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Watanabe Professional Nakiri First Impression (with updates in the future)

As my CHOWHOUND friends know, I have ordered a custom made Watanabe nakiri bocho knife from Mr. Watanabe Shinichi (渡辺真一). To summarize, it is a knife based on the standard 180 mm Aogami #2 (blue paper steel #2) core nakiri knife with a thin blade customization:

http://www.watanabeblade.com/english/...

The blade was requested to be thinned to 3.5 mm at spine heel and taper to 1.0 mm at the spine tip. The actual product I received is 3.0 mm at spine heel and taper to 1.0 mm at spine tip – pretty close to my request. Due to the blade customization, the kurouchi finish was removed and resulting a polished finish. The knife was made in 2 weeks and shipping to me in 3 days – though it took me another 2 days to pick it up from the postal office. I am very happy with the production speed, shipping speed... etc.

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  1. Here I have uploaded some photos and will discuss the positives and negatives from my first impression.

    The first photo is a comparison between the Watanabe Nakiri (top) to the Tanaka nakiri (bottom), showing that the Watanabe nakiri is slightly longer and wider/taller.

    The second photo compares the spine thickness between the Watanabe nakiri (left) and Tanaka nakiri (right), showing the Watanabe is slightly thinner for most of the blade length expect at the very tip where the Tanaka is slightly thinner. The photo may not do them justice here.

    The third photo shows the Watanabe nakiri overall blade grind. its blade suddenly tapers down faster at 1 cm (3/8 inch) above the cutting edge. In other words, it converges especially fast 1 cm from the cutting edge.

    The fourth photo shows the Tanaka nakiri overall grind. It is a bit more complicated. It tapers down fast 1.5 cm to 1.0 cm away from the edge and then slows down. In short, it tapers fast right after the end of the kurouchi line (see the first photo).

     
     
     
     
    1. The fifth photo shows the engraved signature of the two knives. I also want to mention that the Watanabe spine has been rounded and smoothed out, but the heel area is still rough. I will smooth it out in the future.

      The sixth photo is a close up for the engraved Shinichi signature. Reading from top to bottom, it is 真一作 (Shinichi Made).

      The seventh photo shows the handle area which has a lot of gaps between the steel and the insert in the wood, and between the bolster/ferrule and the wood.

      The eighth photo shows there is minor but visible gap between the handle and the bolster.

       
       
       
       
      1. The bolster/ferrule area is probably the weakest aspect of my Watanabe knife. The blade is straightly aligned with the handle. The fit and finish of the bolster/ferrule area is functional, but not polished. These are minor problems for me. I have put some beesmax and sealed all the gaps and holes. Similar to Dave5440 experience for his Watanabe Deba bocho, my Watanabe Nakiri bocho is well sharpened out of the box. It can push cut printer papers, though not smooth. The overall grind around the edge is fairly smooth. There is no overgrind or undergrind area. In other words, there is no noticeable "wavy edge". The blade is also fairly straight. Dave's post on his Watanabe Deba bocho knife:

        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/794174

        I have sharpened it through 1000, 2000, and 5000 grit waterstones. The knife can shave arm hair and push cut paper even better than before. However, it is not as smooth as I think it can be, and I know it can be better. Along the edge, some sections can push cut papers better than other sections. I have already sharpened it twice, but I will do a more thorough job when I have time. Today, I really wanted to make dinner and did not want to spend too much time.

        I compared its food preparation performance with the much cheaper Tanaka nakiri which was also sharpening today. The two knives performed similarly on tomatoes and Cubanelle peppers, but the Watanabe noticeably performed better on the yams. I only used the Watanabe on the onion, and it cut very nice.

        Needless to say, the edge holding ability is fine after one cooking session, but then most of my knives can handle at least one cooking session, so it isn't saying much. I will use the knife a few more times with additional sharpening and reprofiling, and will do an update later.

        So far, I do consider it a very good knife and has slightly better performance than the Tanaka nakiri. Does the price justify its $277 price tag? I think that depends how you look at it. From a pure performance angle, I am guessing that you can probably get much of the same performance from a $40 Tanaka nakiri. On the other hand, this Watanabe nakiri is made to personal specifications from an experienced blade shop lead by Mr. Watanabe Shinichi, so it is good deal from this sense.

        1. Hi, Chem:

          Let me be the first to congratulate you on having *just* what you want! There is great value and satisfaction in having a tool you spec'd, something that is yours alone. Our culture would be a far happier one if everyone did what you have done, at least once. You enjoy!

          And if the ferrule/handle ever bother you, they are easily set right, again to *your* specifications.

          Aloha,
          Kaleo

          3 Replies
          1. re: kaleokahu

            Hi Kaleo,

            Thanks for stopping by and I appreciate your warm congratulation. The ferrule/bolster/handle area does not bother me at all. It is a very easy fix. I just put some beeswax and it is the end of it. However, I wanted to mention it because many people do care about the fit and finish of all aspects of a knife and I do not want to skip anything which may be important information for others.

            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

              Hi, Chem:

              I am happy that you are happy.

              If ever you would like a nice mokume ferrule and wood from a special tree...

              Kaleo

              1. re: kaleokahu

                :) Oh I almost forgot. You are a knife maker (part time?) too. If I need to customize the knife handle/ferrule, I will let you know. You should start to auction your handles like Bob and then you may get pay a lot and you can quit your day job. As of now, your day job will pay you better than your part time hobby job.

          2. Congrats on the new knife Chem. Nice quick turn over for basically a custom blade.

            First off, glad to hear there's no grinding issues. That would be a huge disappointment, but any time you get a handmade blade, you worry. First hurdle cleared.

            I couldn't quite tell from the description/pics - how's the thickness behind the edge? Related question - any thoughts on reprofiling at all, even a minor job? Am I jumping the gun?

            How are you liking the handle? The height? The overall feel? I believe you've said you reach for your nakiri first on most jobs - is this to be your new first-line knife?

            On sharpening - I often find that despite however much I try to follow existing geometry, it often takes me a couple sessions with a knife before I start getting the type of sharpness I like in a nice, quick, easy session. Do you find the same?

            Thanks for the thorough review. Hope your new knife brings you many years of enjoyment.

            4 Replies
            1. re: cowboyardee

              Thanks cowboy. Yes, it is really good that there is no major grinding issue. During the sharpening, I realized that the grinding is not perfectly flat. My bevel line is not perfectly straight which means the area being ground away is not even. Still, it is very minor and for all practical purpose the grind is good.

              I don't have a caliper. When I get one, I will report the thickness behind the edge. I do know its thickness behind the edge is not thin. The Watanabe is slightly thinner than the Tanaka nakiri, but nothing close to a CCK. I certainly plan on reprofiling the knife by thinning the area behind the blade.

              I like the handle. It aligns well with the knife spine. The burned chestnut wood handle is pretty nice, providing some grips but also some waterproof ability. The knife width/height (distance between spine to edge) is good. It is a bit taller than my Tanaka nakiri, but I wanted that way so I didn't request a customization change of it. I have been rotating using many knives as my first line of knife. My Tojiro DP gyuto, Tanaka nakiri, CCK Chinese small cleaver, CarboNext Santoku all work very nicely. Currently, the Tojiro gyuto and CarboNext santoku are away from home.

              Yes, I have the same experience as you do on sharpening new knives. It often takes me a couple of sharpening sessions to reveal the true cutting ability along the entire edge.

              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                Your new baby looks very nice chem, I am kind of suprized at the fit of the ferrule, I checked mine after I read your post but I can't see a gap , but then I didn't put my glasses on or use a magnifying glass either so there could be a gap, i'll add that to the to do list. I really like the handle on yours as well.

                1. re: Dave5440

                  Thanks Dave. I am still looking forward for your update on your Watanabe Deba. Don't forget after you breaking down a fish or sharpen the deba knife. By the way, I don't think we ever asked you: specifically what did you customized on your Deba. In my case, I asked to have a nakiri slightly thinner than the Watanabe's default knife. What about you? I know you requested some customizations. (You can answer in your own Deba post, so people in the future can know more about that Watanabe knife).

                  The ferrule didn't really bother me. As mentioned in other posts, I sealed off the gap with beeswax. Yeah, I actually like the burned chestnut wood handle.

                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                    I'm not sure if it needed to be customised, All I asked for was a shorter version that wasen't hammer finished with a thick spine , I just assumed it was a stock item and I was cool with any handle.

            2. Congrats Chem. Your knife collection is growing with some really nice additions. I wish you a lifetime of enjoyment with your hobby.

              8 Replies
              1. re: scubadoo97

                Nice score Chem congrats.I noticed you didn't mention stropping as part of your routine.

                It might help smooth out the "rough"spots.Did you notice any reaction(weird smell,discoloration) when you cut your onion?Aogami #2 is notorious for this.

                1. re: petek

                  I do strop, but not seriously like you guys. I strop on bare leather and it does help remove minor burr. Well, I know it does make all my knives cut better. Is it because the strop removes the burr or is it because it provides some sort of buffing? That I don't know.

                  I didn't notice any weird smell or discoloration of my onion, but I didn't pay very close attention either. I do know that my CCK Chinese cleaver used to really discolor my onion from white to yellow. I would cut half of the onion with my CCK carbon steel Chinese cleaver and half of it with Dexter-Russell stainless steel Chinese cleaver, and the cut onion pieces from CCK are yellowish while the onion pieces from Dexter are white. However, after CCK acquired its patina, I have seen less of it. I think it is just a reaction between the onion with the carbon steel. As such, I would think white paper steel (shirogami) would be more noticeable than blue paper steel (aogami). I will pay closer attention for to the onion next time.

                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                    I get a lot of metallic smells and my onion dices turn gray if I'm using my cheapo blue steel knives. I always use stainless for onions.

                    1. re: scubadoo97

                      Now that Pete and you mentioned it, I will pay much closer attention next time. I have seen my onions turn yellow, but not gray.

                    2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      "I do strop, but not seriously like you guys. I strop on bare leather and it does help remove minor burr. Well, I know it does make all my knives cut better. Is it because the strop removes the burr or is it because it provides some sort of buffing? That I don't know"

                      Well,I'm hardly a serious stropper,but I do notice a difference even after my highest grit stone(6k Arashiyama),I don't know the science behind it I just know it works.
                      The first time I used my Moritaka gyuto on a bag of onions,the smell and discoloration kinda freaked me out,but like you said after a while and a nice patina it became less and less noticeable.

                      So what's next on the list for you Chem? Maybe a single bevel or a honesuki? :D

                      1. re: petek

                        :) I am more of a Chinese cleaver person, but so far my CCK Chinese cleaver is working nicely and there isn't really a good custom maker for Chinese cleaver for a good price. The next on my list will be an usuba bocho knife, but I probably will try to avoid spending too much on that one. The reason is that I want an usuba is to get good at the katsuramuki rotary peeling cut, but I want to get good at it before buying an expensive one.

                        Honesuki also looks nice, but I don't debone/break up a chicken very often. There are so many possible things to get at this point. My upper stone is a 5000 grit stone, so maybe I can get a natural waterstone, but most natural waterstones do not sold by the grit system and you often have to just go by what the seller say as languages of "smooth", "very smooth", "extremely smooth", "very extremely smooth".... and they often cost above $200. I can also get a honing system with diamond spray and everything.

                  2. re: scubadoo97

                    "I wish you a lifetime of enjoyment ...."

                    Thanks scuba with your kind words. :) Although the phrases sound like I am moving away and not be coming back anymore. I will be around. You cannot get rid of me so easily :P

                  3. A minor reprofiling was done to slightly thin out the blade behind the edge. The knife was lay down flat to the stones to hit the area behind the edge, but not the edge. Started off with a DMT extracoarse stone (not extra extra coarse), then 1000 grit stone, then a few light swap on 2000 grit to produce a mist/haze finish. This is illustrated in photo 1 and 2. I am was unable to produce a very straight grind line in the second photo because the original grind is not perfectly even.

                    A very fine line is seen running along each side of the edge. Those are not bevel lines. I believe it is the clad line between the Aogami (blue paper) carbon steel core and the stainless steel cladding. I have also rounded off the heel area, so it is less sharp.

                    The edge was also sharpened from 1000 to 2000 to 5000 grit stones, and stropped on a bare leather. I cut a quarter of an onion using this Watanabe nakiri and another quarter using a stainless steel Dexter Russell knife. Neither knife discolored the chopped onion pieces. In photo 3, the onion pieces on the left are from the stainless steel Dexter-Russell knife, and the onion bits on the right are from the Watanabe aogami core blade. I can smell that iron scent from the freshly sharpen Watanabe knife, so I am sure it does react with the onion, but apparently not enough to discolor the onion. I hope this short update answer some of the earlier questions. Thanks.

                     
                     
                     
                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      "the clad line between the Aogami (blue paper) carbon steel core and the stainless steel cladding"

                      I guess I missed this part,no wonder there's no discoloration :D my bad......

                      1. re: petek

                        Oh yes, the Watanabe nakiri is stainless steel cladded with the Yasuki blue paper steel, so most of the exposed knife blade is the stainless steel. That being said, the foods definitely see the exposed carbon steel edge and cut by it. My CCK chinese cleaver was a laminated carbon steel knife. and it had no problem turning my onion yellow. At first, I wasn't sure if the onion itself is yellow or not, which lead me to do that side by side comparison between the Dexter-Russell stainless steel knife against the CCK carbon steel knife.

                    2. This is a final update after two weeks of kitchen use without sharpening. The edge has remained relatively sharp. Most sections of the knife edge remained sharp enough to push cut a printer paper and shave arm hair. Though 1/5th of the edge sections could no longer push cut a paper. I have just thinned and sharpened the knife again. The cutting edge is very easy to bring back.

                      To reiterate an earlier point, the Watanabe Professional Nakiri is made of an Aogami core cladded between two stainless steels. The attached photo illustrates this. The tiny and polished line is the edge bevel. The semi-wavy line above it is the clad line where the Aogami steel meets stainless steel.