Pros: Sharpness. Sharpening. Weight. Styling. Handle. History. Wait! There's More!
Cons: Not stainless. Real ebony handle requires some care. Full finger guard style bolster. Not cheap.
What's A Petty:
Let's start this review with what should be most people's reaction to the title. "OK. I'll bite. What's a 'petty?'"
The short answer is that it's a long paring knife. If you know classic knife shapes, it's somewhere between a "couteau office parer" and a "trenchelard slicer." In fact, this particular knife is actually listed by the e-tailer/distributor (The Best Things) as a 6" slicer.
The idea of a petty seems to have come out of professional, Japanese, western-style kitchens to partner the chef's as "the other knife," so that between the two of them there's nothing you can't do. If you speak French a petty is office in the strictest sense.
Short enough and easy enough to handle for decorative cutting, agile enough for tourne, easy to aim, long and thin enough for boning, yadda yadda yadda. Does it work? For me, yes. I bought this knife to try it as a petty, and pretty much stopped using my paring and boning knives.
The trend among high-skill users is away from the parer and towards the petty. The trend among petty users seems to be towards longer knives. It used to be that 5" - 6" was the range for them, now it's more like 6" to 8".
There's quite a lot of history associated with this particular series of knives. Properly speaking it's Thiers-Issard ****Elephant Sabatier Nogent. Quite a mouthful, no?
Sabatier is not one knife company, but several. Thiers-Issard ("T-I") is one of the oldest Sabatiers, and is still manufacturing knives in the Thiers - Bellevue region of France. Over the years, they bought out other Sabatiers, including two very famous companies using the Elephant and **** (Quatre Etoiles) logos.
At some point before WWII, T-I made or bought then lost or hid a huge amount of blanks. They say "bought" and "lost." I say "how remarkably fortunate the knives were preserved from French and German steel drives."
At any rate, they were stored in crates behind stacks of crates behind more stacks of crates in a warehouse. Whether they were actually lost to begin with, or just forgotten they languished there for years until T-I decided to raze the warehouse to create more office space.
When the old knives were rediscoverd in the early nineties, T-I decided to put handles on them, sharpen them up and send them out to cut stuff. Good decision. These knives are wonderful. They are the knives Julia Child lusted after and used for many, many years. They are what Sabatier is all about.
Note: There are other knives called "Nogent." Mostly, they're inexpensive stainless. Some aren't even made in France. This review is about Thiers-Issard Sabatier Nogent in general, the 6" slicer used as a petty in particular, and nothing else.
Styling and Construction:
The styling is very old school, with blocky ebony handles, aluminum ferrules, typically French finger guards, the whole nine yards. Perhaps it's not fair to consider them styled, they are very much form preceding function. On the other hand, they're French -- so, yeah. They were styled and are still tres, tres stylish.
The knives are a product of "martinet forging," made with what's called a "rat tail" tang. It's a type of construction that's been largely discarded in the west in favor of the "full tang" style. There's been a lot of propaganda about the superiority of full tang, but don't let it fool you. These knives are plenty strong. Don't use them to open paint cans, and all will be well for decades.
Ergonomics and Use:
The handles are some sort of wood, probably ebony, and stained black. They are not stabilized and will require some care. Not only do these knives NOT go into the dishwasher EVER, but the handles should be occasionally oiled (mineral oil from the drugstore). Oil when you sharpen and you should be fine.
The handles are incredibly, wonderfully, stupidly, strangely, comfortable. Considering how blocky they are, it's just amazing. One nice thing about this particular knife and about the other small knives in the series as well is that the handles are full sized. In addition to the extra comfort, it allows a lot more versatility than most small knives.
If you want the super-fine control that comes with a small handle, just hold the knife by "pinching" the blade from behind.
The jump from a parer to a petty isn't particularly difficult to make, but if it's your first, stick with a 5" to 6" knife in general -- the 6" Nogent is as good as you can get.
Fit and Finish:
Good news, bad news. The handles are generally well finished, with relieved edges.
Some of the tangs were bent in storage, handling or shipping and some of the knives are not quite straight. This usually isn't a big deal with the smaller knives, as they're proportionally more rigid. If you're interested in purchasing call The Best Things and ask them to choose the straightest knife they've got anyway.
Whomever TI has sharpening the Nogents don't always do a good job. Plan on sharpening the knife (or having it sharpened) as soon as you get it.
Carbon vs Stainless:
I'm not going to get into it other than to say, you can either deal with carbon or you can't. Carbon doesn't need much extra care, but it does require good work habits and must be taken care of right away. This is not a knife you can leave dirty until after dinner.
As carbon alloys go, this one is not particularly prone to staining or corrosion.
Profile and Geometry:
Couteau office. 6" long. What else is there?
Blade Characteristics, Sharpening, Edge Geometry:
In my book the sharpening and edge holding advantages of carbon are well worth it. Nogents have those advantages in spades.
Excellent edge taking. While their potential for absolute sharpness may not be quite equal to the very best Japanese made knives, it's darn close. Frankly, I doubt all but the very best sharpeners could ever tell the difference. You can sharpen on oilstones or waterstones. They sharpen quickly and easily. The length and shape don't hurt either. Did I say "quickly and easily?
Something which must be stated, which is unusual but not unknown with several types of alloys including expensive metallurgical powders and old carbons like the Nogents is you occasionally run into a large carbide crystal which must be sharpened out of the edge to get a flat bevel. It happened to me with one of my Nogents, and it took a couple of sessions to get it dislodged so I could actually get a flat bevel and a long lasting edge.
Old steel is subject to something called "age hardening." That happened here. It's a good thing. If you care about Rockwell "C" numbers, these act as though they're mid-high fifties. They not only wear slowly, they don't deform easily. Maintenance by steeling is a simple zip, zip, Bob's your uncle.
The blades are very thin -- a good thing. Even when they get dull, they act sharp. Better still because of age hardening, by the way.
If you got this far, you want it. Whether you buy a Nogent or not, buy a petty. You'll love it. Whether you buy a petty or not, buy a TI Nogent. You'll love that too.
If you want any knife from TI's Nogent series, buy it soon. They haven't been made for seventy years or so, and the stock has dwindled quite a bit since they came back on the market. As far as I know, The Best Things is the only e-tail and retail source.