A note on machi gaps
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.
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.
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.
I think you're very right about that.
I may understand machi gaps - but still think the knife looks unfinished.........
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.
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.
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.
That is a very valid point! So many times a knife had appealed to me aesthetically but disappointed functionally and vice versa
Originally Posted by JBroida
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.