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A Visit to Nigara Hamono: Mastering the Art of Knife Sharpening in Hirosaki City

A Visit to Nigara Hamono: Mastering the Art of Knife Sharpening in Hirosaki City

James Zhang |

Nestled in the historic city of Hirosaki in Aomori Prefecture, Japan, Nigara Hamono stands as a testament to centuries of craftsmanship and dedication to the art of knife making. Founded in the Edo period, this esteemed blacksmith workshop has evolved over generations, blending traditional techniques with modern innovations to create some of the finest kitchen knives in the world. My visit to Nigara Hamono was not just a journey through its rich history but an immersive experience in the meticulous craft of knife sharpening.

The History of Nigara Hamono

Nigara Hamono traces its origins back to the Edo period, a time when the art of swordsmithing was at its zenith in Japan. Over the centuries, as the demand for samurai swords waned, Nigara Hamono adapted by transitioning from sword making to crafting kitchen knives, bringing the same level of precision and artistry to their new craft. Today, the workshop is renowned for its exquisite blades, each reflecting a blend of traditional techniques and modern expertise. Visiting Nigara Hamono is like stepping back in time, yet witnessing the future of knife making unfold before your eyes.

(Master Go Yoshizawa forging in front of the students)

The Advanced Sharpening Course

My visit to Nigara Hamono was highlighted by an advanced sharpening course, a deep dive into the intricate process of transforming a knife blank into a functional and finely honed kitchen tool. The course provided hands-on experience with the big vertical water grinders, a crucial component in shaping kitchen knives.

Day 1: Starting with a Thin VG10 Blank

Our journey began with a thin VG10 blank. Using the big water grinder freehand, we started with an 80 grit stone. The 80 grit stone is essential for bulk material removal, shaping the blank quickly and efficiently. However, this stage requires a delicate balance; the grinder's speed can easily overheat the blank if not handled with the correct pressure and timing. The next step involved using a 120 grit stone to fix the unevenness left by the 80 grit. By the time the blank leaves the waterstone, the knife's core is exposed and nearly ready for the final sharpening stages.

(VG10 Knife blanks to be sharpened)

Refining the Blade

Following the initial shaping, we moved on to a 200 grit belt, then a 400 grit belt. These belts are crucial for refining the blade's surface, evening out the blade road, and reducing the scratches from the previous steps. After the belt work, a bit of buffing was done to further smooth the blade.

(James working on a 120grit vertical grinder)

(James working on a 3000grit water grinder, give the knife an edge)

Sandblasting for a Finished Look

The final step in this part of the process was using the sandblasting machine. Sandblasting effectively enhances the blade's surface, giving it a more finished and professional appearance.


Repeating the Process

After mastering the technique on the thin VG10 blank, we repeated the entire process on a longer blade blank. This repetition was crucial for building confidence and skill, ensuring that each participant could handle different blade sizes and shapes with precision.


Day 2: Working with SLD Copper Damascus Blanks

On the second day, we were given some forged blanks, specifically the SLD copper Damascus blanks, along with the help of a wooden jig. Sharpening such a beautiful blade was an intriguing experience. To my surprise, the blade was much harder to sharpen than the pre-shaped VG10 blank. The time spent on the water stone was significantly longer, and it was challenging to get it right; I nearly sharpened my first santoku into a petty knife.

(The forged SLD Copper Damascus blank to be sharpened)

The wooden jig made applying pressure easier, but it also increased the risk of mistakes. Over-grinding on one side meant spending more time correcting it on the other side, which increased the likelihood of additional errors. Once the knife passed this step, the process became easier and mirrored the steps from the first day.

(James doing fast stock removal on a 80grit vertical water grinder)

Reflections on the Experience

The advanced sharpening course at Nigara Hamono was not just about learning the technical skills of knife sharpening. It was an immersive experience that offered a deeper appreciation for the meticulous craftsmanship and dedication that goes into every blade. The hands-on approach, combined with the guidance from master craftsmen, made it an unforgettable journey into the heart of Japanese knife making.

(Right: a knife rough sharpened, vs an unsharpened knife blank on left)

This course gave me a much better understanding of the geometry of a kitchen knife. I am now able to sharpen on a vertical water grinder with confidence and precision. Visiting Nigara Hamono and participating in the advanced sharpening course was a transformative experience. It provided a unique insight into the artistry and precision that define Japanese knife craftsmanship, leaving me with not just improved skills but a profound respect for the tradition and innovation that Nigara Hamono embodies. If you ever find yourself in Hirosaki City, a visit to Nigara Hamono is an absolute must for anyone passionate about knives and the art of sharpening.

(Getting a Certificate of Completion from Master Go Yoshizawa)


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