If you've read my article about magnolia wa handles, you will already know that Japanese knives have two main parts: the handle and the blade. But then, you probably already knew that much. But, you may have yet to notice the small piece of material between the wooden part of the handle and the blade known as the collar or （つのまき、角巻）.
The Fine Details of Japanese Craftsmanship: The Structure of this Article
I will dive into this small but essential piece of the traditional Japanese knife in this article. First, I'll explain what a tsunomaki is. Then I'll take you through some of the materials used to make it. Finally, I'll give you some advice on how to use your knife to get the most out of your tsunomaki.
The Tsunomaki（つのまき、角巻）, or Collar
The Tsunomaki, Also Known as a Collar, Is the Piece of Material at the Top of a Japanese Knife Handle.
Traditionally, a tsunomaki (often miss-labeled as kakumaki which is wrong wording, the correct name is tsunomaki) is actually the name of a square-shaped winter blanket from the mountainous Tohoku region of Japan. It's a garment meant for draping around one's shoulders and body. You'll understand why this piece of the knife handle is named after this blanket if you hold a knife pointing upward and imagine it as a person's body - the tsunomaki would be where the shoulders are, and the blade would be the head.
It's Not Just Pretty; It's There to Protect Your Skin
There are two purposes for the tsunomaki. Most obviously, it's an eye-catching piece of decoration that enhances the look of the knife. But, more practically, it's there to smooth out the top of the handle. This smoother, more skin-friendly addition stops the user from uncomfortably rubbing their fingers and knuckles on what would otherwise be a wooden edge. That means you can use these knives for extended periods without discomfort.
How Is It Made?
Artisans typically make tsunomaki by taking a small piece of solid material and shaping it. Then, it's attached to the wooden part of the handle with an adhesive and left to set. After that, the whole thing is shaped, sanded, and polished to make one cohesive handle. There are other techniques and styles, but this is how most tsunomaki are made.
There are many different materials used to make a tsunomaki. Common ones are wood, plastic, buffalo horn, and even sometimes metal. Generally, other materials are selected based on aesthetics or price reasons. However, as buffalo horn is the material used for most of our knives, I'll explain more about it.
Buffalo horn is a hard and durable material that’s pleasing to the eye. It’s waterproof and feels good when held. This material is one of the most traditional and gives knife handles a classic Japanese look.
Made From the Horns of the Asian Water Buffalo
Not to be confused with the once near-extinct American buffalo, or bison, this material is made from the horns of Asian water buffalos. They're a fairly common animal, farmed typically for meat and dairy products. The horns are a bi-product used to make furniture, drinking vessels, frames for glasses, and tsunomaki, among many other things.
It's a Way of Utilizing the Whole Animal to Avoid Waste
Some people may have ethical concerns about purchasing buffalo horn products. However, these animals are not solely used just for growing horns. They're farmed like cows, and the horns are used rather than discarded. So, you don't need to be worried that you might be contributing to a wasteful cycle.
Plastic or Synthetic
But other options are out there for those concerned about using animal products. The most common is reliable, waterproof plastic, which can look similar to buffalo horn.
A Cheaper Vegan-Friendly Option
Plastic also tends to be cheaper but will have a different feel than buffalo horn. It has to be said, there's something satisfying about having a knife made entirely of natural materials, even for a little extra cost. Still, if you have ethical concerns, check to make sure you buy a knife with a plastic tsunomaki.
How to Get the Most From Your Knife Collar
The tsunomaki Is More Than Just a Pretty Piece of Decoration
It's there to protect your fingers. You may wonder why you would have your fingers so high up the handle. Well, that's because Japanese knife handles only house a very thin and short tang (the bottom part of the blade hidden inside the handle). That means Japanese knives are heavier at the blade end. That’s why Japanese knives are often held with a pinch-grip.
Learn to Hold Japanese Knives With a 'Pinch-Grip'
Generally, you should grip a knife in any way that's safe and comfortable for you. But, for the majority, a pinch-grip will make using a Japanese knife much more effortless. Rather than wrapping your hand solely around the handle, move it up a little higher and use your forefinger and thumb to pinch the top of the bottom part of your knife. This minor repositioning will substantially increase your control over the blade.
You’ll Soon Realize Why the tsunomaki Is There
While holding the knife in a pinch-grip, rather than having a potentially abrasive wooden edge rubbing against your fingers, you'll find that the tsunomaki feels good and doesn’t irritate the skin at all.. It's a tiny design detail, but when you have a lot of cooking preparations to do, you'll appreciate it a lot.
Summary of Tips For Choosing
Make Sure It Looks Good
Ensure you like the look of the tsunomaki - obviously, you will not want to buy something you find unattractive. Aesthetics affect the way that you cook and the way that you care for your equipment. If your knife is beautiful, you'll want to keep it beautiful, and this will encourage you to keep caring for it.
Make Sure It Feels Good
Secondly, make sure it's made of something that feels good in your hand. It should be non-abrasive, smooth (but not too slippery), and have nice rounded edges. It can be hard to determine these factors when shopping online; that's why we prefer buffalo horn, as it's widely accepted as one of the most comfortable options.
Be Mindful if You’re Buying a Knife as a Gift
Lastly, ensure it's appropriate if you’re buying a knife as a gift. If it's for a vegan or vegetarian, they may appreciate something other than buffalo horn in their knife. In this case, the safest choice is plastic or another synthetic material.