The Kai company has been in existence since 1908. For the Japanese market they manufacture a number of products. The foremost of which are shaving razors, beauty shop and personal grooming supplies. Another division handles medical cutting instruments as in scalpels. Along the lines of cutting equipment there are also shears and scissors. They are known in the western world for their Shun “Classic” knives.
In 1977 The Kai company expanded into the US with the purchase of the Kershaw knife company. Kershaw , famous for it’s many styles of folding, hunting and tactical knives was a perfect match for the company which made the same lines in Japan. The expansion introduced the American market to Kai and resulted in new facilities for Kershaw in Tualatin WA.
In 1998 the first of what would be many collaboration efforts happened when Kai began to work with Ken Onion. Ken developed an opening system for folding knives called the “Speed Safe”. This system won awards and world wide recognition. Over the course of the next two years Ken and the Kershaw company released “Boa, Black Chive and Leek” models which also won awards. Ken currently holds 36 patents for knife related designs.
In 2000, Ken turned his attention to the “Chef Knife” and after careful study, developed the Ken Onion Chef’s Knife”. This unusual looking knife was made to be useful for the tall or short person, for both left and right hander’s. Ken studied the angles of the cutting motion and the manner in which a chef knife is typically held. To reduce the stress on the hands and shoulder, Ken looked at the normal “pinch” method of holding a chef’s knife and developed an ergonomic handle that eliminated the need to reach out over the spine of the knife for balance and control. He also increased the angle of the bolster by pointing the handle downward.
If you are still in the market for this knife you will have to search around for a bit. I found one at “Chefknivestogo.com” it said “close-out ” and appeared to be 50% off of the regular price. I am sure that this wont last very long. Apparently Shun is discontinuing these.
As you look at the picture, notice the width above the bolster where the user would typically hold the knife. This eliminates the “knife callous” that occurs when using a chef knife for several hours in a row.
In 2002 Kai introduced their “Classic” line of chef’s knives. Since then, the Kai Corporation has gone on to develop collaborations with several other master craftsmen. Bob Kramer (USA), and Michel Bras (France) are two of the most prominent in the professional kitchen knife area. These two lines offer the consumer an opportunity to own unique craftsmanship in two different styles. Michel Bras a Chef from the Laguiole region of France has joined with Kai to introduce his line of knives and fine cutlery. These knives represent the best of European design and Japanese steel technology, or “Cutting Edge Jewelry” as Michel calls them. You can see the whole line at the BrasKai.net web site.
See This at Sur La Table
The Bob Kramer Shun collectors series was introduced in the fall of 2008. Bob had numerous jobs in the food service, becoming fascinated with knives and went on a quest to learn how to keep them sharp. After several attempts he finally found someone who would teach him the secrets of the knife sharpening trade. With his newly acquired trade he set up shop in the Seattle area sharpening knives for local chef’s. After a few years he decided to further his craft and learn how to make knives.
Bob Kramer is now one of a very few knife “Mastersmiths” . This rare breed of knife makers whose numbers are less than 200 for the United States are total masters of their craft. To qualify as masters they must know all about the “smithing” process and also:
- Bring a knife to a test which will cut through a 1″ free hanging sisal or manilla rope in one cut.
- Chop a 2×4 in half not once but twice; nicks or chips in the blade will immediately disqualify.
- Then “shave hair” with the most damaged part of the blade to demonstrate it’s sharpness.
- Finally the blade is inserted into a vise and bent to a 90 degree angle with out breaking.
For the journeyman test the blade type is carbon steel and when they return for their masters test they must bring a “Damascus” steel blade and go through the same process once again. Damascus steel having been folded back upon itself and pounded thin numerous times produces that beautiful wavy layered pattern look at the same time being very hard (62-66 on the Rockwell scale)
Bob Kramer knives sell for about $300 an inch, assuming you could get on the waiting list to get one. He makes about 5 of them a week. Bob’s goal is to develop a blade that will cut through a hardened steel bolt and still retain its’ edge. According (this link has been removed from the original site, I’m looking for the article elsewhere) from the New Yorker, he has apparently come very close. The trademark of his knives is the fineness of the steel he uses, the ability of the blade to hold an edge, and to be quickly resharpened when it dulls. You can see from the picture above that he also incorporates “ergonomic” features into his work to make prolonged use more comfortable.
Th Shun “Bob Kramer” collection is a beautiful stainless clad replication of his work. Manufactured according to his specifications and Kai/Shun exacting standards this set of 5 knives is complete for the home user, or the professional. Available exclusively from SurLaTable
there is also a great video interview with Bob Kramer to complete your education. As the weeks go by we will be exploring more of the knives in the Shun line. Thanks for reading. Michael Brown
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