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Sakai Takayuki knives (and a bunch of others)

post #1 of 7
Thread Starter 
Being the new year, I've decided that having bad knives is tiring, and so I want to upgrade. Right now my collection consists of scraps of no name "laser sharpened" essentially worthless knives my brother bought when he moved out. So I'm currently looking for a 10" chef's knife/gyuto, bread knife, and 5"-6" petty/utility knife at minimum. I sort of had Japanese knives in mind, but I'm also willing to consider some other makes.

However, I've had very little luck actually finding anything locally, so I'm instead asking you guys for advice before I order anything, in order to make sure I'm looking at the right brands, the right knives, and the right profile.

In particular, I'm curious about Sakai Takayuki knives, because I've heard the name mentioned here at least once or twice. Specifically, regarding the Grand Cheff vs. the Hammered "Damascus" vs. 63-layer "Damascus". I'm assuming the Damascus knives aren't really Damascus and are... word escapes me, I apologize, "ink on water", thus going to fade, but how quickly? I am Canadian, so don't let that whole shipping thing be an issue.

Another question was concerning the MAC Pro line, and how it would compare to the Sakai Takayuki brand. This is rather difficult because I'm unable to find any place that locally carries either of these brands, so I can only compare them to the Shun Classic, Ken Onion, or Global knives.

Also, Hattori HD knives. I've heard they're good, but are they worth buying? Or is there better at the price point? I do like the Damascus pattern but I understand that it fades with time, so I'm not entirely keen on paying for something that's purely aesthetic... especially when it won't be there forever. On the other hand, it's really, really pretty...

As far as Sabatier goes, I can't say I fully understand the brands, but it doesn't NEED to be stainless. I'm meticulous enough that I'll take care of carbon steel, when looking at the antique Canadian lines and such. Or even the modern carbon steel line. If they're worth it, at least. The rest of my family might not be as meticulous, but these knives are essentially for me.

Miscellaneous but important information: My knife skills are alright, and I'll be improving them in the new year. I won't say fantastic, but I won't say terrible, either. I'm not a professional chef, by any means, but I'm constantly learning, and one of the reasons I wanted a set of good knives was to force myself get better, if that makes sense. When it comes down to it, I'll be able to work with relative haste while keeping all my fingers in tact.

Budget is somewhere around $400 Canadian, give or take. One of the knives is going to be a gift, the others I'm paying for myself. I'm not entirely sure. I guess the gift one doesn't count towards the budget, which we'll say is the cheapest one.

On sharpening: I do know how to sharpen, I'm not the best, and would probably have them all professionally sharpened at least the first time, regardless of what I got. This is something that I'd also very much like to learn how to do better, but that's another topic for another time.

I think I'm out of questions for the time being. If anyone has any suggestions, comments, feels I'm overthinking this, or feels I'm overlooking anything, feel free to say.

Thanks in advance.
post #2 of 7
Hello spekian and welcome,

Grand Cheff

Sakai Takayuki doesn't make all the knives it sells at least not in the same sense that Lamson does. Most of what it sells is made by smaller makers, I think the Grand Cheff knives fit within that.

I don't know enough about their western handled, "Damascus" and hammered knives to comment, but can tell you that the regular ol' Grand Cheff, the one without the hammering or the damascus is an excellent knife -- all around. Very good handle. They've got very good geometry.

They're (well) made from a Swedish alloy called AEB-L which is the Uddeholm version of Sandvik's 13C26 (and vice versa). FWIW, these were developed as "strip" aka razor blade steels. The AEB-L gives Grand Cheff excellent kitchen blade characteristics. Good balance of strength and toughness; great edge characteristics: Sharpen easily, get ridiculously sharp if you know how to sharpen, good edge holding, soft enough to be maintained on a steel.
They make three series of chef's/gyuto/western deba. You want the lightest one (with the lowest number) for general use. And -- if you do a lot of heavy work -- it will want some heavy backup. We can take the question up later if you like.


Compared to a Grand Cheff, the MAC chef's has better geometry and a better handle. It's also significantly stiffer than the (light) Grand Cheff.

It's made from another excellent all-round alloy. Exactly which one is a secret (shhh), but if I had to guess I'd go for Takefu Steel's VG-5. Comparing (putative) VG-5 with (actual) AEB-L is not an easy comparison. The differences are very nuanced. IMO, the MAC is a bit tougher, doesn't sharpen quite as easily, doesn't get quite as sharp, holds the edge equally (impressive), and maintains as easily.

I like both knives quite a bit, and am glad not to have to choose between them; but in the end the MAC's small handling and handle advantages make it more desirable than the Grand Cheff's smaller sharpness superiority. Tough call.


By the way the faux Damascus pattern is called "suminagashi." From your discussion of it, it sounds like you may have been reading some of my posts. Although, maybe not, since I'm hardly alone in my opinions.

As you know, the pattern is part of a cladding wrapped around the actual alloy used for the cutting. Western knives, sharpened on two sides, are usually made in three layers -- cladding - core - cladding -- called san mai, or warikomi. The cladding is "jigane," and the core is "hagane." This sort of construction helps make construction a lot cheaper -- mostly in that it prevents failures from bending during the forging process, and makes the knives easier to grind evenly afterward. It's chief benefits to the customer/user/you is that it allows the makers to offer some impressive alloy hagane at a reasonable price, and, of course, for the cosmetics.

Very few knife manufacturers make their own "pattern welded" jiganes. They buy it from steel makers who do. A very few custom makers will give you a choice of patterns. The most common pattern (the name you can't remember) is "suminagashi," but there are others.

More than most other knives, Shun has the rep for suminagashi that doesn't last. Hattori is supposedly much better. And, as I said, I can't comment on Sakai Takayuki.

As a very rough rule of thumb, the more layers of jigane, the better the knife. I think the reasoning is that you expect the manufacturer to put more attention into the hagane, if he paid more for the jigane; and experience bears the rule out. Pretty well, anyway.

At some point, the knives are so cosmetically elaborate, they become more valuable for display, or as part of a collection, than use as a "go-to" gyuto. Where that point comes, is an individual decision.

Shun v Global v Hattori v Sabatier stainless

My principle rap on the Shun Classic and Onion chef's knives design is the horrible profile. It's a very exaggerated German, with too much arc in the body of the blade, and too much belly, leading to a tip that's way too high. The heel is also rather thick. Their other profiles are much better -- except at the heel.

I don't care for their handles, you might.

I've never used a Kramer, and don't know anyone I respect well enough to repeat who has, either. The metallurgical powder steel they use for the Kramers is a good one -- as PM alloys go.

Speaking of PMs, I personally don't put a high enough premium on hardness and their other supposed advantages to think PM knives are worth the price. You might.

It bears mentioning that Shun F&F is very good.

Global seems to be an idea whose time has passed. We can go into it if you're interested in another post; but this one is getting too long.

The Hattori HD is a very good all around knife. It's not as roubst as either the Grand Cheff or the MAC. It's ridiculous to say this, and pardon me in advance, but the cosmetics are so good, and the knife has such a light feel, that the HD seems very girly to me.

As you've already said, Sabatier stainless doesn't really compare with the Japanese knives you're looking at. Oh well. Maybe someday the Europeans will get the idea.

post #3 of 7
Thread Starter 
Thank you for the welcome, and thank you as well for all the information.

Just a quick clarification regarding the Sabatier knives, and how they compare to the Japanese knives. In particular, what are the antique Canadian Massif/Carbon steel knives like? Does it vary greatly from knife to knife or is the quality consistent? Also, will it be paying just to be holding and cutting with a piece of history, or are there other reasons to consider a Sabatier over a Japanese knife? And, finally, how do the antique Nogent/Canadian Massif (If those can be used more or less interchangeably? I'm not entirely sure...) compare to a brand new TI **** Elephant Sabatier or K-Sabatier, or the like.

I know that's a lot of questions, and I apologize, so thank you again for the information (we've come full circle, it seems), as well as your patience with my ignorance. It's slowly being cured, I promise!
post #4 of 7

Those are some great questions.

The TI Nogents and Canadians are very different knives, if only by virtue of their different tangs, handles and bolsters. In addition, the Nogents seem to be thinner than the Canadians; although both are thinner and harder than the more modern K-Sabatier au carbone and T-I ****Elephant carbon Sabatier lines.

Both the Nogent and Canadians are "martinet" forged, while the other two are drop-hammer forged.

The Canadian's design, even though full tang, appears to be slightly more primitive than the Nogents which are quite elegant.

In my opinion the new TI ****Elephant carbon Sabatiers and the K-Sabatier au carbones are substantially equal to one another; the principle difference being the handles. Neither handle is necessarily better than the other, they're just different. I prefer the K-Sab POM on a chef's knife to the the TI stabilized wood for its feel (the TIs feel slightly tacky), and because I KNOW it will last forever -- but it's a near run thing. I'd rather have the TI for a boning knife (and I do) because you work so wet and it feels a bit surer.

The smaller Nogents have full size handles, and they're darn near the only line of knives like that. It's an incredibly good thing. My first choice for a petty (6" slicer) and regular shaped paring knives. Actually, you're talking me into retiring my TI parer and buying a 3" Nogent.

What separates the Sabs from all the Japanese western-handled knives -- except for the Masamotos is their incomparable feel.

Compared to good Japanese carbon (some of which is from Sweden, by the way) the steel isn't nearly as hard, and doesn't hold an edge as long. Some people find the full finger guard on the French knives a bit awkward to sharpen around; but that's not a big obstacle if you don't need to sharpen the "chin" -- and you don't.

The French knives, especially the older, thinner ones, get just about as sharp as a Japanese knife. They hold their edge longer, and can be easily maintained on a knife steel. The French knives take an extremely sharp edge so easily it's almost ridiculous.

The French knives don't need exotic sharpening systems. They can be sharpened on both oilstones and waterstones. I get better, faster results with my megabuck waterstone kit than with my not quite as ridiculous oilstones -- but the oilstone edge was plenty quick and plenty usable.

If you're comparing to Japanese stainless, or hard Japanese carbon, and already own an oilstone kit, that's something you might want to think about.

Even though there are differences in handle, bolster, and weight, to my mind, though, all of the French knives have a special feel in the hand to them. It's uncanny, you can almost hear them say "let's go to work, boss." The only Japanese, western-handled knives I've ever used which share that special magic are Masamotos.

All four of the French lines have excellent handles for any size hand.

Ranking western-handled carbons, I'd put Masamoto HC (expensive) in a class by themselves; and the four French knives on a par with Kikiuichi Elite, Masamoto CT and Misono Sweden, at just a half-step under the HC.

Some other thoughts

Obviously, carbon requires extra care. Well, a little extra care, but it's immediate, RIGHT NOW care. The pay off is better edge and sharpening characteristics.

For the newer knives F&F is generally very good, except for the edges which can be anywhere from good to dreadful. I don't regard this as a problem, since I consider it important for the owner to "open" a new knife and create the edge (s)he wants.
A lot of people consider the factory edge to be very important. But that's a viewpoint without much perspective. The knife is going to need sharpening pretty quickly under the best of circumstances; and probably "profiling" as well.

If you decide on getting one or more Nogents, you'll want to communicate with The Best Things and make sure they know you expect straight knives -- as some of the tangs got bent down during their long and rather casual storage. At the end of the day, you might not get perfectly straight tangs (not a big deal), but the hand selection will ensure you get something that's not enough off to matter.

Mexeuer et Cie Sabatier are also very good. My impression is that their hardening is a little different and not quite as good as K-Sab's and Ti's.

Please keep asking questions if you have them,
post #5 of 7
Thread Starter 
I'm almost thinking I'll just look at six different brands, and then roll a die, because the differences seem so small between each of these I can really see myself buying any of them. One thing that might put Sakai Takayuki above the others is that I can order it from a Canadian dealer, which I can't seem to do with Sabatier (as much as my interest has been piqued in them, the Nogent in particular). And I'm not sure it's worth dealing with customs delays, duty fees, shipping fees, exchange rate fees, and the like. It's also rather disappointing to have to admit that to myself, because I really do find the Sabatier knives extremely appealing, and extremely reasonably priced if they're as good as you say. I may have to talk to The Best Things and find out exactly what to expect for shipping were I to order three or four.

Another question, this time generally, is it better, in your opinion, to slightly overshoot 10" or slightly undershoot it? A lot of the knives I've been looking at are measuring 9.5" or 10.6" (240mm or 270mm) and I'm wondering at what point does it become a hindrance rather than a benefit. Or does it even matter and is this just a personal choice with whatever I feel comfortable with? It doesn't seem like it would be a terribly noticeable difference in length, but I do wonder if it would affect balance or leverage or anything like that.

Also, Japanese (Wa, is it? I feel like I'm butchering the Japanese language.) style handles - are they terribly uncomfortable when using a pinch grip? Do they require oiling or anything like that? Something to avoid altogether or is it just a matter or opinion? I mean, moreso than the rest of this...
post #6 of 7
I understand Paul's is very pleasant to work with.

Definitely talk to The Best Things and ask them what happens with a Canadian order. They've got beaucoup experience.

Personally, I generally prefer 270 to 240 on the basis that there's a little more productivity associated with very little extra skill or difficulty. Both lengths have far more in common with each other than a 240 does with 210 or a 270 with 300. That is, if you're coming off of a 10" both will feel very natural. But, if you're coming off an 8", either will take about the same amount of learning and getting used to.

Not being Canadian, it's been a while since I visited Paul's site. He used to not list every Sakai Takayuki he could get on the site; but more of a representative sample. Since you don't seem particularly shy, it's probably gratuitous -- Don't forget to ask Paul if there's something you want but don't see, a size for instance.

Japanese knives are generally slightly less "balanced" than forged European knives, and more "handle forward," mostly because the bolsters are much lighter and without finger guards. A 240 and 270 Grand Cheff are both "blade forward," as you'd expect. And as you'd also expect the 240 is very slightly blade forward, while the 270 is a little more so -- but not disconcertingly. The 240 should balance right at the pinch point (assuming you pinch), and the 270 a little ahead.

Wa-handled knives are very comfortable in a pinch grip. One of the nice things about the pinch being its tolerance for many handles.

Because of the tang, lack of metal bolster, lightness of the handle itself, and lack of any attempt to change it, wa-handled knives are significantly less balanced than yo-handled knives and even more blade forward. Even for most western users, it's a non-issue; something to which most people adapt quickly.

Personally, I think many people overrate the whole "balance" aspect in terms of knife comfort and utility. It's one of those things which comes up at stores where they let you wave the knives around and allow you to pretend to chop, and "heft," seems desirable. It's not a real issue.

Obviously, if you have the opportunity any "hands on" before purchasing you should grasp it. But, bear in mind, in-store comparos can be deceptive. A difficult to find volume control can be very annoying on a test drive, and the stuff of car reviewers' whines. But buy the car, drive it three or four days, and its location becomes second nature.

A sharp, agile knife is an extremely functional tool -- you get used to it. Buy edge characteristics and geometry first, then handle, then it's pretty much the heck with it.

Hope this helps,
post #7 of 7
Thread Starter 
I heard back from The Best Things and an order consisting of a 10" chef, 6" slicing/utility, and 4" paring would cost a little over $34 (US) to ship via airmail. They couldn't tell me anything about duty fees or taxes, unfortunately, but Paul's says there's 7% duty fee on knives coming into Canada, plus currency conversion fees from credit cards. Blah, international ordering is a pain. I'm not sure entirely if that removes the Sabatier series in specific, or international orders in general, from the pool of possible knives. It certainly lowers the appeal a bit, though. It's amazing how quickly little 2% fees here and 5% taxes there add up...

On the upside, I have also manage to find (apparently) some local retailers of Mac knives, so I'm going to go give them a call tomorrow during normal business hours, as one seems to be restaurant supply store, and see how their stocks are doing post-holiday season. I'm shocked I overlooked them earlier, but such is life. Also, this probably seems a foolish question, but how much of a difference is there in the Mac Mighty Chef knives? I'm having trouble finding anything around 10" that isn't prefixed with "Mighty" and I'm wondering if that's going to be a problem, or if that's just a quirk. I'm guessing they're heavier and more for cutting through thick roasts and the like, but I thought I would clarify.

Also, I noticed something interesting comparing the Grand Cheff (ie, #10011-10016) vs. the Grand Cheff-wa (#10613-10615) lines, and I was wondering if you could perhaps offer your opinion on it. They both appear to be made of AEB-L stainless, but the plain Grand Cheff, according to Paul's, is sharpened primarily on one side, while the wa-handled Grand Cheff knives are ground 50/50 (which seems slightly backwards to me, but I'm new at this.) I was wondering if that would affect performance at all, or if I should simply rule out the wa line. It also strikes me as being strange that they have different markings on the blade, but I figured that was just to keep the Japanese stylings of the wa-handled knives consistent...

Thank you again for your patience, willingness to teach, and I'm sure more questions will arise as I read and find out more regarding, well, everything.
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