First-time Japanese knife buyers are scared of breaking or chipping their new Japanese knife but are they that brittle, or are they more durable than we think?
A lot has changed with Japanese knives, and there are multiple options available. One of the metrics we can follow is the Rockwell Hardness. In general, you can say the higher the Rockwell, the longer the edge retention and the sharper it can get. However, the higher the Rockwell, the more brittle the knife. A low Rockwell has the opposite effect. You lose edge retention with a lower Rockwell but get more durability.
While the Rockwell can say a lot, we have to dive deeper into the Japanese knives before understanding why the knives are more brittle and what we can do about them. With the many modifications to suit a specific audience, the differences between a Japanese knife and other knives are slimmed down. Therefore I will only cover the most common differences.
Most Japanese knives are thinner and harder than others. When a knife is thin and hard, there is a more significant chance of breaking. It is because a harder knife is less flexible and can break on hard impact. Therefore I don’t recommend crushing things with the sides of a hard Japanese knife. To reduce the fracture rate, they can do a few things. You can make the knife thicker, or you can sandwich them between 2 softer pieces of steel.
Hardness & Cladding
To reduce the harder and thinner steel’s fracture rate, especially with Japanese knives with a high Rockwell of 61 and beyond, they needed to sandwich the harder steel with two softer steel because the softer steel is more bendable. The knife fracture rate is drastically reduced if you sandwich the hard steel with two outer softer steel.
Most new Japanese knife owners are scared to use them because of the brittleness. Some have already chipped them or has multiple microchips along the cutting edge.
While the cladding is excellent for the added durability and drastically reduces the fracture rate. The harder-core below the cladding line is still exposed and not protected.
Most Japanese knife enthusiasts are obsessed with thin knives, especially behind the edge. That is why they love to look at the choil of a knife. We know that most Japanese knives have a lower sharpened angle, which makes the cutting edge extremely thin and extra fragile. The thinness gives you sharper performance, and the hardness of the steel is how you keep the sharper performance for a longer period.
The knives can easily last you a decade or more without having to thin out the knife if you take proper care. With good care, you will see that the knife is a lot more durable than we think. Just like an egg, the shell is fragile on impact; however, it is incredibly durable and won’t crack in your hand no matter how much force you apply. In this example, your hand is acting as a cladding for the egg. But a simple tap on a flat surface will easily crack the egg.
Wrong usage/what not to do
If you want the knife to last more than a decade, you should not do the following things.
Excessive force, Frozen Food, Bones
Because of the thinner and harder knife, you should not use excessive force or force your way through some food. You can think about mincing onion, let the knife do the work for you, and don’t force your knife or dig your knife in the cutting board. The same applies to Frozen food or bones. Don’t try to force your way through anything but let the knife do the work for you.
Scraping on the cutting board
What most people also like to do is scraping the food together with the cutting edge. While combining this motion with some force, you increase the chipping rate and one of the reasons you see microchips across the cutting edge on Japanese knives with a high Rockwell rating.
Twisting the blade
The same applies to the twisting motion, and you should always cut completely through some food like root vegetables and do not twist the knife to break the food off.
Don’t cut cheese
I don’t recommend a thin and high Rockwell knife on cheese. As you know, by simply twisting and scraping, you can damage the cutting core. The cheese will cling to your knife, or if it is a hard cheese, it may even chip the knife when you accidentally twist the knife mid-way.
Of course, what I explained is only a suggestion, but I hope you understand why we don’t do certain things based on what we know about Japanese knives with a high Rockwell hardness and a thin cutting edge.
Maintenance & care
Once you understand what you can and can do, the knife will easily last you a decade or even a lifetime with proper care and maintenance. And it would be best if you always hand-washed your knives.
While I did not talk about single bevel knives, the knife’s cutting edge is even thinner and more fragile than the double-beveled Japanese knives.
If you have any questions or doubt about what you can or can not do, leave them in the comment section below.
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All knives shown in this video are for reference only.
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