What is a Nakiri Knife? What is an Usuba Knife? What are the different types of Nakiri and Usuba Knives? We answer these questions and every other you might have about these knives.
- The Nakiri Knife Profile
- Facts about the Nakiri Knife and its counterpart Usuba
- Nakiri Knives in Detail, Shape Variants and Special Features
- Cutting technique and use of a Nakiri Knife
- Typical Blade Materials for Nakiri Knives
- Maintaining, Storing and Resharpening a Nakiri or Usuba
- Before buying a Nakiri Knife
The Nakiri Knife Profile
- Rectangular (Tokyo style), more rarely Santoku-like (Osaka style) side profile
- Tip blunt to rounded
- Blade dimensions typically 6.7 inches (ca. 17 cm) by 2 inches (ca. 5 cm); length 3.5 inches (ca. 9 cm) to 7.8 inches (ca. 20 cm), height 1.6 inches (ca. 4 cm) to 2.4 inches (ca. 6 cm).
- Cutting edge line straight to very slightly curved
- Very thin, very sharply ground bevel
- Nakiri double ground, Usuba only one side ground (right or left)
- Specialist for cutting and chopping vegetables and fruit
Facts about the Nakiri Knife and its counterpart Usuba
Nakiri (Japanese for “vegetable cutter”) are one of the original Japanese knife kinds, which are also known as Hocho. Even today, they are still created in the tradition of samurai swordsmiths, especially in the strongholds of Seki and Sakai, where they have for centuries. The fabled attributes of Japanese steels, such as sharpness, toughness, and endurance, are particularly noticeable on these knives. Ancient recipes and techniques are still being used and modified today, despite the passage of time.
The Usuba Bocho (“kitchen knife with narrow edge”), a heavier and only one-sided very well ground vegetable knife, is considered to be its historical ancestor, according to certain sources. When it comes to handling single-edged waders, they are always a little more complex, which is why they are usually best left to the specialists. As a result, the ground side is the side that is facing away from the body, and it is to the right for right-handers and to the left for left-handers. In addition to peeling, Usubas are ideal for making the most exact, ultra-fine cuts.
Nakiri Knives in Detail, Shape Variants and Special Features
The most frequent blade shape, the rectangular one in the Tokyo style, is reminiscent of a Chinese chef’s knife or cleaver in appearance. A Nakiri Knife, on the other hand, is much thinner and lighter, and is consequently reserved only for vegetables. Osaka is well known for having a shape in which the blade rear meets the cutting edge in a rounded manner at its front, similar to that of a Santoku.
Regardless of the version you choose, you will benefit from the nearly straight wading line, which is great for chopping up and down the board along its entire length. Speaking of length, the majority are 6.7 inches (ca. 17 cm), but there are those that are half that length for those who are short or even up to 7.8 inches (ca. 20 cm) for those who are experienced frequent cutters.
A blade face that has been ground to create dents (dimples) or a hammer-blow texture can aid in the release of ultra-fine flakes and juicy slices from the blade as they are sliced.
The handle is attached to the blade from the back and is frequently tucked in. A hardwood handle with varying geometries (chestnut shape, hexagonal or octagonal) and a blade ferrule made of authentic buffalo horn are the distinguishing features of the Nakiri Hocho. Increasingly modern ones are ergonomically formed, constructed of plastic, and have a continuous tang (see illustration).
Japanese knives are top-heavy in the traditional sense, but European knives have the center of gravity in the bolster. However, for the relatively light Nakiri Knives, it is more important that the blade size and handle are both comfortable in the user’s hand.
Cutting technique and use of a Nakiri Knife
The high, exceptionally thin, and extremely sharp blade is capable of cutting practically any vegetable that can be cut. Fruits and vegetables, whether large or small, solid or tender-juicy, fall apart almost entirely by themselves into pieces of any size, thick or thin. Without any squeezing, squeezing, or sticking. With ease and after a little practice, you will be up and running in no time. Even herbs are cut in a matter of minutes. You may also use the Nakiri as a pallet for the chopped vegetables, which is both practical and time saving.
A light Nakiri blade should never come up against significant resistance. In contrast to the powerful Deba, it does not cut through hard materials, but rather destroys them, such as bones, bones, ice, or wood, instead of cutting them. The Nakiri Knife is also incapable of carving, cutting, or cleaning. You will need a knife with a pointed tip, such as a petty, for this.
Only the straight cutting course of a Nakiri allows you to achieve the finest Sengiri (Julienne) as if you were working with a master chef in both the mild pressure cut and the pulling-pushing techniques. A distinguishing feature of Nakiri is the incredible “wafer-thin cutting technique” in infinite bands (Katsuramuki), which is particularly evident in the Usuba. Every chef in Japan has received rigorous training because mastery of the skill is the pinnacle of culinary excellence: you must be able to see the newspaper through a freshly cut plant leaf to be considered a master!
Typical Blade Materials for Nakiri Knives
Japanese knife steels differ considerably from American or European ones from Solingen & Co. but are now also converging in direct competition. The basic challenges: Very hard fine steels are easier to forge extremely thin and grind to maximum sharpness, which also lasts a long time. Their disadvantage is that they tend to be brittle, rigid and susceptible to fracture and are not rust-resistant. Very good materials are therefore always a compromise between sharpness and edge retention on the one hand and tough elasticity and ease of care on the other. A brief overview:
Japanese Carbon Steel Nakiris
Japan’s C-knife steels are mostly Yasuki steels, which are available in two grades. Shirogami (white paper steel) is a pure carbon steel that can be hardened to a hardness of up to 65 HRC by the use of sophisticated hardening techniques. Aogami (blue paper steel) has extra elements like as chromium and tungsten, and while it is difficult to forge, it shines with a hardness of up to 66 HRC.
Advantages: Unparalleled hardness, ultra-sharpness, and extremely long-lasting, lightweight, good wet grinding (V-grinding), and low cost of production
Disadvantages: Because it is not rustproof and is mechanically sensitive (risk of breakage and nicks)
Suitable for you if you place a high importance on the maximum sharpness of Japanese steel and take great care to treat and maintain it properly (rinse by hand right away, dry, oil).
Fans of Japan, enthusiastic almost-professionals, and professional chefs are unanimous in their praise for it.
Stainless Mono Steel (Stainless Steel)
The inclusion of chromium improves corrosion resistance while coarsening the metal’s structure. Other alloying elements (vanadium, molybdenum, tungsten, and so on) help to balance out the steel’s hardness while also softening it. CVM, VG 10 (= V-Gold-10), VG MAX, and AUS 8 (= A8) are examples of high-quality Inox steel grades that retain a high degree of sharpness despite their high quality.
Advantages: Extremely cost-effective, corrosion-resistant, self-sharpenable, and easy to maintain
Disadvantages: Blade thickness is typically greater, resulting in a heavier blade; an exceptionally sharp grind does not last as long (usually an ogive or convex grind); and resharpening is required more frequently.
If you are just getting started or prefer something simple but with enough sharpness to keep you from getting fatigued, this is the game for you. When using high-quality steels, the price-to-performance ratio is excellent.
Kitchen gadgets that are insensitive to the needs of beginners and cooks of all skill levels.
Layered Steel and Damascus with Core Layer
A knife blade with a very hard core layer for maximum sharpness, wrapped in a protective outer coating on both sides – or only one when ground on one side – is how blacksmiths combine the advantages of hard and soft steels on a single piece of equipment. You are staring at the often stainless outer layer (stainless steel, specifically patinated steel, or grained Damascus), while down at the grind, the exposed core layer is doing its job to keep the blade sharp and durable.
Advantages: Both hard sharpness and insensitivity find a home in the same knife blade. Because of the phase variations of the layers that are forged together, it is conceivable and also looks really intriguing when using Damascus steel.
Disadvantages: The cutting edge area is flimsy, but there is no other flaw.
Keep an eye out for Damascus with a core layer, as many so-called “Damascus” bargains are actually only a thin layer of machine-rolled laminated steel masquerading as expensive true Damascus in order to get you to buy more. It is possible that they are completely good on the outside and in terms of functionality (which we strongly doubt), but only hand-forged steel can be called Damascus. Also keep in mind that the outer layers of Damascus steel are only corrosion resistant in extremely expensive and unusual circumstances.
If you enjoy working with materials that are visually appealing while still providing ideal cutting properties, this is the collection for you.
Perfect for food aficionados who are not willing to compromise, whether they are amateurs or professionals.
Damascus steel that has been hand-formed and forged in the wild adds another dramatic step to the mix: The Damascus steel is formed by folding many layers of two different steels together under the hammer of the forge to form a distinctively patterned material that distributes the best characteristics of both steels throughout the piece. Because of the differences in abrasion between the two materials, the bevel is able to acquire a superfine saw-like sharpness.
Advantages: The combination of a stunning appearance due to shimmering grain and legendary cutting qualities that are second to none creates a sensation. Damascus will be around for years to come.
Disadvantages: True solid Damascus knives are extremely uncommon and out of reach for most people. This is especially true given that the increase in quality when compared to other superior steels does not match the enormous increase in cost associated with the additional work.
It is suitable for you if you are intrigued by real traditional craftsmanship of the highest perfection, in particular the beauty of damascene, and if all you need to complete your happiness is this one piece of jewelry.
The ultimate high point of the cooking master class, no greater or more gorgeous can be found anywhere else.
Maintaining, Storing and Resharpening a Nakiri or Usuba
- Only use cutting-friendly bases, such as wooden or plastic boards, to ensure that your cuts are clean. Surfaces made of hard materials such as glass, stone, or metal are fatal foes of ultra-thin ground-out Nakiri and Usuba wads. In the same way, there are no bones, hard shells, or frozen food items allowed for these knives.
- When it comes to knife steels, the dishwasher is not a good idea. Japanese steel, on the other hand, suffers and loses its sharpness; even stainless steels suffer and lose their sharpness. Materials that are sensitive to corrosion do not tolerate acids, sulfur (onions, garlic, and so forth), or water. They must be cleaned by hand as soon as possible after usage. After they have been dried, lightly impregnate them with a drop of cooking oil. A linseed oil treatment is also recommended for real wood handles every now and then.
- When using a metal sharpening tool or a sharpening steel on Japanese steel, you can cause significant damage. The Usuba ground on one side, in particular, can no longer be used anymore. You will need whetstones for wet sharpening, preferably two: one with a grit of 800 to 1000 and another with a grit of 2000 to 4000 for fine sharpening. Once a year, really valuable knives with a razor-sharp edge should be taken to a specialist for sharpening; some manufacturers provide a complimentary sharpening service for their products. Alternatively, you may enroll in a sharpening course.
- Make certain that they are stored in a secure location. Sharp knives should always be stored separately from the rest of the silverware in the drawer. For your handy knife collection, invest in a beautiful knife block or magnetic bar.
Before buying a Nakiri Knife
- The universal Chinese chef’s knife, the European chef’s knife, or a Santoku are all excellent choices for cutting vegetables and fruit in a variety of shapes and sizes. For vegetables and fruits, in particular, the Nakiri knife and also the single-edged Usuba are unbeatable, especially when it comes to sizes, firmnesses, degrees of fineness, and numbers. The more adaptable Nakiri slices well, whilst the more difficult Usuba peels more efficiently.
- Are artistic cutting techniques a particular source of frustration for you? Then you will need a blade that is as thin as possible while maintaining maximum sharpness. Hard carbon steel, either as a monolithic or layered steel, is the ideal material. On the other hand, a budget-friendly stainless steel knife is preferable for the hectic daily kitchen routine, however there are also really sharp representatives with hardnesses above 60 HRC available (VG 10, VG MAX). Textures such as scalloped or hammer-blow are more decorative than useful, and should be avoided.
- The weight and proportions of the tool, as well as the balance and the handle, must be optimized for fatigue-free operation. We propose that you test the individual handiness of the knife in person because only you can determine how well the knife fits in your palm. The choice of handle material is essentially a matter of personal preference and your desire to take care of the product. Nothing but high-quality and well-constructed materials should be used – with smooth transitions and smooth surfaces free of imperfections.
- Are you new to the world of knives and want to learn more? Then it is preferable to try a Nakiri with a shorter blade that is keen but not razor-sharp, such as the one shown above. Some practice and a blade that is forgiving will be required: excellent CVM stainless steel, for example, will suffice.
- Conduct thorough investigation before making a purchase, especially when dealing with low-priced offerings in the double-digit dollar range or unknown producers from the Far East. It is not uncommon to come across information that is inconsistent and contradictory. Customer experiences are the very minimum of what you should be looking for. When you deal with well-known and recognized Japanese brand manufacturers who have a long history, you are in safe hands. Of course, superb Nakiri can now be found in a variety of places, including America and Solingen, as well as in Japanese kitchens.
The sharp, lightweight experts Nakiri and Usuba are a must-have for vegetable and fruit enthusiasts who enjoy cutting quickly and finely slicing their produce. When you have a Nakiri that is ground on both sides, it is much easier to handle. No matter whether you prioritize ultra-sharpness or economy, or both, the cost will be in the triple digits regardless of whatever you choose to prioritize. In any event, beautiful, pricey Damascus is not required for the best cutting properties – and for the most artistic cuts.
We have a page with the Best Usuba Knives considering the price/performance of the knives.