because of its primary use, i.e. slicing cooked or raw food and in general working with softer food in the kitchen I thought it would be natural to see very hard sujihikis more prevalent than "softer" versions. Strangely enough I was wrong. Since I was still in the research stage for my new Japanese kitchen knives I was trying to acquire knives from different makers to get better understanding and feel for the knife. This time it was a problem. Majority of the makers of quality Japanese kitchen knives offered sujihikis well below the hardness I had in mind, which would be 64-65HRC or above it. That to me was both, unexpected and rather illogical from the performance point of view.
The explanation I got from several makers and dealers was that Sujihiki is intended to be used with really soft stuff, hence the need for high hardness is not great. Sounds logical, kind of, besides saves makers time and effort working on extreme hardness. All that is good, except one thing, Yanagibas, Fugubikis and Kirtsukes all are designed to cut very soft materials as well. All of them are made at highest hardness the maker can achieve with the steel they use. Well, at least higher end products are. So, why Sujihikis were left out I have no idea. Just because it has double bevel or because it has to cut meat, not the fish which[fish] is even softer?
By that time I have already bought several blades from Shichichi Watanabe including Nakiri, Small Knife, had my Honyaki Gyuto ready as well, so initially I was looking at other makers. However eventually the search proved fruitless and I wanted my new knife sooner. So, I went back to Shinichi and asked him about Sujihikis. To my satisfaction, he confirmed that his Sujihikis are the same 63-65HRC as the rest of his Pro-Line knives and made out of the Hitachi Blue Steel, a.k.a. Aogami. So, I've placed an order for the 300mm sujihiki. Which went straight to Stefan Keller for rehandling.
Initial inspection- As usual high end Japanese kitchen knives come with a nice packaging, including the box with the maker logo. This one was no exception. As before Shinichi included a small present, namely ceramic figurine. Visual inspection revealed no flaws or defects neither on the blade nor on the handle. As I mentioned above the knife went from Watanabe to Dave Martel of Japanese Knife Sharpening for rehandling. So, the knife as others before was the product of 3 masters work. Fit and finish are very good. Blade has nice satin finish, no flaws in there. Out of the box sharpness was quite high, hair whittling was possible with some efforts. Handle was also fitted very well, perfectly centered, no bubbles or other defects.
Blade- Sujihiki is a slicer. That rather narrow specification dictates certain aspects of its blade geometry and other properties of the blade. Most of which are pretty obvious, except for the low hardness on some sujihikis. Anyway, as you'd expect from a slicer, sujihiki sports long, relatively narrow blade, compared to its length of course, thin blade and a very sharp, thin edge. Long blade allows you make clean cuts in one fluid motion in many cases.
One thing that is rather unusual to me is the tip on many sujihikis from different makers including this particular one from Watanabe. I am referring to almost triangular shape of the tip. As you can see on the pictures here the spine sharply drops at the tip. Later on I've placed an order on another custom, Kintaro-Ame style sujihiki and asked Shinichi to make more traditional, spear point knife. Eventually I'll see which one works out better. Perhaps due to my lack of experience, I don't know at this point what is the advantage of having this reversed tanto like point on sujihikis. On the other hand, it has never been a problem either, point is just fine for pretty much any delicate work.
Handle- As mentioned above, Sujihiki went for rehandling straight from Watanabe workshop. The new handle was made by Stefan Keller. I already have several knives with his handles and they all look beautiful. It took some emailing back and forth to pick the handle for my new baby, eventually I've picked this handle. If I am not mistaken that is the dyed Masur birch burl.
It is almost 150mm long, octagonal handle and perfectly suited for a long knife like Sujihiki. Nicely balanced between too thick and too slim. I've used this particular sujihiki for several hours continuously and all that time the handle was very comfy, no sore or hot spots on my palms or fingers. The handle also has several coatings of wax and other compounds, I guess some are protective, others for visuals. In the end, I'm very happy with both, how the handle looks and how it performs for me.