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Japanese or North American - who makes a better knife?

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Josh

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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?
 

tk59

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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. :poke1:

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

Pensacola Tiger

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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.

Rick
 

Marko Tsourkan

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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.

M
 

euphorbioid

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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.
 

mainaman

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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.
 

Cadillac J

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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 knives...so 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.
 

Lefty

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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!
 

JohnnyChance

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I think they are nearly impossible to compare directly. Apples and oranges as they say. Not because of how they are made or style or whatever, but because of their price points and target markets. There are basically 2 kinds of kitchen knives that are made in America. Super ****** Lamson/Chicago Cutlery type stuff that every knife service uses to supply house knives to restaurants, and full blown customs. I do not believe there is any decent, mid range kitchen knife mass produced in North America. In Japan, you have tons of manufacturers who make a lot of great knives in decent quantities. There are super cheap ones too, so I suppose you could compare low end American to low end Japanese, but what's the point? What is the western equivalent of a Konosuke, Artisugu, Hiromoto, Tojiro, Shigefusa, etc? There really isn't anything in that $100-400 range. The DT ITK line and some of Murray Carter's knives are in this range, but that is basically still one guy cranking them out and there is usually still a wait. And when you get into customs from Japan, they really aren't the same as customs from American makers. Most prefer to make you anything, as long as it is in their preferred steel, in a traditional shape, which some may or may not let you tweak. You aren't getting ladder pattern damascus, curly koa and mammoth tooth handles with mosaic pins. Although, they are usually cheaper than high end custom Americans. Some just charge a relatively small percentage increase over their regular knives.

They are both great, for their own reasons. Enjoy them both, be glad you have so many options.
 

Salty dog

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To each his own.

I guess I'll judge that by the knives I gravitate to and use the most.

Japanese.
 

goodchef1

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I believe that American knives have tradition also, although not as old as Japan, but tradition nonetheless, Japan has innovation also, with new steels, HT's and other stuff from companies like Nenohi.

For that price range, which is not a lot in the knife world, I don't think that there is actually one better then the other, and the differences in performance would not be as easily noticeable.

Knife makers are a close nit group and from what I've learned, support and learn from each other. Its us consumers that make these kinds of rivalries. I think preferences should be applied rather then "who's better" :D
 

ajhuff

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I think it's apples and apples. Hand crafted vs hand crafted, they are on equal pairings.

-AJ
 

Cnimativ

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For mass market knives, Japan certainly makes better knives.

For artisan knives, it should be evaluated on a vender and type of knife basis with different venders have different strengths and specialties.
 

sudsy9977

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i know exactly who i'd send my money to to make a knife if i had that kinda scratch....he ain't on the forums either....i ain't gonna tell though so their list doesn't get any longer in case i win the lottery!.....ryan
 

Josh

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i know exactly who i'd send my money to to make a knife if i had that kinda scratch....he ain't on the forums either....i ain't gonna tell though so their list doesn't get any longer in case i win the lottery!.....ryan
I've never seen a Japanese maker on the forum... does that mean he's Japanese?
 

EdipisReks

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i know exactly who i'd send my money to to make a knife if i had that kinda scratch....he ain't on the forums either....i ain't gonna tell though so their list doesn't get any longer in case i win the lottery!.....ryan
a Jay Fisher Saussure?
 

Eamon Burke

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Mass market--Japan. Custom, America. There are a lot of steps in the knife making process a lot of Japanese shops and makers do sloppily or poorly because of tradition and cultural standards, like proper annealing, preventing overgrinds, handle fitment, drying woods, etc. The factory steel is better, I'll take Tojiro over Dexter Russel any day.
 

AFKitchenknivesguy

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Just my opinion, but it matters what you prefer to use them for. Since I am a meat and potatoes guy, I will go for American made. I simply don't use japanese knives often because I don't prepare asian food much. Pretty simple to me.
 

shankster

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Just my opinion, but it matters what you prefer to use them for. Since I am a meat and potatoes guy, I will go for American made. I simply don't use japanese knives often because I don't prepare asian food much. Pretty simple to me.
Are you saying you can't use American made knives to make Asian cuisine and Japanese knives for meat and potatoes?
That's just crazy talk...:scratchhead:
 

AFKitchenknivesguy

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No, I am saying it's my preference to use them in the manner I prefer to use them for. I have a few j-gyuto's, notably Nenox's, that I use on a regular basis for meat and potatoes. I am all about the crossover; I used a konosuke to open a frozen vegetable package the other day. ;)
 

Chef Niloc

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Mass market--Japan. Custom, America. There are a lot of steps in the knife making process a lot of Japanese shops and makers do sloppily or poorly because of tradition and cultural standards, like proper annealing, preventing overgrinds, handle fitment, drying woods, etc. The factory steel is better, I'll take Tojiro over Dexter Russel any day.

I agree with this 100%
when it comes to the old saying "j- knives are better" I think that's people comparing misono, nenox ext. to Dexter and Chacogo cutlery. I think Americans lost there love/need for high end kitchen knives 70+ years ago. Still to this day we live in a disposable kitchen environment. If it were not for the "craze" in food brought on by food network and top chef I don't think high end let alone custom kitchen knives would be what they are today, some of you can remember the pickings 10-15 years ago?
So IMHO American custom blade smiths are now and have been for a long time better then there Japanese counterparts, they just have not been making kitchen knives. American makers have spent the past few generations making hunting knives and tactical folders because that's what payed the bills. As far as kitchen knives go I don't have a single J-knife that can out preform the blades made by Bill, Bob, Butch, Michael, and Hoss and if it were not for the replaceable ease factor of my Nenox knives I would solely use knives by sad makers....well them and Heiji,why can't he just move to the US??
PS F Dexter russell for destroying American cutlery, Lamson you suck too...and WF sucks infinity :bat::rolleyes2:
 

rockbox

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From the knives I have seen, I prefer American, but I don't think we have seen the best that Japan has to offer. I doubt any of us other than Jon has seen the best customs from Japan. I know there are knives that Jon carries the he can not post on his web site or on this board because of his contractual obligations with the maker. I bet the top Japanese makers could care less about the American market because they have multi year waiting list in Japan just like Bob has here.
 

oivind_dahle

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Colin - The best knife you ever had? (not bang for the bucks, just the best, without thinking price here)
 

Mattias504

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OD, I'm thinkin that hes gonna say his Burkes. Its funny that I swear by Nenox and Heiji as well. I sadly must say that I haven't used a knife by an American maker other than Murray yet but am patiently waiting to decide on what that would and will be. My only problem is that I can't afford a full blown custom ATM nor do I have the patience to wait a year + for one....
 

Ichi

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Japanese or North American - who makes a better knife? Japanese !

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?
Some old guy in Japan ! :thumbsup2:
 

Chef Niloc

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Colin - The best knife you ever had? (not bang for the bucks, just the best, without thinking price here)
A question I can not answer. I'm still trying hard to decide. There are still a few knives I must get to make up my mind. Till then I can only give you my favorite, Burke Suji, must be the best suji made?
 
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