July 05, 2021 8 min read

The best choice is the Spanish Mahogany 33-layer Stainless Steel Damascus!

Just kidding, though that is one of the more popular designs, it totally depends on your preference and we are about to run through some great options for you (we know there are a lot of choices).

So whether you’re new to using a Santoku, or a seasoned veteran in the kitchen, I hope you get value from this post.

How to choose the best Japanese Santoku knife:

  • Which steel you should choose?
  • Which handle style you want?
  • What size you want?
  • What about blade finish?

When you buy Santoku knives, the answers to each of these is personal but we can help guide you along the path and help you find the best Santoku for your style.

At this point you have probably already decided to buy a Santoku knife.  However, if you are still researching you should check out our other resources:

Now let’s get rolling!


What type of steel should I choose for my new knife?

This is a big question as the steel type will dramatically impact the longevity of the blade based on how you treat it.

The two main types of steel for Japanese Santoku knives are:

  • Stainless steel and;
  • High carbon steel, typically blue steel, also known as aogami.

Be honest with yourself, how do you treat your current knives in the kitchen? 

Do you clean them right away? Use knives for their intended purposes? Cut on a good cutting board?

If so, either stainless steel or high carbon steel may work for you.  If not, you may want to steer yourself over to the stainless steel variety.

Stainless steel kitchen knives are still great knives that will hold a very sharp edge, but with less maintenance required

Don’t get me wrong, you should still treat them well, hand wash and clean them right away, but they are going to be less temperamental than their high carbon steel cousins.

Top stainless steel Santoku knife options if you’ve decided to go this route:

  1. 180mm (7.1") Damascus 33 Layer
Japanese Santoku - 33 Layer Damascus with Spanish Mahogany handle - Sakai Takayuki
Features:
    • Stunning Spanish Mahogany handle
    • Stainless steel VG-10 makes, one of the most trusted Japanese stainless steels available
    • Hammered finish with 33 Layer Damascus is aesthetically pleasing
    • Heavier handle due to the type of wood and the full tang that is part of Western style handles
    • Stainless steel may need more frequent sharpening depending on usage than a high carbon knife
    1. Wa-Santoku Knife 170 mm (6.7") Damascus 33 Layer

    Japanese Wa-Santoku - 33 Layer Damascus with Zelkova and Spanish Mahogany Japanese style handle - Sakai Takayuki

    Features:

      • Striking Zelkova Japanese style handle with a Spanish Mahogany bolster
      • Stainless steel VG-10 makes, one of the most trusted Japanese stainless steels available
      • Hammered finish with 33 Layer Damascus is aesthetically pleasing
      • Lighter handle and more forward weighted knife due to partial tang
      • Stainless steel may need more frequent sharpening depending on usage than a high carbon knife
      1. Wa-Santoku Knife 180mm (7.1") Damascus 69 Layer - Ginga

      Japanese Ginga Santoku - 69 Layer Damascus with Wenge Japanese style handle - Sakai Takayuki

      Features:

        • ZA-18 Stainless steel, HRC of 61-63 makes this blade capable of a razor-sharp edge
        • Wenge wood Japanese style handle with a horn bolster
        • Mirror finish 69 Layer Damascus Ginga Design (“Galaxy”)
        • Lighter handle and more forward weighted knife due to partial tang

        What about the high carbon steel Santoku knives, I hear you asking?

        High carbon blue steel, Aogami, is going to require more TLC but you can get this edge razor sharp

        If you want to buy a Santoku knife that will cut through things like butter, this is your steel. 

        But you need to take care; it is also more prone to chipping since the metal has more carbon in it which makes it more brittle as well.

        With high carbon steels like Aogami or Shirogami (White Steel) any moisture needs to be removed immediately as well.  Since they aren’t stainless steel, they are much more prone to rust or corrosion.

        When you visit a Japanese knife online store, like Hasu-Seizo, the choices can be overwhelming.

        For a more detailed analysis of the difference between steel types read our article Stainless Steel Kitchen Knives vs High Carbon Steel Kitchen Knives.

        Top high carbon steel options if you’ve decided to go this route:

        1. 170 mm (6.7") Kurouchi Aoniko / Blue Steel #2

        Aoniko Santoku - Blue Rainbow Kurouchi finish with Walnut handle - Sakai Takayuki

        Features:

          • Striking Kurouchi rainbow finish
          • Japanese style Walnut handle with horn bolster
          • High Carbon Blue Steel #2
          • Razor sharp edge
          • Lighter handle and more forward weighted knife due to partial tang
          1. Kengata Santoku 160mm (6.3") Aogami Super Kurouchi Hammered Finish

          Super Blue Aogami - Kengata Santoku Kurouchi with Zelkova and Spanish Mahogany handle

          Features:

            • Kengata tip rather than a standard Santoku’s rounded tip (also known as a K-tip)
            • Two-tone handle with a Zelkova Japanese wood with a Spanish Mahogany bolster
            • Hammered Kurouchi finish, allows easier food release
            • High Carbon Super Blue Steel, Vanadium added to normal Blue Steel for durability
            • Razor sharp edge
            • Lighter handle and more forward weighted knife due to partial tang

            Ok so you’ve picked your steel type, now what?

            Handle style!

            Do you want a traditional Japanese style handle or a Western style handle?

            Traditional Japanese style handles are wood, and some have additional embellishment such as horn bolster, others are fully wood.  However, the significant difference is the tang.

            Tang!

            No, not the tasty orange drink. We are referring to the metal from the blade that goes into the handle.

            Traditional Japanese style handles have a tang that only goes about 2/3rd to 3/4th of the handle length. 

            How does this affect you?

            The balanceof the blade. 

            For knives with traditional Japanese style handles the balance will be a bit more forward than a knife with a Western style handle that has a full tang, with the metal going the full length of the handle.

            There is not a right answer here, if you are comfortable with a Western style handle and enjoy the contours and grip, stick with it!

            People with larger hands do sometimes like Japanese style handles once they get used to them since they are longer and more versatile without any contouring to get in the way. 

            Top 3 with a traditional Japanese style handle:

            1. Kengata Santoku Knife 160mm (6.3") Damascus 33 Layer
            Wa-Kengata Santoku - 33 Layer Stainless Steel Damascus - Sakai Takayuki

            Features:

              • Kengata tip rather than a standard Santoku’s rounded tip (also known as a K-tip)
              • Stunning Spanish Mahogany handle
              • Stainless steel VG-10 makes, one of the most trusted Japanese stainless steels available
              • Hammered finish with 33 Layer Damascus for a beautiful aesthetic
              • Heavier handle due to wood type and full tang from the Western style handle
              • Stainless steel may need more frequent sharpening depending on usage than a high carbon knife
              1. Wa-Santoku Knife 180mm (7.1") Damascus 69 Layer - Ginga

              Japanese Ginga Santoku - 69 Layer Damascus with Wenge Japanese style handle - Sakai TakayukiFeatures:

                • ZA-18 Stainless steel, HRC of 61-63 makes this blade capable of a razor-sharp edge
                • Wenge wood Japanese style handle with a horn bolster
                • Mirror finish 69 Layer Damascus Ginga Design (“Galaxy”)
                • Lighter handle and more forward weighted knife due to partial tang
                1. Kengata Wa-Santoku 160mm (6.3") Aogami Super Kurouchi Hammered Finish

                Super Blue Aogami - Kengata Santoku Kurouchi with Zelkova and Spanish Mahogany handle

                Features:

                  • Kengata tip rather than a standard Santoku’s rounded tip (also known as a K-tip)
                  • Two-tone handle with a Zelkova Japanese wood with a Spanish Mahogany bolster
                  • Hammered Kurouchi finish, allows easier food release
                  • High Carbon Super Blue Steel, Vanadium added to normal Blue Steel for durability
                  • Razor sharp edge
                  • Lighter handle and more forward weighted knife due to partial tang

                  Top 3 with Western style handles:

                  1. 180mm (7.1") Damascus 33 Layer

                  Japanese Santoku - 33 Layer Damascus with Spanish Mahogany handle - Sakai Takayuki

                  Features:

                    • Stunning Spanish Mahogany handle
                    • Stainless steel VG-10 makes, one of the most trusted Japanese stainless steels available
                    • Hammered finish with 33 Layer Damascus is aesthetically pleasing
                    • Heavier handle due to wood type and full tang from the Western style handle
                    • Stainless steel may need more frequent sharpening depending on usage than a high carbon knife
                    1. Mirror 170 mm (6.7") Damascus 45 Layer

                    Japanese Santoku - 45 Layer Stainless Steel Damascus - Sakai Takayuki

                    Features:

                      • Beautiful 45 Layer Damascus with a mirror finish
                      • AUS-10 Stainless Steel core
                      • Thin blade design for less resistance while cutting
                      • Black resin composite handle for
                      • Stainless steel may need more frequent sharpening depending on usage than a high carbon knife
                      1. INOX Pro Molybdenum Stainless Steel 180mm (7.1")

                      Japanese Santoku - Inox Pro Molybdenum Stainless Steel - Sakai Takayuki 

                      Features:

                        • Seamless inox molybdenum stainless steel construction 
                        • Seamless design allows for easier cleaning
                        • Textured metal handle provides grip even when wet
                        • Stainless steel may need more frequent sharpening depending on usage than a high carbon knife

                        So, anything else? Of course!

                        Aesthetics! 

                        What about the finishes?

                        While much of this is personal preference, there are some options that make slicing easier on you. 

                        Here are some different styles to keep an eye out for:

                        • Kurochi
                        • Kurokage
                        • Hammered
                        • Grooved
                        • Mirror

                        Have you ever noticed when you’re slicing a cucumber or tomato and the slices stick to the knife? 

                        If so, when you are shopping at a Japanese knife shop online, you may want to keep an eye out for either the hammered finish or the grooves which will allow for air pockets to reduce the suction formed and release the food easier.

                        What about other options?  There are a huge variety of other finishes out there and many of them are stunning options that will accent your kitchen.

                        You may see words like Kurochi or Kurokage.  These are a black finish, sometimes matte, that or more in line with traditional Japanese finishing methods.

                        Mirror finishes are another popular technique as these are really an eye-popping aesthetic.

                        What about the Damascus?

                        We can also include Damascus in the discussion about finishes as this is primarily a technique that provides an aesthetic versus functional feature.

                        Damascus is the layering of different types of steel to provide a series of waves to the cutting edge.

                        Many of the Damascus knives discuss the core, this is the main edge and when you sharpen the knife this is the part you are focused on and looking at for the hardness and functional component of the edge.

                        Now what?

                        No matter which Santoku knife you buy, we are sure that you will enjoy it!

                        Have you ever noticed that chefs have a giant knife roll with all different types of knives? That knife set is from years of getting new knives and finding out how and when to use them. 

                        No matter which one you choose there will be the perfect time and place to use it when creating your culinary masterpieces.

                        You’ll notice that we haven’t mentioned the length, the reason for this is that Santoku knives in particular are generally within about 20mm of each other, typically from 160-180mm.  Gyuto’s, Japanese chef knives, will have a much larger range and the size differences can be more impactful.

                        If you have chosen your knife and decided that you’d like a set, we offer many of our styles as Japanese knife sets which can include a Nakiri for vegetables and a petty for those smaller tasks.


                        Shopping for Japanese knives online can be daunting, we hope this guide has been helpful.

                        Please feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions or we can help guide you to the right knife.

                        Hasu-Seizo is a family-owned and operated business proud to offer handcrafted artisan Japanese knives to clients throughout the greater Seattle region as well as the rest of the world.

                        Hasu-Seizo came to life out of an affinity for family history and the work performed on Sakai Takayuki brand blades in Osaka.



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