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The idea of abuse.

post #1 of 16
Thread Starter 
In discussing knives in several forums, the idea of damage from abuse is often discussed. For example, when "uber steels" are mentioned, most often someone will opine that such alloys chip 'in the field.'

Usually this ideal relates to suggesting that the potential buyer refrain from purchasing knives with thinner edges and alloys of +60 Rc.

Yes, I have seen (and repaired) expensive Japanese knives that were bounced off of a cement floor. However I believe that 'fear of damage' deprives us of some incredible cutting instruments.

For example, in some extreme settings, a camper or hiker might have to baton his carry knife through kindling to make a fire for warmth or signaling. Fair enough. But I have never heard of a sushi chef hacking through a 2x4 before preparing fugu. Nor have I seen a sashimi knife on the belt of a survivalist.

A knife is made for slicing. Period. If you twist or slam a refined edge into a stainless counter-top this action is simply abuse. However, it is not permission to sing to the world that thinner polished edges are inferior--and many proffer just that idea.

I've read where one guru debated that most refined edges could not slice through yards of stiff hemp rope without dulling. Yeah, what's the overall point? In most cases I try to save expensive line, and carry a knife with a marlin spike to do that very chore. The argument is pointless in discussing kitchen knives. I don't even know a single individual who have hacked through yards and yards of rope.

I believe that the most expensive, refined and polished nakiri would last about ten minutes at a campsite. However, I seldom stir-fry when pounding tent stakes.

In closing, my point is simply this. The debate on "use vs abuse" is long since over and determined. While new techniques in particle manfacture will continue to improve our cutting implements each year, a refined edge is not a belt axe.

When a potential client raises the issue of "chipping" when considering a kitchen knife, I remind him/her that almost everything chips. Knives. House paint. Fingernails. Bumper chrome. Computer mother boards.

However, none of these products and advances have deterred innovation.

BTW, based on the talent I have seen here at ChefTalk, it sounds like most of us can repair a blade chip as easily as changing a lightbulb anyway.
post #2 of 16
A camper/hiker should carry several types of knives depending on the task. The one best suited for what's quoted would be a military style survival knife. It's built thick and meant for chopping, slashing and hacking brush and branch. And for use as a pry bar. When hiking, I carry a tiny Swiss Army on my keychain, a jack knife in my pocket and another one in a pouch; and, finally, a survival knife inside my pack.

Sorry for going off into a tangent. Knives are gooooooooooood!

Best and I'm a foodie.   I know very little but the little that I know I want to know very well.

 

-T

Brot und Wein
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Best and I'm a foodie.   I know very little but the little that I know I want to know very well.

 

-T

Brot und Wein
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post #3 of 16
Thread Starter 
No need to apologize, this is exactly my point! You pick the best tool for the job.

Our kitchen is filled with Japanese kitchen knives, some are in for sharpening, some are test "mules" and some are my wife's.

However, last night I wanted Chinese food, and I slipped the Myerchin L300 out of my pocket and replaced it with a CRKT 7085 with a polished edge. The reasoning was quite simple. I wasn't going to do any cooking, I wasn't going to splice any nautical line, but I was going to a shady side of town after dark for dinner. Voila!

Now, you might ask yourself what put a burr under my saddle, and for me it's a common tale. I spoke with an old buddy of mine last evening, and the subject of edge style, alloys and a cutler's ego came up. Old stuff, to be sure, but extremely tiresome.

Clients come to "experts" for sincere information on cutting tools, and a kitchen knife is no exception. As you pointed out, there are a myriad of uses and needs.

In fact, I have even recommended knives to my clients that I do not utilize myself because that cutting instrument was the best for him, but not for me.

There's an old adage that when your only tool is a hammer the entire world's problems look like nails. I agree. But nearly 100% of my business concerns slicing--and I say that admitting that I have sharpened a few axes and hoof knives, albeit rarely.

And this means that nearly 100% of my knives will chip. But in raising that concern as a postulate for an opposing debate, I must add that I also change my oil filters and get my boots re-soled. Even the best tools will show wear.
post #4 of 16
Thread Starter 
Oh, I did want to add one further idea in this debate. And that is addressing the concept of "the plausible impossible."

If you've spent any time on knife related forums you'll know that any opposing viewpoint adds the idea of "just in case." One of the most useless genre' of cutlery is the 'tactical knife,' but it's also one of the best selling types.

As I stated, the idea of edge retention usually mentions stiff hemp rope. Now, I cannot remember the last time I cut a piece of rope (line). As a tinker my job is to save tools, not destroy them. I will seek to untie or repair line and not simply hack through it.

However, in these debates the martial artist types always proffer something like, Hey, Chico, what if you're out returning library books at 0300 in a ghetto and you're surrounded by ten members of the Corsican mafia, each armed with ten feet of hemp rope. Clearly you'll have to cut through 100 feet of stiff material..."

Yada, yada, and the argument ensues that only a thick soft alloy of carbon steel and a fat edge is worth purchasing. I can't even name a time when my wife served sliced tomatoes with a side order of hemp--and then attacked me.

There, rant mode off, I got it out of my system. There's a reason why the Japanese craftsmen have used a polished laminate edge for +800 years. And the debate should address that issue.

And to include 'abuse' is of minor concern. Buy the best knife for your kitchen.
post #5 of 16
>A camper/hiker should carry several types of knives depending on the task.<

I have to disagree with this. There is no reason for a camper/hiker to ever carry more than one knife. Although it does get down to a matter of taste, the best choice is a folding knife one can wear on one's hip. There is no normal camping task that can't be done with one of them.

>It's built thick and meant for chopping, slashing and hacking brush and branch. <

Are we talking recreational camping here? Or jungle survival?

Even in the latter case, the so-called "survival" knife was designed specifically because it's the only edged tool being carried. So it had to be a multi-tasker. A downed pilot, for example, doesn't land his chute loaded down with a half-dozen special-purpose blades.

If you're recreationally camping, then the best tool in addition to a knife is a small belt axe. And then only if you'll be needing real firewood. If you're hiking, then odds are you won't be building any open fires at all.

On the other hand, if you're hacking through the jungle the best tool is a machete.

It all goes back to Tourist's point: You use the best tool for the job.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #6 of 16
Thread Starter 
I would add that the element of 'practicality' be factored into this debate, as well.

For example, if I'm out for a ride that might last a few hours on an afternoon, my best knife might be a "cell phone." For minor repiars and eating, I probably would choose a Buck 110, or 112, or a Myerchin folder.

Now, I do know that my friend from Wyoming uses a trailor at his base camp for a stay of several nights. Since space and weight are not an issue, he'll utilize a folder, some kitchen knives and a small chainsaw for firewood.

Both of us are relaxing on our free time, but we use two very different cutting tool(s).

However, when we are fixing dinner we both use a Japanese laminate, because we have come to believe that this tool is the best for that chore.

(This is not a sermon, but an observation. You might use a knife that was handed down by your mother and has special value, and many people do just that.)

I'm just not a big fan of shaman, fakirs, soothsayers or witchdoctors who opine that the knives in their display case are "best." And I believe that the real value of a forum is discussion and debate.
post #7 of 16
KYH why don't we cut to the quick and just simply carry a chain saw and get it done lightening fast. Okay?

Best and I'm a foodie.   I know very little but the little that I know I want to know very well.

 

-T

Brot und Wein
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Best and I'm a foodie.   I know very little but the little that I know I want to know very well.

 

-T

Brot und Wein
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post #8 of 16
Thread Starter 
That wasn't my point. Let me explain.

In our area we have a cable show called "The Man, The Machine and The Moment." The concept is that unique historical events were formed by a blend of factors. I believe this.

To keep with a theme of kitchen knives, it is my personal belief that just about any kitchen of a food hobbyist could run with just a nakiri, a gyuto and a some form of paring knife. In many ways, I've seen restaurants run with only these, perhaps differing only in the overall sizes.

However, both Rachael Ray and Cat Cora have stated that they use primarily a santoku.

And yet our local Chinese restaurant uses only cleavers. I've handled one of them, and they are both huge and heavy.

For each man and his trade, there is a favored knife as they work, hence "a chef, his knife and the moment he cooks."

Relating this back to my original point, your tool and your skill should be the final criteria, not some errrant comment like, "Mine chipped."

And sadly, this idea, the edges utilized and the style of chores is a hot-button debate. In fact, I'm prejudiced in this arena. Newer alloys and laminates have pretty much settled the issue, and the need for soft steels and thick edges is hardly needed at all.
post #9 of 16
Tourist, I addressed KYH in my previous post.

Best and I'm a foodie.   I know very little but the little that I know I want to know very well.

 

-T

Brot und Wein
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Best and I'm a foodie.   I know very little but the little that I know I want to know very well.

 

-T

Brot und Wein
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post #10 of 16
Thread Starter 
Sorry for the mix-up. However, you did bring up a valid point. The overall idea of "one size fits all" plagues many hobbies and professions.

You cannot believe how much flak and wasted bandwidth I've seen simply because I like polished v-edges. In fact, I've started labeling such statements as my opinion simply to quiet the trolls.

Sometimes it seems like they blame me for the entire movement to Japanese style cutting inplements.:lol:
post #11 of 16
As to the polished edges, here's my procedure. Once sharpening has been accomplished using my stones, I then place silicone carbide (aka wet-or-dry) sandpaper onto a mousepad. Then I stroke the blade backwards while very lightly (ever so lightly) pressing the edge into the paper. Start with 300-500 grit and work up to 2000 grit or even into crocus cloth (superfine stuff for refinishing cue sticks). And finally for that brushed appearance, use 3 products (coarse ranging to fine) called Sandflex Hand Blocks offered by Klingspor Abrasives of N.C.. They're grit impregnated giant "erasures".

The hand blocks are aka for Wonderbars sold by Garrett Wade here. Should you sharpen blades for others, they'll really appreciate the finely brushed appearance that those bars give.

Best and I'm a foodie.   I know very little but the little that I know I want to know very well.

 

-T

Brot und Wein
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Best and I'm a foodie.   I know very little but the little that I know I want to know very well.

 

-T

Brot und Wein
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post #12 of 16
I dunno...

I see knives as tools, same way a mechanic sees screwdrivers or socket sets. They break--you fix them, they get lost, you replace them. Any heartache or hand wringing is lost time down the drain.

One of my favorite knives is a Henckels 4 star 12" Chefs. Hang on, force shields up--I bought it over 25 years ago--at that time there weren't any Jap. knives on the market. I still have it--it's shrunk by about 2" in length and about 1/2" in width. Yes, I've dropped it and boken off the tip a few times, and from 25 years worth of sharpenings it's shrunk. When it gets too small I'll either grind it down to a boning knife or stick it in a closet and forget about it. I got my money's worth out of it, I treated it with respect and got good service. It's time to move on, get a new knife.

So an expensive Jap knife chips. Well, there's always a trade off with hard steels and brittleness. Then again, there's a trade off with softer steels and edge retention. No one said you can't get it re-ground.

If you ever have the money to buy an expensive sports car, everything's great untill you get the first scratch, the first brake replacement, etc. Nothing lasts forever.....
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
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...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
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post #13 of 16
Thread Starter 
This is one of the points I was trying to make. I believe "brittleness" is not the problem we profess. After all, ZDP-189 can receive a HT ranking it Rc 69. Most folded Japanese laminates are Rc +/-64 right out of the box, even the modestly priced ones.

Many cutlers don't offer their knives with an Rc rating over 55, and for all of the wrong reasons. Soft steels are easy on their manufacturing equipment. Stock removal on harder alloys requires more expensive belts. Rather than make a better product, they push the softer stuff and tell the clients that harder alloys are not needed and even subject to chipping.

I view the topic in this manner. Most butterknives last perhaps a decade. There are samurai swords in museums that have lasted over 800 years--not counting the abuse they saw in war.

Using their "soft" argument, a five dollar Pakistani folder should last forever...:lol:
post #14 of 16
The "right tool for the job" definitely does depend on the skills of the user and the circumstances of use. It's really pretty simple to prevent an entry level J-knife (eg Shun, Global, Tojiro) from chipping, in my experience. The first thing is to use a cutting board! You might say "Duh!" but many people don't seem to realize that cutting on counter tops or glass plates is abuse, no matter the make of knife. To expect a knife to perform well and maintain an edge cutting right on a stainless counter is akin to riding the clutch and expecting it last forever, or chirping the tires at every stoplight and expecting your tires to last indefinitely. Not realistic.

Your car analogy is a good one, Chico. A Honda Civic and a Ferrari will both get you from Point-A to Point-B, albeit with greatly different levels of speed and style. If you have the means to purchase it and the skill to master such a machine, the Ferrari will allow you to do things the Civic simply won't. Expect the cost of operation to be much higher (tires, service, gas, etc) but that comes with the territory.

If you daily kitchen grind consists of cutting one head of lettuce, quartering a tomato and opening a package of hamburger, you probably won't want to mess with maintaining the Ferrari (aka J-knife). If you routinely make sashimi for a dozen guests, you will probably have to bite the bullet and use the appropriate tool and accept that you'll have to perform the required maintenance.

J-knifes can chip, but I feel the instances of this are overstated. Using good technique will certainly go a long ways towards preventing this.
"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
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"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
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post #15 of 16
I don't think it's quite as simple as you make it, Chico. Right tool for the job, yes, but the problem is that the "job" in the average Western kitchen (home or pro) is very different from its counterpart in the relatively old-fashioned Japanese pro kitchen, for which these knives were generally designed.

The first really big difference is meat and bone. There simply is no knife in the traditional Japanese arsenal that is appropriate for butchering a whole lamb saddle, something the old guard French chefs had to do. Now you may say, "there are certainly butchering knives," and there are, but the pro doesn't want to switch knives constantly: he wants to use the same very few knives for everything, if at all possible.

In the old-fashioned Japanese kitchen, the big three knives (usuba, deba, yanagiba) do everything except a few unusual, special things. If the classical French chef tried to make do with the same trio, he'd either chip them badly or go on a killing spree, because those knives simply won't do what he needs them to do.

For the modern cook in the West, the situation is quite different, for several reasons:

1. Prep and finishing are commonly separated, allowing one to use a different set of knives if desired.

2. The home cook generally uses the supermarket as a prep chef for heavy cutting, such as butchering saddles and stuff like that, so that section of the arsenal is no longer necessary almost ever.

3. Expectations in high-end dining have changed, partly under the influence of Japanese cooking, such that precision cutting matters in a way it didn't in let's say 1950.

4. The advent of high-end Japanese knives has opened a new range of options, so that now it's worth thinking seriously about which practices derived from the knives and which practices prompted a choice of knives, if you see what I mean: it's not just chicken-and-egg.

For example, "right tool for the job" doesn't apply well to butchering whole fish. The standard filleting knife in the West is a very different animal from the Japanese deba. Both do the job, but they require radically different techniques. Which is better? The deba, probably, but even now it is very unusual for a Western culinary student to learn how to use one. If you don't know how, the knife is just an expensive white elephant. What's more, there are types of fish-cutting one sees a good deal in classical French cuisine that are ill-suited to the deba's many strengths: boning sole or skate wing are good examples. Not that a deba cannot do these things, but in many respects the flexible filleting knife does it better. On the other hand, nothing but nothing beats a deba when turning a medium-sized roundfish into fillets.

So which knife is the right tool for the job? You can say that one should pick the deba for the roundfish and the flexible filleting knife for the sole, but that means learning two quite different techniques admirably well. Technique will generally trump equipment. And that means it's probably a better idea to pick one knife and use it for all fish, so that you really master it.

As to the general chipping issue, yes, hard steels chip. Soft steels roll and crush. So what? As you say, how much hemp rope you can cut is meaningless unless the knife is intended for such uses.

How do you avoid chipping? Cutting boards have been mentioned. Beyond that, learn some technique and practice assiduously. A hard knife demands more skill and attention. My favorite extreme example is the usuba: if you don't use it the way it wants to be used, it will chip and roll, which is impressively irritating. But some of the vegetable cutting I saw in Kyoto, done by experts with the usuba, were genuinely awe-inspiring. On the board, it's as good as a gyuto, and then you lift it up and do all kinds of crazy cuts that you'd be hard-pressed to duplicate with the whole classical French arsenal. And then when you finish all that cutting, the thing is still so sharp you can literally shave with it. But to learn how to use that knife effectively takes months of hard labor for a solid foundation, and years for mastery. Compare to a gyuto or chef's knife: how long does it take before you can brunoise a carrot passably? A week, maybe?

"Right tool for the job," yes, but that has to be graded and aligned to the more important factor, "right technique for the knife." I'd rather see a master with an usuba dice a carrot with a blunt combat knife than watch an unskilled moron do it with a razor-sharp high-grade usuba.
post #16 of 16
Thread Starter 
In a perfect world, I would agree with you 100%. In fact, I'd like to be the designated tinker in that world!

Let me demonstrate. Over the past few days a long-time client called me requesting sharpening and repair to two boxes of knives--one box contained his mother's knives. He characterized one such knife as "her favorite."

As my friends already know, her Shun santoku has severe divots on the spine. It is obvious that she hammered the Shun with a metal object to halve something of substance into a solid cutting board.

My guess is that she used a tenderizing mallet to pound the knife through an acorn squash into a maple cutting board. The edge has over forty chips. There are at least eight to ten deep chips and thirty smaller ones that still can be seen with the naked eye.

And this is her favorite knife? Yikes, can you imagine how she spanked her favorite son?

Now Chris, apply this knife's condition to your last treatise. (BTW, folks, if Chris doesn't have his own column here, he should. Good insight, and he's a superb writer.)

To this client, she bought a good knife and obviously spends time using it to its fullest. She recognizes its superior cutting ability. And while you make a valid point in stating that a butcher shop does most of the blocking and quartering, an acorn squash is purchsed in one piece and is the sole work of the food hobbyist.

Finally, it's her knife. And while you and I might consider this abuse, she could drench it in gasoline and set it ablaze if she so desired.

Now relate these diverse conditions--matched with your own observations--to my orignal post. Quality knives don't chip on their own. Almost nothing survives a drop to concrete. Modern steels are superior to anything produced since circa 1975. As you pointed out, a superior tool provides new options, hence additional use (or abuse).

But no Japanese knife critic should use this woman's knife as an example of a "white crow gambit" in a debate on uber steels. You and I could live our entire lives utilizing a Shun and never need a repair stone over 320 grit. In fact, even a full-time professional sous-chef could use this very knife and spend years wearing it out.

And I think we both agree that a knife that is worn out after years of careful service is in a totally different category as one that dies a cruel death of outright carelessness.
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