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An Edge in the Kitchen

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153 replies to this topic

#151 technogypsy

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Posted 28 September 2009 - 08:19 AM

Hi Chad,

From the sample, I'll be buying your book. It's nice to see someone argue for stock removal stick tang knives.

While I agree with you on the evaluation of forged versus stock removal for most knives, I think its different at the very top end. If you take the center 80% of all knives, I'd suggest that a stock removal blade is as good and possibly better than forged. In fact, even the stamped blades are probably better than many forged blades from a local village smithy in the old days. The steel is better, the carbon content known, and hardening doesn't depend on whether you have a magnet. (Disclaimer: I teach material science on the graduate level and am a hobbyist smith). Because stock removal blades expose the metal to less heat and are less skill dependent, its easier to get a good product. Look at how long it takes to learn to forge versus grind a passable blade (weeks versus a day). Years ago, I made the mistake of pointing out metallurgy is now at the point you don't need to do all that to make a decent sword and it was not a popular position. Hopefully cooks are saner than martial artists. Anyway, I think one could argue that for a reasonable priced blade, you get a better product by stock removal, where the cost is in the metal and the heat treatment, not the labor.

Where I differ with your comments is on heat treatment and that's because you assume the blades are normalized to remove any heat effects. If it is, you're right but I don't think its commonly done and I think it should be even for grinding. Normalized, the metal should be totally relaxed as it goes into heat treating and all the edge packing, etc would be erased. Where I do think forging gives a better product is at the very high end where a handmade blade can be differentially hardened. This is done by several methods but basically only the cutting edge is hardened. Goddard's method, for example, is to heat the blade to bright red (non-magnetic heat) and just quench the edge. (I can think of 2 others ways to do this - clay coated blades like Japanese swords and heating only the edge with a torch.) Done right, you can get a very hard edge and a soft spine. I suspect that done to a ground blade, you'd also gain the advantages however, it is the kind of handwork that is more likely to be done with a labor intensive blade. (Interestingly, Goddard is also a big proponent of the stick tang as making a better knife than the full tang. Again, it allows a more flexible blade under stress.)

Anyway, I'm geeking on this too much, but I'd suggest Selection and Hardening of Tool Steels if you need more reading at stadium. I find dragging the Journal of Rheology along normally means lots of space around me. I'm looking forward to reading your section on sharpening as I still use sandpaper on glass.
"Drop it in a bucket. If it stays, grill it. If it climbs out, deep fry it" Cajun recipe.

#152 technogypsy

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Posted 29 September 2009 - 07:17 AM


I'm seen both gentlemen's work but could you clarify the only two people making true damascus? That doesn't seem correct?

"Drop it in a bucket. If it stays, grill it. If it climbs out, deep fry it" Cajun recipe.

#153 Blether

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Posted 01 October 2009 - 11:22 AM

I'd like to add a comment about 'santoku' knives, which were a point of discussion a couple of pages back in this topic.

'Santoku' 三徳 literally means 'three merits' or 'three specialties'. I think that this was originally coined referring to fish, vegetables and meat. In other words, translating into colloquial English, it's a multi-purpose knife - another name commonly used is 'ban-nobocho' 万能包丁 (literally '10,000-function knife', but translated as 'all-purpose' or 'almighty'). It was designed originally as a multi-purpose knife for the average family kitchen - it's hardly surprising if it seems a 'Jack of all trades but master of none' to a serious cooking hobbyist or professional chef.

As for 'wabocho' 和包丁, as Chad says, this means 'Japanese knife' or maybe 'Japanese knives'. These are distinct from 'yobocho' 洋包丁 - western knives, or indeed 'chukabocho' 中華包丁 or Chinese-style knives.

Distinct styles of knife within the Japanese category - maybe we should say the traditional Japanese category - include of course:

Debabocho 出刃包丁 - 'buck tooth (blade) knife' - heavy knife for breaking down fish
Usubabocho 薄刃包丁 - 'thin blade knife' - for vegetables. Also called Nakiri, 'side dish knife'
Sashimibocho 刺身包丁 - 'sashimi knife' - speaks for itself.

According to Japanese Wikipedia, The deba is named after the particular buck-toothed master forger at Osaka's Sakaishi market who developed it; the Kansai (West Japan) usuba has a more rounded tip than the Kanto (East Japan) one. The sashimi knives are the longest and thinnest of the traditional Japanese ones - 'yanagiba' or 'willow blade' 柳刃 is a name for the more pointed Kansai style sashimi knife, also known as 'shobu' 正夫, literally 'correct husband' (!). The Kanto-style sashimi knife is straighter, with a point that seems cut off more flat, and thinner overall than the yanagiba. This knife is known as a 'takohiki' 蛸引 or 'octopus cutter', though that doesn't mean it's specialised for only octopus. ("It's said that the Kanto style is unpointed to prevent the more excitable Edo-ites from using it in a fight"). Because the yanagiba's point makes it better suited to fine work, amongst other reasons, in modern times it has become the standard sashimi knife nation-wide.

These traditional styles can be considered the standards inherited from the 270-year Edo era, before Japan opened again to the World. All of the 'yobocho' Western-style Japanese knives we know and love - like Gyuto, Sujihiki, Yo-deba and Honesuki - are developments in Japan under foreign influence some time in the last 150 years or so. Before that, meat was not eaten here to any great extent - hence the focus of the traditional knives on fish & vegetables. If we really take the santoku definition to mean 'for fish, vegetables and meat' - a definition repeated by Global, then we must also consider it a development of the same period. It would take a more dedicated scholar than me to pinpoint its emergence accurately.

(Edit to add) This page at Vivahome says that 'the yobocho style called 'santoku' emerged after the (second world) war, when consumption of western food spread in Japan, and also quotes 'meat, fish & veg' as the 'three specialties'. (It's easy to see why one knife for everything was important in those straitened times). It also says that before that, the nakiri was the commonly-used knife in the family kitchen.

Sorry to anyone who it offends, not to have been striict with my Japanese romanisations.

Edited by Blether, 01 October 2009 - 12:04 PM.

#154 Blether

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Posted 18 December 2009 - 07:55 AM

The other main observation about the santoku knife, is that when it's called a 'family knife', that means (historically - the name being coined post-war) that 90-something percent of the time it'll be mother who's using it in the family kitchen. Hence, I think, the lightness and small size.

Since I wrote the above post, I've learned that there is a knife in the traditional Japanese repertoire that shares the shape, in profile, of the santoku - the 'funayuki-bocho' 船行包丁 or translating 'seaman's knife', but in cultural terms maybe better thought of as 'fisherman's knife' (funayuki literally means going on a boat or ship). Once again it's amateur night here, but I think it makes sense to look at it and see why the foreshortened point (compared with say a yanagiba) is a good idea where the whole work area may be pitching and rolling.

Edited by Blether, 18 December 2009 - 07:56 AM.