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

28 Dec 2010

Takashima Myokakudani 210*75*20mm #4-6000?

I got this stone a short while ago, but it has been just sitting there while I have been too busy finishing other projects. Finally, I got the time to give it a go. The stone looks like compacted very fine sand. A greenish golden sandy colour (kiita) with small spots and su holes. The stone has a very nice chiseled back side and showing a very nice dark rusty brown skin. The surface is absolutely clean with no cracks or lines or inclusions of any kind. It is a truly beautiful stone.

The Takashima stones come from the Shiga prefecture in Japan. The Takashima mine is still open, but due to mining restrictions it is not actively mined. This means that even if the mine and stones still exist, only old stock stones are sold. They are still available in the market, but you will have to be prepared to fork up $200-300 for a nice piece.

The chiseling shows that this is probably a fairly soft stone, which would suggest it is not one of the finest grit stones. Still, looking at the below pictures it looks very uniform and even throughout the stone, and I was very excited about putting it to the test. The softer Takashima is said to be excellent with Honyaki, so I picked that out for the test as well in addition to my trusty Kasahara Honkasumi Usuba.

The pictures below show the black metal filings after 10 strokes with the Usuba kasumi. As you can see it is not the most agressive stone, but this is actually the whole point about this stone. Slow grinding, controlled and very even, making a perfect pre-polish grind with very homogenous, dense and shallow grind marks. And it is so easy to use that even the novice sharpener can get a pretty good result.

The next picture shows the dense creamy slurry after about 50 passes with the Usuba. As you can see the slurry is only lightly coloured by the black metal which means the stone gives up a lot of material making up the creamy slurry. This again makes for a very delicate feel when sharpening. The stone was really thirsty, so I had to spray it quite often with water. After working the stone for a while it seemed to saturate with water, easing up the sharpening process a lot. I believe a 10 minute soaking will do the trick.

Looking at the result, you can see that the Takashima leaves a very even and dense scratch pattern. This is the perfect starting point for the finishing stones. I felt that after a 150-200 strokes on the Takashima after the Aoto, the edge got a lot more refined after finishing on the Oohira Asagi or even the Oohira Shiro Suita than when finishing directly from the Aoto.

You can also see the beautiful dense scratch pattern thie Takashima leaves on the blade road of my Shiroko Honyaki yanagiba. I experienced the same thing with Honyakt that I did with the Honkasumi. The edge got very refined from the Takashima making it a breeze to finish it on my Nakayama.
This stone is a typical team player. It is not coarse nor agressive enough to be your only medium sharpener or fine enough to be your final finisher. What the Takashima Myokakudani does is to refine the surfaces and the edge from your medium sharpener and priming the edge for the final finishing stone. This task it does to perfection. After using the Takashima I could get especially the Honyaki exceptionally sharp and refined. It really stuck to my nail.

The stone does pretty much the same work as the Oohira Asagi as a pre finisher, but due to its softer feel, it is a lot easier to use and gives the unexperienced knife sharpener a better feeling of what the stone actually does to the steel.

I can recommend this stone to the novice sharpener as well as anyone serious about sharpening Honyaki or even high quality kasumi knives. The work it does to prepare the surfaces to the final finisher saves you a lot of time and finishing stone, and to my experience actually gives you an even better final result.

27 Dec 2010

FOR SALE - Oohira renge / lotus suita 205*75*40mm #20-30000 - from Iida Tools in Japan!

I have been looking for a good quality Oohira renge suita for quite some time now. These stones are really hard to come by in good size and of good quality. Suddenly my main contact in Japan for high grade stones and knives, Mr. Tomohito Iida at Iida Tools informs me that he has three excellent Oohira renge suita in stock for sale.

The cost of the stones are 37,350 Yen per piece plus shipping from JP about 2,500 Yen. If you'd like to own one of these beauties, and you should!, please contact Mr. Tomohito Iida at His level of service is unsurpassed and he communicates very well in English.

It's just my luck that these three beauties are available just after Christmas when my credit cards are all screaming for mercy. However, this might be somebody elses very lucky day. Not beeing able to get one of these beauties just really breaks my heart :o/

They are all about the same size 205*75*40mm give or take a few mm and they are all beautifully full of renge throughout the stone. Usually this kind of suita tends to be pretty soft. These suita, however, are a little bit harder than the usual renge suita from the Oohira mine, making them excellent finishers for both knives, planes and chisels. I think they will even make excellent pre-polishers for most razors, but no guarantees here as I have no experience on razors (yet).

All stones coming from the shelves of Iida Tools are thoroughly tested for quality. He has informed me that none of the lines in the stones affect sharpening and that the stones leave a very fine mist and haze typical of top quality suita stones. I have bought my large Aoto and my Oohira Asagi stone from him, and they both perform exceptionally well.

If you are in the market for an Oohira suita, these are some of the very best avilable in the open market today and at a very reasonable price. Combined with the service level of Mr. Iida, you just can't go wrong.

9 Dec 2010

Some of my earlier knife builds - Hunting & exhibition knives

In this post I would like to do a short presentation of some of my previous knife projects. I have been building knives for many years, and my interest for cooking knives is actually quite new. Most of these older knives or at least the handle materials have interesting stories, as many of them were built for special occasions. As my kitchen knife and natural stone addiction keeps getting worse, I am considering to sell off some of my knives. If you are interested, please let me know. I will also be interested in trades for a high grade yanagiba or a sakimaru takobiki. Maybe also a Japanese natural stone of the right kind, size and quality. I have put a suggested price in brackets for reference.

In this first post I would like to present to you four knives. A couple of them are real exotic and I have done my very best to preserve the handles as close to their natural origin as possible. Most of the blades I use I get from a famous Danish blacksmith living in Norway called Steen Nielsen. You can see some of his work and buy his blades at . He uses mainly powder steel or SKD die steel in the edge and hardens them to around 58-60 HRC. This makes them easy to sharpen and use, and they hold an edge very well for normal use. For soft steel he uses old ships anchors, anchor chains, old iron nails and other old materials. Especially the blades made from old anchors are really beautiful. Almost old etched Damascus like.

Looking at the below picture from the left is a knife with a nashiji finished laminated san-mai blade with a handle made from a fang from an African wild Boar. Second from left you can see a knife with a nashiji finished laminated san-mai blade with handle made from one entire very old tooth from a  whale. Then a knife with a san-mai laminated blade made from an old ships anchor with whale tooth bolsters. Finally to the far right a plain laminated san-mai blade with a Water Buffalo horn handle and whale tooth bolsters.

The whale teeth I am using are vintage material found in the attic in my grand-grandparents house and I figured that I might as well make something beautiful and useful out of them instead of letting them go to waste.

I start the show from the left. The story behind this knife started almost ten years ago when I was in the middle of another project. My neighbour came over to my work shop to watch my work, when he suddenly asked if I did custom orders. I said it depended on what he had in mind, as my skills have obvious limitations. He ran off and returned with a small box containing two ugly looking monster fangs from an African Wild Boar. He had gotten these teeth from his father more than 30 years ago when they had been together on a hunting safari in Africa.

During the hunting he had accidentally just wounded the Boar and it had disappeared from sight. They went back to their car to wait it out, and just when they had closed the door they heard an incredible crash. The Boar had attacked them and hit the car door full force. Looking out the window they discovered the Boar lying apparently lifeless just outside the car. His father had given it the final shot out of the car window. So, now, more than 30 years later his father soon would turn 75 and he wanted to give him a memory from that trip long ago. So, he asked me to build him a knife using the best of the two teeth as handle material. He asked me what my fee was, and I made him an offer that I would build him the knife for free in exchange for the other tooth. He accepted, so I built two almost identical knives and let him choose the one for his father. The other one you see here. There are some natural thin cracks along the tooth, but they have not expanded for the many years I have had the knife on display, so they all seem stable. I have not yet made a sheath for it, but one will be custom made from raw hide if you are interested in buying or trading. ($800 incl. sheath)

The next knife out is the whale tooth knife. I have made a sheath for it from raw hide and shaped it like a whale. As I mentioned earlier I found a couple of these large wonderful teeth in an old sailors pouch in the attic of my grand-grandparents house. I was told that the teeth were once taken from a huge whale that had drifted ashore and stranded in Northern Norway. It took a lot of work to carefully sand and polish away the outer layer revealing the almost ivory like bone structure underneath and drilling it by hand to avoid any heat that would crack the tooth from inside. 

The laminated san-mai blade is custom made by blacksmith Steen Nielsen to match the shape of the tooth, continuing the lines from the tip of the handle all the way to the tip of the blade. It has a nashiji finish which is polished to a nice shine. I am very pleased with his excellent work and I think it looks just the right size and the shape for the tooth. The nashiji surface is a nice contrast to the shiny and polished handle.

The knife is quite heavy due to the massive bone handle, but it feels surprisingly well balanced in the hand making it a pleasure to use. This is a true one of a kind knife. I have never seen anything like it. The old whale tooth is totally without cracks and blemishes and looks absolutely incredible. If you are interested in this knife, please let me know.  ($1000 incl. sheath)

The blade on the next knife is a real beauty. Made from an old anchor san-mai style and etched to reveal the wood or Damascus like structure. The handle is made from very nice Rosewood and pieces from a small tooth from the above mentioned whale. I have custom made the sheath from raw hide and shaped an anchor in the leather to complement the anchor steel in the blade.



The blade is a very limited series of blades from Steen Nielsen, as he is almost all out of this beautifully structured anchor material. I am open for offers or nice trades for this knife as well. ($750 incl. sheath)

The last knife I will show off in this post is a more main stream knife. Made from a plain san-mai laminated blade, sanded and polished. The handle is made from one large slab of Water Buffalo horn and with whale tooth bolsters. The shape of the handle fits very nicely in the hand and the balance is really nice. The Water Buffalo handle is not high polished, rather to a more matte finish which doesn't get too slippery. If you are interested in the knife, I will be happy to give the handle a high shine and custom make a raw hide sheath for it. ($600 incl. sheath)

Well, that was some of my previous projects. More to come on this issue. And please do send me a note if you are interested in buying or trading.

5 Dec 2010

Yanagiba shoot out and a good meal

I frequently get the question about which of my yanagiba knives I prefer. I do have a special place in my heart for the Shigefusa. It is a true piece of functional art and a good example of the Japanese never ending quest for perfection. After some more thinking, however, I realized that the question was not as trivial as one could expect. Normally you quite easily find your favourite, and it is often relatively easily explained why exactly that knife ended up as the number one, closest to the hart, go-to knife. That was actually not my case.

Exept maybe for my very first yanagi, the simple mass made Masahiro, all of my yanagis are pieces of art made by masters of their craft. Well, actually the blacksmith of my 40++ year old yanagi refurbishment project is not yet known to me, but from the quality of the steel and the lamination, I can without hesitation place my refurb knife up there with the best; the Shigefusa, the Keijiro Doi Hayate, and the Kasahara honyaki. Thus I have a luxury problem comparing my knives. After a bit of thinking I decided to pick the two most different yanagis in my collection. The very well known and appreciated yanagiba from the hands of Tokifusa Iisuka, the Shigefusa, and the unknown yanagi bought for my latest refurb project.

The Shigefusa is a 270mm blade with an edge of a special proprietary alloy of Sweden steel. The refurbished yanagi is a 300mm blade with an edge said to be tamahagane, but more likely a special quality blue steel (Aoko). Both knives have new handles custom made by me.

The Shigefusa is significantly thinned from just in front of the handle and all the way to the tip, making it "loose a lot of weight", and moving the balance point close to the handle. The refurb is classic, full thickness all the way, making the point of balance well in front of the handle.

So, we are looking at two very different knives specifically made for one and the same thing. Slice fresh fish to perfecion. 

Before starting to use them, I was pretty confident with which knife I was going to prefer at the end. The Shigefusa felt a lot more balanced and more like a natural extention of my hand than the nose heavy refurb. The pictures below show the difference in balance point and shaping of the blade. In the right picture the Shigefusa on top, in the left picture the Shigefusa closest to the edge of the bench.

So, choosing by balance and feel in the hand, I would prefer the Shigefusa. The Shigefusa is also, to be honest, the prettier one of the two. The custom made handle made from dessert ironwood, silver and water buffalo is really striking and the soft steel showing a lot of structure, almost like damascus gives this knife a very special feel and look.

To do the mini test of these two magnificent knives, I had planned for some simple sushi I bought some really nice salmon back loin and a piece of really fresh halibut fillet from my local fish monger. The fat salmon is like slicing butter but the halibut has some structure to it, really putting the knives to the test. I had tested the Shigefusa on a couple of earlier occasions, so I was really exited about comparing it to my refurbishment project knife for the first time.

As I always do, I got my "mis en place" set up, as this seems to drastically reduce the chance of failure in the kitchen and gives your mind a good starting point for the mental process of creating good food. If you don't do this on a regular basis I can definately recommend it. Get everything that you will be using out in the open to check that it is there, that you have sufficient amounts of it, and that all fresh food is still fresh and will not be crawling of your workbench when you have placed it there.

A simple mis en place might look like this. Simplicity is a virtue :o) The large wooden tray is called a hangiri. It is made of Japanese cedar wood and smells absolutely fantastic! It is used to cool down the rice after cooking and to absorb excess moisture from the rice. I really had no idea that a simple utensil like this could make such a difference until I tried it. For the first time, I got perfect rice that stayed perfect for a long time.  

Starting to slice, I was quite surpriced by how different the two yanagis worked for me. The refurb had the weight to slice even the halibut just by placing the heel of the blade on the fish and slowly pulling it towards me totally without downward pressure, while the Shigefusa had to be helped a little bit due to its lighter weight and its balance point being closer to the handle. On the other hand the Sigefusa seemed to put less stress on the delicate fish due to its thinner blade, leaving an even more "shiny" and refined cutting surface on the sashimi.

However, both knives excelled in what they were meant to do, and I could probably be for ever happy with either one of them. Both knives presented beautiful homogenous slices with an almost oily look to the sliced surfaces. A good sign of a very sharp blade making very little cell damage while slicing the fish.

Here are some pictures from the process making the rice-out maki rolls. Salmon, avocado and cucumber makes a delicious blend. Velvety and crunchy at the same time. When cutting the maki into chunks, the Shigefusa was definately the better choice with its very thin and more delicate blade. Using the very thin tip, the Shigefusa made very clean slices through all parts of the maki, leaving very delicate slices.

After a lot of slicing with the two knives I finally ended up with a decent selection of nigri sushi and maki rolls.

Looking closely at the finished product, I obviously still have a long way to go, but small signs of improvement from one time to the next motivates me to go on and to try to get better. At least the result tastes wonderful, so it is not wasted. The knives, however, have not much potential for improvement, being made by artists already experts in their craft. Keep'em sharp and they will serve you well and keep on doing what they do best. Every time.

How much I just have to admit that I love the look and feel of the Shigeusa, the refurbished yanagba with its heavier blade just felt more "right" to me when slicing. The exeption being when slicing the maki where the Shigefusa was better. That said, my opinion in this matter is obviously a very personal and subjective thing, and there are a lot of people that will tell you the opposite. My opinion is also just based on the feeling I got using the two knives, again coloured by my personal preferences. If I really had to sell one of them, it would probably be the refurb. No man should be without a Shigfusa yanagi!

The bottom line is that when choosing a knife this special you will have to experience it before buying. Anything else will be a game of chance. If you like the lighter knives, you will love the Shigefusa, especially the 270mm or shorter. If you like the heavier kind, go for a standard yanagi 270mm or longer. have some really nice ones. as well. If you like the heavy weighter of the yanagi, you will probably be very happy with the Ikkanshi Tadatsuna 300mm or longer. You can probably get a nice Tadatsuna on

Please share your own views and favourite yanagis in the comment field.

30 Nov 2010

Twice as nice - Yamashiro karasu 180x65x18mm #6-8000 + #15-20000

This is another stone I bought at a dutch auction from When I got the stone I was amazed over the clean board and very nice colors. It was basically a kiita coloured stone with pink and green shades, but more visible was the very nice karasu breaking through. My first sharpening session, however, was a mixed experience.

The response from the stone was beautiful. Very efficient as the karasu in the stone pulled metal filings from the first pass and in addition it did not take more than 25-30 passes before I had built a nice thick creamy slurry. The down side being that the underside of the stone was not level, making the stone rock around.

I took the stone to my workshop to try to chisel of the unevenness by removing the rest of a layer that was about to part from the stone anyways. After this large flat chip was removed, I discovered a beautiful, dense and dark silvery grey karasu board underneith. I threw all sensibility overboard and with my coarse diamond plate, I ground away the rest of the very nice skin on the underside of the stone revealing a full board of dense, uniform karasu. I was just staring in awe for a moment at that absolutely beautiful karasu appearing from under the skin.  

As the karasu was so dense and dark, I expected it to be quite scratchy and coarse, so I took one of my lesser knives to test it out. I did not at all expect what happened next. The darker side was significantly coarser than the top "kiita" side of the stone, as I suspected, but it was not at all scratchy. Not one bit! It felt a little bit like a very nice and uniform Asagi only even more aggressive. In the back of my head I could almost hear Darth Vader thunder "Come over to the dark side, Darkhoek. Feel the force!" :o)

As you can see from the pictures, there are some white lines on the dark side. These lines are softer than the rest, probably contributing positively to the very nice slurry building on the dark side as well. The lighter shades mixed in with the carasu I suspected to be trases of skin or rust at first, but it is actually the kiita side breaking through to the dark side, helping to refine the slurry and making this stone a perfect blend.

The dark side pulls metal from the first pass with just water on the board. No wonder, considering the density of the mica making out the karasu. However, the stone gives up a very nice, dense slurry after only a few passes, making it very enjoyable and delicate to use, and as I mentioned earlier, totally free from renegade scratchy particles. After some work, the particles seem to break down to a very fine grit, making the slurry almost as fine as the slurry of the top side.

Judging from the scratch pattern I would grade the dark side of the stone very close to my Ozuku Asagi at #6-8000 grit, and as you can see the scratch pattern is very uniform and fine with few visible lines. This patteren is achieved using the slurry, which shows a pattern a lot finer than the #6-8000 and closer to the top side comparing the scratch patterns from both sides of the stone. Sample is 20mm across.

The lighter side is more of a finisher. It is exeptionally uniform and clean, and the karasu makes for a very efficient stone. The light side also gives up a dense creamy slurry quite quickly, even more slick and delicate than the dark side.

Scratch pattern shows a very uniform and fine grit perfect for most kitchen knives exept the most demanding sashimi slicers, which requires my finest Ohira suita or Nakayama. You can see the difference mainly in the lamination line between the Ji and Ha, where the top side shows almost no scratch marks at all. Apart from that the two sides are a lot alike using the slurry effectively. Sample is 20mm across.

The reflection pattern shows an apparently highly polished edge with a clear contrast between Ji and Ha. This polished look is actually due to the very fine scratch pattern from the natural stone. Looking at the picture above the surface is actually matte to the look. This highly complex scratch pattern I believe is one of the main factors to get the edge really sharp and more wear resistant than an edge polished to a full mirror finish by fine synthetic abrasives. You can find some very good reading about this theory here

Seen from the side, the stone shows a very even transition from the light board on top to the full dense karasu side on the bottom. This will probably result in the top side gradually showing more karasu over time and the dark side to gradually lighten up until there is no more stone left. As I intend to use this stone carefully and wisely, I am sure it will give me many years of enjoyment. 

Summing up, I can't really believe my luck with this stone. It is really two very good stones in one, and a perfect stone to carry for travel, as it can erase micro chips easily with the dark side, and refine the edge to a razor sharp using the light side. I have not really seen anything like this stone before, and I could only whish it was full size, but then I could probably never afford it. Darth Vaders words to his son Luke have never been more true: "The force of the Dark side is strong, Luke!"

25 Nov 2010

Aizu vs Aoto - Medium finishing stones #1500-5000

In this post I will try to make a comparison between two of my main medium sharpening stones. I have chosen to do them together as they actually are more similar than different, even if this is not immediately apparent. One is the very well known Aoto, which I got from Tomohito Iida at Iida Tools, and the other is the less known Aizu, which was brought to my attention and delivered by Maxim at Japanesenaturalstones. Both are very substantial stones; the Aoto measuring 240x95x95mm and weighing in at almost 9 pounds and the Aizu measuring 210x80x67 weighing in at about 5,5 pounds.

Both stones are also quite rare, but for different reasons. The Aizu because the mining ceased in the 1950's and have not been mined since, the Aoto because of the massive size and the exeptional quality and grinding force which is very rare to find in an Aoto these days. Especially outside of Japan. To put it simple, this should be very close to "as good as it gets" regarding medium grit Japanese natural sharpening stones.

Looking at them side by side, they could not really be much more different from each other. The Aoto is a dark blueish to charcoal grey with what looks like olive green sesame seeds embedded in the grey. The Aizu is a solid chalky white with almost translucent olive green lotus or renge embedded in the white base. The Aoto has a beautiful skin on both sides while the Aizu is sawn with a large, coarse circular saw leaving a beautiful almost sculptural surface on five sides. I think they are both really visually stunning in their own way. 

In the left picture below you can see the white board with translucent olive green renge spots of the Aizu stone and on the right, the dark grey board also with olive green spots on the Aoto. Actually I was a little bit surprised to find the spots with almost exactly the same color in these two stones. I am not sure that the olive spots are the same material in both stones, though... 

Except for the obvious differences in appearance between these two stones, the biggest difference is noted immediately when starting to sharpen on them. Initially, starting out with a clean wet surface, the two stones feel very similar in grit size. A bit like a #1200-1500 man-made stone. However, I could almost immediately feel that the Aizu was a harder stone than the Aoto, requiring a lot more work to build a slurry. Both of the below pictures show the slurry produced after about 50 passes on each stone. The Aizu to the left, still with the surface of the stone as the main grinding factor, and the Aoto to the right, already with a dense slurry smoothing the feel of the stone.

This difference makes the Aizu a more aggressive stone by working the stone surface for a longer period of time before the slurry develops to a buffer or lubricant for the sharpening process. A very good thing about the Aizu being significantly harder is that I feel a lot more confident when sharpening chisels or kanna blades with very narrow blade roads, which can easily dig in to the softer surface of the Aoto. The Aizu is a lot more resistant to this "digging" thus a lot more forgiving to my lack of experience in sharpening these kinds of blade. Aizu is therefore my preferred medium sharpening stone for blades with narrow and flat bladeroads like kanna blades and chisels. For knives, the Aoto gives me the better feel and a more velvety response during sharpening.

So, lets take a look at the final results. After about 100 passes on each stone, both stones had built a slurry dense enough to effectively buffer the stone surface from the steel. I did about 50 more passes with full slurry before comparing the results. Samples below are 20mm across. You can see the scratch pattern of the Aizu to the left is a little bit more pronounced showing a few more clearly visible scratches than the sample from the Aoto to the right. The explanation for this might be that even after the slurry was fully developed the Aizu felt a little more "grindy" compared to the very creamy Aoto. Probably because the Aoto particles break down even more than the Aizu particles. The scratch pattern from both stones was just about equally easily erased by the Oohira Asagi reviewed in one of my previous posts. These stones can actually be used as finishers for most stainless and daily use knives. An edge off either of these stones will easily beat the main stream factory edge and making the edge a lot more wear resistant.

It is very hard, if not impossible, to decide a winner between these two magnificent stones. Both stones have unique qualities making them highly useful and desirable. The hardness of the Aizu is great with kanna blades and chisels and the softness of the Aoto is great with most knives. The difference in grit size and sharpening result is marginal between the two, the main difference being the difference in hardness of the surface.

If you only sharpen kasumi or stainless knives, I would probably go for the Aoto. If you sharpen both knives and chisels or kanna equally often, you will need both. If I have to choose, I would probably go for the harder Aizu, due to my lacking sharpening skills on kanna blades and chisels. If you only sharpen kanna or chisels I would be very happy to live with just the Aizu. Fortunately I am the very happy owner of both.

Maxim at Japanesenaturalstones tells me that the Aizu also is a lot more effective than the Aoto on Honyaki blades. Truth said, I am actually quite happy with my Aoto's effect on my Honyaki knives, and so far I have not had the time to test the Aizu with my Honyaki. However, I have no reason at all to question Maxim's experience on this. He is a trained professional with significant skills and knowledge on japanese natural stones and the application of them on different kinds of steel. If you are interested in further reading on the Aizu, Maxim also has a very good description on his web page (se link on the left menu).