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

25 Apr 2012

Marko Tsourkan Designs 240 mm Wa Gyuto 52100

Marko Tsourkan from NY should be no stranger to many of us knife nuts. He is a well renowned and very skillful maker of handles mainly for kitchen knives. Further he is a perfcectionist to his very fingertips and his impeccable work stands as a reference to many of us in the knife collecting/ using/ sharpening business.

Since last year Marko has expanded his business, toning down the handle making and starting up the design and production of a line of knives for the professional chef. His goal is to equal or surpass the cutting ability of the Shigefusa while using modern PM steels that will allow for an unbeatable edge wear resistance and ease of sharpening. Just what you want in a professional kitchen. You want a knife that cuts about anything pretty effortlessly (is that a word?), is easy to sharpen and stays sharp for a full shift in a busy kitchen. You want a knife with these qualities that is versatile, so you can do with fewer knives. (Who would possibly want fewer knives, you ask, but you know what I mean).

All this sounds amazing, and when I heard that Marko would start making knives, I knew that something great was in the making. Marko spares nothing to make things perfect. He designes his very own line of knives based on the best production and semi custom knives out there, choose his steels after extensive testing and discussing with the most renowned makers in the business, and finally experimenting shamelessly like a mad scientist with heat treatment to get the exact results he wants; the perfect blend of edge retention, sharpenability and sharpness. Add that to Marko's perfectionist mind when it comes to design, fit and finish, and you have the Marko Designs line of knives. Ta-daaa!
The Marko Tsourkan Design Gyuto and diamond loaded felt strop
Judging by this knife I have been able to review for a while now, Marko is getting very close to attaining his goal in all of the above aspects. Looking at the picture above it is easy to see that one of Marko's main sources of inspiration is the japanese gyuto and in particular the shape of the Shigefusa. However, Marko has refined the design further making the blade a tad thinner and lighter, thus making the knife lighter on the hands and arms during extended use. As you can see the blade takes a beautiful patina pretty quickly but it has very low reactivity to most foods (all I've tried anyway).

The handle design is pretty new for Marko, who is best known for his octagonal Wa handles. They are as perfect and beautiful as they are simple. The new design is no exception in this regard. Perfect but simple.

As mentioned, on this particular knife the octagonal handle is replaced with an experimental (yet traditional) D shaped handle but with a Kramer-ish taper to the ferrule, which aids the pinch grip on the blade. The perfectly rounded choil and spine aids this even further, making the knife an absolute joy to hold and use for extended periods of time, and the perfect tapering from heel to tip gives the blade a very good and balanced feel in the hand. It just falls right into a very comfortable pinch grip while also serving those who prefer to grip the knife just by the handle. Well done!

Regarding the thickness of the blade, it falls nicely inbetween the Shigefusa, which some may find too hefty, and my refurbished 240 mm Shiro #3 laser gyuto, which some might find too light. I believe Marko has found a thickness that will suit a lot of users perfectly.

After using the knife for several different tasks in my home kitchen for a couple of weeks I decided to put it to a more comprehensive test to get a feel of what this knife was able to do and to uncover its strengths and weaknesses.

I used my professional hard polyethylene cutting board which is pretty hard on the edge, but which is found in many professional kitchens. This would test the edge wear resistance pretty good. I also chose different vegetables to test different parametres of the blade. Chillies with tough skin, Cabbage and swede cabbage to test wedging, tomatoes to test edge sharpness and some overgrown fibery sugarsnaps to test chopping-ability. Finally I added some cheap pork cutlets to the setup to test the blade in raw protein.
Set up for making a nice casserole :o)
I started by sharpening the blade on my trusty Aka-pin stone (#6-10000 range somewhere). This little stone has really become my go-to stone for all kinds of steel. It is exceptionally efficient even on very hard steels and leaves a very refined edge, yet with a nice bite to it.

I finished the edge on the Marko Designs felt strop. This stone-strop combo showed to be a match made in heaven and gave me a scary sharp edge that easily shaved the hairs of the back of my hand. I have never been a fan of strops, always finishing on stones, but this diamond loaded felt strop from Marko really opened my eyes. The initial cherry tomato test went flawlessly. Easily slicing a standing cherry tomato only held by its own weight. After this confirmation of the edge I went to the real test.

First I went to the swede, the purple thing to the right on the cutting board. Despite its misleading name, it is a root fruit used in a lot of traditional Norwegian dishes and the size and hardness of this massive bulb will really put any blade to the test regarding wedging and skewing.

The Marko gyuto cut through the swede effortlessly without any apparent wedging or skewing at all. It slid straight through. The blade seems perfectly neutral left to right.Cutting paper thin slices was also easy and the blade handled very well. A skewing blade would easily have been discovered in this test.

Next up was the white cabbage. This cabbage was exeptionally dense and heavy and would be a real challenge to any knife. The Marko gyuto slid through effortlessly like with the Swede. No wedging nor skewing was apparent. Cutting angel hair cabbage was also an easy task, and the thin strands of cabbage released easily from the blade. Again the knife performed very well.

This was the produce that was really reactive with the Shigefusa kasumi cladding iron. No apparent reactivity on the 52100 steel.

The chillies and the sugarsnaps were no challenge for this powerful gyuto either. The chopping test showed that the flat part of the edge that starts at the very heel and extends almost half the blade to the tip, and with its slight angle relative to the handle, makes for a very balanced and efficient chopping blade. It is easy to find the right chopping motion and as usual it cuts effortlessly through tough chilli skin and old fibrous sugarsnaps.

The raw protein test was to se how the blade was able to cut paper thin slices of meat or fish without ripping the fibers. The knife sliced through the pork meat like butter and no matter how thin I was trying to slice, the knife performed effortlessly. Pretty impressive how versatile this knife really is. If I would have to manage with only one knife in my kitchen, the Marko gyuto is my #1 candidate to date. It is exceedingly good in anything I have tried.
You can see the spine of the knife through the thinly cut meat.
The cutting surface is without any apparent damage to the muscle fibers.
So, to the final test. Would the edge still cut a cherry tomato standing loose on the cutting board? Yes it would! Well partly anyway. The part of the edge that had been banged into the hard plastic during the chopping session had dulled slightly. For regular tomato cutting it was still very good, but this ultra sharpness test got a bit more difficult than before the cutting and chopping party.

Now to the amazing part. You see, Marko claimed that after some passes on his wonderstrop the "dulled" edge would go back to crazy sharp just like that. I was thinking "Yeah, Right!". So, just to prove him wrong, I took the blade to the strop, passed it over a couple of times on each side. First with a little pressure and then with almost only the weight of the blade.
Back side of the very well made felt strop. And check out that patina on the blade :o)
Was I ever surprised. The edge was almost totally back to scary sharp just after a few light strokes on the strop. If you get a knife from Marko, get a strop with it! If you are not getting a knife from Marko, still get a strop for your other knives.

When Marko first told me he was going all in on the knife making business I new it was going to go one of two ways. Either he would not succeed in his endeavours and give up the whole thing or he would succeed 100% and become one of the very best out there. One thing you can trust when it comes to Marko. If he decides on doing something it is because he thinks he can make it perfect. And he will not rest until he has. The knife in this review proves that. It depends of course what you personally consider to be the perfect knife. Weight, size, steel, heat treatment, handle. All things matter. What I am trying to say, however, is that this knife is perfect in what it is. The size feels perfect to the weight, the balance feels perfect to the length, the handle feels perfectly shaped and sized to the blade and the heat treatment seems to get very, very close to perfect for the steel.

Knowing Marko, I am not one bit surprised by the quality of this knife. I am, however, deeply impressed by how far he seems to have come as a knifemaker in the short while he has been making knives. He tells me he is still making adjustments to the grind to make the blade more non-stick, but from what I have been experiencing with the blade in this review a further improvement in this aspect would actually make the knife food repellent :o)

I'll round this review off with a couple of "Patinart" pictures showing off the beautiful patina on the 52100 blade and Marko's very clean and stylish brand mark. Review knife or not, I'm keeping it!!


24 Apr 2012

Full custom 300 mm damascus san mai suji - "The Black Pearl"

About a year ago I was thinking seriously about getting a full custom knife. I was not sure where I wanted to go so I searched the Internet, different knifeforums and several knifemakers' web pages. There was a plentitude of options. Some of them totally not my liking and others so costly I would have to sell my car and a kidney to get one, so quite a few options were ruled out pretty easily.

After a lot of searching I found exactly the design I was looking for in a blade. Problem was it was not a kitchen knife. It was a hunter blade. Fully forged high contrast damascus with an O1 core. The blade was absolutely stunning! By this time I had pretty much settled my mind for a sujihiki blade to complement my collection of yanagibas, and I wanted to stick to the 300 mm length as this is the length I have been accustomed to in my slicers.

I contacted the knifemaker of the above mentioned hunter, and we started talking. He was all ears about my requests and baseline design suggestions, filling me in on the gaps and finally he came up with an idea so grand I could not resist. A 300 mm sujihiki with O1 core steel encapsulated in pure nickel and direct forged in a high contrast damascus of 15N20 and 1084 steel. In this particular blade the core steel is forged directly into the centre of the damascus bar. This is a very time consuming and an immensely difficult task to accomplish, especially in a 300 mm blade, as it is almost impossible to keep the core straight and in the centre of the blade during the forging process. This was going to be a grand test of his skills as a blacksmith.

You can see the core steel gently rippling down the centre of the spine of the blade with the nickel encapsulating the core.
After one single trial run, resulting in the worlds probably most exclusive letter opener :o), he succeeded. That is nothing less than impressive, and a proof of exceptional skill as a knifemaker.

The result ended up like this. I just can't stop looking at it. It is an exceptional piece of functional art. It looks pretty hefty, but actually, the first thing my wife said when she took it up was "Wow, it's a lot lighter than it looks!". I have to agree with her on that one. It is definately not the lightest suji out there, but the balance, the forged tapering of the blade and the weight and shape of the handle is so well executed that the knife immediately feels like an extention to your hand.
"The Black Pearl" in all its' splendour with the stunning Stingray saya. It is truly a one-of-a-kind knife
Most of you will recognize the brand mark on the certificate. The Bear paw. Many of you will also recognize the special rounded choil and the full grain leather saya design. The blacksmith and knifemaker is of course Mr. Pierre Rodrigue from Canada. A true master of his craft and a true gentleman to his trade.
The Bear paw of Mr Rodrigue's brand. Look also at the incredible damascus pattern.
Remember that the damascus pattern is forged with the core in. That is pretty impressive stuff!
Total production time was about one year from start to finish. The extensive production time was partly because Mr. Rodrigue is a very busy man and a popular knifemaker, partly because the forging of the blade is an exceedingly complex matter, partly because some of the materials used are pretty long lead items and partly because this project was not one to be taken lightly, not by Mr. Rodrigue nor by me. It was to be a masterpiece. A Piece de resistance. A signature design. Mission accomplished!
"The Black Pearl" is number 124 in the production line.
Sum up the numbers and you'll get lucky number 7.
Coincidence? I think not! :o)
Our frequent conversations on the different design issues, material choises, challenges and new ideas gave me an ownership in the project I have never before experienced. It felt almost like I was there with Mr. Rodrigue designing my own knife. Truth is I didn't want it to end. Well, on the one hand I could not wait to see and experience the finished knife, but on the other hand I found so much fun, joy and excitement in the discussions with Mr Rodrigue that I wanted the project to go on.
Every now and then he would tell me about ideas he had that he wanted my opinions on and other times he told me that he had surprises coming that he didn't want to disclose. This kept the excitement and thrill in this for me all the way.
The black burl handle perfectly matching the knife
On one occasion we were discussing handle design and materials, I told him I would like some black burl to match the black blade, and Mr. Rodrigue suggested he could accentuate the handle with black Mother of Pearl shell. I was thrilled by the idea and in a fraction of a second the obvious name of the knife popped into my head. The knife had been named "The Black Pearl".

"Fifteen men on a dead mans chest. Yo, ho ho, and a bottle of Rhum!" :o)

The black Mother of Pearl inlay giving the knfe its' true name
The greatest and best kept secret was the final design of the saya. To go with the maritime theme of "The Black Pearl", Mr. Rodrigue has designed the saya with jet black Stingray skin keeping the natural snow white "diamond" in the skin in the centre. I tried to imagine what the secret could be, but honestly, I did not see that one coming. The first time I laid my eyes on it I was totally stunned by its beauty. The Stingray skin looks like millions of tiny black shiny pearls glued together on the saya with the beautiful diamond shape in slightly larger white pearls. It is an amazing feature which makes the knife even more spectacular (if at all possible).

As if all this wasn't enough, Mr. Rodrigue suggested one more thing. He was really twisting his clever brains on how to add another design feature to the handle butt to pimp it up the last final bit without making it look cheesy. That alone is no simple task on an already extreme knife like this. To me it was no surprise he found a great solution. "How about mounting a small Ammonite?" he asked me. "An ammo...what?" I asked. "An Ammonite is a fossil shell from an extinct squid, some millions of years old", he told me. "Really nice." he finished. I agreed without really knowing what an ammonite was and how it was looking. At this moment in the process I had come to trust Mr. Rodrigue's sense of design pretty blindly.
Ammonite. MY Ammonite! 'Nuff said.
I was stunned when I saw it the first time. It is alost translucent and three dimensional, changing colours from rust red to a deep green through blueish tones and with a bright metallic sheen to it. It is an absolutely magnificent little gem. The above picture was the best I could get. Turn the Ammonite some degrees and you will get a totally different appearance. I really don't know what more to say about it. I am just really glad that it is there.

This knife stands out as an absolutely perfect example on how all the small pieces of a design add up to something a lot more than the sum of its' parts. It's like an expensive car or an expensive watch. It gives you that special feel and its' quality is instantly recognized. A very important difference, however, is that this magnificent blade has not only one, but two souls in it. A large chunk which is from Mr. Rodrigue, and I feel he has succeeded to incorporate a good piece of my heart and soul as well. I can feel that when I am holding the knife. It is like closing my eyes, imagining the perfect knife in my hand and when I open my eyes "The Black Pearl" is there.

So, it takes a while, and it is not cheap, and if you rather want a good main stream knife quickly without paying a lot, call one of the several good shops importing Japanese blades and selling pre made blades from good makers. Ask someone at or A lot of good guys there that will be more than happy to help you out.
For me, a good knife quickly was not what I was looking for (this time). I have all that I can use and more of that kind. I wanted to go full custom and to be able to interact, or at least contribute in the making even though I was an ocean away. Did I get it? Yes, yes, and more so. I have gotten the knife of my dreams through this joint venture with Mr Rodrigue. His exeptional skills as a knifemaker and his ability to put some of my more or less quirky whishes and ideas to life made this happen.
But no matter how much i treasure "The Black Pearl", the most surprising and valuable thing that came out of this adventure was the forging of a good friendship. I am very greatful and proud to be able to call Pierre Rodrigue my friend. If you want an exciting knife making journey getting to know a true gentleman and one of the very best knifemakers out there, and a magnificent one-of-a-kind knife to top the whole thing off, send him a note.

My next whish is to be able to sit with Mr. Rodrigue in his back yard some day. Talk knives, drinking cold beers and slice a perfect BBQ roast for dinner with "The Black Pearl". That would be going full circle to me.


Up next: Captain of "The Black Pearl" - The user experience