This article from the upcoming Q-Code Magazine is reproduced with kind permission from the author Stephen Roberts.
It’s not often that the moment you hold a product for the first time you have to review your entire opinion of something. Yet that is what happened the first time I handled my soon to be purchased TOG knife.
I went to talk to Robert Beagley-Brown, the designer of the TOG knife range, at his house while I was traveling to Devon. Both of us had travelled to Japan in our youth, me for an aborted stag do on the way to a wedding in Australia and Robert as a designer-in-residence at the Oribe Design Centre in Gifu, Japan. It was during his tenure at the Oribe Design Centre that Robert was partnered with a Japanese knife making company and had designed a set of knives that could be removed from the handle so that they could be sent away for professional sharping in the mail. Herein lay the genesis of the TOG knife.
The handle of the knife is made from Kebony and is the colour of a deep and rich mahogany. Kebony itself is a Norwegian eco alternative to traditional hardwood. Harvested from FSC certified maple, the wood is treated with a bio-waste liquid using heat and pressure resulting in a hard, durable and water resistant material. This results in a wood that feels like it has a surprising weight behind it. Robert brought out a slab of Kebony from his kitchen to give me a true feel of its weight, all I can say is that if he starts making chopping boards from it I will be at the front of the queue to buy one.
The knife itself is beautiful. The blade is forged in the Japanese city of Seki which is renowned for its Japanese swords and it is made in the traditional method of folding layers upon layers of the metal back on itself. Yet in this knife, they have introduced a surprising counterpoint to the traditional low carbon/high carbon steel layering method and this is what starts to set this knife apart from any of its competitors. The knives that TOG produces are made from laying 21 layers of folded metal on themselves. However Rob has decided to layer the traditional steel with cooper. These 10 layers of cooper folded into the blade leave you with these beautiful red-orange waves weaving their way through the steel from bolster to tip. As I held the knife in my hand moving the knife so that it could catch the light you can see the very subtle Damascus pattern that results from this process subtly shifting as the light catches the blade.
I left Rob’s house with one of the small paring knives from the range (I already have a good selection of chef’s knives and cleavers) and Robert’s warning that I should be careful when I use the blade as it sharp and there had been some blood drawn from accidents among his customers due to the sharpness. However I didn’t actually get around to trying the knife for the first time until a few days later.
When I pick up my TOG Knife to use for the first time, the thing that strikes me the most is just how well balanced it is and how much it feels like an extension of my arm. The Kebony handle gives you a reassuring weight that anchors the knife in your palm and giving you sense of quality that something solid can give you. This is helped in no small measure by the ‘Scoops’ that are positioned on either side of the handle towards the read of the knife These scoops allow you little finger to curve around the butt of the handle further anchoring the blade into a position that makes the blade feel effortless with use. It’s the combination of the craft that is involved in the manufacture of the blade combined with design of the handle that results in the most surprising feature of this knife, its feel.
Traditionally the Japanese would test the sharpness of their swords by a process known as Tameshigiri and legend would have it that this was occasionally practiced on the living with some of the sharpest swords being able to cut right through a person in a single stroke. Nowadays you are more likely to have heard of a knife being tested on a tomato, where the sharpness of the knife is judged on whether the knife’s own weight can cut a tomato when it is pulled across the skin with no downward force being applied. However, neither of these techniques is that relevant to everyday use. In the first few days that I used it, my TOG was used to cut everything from brisket to broccoli. It handled everything with I threw at it with ease. When it comes to cutting the TOG is the sharpest knife I have ever used bar none.
Have I managed to cut myself with my TOG knife in the month or two that I have now been using it? Yes, I did manage to conduct a little bit of Tameshigiri on myself. I didn’t end up drawing blood but I also did not feel it at all either. If you only buy one knife in the next few years, buy a TOG knife. Just be careful with it, as it is incredibly sharp!