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A debate on advances. I hope BDL joins us.

post #1 of 19
Thread Starter 
One of my suppliers also sells woodworking tools. I often get their catalogs, and I've noticed a certain amount of "cross pollination." Let me explain.

If jackknives offer a new alloy or shape, within a few months I see kitchen knives make upgrades. For example, traditional Japanese laminates offer VG-10, it's common now. But I don't think any samurai ever used it.

We all benefit. In 1969 Honda was the first motorcycle company to use hydraulic disc brakes, but now everybody does.

We now have gyutos with western shaped handles, Hattori makes hunting knives, even Pampered Chef sells bamboo cutting boards.

Personally, I like the upgrades--if you are actually going to use them. It usually blends "the best to the best." But how do purists feel?

However, in 1974 I looked down at the gauges on my new Harley and saw the manufacturer was 'Nippon Seki.'

And let's face it, how many of us here have a complete roll of knives made from white or blue steel? I'll bet no one does--the stuff rusts with one damp day.

Is this what we want? Are those of us seeking Japanese products, quality and design actually receiving Japanese products? Where exactly are Avalon knives made? They have a Japanese style shape.

I watched a real-deal Japanese polisher work on swords for an interview on youtube. He stated that the swords we now hang on a wall are primarily "peace time" examples. After all, a war sword would be damaged by the rigors of combat, polished and repaired often, and now dust.

It is my opinion that the "real" commodities are now long gone because they were actually used. These replacemments are derived from those designs and made in a global community--with modern parts and machinery.

I have "better" kitchen knives, no doubt about it. But do I have "real" knives? For me the answer is no.
post #2 of 19
Hi Chico,

Taken to extremes, Prehistoric man might bemoan modern day mass producers, who can't be bothered to heat treat a good reliable home fashioned stone blade :D

At which points in history would you say that "real" knives began and ended?
post #3 of 19
Thread Starter 
Ahh, good point. And stagnation is an historical issue.

For example, the Japanese are great at refining things, but hold no Nobel Prizes. I always found that odd. Then I went to the Milwaukee County Museum. I saw a diorama on this very point.

Some of the first explorers to visit Japan brought matchlock rifles with them. A century later new explorers returned, but their firearms were improved. The Japanese had simply made "perfect matchlocks."

Personally (and mainly because I'm willing to expend sweat equity for my hobbies) I would love to have Japanese kitchen knives that are generations old. My doctor owns some, as his mother was born in Japan.

Yes, I know I would have to take extremely good care of them. Much like their swords, you could not touch the blade, as human skin salts would easily damage the metal. You might have to apply powder to soak up all of the moisture.

It usually takes fourteen days for some polishers to repair a samurai sword. Anytime my wife would comment that her "real kitchen knife" was dull would mean a few days over my finest stones and papers to sharpen these knives, but never leave an aggressive mark. Yikes.

To me, it might be worth that tariff. At least for a limited amount of things.

But I enjoy the sounds of big V-style engines, as well. Everytime a kid pulls even with me with one of those plastic, force-fed STi rollerskates it sounds like a mouse just caught fire. There's something primal about an engine that pounds power pulses through your veins, and I prefer that.

I enjoy using an Hattori, but I wonder what the real knife is like.
post #4 of 19
In the mid seventies, when I moved back to Los Angeles after going to school and living in the Bay Area, I started a small catering business, Predominantly French: Intimate Catering. After a short while, PF became just barely successful enough to need the tax benefits of new equipment purchasing. So, I bought a $%*! load of stainless Henckles (which were hotter than Wusthof, back in the day), and packed up my two sets of Sabs (K-Sab and "Canadian" [not that there actually is a "Canadian" Sabatier -- long story, let's not go there]).

Anyway, I used the Henckles quite happily for many years until once upon a time, one day in the early nineties, when I was fooling around in the garage (it's true, I was a premature putterrer), I came upon the boxed up Sabs. They had been wrapped and put away properly, but we lived so close to the beach that there was just a bit of corrosion -- so I cleaned them up. Then, as long as I'd already put so much work into them, I thought I might as well sharpen a few with my improved sharpening skills and my new waterstones (both of which I'd acquired from a woodworking friend).

The Sabs got so much sharper than the Henckles, I was amazed. So, I thought, what the heck, I'll give the (K-Sab) chef's knife a whirl...

That puppy just flew into my hand and said in heavily French accented English, "let's go to work, boss." It was the perfect knife -- a huge improvement over the Henckles. Lighter, more comfortable, more agile, better edge properties, and so on.

Since then I can't say I haven't looked back. I've certainly sharpened and tried an unusually large amount of kitchen knives. I've even bought a few, but none of the ones I've purchased have convinced me to give up the Sabs.

I used to own three more or less full sets of knives, each mostly made up of an assortment of Sabs. Two of the sets were gifts, and one I bought myself; but each had a certain amount of sentimental value -- largely because one set (gift) came when I first started cooking for money, and the other two came when I was promoted to "saute," and I needed two basic sets to make it through a full service. One I bought myself, and the other was a gift from chef, who was also my mentor although I didn't realize it at the time.

Since the knives were excavated, my daughter has my third set (the "Canadians"), I have the first (K-Sab), and the second got stolen. I've also added a few newly manufactured TI ****Elephant and TI "Nogent" knives over the past few years.

I'm extremely fond of my knives. Some of them have a lot of history with me, and some are important parts of what has turned out to be a collection as much as a block and bar. Still, if I were buying a new set of knives today, with the possible exception of a short parer, I would not buy Sabatier carbon. My current choices are between Masamoto HC (yo aka western handles), Ikkanshi Tadatsuna (IKT) wa (aka Japanese handles), in either G3 or Shiro2.

Objectively my knives perform at a level down from those. But they perform as well for me as all but a few other knives, and far better than anything else. It's not the greatest (group of) steel(s) in the world, but they get very (but not extremely) sharp, and the edges are very easy to create and maintain. From an ergonomic standpoint, nothing can beat them. The feel great in the hand and alive in the cut -- like nothing else, really. And, I love the way they look.

I'm not going to disrespect them by replacing them with something that's only a little better (for me), at least not as long as they still have a lot of life left.

By definition, the choice of tools is "economic" (economics is not just about money). The "science" of economics usually presumes "a rational actor" who puts self-interested wealth creation ahead of any other consideration for economic decisions. In my experience, that is far often less true than not in real life. People act for all sorts of sentimental reasons which they find sufficient. And who are we to argue?

From an individual standpoint -- including mine, incidentally -- there are certainly good reasons for staying with technology which works very well indeed, even though "better" technology is available.

post #5 of 19
Thread Starter 
BDL, I always enjoy reading your stuff, it's very thoughtful and well written. And I agree with your position.

As you know, your handle appears in the title of this thread, and it does for a reason.

Not only do I like to collect, study, research and polish knives, but I also like a spirited debate. As a poor college student in the fall of 1968, I lived in the Vilas House dorms of the Lakeshore halls. We used to buy a pizza on Friday nights, pick a topic and debate until dawn.

I had kind of hoped you'd begin with, "Chico, I disagree," and then begin a well researched rebuttal.

However, I enjoyed your story and your reasons, and I liked them just as much.;)
post #6 of 19
As long as we're doing the mutual admiration thing, I should have mentioned it at the time. You wrote one post, a sort of koan on kitchen knives and restaurant economics, as good as anything I've ever read on the subject. You've done a few other pips as well.

post #7 of 19
Thread Starter 
I appreciate that. After people get to know my style they can see the humor and they begin to understand that I am trying to find better ways to do things.

In this forum, that means better knives and sharpening procedures for professionals.

In person, I've seen the disconnect. A grizzled old biker comes into a four-star, greets the head chef and introduces himself with the opening, "What can I do as a tinker to make your operation run better?"

In time, you'll probably know what I'm going to type before I check in!

That said, I had a blast today answering your posts and debates.:bounce:
post #8 of 19
Awe shucks, I thought you'd say "I'm here to tinker with your operation, where do I start? ;)
Specialties: MasterCook/RecipeFox; Culinary logistics; Personal Chef; Small restaurant owner; Caterer
Specialties: MasterCook/RecipeFox; Culinary logistics; Personal Chef; Small restaurant owner; Caterer
post #9 of 19
Thread Starter 
Well, this is Madison, Wisconsin, and bikers here do a lot of strong-arm work.

So, in the restaurant biz my first duty is either to pour scalding cappuccino down the throat of the drunken sommelier, or force the liberals and the attorney to put their hands back into their own pockets.

After that, I might sharpen a knife...;)
post #10 of 19
Debate wise, it's missing a bit of cut and thrust, which is ironic given the subject matter.

A lot of the proposition and argument seems based on the subjective, possibly the romantic viewpoint.

If I could take a blade, something you'd describe as iconic, and with a press of a button reproduce it exactly as easily as we work with digital media today, would that copy retain the qualities that you value, or would the fact that it was never held or viewed by the original craftsmen take the edge of.... well owning that edge? Would working on that facsimile give the same sense of satisfaction - or is advance simply distance on this occasion?

Alternatively, are traditional linear advances always as tidy as we'd like or do we have to wait longer than expected to perfect somethiing, and when we do, do we risk waiting so long that something becomes so precious that it is untouchable?

Reading BDL's comments about storing/restoring his Sabs, what if some aged Japanese craftsmen created a beautiful blade, exquisite in design and skilfully realised, worked on over days and weeks. What if that blade could never have achieved it's true potential in the hands of that craftsman, but actually needed to wait in a box all those centuries until it came into your hands? What if you knew that using technologies, materials, methods etc. now available could bring that historical blade to a state of near perfection, such as the original craftsmen could never have achieved. Would taking that step to further improve on the original finish, advance that blade - or destroy it's integrity?

Ultimately, in the real World, however we choose to work with the past, the science of creating the perfect blade is based on that type of synergy - the working together of elements using skills perfected over the ages, including the manufacture of the steel itself.

Synergy, for all that it sounds a little sexier than compromise, is ultimately just that - a way of making things work together.

In a World of compromise what hope has the purist of defining 'purity'? Come to that, what chance of defining a 'purist' in this sense?

As a result in this instance, I don't believe in holding on to some notion of a long gone purity, or that the future is based on restricting construction to the compromises of the past. Rather I believe this is about being clever around how we compromise today and tomorrow.

Of course it probably helps to sell a blade using the tag line 'a wonderful synergy of materials and technology' rather than 'the best compromise we have at the moment', but I'll leave that to the marketing guys.
post #11 of 19
We're talking tools, right? Not collectibles? That's why there's not going to be a lot of "debate." We all use the same criteria and weight them similarly.

If a tool works perfectly well, you usually keep it and continue to work with it -- especially if it's a "favorite," even if there are slightly improved tools available at a reasonable price.

If the new tools are sufficiently improved, and you can afford them -- you replace your old tools. The threshold of "sufficient improvement" can vary according to how much you like working with your old tools. And, of course, a "reasonable price" depends on a number of other factors.

In other words, the answer to the question is highly dependent on a number of factors.

I thought my story covered the bases, if only by implication. I continue to use my knives rather than buying superior replacements because even the best replacements are not sufficiently superior to justify their price. In econmoic terms, my knives are past the point of "diminishing returns" on the "cost effectiveness analysis" curve. And yes, the point is slightly moved by sentiment -- but only slightly.

Referring to the specifics of my own kit:

If, my Sabs performed no better than Forschners or Wusties (whcih are way better than adequate for any sane person), I'd replace them (in a NY minute) with Masamoto HC and/or Tadatsuna wa-western. Cost be da#ned.

Similarly, if my Arkansas stones, much as I like them, didn't do a good job on my knives I'd replace them with soulless, manmade waterstones: Either Naniwa 180; Bester 1000, Nonpareil Aoto; Arashiyama; and Kityama. Or, a set of (ridiculously expensive) Naniwa Choseras. Since I like the hard felt pad so much, throw in a HandAmerican strop kit, and some 1/2u and 1/4u diamond spray just for kicks (ridiculous polish level for kitchen knives -- especially carbons).

post #12 of 19
Thread Starter 
Oh, I can understand the issue, but all of us are the sum total of all the things we have seen.

Here's an analogy. As you know, I like Harleys, I was once a mechanic for a dealership. Suppose one day I come home and my neighbor says "something is loose" on his new HonSuKiKawaWhizzer electric car. It's a piece of sheet metal, no prob.

But while under the car I happen to spy a new self-locking, non-marring titanium fastener I have never seen before. I cannot 'un-see' the new device, I like it, certainly it's time for such a product and I believe my sport could benefit from such an upgrade.

But I like my V-engine with it's roots in 1936.

This is exactly the problem I have on our topic. I became a sharpener by accident. I retired early, and I wanted a "fun job." Yikes, no wonder why one Japanese polisher referred to polishing as "the curse." I had sharpened for myself, my church and a few friends, so going off to a local sporting goods store was simply the next logical step.

But in wanting to do upscale knives, I had to wade through hunters' knives, hoof knives covered with so much manure I had to scrub them first--and also the new stuff made from alloys I had never researched.

So along with reading books on Japanese swords and their history, I also read on the modern execution of the craft, and made my way into a very tight little world of modern tinkers.

I am the sub-total of a man who admires the Japanese contribution, but works with a very modern metallurgical world. I cannot make decisions, complete work or render superior results without using up-to-date tools and procedures on knives constructed with "Japanese looks" and made from newer materials.

To be sure there are craftsmen who work totally on samurai swords with age-old training and traditional tools. One of them lives right here in Madison, Wisconsin. He is rightly a "polisher" in the old world sense.

Traditional Japanese Sword Polisher David S. Hofhine

I ain't him. I use his tools to fix kitchen equipment.

In that regard, I sell and service products that might take the best of the old and marry it with the best of the new. After all, a professional chef needs that for his livelihood.

Personally, I have my own aesthetics.
post #13 of 19
I'm not sure, I had thought from the first post we were talking about values as opposed to worth?

I had thought the OP was looking at the wider context, wondering perhaps if in chasing the next fashion, we have left behind the point at which tools related most to those who used them, and moved on to some amorphous age in which knives may be better, yet have less resonance for the user.
post #14 of 19
Thread Starter 
I believe this debate has also uncovered just what we mean by that "worth." Yikes, my Mom spent a king's ransom in collecting demitasse cups.

I guess in a very bassic sense I asked the question on just how modern times affect and effect history and icons (and our values). Along the way I discovered the many meanings of just what 'value' is to people who make a living cutting with the very tool I cherish.

I'm not sure you can stop that line of thinking. In fact, I'm not even sure this is 'thread drift' in the traditional sense. This is not "old world vs new world" as a mutually agreed upon postulate.

Many archaeologists spend decades digging around in a dusty hole. They come upon a shard of broken pottery I wouldn't give two cents for. (Yikes, I use historic, no longer produced glaziers glass to sharpen pocketknives.) But to that archaeologist and his herd of diggers he has found a "window into the past."

(yawn *crickets*)

The blade blanks from which some of our high-end kitchen knives are produced are hammered and folded in the same tradition as a 1,000 year old samurai sword. To me that's "living history." I value it, I believe most people don't, and lots of chefs would buy clad examples or something out of the Pampered Chef catalog if it was on sale.

To them, the value derives from the perfect slice I provide for their signature dish. If a chef can make six-figures because he found a qualified tinker, that chef wouldn't care if he used a woodworking chisel.

BDL considers KD Hattoris to be over-priced baroque (and possibly rococo) examples of a bygone day. To that I counter I could provide a "value" to him if he let me polish one based upon those bygone ideals.

If we reach that standpoint, I believe there is an agreed upon postulate of the past and the intrinsic value of an object--an object I believe garners value from its pure execution. A modern object--even one that borrows some design slants--just isn't as interesting to me.

Of course you realize that out there somewhere in the great unwashed there is a Japanese archaeologist that just swallowed his tongue envisioning BDL and I using a heirloom laminate to dice an onion...:lol:
post #15 of 19
Often we (everyone, not just you and I) trip over linguistics. You define a term in one way, I in another, and we're both eqully right. Sometimes, it's a good idea to nail down our meanings before going on with the discussion.

While I appreciate the Hattori KD for its many virtues, I don't consider it a truly great knife. Not that it doesn't cut well -- but it's Cowry core is chippy, and the exterior is easily damaged. I'm not arguing that Hattori-san doesn't make extremely good knives. But from my homo-habilis' standpoint, the FH series are the best of the bunch -- not the KD.

Also (and here's the reason I brought up linguistics), it's warikomi -- not a true "laminate," in the kitaeje/true-damascus sense of the word. All of the "laminate" on a KD is just for show. From a performance standpoint, typically san-mai/warikomi construction serves both cosmetic and performance. The performance benefits simplify ease of manufacturing and therefore keeps costs down. Otherwise, they don't do much for the user.

Lots and lots of people like the way a Hattori looks -- which adds considerably to the value in their eyes. However, my preferred aesthetic is different. If my choices were constrained to the world of warikomi, even if they cost the same, I'd rather own and use a Takeda than a KD. Merely a personal choice of course, implying no criticism of a different choice.

Maybe we can agree on Shigefusa kitaeje as a sort of laminate/ultimate and go from there. Laminate or not, to my mind there are a number of gyutos just as well made suit my taste and technique better -- and which don't need babying.

Despite all the wonderfulness, kitaeji isn't at the top of my list while the single alloys Hitachi S2, A2, A3, and Takefu V2C are. There are knives with as good or better edge geometry. No doubt you're getting tired of me mentioning IKT, but there are others in the same wa league like Suisun custom (S2) for instance. And when it comes to yo, I put the Masamoto HC at the very top -- at any price. I'd definitely take a Haslinger S30V and maybe even a K-Sab au carbone vintage over a KD.

When there's a KD or anything else as luxe and as pretty, I ooh and ahh just like anyone else. I appreciate Hattori-san as a national treasure too. My choices at the upper end of the knife spectrum reflect not only performance but the prestige that comes from being able to select and afford the very best. BUT, the KD offends my (personal) aesthetic because it's so much more expensive compared to other tools performing the same task as well or better; and so much of that cost derives from the purely cosmetic.

My ni ryu,
post #16 of 19
Thread Starter 
Well, that also uncovers my linquistic issues.

For example, the word "fastener" has come into our recent lexicon. I still use the term/phrase "nut, bolt and lockwasher." I'm interested in conveying the overall idea. Most people have the attention span of dozing silkworm pupae.

And I know the result of my folly. In another forum a professional sharpener took me to task for using the word "laminate." He claimed to specialize in sharpening Japanese knives and that word wasn't used.

Fine, if we were at a knife convention of professional cutlers, I wouldn't use that word, either. In fact, I readily admit I might also be defining 'clad' when I mean 'hammered and folded.'

But my overall purpose remains. For the purpose of brevity in a forum I'd most likely use the word 'car' when the phrase "personally owned, non-commercial, light load bearing, individualized urban vehicle" is truly my focus.

In short, you're absolutely right. The correct definition is important to you. Heck, I was an English-minor, myself. I think fine-tuning our vocabulary might be a better option for PMs and telephone calls. I do admit your posts are truly educational.

As for Hattori, yes, it's a personal issue indeed. I also believe that this brand is about as far as your average user is going to go. Hattori tops out at about $2K. Some individual Morimoto examples can go 3 to 5K. It is mentioned on his website. Somewhere out there is a chef so desperate for perfection he pays $20K per pop for every handmade knife in his roll.

As for dings and scratches, go see your average diesel F-350 Ford that pulls major watercraft or a horse trailor. Yikes, stuff ages in a kitchen, too. I do try to buff out the wear, however.

I think you and I are on the same page, however, in discussing "metal to cut stuff." I would find examining your collection a real treat. It is my hope that you take one of my knives--slice a tomato--and remark, "Yikes, that crusty biker really does make an excellent edge!"

But this is a forum, and I go to forums for study and the enjoyment of discussion. I'm having fun, and I like to read your stuff.
post #17 of 19
It's been a wide ranging thread and I think I'm debating myself - but there ya go.

I think on balance 'real' for me is dependent on remaining in context. Regardless of how it was made and by who, once a blade has been removed from context, that would include no longer being used for the purpose for which it was originally intended, it becomes a potential source of interest and information, but loses some of it's power.

Potentially, I guess new technologies could produce a widely available and relatively cheap longer lasting alloy that allows for blades that are exceptionally sharp and low/no maintenance. Mass produced and widely licensed it wouldn't matter much who made them, so long as the alloy was to spec. However for all that they may be practically anonymous, they would have the potential through advancement to remain actively working in context longer than knives that presently exist.

Within my use of the definition of 'real', such a knife although lacking soul, would have the potential to remain 'real' longer that those we presently know - which I guess you could call an advance.

For myself I'm not so sure that I want the World to become too real, I prefer the more transient beauty of the personal touch.
post #18 of 19

I smell hints of the faint aroma of Husserl.

post #19 of 19

If I knew for a fact that was bad then I'd deny it - probably.
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