Shigefusa 270mm kasumi yanagiba with custom, by me, desert ironwood handle

11 Jan 2011

The great Gyuto Shoot out!

After two full days of slaughtering produce, here are the final result of the grand gyuto shoot out. My good friend and fellow knife nut, Øyvind Dahle, kindly put up his collection of custom gyutos to the test. I brought only my trusty Takagi, but as you all know by now, I am more of a yanagi guy.

As mentioned the test was conducted over two days. We had one day of testing out the knives, collecting first impressions and testing and selecting stones for the final sharpening, and one day really sharpening up the contestants and comparing them in a more detailed cutting test setup. We also did some test sharpening on a lot of different stones to pick a sharpening setup for day two that would give the knives as similar and as sharp edges as possible for the different steels. Here are som pictures from day one, cutting cabbage and prequalifying stones for day two and serious sharpening. 
Trying out the Oohira shiro suita
Oohira asagi ready to go


Devin Thomas 240 vs cabbage
Hiromoto 240 vs cabbage
Shigefusa 270 vs cabbage

After a wonderful cutting frency with some of the absolutely most beautiful and high end gyutos available, it was time for some serious testing. and comparison. Even on day two I was just cutting produce, as produce comes in a wide variety of size, structure and toughness. I went to my grocery man and picked out some large carrots, large hard potatoes, ripe tomatoes, some red chillies, a couple of large onions and a big chunk of fresh ginger. Ginger has a very fibrous core and will really put the edges to the test. I saved that for the finals. I also had some cabbage left from yesterdays cutting frenzy with Øyvind. Here you can see the choice of produce I used for this test. Also a closeup of the brave contestants.


From the right you have the Shigefusa 255mm (actually it's more like 270, so I called it 270!)  with a beautiful custom handle by Marko Designs. Number two from the right is the Hiromoto 240mm with a very nice custom handle by Dave Martell. In the middle we have the grand Devin Thomas 270mm forum prototype with a custom handle by unknown maker (Devin?). Then the beautiful Devin Thomas 240mm again with a stunning custom handle from Marko Designs. And finally to the very left, my trusty Takagi 210 with a custom handle by me. Except for my own Takagi that I have built a very solid patina on, they were all nice and shiny. Getting to know them only yesterday, I couldn't wait to put them all to the test.

As I mentioned, the first thing I did was to sharpen all knives using the stones we had matched with the steels the day before. All knives were fairly sharp, but all had some potential, and in addition I wanted them all to have similar edge geometry to be able to compare them with one less unknown factor.

The stones that were chosen were my very good, efficient and even grit Oohira asagi as pre-finisher for all knives. Then three different finishers for different steels. A Nakayama karasu for AS and SS, a Nakayama nashiji kiita for the Shigefusa Sweeden steel alloy and finally the Oohira shiro suita for my Takagi Aoko #1 honyaki. Just for the fun of it I tested all knives with all finishers. If a finishing stone was a total mismatch with a knife, I went back to prefinish on the Oohira asagi before I took the knife back to the finisher particularly chosen for the knife, to regain the best possible edge for each knife. 
From top: Nakayama nashiji kiita, Oohira shiro suita, Nakayama karasu, Oohira asagi

I made a judgement on sharpening feel and the edge on each knife off each stone and gave each knife/stone combo a "Match point" describing how good the match was and put it all in to a table. A score of 1 equals no match between stone and steel while 5 equals a close to perfect match. The results may be interesting when choosing your stones for a given steel, but I make no guarantees as results will vary. You will still have to experiment, but maybe you can narrow down your selection a bit.

After finishing all knives as sharp and as close to each other as possible, I went on doing the veggie cutting tests. Here are some pictures from the testing.


Shigefusa potato slice :o)

Shigefusa reacting to cabbage

For each knife and each type of vegetable I judged the percieved sharpness of the blade. That is the force I had to use to drive the knife through the vegetable. A score of 1 equals a lot of force needed while a score of 5 equals very little force needed (of course relative to the vegetable in question). The force needed wil depend on several things lik the geometry of the blade, the taper from the spine to the edge, the structure in the grind on the blade and so on. I also made a judgement of how well I could feel the structure of what I was cutting. If I could feel the layers of the onion or cabbage or the fibres in the ginger root. Finaly I looked at how the steel reacted to different foods and if the steel was discoloured and produced a smell that transferred to the food. A score of 1 equals not reactive and a score of 5 equals extremely reactive.

To sum this up I had several favourites during the test and a few disappointments. None of the knives were consistently best at everything, and most knives were fairly good at most tasks. However, the Shigefusa stood out clearly in the cutting department. There was something about how the Shigefusa just slid through the food totally effortless that was very close to magic. It felt like cutting soft butter with a warm knife. So as far as pure feeling of cutting goes I would have to declare the Shigefusa as the winner with the Devin Thomas 240 as a close runner up. 
The knives resting out with the final results

One HUGE drawback I experienced with the Shigefusa was that it is exceptionally reactive to several kinds of vegetables, particularly the cabbage and onions in my selection. This reactivity resulted in discoloured food and steel and an ugly sulfur like smell from the blade. I really don't understand Tokifusa Iisuka's choice of cladding steel for this knife, as the core steel is like something out of this world. 

Taking the heavy reactivity to food in to account, the gold medal will have to be passed over to the Devin Thomas 240. An exceptional knife in every way. Well balanced and beautifully made and a wonderful all round performer. I particularly liked that it gave a very distinct feel of the structure of the food I was cutting. I could almost feel the freshness of the tomatoes through the knife. The Devin Thomas knives are relatively easy to sharpen but quite sensitive to the choice of finishing stone. Both DT knives were a disaster on my Oohiro shiro suita, but matched very well with the softer Nakayamas and took a very keen edge. 

The Hiromoto was a good overall performer that did absolutely nothing wrong and that will satisfy a lot of  users. It is very comfortable to use and very well balanced. It was easy to sharpen and to get sharp. To my satisfaction, my trusty old Takagi held its ground against these race horses as far as sharpness and cutting goes, but I sadly came to the conclusion that it is actually way to light for my preferences, and I will probably in the market for a somewhat heavier knife pretty soon. I really liked both Devin Thomas knives, and the Hiromoto was also a very enjoyable aquaintance. The Shigefusa, no matter how magic and beautiful, had this issue that was very hard to ignore.

I had a lot of fun doing this test. Thanks again to Øyvind who trusted me with his precious knives.
Next blog post will be "How to force a patina on Shigefusa kasumi gyuto" ;o)


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