Review: Watanabe Shirogami #1 Chinese-style knife (comparison to CCK)

This is a review of Watanabe Shirogami #1 (White paper steel) Chinese style knife. The summary is at the bottom, so you may scroll down to the bottom.

Watanabe family has been making kitchen knives and garden tools for several generations. Watanabe Shinichi (渡辺 真一) is the sixth generation in his family. I have previously acquired a Nakiri knife from Watanabe-san about 10 years and it is still one of my highest quality kitchen knives. While I have great experience with various Chan Chi Kee (陳枝記) Chinese knives, I have decided to get Watanabe Chinese style knife based on my excellent experience with Shinichi’s nakiri.

Most of Watanabe’s Chinese style knives are made of G10 laminated plastic handles, but I want a wooden handle knife. Watanabe-san has agreed to make a wooden handle knife and also reduce the overall knife weight by making what he calls a half tang (I still consider this as a full tang). I asked if he can make the knife blade thinner, but he said this is probably as thin as it should be. I think he did try to make mine slightly thinner based on the grind. In hindsight, I do agree with him that the knife does not need to made thinner.

The Watanabe knife is made with Shirogami #1 (white paper steel #1) cladded with softer iron. It is a carbon steel knife, not stainless steel. The knife edge was excellently sharp out-of-the-box. The knife can easily push-cut printer paper. The blade geometry, grind, and fit-and-finish are great. The wooden handle is straight and aligned well with the knife blade. There are some small gaps between the knife and wooden handle, so I applied some tung oil and beeswax to seal the gaps (see figures below).

Geometry and Dimensions
The Watanabe knife dimensions are similar to those of CCK KF1103 knife (see figure below). As such, it is the size of a Chinese professional kitchen knife, larger than most home cook knives. It is not shorter than a 8.2-inch Tojiro DP chef’s knife and much wider.

CCK KF1103 and Watanabe weight almost the same at 399 grams vs 398 grams (see table below). They are of the same blade length (225 mm), while Watanabe blade width is shorter at 108 mm. The blade thickness is their biggest difference. CCK spine thickness at the heel is 2.8 mm and quickly tapper to 1.2 mm toward the tip. Watanabe spine thickness at the heel is 1.8 mm and maintains the same thickness toward the tip (my measurement of 1.8 and 1.9 mm are likely within measurement uncertainty). At 5 mm above the knife edge, the CCK blade thickness is 0.7-0.8 mm; whereas the Watanabe blade thickness at 5 mm above edge is approximately 0.9 mm.

CCK KF1103 Watanabe Shirogami
Weight (grams) 399 398
Blade length (mm) 225 225
Blade width (mm) 113 108
Blade thickness
spine-heel (mm) 2.8 1.8
spine-tip (mm) 1.2 1.9
5 mm above the edge-heel (mm) 0.7 1.0
5 mm above the edge-middle (mm) 0.8 0.8

Overall, the CCK KF1103 is a thinner knife. This figure below demonstrates this.

Nevertheless, this Watanabe knife is a thin blade knife. In comparison to Dexter-Russell S5198 – a classic medium blade Chinese style knife, the Watanabe is clearly thinner (see figure below).

Kiwi knives have a reputation to be thin, but this is largely because of the hollow grind affecting the first 0.5 cm near the cutting edge. The Watanabe is actually slightly thinner than a Kiwi No. 21 knife after the hollow grind.

[This also indirectly demonstrates how thin the the CCK knives are in comparison to a Dexter knife or a Kiwi knife]

Sharpness (Easy of Sharpening and Edge Sharpness Retention)

Easy of Sharpening.
Despite the Watanabe knife was already plenty sharp out-of-the box, I took the Watanabe and CCK KF1103 through a sharpening session to make the comparison fairer. I aimed to bring their edge sharpness to the point of push-cut printer paper. By push cutting, I mean the knife can straight up vertically cut into the paper without slicing back or forward motion – simply an up-and-down motion. Overall, it was easier to sharpen the Watanabe knife to a finer edge. It took me longer to bring the CCK knife to the same level of sharpness.

I have been using both CCK KF1103 and this Watanabe for kitchen preparation works for the last two weeks. I made sure I equally test them and allowed them to cut the same amount of foods. When dicing an onion, I would cut the onion in half, and allow each knife to cut half of an onion. The Watanabe knife feels a little sharper for most foods. However, for thicker foods, the CCK can feel sharper. I believe this is because the CCK knife has a thinner blade, so it has less wedging resistance, not because the edge is sharper. Overall, both knives performed similarly.

Edge Retention
Edge retention took some time to assess. After about 1 week of usage, I can feel the Watanabe holds its edge a little more, but it was based on hand feel and not easy to describe. The CCK was still passing the paper push-cutting test. I used both knives for another week. After two weeks of usage, I did another paper push-cutting comparison along their entire cutting edge. This time the Watanabe demonstrates to be a better. Of the 15 attempted push-cutting for the Watanabe knife, it was able to push-cut all 15 of them, although I could feel some hesitations for 2 of them. On the other hand, the CCK knife was able to push-cut 10 out of 15 spots. It was unable to push-cut 5 spots – started to compress or ribbing the paper instead of cutting. In practice, both knives are sharp for the kitchen. This is simply a way to detect subtle changes.

Final Comparison
CCK KF1103 Watanabe Shirogami
Today Price $100 $420
Steel grade Undisclosed carbon steel Shirogami #1 Core
Overall Size
Weight Similar Similar
Dimensions Similar Similar
Thickness Thinner Thicker (still thin)
Ease of Sharpening More difficult Easier
Performance (early on) Similar Similar
Edge Retention Shorter (Project) Longer (Project)

Watanabe Shirogami knife is:

  • A large and thin blade Chinese style kitchen knife
  • High quality carbon steel blade
  • Excellent craftsmanship for its blade geometry and grind
  • Very easy to sharpen to a fine edge
  • Good edge retention
  • Not cheap for most people

This is a really good, balanced review, Chem. Thanks.

Given that you sharpen yourself, from a purely functional point of view, is the Watanabe worth the large price difference?

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Hi Kaleo. The Watanabe knife is great – good steel and great craftmanship. For most home cooks (me included) and probably many professional chefs, the Watanabe pure functional benefits probably are not good tradeoffs for the $400+ price tag. This depends on the users’ skills and intends. I do not have all the knife skills to fully take advantage of this knife.

For me, it is still a good buy – for its combined benefits in function, customization/uniqueness, and personal attention.

Thanks for your question

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Who knew there was so much to know about a knife.

Epic review.

Thanks for the great review chem! :slight_smile:

So, how does it feel in your hand? Has it become an extension of your hand and can you already use it quickly and efficiently?

How is the weight distributed between blade and handle? And the figures suggest the Wat doesn’t really have a taper vs the CCK. How do you like that in cutting?

Great question. Despite that the Watanabe knife and CCK KF1103 have the almost the same weight, the Watanabe knife feels a little heavier in my hand. So I thought it must be because their center-of-gravity difference. Nope. I just assessed their center-to-mass last night and they are similar – maybe just a little more forward for the Watanabe knife. I place a piece of tape where the center-of-mass is for the two knives.

The Watanabe knife feels nice in my hand. The heel and spine portions are all smoothed. The handle looks a bit fat, but it does not feel bulky in use. You are correct. The CCK KF1103 has a nice heel-to-tip taper that the Watanabe does not have.

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