Sakai Takayuki Japanese Knives:
Making full use of traditional skills that have been handed down from generation to generation, and touting world-class sharpness refined with painstaking care.
An Introductory Video of Knife Forging Techniques by Mr. Itsuo Doi, a knife smith of Sakai

Cooks and chefs all over, regardless of country and nationality have absolute trust in Sakai knives which have a six-hundred year history.
Preserving tradition, Aoki Hamono Seisakusho (Aoki Knife Manufacturing) has been making knives under the Sakai Takayuki brand name. I went to Sakai in Osaka to videotape the work of Mr. Itsuo Doi, a knife smith who fabricates knives in the Sakai tradition.

a600IMG_9027 (Picture: A View of the Workplace)

There is no light inside the workplace where the knives are made; it is shrouded in darkness. The process of forging knives requires sensitive temperature control, but this is not achieved through thermometers, rather, the knife smith looks at the flames and the color of the heated iron to determine the temperature and proceeds with his work accordingly. This is precisely the skill of a master; this intuition of a craftsman based on years of experience.

IMG_9049 (Picture: The furnace)

The knife smith works in front of a furnace that has temperatures reaching 900°C (1652°F). I was allowed to enter the workplace and come near the furnace as a special consideration, and when I got close to the flames it was so hot that it felt as if my face were on fire.

(Video: Forge welding)

The base metal composed of soft iron and the hard blade metal are bound together by sprinkling bonding material on top of the heated base metal. The bound metals are then hammered numerous times on top of a block of steel and heated on the furnace. This repetitive procedure binds the two metals together. The hard blade metal becomes the blade of the knife while the soft iron supports the blade; resulting in a sharp edge and forms the base of a heavy-duty knife.

(Video: Forging)

The metals that have been forged and welded together and heated in the furnace are then formed into the shape of a knife by hammering. The knife smith uses a mechanical spring hammer that moves up and down as well as manual hammering as needed.

There is a hardness to the sharpness of the knife; and the length of the a blade’s life lies in its viscosity. Superior knives consistently have these contradicting characteristics; and Mr. Doi makes full use of this traditional skill, wherein repetitive hammering fortifies the hardness and viscosity of the knife. The knife’s hardness and viscosity not only produces a sharp cut, but they also ensure a superior knife that is easy to sharpen and retains its sharpness for a long time.

a600IMG_9036 (Picture: After forging)

The knife’s prototype is done. From the ridge (opposite the blade) to the tip of the knife, makers of Sakai Takayuki knives are particular about angling the knife in the most suitable way, giving rise to the sharpest of cuts. After this procedure, the knife undergoes various steps until it is completed.

a600IMG_9034 (Picture: Mr. Doi, knife smith and creator of knives in the Sakai tradition)

Mr. Itsuo Doi was born in 1948 and at 24 years of age, he became the apprentice of Mr. Keijiro Doi, his father. Following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Mr. Doi was trained in the secrets of his family’s craft, continuously producing excellent knives as a knife smith in the Sakai tradition.

He grew up seeing his father get black and dirty all over from forging metal everyday, and as a child he dreamed of working in a clean environment someday. He eventually worked at a company for some time but he could not resist the allure of knife making so he chose to become a knife smith.

Carbon residue and ash from the charcoal litter the workplace so cooling fans are easily destroyed. There are no air conditioners so during the height of summer the place is as hot as hell. Having the skills handed down from generation to generation, he says that above all his work is fulfilling and that he enjoys his work even under severe working conditions, since he is able to make things for customers seeking products of the highest quality.

After videotaping Mr. Doi, he also allowed me to videotape the polishing of the knife, as well as the last stage in knife-making – the attachment of the handle. Please take a look at the videos below.

(Video: Polishing)

a600IMG_9058There are various types of polishing such as rough polishing and final finishing. The blade is ground and edged, and then finished into a knife.

a600IMG_9055(Picture: Polishing station)
Due polishing, fragments of grindstone or the knife’s blade fly upfront, shaping the knife into something that almost looks like a stalactite.

(Video: Handle attachment)

The part of the knife where the handle will be attached is heated with a gas burner, and it is then inserted into the hole of a wooden handle. With a wooden mallet, the bottom of the handle is hammered, fusing the blade and handle together. Depending on the shrinkage of the wood, the handle is fixed firmly into place.

a600DSC00872 aIMG_9044 Each knife is made using different techniques, and passes through the hands of various craftsmen such as knife smiths and polishers. In addition to traditional techniques, the passion and training of the craftsmen are embedded into each piece, and each one continues to receive high marks as a superior knife.

It takes a long time of several years to become a full-fledged knife smith and polisher, and with the backdrop of a shrinking market for knives in Japan, the training of a successor to become the bearer of tradition is the next challenge. I hope that these traditional skills will be preserved, and that these knives continue to be things that Japan can be proud of and showcase to the rest of the world.

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