Should I buy an usuba? Which one?

Discussion in 'The Kitchen Knife' started by kazeryu, Feb 29, 2012.

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  1. Feb 29, 2012 #1

    kazeryu

    kazeryu

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    My question can be summarized thusly: I'm pretty familiar with the care and feeding of sharp things in general, and lately I'm looking more closely at kitchen knives. I have a CCK and a gyuto and I've used a nakiri in the past, but now I'm curious about single-bevel knives. How much of a difference will I notice between a CCK and an usuba? And... please show me where I can look at some pretty ones.


    What type of knife(s) do you think you want?

    I'm tempted to try an Usuba... maybe splurge a little and get something with damascus cladding and/or an exotic handle.

    Why is it being purchased? What, if anything, are you replacing?

    Mostly because I'm curious about single-bevel knives. I'm also living with two other people now (was alone before) so I have a reason to cook more often that I would for myself.

    At the moment I have a cheapo stainless CCK which covers my needs pretty well. I just picked up a Masakage Yuki gyuto and a small Tojiro DP petty knife. Still trying to get used to the gyuto, which is pretty different from what I used before. (misc pocketknives, a cheap nakiri, a carbon steel butchers knife)


    What do you like and dislike about these qualities of your knives already?

    Aesthetics- Stainless bores me. Generic full tang with black pakkawood handles bore me. I don't like the plain Ho wood on my gyuto at all - I'm tempted to stain or oil it. The cladding on my gyuto has something like an ishime (ishismei?) finish which I enjoy.

    Edge Quality/Retention- The way I use my knives, these are "nice to have" but really not deciding factors. I don't use them that heavily and I can maintain/sharpen "good enough" that I'm not worried.

    Ease of Use/Comfort- If it doesn't shine at a particular task, it'll get left in the drawer. This one is really important.

    What grip do you use?
    According to your list, mostly Finger Point with some Hammer and other stuff thrown in.

    What kind of cutting motion do you use?
    Mostly push-cut and draw cut.

    Where do you store them?
    Lashed to the pilings of the closest pier. Or back in the box they came in, whichever is closer.

    Have you ever oiled a handle?
    Only on my khukuris, but the idea is the same.

    For edge maintenance, do you use a strop, honing rod, pull through/other, or nothing?
    In the past I used a ceramic rod and sometimes a plain leather strop.

    Have they ever been sharpened?
    I've done a fair bit of it, usually shooting for a convex edge rather than a crisp bevel, though.

    Stone, diamond plate, sandpaper+mousepad, etc.


    What is your budget?

    Tough question. I guess am looking for something in the 180 MM - 210 MM size range for less than $500.
     
  2. Feb 29, 2012 #2

    slowtyper

    slowtyper

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    What do you cook mostly?
     
  3. Feb 29, 2012 #3

    schanop

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    That's a good budget. Get Gesshiin Hide 210 Kamagata usuaba from Jon@JKI, but perhaps as a second single bevel knife. Since you haven't had any prior single bevel knife experience, an usuba will be a beast to maintain.
     
  4. Feb 29, 2012 #4

    kazeryu

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    Mostly I cook, um, "asian-inspired" food.

    At lot of my cooking does not involve recipes - I'll pick a protein and then check the spice cabinet and fridge for ideas. Seafood and pasta/noodles figure prominently. Trying to use more veggies these days. If I use beef or chicken it's almost always cut into bite-sized pieces for something resembling stir-fry. Sometimes I'll make a large pot of curry - I've done it from scratch before but I usually don't bother. I eat a lot of ramen-esque soup. I've never willingly baked or mashed a potato in my life. I'll cube them up and put them in soup or curry, or fry them in bacon grease, though.

    Does that help?
     
  5. Feb 29, 2012 #5

    mpukas

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    see this thread - http://www.kitchenknifeforums.com/showthread.php/3291-Usuba

    A usuba is not a general purpose knife that can be used in place of a cleaver/Chinese chef's knife. It is speacialized for fine cutting of soft vegetables. COMPLETELY different animal to the CCK. I've been CRAVING one for a long time, but have held off because the more I learn about them, the more I realize I don't really have a use for one. I will get one at some point, but it's not as high on my priority list as it once was - still hold a strong desire just to have one though.

    If you haven't seen it, check out JKS vid of Ueda-san;
     
  6. Feb 29, 2012 #6

    GlassEye

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    Usuba are very specialized for certain things, it is likely that it will not get much use unless you know that you need one. It is definitely not an all purpose knife like a cleaver, I usually pick up my kiritsuke over usuba for the extra versatility. If you are wanting to try out a single bevel knife, I would suggest something other than usuba.
     
  7. Feb 29, 2012 #7

    kazeryu

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    Thanks mpukas - perhaps I should clarify.

    Now that I have a gyuto and petty, I'm using the CCK mostly on bulk veggie processing. That's why I'm trying to compare it to an usuba.
    (I'm not planning on cutting meat or mincing garlic with an usuba.)
     
  8. Feb 29, 2012 #8

    schanop

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    Pick any one of these or these, based on how much you would like to spend, and you should be quite happy for your first usuba.
     
  9. Feb 29, 2012 #9

    mpukas

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    There are a couple of relatively inexpensive ones on ebay that I've been eyeing. I think there are laws about posting ebay links, so look up Blue Way Japan and Yoshihiro Cutlery - they both have ebay stores and both sell usubas. They may not be as good as the ones schanop linked to, but they are less expensive. It's been recomended to not get a cheap usuba, with about $150 being the low end of the scale. Since the edge is dead flat the entire length, it's inportant that the blade be straight and the grind good.

    Even for bulk veggie work, the CCK is going to be more verstaile. The usuba excels at katsuramuki and ken (needle) cuts. It's got a very fine edge and can't take abuse like a CCK or other veggie cleaver. It's not good for cutting through large items like squash or even larger potatoes and will steer. Not trying to disuade you from a usuba, just make sure you understand what your getting into.

    For a cleaver w/ better steel check out the Fanatic @ CKTG by He Who Shall Not Be Named.
     
  10. Feb 29, 2012 #10

    Deckhand

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    That video had me craving a baked potato
     
  11. Mar 1, 2012 #11

    mpukas

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    :laugh::laugh::laugh:
     
  12. Mar 1, 2012 #12

    Customfan

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    Its a good idea to go for one of the recommended by members of the forum..

    For what its worth... I pondered on the Usuba conundrum a while back and finally went with the Suisin 210mm Honyaki (The one from the video) when Korin was having their bi-anual sale.. I have not regretted my decision one moment.. its an awesome knife (Mirror finish and very nicely finished).

    What's more, its inspired me to try new japanese technique on my vegetables. Mainly sheets of cucumber, carrot, cucumbert, etc that I serve with my maki sushi.. among others, it takes some discipline and getting used to but its worth it, specially if you like that type of cooking.

    My suggestion is go for it and get some books/training so you can try something new! let us know what you get and best of luck!:doublethumbsup:
     
  13. Mar 1, 2012 #13

    schanop

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    I may be a little bit nuts about single bevel vegetable knives. The count is six at the moment, and I have already let go two of the cheapie ones (one under $60 and that was a real POS mistake, and another ~$150 which has quite a bad grind, but serviceable) via the bay. Get a good one, and you don't have to fight the knife so much to keep it straight and even. However, there are some virtues of the route I took: buy good, but still cheaper one, and learn to take care of it first.

    [​IMG]

    From the top:
    - Sakai Takayuki Aoniko Mirror Finish 210mm Kamagata Usuba
    - Sakai Ichimonji Kichikuni Shironiko 210mm Usuba (via BlueWayJapan, and I got lucky with this one that it is straight, and cheap)
    - Kanemasa Shironiko 180mm Mukimono
    - Aritsugu A-Type Kiritsuke 240mm (it is thin and behaves more like an usuba than a kiritsuke)
    - Shigefusa 210mm Kasumi Usuba, and Shigefusa 210mm Kitaeji Kiritsuke (but I want to call this piece a Hishigata Usuba)
     
  14. Mar 1, 2012 #14

    DwarvenChef

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    Nice collection you have there :)
     
  15. Mar 1, 2012 #15

    mpukas

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    Noice indeed!!!
     
  16. Mar 1, 2012 #16

    SameGuy

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    $180 for the Ichimonji? What are the potential pitfalls of ordering from BWJ?
     
  17. Mar 1, 2012 #17

    Deckhand

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    Ditto
     
  18. Mar 1, 2012 #18

    mikemac

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    Based on your comments and descriptions - I'd pass on the usuba, and pretty much on single bevel too. Single bevel is so specialized to specific tasks in Japanese cusine, and usuba so 'uber' specialized...I've owned 3 different singles, and while I know what they are supposed to be used for, and I've read how they are supposed to be used - it just doesn't come up in my western kitchen feeding a family of 5 on a daily basis....

     
  19. Mar 1, 2012 #19

    schanop

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    Thank guys. Not sure how long I can resist the growing family force :spiteful:

    Keiichi's service is super. You can always ask him to check the blade first. Ichimonji Kichikuni white steel line however might be a lottery draw. While I got quite a straight usuaba from this line, my deba came with a crook grind and warped tip, but it is still usable. Going up to blue steel line with octagonal handle is probably a safer choice.

    My other observation with Ichimonji Kichikuni single bevel knives is that they share very much the same marking as Monzaburo single bevel knives (I've got one little monzaburo ajikiri). If curious you can compare BlueWayJapan's pictures with AFramesTokyo's pictures, as well as some of Jon's pictures.
     
  20. Mar 5, 2012 #20

    kazeryu

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    A number people have mentioned that an usuba might be 'too specialized', but I'm not entirely clear on why people feel that way. Maybe I'm just too much of a novice to "get" it?

    The fact that I can do katsuramuki (spelling?) with it doesn't change the fact that it's a sharp flat knife suitable for veggies... or does it?

    Anyways, now I am wondering if I should try something like one of Watanabe's paring knives as a (significantly) cheaper method of test-driving a single-bevel knife.
     
  21. Mar 5, 2012 #21

    slowtyper

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    If you really want one, just go and get it IMO. Even though mine doesn't get a lot of use (pretty much only use it for katsuramuki), I like it a lot. When I slice super-thin scallions I find I am faster and get better results with a sharp gyuto, but that's probably me lacking technique more than the knife.
     
  22. Mar 6, 2012 #22

    SameGuy

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    I think I'll concur, but from the other side: I don't have one yet, and have read all the caveats offered up here and elsewhere... but I still want one, even if I'll only use it once in a while. Tonight I attempted my first cucumber katsuramuki with my big gyuto -- the only really good knife I own -- and was surprised at how well I did. I can only assume that a big, flat (or hollow) blade with a straight edge would be even better at it.
     
  23. Mar 6, 2012 #23

    schanop

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  24. Mar 6, 2012 #24

    geezr

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    Bought a kamagata usuba because I did not have one, and it is now the most used knife for veggies. Very comfortable for low volume home cook. :)
     
  25. Mar 6, 2012 #25

    schanop

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    Good to here that Hide Kamagata one is serving you well, geezr.
     
  26. Mar 9, 2012 #26

    kazeryu

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  27. Mar 9, 2012 #27

    mpukas

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    Looks like you chose a very nice knife. Haven't seen that maker talked about on this forum, so we're all going to be very curious to see how it is when you get it, and how you get along with it. Be sure sure to post some pics - Congrats!

    On another note - thanks for the link to the store. I also didn't know about Knifewear in Alberta. Looks like they have a very large selection of knives from many makers we do not see mentioned state side. I was particularly attracted to Masakage Koishi AS by Kato san 240mm Gyuto - AS steel w/ SS cladding - looks like this could be a winner...
     
  28. Mar 9, 2012 #28

    kazeryu

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