The Kanso 7” Asian Utility knife has already won acceptance in the American market—both in sales and in user ratings, but it is not a nakiri nor is it a cleaver—a perfect example of a fusion knife. The Xintuo Zhen 6.8” is called a cleaver—not even “mini.” With a footprint much smaller than a standard 8X4 inch Chinese vegetable cleaver, I think it also qualifies as a fusion knife. Which one is better for a home cook?
Profile: I lay out side by side, my Seki Magoroku nakiri, the two fusion knives, and my Shibazi f208 cleaver. the knives differ most by width: from less than 2” (the nakiri), to almost exactly 4” ( the cleaver). The Japanese Kanso is noticeably wider than my nakiri; the Chinese Xintuo Zhen is only a bit wider than the Kanso, and much narrower than the 8X4 Shibazi f208 cleaver. The cleaver comes in at 330 grams—and the nakiri is about 170 grams: the fusion knives are about 260 gm. each. I expect that width and weight are going to have a very strong influence on performance cutting vegetables.
Value Proposition: As a value proposition, both the Shibazi f208 cleaver and Seki Magaroku nakiri are hard to beat at less than $40 each, with a value add hard to justify on the more expensive Kanso and Zhen fusion knives. The Kanso seems to be selling well, suggesting that it might have found a fusion niche:
The Zhen can be be purchased at a near wholesale price of $63 from AliExpress—and about $118 on EBAY.
Advanced manufacturing technology: From a manufacturing technology perspective, the Kanso is a technology throwback—the Zhen is state of art. I find that very peculiar.
• My old Kai Seki Magoroku nakiri is uni-metal—so’s the Kanso
• My old Kai Seki Magoroku is full tang with wood attached to the metal with two pins—so’s the Kanso.
• Newer fusion Shuns are multilayer damascus—modified wa handles
with hidden connectors.
The Xinzuo Zhen blade is cladded with a hammered damascus surface similar to a Shun Premier—67 layers. The handle is a modified Japanese wa octagon wih hidden tang fasteners and use of G10, spacers, and exotic hardwood materials.
The Shun Kanso throwback is clearly for style—perhaps to evoke more of a pre nakiri tradition with outstanding fit and finish. The Xinzuo Zhen clearly wants to display advanced production technology flawlessly.
Knives were used alternately by two of us on a wide range of vegetables. We did not pay much attention to how we held the knives or the type of movements we made, but we were quite different—and others would differ from both of us.
Balance point: The balance point of the Shun Kanso is very close to the wooden half bolsters on either side of the handle. If one grips the knife naturally, and uses a pinch grip, one will be holding a perfectly balanced knife. I discovered this way of holding the knife worked especially well and naturally with a slicing stroke. Chopping required me to add extra energy.
The balance point of the Xinzuo Zhen was somewhat forward from the handle, so with any grip the knife would be somewhat weight forward. With a pinch grip on the blade, it would be almost balanced. Going in the other direction, it would become more and more blade heavy. The user can grip forward for slicing, and less forward for chopping—gaining more and more leverage the further back one went on the handle.
I was already quite used to such a handle working with my nakiri, but the leverage gain was much greater on the Zhen with a heavier blade and a longer handle. Slicing and chopping were equally effortless on the Zhen, but chopping required extra effort on the Kanso.
The test: Without any discussion of how a knife would be held—or our cutting strategies, we simply took out a collection of vegetables and began to cut them up. We took turns at the cutting board. My collaborator was native Japanese, and had done prep work at a restaurant in Japan. I had already used the Kanso for several months, so had considerable experience using the knife.
After spending considerable time just trying the knives out—first one and then the other—we began to narrow down on some specific comparison vegetables. One comparison involved slicing and mincing ginger root. Another involved celery and carrots. The results with the celery and carrots are shown in the attached photos.
Almost immediately, my collaborator showed strong preference for the Zhen—with it’s modified octagonal handle—and became more excited the more he used it. I used the two knives differently—based on my experience with the Kanso, and didn’t find much difference.
Part way through the test, I honed the Kanso in case it had lost alignment, but it made little difference. After the test, I ran both knives through my maintenance protocol with a loaded strop and verified their sharpness with the usual paper cutting test.
I think that the major difference in our reactions to the Kanso had to do with the Kanso’s design emphasis on a pinch grip to achieve balance. I learned it quickly, and enjoyed using it like many of the approving users commented on AMAZON, but the Zhen exposed it’s weakness in chopping.
I’ve done some further comparison using more vegetables, and both knives do quite well—but with some differences. The slicing of really dense vegetables favors the Kanso. It also did well on the avocado, using the bunko style point to dislodge the stone. Having no belly at all allows a straight down cut to go all the way through.
The Zhen seems ready for any task with amazing performance. It slices cucumbers effortlessly with precision—while it’s more of a chore with the Kanso. Overall, the Zhen does everything my nakiri is made to do better and easier. Now, it’s wide enough to scoop, but just a bit wider than my Shun Kaji Santoku. It’s sharper, and I expect it will hold it’s sharpness longer. It’s heavy enough to do the work on a chop, but light enough to be used for everything else with a solid feel.
The Kanso can function well as a dependable special purpose utility knife; The Zhen may become the knife that finally leads to retirement for my Kai Seki MAgoroku nakiri—but I’ll still use it from time to time.
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