I ran across one of these through a crazy Amazon recommendation this week, and I wondered what my fellow Toolmongers think of them — assuming you’ve heard of them before, which I hadn’t. I’m writing, of course, of the Japanese carpenter knife, pictured above.
From what I can tell, the defining qualities of these knives are their curved blade shape and simple folding mechanism. The blade is somewhat reminiscent of a sword, which appeals to some. But what’s really appealing to me about these is their apparent utility. The blade looks super-useful as it’s wide and long enough to accurately cut and provides a nice, sharp point that’d be handy for scribing or making tiny cuts of any kind.
Most of the knives I found are similar to the model Amazon first recommended to me, featuring a metal body and a thumb rest “locking” mechanism. Virtually all of them also include a hole in the back for “storage or a lanyard.” Sean, by the way, wrote a nice piece a while back on how to make a knife lanyard — instructions which I still follow.
You can find these at most of the major tool outlets. Lee Valley carries one with a brass handle and what looks like a steel thumb rest. It features a 4″ long blade hardened to Rc60. The knife overall is fairly large: 8-3/4″ open, 5-1/4″ closed. Garrett Wade carries what looks like a very similar, but slightly smaller at 4-1/4″ folded, knife (for about the same price of $25). And if you’re concerned with the brass turning your hands colors, Cooper Hewitt offers one with what appears to be a steel handle. And, of course, there’s the Amazon knife [What’s This?] (from the Duluth Trading Company) that first drew my attention. It’s shiny with a kind of interesting wavy design down the side — and a bit cheaper at $18 (as of today, anyway).
I think what really interests me about these is that they look very practical, and though they seem to have some tradition behind them, they’re not overblown and over-priced. That bears some explanation, I think. Consider this:
A long time back I wanted to learn how to make fettucini Alfredo. I was convinced it was a magic dish, so I tried all sorts of complex recipes and crazy techniques to make it. Then one day (and a good twelve-week cooking school later) a thought struck me: This is freakin’ comfort food. People didn’t make fettucini Alfredo to show off. They made it because it used ingredients they had in abundance and because it was easy. So I tried some simple methods and found the magic I sought. (Add al dente pasta to melted butter, add cream and copious fresh-grated parmesan, toss.)
I think knife makers (and collectors) often approach knives the way I used to approach the Alfredo: they want it to be special, so they overcomplicate it and then revere it in an extreme fashion. That just doesn’t really interest me as much anymore. I want the real Alfredo, which in knife terms means something that is tradition because it works, not important because it’s tradition. Know what I mean?