Zen Knives - A traditional Japanese hammered style, incredibly sharp and an excellent value for a handmade knife
Ran Knives - The most popular and widest Yaxell range, offering superb cutting performance from a 69-layer Japanese Damascus blade
Gou Knives - Utilising the ultimate SG2 Micro-Carbide steel, the 101-layer folded steel Gou is the sharpest knife tested by Chef magazine
Super Gou Knives - An incredible 161-layers and a distinctive, unique handle in polished red linen micata – the knife you’ll see Tom Kerridge use
Ypsilon Knives - Bearing an inlaid Samurai crest, the Ypsilon is the ultimate Japanese knife. 193 layers, unparalleled 63 Rockwell hardness for an incredible cutting edge. An heirloom piece
A Brief History of Japanese Knife Making
The history of Damascus Steel knives is firmly rooted in the Middle East, likely taking its name from the Syrian capital where these finely-crafted blades were first forged using steel from Southern India (Wootz steel). Indeed, in Arabic “damas” is the root word for “watered” and the stunning, unique swirling patterns on the ultra-high carbon blades of these knives is likened in many languages to “watered steel”. The legendary stories of Damascus Steel being used to forge swords sharp enough to slice the barrel of a gun or to cut a falling silk scarf only help to ensure the enduring appeal of these blades.
Today, we firmly associate this highly-skilled method of knife making with the city of Seki in the Gifu prefecture of Japan. Seki’s long association with Katana (the traditional Japanese sword) making dates back almost 800 years – a swordsmith named Motoshige moved from Kyushu to Seki – and the town’s future was set.
To forge Katana, four materials are necessary:
- Steel, the material from which the blade is forged;
- Charcoal (in Japanese, Matsuzumi) to heat the forge and melt the steel;
- Water, to cool down the heated steel; and
- Soil – to create the unique surface pattern
Seki not only enjoyed an abundance of all of these materials, but as its reputation as a centre for Kitana making grew, so it attracted many skilled swordsmiths together with the craftsmen who worked alongside them to produce exceptional blades. It is this community of craftsmen which makes a knife from Seki so special. Many blades claim to be made using ‘Japanese Steel’ – but it is the skill applied to heating, forging, cooling and sharpening that steel that make Seki special.
It was the Sword Abolishment Edict, a law passed in 1876, which made the carrying of Katana illegal in public – and the traditional trade of the Seki swordsmiths dropped sharply. To continue with the skills handed down for over 600 years, they switched to forging kitchen knives and shears – and the future of Seki was assured.
To this day, the culture and history of knife making dominate in Seki. As well as museums devoted to the art – the Seki Traditional Swordsmith Museum, the Gifu Cutlery Hall and the Seki Hamono Museum – the city hosts and annual Cutlery Festival, where sword forging demonstrations can be witnessed.
On Divertimenti’s last visit to Seki we were privileged to be treated to a private display of the skill of katana making from the legendary Master Ogana – a rare treat made possible only due to the high regard in which Yaxell is held within Seki. The blade we saw being fashioned by Ogana and his highly-skilled apprentices would eventually be formed of 27,000 layers of folded steel and take some 8 months to complete. Destined for a museum or private collection, the finished Katana is not permitted to be finished to a sharp cutting edge but is instead a jewel-like piece of art. The cost? Around 6,000,000 yen – or £45,000.
Founded in 1932, Yaxell today remains a family-run knife maker under the ownership of the highly-respected Yamada family. Working with many of the very best local artisans, all of Yaxell’s Damascus steel knives are forged only from the very best Japanese steel and are entirely made and finished in Seki by hand. Each knife that leaves Yaxell is created to perfection.
Yaxell has for many years sought to balance the tradition of Japanese knife making with the demands of chefs and other aficionados worldwide. The result – seen across all of Yaxell’s designs – are ultra-sharp, fine blades that are also beautifully balanced and designed to be used.
This balance has seen Yaxell win many prestigious international awards – the Ran series has repeatedly been selected as the best knife by the German testing agency Vergleich.org (most recently in 2019); the Zen series has triumphed in testing in Sweden (conducted by Aftonbladet); and the prestigious Gou 161 series has been voted No.1 Chef’s Knife in the USA for 3 consecutive years by wiki.ezvd.com.
Here at Divertimenti, we conducted extensive testing of Yaxell together with Chef Magazine and CATRA (the internationally-respected Cutlery and Allied Trades Research Association, based in Sheffield). Competing alongside some of the finest blades from around the world – Miyabi, Shun, TOG, Global, Wusthof and Sabatier – the Yaxell Gou demonstrated a superb cutting performance that eclipsed all other knives. Read the full article here.
Yaxell and Top Chefs
We’re proud that Yaxell has been chosen by many of the UK’s favourite chefs as their knife of choice – both for their restaurants and for their kitchen at home.
Tom Kerridge, holder of 2 Michelin stars for the sublime Hand and Flowers in Marlow, as well as stars for The Coach, has been a fan of Yaxell for many years. You’ll spot his distinctive red-handled Super Gou knives when he’s cooking on television and his Gou knives are featured on the pages of Tom’s Table.
Claude Bosi, chef patron of the 2 Michelin-starred Bibendum in London and regarded as one of the UK’s finest chefs, is another Yaxell devotee. Other Yaxell owners include Ken Hom, Sat Bains, Raymond Blanc, Heston Blumenthal, Phil Howard, Galton Blackiston and Mark Edwards.
Yaxell and Divertimenti
Divertimenti’s buyers first introduced Yaxell to the UK many years ago and are proud today to be the exclusive UK distributor for these superb knives. If you choose a Yaxell knife, it can only be purchased from Divertimenti.