So, a little while ago I saw that up-and-coming Swedish maker Fredrik Spåre was sending a batch of honyaki over to Modern Cooking. I got a little excited and may have accidentally started a minor hype train rolling, so in the interest of balancing the hype with some actual information, I committed to reviewing my incoming Spåre against a top performer from my collection and sharing results from a head-to-head test. That top performer is my Kippington workpony, which is the reigning champ of midweight gyutos in my kitchen. When I get a new knife, this is usually the first side-by-side I do, and while it doesn't need to outcut the Kipp, it does need to hang reasonably close and at the very least be more fun for some task for me to keep it around. Did this fresh new maker on the scene pass the test? Read on to find out...
Edge Length: 231mm
Spine: 3.5mm out of handle, 3.2mm above heel, 0.8mm 1cm from tip
Steel: 26c3 (spicy white) at 66HRC, differentially hardened
Dimensions, Balance, and Ergonomics
Spåre collaborated with Peter at MC to develop the profile for this knife. From the MC account: "The profile is something that I developed, but I certainly took some inspiration from the likes of Masamoto and Kamon on that."
The profile has a nice flat spot with a small arc up at the heel and a solid curve starting about halfway along the edge. There is a discontinuity in the curve where the angle becomes steeper about 2" from the tip, and I'm curious whether or not this was intended. In use the profile feels like a hybrid of a Yoshi/Wakui flat profile towards the back (not quite the dead stop of a Yoshi) and a more rocking-oriented curved profile up front. I think this could suit a number of different cutting styles reasonably well, at the cost of both rockers and choppers/push cutters feeling like there's a little room for improvement.
Balance is nicely forward of a pinch grip, about a cm ahead of the makers mark. At the same time, the knife feels very nimble, without excess bulk at the handle or distal ends. It's neither authoritative nor wispy but a nice middle ground. The overall size of this knife is just perfect for me at 231x52. In terms of all these factors together, it's pretty much exactly what I'd order in a custom.
The handle is excellent. Bog oak is a winner in my book, feeling subtly textured but more refined than chestnut. The half octagonal/half rounded shape is comfy and I find the small size a welcome approach. I can understand folks with big mitts might not find it ideal but conversely, I find that a lot of wa handles are unnecessarily long by a huge margin for a pinch grip. For example, see the 225mm Kipp laser handle (149mm long) next to the Spare (120mm):
The heel and spine are nicely rounded to an even matte finish. Both are extremely comfortable in use, with absolutely no abrupt edges.
Fit/Finish and Aesthetics
This is a really attractive knife and feels great in hand. Horizontal sanded finish, nice wavy hamon pops fairly well, interesting narrow band of forge scale along the spine. The forge scale at the top of the blade face is a bit of a signature design choice for Spåre, including on his coreless damascus knives. I have to say I'm a little ambivalent about it--you get some added visual interest, but do you really need to steal the limelight from the hamon? I'm not entirely sold but it's grown on me a little as the knife develops a patina.
The fit and finish of the handle is outstanding, with absolutely no perceptible edges or transition between bog oak, spacer, and brass ferrule. And speaking of which, the hammered brass ferrule is an excellent touch and subtle bit of bling. The hammered indentations create a pattern of little golden reflections onto the neck in the right light which is just delightful:
Enough nitpicking, let's get to the important stuff.
I tested the Spåre side by side with my 245mm Kippington workpony for several meals, including dicing mirepoix, slicing mushrooms, mincing garlic, cutting up apples, and a few other tasks. Overall, it has very nice cutting feel, can take a killer edge, and has a really effective tip for fine cuts. It does not quite stand up to the Kipp WP in terms of absolute ease of cutting in most use cases--which, to be clear, is a very high bar--but it generally outpaced my other benchmark knife, the Yoshikane SKD.
The best way I can describe the cutting feel is like a slimmed-down Toyama, albiet with a bit more of a flat bevel that caused a bit more stiction on occasion. I used a flat edge to test convexity of the Spare, Kipp, and a few other knives side by side. My takeaway is that the Spare, while convex at the top of the grind and towards the edge, is ground pretty flat from maybe 5mm-20mm up the blade face. Maybe there's a little subtle convexity in there, but it's hard to detect. By comparison, the Kipp has very consistent convexity all the way up the grind, which is apparent in use.
Next to the WP, the Spåre consistently offered a bit more resistance on carrots midway through the cut but didn't meaningfully wedge or crack. Celery felt pretty comparable between the two. Onions were a very pleasant surprise--the tip is fantastic for horizontal swipes and it slices real smoothly. It does similarly well with finely mincing garlic. Vertical slices through apples, which I find are the bane of a lot of otherwise great knives, felt quite good--again, a little more resistance and stiction on some cuts than the Kipp, but a very respectable performance. The stiction was more pronounced and annoying with mushrooms, although this might get better as the patina develops. Potatoes were smooth and effortless. Zero skating on pepper or tomato skins.
In terms of durability and edge retention, I've had no issues from quite a bit of veg prep, though it does feel a little fragile. I got a small spot of microchipping from slicing up some crusty steak, which gave me an excuse to test it out on the stones a little earlier than I had planned. Comparing with Toyama (blue #2) comes to mind in terms of feel, very hard and crisp, albeit without the hint of gumminess. I think it may take some effort for me to duplicate the great initial edge it came with.
It's hard to evaluate Spåre's work without at least mentioning the price: I paid $345, including UPS shipping from Germany, for a spicy white honyaki. Compared to other high-performance knives in this price range (Yoshikane 240s are a little north of $300 these days, for example), this thing is unquestionably at another level from the standpoint of aesthetics and craftsmanship, and I would say is competitive to superior from a performance standpoint as well. The more relevant comparison class is with western makers charging $500-$600 or more, which I'll admit isn't a reference class I have a ton of experience with but in my limited experience the overall package would stand up well in that company.
A couple things that really stand out as notable successes in this design are the handle, overall dimensions and proportions, and tip performance. Overall performance is great and it's just a joy to use. The grind and profile are both very effective, but feel like there could yet be a little more room for refinement and optimization. I'm excited to see how Spåre's work evolves going forward... and hope I can still afford him for a while longer!