There is more to knives than their ability to cut things.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Handling a well-constructed knife is a tactile pleasure, but it can be visually stimulating as well. When it comes to beautiful knife finishes, Japanese craftsmen have the edge.

Note that these finishes don’t add anything to the performance of the knife. They’re just an aesthetic flourish that also acknowledges the hard work that goes into forging one. The most basic is called the kurouchi, or blacksmith’s finish (above, middle).

Steel blackens during the forging process so achieving kurouchi is simply a matter of polishing the edge and leaving the rest of it in its raw state. It has the added benefit of keeping production costs low, so it will also be more affordable. This finish can fade over time so wipe the blade down with a non-abrasive cloth to maintain its black colour for longer.

Taking this a step further will give you the nashiji finish (above, right). The whole blade is polished to remove the black, but some of the “dimples” along the spine are left to give it the appearance of Asian pear skin, from which the finish derives its name. Some believe that the rough surface helps food detach from the blade more easily.

A fully polished knife is categorised as migaki (above, left), but there are knife makers who will polish it until it achieves a mirror finish. Of course, regular maintenance will be needed to keep that level of shine.

Those interested in forging their own knives (complete with the finishes above) can sign up for a workshop with Tombalek, which offers classes on half-bolster, gyuto and nashiji gyuto knife making.

Then there are finishes that can be achieved only through specific processes. The tsuchime or hand-hammered finish offers a variety of styles depending on the type of hammer used, while the suminagashi or damascus finish requires repeated layering, pounding and welding of two types of steel to get its wavy pattern.

For more information on blacksmithing and knife-making classes, visit