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Deliberately buying a cheap knife.

post #1 of 12
Thread Starter 
Over the past few weeks we have been discussing using better knives and upgrades to enhance service in kitchens. But is there ever a time where a knowledgeable craftsman or professional chef needs to buy a 'cheap knife.'

Well, I might have that answer today.

I have a long term client in the building trades. He's an Emerson folder collector/user, and his overall opinion is that cheap knives break just about the time you desperately need a tool. However, he is currently on assignment in a dreadful environment of long hours, scraping who knows what, amid idiots who can't tell a good knife from a prybar. About one month ago he bought a licensed copy of a Graham Razel folder, a knife I buy from my suppliers for 28 bucks.

Over the past few days he called to ask when I'd be home. He had successfully used this cheap knife for three entire weeks, and it gave good service. Then he foolishly loaned it out once, and it came back to him with a chip.

Well, I started thinking about the stories I've heard here about knives being stolen, high quality knives not being needed (just wanted) and my own experience with good gyutos and concrete floors. And in one case I loaned a 22 dollar butakiri to a sous-chef, and it was exactly the knife he needed.

In sporting and hunting, no knife suffers more than the one that is exposed to bones. Some hunters feel that you must break the pelvis to field dress, and every jackknife comes to me with a broken tip and a chip halfway down the edge. The idiot has jammed the knife into the pelvis, broken the tip off, and then fallen forward hitting the edge before he can catch his fall.

So here's my opinion. I now believe that cheap knives--and the cheaper the better--have a distinct place in making a living. For our purposes in keeping the thread geared to professional kitchen work I believe a chef and his tinker must find a boning knife that is to be sacrificed to abuse, sharpened solely as a boning knife and destined for numerous repairs.

I cannot believe I just said that.
post #2 of 12
Hi Chico,

Well, for what it's worth, for all I've wanted to explore the different ways knives are valued, I rarely if ever advocate cheap with tools of any type.

Cheap tools can break/snap/shatter in unpredictable and dangerous ways.

So for what it's worth, I'd look to differentiate between inexpensive which may well be a good choice - but cheap I'd probably pass on.
post #3 of 12
Thread Starter 
That is the same opinion that my client and I both share. But by 'cheap' I don't mean flimsy. I mean a knife that successfully contributes to your work, and you know it's going to be consumed.

I don't buy cheap tires for my motorcycle, but I don't buy 'hard' tires knowing that they last longer. A sport bike needs a certain amount of "grip." And tires with grip wear out.

Same thing with hard use knives.

There are two ways you can go with this idea. Emerson makes a folder called a "HD-7." It has one of the toughest and thickest frames I have ever seen on a folder. In that scenario, I suppose I could sit down with a chef and re-profile an economically priced deba for abusive duty.

Or, the other track. Buy a low cost knife, prepare the edge for abusive work and willingly subsidize the cost of routine replacement.

Me? I do both. I do own an HD-7, and the EDC I am carrying this week cost 13 bucks.

I always report to chefs that the Yaxell Ran line usually has products for under 100 bucks, but they are quality items with 69 layers. I don't know how they do it.

Never swim with a chain one link bigger than you can carry, and never expose a hard use knife to more damage than you can afford to repair. I'm warming to the idea of cheap knives in a limited capacity.
post #4 of 12
I second Andy's motion.

There are inexpensive knives (and other tools) that do the job they're intended for. And there are cheaply made ones that aren't worth the bother of owning.

The trick is figuring out the difference. Unfortunately, it's not always obvious. Which is why I never buy cheap tools. I'd rather save a little longer for a quality product, cuz that way I know what I'm getting.

I have a buddy who goes the opposite way, and I'll never understand his attitude. He's an auto mechanic who owns upwards of $100,000 worth of high-end tools for work. But when it comes to his home workshop he heads to Big Lots for tools. And then complains when they don't work properly.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
post #5 of 12
Thread Starter 
In my personal life, I agree 100%. The problem is that very few people buy "the best" at every turn. I just re-shingled a section of my roof to replace "cheap shingles." Why would the first owner (the original builder, himself BTW) want to expose himself and family to raw weather elements and leaks?

This idea has a parallel facet that might explain the debate. For this scenario, let's assume a professional chef buying some new "good" products.

Let's say that the problem is that this chef just does not like nakiris. Oh, he realizes that they are the proper tool, but he just doesn't like the feel, the balance and the feathery edge. He does like gyutos.

So as a confirmed heretic, I offer him two of his favorite gyutos. One of them polished to the normal working edge, the other thinned and polished to more resemble a nakiri.

We both know how this is going to play out. In thinning the edge I have deliberately weakened the knife. I have shortened its life expectancy. Deliberately.

But this is the nature of tools. My Dad had two saws--seemingly identical--hanging in his shop. One was to cut with the grain, the other was a rip saw. Usually the rip saw needs more attention.

Now granted, I would never put a cheap, flimsy tool into a client's hand. Yes, I'd explain the pros and cons, and I would argue for the upgrade knife.

I'm just not sure it's wanted in all cases. And lately I'm seeing more and more guys push their knives beyond what I consider prudent, and replace items with "what's on sale."

And BTW, you'd be amazed at my 13 dollar knife. Just like I do in questioning a chef, I outlined this knife's uses, set a good angle, and polished it accordingly. But I'm not kidding myself. This Boker is not an Emerson. It's going to have a shorter life.
post #6 of 12
>One was to cut with the grain, the other was a rip saw. Usually the rip saw needs more attention.<


"Ripping" is cutting lenghtwise, with the grain. Cutting against it is called "cross cutting."

And yes, because of the tooth configuration, rip saws do need more attention.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
post #7 of 12
Forschner and Dexter make the best meat butchering knives. They aren't necessarily cheap, but they're reasonable.

I like Forschner paring knives -- which are cheap. My parers take a lot of abuse opening boxes, plastic packages, cutting string, tape, peeling artichokes, and stuff like that. They get sharpened to nubs in no time, so might as well keep it cheap. I know some guys who buy Forschner serrated parers by the box -- they remove and replace their old knives as soon as they get dull. The knives are cheap enough that it makes sense, especially in a restaurant setting.

On the other hand, I far prefer my "Nogent" petty (actually a 6" slicer) to any bargain knife.

post #8 of 12
Thread Starter 
LOL. Thank you.

It's a joke in my family that wood working does indeed skip a generation.

My Dad had a finely appointed wood working shop. A lathe. A drill press. A table saw. The finest electric hand tools of that era. He would spend hours down in his shop.

Ahh. But his chiseled featured, blue eyed, skirt chasing, Harley riding, wayward son was known far and wide over the Milwaukee landscape as "the wood butcher."

The sad fact is that this son of his could walk a 700 pound bike down a strip of dental floss while he stole your wife, but can't snap a chalk line or drive a nail straight, even at gunpoint.

Over the years twenty trees on our property suffered wind damage. I was informed that some might fall on the house in their weakened condition. I also learned that "sawing timber" was to be involved.

I hired a professional. No sense tempting fate...
post #9 of 12
When you're in charge of a kitchen, and you have employees under you, and you need to get work done, you don't let a little thing like the employee's lack of knife, or it's condition bother you.

Most Chefs have a toolbox of knives stashed somewhere in their office. One of the cook's knives is dull, and the vegetables he's cutting have the all the charm of split firewood? You lend him a knife. If you don't, two things will happen: 1) The guy'll never get done in time, and 2) the product will look like crud. [I]Time is cash, time is money, they (customers) want it for lunch, not for dinner. Do whatever it takes to get the job done, but get it done right, or your hiney will be up for grabs.[/I] Such are the mottos of many a Chef (and F&B, And R.M (resident manager)I've worked for. If it means slurging or a dozen cheap paring knives or 3 or 4 10" Chef's knives, it's cheap insurance, and insurance that many Chefs subscribe to.

Down time and the dishwasher is standing around with his thumb up his posterior? Take out a cheap paring knife, a sack of onions, and tell to get busy.

Of course cheap knives have a place in every kitchen. You're not going to give the new d/washer your best knife to break down boxes, are you? Give him an x-acto knife and the eejit'll forget to lock the (disposable) blade and cut himself, or the blade will snap off, or he'll stick the knife in his pocket, or keep it because it's, well, disposable, and you wouldn't miss it or care, right? If you don't give him a knife, and he'll just shove whole boxes in the dumpster and plug it up, or he'll try to squash the boxes by jumping on them and take 3 times longer and complain of sore feet the next day.....

Cheap doesn't mean crappy quality. For me, cheap means it gets the job done without all the bells and whistles. Kinda like comparing a ride to airport in a Caddy and in a Tercel: Both will get you there in about the same time, and in about the same shape, (all dependant on the driver, of course....) just a huge price difference in the cost, that's all.

Ginzu's are best suited for scraping grass off the inside of lawn mowers, they don't belong in a kitchen and can't perform any job there adequetly (they flex too much when cutting drywall as well, they're only good for lawnmowers, they flex to fit the inside of the lawnmower's deck). Ikea knives have a nasty habit of shattering when they hit the floor. These knives aren't cheap, they're crap.

A knife is just a a hunk of steel with sharp edges. It doesn't have sealed bearings, or surfaces machined to tolerences of 1 thou, or elaborate motor windings, or sophisticated hydraulics systems, or electronic components, it's just a hunk of steel with a sharp edge

A stamped steel blade gets the job done. If it gets lost, stolen, or abused, you're not out a couple of hundred. But it gets the job done.

Ah, Tourist, you don't "get along" with woodworking tools. This sector has just as many sharpening freaks as the cooking sector, and the woodworking tools take far more abuse than the cooking tools do. And unlike any serious cook, every serious woodworker who works with hand tools HAS to know how to sharpen.
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
post #10 of 12
Thread Starter 
Oh, the sharpening I get--it's the actual use that has me baffled.:lol:

As I have mentioned, I'm a great fam of the Graham Razel design. In looking through the JWW catalog I came upon a sharpening and polishing fixture used to sharpen wood chisels. Many people are surprised to learn that a decent set of Japanese chisels can cost several thousand dollars. You don't scrape those babies on a sidewalk to sharpen them.

And of course, keeping those chisels true and uniform is especially important.

I'm a firm believer in picking the best tool for a job, even if most "purists" find me a bit of heretic. However, utilizing the JWW fixtures, stones and polishing supplies has allowed me to put polished razor edges on chisels and Razel style knives.

I'm just no good at making book shelves and bird houses...
post #11 of 12
Either he expected to be out of the house by the time the shingles failed (and he was, it seems), or he got them cheap enough that he didn't care. (Or he builds crap, which is a possibility.) Contractors do this all the time: they're only paying the up front costs of things, not the cost to operate them, nor the cost to fix them.
post #12 of 12
Thread Starter 
You are probably correct. The problem with your customer base is that you are only as good as your last job.

If my knives at 0800 are razor sharp but my performance at 1400 is marginal, how long do you think I would be in business?

I don't feel we need a government bail-out package to reinvigorate our economy. We need to go out and do good quality work.
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