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Thread: Japanese or North American - who makes a better knife?

  1. #1
    Senior Member Josh's Avatar
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    Apr 2011

    Japanese or North American - who makes a better knife?

    When I started learning and collecting kitchen knives, I thought only of purchasing Japanese knives. The discussions were explicitly "J-Knife" with the odd comments towards German and French makers.

    In the last couple of years of reading posts, and taking a step back to watch trends every now and then, I've noticed a shift - at least in this forum - towards North American made knives. There's no 700 year history and generation after generation of secrets being passed down within a family - a lot of the fine work I've seen is the result of real-world collaboration. Congrats by the way for the folks that make these things happen -

    So - My question - where do the best knives of the world come from - if you had $1000 to $1500 to buy the best knife you could for the money - who would make it?

  2. #2
    American, no questions asked!

  3. #3
    Senior Member
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    Feb 2011
    San Diego, CA
    There's only a handful of people around here that can possibly answer that one and I don't think you're one of them, OD.

    That said, I'm spending my first $1k+ on an American made knife.

  4. #4
    Senior Member

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    Feb 2011
    Pensacola, FL, USA
    I don't own a Kramer or a Burke, but based on the knives I do own, I'd have to give the nod to Michael Rader.


  5. #5
    Hype, Myths, Fit and Finish aside, a top quality knife should perform well in three areas: sharpness, edge retention and edge stability (resistance to chipping). A choice of steel and proper heat treatment will greatly affect a knife's performance. Makers like Thomas, Burke, Kramer pay great deal of attention to heat treating while also preferring alloyed steel like 52100 to simple carbon steels like W2 (similar to Japanese white and blue steels). The resulting knives feature fine grain structure, excellent edge retention and excellent edge stability. I think Collin has had an opportunity to use knives made by top American and Japanese makers in pro kitchen, and he can chime in.

    For me personally, it comes down to two things: tradition vs performance. Which one is better? It is up to a buyer to decide. I go for performance. For one thing, I don't have to deal with deburring as much.


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  6. #6
    Senior Member euphorbioid's Avatar
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    Feb 2011
    Quote Originally Posted by Josh View Post
    So - My question - where do the best knives of the world come from - if you had $1000 to $1500 to buy the best knife you could for the money - who would make it?
    Doesn't the answer depend on what you mean by best knife? Sorta like asking what is the best car - do you want to go real fast or ride in extreme comfort - two different cars, two different "best" cars.

    For my money I would go with a boutique Japanese maker of the type Jon Broida deals with. But the history of the craft, as you pointed out, is important to me. If I was looking for a flashy knife with cool damascus steel and all the trimmings, definitely American.

  7. #7
    One man's best knife is another mans average knife.
    It is a matter of preference, I am sure you can get good knives from each side of the ocean.
    I know I like convex grinds, whoever makes them does not matter as long as they are done right.

  8. #8
    Senior Member Cadillac J's Avatar
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    Mar 2011
    Personally, I never considered a "j-knife" to necessarily have to be made in Japan, but the styling that defines it into this category.

    DT ITKs were made in America by Devin, but mimicked Japanese gyuto designs, and gyutos in themselves are Japanese versions of western-styled it seems to come around full circle.

    The North American makers have been putting out some phenomenal work in the last year, and are definitely at the forefront of everyone's lists who is looking for a custom, but that isn't to say they are overall better than Japanese makers.

    After much trial and error over the years, I've found the 'best' knife for me to be Konosuke (or other super thin knives) that really aren't fancy at all.

  9. #9
    I rather blow 3k on a Burke over 1k on a Shigefusa

  10. #10
    Canada's Sharpest Lefty Lefty's Avatar
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    Mar 2011
    I'm with Caddy on his definition of "J-knife". It is in the styling, not necessarily where it was produced that makes a knife a j-knife.
    I've been very fortunate in that i've been able to handle knives of all many different makers, countries and styles. I remember when I was first trying the j knives on for size, a member who I can't recall said if I find j-knives impressive, I should wait until I try a "Western custom". Of course, with my new gyuto in hand, I believed the man to be crazy.
    However, based on what I have used (nothing in the broad spectrum, but more than most will in a long time), I'm giving a definite nod to North American makers.
    I think the advantage is that our knifemaking friends around here are always learning, always working to improve and always modifying certain aspects to find an improvement anywhere they can. The proof is in the Rodrigue, Rader and Fowler passarounds. These guys are at the top of the game, and they still want MORE!
    Tradition can work against the Japanese makers as easily as it can help them. If you don't like a bolster shape on Heiji, well you just might have to suck it up and marvel at the other beautiful details of the knife, and it's pure cutting pleasure.
    So the question is, "Tradition or Innovation-which breeds a better knife"?
    Put it this way. I currently have a Konosuke gyuto, in my kitchen, that makes me smile every time I touch it, but I keep reaching for my Carter, and praying for an email from Pierre saying my knife is ready!

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