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Old 09-19-2008, 12:11 PM   #1
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Debates among knife users.

I was having a debate in another forum with a gentleman quite distinquished in the craft. For someone seeking information I'm sure they might have wondered just who's right and why. There are many debates among knife users, sharpeners and cutlers, and here are a few.

1). Cutlery steel and alloys. This is one of the biggest and oldest debates running. Many of the old butchers and professional boners on kill floors (like Oscar Mayer, for example) claim that only carbon steel can be sharpened--and at one time, they were right. When stainless first came out for knives and firearms most of the alloys were like 17ph, very gummy on drill presses, and the knives sharpened like a chocolate bar. When high carbon (low chromium) steels like 154-CM became available somewhere in the 1970's, the game changed. Stainless knives are now some of the sharpest, and used for scalpels and other research equipment.

2). Shape of the edges. You want to start a fight, ask which edge is better, that being hollow grind, V-grind or convex edge. In old Japanese texts there are names for all, so I guess the debate has raged for 1,000 years. Since steel has gotten more durable and heat treating more precise, thicker edges are not necessary on many types of knives. Like all aspects of a good debate, you'll never sell that idea to vast numbers or knife collectors.

3). Toothy or polished. What's the best edge? Should it be 'rough' to grab hold of things needed to cut, or 'mirror finished' to slide through material. Simply, it depends on what needs to be cut. If I had to cut wet rope or seatbelts, even I would choose a more toothy edge. Now, serrations are different, and an ingenious solution to a non-existent problem.

4). German or Japanese. Careful here. Lots of "Japanese" knives are made in China and are not (laminated), folded or clad. These are made in the Japanese 'style,' meaning they are shaped like traditional examples. If you buy Japanese knives (or want to start) simply research the brand on the computer. As for German brands, the same warning applies. Learn what they mean by the terms "stainless" and "surgical."

5). Honing and sharpening. Yikes, there's a book waiting to be written. In the basic sense, "honing" is maintenance, sharpening is "repair." And after years behind a stone, I no longer believe you can buy a stone and a book and sharpen--anything. You should see the clients who bring me a knife and say, "I sharpened it and now it is more dull than when I began." If this is a sincere interest for you, buy cheap knives at garage sales and practice, and I mean for several months. There numerous DVDs and tutorials on Youtube. During your early study, avoid mechanized equipment.

6). Cutting boards. Another can of worms. Study history. Do some research by actually making some cuts. No matter what board you choose, six people will jump into the fray and tell you that it is wrong. A good gyuto, deba or nakiri is an investment, and plainly your knife. And you will be the one who pays for repairs.

7). Handles. There is no advice here. Each hand is different, and each handle is different in length and width. Go to a kitchen store showing numerous brands. This is one area where I suggest you take no advice. If you are left-handed, like my wife, remember that some models are made for lefties and I would ask. I would advise getting a knife whose handle can be immersed in hot soapy water.


These are but some of the major debates. And I'll get PMs on this post despite trying to depict both sides. However, in my kitchen, amongst my tools, and in my pockets are a cavalcade of makers, blade grinds, alloys and designs. When you need a German chisel, a Japanese nakiri will not do the job. My closing advice is to pick and choose, learn the craft. Your neighbor is not the one who is going to dice your vegetables amid questionable advice about a poorly designed knife--but you might.

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Old 09-20-2008, 10:45 AM   #2
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IMHO, Chico, this is very well written. I, as well as many of the other members here, have long stated that you really need to use the right tool for the job, and when it comes to purchasing knives, you really need to go someplace where you can get your hands on one, feel how it fits your hand, how the blade will work with your cutting motions.

I wonder if there are any cutlery stores that actually have a small workstation / prep area where you can actually cut / prep certain food products, like vegetables (I don't know if meat items would be legal), so you can see how the blade performs under actual work conditions? Chico, you're probably the closest thing to that, as you would have some demo / reconditioned tools with you when you go to a client. Do you allow a chef / cook to try a tool out before purchase?
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Old 09-20-2008, 02:06 PM   #3
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Do you allow a chef / cook to try a tool out before purchase?
Yes I do. In fact, I had a client in my home, in our kitchen, slicing vegetables and making passes through meat. She bought a real-deal Japanese gyuto.

In a very real sense, part of my job is sales. Personally, I hate salesman. If I want to buy something, I go to the store and I get it. Some folks will buy a sight-unseen 40K automobile because it has lots of cupholders.

I sharpen and polish a knife, I ask the client what they wish to cut, slice, chop or pare, and offer a few sizes. Then I give them a cutting board and tomato...

I will say one thing after all these years. Customer service.

If you're going to use (and ultimately abuse) a knife every day, as a professional chef or a very precise hobbyist who is very serious about the craft, I will recommend Hattori. Nothing else. Go price them. Scare yourself into a deep coma.

Imagine the idea from my end. It is quite common for serious remodelers to strip their kitchens down to the rough studs. They replace wall board, granite counter-tops, state of art ranges and refrigerators, dinnerware, lighting, marble flooring. Then they ask me for a 75 dollar knife.

Within 60 days, I'll get a call, "Chico, it drags. It won't bone my chickens. I have to push real hard sometimes. Are you sure you sharpened it right?"

The kitchen will stand and offer service for over ten year before the first paint brush hits the back-splash and yet the knife fails before 100 meals are served.

And to you professional chefs (who write off most costs on your taxes), tell me about you favorite knife. Is it a Chinese knock-off you bought at Menard"s?

There is more to a knife than the edge. There's balance, the fit and finish of the handle. The construction of the laminates. Are there three (clad) in your knife, or over three hundred?

And when I go, can you set the tip of the knife into the board, turn the edge face up and toss a tomato at the edge? And when you do, what happens?

I pretty much make peanut butter sandwiches, slice hotdogs and baloney, and I will whack a submarine sandwich twain.

All of my kitchen knives are real-deal Japanese laminates. Now, my wife--love her--let's just say I'm sorting through the junk.
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Old 09-21-2008, 09:34 AM   #4
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I'll try that test with my knife, but I seriously doubt it will work.

I prefer a 10" blade on a chef's knife. I haven't use a Shun that much, but the little bit I have has told me that I'm not terribly fond of the handle. Of course, I grip a knife with thumb and forefinger on the the blade, and just keep one or two fingers resting lightly on the handle.

My main "go-to" knife at work is a 10" Black Diamond (made by F. Dick) Chef's Knife, stamped. I'm really happy with it, in shape and size.
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Old 09-21-2008, 11:48 AM   #5
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Allen, go and try the Shun. Of that group, they are by far one of the best.

But do yourself a favor. A Shun cannot/should not be sharpned on one of those "Jed Clampett" spinning sharpening stones. Rough mechanized systems are only good for tent stakes and lawnmower blades.

Find a tinker in your area and buy him a nice steak dinner. Sharpening Japanese (or Japanese style) laminates is for professionals, and it costs a lot of money.

However, you will enjoy these knives more than any other style. They are fantastic.
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Old 09-21-2008, 11:37 PM   #6
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I flatly refuse to use any kind of mechanized (spinning) aluminum oxide stone on a quality knife. My grandfather did that, once, to a Buck lock-blade knife, and ruined the temper of the steel. For me, it's a stationary stone, on a table or counter, and sharpen by hand.

Remember the post I made about sharpening a knife for a fellow coworker, and you told me that I could have gotten away with charging him $100- $200 for it? That's a Shun. It's still holding up.

I took my Black Diamond and did that little test you mentioned about holding the knife edge-up, and tossing a tomato against the blade. I had the blade at a 45 degree angle, and held the tomato maybe 9" above the blade, and lightly tossed the firm tomato down onto the blade. It sliced almost completely through the tomato. I'm not sure how that registers for you, but my Sous Chef's jaw dropped a bit. I may have to try that test a few times more with some of my other knifes.
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Old 09-22-2008, 06:17 PM   #7
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I may have to try that test a few times more with some of my other knifes.
Yes, it is a traffic-stopper.

My wife has been under the weather as of late, and we eat out a bit more. We went to a local Chinese restaurant (just now) tonight, and as we left, I saw the cashier paring pea-pods.

Of course, I asked to see her knife.

My wife said that had that been her knife she would have thrown it away. However, due to the modest length, I handed the girl my Razel (of similar dimension) and asked her to trim a few pods.

I might have handed over real money, but I was paid back when I saw the cashier's reaction to a knife that actually cut.
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Old 09-23-2008, 11:58 AM   #8
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My favorite knife is my Henckels Santoku.

I think Henckels offers an excellent combination of quality and price.
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Old 09-23-2008, 01:00 PM   #9
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Since alot of you take knife sharpening/collecting as a serious hobby, alot of what you do isn't really necessary in a home kitchen. I use my chefs knife everyday on a maple board and only need to take it to a water stone once or at the most twice a year. I use a steel on it once every two weeks and the edge is as sharp as it was when new. I even open tin cans with it.

Would I spend the time to hollow grind the blade or polish it? No. As long as it cuts what I want it to cut easily, it works for me. All in all, when the slice of tomato hits the burger, you can't tell what cut it.

However, for my woodworking tools and carving chisels it's a different story. These are cutting into surfaces far tougher than what goes on my plate. In a finished piece you can see the difference between a highly polished edge and a factory edge. My chisels and lathe tools get the most attention because the angles are very specific and the type of edge is specific.
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Old 09-23-2008, 01:15 PM   #10
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As a former knife maker I hear what you are saying and pretty much agree with you. However as a simple homemaker with no extra money I see the point L&G makes. Most people have to deal with reality of life. And with gas prices and other prices today, majority of people simply can't afford Shun. As a matter of fact, I had an opportunity to buy some Shun knives on Friday at half price, but simply could not justify spending even $60 bucks on a $120 dollar knife. Unless one has excesses of money what you are saying is simply pointless. I am happy with my German knives and I am happy being able to cut tomato without dragging. The day I win lottery though, I'm coming over to your house to get me couple of dozens of different knives sharpened by you.
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