Knife review: Orca by Shiro Kamo

A link to this knife review has been posted on KKF and KMS.

Intro – Through a mutual friend I was introduced to a Swiss knife vendor, Marco Röllin, who runs and has a shop in Switzerland. Marco wanted to bring a certain knife to my attention and was curious to hear my thoughts on this knife. According to Marco, this would be one of, if not THE, smoothest cutting knife I would have tried. Of course this spiked my interest, because it is a big claim! Also, the first Japanese knife I ever bought was made by Shiro Kamo.  So I agreed to take a look at the knife and write this review.

First a few words of dealing with Marco, as a lot of my readers (a lot may be an overstatement given the amount of views I get…) may not be familiar with him. I have found Marco to be extremely responsive through e-mail, very clear in his answers and explanations and very friendly. Also the knife was shipped quickly, very well packed and arrived super sharp! All in all I can only fully recommend Marco and his business!

The knife – The Orca line offered by Marco is based on the bunka profile, and ranges from 135mm to 245mm, all in R2 steel.

The price of this knife is around 260 EUR (ex. EU VAT), which puts it in a price category for Japanese knife enthusiasts, but still affordable for home users. As noted above, Marco packed the knife with great care. More importantly, I think especially for home users, the knife was expertly sharpened by Marco before he shipped it.

Specs – The Orca came with the following specifications:

Length of blade along the edge (heel to tip)180 mm
Height at heel51.07 mm
Thickness of spine at handle3.33 mm
Thickness of spine at heel2.76 mm
Thickness of spine halfway1.70 mm
Thickness of spine 5 cm before the tip1.40 mm
Thickness of spine 3 cm before the tip1.28 mm
Thickness of spine 1 cm before the tip~0.76 mm
Weight148 grams
Point of balance16 mm in front of handle
Core steelR2
MakerShiro Kamo
SharpenerShiro Kamo

These specifications are pretty similar to the specifications on Marco’s website (especially taking into account some measuring errors on my side!), which is a great sign of consistency I think.

Fit and finish – The finish of the face of the blade is simple, but fitting for a knife made out of stainless steels and in this price category. The face of the blade has horizontal grind marks, while the bevels have vertical grind marks. I have not tried to polish the bevels, but I think they can become quite pretty!

The kanji (on one side of the knife) is hand chiseled, which I always think is a nice authentic touch.The spine is eased (but not rounded) and comfortable, the choil comfortable to use as well.

Grind and profile – The grind of this knife (or at least mine) is quite flat on the bevels (which are about 20 mm tall from the edge) on both sides, with a slightly tapered face leading up to the spine.  As I have not sharpened the knife, I cannot comment with 100% clarity on the flatness of the bevels, but from a close inspection I  think it that they are actually very close to perfect).

The distal taper of the knife (see the specs above and picture below) is decent, taking into account that the spine is already quite thin at the heel. I have found the tip to be very useful, especially when dicing onions.

Being my second bunka ever, I had to get used to the profile a bit. The Orca has a bit of a flat spot at the back, and a gentle curve that increases towards the tip. I think this profile is very ‘middle of the road’, by which I mean that it will be fitting for a lot of people and different cutting styles (in my view, it supports both chopping and rocking). I have made a short video to better show this:

Handle and saya – I got the knife with the standard handle, which is an octagonal handle made out of rosewood, a nickel spacer and pakka wood ferrule. I think this handle is very well made, there is no noticable step between the wood of the handle and the ferrule and the handle is nicely sanded. Also, since I like dark woods, I have to say this is a very attractive handle.

The knife does not come with a saya.

One exciting thing to note, is that Marco will soon offer even more beautiful handles made by Roman Kasé. I highly recommend keeping an eye out for them!

Sharpening – The knife came with a very good edge, because Marco had sharpened the knife prior to sending it out. As a result, I have not sharpened the knife myself. Speaking from previous experience with R2 steel, I think R2 steel is easy enough to sharpen and will take a good edge.

Cutting performance – This is where it gets interesting; would the Orca live up to its reputation? The answer is yes. The Orca went through a monster carrot (50 mm in diameter) without any wedging or cracking, which is super impressive for an out of the box knife, especially in this price range!

Another thing that surprised me is the food release. With thin knives, I usually don’t feel like they have good food release. However, the Orca seemed to perform quite well in this area, given its thin spine! Of course some food will always stick, but its actually quite impressive.

I found a video on youtube (with courtesy to Marco), which compares several knives in a more scientific way. Quite interesting, as I have never thought about comparing knives this way!

In terms of sharpness, the Orca performed well on a variety of tests, cutting tomatoes and peppers, other vegetables, meats, the list goes on and on. To say any definitive things on edge retention would require numerous tests and full days of use, but I am quite impressed. Of course R2 steel is known for having good edge retention qualities!

Conclusion – The Orca surprised me in many many ways. First of all I didn’t think I could like a laser as much as I like the Orca. Secondly, and more importantly, the Orca is such a smooth cutter out of the box, I don’t get to experience that a lot.

So is this knife worth it? Hell yes.  It is not the cheapest laser out there, but this may be the only laser one would ever need. If there is one thing I would recommend? To get some gyuto with this grind!

Disclaimer – This review is purely my (inherently subjective) opinion. Knives, preferences and tastes may vary. Marco has provided me with the knife to perform this review under the condition that I am allowed to write whatever I want, and I have returned the knife to him. I have not been sponsored in any other way to write this review. Some of the pictures are courtesy of Marco.

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