San Mai is a term them one can expect to hear regularly when dealing with Japanese and hand made kitchen knives, but what does it mean?
Very simply San Mai is a term which refers to the laminated construction of the blade steel or more specifically it refers to it’s 3 (San) flat layers (Mai).
A common method of constructing a blade for many hundreds if not over a thousand years, San Mai is an excellent way of combining different properties of varying metals to create a blade with superior characteristics.
Beginning with a piece of carbon steel (or high carbon stainless steels) the knife maker then layers it in between or wraps it in a complimentary metal with a lower carbon content, often Iron or stainless steel.
This is then forged and hammered down into one, unified piece of material before shaping, grinding and the rest of the knife making process.
Why bother? Why not make a knife out of a single piece of metal?
Well, more often than not, knives are made from a single piece of material, referred to as mono-steel, almost all of the mass produced knives and many of the handmade knives are made this way, but San Mai really has the edge (no pun intended!)
By taking a high carbon steel, one which is capable of taking an exceptional edge during the sharpening process and holding it for a long time during use, (much longer than possible on a cheaper, stainless counterpart) we give ourselves the best qualities in a knife, the job we need it for, it’s able to do, well.
The carbon steels we use for knife making have these properties because they’re able to be made extra hard in the knife making process, and because they’re extra hard, they’re also much more brittle than the aforementioned cheaper & stainless alternatives. Which means, that they can can easily chip them if we cut too close to bones or twist knives whilst chopping.
By cladding this high carbon steel in a lower carbon steel or Iron (metals which can’t become as hard due to their lower carbon content) we create a something akin to a shock absorber around our hero and mitigate many impacts our knife may be subjected to and hopefully protect it from damage.
We love San Mai knives, they’re a fabulous cutting tool, a history lesson and a marvel of engineering all wrapped into one.
WORD OF WARING - San Mai can only protect your core steel to a certain extent, you should still use it with care! No cutting around bones, frozen food, no riving or twisting, no hammering avocado stones etc etc!
Check out our range of San Mai knives here