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The Ultimate Knife...


pjackso
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Once you own a good [Japanese knife], there is little chance that you will go back to German knives.

I'd say the jury is still out on this one. After all, everyone was saying the same thing about Chinese cleavers when they were in vogue a while back, and they are hardly ever seen these days. I don't dispute the fact that Japanese knives are very good, and even the best solution for certain tasks. But I also believe that the Western style hasn't been such a success for no reason.

A steel will not put and edge on a knife no matter how long you work at it.  All it does is line up the edge.  If you have a good edge, a steel will bring it back.   If you are a home cook and have a good carbon blade, I could believe that you need to sharpen only rarely.  Especially if you have a grip of them and use all of them.  I can cut in one day, what a home cook may cut in two months.

Right. To expand on this a bit, and restate it: If you have an edge on your knife, you do not need to sharpen it. All you need is to steel the knife and bring the edge back in line. I'd also add that the occasional use of a very fine ceramic steel (along with the regular use of a smooth metal steel) with a light touch can extend the time required between sharpenings by "micro sharpening" as it straightens the edge.

In re to polished edges: I am not sure it's the best edge for all applications. A highly polished, very fine grained, acute angled edge is important when you want to do the minimum amount of tissue damage... like when you're shaving or performing surgery. If one is push-cutting very delicate fish for sushi or something like that, I can see how this could make a big difference. However, minimal tissue damage is not necessarily a priority when you're cutting up a chicken or dicing vegetables -- especially if you're using a sawing action in addition to the push-cut action. In these cases, my experience is that a coarser edge has a much more aggressive "bite" and actually does the job a little better. This kind of edge also seems more durable and responds better to steeling. That's my experience, anyway. ymmv.

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I find a knife with a bit of "Tooth" is best for just about every job in the kitchen. Including slicing bread.

Surgery is a different story... :blink:

"You like Thai?"

"Yea, you like shirt?" -Trent Steele & Max Power (From The Simpsons Episode No. 216)

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Chinese cleavers are a valuable tool that have been around for hundreds of years. The santuko is the latest flavor. Sure, the cook that buys into all the marketing is going to buy whatever the food chanel throws at them every couple of years. However, tell a 6th generation Japanese knifemaker that his product is a fad. There is no jury on this one. We don't have to have a consensus. I know that my Japanese knives are far superior to my western knives. You don't have to agree.

A toothier edge responds better to steeling because it requires steeling more often. A polished edge is less susceptible to abraision wear. If you like tooth then why would you use a very fine ceramic steel?

I "saw" with a bread knife. I have not needed to to "saw" anything with a Japanese knife.

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I love knives...I have loads of them...Wüsthof, Sabatier, Nogen etc.

but I have one that is odd...it stinks...the blade on this knife smells.... it is a very old knife from Paris and I am wondering if it might be pure iron. It takes an edge faster than my Sabatier carbon steel knives, but gets dull after a day or two of use. Funny thing is, I have two very ancient forks that seem to be made out of the same material because they stink too and if you touch them to you tongue you can taste it.

Do you think these tools are pure iron?

Here is my little stinker:

stinker.jpg

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There is no jury on this one.  We don't have to have a consensus.  I know that my Japanese knives are far superior to my western knives.  You don't have to agree.

If we don't have a consensus and we don't have to agree, then the jury is indeed still out. What I am attempting to do is inject a bit of balance into some absolutist comments.

I am quite confident that we will never be able to say that one style of knife is definitively "better" than another. You know that your Japanese style knives are far superior to your Western style knives for you. This could have to do with your preferences, or it could have to do with the fact that you're spending around 500% more for your Japanese knives than you are for the Western knives. Either way, others may just as certainly know that their antique French carbon steel knives are better than their Japanese knives, or that their custom extra-heavy Western-style knives are better. Where I think you will agree is that everyone has to find the style of knife that works with their hand, with their habits of use and with their preferences in a cutting tool.

A toothier edge responds better to steeling because it requires steeling more often.  A polished edge is less susceptible to abraision wear.  If you like tooth then why would you use a very fine ceramic steel?

I have been given to understand that a finer grained, more polished edge makes it more likely that the carbide at the edge will "pop out" of the matrix, thus dulling the edge. I occasionally use a ceramic steel because the main action of the steel is to straighten the edge. To the extent that any polishing occurs, it is to portions of the edge that in some microscopic way are less likely to respond to steeling.

I "saw" with a bread knife.  I have not needed  to to "saw" anything with a Japanese knife.

Any time you deviate from a pure push cut -- which is to say, any time there is any sideways motion of the blade at all relative to the direction of the cut -- you are making a sawing motion. It is one of the two fundamental kinds of cutting motion: push cut and saw. I find it extremely hard to believe that you employ push cutting exclusively (in fact, I think this is imposible in most kitchen situations other than a few highly specific tasks).

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In the spirit of things:

knives.jpg

The Usual Suspects, vaguely clockwise from top center:

1. Granton 14" stiff slicer

2. Granton 12" flex slicer

3. Nenox 300mm gyuto

4. Nenox 270mm sujihiki

5. Masahiro 175mm santoku - I like it as it's a little slimmer than the usual santoku

6. Masahiro 165mm usuba

7. Nenox 165mm yo-deba

8. Nenox 150mm 'petty'

9. Lamson 3" parer - the straight-edged, triangular-bladed one

10. Dexter Chinese knife, 8", plain carbon

11. Glestain 240mm gyuto

12. Granton 10" scimitar

Charlie

Walled Lake, Michigan

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gallery_7620_135_4288.jpg

How do you keep them so shiny?

Mine are more like working tools, though sharp as a razor, they are dull and matt grey. Dark grey even.

However they will cut through a firm whole tomato with only their own weight, for example Try that with your knives...

Edited by jackal10 (log)
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gallery_7620_135_4288.jpg

How do you keep them so shiny?

Mine are more like working tools, though sharp as a razor, they are dull and matt grey. Dark grey even.

However they will cut through a firm whole tomato with only their own weight, for example Try that with your knives...

Its the flash...

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My Group:

knives1.jpg

Pic I

From left to right:

Pointing down: the Nogents

Pointing up: The Sabatiers

Pointing down the Wüsthofs Chefs are 8, 10 (notice rare vintage French style 10 inch)and 12 inch

Knives2.jpg

Pic II:

From Left to right:

Truffle knife

Two good knives from Ikea

Sap (Italian) Ham knife

Sap Salmon knife

Victorinox fork

Chinese cleaver

S/S cleaver

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There is no jury on this one.  We don't have to have a consensus.  I know that my Japanese knives are far superior to my western knives.  You don't have to agree.

If we don't have a consensus and we don't have to agree, then the jury is indeed still out. What I am attempting to do is inject a bit of balance into some absolutist comments.

I am quite confident that we will never be able to say that one style of knife is definitively "better" than another. You know that your Japanese style knives are far superior to your Western style knives for you. This could have to do with your preferences, or it could have to do with the fact that you're spending around 500% more for your Japanese knives than you are for the Western knives. Either way, others may just as certainly know that their antique French carbon steel knives are better than their Japanese knives, or that their custom extra-heavy Western-style knives are better. Where I think you will agree is that everyone has to find the style of knife that works with their hand, with their habits of use and with their preferences in a cutting tool.

A toothier edge responds better to steeling because it requires steeling more often.  A polished edge is less susceptible to abraision wear.  If you like tooth then why would you use a very fine ceramic steel?

I have been given to understand that a finer grained, more polished edge makes it more likely that the carbide at the edge will "pop out" of the matrix, thus dulling the edge. I occasionally use a ceramic steel because the main action of the steel is to straighten the edge. To the extent that any polishing occurs, it is to portions of the edge that in some microscopic way are less likely to respond to steeling.

I "saw" with a bread knife.  I have not needed  to to "saw" anything with a Japanese knife.

Any time you deviate from a pure push cut -- which is to say, any time there is any sideways motion of the blade at all relative to the direction of the cut -- you are making a sawing motion. It is one of the two fundamental kinds of cutting motion: push cut and saw. I find it extremely hard to believe that you employ push cutting exclusively (in fact, I think this is imposible in most kitchen situations other than a few highly specific tasks).

A jury has to come to a consensus. That is what I am saying...There is no jury, because we don't have to come to a consensus. Nothing absolutist about that. The only thing I am absolutely sure of is that my Japenese knives outperform my western knives.

My main workhorse gyutou is a 10.5" Tojiro that costs $74.70. This is far less than what my Wusthof costs.

I'm really not following your terminology. I have never heard of push cutting and sawing. Is this somehow related to chopping and slicing? Isn't this pocket knife terminalogy? I assure you that my fragile Japanese knives outperform my German knive for both chopping and slicing. I mean they work better for me...even though I don't think it is really that subjective. I use my Wusthof for hard squash and the like.

Out of curiosity, which Japanese knives had you tried?

Edited by RETREVR (log)
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Once you own a good [Japanese knife], there is little chance that you will go back to German knives.

I'd say the jury is still out on this one. After all, everyone was saying the same thing about Chinese cleavers when they were in vogue a while back, and they are hardly ever seen these days. I don't dispute the fact that Japanese knives are very good, and even the best solution for certain tasks. But I also believe that the Western style hasn't been such a success for no reason.

...

As you know, a Chinese cleaver and a western chef's knife differ substantially in design. As a result, the knife technique is not the same. There is a retraining issue. I don't think there's much functional reason for someone to switch from one design to the other, all things being equal, unless one has a personal preference. I recently switched simply because I like working in the way one does with a cleaver and that includes precision cuts and other delicate work. I think it would be an uphill battle for a knife manufacturer to try to convince Americans to switch to a Chinese cleaver just as it would be to get Chinese to switch to a chef's knife. Six of one, half a dozen of the other, as they say. I also know you better than to suggest that the popular choice is the correct one merely because it's the popular one. I like being a freak with a copper pan or two and I blame you. :smile:

On the other hand, the argument for choosing a Japanese knife over a typical western knife is compelling. There isn't a retraining issue, assuming one goes with a gyuto which looks a whole lot like a chef's knife. The cutting edge is sharper, usually at about a 15 degree bevel angle rather than the typical 20-ish for a western knife. Putting aside theory and cutting rope and the other things knife collectors like to go on about and simply taking knives to actual food, there's a clear performance difference in favor of the Japanese knives. That is, assuming you prefer a sharper knife. My western knives include Wüsthof, Henckels, and old E. Dehilliren carbon steel. My Japanese knives are Global and Shun. The latter are middle or even low end by Japanese standards yet the comparative improvement in cutting ability over my western knives is noticeable. These Japanese knives simply cut better in my experience, whether I'm slicing or chopping, due to the additional sharpness. The higher grade of steel used by the Japanese mitigates the durability problem one might have with sharpening to a more acute 15 degree bevel angle. Practically speaking, I think one might need to be more careful with cutting chicken bones but in exchange one receives an improvement in cutting nearly everything else.

Now, I don't know if it'd be worth it for most people already owning a western knife to go out and buy a Japanese replacement. But I think it would be crazy for anyone in the market for a new knife or looking for a performance improvement over their existing knives not to serously consider a Japanese knife.

I wish there were more Japanese knives easily available for people to try out at their local stores. The Global has a handle that some people find slippery or uncomfortable and some people don't like the look. The Shuns also have an unusual handle and the Japanese ink pattern turns some people off. There are plenty of other choices at various price points but most people have to take a chance and order them through the mail.

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...

Global.  Owners of Global knives are 87% more likely to own a Wiemerhiner than non-global owners.  They are decent knives if you can stand to look at them, but Shun is far superior 

...

I like my Shun better than my Globals. The Shun noticeably holds an edge better as it should with the steel it uses.

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I have both Global and full carbon Sabatier.

For me, the Sabatier wins hands down in terms of sharpness, ease of use and feel.

The boning knife (second from bottom in the photo I posted) is my everything, everyday knife...

global vs. carbon sabatier...

my ancient "sabatier" nogent cuts as good as any global, plus has a more secure feel (it doesn't feel as if it might slip, and the fine bolster helps, too). the reason it cuts so fine is, i believe, that it's got an equally slender blade. it actually cuts instead of crushes its way through, say, a carrot.

when i recieved my new "lion" sabatier which is somewhat heavier than the old sabatiers, it "crushed" (just like most german knives will). i then, having read chad's delightful course on knife maintenance etc., http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=26036 , put a double bevel on it - and that changed things.

that said, i think the "crushing" may be an advantage if you wish to keep cuts of potato from sticking to the blade. and there are times when a sturdier knife is good. funny thing is that my old 12" sab is very thick near the handle. i think that part of the blade is supposed to work like a cleaver. the rest of the blade is quite light, and works best when used for "pull"-cutting. but then, isn't that the way the old french knives were supposed to be used?

christianh@geol.ku.dk. just in case.

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I'm really not following your terminology.  I have never heard of push cutting and sawing.  Is this somehow related to chopping and slicing?

Perhaps it would have been more clear if I had used the correct terminology, which is really push-cut and slice (not "saw"). :smile: I used "saw" because I thought there would be some confusion of terms, since what is typically called "slicing" in a kitchen is actually a combination cut (more on this below).

Maybe this helps:

gallery_8505_416_23092.jpg

With a pure push cut, the edge addresses the material 100% perpendicularly. There is no sideways motion of the blade. A good example of this is shaving. Tests show that a fine grained steel and a highly polished edge are best for push cutting.

With a pure slice cut, there is minimal perpendicular pressure in the cut. The length of the edge is drawn across the material in a sideways movement. Tests show that a fine grained steel and a highly polished edge are not optimal for slice cutting -- a relatively coarse edge is optimal.

Most cuts, of course, are a combination of these two elemental cuts, and a combination cut has much more cutting power. This is one reason most kitchen knives have a curve. "Flat" blades, like the currently popular santoku shape, more or less force the cook into using a mostly push cut action (which, I think, is one reason these knives don't perform up to expectations so often). How a knife is best sharpened will largely be determined by the kind of work the knife does.

I can see how someone who cuts sushi, for example, would want a highly polished edge. This is a largely push cutting task, and a major concern is doing minimal tissue damage to the flesh. For an "all around" kitchen edge, however, it strikes me that a highly polished edge will not usually be optimal. Many tasks in the kitchen depend on a fair amount of slice cutting in the action of the knife. While it is true that the advantage of a coarser edge can be mitigated somewhat by a super sharp polished edge and a greater reliance on push cutting in the cutting motion, it is also the case that edge retention at this level of sharpness is not good (this is one reason a straight razor is honed so frequently) compared to a coarser edge and does not respond to steeling the way a coarser edge will. This is why highly polished edges need to go back to the fine grit stone with such frequency, whereas a coarse edge needs only a swipe across a steel.

Out of curiosity, which Japanese knives had you tried?

I don't think it's worth getting into specific brands, because that inevitably brings up counterarguments along the lines of, "well you have to try this brand, not that brand." Suffice it to say that I've tried a number of Japanese knives at a variety of price points. I think they're great, and they have their uses. I just happen to prefer a heavy, Western style knife. That's what works with my style of use and in my kitchen. FWIW, my main knives are custom made out of cast dendritic steel, which means, among other things, that they have extra large carbide crystals and an extra-aggressive "toothy" edge by the very nature of the steel. I wouldn't want to shave with them, but they fly through just about anything the second there is even the slightest hint of sideways motion. Eventually, I'll pick up a skinny fine grained knife for mostly-push-cutting tasks.

On the other hand, the argument for choosing a Japanese knife over a typical western knife is compelling. There isn't a retraining issue, assuming one goes with a gyuto which looks a whole lot like a chef's knife. The cutting edge is sharper, usually at about a 15 degree bevel angle rather than the typical 20-ish for a western knife.

I wonder what would happen if you were to have your Western knives sharpened to 15 degrees. I'm not suggesting, by the way, that Japanese knives are no good. They're clearly very good. I'm just suggesting that there is no clear way to say that one is definitively better than the other. Anyone in the market for a new knife should indeed check into the Japanese-style knives, because many people like them and there are many advantages to the Japanese style. But there are also many advantages to the Western style. For me, I like having a heavy knife that does a lot of the work for me. I like having my 10 inch chef's knife thin at the tip for fine work and thick at the back for power work. I like having a knife I can bang around on the board and hack through chicken bones without worrying about chipping a thin fragile edge. I like the fact that I only have to sharpen my knives a few times a year and swipe them across a steel when I use them to keep them in optimal condition, instead of polishing them on an 8 zillion grit stone once a week. I like the fact that a thick blade feels better in a pinch grip than a thin one.

But, of course, I understand that there are plenty of reasons on the other side of the coin to prefer a Japanese style... or a Chinese cleaver. I'm just not willing to say that one is definitively better than the other. It's definitely a fact that Japanese style knives are here to stay. But it is also a fact that they are very trendy right now, and I have little doubt that another trend will come along in ten years that will leave us all saying "remember when everyone thought Japanese knives were the end all/be all of kitchen cutlery?" Of course, by that time the success of Japanese knives may have influenced the traditional Western makers (as Western knives influenced the most used Japanese styles) into, e.g., sharpening to a more acute angle at the factory.

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Japanese single bevel knives have their place but being left handed and being told I must pay a premium for a wrong handed knife turns me off. I'd love to try one but not at those prices when what I have works. :biggrin:

Bruce Frigard

Quality control Taster, Château D'Eau Winery

"Free time is the engine of ingenuity, creativity and innovation"

111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321

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...

I wonder what would happen if you were to have your Western knives sharpened to 15 degrees.  I'm not suggesting, by the way, that Japanese knives are no good.  They're clearly very good.  I'm just suggesting that there is no clear way to say that one is definitively better than the other.  Anyone in the market for a new knife should indeed check into the Japanese-style knives, because many people like them and there are many advantages to the Japanese style.  But there are also many advantages to the Western style.  For me, I like having a heavy knife that does a lot of the work for me.  I like having my 10 inch chef's knife thin at the tip for fine work and thick at the back for power work.  I like having a knife I can bang around on the board and hack through chicken bones without worrying about chipping a thin fragile edge.  I like the fact that I only have to sharpen my knives a few times a year and swipe them across a steel when I use them to keep them in optimal condition, instead of polishing them on an 8 zillion grit stone once a week.  I like the fact that a thick blade feels better in a pinch grip than a thin one.

But, of course, I understand that there are plenty of reasons on the other side of the coin to prefer a Japanese style... or a Chinese cleaver.  I'm just not willing to say that one is definitively better than the other.  It's definitely a fact that Japanese style knives are here to stay.  But it is also a fact that they are very trendy right now, and I have little doubt that another trend will come along in ten years that will leave us all saying "remember when everyone thought Japanese knives were the end all/be all of kitchen cutlery?"  Of course, by that time the success of Japanese knives may have influenced the traditional Western makers (as Western knives influenced the most used Japanese styles) into, e.g., sharpening to a more acute angle at the factory.

I'm afraid to grind a more acute bevel on my Western knives because I fear the steel would not be hard enough to maintain a practical edge for a useful duration of time. I've read informed opinion against doing this due to the relative softness of the steel but I haven't actually tried doing it myself. Messermeister offers knives with the more acute bevel so there are Western manufacturers doing this but I believe they are also using some sort of harder steel.

I do agree with you about how one knife isn't definitively better than another because not everyone is in agreement on what factors make the best knife. I share the same opinion with you about having a heavier knife help do the work but could also see how someone like maybe a prep cook would disagree strongly because of some fatigue factor that I have not experienced.

I think what I react to most positively with these Japanese knives is that they are sharper, or capable of being sharper if one sharpens them properly, than a typical factory Western knife, due to the higher grade steel. The other touted advantages like lighter weight don't mean much to me. What I'd really like to see is companies with large distribution like Henckels and Wüsthof move towards using these newer steels in their knives. Maybe make them a little thinner than the existing models because the steel can handle it but maybe not go so far as to make them not fully interchangable. Get rid of that full bolster as well. Offer them in the wide variety of patterns that already exist in present lineups, including wide chef's models. I think most people would be happy with these and those who prefer the Japanese design aesthetic can go after the Japanese knives.

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I'm afraid to grind a more acute bevel on my Western knives because I fear the steel would not be hard enough to maintain a practical edge for a useful duration of time. I've read informed opinion against doing this due to the relative softness of the steel but I haven't actually tried doing it myself. Messermeister offers knives with the more acute bevel so there are Western manufacturers doing this but I believe they are also using some sort of harder steel.

My knives are made with a very hard steel (as are many/most custom knives), so perhaps that is why I didn't consider this. However, along with extra hardness comes extra brittleness. A more brittle steel along with a more acute sharpening angle = recipe for chipping the edge if you're not careful.

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The topic of the thread asks for what, in your opinion, is the ultimate knife. I respond that my Japnese knives are the ultimate knife. Then you tell me I can't say that, and that there really is no ultimate knife, and go into a rant about how your coarse edged knives are better for allround kitchen use and that polished edges are for making sushi.

Give me a break.

Humor me.

Which Japanese blades have you used?

You want to see a damaged blade? Try putting a 15 degree bevel on a Henkels.

Those old Sabatiers have quite a lot in common with some of the Japanese blades. They do not have as much belly as a German knife. They, like many gyutous, are high carbon and thin bladed.

Mr. Kinsey, I am sure your custom knives are just dandy. They are designed for a course edge. Fine. You like them, and that is great. I just don't think you are qualified to compare the performance of western knives to that of a quality Japanese blade. I may be wrong, but you show no understanding of how well the Japanese blades perform.

Edited by RETREVR (log)
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I can see how someone who cuts sushi, for example, would want a highly polished edge.  This is a largely push cutting task, and a major concern is doing minimal tissue damage to the flesh....

Cutting fish for sushi is a slicing rather than push cutting task. You place the heel on the object you're cutting and mostly let the weight of the knife do the work as you draw the knive towards you, most preferably in one pass. That's why those yanagi-ba are so long.

Edited by esvoboda (log)
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