Tag Archives: japanese knives

Visit to Mr. Hiromune Takaba, Japanese Samurai Swordsmith

A huge part of the inspiration behind TOG Knives was a visit I made to a Samurai Swordsmith in Seki in 2004. It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done. Here is the email I sent home to friends and family just after I’d met him:

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Today I had the ridiculous honour of meeting a swordsmith. His name is Hiromune Takaba. He is one of 18 swordsmiths in Seki city which is about 30mins drive from Gifu where I’m based once again. Seki is one of 7 towns in Japan where katana (Japanese swords) are made. This meeting was only possible because Mr. Takaba happens to be a good friend of Mr. Furuta, one of the bosses at the Oribe Design Centre where I’m designing a range of kitchen knives for a Seki-based company.

Visit to Swordsmith to see Katana being made

Visit to Swordsmith to see Katana being made

Recipe for Katana Blade

(estimated swordsmithing time: 3 months)

1. First, make sure you are from a swordsmithing family. There are seven in Seki and probably a similar number in the other six towns. If you aren’t from one of these families, then forget it.
2. Collect steels from all over the world (including nails from 750 year old Japanese temple) – Sweden, Australia etc. From this steel the Japanese steel will be made.
3. Melt 100kg of steel in Japanese charcoal fire so it combines with charcoal and air and increases the carbon content. This is called Tamahagane steel. You will need 20 large bags of Japanese charcoal.
4. Break up into small pieces and repeat process many times.
5. Repeatedly heat and quench this steel in cold water.
6. Break apart steel to examine crystalline structure.
7. Repeat step 5 until you judge (with your 40yrs experience) the crystalline structure to be correct.
8. First forging process: repeatedly stamp small pieces of steel on firebed until all the air is squeezed out. Your 100kg of steel should have reduced to 1kg – the amount you need for the katana blade.
9. Main forging process: forge 450g of tamahagane steel 12 times, 375g high-carbon steel 8 times and 375g low carbon steel 6 times.
10. Pile these three types of steel together and forge a further ten times. Carefully monitor steel throughout forging process. You now have your Japanese steel (Watetsu).

To make blade:

11. Heat and stamp Japanese steel with hammer or stamping machine to form into rough blade shape.
12. Fold steel on itself 150 times to produce laminate structure, forging at low temperature and quenching each time. Any more than this and the sword is too soft and cannot be forged.
13. Continue to shape blade using a small hand hammer. Never remove any steel as it is too valuable. You should have estimated the amount of steel correctly at the start.
14. Apply ‘Yakibatsuchi’ Japanese soil to blade (but not cutting edge)
15. Fire at high temperature to harden steel. Soil will emphasis pattern created by forging process.
16. Put the blade through a tempering process.
17. Sign blade with your name and the date.
17. Send blade for sharpening and polishing (he doesn’t do this part of the process)

Then 40 other people are involved in making the handle and scabbard. A traditional scabbard is coated in Urushi laquer. This natural material is only available twice a year. Six coats are needed and it takes a long time to dry. So lacquering the scabbard takes three years. The decoration on the circular piece of metal between blade and handle is so intricate it can take three years to engrave. The entire process may typically take six years. The sword can then be sold to a rich foreigner for around £30,000.

This is real. I met the guy and he explained this process. To me. I feel so privileged it’s unbelieveable. I’m still reeling.

TOG Elite Japanese Kitchen Knives – by Stephen Roberts from Q-Code Magazine

This article from the upcoming Q-Code Magazine is reproduced with kind permission from the author Stephen Roberts.

Q Code Magazine - TOG Japanese Kitchen Knives

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.

TOG Petty Paring Utility Knife

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!

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