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Newbie knife purchasing strategy and some questions

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 


First something about me: I am a newbie at cooking. So, I will have to learn a lot of skills, including cooking, knife techniques, knife maintenance and sharpening. 


In order to start cooking I will need a few decent knives. The problem is that I cannot base my purchases on experience as I don't have any. Although, I got a lot of very useful information from this forum (many thanks to the regular contributors here).


From what I have read on the forums, a basic knife set is based around a chef's knife and consists of a chef's knife, a parer/office/petty knife, a bread knife and a slicer. At a minimum a large (chef's) and a small (parer) knife would suffice to do most of the cutting tasks in a home kitchen. The minimum set , expandable - if needed - to the basic set, will be the scope of my knife purchases.


As I have to learn cooking, knife skills, maintenance and sharpening at the same time I was planning to initially purchase relatively inexpensive knives. Later, when I will have gained more experience and practical knowledge I will gradually acquire higher quality (and more expensive) knives. This strategy would offer me a few advantages:


  • the "collateral damage" of my learning process will not be at the cost of any expensive  knife
  • when I move up to a better set of knives, I will still have a good "beater" set available if the need should arise
  • I will be able to base my more expensive knife purchases at least partly on my own experience, everybody seems to agree that personal preference is an important variable when choosing a knife
  • As I will already have a usable set of knives, the more expensive ones can be bought at a slower pace (as budget becomes available)


For a first purchase I was considering knives from the Sabatier-K brand, more precisely from their stainless "Authentique" range. These are the knives I am looking at (prices in euro as I live in Belgium):


  1. chef's knife 25cm: €55
  2. office knife 10cm: €24
  3. bread knife 20cm: €45
  4. slicing knife 25cm: €50


Total expense for those knives would be €174. If the need would arise, I could add a boning knife (13cm) for €35.


The slicing knife mentioned in my list above is the "tranchelard". There is also the 20cm Yatagan carving knife. It looks - at least to me - like they are both capable of carving and slicing. Is there a good reason to choose one above the other?


When I move up to higher quality knives I will be surely be looking at Mac Pro and Masamoto VG knives. They seem to be a logical step up from the Stainless Sabatier knives. But before I will shell out this kind of money I will need some personal experience to help me decide what to buy…


For maintaining a sharp edge, regular use of the steel is required. I have seen American HandMade and F. Dick steels highly recommended on this forum. However, only F. Dick seems to be available in Europe. I am looking at the Dickeron family of steels:


  • Dick micro (super fine cut)
  • Dick polish (polish cut)
  • Dick classic (sapphire cut, what does this mean? Is it fine enough?)


I am considering to get the Dick micro with the super fine cut. Would that be a good choice? Would the Dick polish be more suitable for harder Japanese knives?


As for sharpening: I would like to learn to freehand sharpen my knives. I already own a set of Norton waterstones (220/1000 and 4000/8000). I have some limited experience with sharpening woodworking chisels (also freehand but a chisel has a lot more guiding surface). I think this would suffice tot get me started sharpening my knives. If the freehand sharpening really wouldn't work out I would consider getting a sharpening system like the Edge Pro. However I would like to try freehand first. 



Best regards,



post #2 of 13

To my mind, it really depends on what your real budget is. Don't be convinced, as so many people are, that good Japanese-made knives are fragile and must be babied. This simply isn't the case. I would rather see you buy a good Mac Pro from the start than mess around with mediocrity, because you will be able to learn great cutting habits from the start and not have to re-learn as so many of us have had to do.


That said, good Sabatier knives are wonderful, and I'm sure BDL will be along soon to tell you all about them.


If it were me, I'd say buy a really cheap paring knife, bread knife, and slicer, and dump all the saved money into the chef's knife -- and get a Mac. Actually, if you were my brother or something, I'd push you to remove the slicer entirely: just a cheap paring, a cheap bread knife, and a very good chef's knife. The Mac Pro apparently responds to steeling quite well, which isn't the case with all Japanese-made knives, which may help if you get occasional advice from good cooks in Belgium.


Bear in mind that you're going to need some basic sharpening equipment soon --- all blunt knives are more or less the same thing. BDL and I disagree about this. I think you should get a King 1000 stone or King 1000/6000 combination. For the kind of knives you're talking about, skip the combination -- you'll get nothing out of it, and they break easily. By the time you have worn through the King 1000 stone, you will be ready to buy good stones, know what you want and why, and will have a considerably larger collection of knives than you currently contemplate.


Oh yes -- don't think that this is it. It's an addiction, to which you will probably succumb. Welcome to the club: we're all crazy here!

post #3 of 13

I pretty much agree with Chris.  The one area of big disagreement is his advice on stones.  And that comes mostly because I don't think he caught your reference to your existing waterstone kit.


Your Norton four surface set is up to any challenge.  Class it is as very good, but not optimal.  It's certainly good enough that there is not good, practical reason to replace it.


As to transferring your plane blade sharpening skills to kitchen cutlery... yes there are some differences.  You won't be availing yourself of what you probably see as your biggest skill, "clicking in," nearly as much.  And you'll need to learn to "open" a knife and create your own ideal bevels.  On the other hand, you already have a great deal of practice holding an angle (even though it's been supported by clicking in the factory bevel); know a lot about speed and pressure; how to feel a burr, the differences between profiling, sharpening and polishing; how to maintain your stones; and so on.  Yes, there's going to be a learning curve, but it will be gentle.     


As "quality" Euro stainless goes, I like Messermeister, K-Sab Authentique and a few of the other similarly styled Sabatiers better than the others.  However, that's limited to European manufactured stainless.  I can't really recommend any mass produced European stainless chef's knives.  The Sabatier carbons and any decent Japanese manufactured knife are just so much better.


The K-Sab Authentique chef's knife has great ergonomics, feel, agility, practical handle, you name it.  The only faults are edge characteristics imposed by the blade alloy -- which is very typical of Euro stainless knives -- and those are severe relative to Japanese made knives (which often use Swedish alloys, by the way). 


Messer chef's are also French profiled, lack the finger guard (which is something of an obstacle to easy sharpening), and are made with a very slightly better alloy (X55CrMoV15) than used by French and other Germans.  But the Sabs do handle better in my opinion, and I find the Authentique ferrule to be very comfortable as well.    


As to knives other than the chef's, the profiles are so similar from country to country and brand to brand there really isn't much practical difference other than handles.  As long as it's comfortable, buy by price and appearance.  It bears repeating that edge characteristics will suck.


Since you didn't mention carbon (i.e., non-stainless), I'm guessing you've decided it's not suitable.  If it's a possibility, than let's talk more about it.


As to "couteaux office," the trend for professionals is away from the smaller parer and towards a 12cm - 15cm petty.  In my case, as a home cook, adding a petty to my block has considerably simplified my choices.  As a practical matter, I only use my boning knives for extremely technical tasks, my parer for fancy, garde manger cutting, and my small chef's almost never.


Trenchelard vs Yatagan.  Trenchelard. It's better for portioning, trimming, and fish work than a yatagan.  The yatagan's tip can be a little awkward for some things, and the knife is more of a ceremonial shape (actually designed after a mamaluke "skabook," did you know?) and really directed more at the "Sunday joint" than at behind-the-scenes kitchen prep.   Well, theoretically anyway.  The two profiles are about as fungible as two profiles can be.


If, as a carpenter, you're already at a point where edge characteristics mean a great deal it does make sense to skip the Euro stainless and just jump to something better.


Hope this helps,


post #4 of 13

Yup, I missed the bit about the stones. Sorry about that. Otherwise everything I say is 100% true for everyone under all circumstances -- purest gospel.

post #5 of 13
Thread Starter 

Chris and BDL, thanks for your feedback! You gave me some points to think about.


I am fully aware that the stainless Sabatier-K knives are not the best out there. Good ergonomics but far from the best steel available, especially compared tot the steel used in Japanese knives. Just a thought: wouldn't a Sabatier with modern steel be a terrific knife?


The most important decision may indeed be: start with the Sabatier-K knives and then move up tot the Macs later on or go straight to the Mac knives (or a similar brand). As far as budget is concerned, starting with the Mac knives would essentially mean a slower purchase rate. I would start with the chef's knife. I already own a cheap parer so only a chef's knife would be enough to begin with. However, I am also buying other cooking equipment. It all adds up... The lower price of Sabatier certainly is an advantage at this moment.


The biggest problem for me to make this decision is my lack of hands on experience. It is about appreciating the difference between sufficient quality (I do believe stainless Sabatier-K is good enough to prepare food with) and great quality. I am gonna start asking friends about their kitchen knives. Perhaps one of them has a Japanese knife that I can try out to feel the difference with the western knives. I know one pro cook who uses Sabatier Prestige - I suppose they are comparable to Sabatier-K - both at work and at home. He says they are good knives but not the best available.


About carbon, I don't think it is for me... As BDL stated in other posts, key tot working with carbon knives is (I paraphrase)  consistently applying good knife maintenance habits (cleaning and drying after cutting). I am too much "serially focused". When I put down a knife after cutting, I could completely forget about it as I am already focused on the next task at hand. I think it is better if I stay with stainless.


What kind of F. Dick steel would you recommend: sapphire cut, super fine cut or polish?


Best regards,



post #6 of 13

I'd say start with the Mac. You'll never look back. (That rhymes!)


To digress, it's not precisely the steel as such as the way it's tempered. Japanese knives are tempered a good deal harder. In order to get away with this, they have to use higher-grade steel, which raises the price, and so on. In theory you could make a soft-tempered knife from the finest Hitachi white #1 steel, but because it'd have to be thick to support the soft edge it'd cost a fortune, and since you can make it lighter, thinner, and (for all intents and purposes) sharper by tempering it hard, why would you want to?


Your description of habits makes you an excellent candidate for stainless. You're quite right: what you describe could lead to a very unhappy carbon-knife owner. Fortunately, there are lovely stainless knives around.


Like the Mac, for example....

post #7 of 13
Thread Starter 

Ok, big news! I bit the bullet and ordered the Mac knives: the MBK-95 Pro Chef (240mm) and the PKF-60 Pro Petty (150mm). Thanks to BDL and Chris for pushing me over the slippery slope 


The Mac Superior bread knife will be for later, when budget allows. The next purchase will probably be a steel (sapphire cut, super fine or polish?). In the mean time I will have to get by with my Norton waterstones.


So, when the knives arrive, are they immediately ready for use or should I get them over the stones first?



post #8 of 13

Gefeliciteerd and Congratulations on your new blades.


Steels:  Within the F. Dick universe, not the sapphire, unless it's the sapphire/polish combi.  Otherwise, the super fine or the polish.  The polish won't scuff up your polished edge, but the super fine will keep you off the stones much longer. 


Better still if you can get your hands on a DMT CS2 (ultra fine, "unbreakable" ceramic) or a MAC Black.   Although I think the MAC is very overpriced, it's still cheaper than a Dickoron, at least in the US.


FWIW (not much), I use two steels.  A fine Henckles which has worn down to very fine over the years, and a HandAmerican borosilicate which might as well be a smooth.


MAC's OOTB edge is usually usable but not ideal.  You'll want someone competent to "open" the knife with your desired edge geometry relatively quickly so you can experience all the knife has to offer.  You can probably put off opening the knife until either you are ready, or you've found someone to do it for you.  


For MAC Pro, I've found the following is the best compromise between absolute sharpness, durability and enough symmetry to use a steel:  A full, fresh bevel at 10*, taken to anywhere 1K and 6K (your 4K would be fine), then a full, flat 15* bevel with 60/40 asymmetry, taken to an 8K to 10K polish.


If that seems overly technical, a straight 12.5* - 15* bevel on both sides, with near symmetry, taken to an 8K to 10K polish will also work very well.


I'm afraid a straight 10* bevel is too acute and will likely collapse too quickly -- even with 50/50 symmetry it's marginal.  The knife is only hardened to 59 or so.  The blade alloy (VG-5 probably) is strong enough that these aren't knives you want to steel two or three times a service.  Too much steeling will weaken the edge and make them liable to collapse even more frequently or even to chip. 


There are better 8Ks for the MAC than Nortons.  For instance, I really like the Naniwa SS, Naniwa Super Polish and Kitayama.  There are also far more efficient stones at the lower grits.  But, for the time being the Nortons will be just fine.  No need to talk about replacements until they wear out.



post #9 of 13
Thread Starter 

Upon BDL's recommendation I ordered a DMT CS2 ceramic rod. The Mac Pro Chef & Petty knives, the DMT CS2 rod and my Norton waterstones should be enough to get me started with quality cutting tools in the kitchen.


BDL, thanks a lot for your recommendations on "opening" the knife. However that is beyond my technical abilities at the moment (by more than just a margin...). If I can find somebody competent I will have it done.


Is the "opening" or the recommended blade geometry of the knife the same for the petty and the chef's knife? Or for the slicer if I later should decide to get one?


For use with the rod and my waterstones, at this moment - without changing the blade geometry - what is the standard bevel on Mac knives? 15* on both sides symmetric? 


I got a shipping confirmation from the online shop, I expect the knives to arrive next week. 



post #10 of 13
Thread Starter 

Sooner than expected, I received the knives yesterday (good service from the German Mac importer)! First impressions: light and very sharp compared to what I have used before. I will get my cutting boards monday or tuesday so more extensive testing will be done later. I hope the DMT CS2 honing rod will also arrive next week.



post #11 of 13

I really like the DMT CS2; it's a very nice hone.  Remember you might have to either break it in for awhile or sand it a bit with some emery paper/sandpaper to remove the "smoke"/flash/whatever.  FWIW, after using both for quite some time I prefer the Idahone Ceramic, but of course the DMT is virtually unbreakable and the Idahone is not.

"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
"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
post #12 of 13

Phaedrus -- in this case, I think the DMT is widely availalble (in Europe), while the Idahone isn't.


BSBXL -- If you don't already know what's right for you, there is no "best" edge angle and symmetry to open the kife with (or have it opened).


If you're the only person who will be using the knife, you'll probably want a slight asymmetry of 60/40 right handed.  That means, that when you hold the knife by the handle with the edge down, the right bevel will be wider than the left bevel by a ratio of 3 to 2.  It's just enough asymmetry to keep the edge thin and prevent wedging, but a sufficiently symmetric and robust to maintain with a steel.  2:1 will also work; it feels very slightly sharper, but is marginal for steeling. 


I don't want to create too much pressure on you to get these things exact, where you feel you have to worry or measure (other than by eye).  If you're anywhere in the 50/50 - 66.7/33.3 (i.e., 2:1) range you'll be fine.  60/40 merely "splits the difference." 


If you can do it (or find someone who can do it without making a mess of it), I've found that overall the best edge for a MAC in a professional kitchen is to thin to 10*, then follow up with a 15* "microbevel" (which is easy to sharpen freehand) or a 15*/10* double bevel (which you pretty much need some sort of tool to do). 


Most professional knife sharpeners sharpen at their own preferred angles (which are more often than not actually set by their sharpening machines) and will or cannot adjust it to your preference.  A few are simply liars and will promise what they have no intention of delivering.  So, if you're giving your knife to someone else to "open," be sure you know who you're giving it to.


If you can do a good job of sharpening a gouge or a plane blade with your Nortons, you're not far at all from being able to open the MAC.  The big difference between kitchen knives and carpentry blades is that angle setting and holding with wood-working tools is all about "clicking in;" while with knives you have to impose your desired angle. 


Rather than re-profiling the knife as soon as you get at, try using your 1K, 4K and 8K surfaces at the knife's factory angles (should be 15*) as your guide, and fully polish the knife out all the way at that angle.  After you've done it a few times, and developed a feel for what 15* is, you can try thinning it down to 10* with your 400, and take it from there to a 10* flat. 


If that's too fragile, sharpen again to 10* all the way through your 8K and deburr.  Then use a few strokes (not enough strokes or pressure to pull a wire) at 15* on your 4K and follow up at the same angle with your 8K.  Again, try to avoid pulling a wire.  Then, deburr anyway.  


Unless you know someone who can really sharpen, I like the idea of you doing it yourself -- even if it takes awhile for you to develop the confidence.  At least you won't scratch the knife half way up the blade, trying to fake something you don't know how to do.  It's something I've seen a lot on friends' knives and have spend many hours correcting. 


For a home kitchen, try sharpening to a 10* flat bevel ("flat" means no multi-bevels, micro-bevels or convexing) and see if it holds up for you. Not holding up is "collapsing" which is "rolling" and/or "waving."  In other words the edge goes out of true (bends) easily, and needs to be steeled frequently to remain usable.


Your new MAC will benefit from occasional steeling, yes.  But it is not a Wusthof or Forschner.   If you were using your steel for your old Euro-stainless every time you cooked, once every four or five times should be more than sufficient for the MAC.


Phaedrus is right about the DMT steel.  The construction is a ceramic coating around a steel rod.  Whoever does the ceramic can be a little sloppy and sometimes need a little "blow" on the surface.  It's not really well attached and is easy to knock off with sandpaper.  If the rod doesn't feel rough, it isn't there ... so don't worry about it.


The right way to steel the knife is to place the heel of the knife against one end of the rod at the edge-angle, then slide the knife to the other end of the rod, while pulling towards the tip.  Do this with light to moderate pressure -- whatever you use for sharpening tools on your waterstones is good.  You should use about 2/3 of the length of the rod for your chef knife... less for shorter knives.  


Do not slap or bang your knife against the hone.  Even though every TV chef in the universe does it, you don't, Phaedrus doesn't, and I don't.  For that matter neither does anyone who knows what's going on.  "Chef music" sounds like "zzzzzzzzzzzz."  It does not go "CLANG-zzzzzzzzzz."  No banging, just sliding.


Start with slow, definite strokes, each time placing the blade gently on the steel, rather than using the quick continuous movements you see on TV.  After you do it a zillion times, you're speed will come up.  But remember, the important thing is lay the blade on the rod and be very definite about your angle, rather than smacking the blade down willy nilly.  


Just like sharpening, if you're too acute you won't actually accomplish anything.  If you're too obtuse you'll ruin the edge.  And if you wobble, you're too obtuse.   Take your time until it's automatic.  Then once you're automatic, take your time.  Speed comes with smoothness, smoothness comes with practice.  Don't push it.


I assume you'll have a lot of questions about sharpening, don't be shy about asking.


Hope this helps,


post #13 of 13
Thread Starter 

BDL, thanks a lot for al that information! It is of great help to me. I am gonna keep your last post as reference material for my Mac knives' sharpening.


What I intend to do is - as you recommend - first to try to get a feel for the original 15* bevel and see how this works out. When I am comfortable with 15* I will probably try out 10*, perhaps with a 15* micro bevel. However, to get there I will probably run into many questions and I will not hesitate to ask them here. Unless I can find somebody trustworthy to do it for me, 15*/10* will have to wait untill I get enough hands-on experience and the necessary equipment.



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