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Three words: harder, lighter, sharper.
For most of us – at least when we first started cooking – the archetypal kitchen knife was the European-style chef's knife.
Generally, these knives tend to be heavier and made of "tougher" but "softer" steel. They are also usually made from thicker blade stock and sharpened to a wider cutting angle (20 - 25° on each side of the blade), which means it takes more pressure to slice through foods. Because of the softer steel, these knives will also get dull faster and require more maintenance. The benefit of the softer steel, however, is that it enables these knives to take more edge abuse.
Japanese knives, like Shun Cutlery, are different. They are generally lighter in weight and made of thinner, harder, advanced-formula steel. Due to this harder steel, the blade stock can be thinner and the edge more acute – that is, sharper – than a comparable European knife. Shun knives, for example, are sharpened to a 16° angle on each side of the blade. The lighter, thinner blade makes Japanese steel knives extremely agile and precise, and they can even be less tiring to use.
HARDER. Japanese knives often use advanced steel with a much finer grain than standard stainless steel. In manufacturing, the high-carbon steel Shun uses can be hardened by heat treatment and tempering. Hardening the steel in this way means these knives can be sharper and hold their edge longer.
LIGHTER. A harder steel also means these knives can use a thinner blade stock, so they are lighter and less tiring to use. The thinner blade also glides through food more easily.
SHARPER. With harder steel, Japanese-style knives can be sharpened to a steeper angle and hold their edge for a longer time. But a sharper edge also requires a refined cutting style so that you don't chip the extremely thin, sharp edge. Use less muscle, more of a slicing cut.
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