Robb Report Vices

Looking Sharp

  • Karen Cakebread

The Japanese city of Seki is located in one of the country’s few prefectures that don’t border the coastline. Yet because Seki is in close proximity to abundant sources of freshwater thanks to fast-flowing streams, and because it also is surrounded by abundant quantities of iron, sand, and coal, the region has been the center of Japanese sword smithing—and cutlery forging—since the mid-13th century. The city, which is home to almost 100,000 people, is the place of origin of Shun (pronounced “shoon”) knives, and specifically the brand’s Edo collection.

Like all Shun blades, the Edo’s is hand ground and requires at least 100 steps to complete. The VG-10 steel—a Japanese variety that is extremely hard and sharp—is sandwiched into 32 microscopically thin layers, each 0.003 inch thick. Those layers are then wrapped around a central steel core and hammered to create a distinctive textured surface that releases food easily during the slicing process. As the company declares on its website, “The Japanese learned 700 years ago that there is no such thing as the perfect steel.” Hard-cutting steels cannot be matched in their utility, but because they contain greater amounts of carbon, they are more likely to rust. By wrapping those steels in softer, less reactive types, the Japanese created a blade that was both powerful and enduring. In fact, the process—known as kasumi—is the same used to create samurai swords.

The Edo’s wide bolster (the thick portion of steel where the blade meets the handle) and ergonomic grip ensure efficient and comfortable chopping. The handle is equally enticing, thanks to its resin-infused PakkaWood, which was designed specifically to resist moisture. Beyond its alluring materials, the knife also benefits from a precise design that leaves it perfectly balanced: Hold an Edo lightly at the bolster and it remains horizontal, like a seesaw bearing two kids of equal weight.

Japanese knives can take some getting used to, as they are designed to facilitate Asian styles of cutting, where the knife is raised from the cutting surface. Unlike European knives, which sport a curved blade and a thicker bolster to accommodate the rocking motion used by most Western chefs, Japanese knives are identified by a slender bolster and a flatter edge—two elements designed to handle the challenges found in Japanese kitchens, such as slicing delicate raw fish. The Edo combines features of both, offering the ultrasharp Japanese blade with a weightier European-style bolster.

The Shun Edo line ranges in price from $157 for a paring knife to $250 for an 8-inch serrated utility knife, equipped with its own bamboo stand. 

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