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Back into the kitchen - and picking up a few tools

post #1 of 5
Thread Starter 

After a few years away from serious time in the home and restaurant kitchen I am getting back to preparing the occasional dish for a party or meal for a group of friends... and I like tools of the trade, regardless of the trade!


My big question for the group - how do you select knives to order without trying them out? I can understand why Shun's are not everyone's favorite, but I am a little weary of ordering knives without trying them out or at least holding them in hand. If there is a brilliant design from JapaneseChefsKnife or some other site with a universally loved handle, I am happy to take a leap of faith, however, just a few minutes with different Shun, Global, Wusthof etc, I definitely found one or two handle designs and weights that I was more comfortable with (and I few that I was not at all keen to use). 


I will try to provide some typical background info that I see the forum gurus ask in order to help the rest of us along - thank you in advance!


Sharpening  - I have experience with non-culinary knives (tacticals, utility knives, chisels etc) on a stone, but I have never sharpened Japanese cutlery. 


Budget - Chef's knife between 150 and 250 (Shun Premier being the favorite I have tried in hand, Hiromoto from JCK being the other I have in mind). I plan to pick up a new block, honing rod (recommendations on a brand or type?), and stone (very open to recommendations here). Looking to add a solid paring knife (no faux damascus appearance required although I don't object to something that looks nice), and a longer (10-12) inch slicer as at some stage. 


Knife skills - no formal training, no major mishaps, pinch grip, can julienne when called to do.


Current kit - nothing I need to keep other than for odds and ends for backup and random tasks around the kitchen or house.


Set - not that interested in a set.


So my pre-forum discovery set was going to be:

Chef's - Shun Premier 8 inch

Paring - Shun Premier/Kaji etc (don't like the Shun Classic handle shape or Global weight/feel)

Other - block, extra board, honing rod (recommendations?), and stone (recommendations?), and a longer slicer later on. 


After doing a bit of research here, Mac, Hiromoto, and the Ryusen Blazen all look quite nice.




Edited by AlanLadd - 11/28/10 at 12:23pm
post #2 of 5

Hi Alan,


My big question for the group - how do you select knives to order without trying them out?


That's a good question and it gets asked a lot and in a lot of different ways too. 


The more you know about knives in general and your own particular needs and preferences the easier it is to glean what you want to know from other people's experiences and recommendations.  That's not usualy (ever?) the case for someone looking for her or his first quality knives.


To make matters worse, another depressing dimension to the dilemna is how little you actually learn from in-store trials.  About all you can be sure of is that a very uncomfortable handle will probably remain so over time.  But, perceptions about qualities like "heft" and "balance" are notoriously deceptive.  


Speaking of heft and balance, nearly all western style, Japanese manufactured knives are much lighter than their western manufactured counterparts.  Also, with the exception of Global, balance tends to be pretty consistent and depends a lot more on whether the knives are made with or without "bolsters" than on brand. 


There are two major knife boards, the Knife Forum and Fred's Cutlery Forum with a lot of people -- some of them knowledgeable -- eager to help.  But again, most of the advice you'll get is of limited utility; of the "I bought this and like it so you should buy it too" sort.  That is, they tend to seek validation of their own decisions without taking your particular situation into account.  You have to sort through the noise to get to the data.  Without knowing the players, it isn't easy.


Yet more complication.  Unless you live near one of a very few knife stores, few if any good Japanese knives are available for an in-store demo anyway.


Which leaves you exactly... where?  Nowhere wonderful. 


Sharpening  - I have experience with non-culinary knives (tacticals, utility knives, chisels etc) on a stone, but I have never sharpened Japanese cutlery.


That's good.  No.  That's great.  Learning to freehand kitchen knives won't be much of a problem for you. 


Japanese knives of the sort in which you're interested want waterstones.  You already know enough about sharpening not to need a starter kit.  If you don't mind dropping a couple of bucks:  Beston 500; Bester 1200; and Arashiyama (6000) ought to cover almost any knives you buy.  If you're on a tight budget:  Naniwa Omura (200ish); and large King 1K/6K combo. 


In addition you'll need a synthetic nagura (cheap) and a strategy for flattening.  A lot of guys use special flattening plates up to and including a DMT XXC ($90) or even a Shapton iron plate (can go way more than $200).  I use drywall screen which is a little slower and messier -- but a lifetime supply will set you back maybe $15. 


Shun Premier being the favorite I have tried in hand, Hiromoto from JCK being the other I have in mind.


My feeling is that the three most important areas to look at are profile, edge characteristics and handles.  An important criterion with chef's knife profiles is whether you prefer the German over the French (and Japanese) type, or vice versa.  And of course, you're rather new to the game and don't know.


I use, prefer and recommend the French (which includes almost all western style Japanese knives) for its greater agility and economy of movement.  You lose a little power, but sharpness trumps power every time.  So as long as you keep your knives sharp (which few cooks do), you should be good.



The Shun chef's knife has an absolutely horrible profile.  Not just German but the worst of German... at least in my opinion.  Because of their particularly high point (well above the midline), you have to lift the handle way up to get it the tip down on the board; and because of the curve (aka "belly") you have to get the handle way down in order to get the heel on the board.  That means a lot of what I call "pumping" the handle in order to "rock chop" (which is what trained western cooks do, one way or the other and you probably do as well on the way to julienne and dice). 


Shuns have decent edge characteristics; and you've experienced the handle.


My perception is that given the choice most skilled cutters prefer French.  But a lot of people like German.  And you can certainly become comfortable with either and make it work brilliantly.  



Which Hiromoto?  AS or G3?  What about them do you find attractive?


The AS inspires a lot of positive response.  A few years ago I bought four of them -- his and her chef's knives, slicer, petty -- a few years ago with the idea of upgrading and updating some of my old French carbons with Japanese steel.  But neither Linda nor I liked the Hiromotos enough to keep, even though it cost more than a few bucks to move them on.  The dissatisfaction centered around disliking the feel of the chef's knives on the board.  For one thing, it turns out that I don't like the feel of any "cladded" knife -- an objection which probably doesn't apply to you.  Just as important, neither of us thought the profile was anywhere nearly as good as any of my old carbon Sabatiers.  


It's worth repeating that a lot of people really, really like them.


FWIW, Hiromoto handles are narrowish and not particularly long.  Whether or not that's important to you I don't know.  Is it?


Other Knives:

What do you need to know in order to consider other knives that aren't yet at the top of your list?    


If you're seriously considering the Hiromoto AS with it's Aogami Super carbon (as opposed to stainless) hagane (core), would you consider other carbon knives?


If it's any comfort, it's no great trick to restrict my recommendations to chef's knives with handles EVERYONE likes.


Before going on though, I'd like to hear what you think about what I said so far.  Please don't be shy about asking questions about specific knives. 


Hope this helps,


Edited by boar_d_laze - 11/29/10 at 10:32am
post #3 of 5

I really like the Hiromoto AS, but I might fall short of calling it love.  It's a tad thick for my tastes...just a tad, mind you, but if you're looking for laser look elsewhere.  It's a very good all around knife, though.  The Aogami steel takes a very nice edge.  Ergonomically it's also pretty nice.  Fit and finish is good but not spectacular.  You're buying this one for the steel, plain and simple.


At one time I think I owned eight Shuns.  Now I don't have any.  I will agree with BDL that their chef's knives are to be avoided at all costs.  They just have too much belly.  Their other patterns are okay.  The nicest of them is probably the paring knife of their Classic line.  I really loved the 6" petty; ultimately I sold it because I had too many.  I ended up keeping the very comparable Hattori HD but I could just have well have kept the Shun, it was really a coin toss type decision.  Of course, just because BDL and I dislike the German shape is no reason that you have to.  If you're a former culinary pro you may be very used to that style.  At one time so was I.  All I can say is that over time it's easy to be won over by the virtues of a more French/Japanese shape.


I can't imagine what would constitute a "universally loved" handle!lol.gif  Put ten knife nuts in a room and you'll end up with eleven opinions.  I tend to prefer simplicity.  My ideal handle is usually made of linen micarta and pretty minimalist.  I like scales a bit on the large side but well radiused and rounded.  To me the Hattori FH (Forum Hattori or Forum Knife, as it's alternatively called) is about perfect.  At the other end is the Tojiro DP line.  Their handles are basically boxy slabs.  Curiously, I don't hate them, mostly because they're probably about the largest scales I've seen on any brand of kitchen knife.  I use a pinch grip so the handle isn't a deal breaker for me unless it's 1) really, really bad or 2) metal of any kind.  I've never used a metal handled knife that I didn't loathe.  I also don't much care for phenolic resin, either.


It's hard to know in advance what you might like.  There are a few gimmicky ones out there but the 80% of the knives in the middle will have handles so similar to one another as to be difficult to distinguish.  In a way the Shuns fall into the "gimmicky" range; their handles are made to mimic Wa handles in feel but with more Euro-style construction.  I find Shun handles to be acceptable but they're not my favorites.


I guess that leaves me more or less just telling you what my favorites are.lol.gif  The aforementioned Hattori FH has the best handle I've ever used.  Ultimately I ended up selling mine.  As much as I liked it I felt the steel was a little pedestrian for a guy of my enlightened sensibilities.tongue.gif  Edge retention was just "okay."  The knives that replaced it as my top favorites are the Ichimonji TKC and the Akifusa/Ikeda.  My particular TKC displays superb fit & finish and the handle is very nice.  The geometry is spectacular, and this baby is really thin.  The Akifusa has kind of slender but comfortable handles and edge retention is crazy-good.  One more that you might want to look into is the Kagayaki CarboNext, also at JCK.  I realize the name is clumsy and absurd, but a little bird told me it's a re-badged TKC.  I have one on order (a 300mm suji) so hopefully within a week or two I'll be able to confirm this.

"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 #4 of 5
Thread Starter 

Dear BDL and Phaedrus,

Thank you both for the wonderful replies, and my apologies for the short response. A twenty hour day tends to dull my creative whit, ever so slightly. As far as your questions go...


Profile - no preference as you thought - I didn't mind the Shun's although the profile was 'different' the handle on the Premiere felt a good deal better than the rest, so I didn't pay as much attention to how the blade fell or felt on the board. 


Handles - one profile I did not like, at all, was the Shun Classic (I am not sure how one would classify that but it felt quite average to me to say the least). Generally I would prefer a 'medium' to slightly more narrow handle as opposed to a large diameter. Length - middle of the road? I did try one or two short-handled models which were a touch akward, but I wouldn't want a ponderously long handle either. 


Hiromoto AS - no particular reason other than seeing the name come up a few times.


Hattori - I will look at these a bit more


Ryusen Blazen - looks to be of high quality, appears to be made out of powdered steel (SG2 or something a bit harder than VG-10?), and the 'fit and finish' look good. I also have a friend from Japan who is a fan of these so that certainly doesn't detract from my thoughts on the Ryusen.


And on that note - I will look forward to catching up with everyone a bit later in the day!




post #5 of 5
Thread Starter 

Well, just a brief update, I went ahead and bought ... a few other odds and ends for the kitchen, but no knives as of yet.


Before taking the plunge, I had a few follow up questions for you all (and thank you again for the great advice so far.


Section 1. 

Sharpening - while I have put an edge on the afformentioned tools, the more I read, the more intricate Japanese knife sharpening sounds in comparison.

A) Should I grab a decent chef's knife 100~200 and get used to putting a solid edge on it, or play around with a Shun on sale before ruining a nice knife from JCK?

B) Stones - BDL - I have looked online and called a place or two and most of your recommendations are out of stock. Would a combination stone from JCK make for a reasonable start?

C) Following along those lines, if I hone and do a light sharpening periodically, do I need a 500 stone? I was under the impression (possibly the wrong one) that with regular maintanence one wouldn't need to go below 1000 on Japanese knife once you had it in shape.

D) Honing - I gather that the Idahone is the best budget option and the HandAmerican Borosillicate if I have extra cash to splash around.


Section 2.

Knives - Chef's I am leaning towards the Ryusen Blazen (like the powdered steel, look, finish, obviously haven't tried it out yet) or a Ryusen Tsuchime (preferred by the other half, she thinks it looks nice and that opens the door for an extra blade or two) or Akifusa.

Knives - paring or petty - Looking at both of the above or a cheap ($20 blade) until I try out the handles on the Ryusens or the Akifusa.


Thank you in advance for any advice on the above or thoughts on other things I may have missed!



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