The Kiritsuke Chronicle: Northwestern Cutlery / by zhaophotography

Well it's been half-a-year in the making and the Kiritsuke is finally taking its form. You may recall our epic meeting with Keijiro Doi, the master knife maker from Sakai City. We received a parting gift- a hand forged un-sharpened steel. Well, I like to call it a parting gift, but really our guide just let us choose one from Doi's throwaway pile :) Nonetheless, it was perfect in our eyes and hand forged by Doi himself.

Keijiro Doi KiritsukeSuisin Blue Steel No. 2 Stamped with Keijiro Doi's insignia

***** Caution long post ahead, I suggest you to snuggle in bed with a nice warm beverage *****

Upon returning to the States, I was conflicted on whether to have it sharpened into a working blade or keep it in its blunt rusting state as a mantel piece. After hours of deliberation I realized that the purpose this forged knife was meant to be used and not to be sitting and collecting dust. I wanted Doi-san's soul and sweat from the hours of molding and hammering to flow through the knife as I slice and cut.

I have a couple whet stones at home, so I thought, "Heck why not give it a try". In my desperate attempt at knife sharpening, I took the steel to the stone. After days of endless rubbing between knife and stone, I managed to remove a thickness of a few microns off the top layer; even Alice laughed at me when I developed a couple blisters. Well folks, let me just say it is easy to round off a sharp edge, but to make a blunt edge sharp by hand is like whipping cream with a fork - well worse, actually. It can be done, but is neither practical nor efficient. The good news is that the blue steel is really hard so that the edge will keep for a long time. However, the bad news was that I just really needed some help.

After many hours of Googling and getting advice from online knife forums, I was lucky enough to finally find a local sharpener. Thus beginning our newfound friendship with Northwestern Cutlery.

I excitedly gave them a call and spoke with Marty, the general manager at the store. He prompted me to stop by the shop and let him take a look at it. We set a time for Saturday morning before the shop opened so he could take a good look at it before the morning rush. Alice and I arrived early in the morning at the store located beneath the "El" tracks on Lake Street in the middle of the meat packing industry. The store front looked dark as the place was not set to open for another 30 minutes, but in the back the lights were on. I gave the door a couple hard knocks and a man came out from the back to open the door. It was Marty.

He led us to the back, but as we walked through, we noticed the shelves of cookware and kitchen appliances and on the left were glass cases filled with shiny knives of all different makes on display. I knew we were at the right place. I took out the box and unwrapped the steel in its full glory. No the steel did not emit a glow that would blind the naked eye or was there angelic harp strumming from above, but since this is my story let's just say it did.

Marty removed the steel from the box and observed it with great detail. I was a little embarrassed while he examined the blade with my hack sharpening job. A few moments later he said he was willing to take on the job, though he warned us that sharpening a blunt steel to blade was not something he would be doing every day. He would have to carve time into his busy schedule to personally work on the blade. This was fine by me, since I wanted the job to be done right and was in no hurry to use it.

But before parting my precious keepsake with a stranger, we wanted to know more about the shop and its history. As it turns out the business was owned by Marty's father-in-law. The store originally operated out of the back of a truck, where he would drive from one meat packing plant to another to sharpen knives on the spot. Eventually business grew and he bought the store where it is located now and picked up knives to be sharpened from the surrounding plants. Marty decided to go into the knife sharpening business with his father-in-law's business and has been sharpening knives for over 20 years. Hearing that put me at ease as I knew he would do justice to this knife by Doi san.

Besides sharpening knives for the meat packing industry, chefs and restaurant workers from around the city began going to Northwestern Cutlery to have their tools professionally sharpened. Soon avid home cooks and culinary students from Washburne caught wind of the store and began to come. To cater to the new clientele, the store began carrying cookwares and kitchen items. All the items you can find at William Sonoma or Sur la Table can be found here next to the professional jelly rolled sheet pans. The best part is that the prices are quite reasonable as well, if not cheaper than those high end kitchen stores. I was able to pick up a nice 1000/4000 grit sharpening stone and some Camellia oil for my knives during my visit.

Northwestern Cutlery, West Loop, ChicagoMarty holding the Kikuichi Honyaki Aoko Yanagi - Retail for $1200

Northwestern Cutlery is also one of the few places in Chicago that carries high end Japanese knives ranging from MAC, Misono, Masahiro and Kikuichi as the industry demands for it. If it wasn't for the newly acquired knives from Suisin and Alice standing next to me with her eyes signalling a stern "no!", I would of definitely picked up a nice new shiny blade. Marty then goes to the back of the store and pulled out a Kikuicihi Honyaki Aoko yanagi. At $1200 dollars, it did illuminate the room with its high gloss polish. Marty told us this is the most expensive knife in the store. Last I heard it is still for sale. So for all you readers out there with tons of money from your tax return and have a burning desire to spend it, definitely pick up this knife. But for those who have to pay the government like us, you can have your old knives sharpened as good as new for $3.50 while you wait and browse through their store or drop it off and pick it up at a later time.

Northwestern Cutlery, West Loop, Chicago

Finally, Marty took us for a tour of the shop. Walking to the back, there sat a giant stone grinder wheel cooled by water streaming down from the faucet. He took the steel and did a quick pass on the stone, the once dull metal started to take on a new shine. The results looked encouraging and Marty assured us that he would be the only one doing the sharpening.

Northwestern Cutlery, West Loop, ChicagoWell, after 6 months of waiting and anticipation, it is finally home. We went to pick it up this past weekend. Let me just say, I was not disappointed. The knife was ground to the specified 15 degrees beveled edge with a nice shinogi line running from the tip to the back of the blade. Marty told me it was a learning experience for him as well as he has never done sharpening to this degree. But his experience in sharpening knives was clearly seen in the results. After a few cuts and hours of dedicated work, I felt Marty was attached to the blade and felt reluctant to give it up like a mother to her cubs (or SOX go SOX!!!) But I assured him, the knife was going to a good home and would be put to good use. I will definitely be bringing the knife back to have it sharpened and for Marty and the knife to rekindle their friendship.

Northwestern Cutlery, West Loop, Chicago
Thanks for reading and big thanks to Marty. The knife is currently being sent off to Epicurean Edge in Washington state to have the handle put on. But before I put it in the box, I was able to play with it. Let me just say, it is razor sharp. I was able to cut a piece of paper cleanly using a up and down motion, rather than the drag and slice downward motion. Crazy sharp!!! I'll keep you readers posted on the updates.

Oh and one more thing, Northwestern Cutlery will sharpen swords for you fanatics out there. haha...

Northwestern Cutlery & Supply, Inc
810 W. Lake Street
Chicago, Illinois 60607