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Knife Styles

Single Bevel (Japanese-style Knives)

Yanagi / Yanagi-ba

Japanese Chef Knives Yanagi

Yanagiba (lit. willow blade) is an essential tool for sushi chefs. The name Yanagi refers to the willow-leaf shape of the blade as opposed to it necessarily being single bevel. Some knife makers have been known to refer to Sujihiki made with a willow shape as “Yanagi”. In common parlance however, Yanagi or Yanagiba is understood to mean a willow-shaped knife ground with a single bevel.
These knives are one of the three traditional Japanese knives, along with Deba and Usuba, that were historically requisite for the creation of Japanese cuisine. It is primarily used for slicing sashimi or delicate cuts of other soft proteins such as roast beef, terrines and patés. Its hollow-ground backside, known as the Ura, helps facilitate the release of fish as it is sliced and ensures that an extremely low inclusive edge angle may be maintained. The Yanagi is the fish slicer traditionally used in the Kansai region of Japan (Osaka and Kyoto). There are many variants of Yanagi including Kensaki (sometimes called kiritsuke-tip), Takohiki (octopus knife), Fuguhiki (blowfish knife) and Sakimaru Takohiki (round-tipped octopus knife)

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Takohiki / Fuguhiki

Japanese Chef Knives Takohiki

The Takohiki (Takobiki / Octopus Slicer) is another variant on the Yanagiba. These knives tend to be shorter height-wise than average Yanagiba while typically not quite as thin at the spine as a Fuguhiki might be. Most commonly the tip of a Takohiki is blunt and not intended to be sharpened although there is a variant known as a Sakimaru (curved tip) Takohiki that has a more defined tip area. The tip of a Sakimaru Takohiki is also not meant to be sharpened. Takohiki will also generally have a flatter profile than Fuguhiki and Yanagiba although the primary performance-related differences between the three styles come from the height and thickness variation.
The Fuguhiki (Blowfish slicer) is a knife specifically made for slicing the delicate Fugu thin enough so that a pattern may be seen through its flesh. These knives are much thinner and shorter height-wise than Yanagiba, which helps achieve a more acute angle to increase sharpness as well as minimizing friction during slicing. These knives may be used instead of a Yanagiba but given their thinness they will be more delicate and are not recommended for tasks such as sukibiki which a standard Yanagiba should be able to stand up to with ease

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Deba

Deba Knives

The Deba are large single-bevel knives used for butchering fish. They are very thick at the spine, with the shinogi line usually starting near the bottom third of the knife. The heavy weight coupled with the thin edge from the single bevel let the knife break through fish bones with ease while maintaining a keen, sharp cutting edge. Deba are not flexible, like Western filet knives, and are not used for the up-and-over butchery style but rather "sanmai oroshi" or "gomai oroshi" meaning three-piece and five-piece butchery respectively, where the knife will cut directly through the rib bones and ride along the spine to carve as closely to the bone as possible.
Yo-Deba are double-bevel variants of the traditional Deba and are meant to be used for butchery in much the same way. They tend to be thick at the spine and sharpened with an asymmetrical chisel grind. Many people find Yo-Deba to be simpler to maintain and sharpen and less delicate due to their more obtuse edge angle. As a result of the increased bevel angle, these knives do not achieve the same level of sharpness as a traditional Deba.

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Honesuki

Honesuki Borning Knives

The Honesuki is a Japanese boning knife used to butcher meat and poultry. This knife does not have the flexibility of a typical Western boning knife but its pointed tip lets it nimbly slip into joints and its heavily asymmetrical grind lets it ride along the cartilage and bone to get as much meat off the animal as possible. This is considered a western-style knife in Japan and will typically not be seen in true single-bevel variants, though they do exist. Both sides of this knife should be sharpened, however the non-dominant side of the knife will be sharpened nearly flat.

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Torigarasuki / Garasuki

Torigarasuki Garasuki Knives

The Garasuki is a larger variant of the Honesuki. Gara referring to chicken bones, tendons and off-cuts and suki meaning to cut. These knives typically are of greater size and weight compared to Honesuki and have more metal behind the edge, giving them the heft necessary to break through bones as needed while maintaining the sharp tip and handed-biased bevel that allows the knife to slip into joints and ride along bones. Garasuki would be the knife of choice for professionals under heavy work-load breaking down poultry. Many chefs also find the knife's shape useful for trimming tendons and silverskin from other land proteins as well as for butchery of smaller fish such as Kisu, Kohada, Masu, Akamutsu and others.

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Usuba

Usuba Knives

Usuba means "thin blade" and true to this name, usuba are incredibly thin behind the edge. This is achieved by a very aggressive bevel from roughly half-way up the knife. These knives, like other single bevel knives, are quite a bit thicker at the spine than their double bevel counterparts however. This means that these knives excel when performing cuts that utilize the beveled portion of the blade but when the cut transitions beyond the shoulder, significant wedging and steering occurs. These are the traditional "vegetable knife" in Japanese cuisine and are used for katsuramuki, a fundamental Japanese chefs’ technique to cut paper thin sheets of vegetables (like daikon), sengiri (julienne) and brunoise cuts, mukimono and other knife cuts. Although they are called "vegetable cleavers" by many, it's strongly recommended for non-professionals to get a Nakiri instead as a general purpose vegetable knife.
In Japan’s Kanto region (Tokyo), the usuba has a square tip, while in the Kansai region (Osaka and Kyoto), this knife comes with a rounded tip and is referred to as the kamagata usuba. Both styles cut in the same manner.

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Mukimono

Mukimono Knives

The Mukimono are thin-bladed single-bevel knives used for decorative vegetable cuts which are also called Mukimono. These knives are generally thinner and shorter than Usuba, which share some common use cases. The thinner and shorter blade makes the Mukimono well-suited to more delicate work requiring a nimble hand. These knives are commonly mistaken for their longer, thicker cousins the Kiritsuke and when slightly longer may also be called Kengata Usuba. The blade of a Mukimono is much straighter than a Kiritsuke, which will curve slightly closer to the tip to facilitate a more natural slicing motion while the straight blade of a Mukimono is meant to cut vegetables with one smooth motion to the cutting board or to better assist with Katsuramuki.

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Kiritsuke

Kiritsuke Knives

The Kiritsuke (difficult to transliterate, but the inherent meaning is pushing and cutting similarly to a sword) is a style of knife whose meaning has transformed in recent years. Traditional Kiritsuke are single-bevel knives with a sharp pointed tip that are meant to combine the function of an Usuba and Yanagiba. Recently, it has been popular to call any knife with a pointed tip in the same shape a Kiritsuke or “K-tip” knife such as Kiritsuke Gyuto or Kiritsuke Yanagiba.As these knives combine the function of an Usuba and Yanagiba they are more versatile in a kitchen since only one knife is required. However, that versatility also means the knife is less-specialized to each task and is more difficult to use to the same level. In Japan, usually only the executive chef will use a Kiritsuke.

Sushikiri

Sushikiri Knives

The sushikiri literally means “sushi cutter”and is traditionally used to cut sushi rolls (makizushi) and pressed sushi (oshizushi) without crushing the rice. Its curved edge gives the knife more length than a straight edge, making it ideal for cutting tasks that require longer strokes.

Double Bevel (Western-style Knives)

Gyuto / Chef’s Knife

Gyuto Knives

The Gyuto (lit. Cow Sword) is an adaptation of the French chef knife profile for the Japanese market. While the name “cow sword” would imply that this knife is meant only for meat, its versatility is the same a santoku and can be used as a general-purpose knife for any task. Many would consider a gyuto or chef’s knife to be the one essential knife for any kitchen with all other knives being secondary. Compared to a German style chef’s knife, a gyuto will have a somewhat flatter profile: this profile lends itself well to push-cutting which is common for Japanese chefs, as opposed to rock-chopping. Gyuto also tend to be thinner at the edge as well as the spine than most European chef’s knives and as a result have less lateral toughness and care should be taken not to torque the blade while cutting to minimize the risk of chipping.

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Sujihiki / Slicing Knife

Sujihiki Knives

The Sujihiki (lit. muscle pulling, meaning muscle or tendon cutter) is the Japanese adaptation of western-style slicers. These knives are made thinner and shorter than chef's knives, nakiri and santoku in order to minimize friction while slicing meat and fish. Some chefs will use this style of knife to prepare sashimi and sushi in lieu of a yanagi-ba for its favorable maintenance requirements versus single bevel knives.

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Paring / Petty Knife

Paring Knives

The word 'petty' is colloquialized from the French word 'petit' and among knives refers to a relatively broad set of utility-oriented knife shapes and sizes. These knives will commonly take the profile of a smaller chef's knife or gyuto and are ideal for small, detailed tasks such as fine brunoise, mince and chiffonade and peeling. There is no hard-defined rule of what defines a petty versus a paring or a chef's knife but generally these will be considerably shorter (from spine to edge) than a chef's knife/santoku/nakiri as well as shorter (from handle to tip) than a slicer. A good size range would be from about 100-210mm and up to roughly 30mm tall. Some will group petty knives and paring knives together, but we think a meaningful distinction can be made between the two. Generally a paring knife will be considerably shorter so as to perform paring tasks in-hand more nimbly. A good guideline while searching for a paring knife is to hold the knife in your dominant hand and extend your dominant thumb; you will want your thumb to reach and ideally extend beyond the tip very slightly so that you can take full advantage of the tip for more detailed paring work. This is not to say that you cannot pare with a longer knife and it will depends larger on your comfort level.

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Santoku

Santoku Knives

Santoku in Japanese transliterates as "three virtues" so they are otherwise known as "three purpose" knives. The three purposes which a santoku is meant to fulfill is cutting meat, vegetables and fish. Its diminutive size and unique shape have made it very popular at home not only in Japan but in the United States as well as more and more home cooks are finding its versatility appealing without committing to a larger or more specialized knife.

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Bunka

Bunka Knives

The Bunka knife is a general purpose knife similar to the Santoku. Its profile allows for much the same usage as a Santoku (meats, vegetables and fish) while having a finer, more pointed tip that aids in precision cutting such as mukimono or fine cuts such as brunoise and julienne.

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Bread Knife

Bread Knives

The bread knife’s serrated edge lets you cut through bread without crushing it. 

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Nakiri

Nakiri Knives

The Nakiri (lit. Vegetable cutting knife) is a double bevel variant of the traditional single-bevel Usuba. Its profile is quite flat, even when compared to the already-flat-profile of a Japanese Gyuto; this flatness lends itself well to push-cutting tasks since more of the knife will contact the board at one time. It is common for Nakiri to have some degree of curvature to the middle of the blade so that there is less risk of introducing recurve into the blade while sharpening and also to accommodate inconsistencies and low spots in a cutting board that may impact the knife’s ability to make a full cut. As the name implies, a Nakiri is ideal for vegetables and any cutting tasks not requiring or heavily benefiting from having a sharp tip for precise work.

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