Brand: Hitohira ひとひら (一片)
Blacksmith : Tanaka 田中打刃物製作所
Production area: Sakai-Osaka/Japan
Size: 210 mm
Type of steel: carbon steel (Oxidizable)
Steel: Yasuki Blue (Aogami) #1, Soft Iron Clad
Handle: Ziricote & octagonal buffalo horn
Total length: 352 mm
Edge length: 196 mm
Handle length at tip: 210 mm
Blade height: 46 mm
Thickness: 2.4 mm
Handle length: 142 mm
Hand orientation: Ambidextrous
Emouleur : Kyuzo
Handle manufacturer: Taihei
Considered one of the best blacksmiths in the region, Yoshikazu Tanaka has been a blacksmith for more than half a century. He now works with his son and an apprentice. He is a traditionalist, but he is always looking to improve his process and his skills. He uses the traditional method of soaking with pine charcoal and then uses straw ash. It’s a very old way of making knives. He does not use a thermometer for soaking, he manually calculates the temperature of the steel by examining its color. Tanaka-san is always looking to improve. It uses a temperature-controlled oven for soaking, which only a few blacksmiths in the area use. He and his team only forge 30 knives a day between the three of them. For reference, some blacksmiths forge up to 100 blades in a single day. The reason he forged only thirty of them is that he takes his time, forging carefully at very low temperatures. At low temperatures, steel does not stretch as fast, but it will retain much better steel granulometry. Stretching the granulometry will make the steel britter, which it strives to avoid. It frequently moves the steel inside and outside the oven to check the color, and then when the whole blade is of a specific shade of color, it soaks the steel in water. The water temple (Mizu) is the most difficult to achieve and requires a very careful handling.
His father Heihachi, is one of Sakai’s busiest sharpeners. Heihachi’s workshop room and hallway were always filled with knives waiting to be sharpened. Although Kyuzo first worked under his father to learn the basics of coarse sharpening, he eventually became a student of Kambei, known as one of Sakai’s best sharpeners because he knew best how to sharpen large double bevel knives. After a few years of training, he developed his style based on these respective masters, his father and Kambei. Today, Kyuzo is one of the few people who can sharpen a wide double bevel with a very good Shinogi line in Sakai, one of the most difficult sharpening techniques.
Many people have strict standards when selecting a handle, it is the only component that physically engages us with the knife, the only part that touches our skin. Others neglect the handle of a kitchen knife as a small “room” and do not pay enough attention to it. Taihei however, a 3rd generation handle manufacturer, shows a strong commitment to its craft.
When he was a child, Taihei remembers that his grandfather handmade handles of wooden knives and buffalo horn, these good memories helped him decide to continue his father’s tradition to the next generation, the year was 1992.
Since the handle is not considered the main part of a kitchen knife, most manufacturers reduce costs by having the shell made in a different location, then joining the two parts and shaping the handle to the machine. However, Taihei still cuts every part of the handle by hand from solid materials, understanding the differences between each piece of wood and horn. This knowledge and skill makes Taihei’s handles more durable than mass-produced models, as he makes each piece differently to fit the materials in his hand.
In addition to making traditional handles out of Ho magnolia wood, Taihei also challenges his work with many different woods from around the world. Each wood has a different weight, density, finesse and character, all important to take into account when making each piece. He says, “If people have been using this wood for a long time, there’s a reason you can’t understand it in 10 or 20 years.” Taihei still respects tradition, but challenges with new materials and design, focusing on appearance and functionality.