David Siegel’s Knife Porn

A carefully curated list of high-end knives for you to get or give

David Siegel
Nov 12, 2019 · 7 min read
Shun dual core yanagiba 10.5", 16-degree, single-bevel, 71 layers of VG-10 and VG2 steel. $600

I am making a collection of “porn” pages to recommend the world’s best products, starting with this page on knives. Here you’ll find world-class gifts for your friends and loved ones (and maybe a little something for yourself). This page features mostly high-end Japanese knives, sharpening equipment, scissors, etc. Future pages will have many other kinds of items.

The Basics

The quality of Japanese steel and knife making has risen steadily for centuries. We are now in the era of powdered steel, which makes for a much harder, much sharper edge than previous knives had. Most of the knives here are powdered SG2 steel, which goes by other names, like R2 and high-speed.

I don’t need a lot of knives. Five is a good number:

  • An 8" chefs (“gyoto” or “gyuto”)
  • A chopper (“nakiri”) or blunt chef knife (“santoku”) for vegetables
  • A slicer (“sujihiki”) or single-bevel sushi knife (“yanagiba”)
  • A paring knife (“petty”)
  • A bread knife.

I have a 10" chef’s knife but never use it. I prefer a nakiri to a santoku, though you will find both below. I meticulously hand-wash and thoroughly dry knives after every use. I am learning to maintain my knives with a stone. I also use two wooden cutting boards — one for onion and garlic, and the other for everything else. Cypress, peach, cherry, and acacia are favorites.

German and American knives are sharpened with a 20-degree angle on each side for a long-lasting 40-degree cutting angle. Japanese knives are sharpened between 8 and 15 degrees per side, which gives a 16- to 30- degree cutting edge. This makes them much sharper than a Western knife, but they can’t take as much abuse or pressure and need to be maintained . An 8-degree edge will make paper-thin slices, but it will need resharpening sooner than a 12-degree edge.

Never use an electric sharpener. Unless you have several years’ experience hand-sharpening knives, do not sharpen these knives yourself! Send them to Korin for sharpening. The gentler you are on them, the less often you’ll have to send them for sharpening. Maintenance instructions are below.

Knife Porn

Below I present a selection of high-end knives that are among the best in the world. With two exceptions, they are all made in Japan from powdered stainless steel, which won’t rust. They are extremely hard and razor sharp. They will hold their edge far longer than other knives.

I try to give the Amazon or Williams Sonoma link when I can, because returns are easy and prices are competitive (I don’t get any money from these sites). Some of these knives you can find on eBay or specialty sites for less.

Be very careful with these knives. They are not for cutting bones or avocado skins — use a German knife if you need a blunt instrument.

Miyabi birchwood 101-layer SG2 powdered steel 8" chef’s knife, 9.5–12 degree edge, Rockwell 63: $300
Miyabi birchwood 101-layer SG2 powdered steel 9" slicer, 9.5–12 degree edge, Rockwell 63: $300
Yaxell Super Gou 161-layer SG2 powdered steel 8" chef’s, 12-degree edge, Rockwell 63: $280
Yaxell Super Gou 161-layer SG2 powdered steel 10" chef’s, 12-degree edge, Rockwell 63: $350
Yaxell Super Gou 161-layer SG2 powdered steel 10" slicer, 12-degree edge, Rockwell 63: $330
Shun Hiro 65-layer SG2 6" chef’s 16-degree edge, Rockwell 64: $250
Shun Hiro 65-layer SG2 8" chef’s 16-degree edge, Rockwell 64: $350
Shun Hiro 65-layer SG2 9.5" slicer 16-degree edge, Rockwell 64: $300
Yaxell SG2 Ypsilon 8" chefs knife. $500 (but you may get a discount when you check out)
Kasumi SG-10 paring knife. Not particularly expensive but wonderful to use. $75
The Shun dual-core 6.5" nakiri for vegetables: $290
Yaxell Super Gou 7" Nakiri, SG2. The tip helps remove eyes from potatoes, etc.: $280
Miyabi SG2 Nakiri: $230

Finally, the best bread knife in the world, if you ask me, is the humble Cutco:

This knife is indestructable, comes in different handle colors, and is an absolute steal at $80. Don’t spend money on a fancy bread knife.

A different approach from the powdered-steel knives above is to buy knives made of SG-10 steel. Zanmai knives get a lot of praise from people in online knife forums. I’m sorry I can’t mention all the other excellent Japanese knives — it’s worth exploring them on your own.

Knife Sets

If you prefer matching knives, I recommend the Super Gou set

Yaxell Super Gou SG steel knife set: $1,000 (but you may get a discount when checking out)

If you want to go one step up to my personal favorite, go for the 193-layer Ypsilon, which I think are among the very best knives in the world:

Yaxell Ypsilon, possibly some of the most satisfying knives in the world to own. SG2 steel, 12-degree edges, Rockwell 63. You must have these professionally sharpened. $1,000 (might get a discount when you check out)

Professional Yanagiba Knives

Aside from the Shun at the top, which is gorgeous, I’m listing one other sushi knife; it’s a single-bevel Yoshihiro sushi knife made of SG2 powdered steel. A normal person can use this knife without worrying about rust. It will slice a tomato with one hand. It’s probably the best bang for your sushi-knife buck. It is not for households with children. This knife must be professionally sharpened — plan on once a year or so. You can have it sharpened to your specifications, depending on your use. Only for slicing protein or fat. Not for fiber unless it’s to make paper-thin slices. Use almost no pressure and concentrate— it’s going to steer differently because it’s not symmetric. Right-hand only. Very dangerous.

Yoshihiro SG2 Yanagiba (sushi) knife, single-bevel, Rockwell 64–65: $770

Maintaining Knives Between Sharpening

In the old days, we used a steel to “straighten the edge,” but that’s only for softer steel knives. These days, we use a stone or a strop. For these SG2 knives, I think the fastest, least-hassle way to keep the sharp edge sharp is to use a diamond stone once a week or so. A 3000-grit stone will do the job fastest and give a semi-gloss finish. A 6000-grit stone will give more polish but takes longer. Here’s what you need:

Or, choose the DMT fine/extra-fine diamond stone with base. I’d still add a rubber mat underneath it (or, use a towel as in the video below).

You will need to spray or splash water on this stone before using. Here’s an instructional video, but you are not going to sharpen your own SG2 knives unless you take a sharpening class! You’re just maintaining the edge with a fine-grit stone. This instruction is excellent:

And yes, you will need to maintain your stone:

Kitchen Shears

Again, I go for Cutco. There are a lot of good kitchen shears now, but to me Cutco is the gold standard. They cost five times as much as a cheap Chinese pair. They are five times better and last five times longer. Worth every penny.

Cutco high-carbon stainless shears: $120

Knife Storage

I prefer a wall-mounted wood bar with a magnet. I believe all the knives on this page will stick to a magnet. My favorite is a bar with acacia wood, here’s a nice one:

Wusthof Magnabar, Acacia: $60

Walnut and maple are also good, because they are hard. Be sure to mount your bar very snugly to the wall. Hang knives blade-up. Remove them by sliding away from the edge, so you don’t cut the wood.

A quality knife is for someone who wants to maintain it for a lifetime or two. Practice, practice, and practice until you can do this. If you give fine knives as a gift, don’t let your recipient sharpen them, rub them against a steel, or neglect them. Enjoy your knives, maintain them, keep them away from kids, and warn your guests that they are insanely sharp.

All my Product Porn pages are at dsiegel.com. The next one is High-End Chocolate.

David Siegel is a serial entrepreneur in Washington, DC. He is the founder of the Pillar Project and 2030. He is the author of The Token Handbook, Open Stanford, The Culture Deck, Climate Curious, and The Nine Act Structure. He gives speeches and workshops to audiences around the world — see his speaker page if you would like him to speak at your next event. He is working on raising money for his nonprofit. His full body of work is at dsiegel.com.

David Siegel

Written by

Provocateur, professional heretic, slayer of myths, speaker of truthiness to powerfulness, and defender of the Oxford comma.

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