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View Full Version : A note on machi gaps



JBroida
07-19-2013, 05:36 AM
I know that many on here do not like them, so i thought i would take some time to explain a bit about them. First, the biggest thing to know is that there are regional differences in aesthetics. Kanto tends to like large gaps, while kansai does not. However, most knife makers/retailers/wholesalers in japan will still leave them if it makes more sense to than not. However, on request from many us retailers, many wholesalers in japan have started installing the handles flush with the handle. So, the question becomes "why leave a gap?"

There are a few reasons the gaps are left... here are some of the top ones

-When the neck of the knife is short (which can happen for a variety of reasons or sometimes none at all), the spacing between the choil and the handle becomes important. This space should be large enough to fit about 80% of your middle finger when holding the knife in a pinch grip. Smaller than this will be too small and is uncomfortable to hold. Larger than this will be too loose and can make rotary control of the knife more difficult than it should be. 80% or so gives enough space for the finger to fit, but is tight enough that the finger is still in contact with the handle for rotational stability. Also, what i have just said is based on what one would expect for a gyuto. Ideal sizes will be different based on knife types, expected grips, intended customers, etc.

-Handle installation... This is not only for ease of installing handles in the traditional japanese way (which is easier than using epoxy, allows for easier handle replacement, and removal of handles for maintenance), but also allows for knife placement relative to the handle. Knives with no machi will have a spine that is significantly lower than the top of the handle for example. On significantly harder woods (like ebony), the tang with the machi makes installation significantly easier with less chance of the wood cracking (which can be a problem with ebony).

Here are the top reasons i hear for people not wanting machi gaps...

-Food gets stuck. I've used knives with machi gaps for many years, both at home and in professional kitchens. This area is almost always covered with your hand and is not generally at risk for food getting stuck. If food does get in there, its a long way from being stuck, and comes out with general knife cleaning. If you find food accumulating, the chances are you may not be taking care of your knife well enough in my opinion. I've seen a wide number of knives from a wide number of people. I see just as many very dirty knives with no machi as i do dirty ones with a machi. I would venture to say, a dirty knife is more a function of the user than the knife design.

-It catches on your finger. I've found this to be the case with very large machi gaps or on some lower end knives that have machis that extend beyond the handle in width (or height depending on how you think about it). However, after significant testing, i've found that on knives with normal sized machi gaps, if this turns into a problem, it is most often the result of the use of an improper grip. When knives are held properly, your fingers dont really make contact with this area in a way than can catch.

-And of course, some people just dont like the way it looks... actually, this one is the reason i understand best.

The reason i say this, is that sometimes i ask makers to reduce or remove the machi gaps based on customer requests. However, i have a stipulation i have discussed with them. I would prefer that if and when they reduce the gap, they do it to an extent that does not sacrifice the ability to grip and use the knife well.

Anyways, hope this helps make sense of this to some of you.

-Jon

dmccurtis
07-19-2013, 06:06 AM
Great information, I think it will enlighten a lot of people. It seems to me that, like with many features of Japanese knives, many people dislike gaps due to particularly western aesthetic ideals (i.e. a gap looks 'unfinished') without considering that it is a product of very careful design. For what it's worth, aesthetically, I prefer a gap.

JBroida
07-19-2013, 06:08 AM
many people form opinions without understanding why things are done the way they are (not just in the knife world)... this is why i spend so much time learning and training. I like being able to answer questions like this and provide a bit more insight. I think the more people understand, the better... And asking why is a very important part of this.

dmccurtis
07-19-2013, 06:12 AM
I think you're very right about that.

geezr
07-19-2013, 06:23 AM
Thanks Jon.
I may understand machi gaps - but still think the knife looks unfinished.........

JBroida
07-19-2013, 06:28 AM
if you had to choose, would you prefer a knife that works the way its supposed to or one that looks the way you want. I know many will want to answer both, but this isnt always an option. Even on custom knives, the handle installation reasons alone will come into play. Every time you remove a handle for maintenance, it will fit back on a bit looser, so the gap may become smaller overtime anyways. Even when the handle uses a pin to keep the tang installed, it will likely still have a looser fit over time.

Anyways, if looks are the most important thing, you can always have things made that way. I just want people to understand more before making that decision.

Brad Gibson
07-19-2013, 07:05 AM
Thanks for posting this Jon. I didn't have any idea why these were left and it makes a lot of sense. I still remain hating the looks of the machi gaps. I would have a really hard time spending any big money on a knife with a machi gap on it.

knyfeknerd
07-19-2013, 08:56 AM
Nice Jon, thanks for clarifying this. Especially the measurement aspect of fitting to the middle finger.
I had an uncomfortable machi gap on a Hattori (The KF "designed" one) that really pinched the heck out of my finger.
The one on my Suisin IH doesn't bother me in the least.
I dunno, sometimes I like the way they look, sometimes not.

Von blewitt
07-19-2013, 09:18 AM
if you had to choose, would you prefer a knife that works the way its supposed to or one that looks the way you want. I know many will want to answer both, but this isnt always an option. Even on custom knives, the handle installation reasons alone will come into play. Every time you remove a handle for maintenance, it will fit back on a bit looser, so the gap may become smaller overtime anyways. Even when the handle uses a pin to keep the tang installed, it will likely still have a looser fit over time.



Anyways, if looks are the most important thing, you can always have things made that way. I just want people to understand more before making that decision.

That is a very valid point! So many times a knife had appealed to me aesthetically but disappointed functionally and vice versa

NO ChoP!
07-19-2013, 09:40 AM
I like them! When I very first got into J knives, it was the Masamotos that the local sushi chefs used from Korin and JCK that I oogled, so I guess it just seems natural to me. I think they add aesthetically to the nimbleness of especially lasers and lighter knives.

Hattorichop
07-19-2013, 10:48 AM
I always leave the machi exposed a little bit. I like the way it looks and I also like to keep it traditional.
But too much machi=ugly

Zwiefel
07-19-2013, 11:43 AM
FWIW, my SIH occasionally pinches me...usually when I'm working "off board" on something large and trying to follow a curve in 3dimensions requiring a shifting grip. Then I stop, adjust my grip and move on w/o much trouble.


Every time you remove a handle for maintenance, it will fit back on a bit looser, so the gap may become smaller overtime anyways.

I've heard this a couple of times, but I don't understand what kind of maintenance you'd perform by removing/reinstalling the same handle. Would you give some examples?

Jim
07-19-2013, 01:10 PM
I do not want to seem augmentative, so take these comments as the devils advocate if you please- :)


-When the neck of the knife is short (which can happen for a variety of reasons or sometimes none at all), the spacing between the choil and the handle becomes important. This space should be large enough to fit about 80% of your middle finger when holding the knife in a pinch grip. Smaller than this will be too small and is uncomfortable to hold. Larger than this will be too loose and can make rotary control of the knife more difficult than it should be. 80% or so gives enough space for the finger to fit, but is tight enough that the finger is still in contact with the handle for rotational stability.Also, what i have just said is based on what one would expect for a gyuto. Ideal sizes will be different based on knife types, expected grips, intended customers, etc.


This statement could be read as to be more about adapting the handle to a knife that was not made correctly. I have never seen this gap with any of our local knife makers here at the KKF. Is it a case of just get them out the door?


-Handle installation... This is not only for ease of installing handles in the traditional japanese way (which is easier than using epoxy, allows for easier handle replacement, and removal of handles for maintenance), but also allows for knife placement relative to the handle. Knives with no machi will have a spine that is significantly lower than the top of the handle for example. On significantly harder woods (like ebony), the tang with the machi makes installation significantly easier with less chance of the wood cracking (which can be a problem with ebony).

Again, it seems like a case of expediency rather than quality here. Adjusting the installation to the tech rather than the end user seems back asswards.

apicius9
07-19-2013, 03:25 PM
Thanks for the clear explanation, Jon. I put a handle on one of my Carters with a machi and wish I hadn't for aesthetic reasons, it wouldn't make much of a difference for function. Of course, in this case it doesn't make much sense anyway because the handle is glued in...

Stefan

bikehunter
07-19-2013, 06:02 PM
Again, it seems like a case of expediency rather than quality here. Adjusting the installation to the tech rather than the end user seems back asswards.

I fully agree with Jim on this. I own 210 Tojiro "Zen" suji/slicer. No machi gap , looks and functions just fine. Hammered Yoshikane 240 gyuto (the one from JWW with chestnut handle). No machi gap. Looks and functions just fine. 240 Kagayaki gyuto, VG10 w/wa handle. Has substantial machi gap...BUT...is perfectly flush with handle. Looks and functions just fine. My point....if it wasn't perfectly flush with the handle, and was even slightly pointy...it would not be comfortable at all for the middle finger in a pinch grip. So, I can only conclude that if the maker is in too big a hurry to pay attention to the effect his, IMHO, careless work will eventually have on the end user (that's the...umm....CUSTOMER, hello).....he needs to pay more attention. Oh, and should point out that obviously these are not expensive knives, but are still right....for me.

JBroida
07-19-2013, 08:06 PM
I do not want to seem augmentative, so take these comments as the devils advocate if you please- :)



This statement could be read as to be more about adapting the handle to a knife that was not made correctly. I have never seen this gap with any of our local knife makers here at the KKF. Is it a case of just get them out the door?


Again, it seems like a case of expediency rather than quality here. Adjusting the installation to the tech rather than the end user seems back asswards.

Jim-
Often times i have seen many US custom makers not think about this spacing, and only concern themselves with not leaving gaps. Some, however, do consider the spacing and adjust the neck of the knife to the size they need to install the handle. However, once the handle in installed, it can not be removed for maintenance (in most cases i have seen). Therefore, i could not repolish an entire blade perfectly... there would always be that little area near the handle that wouldnt be correct. Likewise for thinning a blade perfectly. This same area will be missed, therefore creating a high spot in that area. Its not often a problem in food release or cutting, but will change the look of the knife over time. By installing the handle with a little room for play, the handle can be removed when refinishing is necessary... same for thinning. On handles i've seen that use pins to keep the handle in place, the handles can be installed flush with the machi, but as the handle is removed and replaced overtime, the fit becomes looser. By being able to put it back on a tiny bit further each time, this problem is minimized with the japanese way of installing handles.

On the subject of handles, the choice of handles actually has great thought behind it, as well as the way it is installed. Here, we tend to have different ways of doing things, but in japan there are certain things a chef does that makes the need to replace his handles from time to time greater than what we see here. Ho wood was picked as a handle material due to its resistance to cracking in extreme climate environments or environmental changes. Other woods do not have this same strength. For example, ebony is one of the woods i see the most cracking problems with. It also happens on ichii and rosewood from time to time. Stabilized woods are not popular either, due to not being able to be installed the same way. The handles are installed in this way to allow for easier removal and replacement, as i previously mentioned. This is because most japanese chefs at higher end restaurants will sand down their handles a bit from time to time to keep them clean looking. This is very important to the way the think about their work environment, as well as the customer perspective in Japan. This means that handles wear significantly more quickly there. Being able to replace them easily is more of a necessity than anything else. And being able to do it inexpensively is a plus as well. Ho wood is also liked due to the lightness, which relates to the balance of the blade. When ebony handles are used, the end user understands that he/she will need to care for the wood significantly more so as to not have it crack. Likewise, it will change the balance of the knife significantly... especially on lighter knives (wa-gyutos, etc.). Traditionally, you see this most often on higher end single bevel knives, where the knives are forward balanced enough that the ebony handle doesnt change the balance in a really negative way.

Hope this makes sense in relation to your comments above.

Also, because many of the makers now know that americans dont like the look of machi gaps, the knives they make for export dont have them.

I think its also important to keep in mind we are buying knives that are designed with the japanese chef in mind (that's their history)... not the american chef. So often times the knives will adhere more to japanese chef's values than american, as in the case of handle replacement here.

ChiliPepper
07-20-2013, 08:13 AM
Really nice post Jon, thanks for sharing with us your efforts and research. I guess one thing that stands out is that albeit many here are capable of appreciating very subtle differences in knives, the historical background is not always grasped. Posts like this are enriching.

Jim
07-20-2013, 11:27 AM
Thanks Jon, well said as always.

JBroida
07-20-2013, 01:53 PM
glad i could make some sense of this very confusing subject