I have been familiar with Yoshikane family of kitchen knives for several years by now(2011), yet I've never actually bought one, primarily because of the SKD 11 tool steel used in them. Not that it is bad steel, to the contrary, it's a good one, you might be familiar with it too, it's a good old, AISI D2 tool steel. While I have mainly positive impressions and experiences with it, it was nothing new to me, and wasn't really interesting enough, to bother buying a new knife made out of it. After all, it is WW II era alloy, and since then metallurgy did advance considerably. Well, if you ask me, knife steels don't evolve nearly as rapidly as they should, part of the blame is on the users, clinging to old and tried stuff, or simply not interested in what's the steel in their knives at all. The other part obviously goes to the makers. Anyway, that's a discussion for another article, in short, Yoshikane series are made using Japanese version of the AISI D2 tool steel, JIS standard name being SKD-11. Actually, I'd still buy Yoshikane kitchen knives, I like their design, especially the hammer finish on them, plus, simply because D2 or SKD-11 steel is hardened to the max, 64HRC. Good luck finding D2 at that hardness in western knives... Plus, in western knife world, nobody uses D2 class steels in the kitchen knives, even for combat/utility knives many consider it to be too brittle, and we're talking 56-60HRC range. However, there are also Kumagoro kitchen knives. They have very similar hammer finish and as usual are made out of carbon steel. Aogami II steel in older versions, and lately they switched to V2 steel. Aogami 2 is in general considered a better alloy, however Kumagoros are harder in V2, 62-63HRC in V2 vs. 60-61HRC in older Aogami II knives. I guess enough about the steels, point is, Kumagoros have identical design, and carbon steel, which I prefer for kitchen knives, regardless of maintenance issues, of which I really have none, but most of the non knife folks would ruin carbon steel knife in a day or two in their normal kitchen use. So, I went with Kumagoro. My only problem later on was that the longest Kumagoro gyuto was only 240mm, while Yoshikanes do come in 270mm length. So, in the end, friend of mine, who got into Japanese kitchen knives(and I can proudly say I had a hand in that), ended up picking up this knife, and I got to play with it for about 2 weeks, in pretty much NIB condition. It's a fun knife to use and I really liked it. Now I am considering getting that or something similar. You can never have too many knives, storage permitting of course ;)
I guess it is worth mentioning about Yoshikane and Kumagoro knives resemblance. They have pretty much identical finish and for a while quite a few people I've asked about them told me that they were made by the same family - Yoshida, just two different brands. Eventually, when I was making notes for this review, I've decided to get the truth straight from the source. Well, at least as close to the source as I could get :) Since I do not speak Japanese, and I have no idea how or where to contact either Yoshikane or Kumagoro, I went with the next best thing, EpicEdge. The answer I got was different, and it stated that the manufacturer of the Kumagoro knives is a relative of Yoshida family, and that they both have their forges in the Sanjo region, however those are two different makers. Plus, Kumagoro maker chooses to stay anonymous. So, I hope that clears things up more or less.
General- Officially this little knife was named - Utility/Fruit knife. The longer description says the same. Obviously, you can use it as paring knife, or even a small petty. The distinction boundaries are definitely blurred in those knives anyway. I have my rather negative opinion regarding the western "utility" kitchen knives, but Yoshikane's utility/fruit knife is a different matter, and if I haven't seen that description and name, I'd call it either a small petty, or longish paring knife. The knife comes in the black box, with Yoshikane logo on it. Here, check out the Yoshikane fruit knife package photo. You can definitely see, care is taken to prevent the damage during shipping. I've carefully inspected the knife, including examining the edge with 10x magnifying glass. No problems whatsoever. Overall, I was very impressed by both, its design and build quality. Very nicely made knife, I just loved its look and feel, even though it had rather simple, D shape ho wood handle. It's quite thin for its size, especially considering that it is a warikomi awase style clad knife. Even though the knife is as simple as it gets, it is super elegant and I just loved using and playing with it. Out of the box edge was very sharp, mirror polished, with even bevels, in short a very good edge, which is not so common on even semi custom knives. A+++ in fit, finish and build quality.
Blade- The blade on Yoshikane utility/fruit knife is 120mm(4.72") long, exactly 26mm wide at the heel and 2.8mm thick in the same place. The edge, like I said was mirror polished, convex grind. Out of the box edge was about 15° per side. That's very thin if you judge by western knives standards, and quite common for Japanese knives, even if it was my knife, I'd probably think twice about thinning it down by any significant amount, as I said above, the SKD-11 steel used in this knife, is hardened to its maximum, 64HRC and as such, it will be prone to chipping if the edge is very acute. At this time I am not aware whether the chipping will start at 14° per side edge or 12° or 10°. One I get my own knife form Yoshikane, I sure will determine the lower angle, but can't do that on a borrowed knife. Still, 15° per side is pretty good edge for a paring knife, considering that bunch of fruits can have rather rough skin, or the fact that you may hit seed(s) etc. With vegetables same issue can be encountered, plus if you are dealing with unwashed ingredients, small particles of dirt can wreak havoc on the edge.
As mentioned before, the blade is warikomi awase style clad and the blade finish is what Yoshikane describes hammer finished. Basically, dimples all over the blade, quite large, but uniform, which makes it different from other hammer finish types I have seen. The design, if you call that a design is quite attractive visually, that's my opinion and a lot of people who have seen my kitchen knives collection did single out Kumagoro Hammer Finish gyuto as one of the best looking knives in my quite large kitchen knives collection. Alright, the beauty is in the eye of the beholder. There is another, theoretical benefit to those dimples, in that they create air pockets, thus reducing the drag on the blade and prevent sticking of the ingredients as well. However, there is no dimple in the universe that can prevent sticking of some ingredients, starting with cheese and ending with tomatoes. Damn things stick to anything. Gyuto is no good choice for cheese cutting, and neither is this fruit or paring knife. Given the relatively narrow width of the blade, sticking wasn't a prominent issue with it. I've tried various small vegetables and fruits, things were alright, as in, they would still stick, but most of the stuff was falling off, because the diameter was larger than the width of the knife.
At this point, I figure I can skip the steel discussion, considering all the ramblings I did in the opening section of this review :) Just a word of caution, D2 or SKD-11 steel is considered semi-stainless, which means it will rust easier compared to true stainless steels, and yes, once again, all stainless steels rust if proper care is not taken. I've personally cleaned rust spots from all sorts of stainless knives.
Handle- I think, pretty much in all Japanese kitchen knives reviews I do mention that of all the types of the available handles on the Japanese kitchen knives the least liked one for me is the D type. And that type is the most common unfortunately. Octagonals cost more. Still, like I said, I really liked the knife. Overall, handle/blade proportion was close to perfect, at least to my taste. The finish on the handle is quite smooth, but it is plenty secure for what it is, as in the designed works for the knife. I've tried various ingredients with it, and the only time I had to struggle to retain control was the avocado peeling ordeal. When removing the skin, especially with the ripe avocados, inevitably, my hands get covered in slippery goo, and that might be my lack of skills, but whatever it is, as a test of the knife handle grip security, it works pretty well. I can tell that the ho wood handles are still more secure than the handles on Tojiro flash series, at least when dealing with something extremely slipper as avocado paste on your palms. The handle has black horn ferrule, which besides nice looks, provides protection against moisture, as the base of the handle is far more likely to get wet, at least when the knife is properly used. Overall, it's a pretty good handle for this particular knife, comfy enough, secure and not out of proportion. Sure enough, if it was my knife, or when I get mine, I'll definitely install a custom, octagonal handle on it. Meanwhile, if you are ok with D handles, the knife is seriously worth considering :) Don't let my dislikes stop you.
Sharpening- As described, the factory edge was very good, so I had no real need to sharpen it. Still, I went at it using 0.30µm Aluminum oxide film and then followed up with 0.25µm diamond crystal loaded leather strop, and finished with the plain leather strop. The treatment did improve the edge sharpness and aggressiveness. I could tell that much using finger test. All that took about 10 minutes total, and was not really necessary, unless you want highest polish and sharpness, in other words as picky about the edges as I am.
Usage- Don't know about other people, but for me the small knives are less useful compared to gyutos, nakiris and usubas and other larger knives. Their area of use is much more limited compared to the larger knives. At least, based on my knowledge and skills with the knives. I know quite a few people who use similar sized knives for pretty much everything, but I can't do that myself, and frankly I have no intention of trying to shred the cabbage using 120mm long blade. I can understand, and I have tried to use yanagiba as an universal knife, but that's a 300mm long blade, not 120mm. Still, there's plenty of things to do with the knife of this size, and like I said, the knife begs to be used :) The major test as usual was the salad ingredient prep work, which includes about 20 different vegetables and as usual takes me about an hour to complete. After that there's the dreaded avocado peeling test and whatever fruits and small things I find at a given moment at home. If you have read other paring knives reviews, I've described the ingredients and the process in some detail, but I figure I have to state that here as well.
Starting with Brussels sprouts, cutting the ends, which is rather annoying work, as they are quite harsh to deal with and after washing wet sprouts aren't exactly handling friendly. Given the razor sharp edge, sprouts were no real challenge, except there were about 40 of them. Routine, repetitive work, but it went real fast with Yoshikane fruit knife. To do the job, I was using the choke grip, and with 120mm long blade it may or may not be super comfortable, but with this knife it never felt awkward, and I wasn't concerned about grip security or accidental cut. Cutting the ends of the Italian parsley was simple and nothing worth describing. Working with red radish was a bit more challenging, as I have to cut the radish from the bunch first, which means the knife has to get in tight places with pointy enough tip, and Yoshikane fruit knife was just fine with that. Cutting out the stems or the hard core of the green collard leaves also needs sharp blade and pointy one with some belly is even better, and again, Yoshikane knife qualified for all those requirements. Another not so knife friendly ingredient, celery, which also requires thorough washing, otherwise the dirt particles in it will do numbers to your edge. In the resulting salad I do mince the celery, I hate the taste of that thing, but in the prep work, I just cut the ends, leaves, etc. Short work, but if you mess up, you can screw up the edge by twisting the knife to much. That never happened with Yoshikane fruit knife, due to very high cutting ability. Other noteworthy ingredients include broccoli and asparagus. Neither is soft, at least when fresh, and with broccoli, you need to stick the knife in tight places again, cut out the leaves, remove hard spots on the stem and so on. Asparagus can be also troublesome, especially when the shoots are not very young. And the final test of challenge happened in the evening, when I was actually cutting the salad. ingredients were prepped in the morning, dried, and for most of them I use large knives, such as gyuto or chukabocho most often, if I feel experimental then I go with yanagiba, except I can't claim I am any good with using yanagiba as a do it all knife, but that's besides the point. Avocados, all 7 of them were cut in 4, then peeled using the Yoshikane utility/fruit knife. The skin on those avocados isn't exactly gentle or soft, plus when cutting them around the diameter, the edge does come in contact with the oversized seed in the center, which is quite hard too. The worst part of all that of course is the avocado itself, which is very oily and makes things real pain to deal with. Still, the handle was manageable through the whole thing, until I finished peeling and aligning quarters on the cutting board. As they say, everything is relative, and in relation to most of the paring knives, Yoshikane paring knife did perform very well. That concluded testing on that day.
Part two of the tests was the very next day, when I was cooking meal, no salad, I've had plenty already :) Not as wide of variety, but I honestly attempted peeling a potato, a job at which I definitely suck, and frankly, I have very little motivation to get better at it. I just try that with every new knife, for the sake of it, but just once, then I fall back to my trusty Rossle crosswise peeler. As you can guess, I wasn't very happy with the potato peeling result, but I am to blame, not the knife, I did succeed with cutting out potato eyes with the Yoshikane knife though, that was super easy, with its very sharp, pointy tip. Next was the garlic, which I love pretty much in any meal, save for the sweet stuff, I never understood garlic in ice cream... Anyway, the blade was not very wide, it's a paring knife after all, but I still managed to crush garlic cloves with 26mm wide blade and then peeling the rest was a breeze. And to complete the test, I've peeled an apple, which happened to be in the kitchen that day. Not so sure why, but I do manage peeling apples mucho better than potatoes, even though there shouldn't be that big of a difference. Apples are less messy somehow. As a fruit knife, Yoshikane did fine. Cutting slices of an apple and peeling it was real easy. So, oddly enough, I've used utility fruit knife for 99% of vegetable cutting and 1% of fruit cutting, but most of the fruits, at leas the ones I eat, don't really require much of the cutting, nor they pose any interesting cutting challenge anyway. Obviously, I won't go at pineapple with puny 120mm blade, and if/when I need to split a coconut, I'll whip out Busse FFFBM battle mistress or one of the Himalayan Import Kukris. Well, may be my fruit menu is not large enough, but here it is, my honest report on the deeds, and now it's up to you to decide whether or not the knife is for you, or may be do more research. For the record, I did repeat all the cutting next weekend, with the same ingredients, because I liked the knife and it was fun to use.
At the end of the testing, the blade did loose some of its initial sharpness, but nothing that would warrant serious or even medium level sharpening. In fact, I never had to resort to sharpening stones, I've used the same 0.30µm Aluminum oxide abrasive film followed by 0.25µm diamond crystal loaded strop and then plain leather strop. Since the knife was not mine, I had to restore original sharpness. Another 10-15 minutes using the abrasives listed above and the edge was back to its hair splitting sharpness it had in the beginning.
Conclusions- Overall, I was quite happy with the Yoshikane knife performance. It's a little longer than I'd like for a paring knife, but during the use, its extra length didn't get in the way somehow. Probably blade/handle ratio, knife style itself, etc helped. As soon as I resolve knife storage issues, I do plan to buy this knife for myself, or something very similar to it. As far as paring knife works go, it has very good performance. Edge holding ability is also very high. I didn't experience any chipping during the two week period I was using the knife, even though the ingredients I was cutting are not the most edge friendly out there. For that specific work of veggie prep I still prefer Watanabe Kamagata paring knife. Well, not really surprising, as that one was custom made to my taste and requirements. Otherwise, as far as typical paring knives go, I really liked Yoshikane knife, even though it's labeled as utility(which I find utterly useless) and fruit, which I very rarely work with. I figure, names don't really matter that much though :) Very well made knife, good steel very good heat treatment, like I said, elegant little knife. if you like it, and feel the price is right and you can take care of it, then why not go for it.
- Blade - 120.00mm(4.72")
- Thickness - 2.80mm
- Width - 26.00mm
- OAL - 257.00mm(10.12")
- Steel - SKD11 steel at 63-64HRC
- Handle - Ho Wood
- Weight - 53.50g(1.81oz)
- Acquired - 04/2011 Price - 122.00$
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Last updated - 09/01/11