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Opinions regarding High Carbon or Stainless Steel knives for a Home Cook

post #1 of 28
Thread Starter 

Hi,

 

I'm a Home Cook and am not so experience as to which of the metal is more suited for me.  I would like to hear from the more experience folks here.

 

Which of the metal is better for Home Cooks, and why;

 

High Carbon Japanese knives or Stainless Steel knives.

 

I currently have two Japanese Chef knives, one is the 200mm Damascus Kasumi VG10 gyuto and the other is a 240mm Tojiro High Speed Powder Steel gyuto.

 

Thank you.

post #2 of 28

It seems we're starting with a false dichotomy.  Each of your knives is both stainless and high carbon.  Let me explain.

 

Stainless steel, has at least 13% chromium, by international standard.  The chromium helps prevent corrosion of all types.  However, there are all sorts of desirable characteristics for knife alloys, and chromium gets in the way of a lot of them.  Manufacturers use very complex formulations, including other elements, compounds and techniques to work around that.

 

By convention, "carbon" steels have less than around 3% chromium.  I say around, because only the term "stainless" has an actually quantifiable meaning when it comes to... well... stainlessness.

 

The steels in between 3% and 13% chromium are referred to as "stain resistant," "rust free," rust-resistant," "semi-stainless," "stain free," etc.   Some manufacturers use the terms in a way in which they could be differentiated, while others seem willy nilly.   As far as I know there aren't any real standards governing the use for the in-between terms.  Caveat emptor. 

 

All steel is an alloy of iron and carbon.  The carbon allows the iron to hardened to useful levels.  Any steel, stainless or not, with a carbon content of at least 0.5% is "high carbon."  The distinctions between 0.5% and say 0.45% can be pretty subtle.  Anything below 0.45% is best avoided.   

 

By and large, most good carbon knife alloy steels have better edge characteristics than stainless.  They also feel better on the stones.  The can be made harder than most stainless, absent exotic techniques like metallurgical powders.  They don't actually require much more care than stainless, but they do require it more or less constantly and right away. 

 

Until fairly recently, carbon alloys could be made with better balances of toughness and strength than stainless.  Strong, hard stainless tended to be very chippy.  Tough stainless was either very difficult to sharpen or was so soft that edges would collapse at the slightest provocation -- "German" steel for instance.

 

Some really excellent stainless and stain resistant knife steels have come on the market fairly recently.  VG-10 is one of them. VG-10 can be hardened up to 60RCH or so, and has most of the desirable edge characteristics in spades.  Perhaps it's greatest weakness is that it can develop very tenacious burrs during sharpening which can be problmatic for most home sharpeners.  Nevertheless, VG-10 is one of the best, all-around, stainless steels available.

 

The ideas of a serious interest in knives, and poor maintenance don't really go together for me -- but that's me. 

 

The typical homecook isn't terribly interested in knives anyway.  If you can convince one to keep his knives sharp -- you've gone an awful long way.  Even professionals usually work dull, and most of them apparently feel too harried to rinse and wipe.  But let's not forget that until 50 years ago, it's all there was, and somehow we managed.

 

Context is everything, though.  Considering what's available now, carbon is more trouble than it's worth for most cooks.  

 

More than three-quarters of my knives are Sabatier carbons of one sort or vintage or another, including all but  one of the seven frequent users in my block.  They are perfectly suitable for someone with good kitchen workhabits. As it happens, I'm bored with the chef's knives I have and am thinking about buying a new one.  One of the knives at the top of my list is made in three models, stainless, carbon and a stain-resistant HSS (high speed tool steel).  I'm considering the carbon and the HSS models, but not the stainless. 

 

Neither of your knives are made from one steel.  Both are laminated construction of a type known as warikomi or san-mai.  Making knives this way allows manufacturers to save a great deal money, and to apply decorative and/or protective layers (jigane) to the cutting core allloy (hagane).

 

The Tojiro is made from an anonymous metallurgical powder tool steel.  Tojiro keeps the specifics secret, but I'm educated guessing either SG-1 or SRS-15.  In any case it's either stainless or so "stain resistant" it might as well be, and has a very high in carbon content indeed as knife alloys go -- 1.4% or greater.  For what it's worth, cranking the carbon content to achieve greater hardness is the primary reason to go PM (aka metallurgical powder).

 

The Kasumi's VG-10 is 15% chromium -- so definitely stainless, at around 1% Carbon. 

 

The jiganes for both are stainless as well, but they are low carbon. 

 

While both your Kasumi and Tojiro are decent knives, each has its idiosyncracies.  I wouldn't choose either for myself.  Nor could I put either near the near the top of their respective peer groups if asked for an independent evaluation.  However, that's me.  I'd really like to hear what you like about your knives, as you own and use them.

 

BDL

 

PS.  If you want a compare and contrast on the differences between the types of steels Japanese and European knife makers use, and how they impact knife use and performance -- it can be done.  But it's a different question.


Edited by boar_d_laze - 8/16/10 at 9:01am
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post #3 of 28
Thread Starter 

BDL, thank you for your explanation I really appreciate it.  Sorry for not making myself clear, what I wanted to know should actually be whether is it better for home cooks to use carbon or stainless knives and why.

 

I like both my knives and I sharpened them 50/50 at 15* on japanese water stones, 1000, 3000 and 8000 grids. Looks like the High Speed Powder Steel Tojiro is as sharp as the VG10 Kasumi but the sale-person who sold me the knives said that the VG10 should be a better steel.  Wonder what is your opinion.

 

Thanks again.

post #4 of 28

The problem with non-stainless is rust. I don't know enough of the specifics regarding stainless steel kitchen knives, but you would be hard pressed to ever find a fine woodworking tool that is stainless. As BDL said the chromium added to the steel to make it stainless also makes it overly brittle or soft. Thing is in a wood-shop  your tools aren't constantly exposed to water. Take a high carbon steel (not stainless) blade of any kind, sharpen it to razor like fineness, and leave a little water on it. It will be dull as hell in a very short time. Nothing corrodes an edge like rust. As BDL said most people just aren't that concerned with the care of their blades. So as a general rule I would think stainless would be the best direction for the home cook, the less exotic stainless steel won't take an edge like high carbon steel will but it will hold up better to careless users. At the end of the day the question is which is worse, dulling because of poorer edge properties or dull because you left your blade in a puddle. It ultimately is based on the habits of the user IMO.

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post #5 of 28

In terms of the things I most value, you can buy better knives for less money in carbon and "semi-stainless," than in stainless.  The trade off that makes stainless worth more for so money people is that it requires less immediate care.  We also have to factor in that there are several contemporary steels that are very close to performing every bit as well as the best carbons.  

 

At 15* 50/50 I wouldn't expect any practical differences at all between the Tojiro and the Kasumi for even the most expert sharpener and highly skilled cook. 

 

When it comes to changing the paramaters,  the Tojiro, along with a few but not all other PMs, has the reputation of shedding carbides when it's sharpened too acutely. 

 

The Kasumi is made to roughly similar specifications as a LOT of knives.  None of them can take too much asymmetry without collapsing.  Most can be sharpened down to a 10* edge angle -- or close enough.

 

If you want to maximize performance by altering edge geometry -- how far you go is going to depend somewhat on where you put the ideal balance between absolute sharpness and durability.  I'm pretty conservative myself, but that's no reason you should be.  

 

BDL

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post #6 of 28


Originally Posted by the-boy-nurse View Post

[...] Take a high carbon steel (not stainless) blade of any kind, sharpen it to razor like fineness, and...  the less exotic stainless steel won't take an edge like high carbon steel will but...  [the ultimate choice should be] based on the habits of the user.


We agree about so much, Nurse.  There's one thing especially and I hope you don't mind the selective editing used to tease it out. 

 

The glut in knife reviews on CT caused by Nicko's contest has got me thinking about how most cooks -- even good, professional cooks -- are willing to settle for very little in the way of sharpness.  So that's another consideration.  If you can't get them very sharp to begin with, why bother with carbon?  

 

BDL 

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post #7 of 28
Thread Starter 

BDL, if I understand correctly, if one can sharpen very well, then the carbons are better because they are sharper than stainless.  Another thing is I noticed most people uses carbon for yanagiba instead of stainless, Is it because carbons cuts better.

 

Thanks.

post #8 of 28

Shendao,

 

Yes and no.  What you're saying is "conventional wisdom" and has some truth to it, but when you get into the nuances of both alloys and sharpening, the conventional wisdom doesn't hold up particularly well. 

 

When it comes to traditional Japanese chisel edged styles, so called "kasumi" knives, where a piece of hard steel is laminated to a softer one are less failure prone, easier to produce and therefore less expensive than differentially hardened "honyaki."  Carbon steel alloys tend to work better in this form than stainless alloys, but absolute sharpness potential isn't the primary difference.  Also, tradition plays a big role as "homerism" is an important and seemingly indelible part of Japanese culture. 

 

Steel formulation has come a long way, and makers have developed several excellent strategies for getting around chromium's adverse effects on edges. 

 

A few of the best modern stainless and near-stainless alloys have edge taking characteristics as good as very good carbon.  For instance, AEB-L (aka 13C27) can be made damn sharp.  The very best carbons may be a bit better in terms of their ability to approach the ideal edge which approaches null width at the intersection of bevels, but as a practical matter edge geometry a little higher up the bevel is more important. 

 

Some of the PMs are extremely good at edge taking.  Daido's Cowry X and Y are probably at the top of the heap (too expensive though).  But others are quite good.  I don't happen to like PMs -- but it's more for limits on edge angles, a tendency towards chipping, and other considerations, than how close a PM edge can conform to the ideal.    

 

No matter what the alloy, both sharpeners and manufacturers are always balancing absolute sharpness against durability.  Edge holding is always at issue, since you don't want to resharpen after every onion.  A few stainless and semi-stainless HSS steels can take a great edge and are extremely durable.  More so than even Hitachi AS. 

 

Only a very good sharpener can bring out the differences, such as they are, between top stainless and top carbon alloys; but a very good sharpener can make a stainless edge very good indeed.  So, how much practical difference is there?

 

For the little it's worth, all of my go-to prep knives are carbon.  I'll be buying a new go-to gyuto soon (boredom, envy, curiosity, birthday).  Of the six choices on my current short list, four are made with Hitachi Shirogami #2 (carbon), one with Takefu V2C (extra-virgin carbon), while the sixth is a so-far unidentified semi-stainless HSS (high speed tool steel). 

 

You're probably asking, "Why all the shiroko?  Manufacturers like Tadatsuna, Konosuke and Yosuke have figured out how to make the new, ultra thin wa-gyuto with it, and it doesn't cost as much as aoko.

 

At the risk of seeming immodest (who, me?) I'm a very good sharpener.  Not exactly earth shattering, not Dave Martell, not even kcma, but very good.  Honestly, I don't think I, or anyone else for that matter, can get a Konosuke Shiro #2 appreciably sharper than a Tadatsuna Inox (Hitachi G3 stainless) or a Suisiun Inox Honyaki (Sandvik 19C27 stainless) at 90/10 assymetry and a sub 10* edge angle.  Heck, is anything is appreciably sharper?  Nor would sharpening the Inox knives be much more difficult or take appreciably longer. 

 

The biggest differences perhaps are that the carbon's going to feel better on the stones, and have the advantages a little extra hardness means for edge holding and polishing.  But let's not overemphasize the differences.  The great leveler here is less the quality of excellent modern stainless alloys vis a vis one of the best carbons ever, than the extreme thinness of the knives and the (proposed) radical edge geometry.  

 

Just goes to show that as you approach the edges of these particular envelopes, it gets highly contingent and pretty darn subtle.

 

Interesting stuff,

BDL


Edited by boar_d_laze - 8/17/10 at 10:06am
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post #9 of 28

It seems to be the "high carbon" thing vs the "home cook" thing.  If you're already comfortable sharpening your own knives, and taking care of them properly, you're beyond what most home cooks are doing.  They're mostly proud if they take their knives to the hardware store once every two years to get "sharpened".  If you're doing your own thing, then the only thing you have to watch out for with high carbon is that it'll rust as soon as you blink.  Wipe it as soon as you use it, wash it fast, dry it fast, and maybe hit it with a little oil, and it'll be a very happy knife.  Also, if you go the french route you can get a really great knife at a shockingly good price.  Just make sure you're getting a real one from Thiers, France, and that's actually high carbon.  Many of the French makers have stainless lines now, and the "Sabatier" name is slapped on knives from Spain, Hong Kong, and all sorts of locales.  The real french high carbons include Mexeur, and the elephant. 

 

Of course, that home cook will want to know why they can't put it in the dishwasher.

 

As was mentioned, "stainless" covers a multitude of sins, and many formulas.  Many of the knives that have *some* chromium (are stainless/stain resistant at some level) still take a great edge, and have the characteristics to hold onto it under real world use...MAC, for example.  So, you can go "stainless" without completely selling your soul...and still sharpen your own knives.  It'll just take a little more patience.

post #10 of 28

Okay, wait. BDL is saying the right things --- which is to say I agree with him --- but, unusually, he's making it all very complicated when the OP isn't looking for that.

 

Let's make it simple, OK?

 

1. All reasonably decent kitchen knives require the same basic care. They should be kept clean and dry, by hand, not heaved in a sink, left in a puddle, run in a dishwasher, and so on. They should be sharpened carefully and kept sharp, not allowed to go ballpoint-pen dull and then ground by a moron using a coarse power wheel. These things are true whether it's carbon or stainless or semi-stainless or whatever.

 

What's the difference, then? A carbon steel knife needs this care now, not in a few hours when you remember. The same point holds for sharpening, though here it's not hours but weeks or months: it will need attention to the edge much sooner. But the care and attention are the same --- stainless just sort of delays things.

 

(Of course, yes, that's over-simple, but that's basically true.)

 

2. All things being equal, in about the same price bracket you will get more bang for your buck, steel-wise, with carbon steel, providing you are not looking very far down-market. So if you're looking for a 9" chef's knife at sort of roughly $150 or so, probably a carbon knife is going to be better value for money.

 

In fact, however, all things are never equal. There are always factors: the steel is better, yes, but actually the shape isn't so hot on this particular knife, or the handles on that line are known to be terrible, or whatever. So you end up with a cluster of apparently very similar knives, some carbon and some not, and you ask. (Ask BDL --- he seems to keep tabs on all these lines. Speaking of obsessions....)

 

3. So why would carbon ever be a bad choice?

 

A. Carbon can be a raving pain in a professional kitchen.

B. In the home kitchen, most cooks simply don't care about knives, and want something they can maltreat.

C. Actually, much the same is true of too many professional cooks.

D. Some people get upset that carbon knives patina, i.e. turn gray rather than remaining shiny all the time. Get over it or polish every day (and use VERY high-grade steel).

 

So if you are a home cook and are willing to take care of a knife properly, there is no reason not to go carbon. And if you ever invest in really good carbon steel knives, you will wonder why anyone touches stainless.

post #11 of 28

I prefer carbon but use stainless mostly in the pro kitchen. Your sharpening set up leaves you with many options so I would go with fit and feel as your decision to a new knife cycle.

With your sharpening skills the steel really matters less than the way the knife fits your hand!

Old school but I do love old high carbon knives

.

P.S. BDL. I guess your upgrading your stones soon ?

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post #12 of 28
Thread Starter 

A Big Thank You to all the good folks who chip in to give good feed-back to the subject.

 

I was actually toying with the idea of getting a 270mm carbon steel yanagiba which will be used occasionally for sashimi, and had noticed most people are using the carbon steel for their yanagibas. Probably, because they sharpen faster? or easier?

post #13 of 28

There's a lot to it besides potential for sharpness.  Edges can be profiled a lot of different ways.  Most traditional Japanese knives, including yanagiba are chisel edged.  A chisel edge along with its variants, probably does have the greatest potential for usable sharpness 

 

Chisel edges are naturally narrower than a V edge, convex edge, or some other edge with an edge angle on both sides, set to the same edge angle.  When the edge is on a blade made from an alloy with the right properties (including a high degree of "strength"), the edge angle can be made extra acute as well. 

 

The acuteness of the edge angle doesn't effect what I call the "ideal sharpness" of the edge, but does matter a great deal to practical sharpness.  A more acute, more asymmetric angle is easier to sharpen closer to the ideal, it has less tendency to wedge, and the relative performance advantages of an acute, asymmetric edge compared to a more obtuse and/or more symmetric edge actually increase with wear.

 

On the other hand, the acute chisel edge is inherently fragile, and compared to a "V" edge variant puts extra demands on the rest of the knife (which has to support and protect the edge), the knife maker, and the person who has to maintain it.

 

You no doubt remember that I described kasumi construction in an earlier post in this thread.   It's a way of mixing the edge advantages you get with very "strong," hard steels, with the durability advantages that come with "tougher," softer ones.  The alternative for high performance edges is differential hardening associated with honyaki construction which demands extra labor and is extremely failure prone.  Consequently, honyaki knives are very expensive. 

 

At the current state of the art, all or nearly all of the best steels for honkasumi and honyaki hagane are carbon.  Getting down to the nitty gritty of actual knives, nearly all of the good, quasi-affordable yanigiba are carbon honkasumi.   It's pretty much what you have to choose from. 

 

If we're slowly working our way towards what should you buy -- if you want the best knife for the best price, it's probably a Masamoto KK.  If you're willing to spend more (a lot more) for a lot of extra prestige and hand work, the Mr. Doi made knives (marketed by Sakai Takayuki) are revered by professional sushi men. 

 

The yanagiba we're talking about are at a completely different and higher level of quality than either of your two current gyuto.  They're also more demanding.  You'll need to learn to sharpen an absolutely flat bevel to even approach their best.

 

If you want to get into a serious discussion of how, what, why on yanagiba in general and a range of good choices for you, we can do that.  As a preliminary, you probably aren't at the levels of sharpening or cutting necessary to bring out the performance distinctions in very good knives. 

 

So your decision making should include a performance threshold but be more strongly based on other factors -- such as price and appearance.  Don't waste too much worry over putative performance differences between Hitachi AS, Takefu V2C, and Hitachi Shirogami #2 since you'll never feel them.  For that matter, neither would I. 

 

Hope this is of some help,

BDL

 

PS.  Chris's post was on the nose.


Edited by boar_d_laze - 8/18/10 at 2:38pm
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post #14 of 28

Based on the original post, I would re-formulate as follows:

 

For a reasonably sane price, granted that I (the OP) am willing to sharpen my own knife, should I be looking at stainless or carbon?

 

Answer:

 

Depends on what you mean by "reasonably sane." If you're looking at $300, give or take, you should consider the Masamoto KS series, which is carbon. In semi-stainless, there's the Aritsugu (Tokyo) A-series, which runs in the $150 range, is durable as heck, and can be thinned wildly for ultimate performance (but does fine just as it comes). And then there are all kinds of other options, carbon and stainless, in the $150-$300+ range that will kick your butt and do wonders. The two I've listed here are among the finest of their kind for something resembling this price; that is, you could pay a lot more than $300 and not beat the Masamoto, or you could pay a LOT more than $150 and not beat that A-series Aritsugu (Tokyo).

 

The problem is, it's not that simple. The Masamoto probably is about as good as it gets, but the Aritsugu demands some thinning for maximal performance, and so on. Some people swear by a Suisin, or a Tojiro, or whatever. What's the market?

 

In short, carbon vs. stainless is only one of many, many important factors.

 

If I were buying a 240mm gyuto, I would buy either the Masamoto or the Aritsugu A-series. The Masamoto I'll defend forever, no worries. The Aritsugu, well, that's to some degree personal and I know BDL will disagree... and he's right to do so.

post #15 of 28

Then there's the yanagiba question.

 

OK, Masamoto and Aritsugu have all the advantages. Most top chefs in Japan choose these, or if they choose something else they have concrete and complicated reasons for doing so.

 

So.... step 1. What's the budget? How often do you cut? What sort of polishing are you able and willing to deal with?

post #16 of 28

No, no.  I think Aritsugu makes great knives and is a good choice in several series. 

 

To be honest a lot of my "knowledge" about Japanese chisel edged knives  is either channeled second hand or comes from a sharpener's perspective.  It's not that I've never tried a few of the major manufacturers' yanagis, but they aren't exactly lefty friendly.  

 

What I get from the Japanese and Korean sushi pros I know in SoCal is that the Masamoto KK is the stellar bargain, and the Mr. Doi is number one to be lusted after.  Yosh!

 

Chris and I have a mutual friend who is a serious Japanese knife maven, kcma, and he loves KK.  He might even have a bumpersticker.  I don't know how hot he is about the Doi knives, but probably thinks they're overpriced.

 

Chris set up what's probably the true situation better than me.  Shendao, if money's an issue at all, you need to be very honest about evaluating your sharpening and how likely it is that your yanagiba will be a frequent user.  

 

Perhaps also worth considering is the utility and versatility of a suji.     

 

BDL 

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post #17 of 28
Thread Starter 

BDL or Chris, what Carbon would you recommend for a budget of $250.  Actually I only use (my current 300mm Tojiro stainless yanagiba) maybe once in about 3 months, but was thinking of getting a 270mm carbon yanagiba (maybe a bit silly eh?)

 

My gyutos are used very frequently though so maybe I should get a carbon gyuto instead.

 

Thanks again.

post #18 of 28

Here are two, both sold by excellent e-tailers who can and will provide backup if necessary. 

 

The recommendations are not based on a great deal of personal experience (I'm a lefty), more on channelling that of real and online friends'.  If you want to talk online to people who have a lot of experience you should join the Foodie Forums and mosey on over to Fred's Cutlery Forum there.  The Knife Forum can be good, and/or something of a snake pit. 

 

Masamoto KK, shirogami #2, hagane.  The 270mm knife is $235 at Chefs Knives To Go. 

 

Img137.jpg

 

Monzaburo White, shirogami #2 hagane.  The 270mm knife is $250 on the nose from Japanese Knife Imports.

 

2_4.jpg

Both knives have a reputation of being something of "the poor man's Masamoto."  Both are great deals, as those things go. 

 

Masamoto is THE prestige brand for professional knives in Japan.  The Masamoto KK series is their best "mass produced" series.  In truth, they're not really all that mass produced. 

 

Masamoto says, spend less on a Masamoto and you get lesser materials.  Spend more and you get more hand work from "more experienced employees."  Those who use them say that other than minor cosmetic differences, the KKs are identical to the KS series.  I've heard that the KK bevel may not come perfectly flat -- but that's your job anyway.

 

Monzaburo is not one of the more recognized in the US.  They make very good knives, very much aimed at professionals, and sell them at very good prices.  How's that sound?

 

Both knives and both sellers are so good, I doubt it makes much difference which you choose.

 

BDL


Edited by boar_d_laze - 8/20/10 at 7:42am
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post #19 of 28
Thread Starter 

BDL, thank you, will certainly look into those knives when I'm ready.

post #20 of 28

Hey Shendao,

 

Forgot to say that if you don't use a yanagiba much, it might make more sense to sell whichever size gyuto you use most often and buy something better.  Even at the rarefied level of your Kasumi, there's still plenty of room for improvement -- especially if you're thinking carbon. 

 

I'm planning on buying a new 270mm wa-gyuto myself -- carbon and probably one of the "lasers" so trendy in the knife forums right now. 

 

BDL


Edited by boar_d_laze - 8/20/10 at 7:09pm
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post #21 of 28
Thread Starter 

BDL and what would that "laser" be.

post #22 of 28

There are a group of wa-handled western knives by Japanese makers given the nickname of lasers by the guys who hang out in knife forums,  because the blades are made so incredibly thin (not easy to do), and get so sharp.  In addition to being able to get very sharp, they have almost no tendency to wedge.  It goes without saying that these are all extremely light.  Tipwork, like scoring onions before you cross-cut them, is effortless.  In fact, with a knife of this type, you have to make an effort to set the tip on top of veg and not let it fall through. 

 

I'll give you a few of the more popular examples so you can see what people other than me are saying about them.

 

  • Konosuke HD, Inox and White #2
  • Ikkanshi Tadatsuna, Inox and Shiro #2
  • Sakai Takayuki Grand Cheff (wa-series), Inox
  • Sakai Yusuke, Inox, and White #2
  • Suisun Inox Honyaki, Inox

 

The list is in alphabetical order, and I've also added the names the manufacturer uses for the available alloy types for each laser.  It may also help to have some additional information about the names the makers use.  Konouke's "HD" is some sort of semi-stainless HSS, I don't know its identity or who makes it.  Konosuke's and Tadatsuna's "Inox" are both Hitachi G3.  Takayuki's "Inox" is Uddeholm AEB-L.  Suisun Inox is Sandvik 19C27.   I'm not sure what Yusuke's "Inox" is -- something Swedish as well.  White #2 and Shiro #2, as used by all of the makers, are different names for Hitachi Shirogami #2 carbon.

 

The knife will be a 60th birthday present to myself, and I'll either make up my mind before the day itself in late September -- unless something falls into my lap between now and then. 

 

Masamoto KS is also under consideration; alas it's not only expensive, no one seems to offer any sort of discount or swap possibilities.  And while I think it may be the closest thing to a perfect all-round gyuto, in a very weird way that gives it too much in common with my Sabatier.  Besides, it's not like I don't have enough heavy duty knives around that I can't afford to swap some durability in the go-to for a bit of extra sharpness and lightness.

 

I almost certainly won't buy any of the stainless knives for one reason or another, but the semi-stainless Konosuke HD is a real possibility if I can get it at the right price.

 

BDL


Edited by boar_d_laze - 8/21/10 at 9:02pm
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post #23 of 28
Thread Starter 

Thank you BDL.

post #24 of 28

I've yet to encounter a modern stainless steel knife that will cut like a 'Victorian' carbon steel knife. Get yourself a hard-crusted (if you can find one!) densely-filled loaf (which you can spread butter onto it straight out of the fridge) and try cutting it with a non-serrated modern stainless steel knife, without applying a lot of pressuge onto the knife so that it starts cutting ... I'll lay odds that you'll be sawing the blade back and forth some time before it starts cutting. With a Victorian knife, it will cut straight through the crust effortlessly. Ok, It'll need a steel put over it more often, but you won't need to resort to stones etc, to get a sharp cutting edge on the blade. I suspect the materials used in Stainless, prevent me getting a sharp edge, because these cannot be ground down unless you use something a lot more sophisticated than the basic steel sharpener, or resort to sending your knives off to a knife sharpening service. Haven't tried a ceramic bladed knife yet, but I suspect their fragility, will be their main failing.

 

So, I am left wondering why nobody seems to stock these old 'Victorian' bladed knives? H&S, ... Rusting? People/manufacturers are obsessed with high-tech products rather than functionality?

post #25 of 28

Footloose,

 

I'm not really sure if you're asking where to get good knives made of the same or similar alloys as those used before WWII, whether you want to know something about more modern alloys and which will work best for your purposes. or whether you're looking for a good knife or two to suit your purposes.  In any case, all or nearly all of your threshold assumptions are false.

 

Knives made from the older, non-stainless alloys need actual sharpening on stones, they just tend not to need it as often as most newer, stainless alloys.  But there's been so much improvement in modern steel making that the best stainless alloys can compete with the best carbons with equality for nearly every important knife property.  The rest is up to the knife maker. 

 

BDL

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post #26 of 28

Maybe I need to try some of the far more modern steels available, and I am a bit of a 'stick in the mud' regarding how I like to 'feel' a knife cutting, based on a (probably) early 20th century [a] Harrison Fisher bread-knife, a pair of Opinel folding pocket-knives, one [b] Stainless, the other [c] not, and a [d] Henkels kitchen knife set. When using knives A and C, you can 'feel' them cutting, because a sharpening steel imparts what I would call an 'ultra-micro serrated' edge to them, unlike a brand new knife and the Henkels [d]. This means that as you slide the knife across something, you can feel the blade cut/grip, into what is being cut, which is what I like to feel, whilst the Henkels and the stainless Opinel, feel like they are 'sliding' over the surface of what you are cutting, especially on something like a really hard-crusted loaf.

Maybe I just need to 'get used to' the sensation that modern knives with their ultra-smooth cutting edges operate, but I get the sneaking feeling that how I like to feel a knife cutting, isn't that unusual, based on the number of people one sees and hears about seeking out really old (and stained) bread knives at car-boots and second-hand shops!? So, maybe I shouldn't be such an 'old fogger', and need to get a life (or knife!?) and move with the times? Ok, so these old knives need sharpening more often, but it takes about 4-8 strokes of a steel to do this, whilst with a modern knife, one has to resort to a considerably more time-consuming routine involving sharpening stones etc to restore the really sharp edge these blades had when new.

post #27 of 28

Footloose,

 

If there's a question in your post, I'm not seeing it. 

 

As recently as ten years ago it was fair to say that as a rule of thumb carbon alloys sharpened better than stainless alloys, but knife steel makers turned a few important corners and that's no longer true -- at least with the alloys used for the sort of higher end knives typical of Japanese makers.  

 

There's a difference between what I call perceived sharpness and absolute sharpness and even though the Henckels may get just as sharp as the Harrison Fisher in terms of edge fineness, the older knife may feel sharper because it's thinner, sharpened to a more acute bevel, was more completely deburred, or any one of a number of other factors not directly related to alloy.  The alloy matters, but once you reach a certain threshold level of quality it's not particularly high on the list.  For instance, edge geometry and sharpening are typically more important.  However, the alloys and hardening processes used for your Henckles Zwillings and Opinel stainless knives aren't particularly good and MAY have something to do with their lack of perceived sharpness.   

 

To put more of a face on it I can get my old carbon Sabatiers just as sharp as my Konosukes but they won't feel as sharp because as thin as they are, they're much thicker than the Konos; also, they won't hold a polish nearly as well.  While they can be maintained on a steel and be kept at adequate performance levels for a long time, they won't stay as sharp as long as the Japanese knives -- mostly a product of their relative thicknesses, but partly of alloy hardness and bevel angles as well.  

 

The differences you feel between your carbon and stainless knives MAY result in part from the fact that the carbon alloys are tougher but neither as strong nor as hard as the stainless alloys.  However, the stainless alloys in your Henckles and Opinel are also on the tougher rather than stronger side of the line. 

 

Because they're softer and tougher, your carbons will take more scuff and "microserration" off the steel.  Also, older, carbon alloys tend to sharpen a little more easily -- if not necessarily any better -- than the mid-century stainless used in your Henckles and Opinels. 

 

Since I'm don't know much about Harrison Fisher knives beyond the fact that they were made in Sheffield for a long time, I can't comment authoritatively on yours.  You mention that it's a "bread knife," but also said that it had a fine but not serrated edge. 

 

You mention sharpening as some sort of given, but don't give any information about your kit or say enough about your skill level for me to know how to help you; or even if you need help.  Suffice it say that if you want a very fine edge which still has some bite there are lots of ways to create one.  The same is true about replacing your knives or at least some of them.  I can't tell if you want new knives or not, but FYI there are lots of modern stainless, semi-stainless, and carbon knives which will take a much better edge than Henckles, Opinel, or all but the very best old carbons.  

 

I know there's a lot of overlap, diversions, and distinctions with very little difference in this post, but if you want more clarity you're going to have to ask actual questions instead of making assertions.  And when it comes to making recommendations about kit, you should know that I'm not all that familiar with what is and isn't easily available in the UK.   

 

BDL

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post #28 of 28

As I've previously mentioned, I use a steel, because it's quick and a lot more convenient than hauling out a stone to put an edge back on my knives. I suppose my response to this thread 'should' have been to ask, from where do I buy an un-serrated bread knife made the same way that knives used to be made in the past, rather than having to resort to tramping around car-boots and junk shops? Yes, the blades were thinner and  they suffered from staining, but it 'cuts' straight through the really hard-crusted top of bread (you know, the traditional type which was really dense inside, and you could spread butter onto it, without the bread falling to pieces - as is the case with most bread available these days) because the blade doesn't have to be frantically 'sawn' back and forth because these old blades 'gripped' the surface of what it was cutting, in a way that ultra-smooth edged and sharp modern blade do not.

It does occur to me that I could probably get the same effect from a modern knife, by sharpening it a really coarse and hard 'stone', so the edge is left 'ragged', but with the old blades, I can get that edge, by just passing a steel over the edge of the blade a few times, and not by going through the rigmarole of using a coarse stone. I suppose it's all down to a matter of taste as to how I like to 'feel' a knife cutting, and I'm just too big a 'stick in the mud' when it comes to the type of cutting edge I like to use to cut the kind of bread I prefer making and eating!

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