Honyaki: Single-Material Forged Knives

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Honyaki knives are forged from one single material, usually high-carbon steel. The finest honyaki (mizu-honyaki) are then differentially-hardened, the same method used for traditional katana.

Their sharpness is the longest lasting of all Japanese blades. They are extremely difficult to forge, requiring a high level of skill and experience.

They are also very difficult to sharpen and maintain, and easily damaged if not properly used.

What is a honyaki knife

They are also more expensive than other knives (costing over $1000 for a 240mm gyuto), such as Kasumi knives, which are made out of two materials and are easier to forge and maintain.

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What is Honyaki Steel?

Honyaki is a traditional Japanese blade construction method that involves making the knife from a single piece of metal known as “Hagane,” which is high-carbon steel.

It is one of the most ancient methods of making knives and finds its origins in the ancient Japanese sword-making technique, known as Nihonto.

The Hagane, or simply steel, can be White steel, a.k.a Shirogami, or blue steel, a.k.a Aogami.

Now, if one would say that the only difference between Shirogami and Aogami steel is the color, they would certainly be wrong.

The fact is that both knives come with their pros and cons. For example, Honyaki knives made of blue steel have better edge retention and corrosion resistance.

But at the same time, they aren’t very sharp, as well as very difficult to sharpen, and often lay at the brittle side on the HRC scale.

Plus, blue steel also has other alloys like chromium and tungsten mixed with it to ease the forging process, which is totally against the traditional Japanese Honyaki or Nihonto forging methods.

This is one of the biggest reasons you will often find blue steel Honyaki knives relatively cheaper than their white steel counterparts.

On the other hand, Honyaki Japanese kitchen knives made of white steel, or Shirogami, stay true to the ancient Japanese traditions.

Each Shirogami Honyaki knife is made from a piece of pure white high carbon steel without any addition of alloys.

Moreover, compared to blue steel Honyaki knives, white steel variants are incredibly sharp.

However, on the downside, white steel will also need to be sharpened more often.

Not to mention the extreme brittleness, with over 65 HRC score, and the extensive care due to more susceptibility to corrosion.

Since white steel Japanese knives are tough to make, the process is handled by very numbered and experienced craftspeople.

Hence, there’s only a limited number of white steel Honyaki knives in the world.

Why are Honyaki knives so expensive?

If you have been familiar with Japanese culinary tools, I suppose you’ll already know that Honyaki is the most expensive Japanese knife available!

But why is it so? Well, several factors are responsible for that. Among them include:

Limited supply

Yes, Honyaki knives are very much limited in supply due to their special method of production that has a more than 50% failure rate.

Shocking! Right? Well, not when we get into the details!

So, the first thing, as I have already mentioned, is the knife is made from a single piece of steel.

Compared to clad blades, forging a single piece of steel into a perfect mono steel knife is much more difficult because of the steel’s immense hardness and brittleness.

Therefore the process requires extreme caution.

Water quenching

What’s more, is that Honyaki or Mizu-Honyaki knives are water quenched. Water quenching is a challenging task compared to standard oil quenching.

The chance of success in water-quenching is subtle due to the dramatic temperature change, which can either distort or simply crack the blade. Consequently, all the effort goes down the drain.

Not to mention that Honyaki Japanese kitchen knives need to be quenched individually, instead of in batches, as is common with clad knives.

This means more turnaround time, which often adds to the scarcity, and hence, a high price!

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention! The brittleness of Honyaki knives also increases the chances of failure during the sharpening process.

But even when a particular knife is a failure, the factories must pay for all the effort and materials that went into it, which adds up to the cost.

Use of exotic materials

Unlike other Japanese knives, Honyaki receives extra care and attention to live up to the users’ expectations and justify its price.

Most Honyaki knives have a mirror polishing, with their handle and Saya sheath made of exotic and rare woods.

This is also one of the contributing factors to the high price, though not as much!

A limited number of masters

To make an authentic Honyaki knife, the maker must be a master first.

Unfortunately, only a few (like ten or so) masters left in Japan can make a full-fledged Honyaki knife – all in their 70s or 80s.

Thus, this is also one of the reasons why Honyaki knives hold a scarce and special status, making the knife a rarity and hence, expensive.


What does Honyaki mean?

You might be wondering what the meaning of “Honyaki” is. Well, it simply means “true forged.”

As mentioned earlier, It represents the highest quality construction of blades based on the ancient Japanese technique of Nihonto.

Each Honyaki blade is made from a single piece of carbon steel, and the process is handled by the hands of an extremely skilled Japanese master.

Is Honyaki better?

A Honyaki knife is the closest thing to an ancient Japanese sword you can get in modern times, with the same material, performance, and durability.

Made by the most experienced craftsmen only, Honyaki knives are forged and hammered by hand.

Thus, they have unparalleled hardness and sharpness that cuts through meat and vegetables as smooth as a breeze.

Trust me; better is just a tiny word. Honyaki screams of the skill and craft of Japanese makers!

It’s not only the best Japanese knife but the best knife anywhere in the world.

How do you use a Honyaki knife?

A Honyaki knife comes in various versions, including Honyaki Yanagiba, Honyaki Gyutou, and Honyaki Kiritsuke, and can be used just like standard knives.

For the sake of convention, let me describe the using method of a Honyaki Yanagiba:

So, first of all, position your legs, one at the side and one pushed back a little.

Afterward, hold the holster of your blade with your thumb and index finger, and wrap the remaining fingers around the handle.

Now push the blade downward slowly and gently; don’t overforce the knife. After you make the cut, pull the knife towards yourself, and then push again.

How can you tell if a knife is Honyaki?

Honyaki knives are made from one steel piece, with a hardness that easily surpasses or is equal to 65 HRC.

Moreover, the blade of the knife is almost always mirror finished and crafted with extreme precision.

To make sure you buy an authentic Honyaki, contact a Japanese master directly or purchase from a reputed brand like Sakai or Yoshihiro.

What is Mizu Honyaki?

‘Mizu Honyaki’ refers to knives that are water-quenched.

These knives are made following purely traditional Japanese methods of blade-making and are forged to perfection.

This is why Mizu Honyaki knives are incredibly sharp and hard, making them susceptible to breaking.

On the other hand, oil-quenched blades are called ‘Abura Honyaki.’

They are not as hard as a Mizu Honyaki and are usually prepared from blue steel mixed with chromium or tungsten.

Besides, they aren’t as sharp as Mizu Honyaki knives.

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Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.