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Varmint

Knife Buying Blog

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After reading Chad’s article about custom knives and exchanging multiple PMs with him and Sam Kinsey, I’ve decided to get a new chef’s knife. I’ve read quite a bit about various knives, but I quickly realize how little I truly know. Thus, I’m going to use this thread as a sort of “knife blog” to share with you my adventures.

I currently have a decent 10 inch Henckel chef knife and a cheap, stamped Forschner. I’ve actually started to prefer the Forschner, as it just appears to be sharper than the Henckel, no matter how hard I try to make it right. I really don’t sharpen my knives well (I use a “taboo” electric sharpener), but I try to maintain the edge with a steel.

My mother-in-law has a 6 or 7 inch Global vegetable knife that I absolutely love. That sucker is as sharp as anything I’ve ever used, and it does not appear to lose its edge. As a result, I thought I’d start looking for a Global chef’s knife.

At lunch today, I visited our local cutlery shop, Beck's Cutlery. They carry knives from Henckel, Wusthof, Global, Solinger, Sabatier, Kibuichi, Messermeister and others (including a cool looking discontinued Spyderco). First, I must acknowledge that this is the first time I’ve ever set foot in a “knife” store. It made me very, very nervous, as a lot of damage could be inflicted with the stuff in there. Second, even though I was the only customer in the shop and explained to the proprietor what I was doing, she seemed as if it was a great burden for her to help me. Rather than just laying out each 10 inch chef’s knife in the shop and explaining the differences to me, I had to ask to see them one at a time. She meticulously pulled the knife from the magnetic strip on the wall, placed it on the wood block counter, and let me hold it. After I was finished, she wiped off the fingerprints and placed it back on the magnet. She didn’t offer to let me look at another knife – I had to ask. So this went for 45 minutes. It was painful. It was the antithesis of salesmanship. But in some perverse way, I sort of liked it, somewhat. It was the idiosyncratic nature of a small shop with an overly reserved proprietor. I wonder if her husband uses the same approach in his sales technique?

Anyhow, I quickly learned that a Global GF 35 forged chef’s knife (30 cm) may not be what I want. The edge of the blade is quite flat – that is, when the blade rests on the cutting board, only the tip fails to make contact. It is not a blade that is necessarily made for a rocking type of cutting action. Of course, until I could try it in action with food, I wouldn’t really know, either.

Which presents another problem: how in hell can you tell which knife is “right” until you’ve actually tried them in action? I thought I knew what I wanted: an ultra-sharp blade with a fairly thin spine. I liked the way my mother-in-law’s Global cut. I want that type of sharpness. Is it unique to Globals? Japanese knives? I did realize that the spine of a 10 inch Global chef’s knife is wider than I expected. I don’t know if it cuts as well as the thinner vegetable slicer.

Anyhow, I don’t think I’m any closer to buying a knife today than I was yesterday. I probably need to find another knife store, perhaps. Or maybe I need to give the Becks another chance. I do know that I shouldn’t rush into this decision, so I’ll continue this dialogue. Any suggestions would be appreciated.


Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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I wonder why high end knife shops (and manufacturers) don't come up with some arrangement where serious customers could try out one or more models for a week.

It would be worth shelling out $20 or so as a rental fee to find out whether a knife is suitable.


Arthur Johnson, aka "fresco"

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Dean -- Thanks for including us in your search!

One suggestion: Don't go to a knife store. Are there any good, professional-oriented cookware stores in your area? Or perhaps a knife store that is run by real knife fans rather than bored counter-jockeys? A good thing to do might be to take a long, late lunch and check out one of these places during off-hours when they can give you special attention. Get them to explain to you the differences between the different knives they have, get them to lay two or three of them out for you at a time, let you play with them on a cutting board, etc. Another thing you might think of doing is finding out if you have any friends who could lend you a Global chef's knife, maybe borrow a few other styles, get your Henkels sharpened up, and use them all for around a week, changing knives every so often. After a week or 10 days, you should find that you keep on reaching for certain knives.


--

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I just got a visual of Varmint walking into a knife shop, his pockets bulging with carrots, saying "Eh... What's up, Doc?" :laugh::laugh::laugh:


Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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FWIW, Dean, a lot of custom makers have a "loaner" knife they'll let you borrow for a week or two. Might be worth exploring.


--

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One suggestion: Don't go to a knife store. Are there any good, professional-oriented cookware stores in your area? Or perhaps a knife store that is run by real knife fans rather than bored counter-jockeys? A good thing to do might be to take a long, late lunch and check out one of these places during off-hours when they can give you special attention. Get them to explain to you the differences between the different knives they have, get them to lay two or three of them out for you at a time, let you play with them on a cutting board, etc. Another thing you might think of doing is finding out if you have any friends who could lend you a Global chef's knife, maybe borrow a few other styles, get your Henkels sharpened up, and use them all for around a week, changing knives every so often. After a week or 10 days, you should find that you keep on reaching for certain knives.

The store I went to was a cutlery store. I did go after lunch. I was the only person in the shop, and the co-owner attended to my needs. She just wasn't helpful at all. She knew nothing about steel types. She did know that Japanese knives have a narrower hone at the edge. Hell, I even told her I planned on writing up this experience for eGullet -- nothing helped. I don't think there's another store in the area with that type of selection. The Kibuichis were beautiful, but they didn't have a large chef's knife available.

So, does anyone want to "loan" me their chef's knife? :raz:


Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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What's the problem with buying a knife and returning it after 10 day's?

I would check the return policy first, maybe they offer credit before giving you cash back, but how else could it possibly be determined if you find the knife right for you, without chopping and slicing?

woodburner

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Just to add my general, disordered thoughts on knife buying to the mix:

Ooh, this is just painful to say, steel-snob that I am, but don't be seduced by exotic steels. High carbon stainless (the stuff in Wusthofs, Henckels, et al) is plenty okay for kitchen work. It's relatively stainless, takes and holds a decent edge and is easy to resharpen. Global & MAC knives blend molybdenum and vanadium into their alloys, making them harder, more wear resistant and with finer grain structures (i.e. "sharper").

Some makers use 440C, which is a couple of steps above the standard high carbon stainless. It is usually hardened to 56-58Rc as opposed to the 53-55Rc of standard commercial knives. George Tichbourne uses 440C in his line of knives, as does the very cool set of kitchen knives from Benchmade.

The Mullin knife in my article is ATS-34, which is not as stain resistant as most kitchen knives, but is much harder and takes a better edge. Above ATS-34 is BG-42 (used by chef Thomas Haslinger) and CPM S30V, a steel specifically designed for custom cutlery.

All of this is very cool but completely irrelevant if the knife's ergonomics don't work for you. Steel snobbery aside, the handle is the most important consideration in buying a new knife, in my opinion. If you hate the handle, you'll never use even the most exotic steel to its full potential.

After handle comfort comes weight and balance. I like blade-heavy knives, meaning they are balanced a little forward of the blade/handle joint so they feel like they're tipping down when you hold them. That's just me. Other people like a more neutral balance. I find that a blade heavy knife gives me more leverage when whacking away at a joint but balances nicely when held in a pinch grip with my forefinger and thumb just forward of the blade handle juncture.

I also hate bolsters. Folks who like neutrally balanced knives tend to favor bolsters because the bolster adds weight to the handle of the knife and counterbalances the blade. Not my style at all. And bolsters make sharpening a bitch, leaving a dished out area at the heel of the blade after repeated sharpenings.

I tend to prefer squared or oval handles to the "ergonomic" curves and bends of the Wusthof Culinar series or Henckels 5-Star series. Those knives feel like they were designed for space aliens with three fingers. But again, that's just me.

I don't subscribe to the religion of the full tang. The tang is the strip of metal extending from the blade and running under the handle or handle slabs. In a full tang knife you can see the strip -- which should be about the full width of the spine -- pinned between two handle slabs. A stick tang or rattail tang is a slimmer, well, stick of metal, usually with a full-coverage handle molded or fitted over it.

The theory is that a full tang knife will be significantly stronger, which may very well be true. However, in years of seriously abusing knives I've never broken one because of a stick tang. Certainly not in kitchen use. In a survival knife, sure, I want a thick full tang. In my kitchen knives I don't think it makes a damn bit of difference.

I like wide blades. I tend to scoop with my knives after dicing a tomato or onion. A wide blade (at least 2") makes that much easier. However, there is such a thing as too wide. I sold my Tichbourne K6 because it was just too damn big. At 10" long and 3" wide it was more like a cleaver than a chef's knife. Then again there are some wonderful chefs who rave about George Tichbourne's knives.

All this is by way of noting some of the considerations that go into finding that knife that fits your hand better than any other. These are my likes and dislikes. I'm not insisting that they be anybody else's :raz:.

But handle ergonomics, balance, blade weight, overall weight and blade width are important considerations.

Above all the over-intellectualizing, however, is just plain feel. If a knife feels good in your hands and will take a decent edge, buy it.

Chad


Chad Ward

An Edge in the Kitchen

William Morrow Cookbooks

www.chadwrites.com

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Just to add my general, disordered thoughts on knife buying to the mix:

Ooh, this is just painful to say, steel-snob that I am, but don't be seduced by exotic steels. High carbon stainless (the stuff in Wusthofs, Henckels, et al) is plenty okay for kitchen work. It's relatively stainless, takes and holds a decent edge and is easy to resharpen. Global & MAC knives blend molybdenum and vanadium into their alloys, making them harder, more wear resistant and with finer grain structures (i.e. "sharper").

Some makers use 440C, which is a couple of steps above the standard high carbon stainless. It is usually hardened to 56-58Rc as opposed to the 53-55Rc of standard commercial knives. George Tichbourne uses 440C in his line of knives, as does the very cool set of kitchen knives from Benchmade.

The Mullin knife in my article is ATS-34, which is not as stain resistant as most kitchen knives, but is much harder and takes a better edge. Above ATS-34 is BG-42 (used by chef Thomas Haslinger) and CPM S30V, a steel specifically designed for custom cutlery.

All of this is very cool but completely irrelevant if the knife's ergonomics don't work for you. Steel snobbery aside, the handle is the most important consideration in buying a new knife, in my opinion. If you hate the handle, you'll never use even the most exotic steel to its full potential.

After handle comfort comes weight and balance. I like blade-heavy knives, meaning they are balanced a little forward of the blade/handle joint so they feel like they're tipping down when you hold them. That's just me. Other people like a more neutral balance. I find that a blade heavy knife gives me more leverage when whacking away at a joint but balances nicely when held in a pinch grip with my forefinger and thumb just forward of the blade handle juncture.

I also hate bolsters. Folks who like neutrally balanced knives tend to favor bolsters because the bolster adds weight to the handle of the knife and counterbalances the blade. Not my style at all. And bolsters make sharpening a bitch, leaving a dished out area at the heel of the blade after repeated sharpenings.

I tend to prefer squared or oval handles to the "ergonomic" curves and bends of the Wusthof Culinar series or Henckels 5-Star series. Those knives feel like they were designed for space aliens with three fingers. But again, that's just me.

I don't subscribe to the religion of the full tang. The tang is the strip of metal extending from the blade and running under the handle or handle slabs. In a full tang knife you can see the strip -- which should be about the full width of the spine -- pinned between two handle slabs. A stick tang or rattail tang is a slimmer, well, stick of metal, usually with a full-coverage handle molded or fitted over it.

The theory is that a full tang knife will be significantly stronger, which may very well be true. However, in years of seriously abusing knives I've never broken one because of a stick tang. Certainly not in kitchen use. In a survival knife, sure, I want a thick full tang. In my kitchen knives I don't think it makes a damn bit of difference.

I like wide blades. I tend to scoop with my knives after dicing a tomato or onion. A wide blade (at least 2") makes that much easier. However, there is such a thing as too wide. I sold my Tichbourne K6 because it was just too damn big. At 10" long and 3" wide it was more like a cleaver than a chef's knife. Then again there are some wonderful chefs who rave about George Tichbourne's knives.

All this is by way of noting some of the considerations that go into finding that knife that fits your hand better than any other. These are my likes and dislikes. I'm not insisting that they be anybody else's :raz:.

But handle ergonomics, balance, blade weight, overall weight and blade width are important considerations.

Above all the over-intellectualizing, however, is just plain feel. If a knife feels good in your hands and will take a decent edge, buy it.

Chad

Jesus Christ Chad.

It's a fuckin knife, not a sex toy.

How can you possibly expect a person like myself to walk into a knife store and remember all that???

I agree though if it feels good holds a sharp edge it looks like a keeper.

woodburner

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I'd get your henckel sharpened professionaly and buy a whole lobe of foie gras with the the money you would've spent :wink:


Edited by guajolote (log)

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I'd get your henckel sharpened professionaly and buy a whole lobe of foie gras with the the money you would've spent :wink:

I'm with the other Dean on this. Give your Henckels a chance-- get it properly sharpened! Even if you still don't like it, you might have a better idea of what you're after with a similar weight, balance, etc. I dig my Henckels 6", 8", and paring knives. I've tried somewhat better knives in other folk's kitchens, but it's kinda diminishing returns, no?


peak performance is predicated on proper pan preparation...

-- A.B.

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I'd get your henckel sharpened professionaly and buy a whole lobe of foie gras with the the money you would've spent :wink:

Aaaaargh! Burn the heretic! Burn the heretic!

Chad


Chad Ward

An Edge in the Kitchen

William Morrow Cookbooks

www.chadwrites.com

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Has anyone had any experience with this seller of Japanese knives?

How comfortable are you with buying a knife you have not felt in your hand? Perhaps you could write to them and see what they say about trying out knives.

I ordered my MAC from another online knife retailer, but I would easily order from Japanese-Knife in the future if I were buying something else. Another place to buy online (local for me) is The Epicurean Edge. They seem really devoted to great kitchen knives with a distinct lean towards japanese manufacturers.

Ben


Gimme what cha got for a pork chop!

-Freakmaster

I have two words for America... Meat Crust.

-Mario

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I'd get your henckel sharpened professionaly and buy a whole lobe of foie gras with the the money you would've spent :wink:

I'm with the other Dean on this. Give your Henckels a chance-- get it properly sharpened! Even if you still don't like it, you might have a better idea of what you're after with a similar weight, balance, etc. I dig my Henckels 6", 8", and paring knives. I've tried somewhat better knives in other folk's kitchens, but it's kinda diminishing returns, no?

C'mon, guys, this is a present to myself! I can do the foie gras later, too! :wink:


Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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oh boy! my favourite topic.

Yeah, I really wish I could try out knives seriously before I buy.

The only serious damage that occurs when I enter the Knife department is to my bank account.

I have a Global Utility Knife that i Hardly ever use. I use my Kyocera paring knife moderately often but it feels too....fragile and just doesn't have that intangible factor that makes you wanna use a knife every time.

I have a 6" Henckels Professional S Santoku which i seem to use for just about EVERYTHING. It's not so unwieldly so I can almost use it for paring half the time. It's still big enough to do the big knife jobs. Only major flaw with it is that it doesn't have Granton edges.

Btw, avoid Ceramic knives, after using one, i find that they're mostly hype. They're sharp, yes no doubt, but they're just to fricking delicate to do any real work with.

I'm looking at a Chef Knife next in the 8 or 10 inch sizes. Currently debating between a Global and Wüsthof. Anyone know if the Global drop forged is worth the extra cost? It's really really heavy.


Do not expect INTJs to actually care about how you view them. They already know that they are arrogant bastards with a morbid sense of humor. Telling them the obvious accomplishes nothing.

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Has anyone had any experience with this seller of Japanese knives?

These knife conversations are painful to read today as I sit here with my thumb wearing a big white chunk of gauze and tape! Story to follow.

Varmint, I have two Kyocera white ceramic knives that I've had for about 4 years now, one a paring knife, one I believe an 8 inch chef? (I think one was $100.00, amd one $60.00) I love them, they are very sharp and cut beautifully BUT are much more delicate than I thought they'd be.

I like a lightweight knife because I have small hands and feel I have more control.

I finally had enough little chips in them to send them for sharpening (you pay 10.00 shipping only) Of course the chips were my fault. They cannot be used for any really hard vegetables like rutabaga, and never on bone.

As a lark my hubby saw the "Miracle Blade" infomercial (the horror) :shock: and ordered the set for $39.95, mainly because I need a bread knife and you get two in the set! I hate to say it but they are f**kin' sharp. I was using the "rock n' chop" cleaver last night and sliced a bit the size of a pencil eraser off the tip of my thumb. Shit-you know that horrible feeling where your holding and squeezing paper towels around the wound and you just don't even want to look at it? :sad:

Anyway I have all kinds of knives and I think I've come to the conclusion that I'm a pretty good cook now and as long as I have a SHARP knife, no matter what kind, that is what is most important.

I wish you luck in your search!!

jane


JANE

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Varmit,

I have really started enjoying Kershaw Shun Classic knives,damascus steel,16 layers a side,beautiful (and very hard)pakka wood handels.

I grew up in the biz with mostly henkels,although I love them,these blades from Seki Japan are the sharpest i've come across.Globals are also very nice,you need to be sure your comfortable with there handle,also very light weight (unlike henkels)

Is there an Kitchen Etc where you live? they have a very solid inventory of cutlery.


Turnip Greens are Better than Nothing. Ask the people who have tried both.

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George Tichbourne uses 440C in his line of knives, as does the very cool set of kitchen knives from Benchmade.

Those Benchmades sure look nice! My everyday pocket knife is a Benchmade, so I'm familiar with the company in general. The chef's knife looks like it might be a winner-- nice belly and width, no bolster, but it's hard to tell from a small picture. ATS34 would be better than 440C, and Benchmade has plenty of experence with ATS34, but 440C would probably be okay.

Unfortunately, they only seem to be available as a set, and I don't particularly need the others. However, I live about 20 miles from their factory; I think I'll call them and see if they might sell just the chef's knife, maybe they might sell small quantities of "factory seconds" or something.

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Man do I feel your pain. I am also starting a chefs knife quest with some Christmas loot and it is driving me nuts. I have had very similar experiences going into knife and cutlery stores where I am just about begging to be given the hard sell and they barely want to give you one knife laid out on a velvet pad like you are in a jewelery store. I keep hoping to find a visionary shopkeeper who pulls out a cutting board and a bag or carrots and tells me try out a few!

My favorite so far in the German category is the Messermeister Meridian Elite (did you like these?) While I am sure it is a fine knife I have spent too much time reading old threads here about exotic Japanese knives and am now curious to see if I might prefer one of these. I am going to try and make a trip to the Japanwoodworker.com next week and I will post if I find any promising candidates. I have been able to hold MAC and Kasumi knives and liked both of them but I hate to think there is something more exoctic from a smaller niche producer that I could get.

In addition to not being able to test drive a knife in stores and the lure of exotics (like those Hattoris posted recently) only available via mail order, I would hate to move to a Japanese knife and then in 3 months wish I had the heft of a German style knife. Has anyone had regrets in this area or felt the need to use a heavier knife frequently?

Good Luck Dean,

Nathan

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Has anyone had regrets in this area or felt the need to use a heavier knife frequently?

i got a Kyocera ceramic blade, i sometimes feel i should have gotten a Wusthof instead.


Do not expect INTJs to actually care about how you view them. They already know that they are arrogant bastards with a morbid sense of humor. Telling them the obvious accomplishes nothing.

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