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How To Care For Japanese Knives: The Complete Guide

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Buying genuine Japanese kitchen knives represents a significant investment when it comes to these kitchen tools. The knives do not always come with detailed instructions on how to take care of them, and obviously, you would want to take the best care possible of these expensive knives.

We have put together a guide to help you with some ideas on how to take good care of your Japanese knives so that they will last for many years and give you good service in the kitchen.

Japanese knives are the quintessential kitchen food processing tools. They can be expensive instruments that require special care to preserve the edge and to make them last a long time. The care of these knives must include the correct storage, cleaning, honing, and sharpening of these knives.

When you purchase a Japanese knife or knife set, the will not be many instructions that come with the knives. You may get basic information on how to prevent rust or sharpen the knives, but the rest will be left to you to source the relevant information. That is the purpose of this article; to give you the information you need to take the best care that you can of your Japanese knife set.

If you are interested in checking out the best Japanese knives (made by Hayate Yoshihiro) we recommend and use you can find them by clicking here (Amazon link).

Caring For Your Japanese Knives

How To Care For Japanese Knives
How To Care For Japanese Knives

Japanese knives are sought-after tools in many kitchens, and most chefs or people who enjoy cooking see the benefit of using a good quality, purpose-built knife for day-to-day kitchen tasks.

To perform all the cutting, slicing, chopping, and dicing tasks that are normal in any kitchen, a sharp, durable knife that is made for that purpose is a pleasure to use and also safer to use than a sub-standard knife of a knife that is not built for the purpose.

Japanese knives are great because they are finely constructed tools where great care has gone into their construction.

But, as is the case with many finely made tools, they are great for their intended purpose, but they can be delicate and require specific care to keep them in good working order and extend their usable life.

Knowledge about the construction of your knife or knives, such as the materials used in the construction of the blade and the handle, will be a good starting point in learning how to take care of your Japanese knives. 

Certain types of steel require more specific care than others and will influence, in particular, the way your clean and store your knives.

Stainless Steel Or High Carbon Steel?

It is important to establish what steel your Japanese knives are made from because it will determine the level of care the blade needs.

Traditionally, Japanese kitchen knives were made from high carbon steel, which allowed the knives to be hardened to various levels of hardness to be able to hold the required sharp edge on the knife.

Carbon steels are hard and able to hold an edge very well and are easy to sharpen, but they are prone to rust and discoloration of the steel with the use and cleaning of the blade. 

Some modern Japanese knife manufacturers have included stainless steel in the materials that they use to produce knives. Stainless steels bring the advantage of rust resistance and stain resistance to the steel, but the edge retention of stainless steel is not as good as that of high carbon steel.

Another dynamic that stainless steel brings to knives is that the alloys that go into the production of stainless steel make them harder to sharpen than knives that are made of high carbon steel.

As you can see, not all knife steels are the same, and it is important that you know the type of steel that your knife is made from so that you can take the appropriate care of the knife.

Our choice: Are you interested in buying a stainless or high carbon Japanese knife? Find below our recommendation for these two types of Japanese knives:

Yoshihiro VG-10 46 Layers Hammered Damascus Gyuto Japanese Chefs Knife (Amazon link)

Yoshihiro Damascus Steel Santoku Japanese Chefs Knife (Amazon link)

Storing Your Japanese Knives

Storing your Japanese knives the correct way is an important aspect of taking care of your knives.

The correct storage method will not only protect the blade from rust damage but will also go a long way to preserving the edge at optimal sharpness. This will extend the life of the knife and make sure that your knife is ready for use when you need it.

There are many ways that are promoted for the storage of your knives, and some of them are better than others in providing good protection for your set of Japanese knives.

We will take a look at ways in which your knives can be stored and indicate the problems with each one and the advantages of each one.

There are a couple of basic principles involved in storing your knives that you should always adhere to, irrespective of the method that you use to store the knives.

  • Never store your knives dirty.

Residual food on your knife can be detrimental to the blade or the handle material, not to mention the promotion of the growth of bad bacteria on your knife.

Some foods are acidic, such as tomatoes and fruits, and if the acidic juices are left on the blade, it could discolor the blade and promote the development of rust, even on stainless steel blades. Always clean your knives after use and before storage!

  • Never pack your knives away wet.

It is important to dry your knives off after cleaning them. If you pack them away still wet, you risk the development of rust on any high carbon steel blades, and if regularly packed away wet, even stainless steel will start to rust.

Knives with handles that are made of wood can be damaged if left wet, as the wood can absorb the moisture and develop mold or start to deteriorate and rot, causing the handle to break away from the knife.

Now that you have the basic guidelines for storing your knives, we can take a look at some of the methods you can use to store your knives that will keep them out of the way, protected, and safe for everybody in the kitchen.

When you investigate storage for knives, you need to look at some criteria such as personal safety, accessibility, convenience, and protection of the knife.

Some storage methods tick some of these boxes but not all, so you will need to select a method that is good for the knives but also serves your needs in your kitchen.

TIP: Improper storage of Japanese knives can cause a rapid loss of sharpness. Find out five most common reasons why knives lose their sharpness so fast in the article below:

Why Do Knives Lose Sharpness (So Fast)? 5 Common Reasons

The Kitchen Drawer

The infamous kitchen drawer is the location where all kitchen utensils get crammed inside, and you can never find anything when you need it.

This is often the case in many domestic kitchens, but the kitchen drawer in a professional kitchen may be a little more organized.

Whatever the state of your kitchen drawer, is this an appropriate place to store your Japanese knives? Surprisingly, the answer can be yes, or no, depending on the state of the drawer and precautions that you take to protect the knives.

The standard messy, disorganized kitchen drawer is not a suitable place to store sharp, unprotected knives.

  • The edge of the knives can be damaged as they bash into each other and other utensils that are stored in the drawer with them.
  • You could be cut by the knives while you are scratching around in the drawer to find the tool you are looking for.
  • The blade can be scratched, chipped, broken, or bent by other items in the drawer, especially as you are taking the knife out or putting it away.

However, the kitchen drawer cannot be discounted as a possible place to store your knives, and it is possible to do so if you take some measures to protect your knives and anyone reaching into the drawer.

To successfully keep your Japanese knives in a kitchen drawer, you will need to take the following into account.

  • Keep the drawer organized.

Keep the draw tidy and do not overfill it, and keep each utensil type in a separate compartment.

  • Protect the knife.

Many Japanese knives come with a saya or a scabbard that is made from wood. You can also get modern ones that are made of plastic.

These covers slip over the blade of the knife and protect the knife from damage as well as protect the user from getting cut when removing items from the drawer. If you use a saya or other blade cover, always make sure the knife is clean and dry before storing it.

Sometimes, a drawer is the only convenient method to store your knives, and it is possible to store your knives safely in this way as long as you take the necessary steps to protect the knives and all users of the kitchen.

The Knife Block

The knife block is another common method that many people use to store their kitchen knives. It is most often made from a block of wood that has slots cut into it into which the blade of the knife fits, with only the handle of the knife protruding from the block.

The wooden knife block has some advantages as a knife storage method in that the knife blades are all covered, preventing any accidental cuts, all the knives are in one place, and they are easily accessible since the knife block is normally placed on a kitchen countertop.

However, there are some disadvantages to the wooden knife block, although more expensive knife blocks normally have features to mitigate these disadvantages. On some knife blocks, the outside wood is treated and sealed, but the slots where the knives fit in are raw wood. 

The raw wood in the slots can absorb moisture from the steam in the kitchen or get splashed, which will result in mold developing in the wood. The mold can stain the knives, and the dampness can promote the development of rust on the blades. 

Withdrawing and replacing the knife in the wooden slot can cause the edge of the knife to be dragged along the wood in the slot, which could dull the edge or damage the edge of the knife

More upmarket knife blocks sometimes have a thin strip of leather in the slot where the blade would normally come into contact with the wood. This will safely protect the edge, and the knife is withdrawn or replaced in the slot.

TIP: Are you also one of the people who have a lot of knives in the kitchen? Then you might as well use the magnetic strip as a knife holder. Find out if magnets can damage your knives in the article below:

Do Magnets Damage Knives? Here’s the Complete Answer

The Magnetic Strip

The magnetic strip knife rack is another popular knife storage method for Japanese knives, but there are good magnetic strips and bad magnetic strips, which we will cover shortly.

Magnetic strips are popular because it is a way of displaying your Japanese knife collection, and it is convenient because the knives are accessible and visible when you need them. The magnetic knife rack can also make use of wall space that would otherwise be unused space in the kitchen.

Never use a cheap magnetic strip where the magnets or steel of the rack are exposed, and your knife fits directly on the magnets or steel strip. This will scratch the surface of the blade as you place a knife on the rack or remove it from the rack.

The best magnetic knife strips are ones where the magnets are embedded in the wood, and the knives never come into direct contact with the magnets or steel. Wood is generally softer than the knife blade and is less likely to scratch the knife or damage the edge.

As an additional precaution, when placing a knife on a magnetic strip, place the spine on the strip first and then roll the blade so that the flat of the blade is attracted to the magnets. Likewise, when removing a knife, twist the sharp edge up and away from the strip before you pull the knife free.

This additional precaution will help to protect the sharp edge of the knife from any accidental damage from being slammed against the strip.

A disadvantage of magnetic strips for knife storage is that magnets do not work equally well on all types of steel. Many types of stainless steel knives will not stick to magnets with the same force that high carbon steel blades do. 

This means that a magnetic strip may not hold a stainless steel knife on the rack with sufficient force to keep the knife from slipping off the rack and falling down.

This could cause potential damage to the knife as it falls or a danger to people working in the kitchen where the knife falls.

Our choice: If you are looking for a great magnetic strip for your Japanese knives we recommend buying this Premium 17 Inch Stainless Steel Magnetic Knife Holder for Wall (Amazon link).

The Cloth Roll

Some knives are sold in sets and come with a cloth roll to store the knives in. These cloth rolls can also be bought separately from the knives if you would like to use this method to store your knives.

These rolls have individual compartments sewn into the material to house each knife individually. This has the advantage of protecting the blade of the knives from damage and protecting the user from getting cut when the roll is opened.

This is an effective and acceptable way to store your Japanese knives and is of particular importance if you need your collection of knives to be portable.

The disadvantage to this type of knife storage is that you have to open the entire roll to find the knife that you want, and it takes up a fair amount of counter space to do this.

Keeping the roll unrolled is impractical because of this, so you need to unroll the roll each time you need a different knife, or take all the knives out that you expect to use in the course of the food prep and leave them exposed on the countertop.

Another consideration to be cognizant of when using a cloth bag for your knives is to make sure that you do not set the bag down on a wet countertop where the fabric can absorb water or juices from foods that are being processed. 

The water and other fluids may be absorbed into the material and go unnoticed for a while and lead to rust becoming established on the knives wrapped in the damp cloth. If the fluid is corrosive, it may also stain and mar the blade or the handle of the knife.

TIP: When it comes to buying a Japanese knife, many people think that Japanese knives are cheaper in Japan. But is it true? Find out the answer in the article below:

Are Japanese Knives Cheaper In Japan? Complete Breakdown

Cleaning Your Japanese Knives

Cleaning your Japanese knives is another important aspect of taking care of your knives. Incorrect cleaning can damage your knife, shorten its lifespan and dull the knife requiring it to be sharpened more regularly.

The main no-no for cleaning your knives is never to put them in a dishwasher for cleaning! Dishwashers use high-pressure hot water, and in some cases, salt. The water can damage the wooden handles of the knives, and the saltwater can cause your high carbon steel blade to rust.

The rattling around of the knife in the dishwasher is also likely to bash the edge of the knife against the basket in the dishwasher or other utensils that are being washed at the same time. This will dull the edge, or worse, chip the fine edge of the knife.

The best way to clean the wood handle of the knife is to wipe it down with a damp cloth or sponge, using a little dishwashing detergent only if absolutely necessary.

A stainless steel blade will hold up to much more rigorous cleaning than a high carbon steel blade, but to keep the cleaning process simple, it is best to stick to cleaning all your Japanese knives the same way.

Simply wipe the blade with a sponge with warm water and a little mild kitchen dishwashing soap. Bever use harsh abrasives or strong chemical detergents to clean your knives.

After cleaning your knives, always make sure that you thoroughly dry your knives off before storing them. If it is possible for you to do it safely even after you have dried them with a cloth, leave them in the open to air dry for a few minutes to allow as much of the remaining moisture on the knife to evaporate before storing the knife.

If you intend to store your knives for an extended period without use, you may want to consider giving each blade a light coating of food-grade mineral oil before packing them away. The oil will provide an air and moisture barrier to protect the knives from rust.

Never use any non-food-grade oils on your knives, or if you do, make sure that you wash the knives thoroughly before you use them again.

Honing Your Japanese Knives

If you own Japanese kitchen knives, you should also own a good quality hone. The hone will be a best friend to you and your knives and will keep the edge aligned, polished, sharp, and ready for use.

There is a variety of honing tools available for kitchen knives, including honing steels and ceramic hones. As you use your kitchen knives, you will find that they will lose some of the keenness of the edge, and they will not cut as smoothly as before.

A knife in this condition that is still sharp but has lost a little performance does not need to be sharpened but rather to be honed. Sharpening is too aggressive at this stage and will remove steel unnecessarily from the edge of the knife.

The process of honing the knife does not remove steel but rather re-aligns the sharp edge of the knife to restore sharpness. During normal use of a knife with a thin, sharp edge, the thin edge becomes rolled over or misaligned to the center of the blade. 

The honing process simply re-aligns the edge to restore sharpness to the blade. The problem with honing a knife is that the constant flexing of the thin edge introduces stresses to the metal and the edge will eventually chip and break.

At this stage, honing will not restore the edge, and you will need to have a sharpening session with the knife where you will cut metal from the edge with abrasives to create a new cutting edge.

An alternative to the honing steel or ceramic rod is to strop the knife edge on a piece of leather with a fine grinding compound on the surface of the leather. This will also re-align the edge of the knife and polish it at the same time in much the same way as a honing rod will.

TIP: The difference between sharpening and honing is one of those areas where confusion reigns. So between sharpening and honing, which one would come first on a blade? Find out the answer in the article below:

Sharpen Or Hone A Knife: What Comes First?

Sharpening Your Japanese Knives

Sharpening knives is a complex and controversial topic, and each knife owner will have their own preferred method of sharpening their knives.

If you own quality Japanese kitchen knives, it would be best to use the best sharpening method you can to maintain the edges on these knives. You will always get the best performance from any knife if it is kept sharp and ready for service.

The best option to use is sharpening stones, such as Japanese Waterstones, but this method of sharpening knives takes some skill, and there is a learning curve associated with this method.

If you are new to knife sharpening, it would be best to practice your whetstone sharpening skills on cheaper knives before you try it on expensive Japanese kitchen knives.

There are methods other than using whetstones to sharpen your knives, such as sharpening systems, pull-through sharpeners, and electric sharpeners.

Pull-through sharpeners and electric sharpeners may work up to a point, but they are not the best sharpening solution for a set of Japanese knives. They have preset angles that may not be suitable for all types of Japanese knives, such as single bevel knives.

For this reason, it would be well worth your while to acquire the skill of sharpening your knives on a whetstone or a sharpening system, rather than pull-through sharpeners or electric sharpeners.

TIP: Are you looking to buy a new whetstone? Check out our recommendations (we personally use the first three ones):

Our PRO choice whetstones combo (Amazon links):

Our budget choice (Amazon link): Sharp Pebble Extra Large Sharpening Stone Set

Conclusion

Every knife that you use in your kitchen should be taken care of, but the ones that you have paid a good deal extra for, such as your Japanese knives, would certainly deserve additional care and would benefit from this attention.

Taking good care of your Japanese knives will make sure that you get the most out of your investment from a performance point of view and extend their lifespan to make sure that you get to enjoy these knives for many years!

TIP: Japanese kitchen knives are most commonly sharpened on sharpening stones. There are several types of sharpening stones and they are often confused. Find out more about the differences between oil stones and wet stones in the article below:

Oil Stone Vs. Water stone: What’s The Difference?

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