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Knife durability question...

post #1 of 12
Thread Starter 

I've been looking into Japanese knives and reading up on different brands/qualities/types here and on other sites. While I understand that Japanese knives are harder (in terms of steel) and hold better/sharper edges than many of their western counterparts, are they made to do the same volume of work?


My current roll (the stuff I actually use) includes a 9" chefs, 6" boning, and a 3" paring. They're American made by Imperial Schrade back in the 70's before the company got bought out. I honestly have no idea what type/quality steel they're made of or their hardness. But I do know that me and that chef's knife can fly through the days prep, whether meats or veggies, with nothing more than a rinse and a wipe between uses. The knife is double beveled (which I've read is a characteristic of softer steel knives). I haven't yet calculated the angle of the "back" bevel, but the "edge" bevel is sharpened to a 20* 50/50 about once a month. A couple passes down the steel at the start of the day, and I'm usually good from there.


The reason for my desire for a Japanese knife is primarily for plating and service production. I feel like a lighter/sharper knife will do better for cutting meats for plate presentation than my current sidekick. My only experience with a Japanese knife thus far was a Shun. While nice to look at, I didnt feel like I could get much done with it. It belonged to the head chef and only used it for plating, but I noticed that you needed to re-steel a few times as the day went on. Even when only using it to cut primarily seafood and chicken dishes.


I know that Shun's are commercial grade knives for professional use, so I'd think that it should be able to stand up to a normal days work. Or at least get through dinner service without re-steeling. Am I misguided in that thought; or are the nicer, more expensive, Japanese not made with western food consumption in mind!?

post #2 of 12

You are misguided in that thought.



post #3 of 12

The japanese Knifes are very good knifes. I worked with a great Japanese chef Sonny Shoe And believe it or not he was the one that convinced me that the japanese knifes are good knife but German knifes are the best by far they might cost more but in the long run your will be glad you went german the steel is the best and they stay sharp longer than any other knife I have ever used Well good luck what ever you decide.Chef AlexanderZ

post #4 of 12
Thread Starter 

BDL... thanks for the response... vague as it may be... care to expand upon it?!


Am I wasting my time investing in a Japanese knife that I want to work for me through even a semi-respectable dinner without a bunch of maintenance? Maybe I don't understand how knives and working in a kitchen for a true Chef or cook works... but it would seem that using the best tools give you the opportunity to do the best job.


I'm hoping to learn something from this post... so if you have any information that I need to know to make me better at what I want to do... I'd love to hear it.



Alex... thank you as well... currently I'm working with an American made knife... but taking from your and BDL's posts... my current situation/knife needs are apparently better suited for a German made than Japanese. Though I don't understand why. The majority of professional chefs (as this section of the forum is supposed to be relegated to) seem to be carrying a variety of Japanese made gyutos as their "chef's" knife... if they're not made to do work... then what are people using!?



Does the restaurant I work for lack the pretension needed to warrant a Japanese made knife? Does everybody else have a colony of elves that mise en place for them!? I work saute/expo, the most highly taxed spot in my restaurant. When I come to work, I prep for my potential work load so that I can produce 30 to 40% of the food and plate every dish that moves out of the kitchen. I'm an artistic perfectionist... I know what I want to see on the plate... I know how to cook food good... I want it to look as good as it tastes, if not better.


If I have to make sacrifices, and re-steel before each plating, so that the food is as gorgeous as it tastes, then so be it. I have the guest's desires and the owner's demands in mind, I want to figure out the best tools to appease both.

Edited by JWill - 12/21/10 at 1:29am
post #5 of 12

Perhaps I misinterpreted (wouldn't be the first time), but your first post was written in a way which indicated more of a conclusion that Japanese knives are unsuitable for real kitchen work than it seemed to pose sincere questions; and your description of your workplace and your work was also very non-detailed and non-specific.  My feeling was that the answer wasn't vague, but the question was leading, so you got "yes" to a "yes or no" question.  But, I may have been the one with the 'tude, not you.  Since you're asking again, I'll give you the short version of the real answer.


Speaking very generally, Japanese manufactured chef's knives are lighter and thinner than their western made counterparts.  They are made from stronger alloys, which are more hardened. They take a much better edge and hold it longer.  Many can and should be maintained on a honing rod (aka steel), but some should not be.


In a straight comparison of Japanese to western, Japanese made knives trade weight and power for sharpness and agility.  Which you prefer mostly depends on your ability to sharpen, your standards for sharpness and whether you prefer a "German" to "French" profile (Japanese "gyutos" are usually French).  My understaning, gained from talking to a LOT of other people, teaching knife skills, and my own experience, is that most skilled cutters prefer the French and adapt to it from the German very easily.    


While they're the two most common Japanese knives in western kitchens, Shun and Global are not representative of the best Japan has to offer, even at their price range.  If you think you're learning a lot about Japanese knives by trying either one of them, you're mistaken.


If you're cracking lobsters, splitting chickens, portioning ribs, and slamming through a lot of pineapple, you're probably better with a German knife or having something special for heavy-duty work. 


When I was a professional cook a long time ago I used carbon Sabatiers -- which I still use and love.  Aside from the finger guards on the bolsters, they're a lot more like current Japanese knives than they're like modern German stainless.  If I were going back, it would be with a Japanese knife.  My current go-to is a very light, thin knife (so thin its type is called "laser"), the Konosuke HD.  I wouldn't hesitate to work with it in a professional kitchen. 


No criticism intended, we all have different standards and we all have plenty to learn.  If you do a lot of knife prep, you're not sharpening frequently enough to indicate high standards for sharpness.  Unless and until you've worked with a very sharp knife, you can't really appreciate what a Japanese blade brings for the extra money and sharpening craziness.  Whether it's worthwhile for a working pro to spend $200 or so on a chef's knife which is a better performer in many ways, but requires a little bit of pampering is an open question.  Just like any tool question, you don't win points by coming down on one side of the question or the other as long as you're comfortable and productive.  I'd like to help you with any questions you have to the extent to which I'm able, but have no interest in dissing things which work well for you. 



Edited by boar_d_laze - 12/21/10 at 10:35am
post #6 of 12
Thread Starter 


Now that makes a lot more sense and I appreciate the extended response. The actual question was in the first paragraph. The following three were ramblings of information and back story that led me to ask the original question. I should work on my formatting and not pose ambiguous questions at the end of posts.


That aside...having not worked with a knife of a higher caliber, I don't have an appreciation for what a truly sharp knife is. As most of the provided knives in the kitchens I've worked are as sharp as spoons, my knife seemed like the sharpest thing in the world. My current knife has a German profile, but its good to know that others have adapted well to the change in profile. Given your second response, my desires for a Japanese knife have been re-kindled and I am looking forward to working with better equipment. Hopefully my knife control is up to par enough that I can work with something lighter and more agile, especially with the increased sharpness. I will most likely continue to use my current knife for the "heavy-lifting." Then again, that may change when I figure out what sharp really is! Thanks again for the additional information.



post #7 of 12

I've had several Shuns for over a year now and they all seem to do me just fine, I do resteel about once a day but i think its mostly just to make me feel better.


I have to say I LOVE the D shaped handles on the standard Shuns, they really make a big control difference.


I've done a lot of sushi so I did get myself a few of Shun's higher end knives specifically for that, they're really heavy and very very sharp, but my primary daily use knives are the shun Chinese chef and a Massamoto gyuto chef's knife.


I got the Massamoto it in its 9.25 inch varietal, not sure what that is in metric, which is how they market them. The Massamoto is a BEAST, wicked sharp and stays that way, i give it a ten minute touch up once a month on a good stone and its awesome. Kind of a hybrid western/japanese handle and a 15 degree edge, if i recall correctly. Its easily the kitchen favorite and if i leave it sitting out I have to backhand the other guys to get it back. 


Hope you look into Massamoto, GREAT knives.

post #8 of 12

I realize this is an old-ish thread but since it's BTT, I'll chime in.  All my knives are Japanese (at least all the ones I take to work- ten in my work case- while the my few remaining German junkers sit in the beater block at home).  I have no problem getting thru a shift without steeling.  In fact, I never steel them.  I do keep a glass "steel" in my case to extend the edge but it's rarely used.  My general habit is to rotate thru the knives in my work case, a different knife each day.  I'd say I end up sharpening them about three per month as they get dull enough to require it.  Of course, I use the right tool for the job:  I use a Western deba for the rough stuff, a Gokujo and Honesuke for boning, reserving the gyutos for tasks they're most appropriate for.  I keep a 300mm Sujihiki for slicing and tasks which overlap with the gyuto.


It's hard to say whether failure to get thru a shift w/o steeling is "bad."  It would be for me.  But you may cut more in a given shift than me- I don't normally do much prep.  And your technique may be different from mine.  While the FOtS "screaming" sharpness is fleeting I find my knives retain a highly serviceable edge for somewhere between several weeks and a couple months when properly rotated (a suji and five gyutos, with other knives subbing in for the appropriate tasks).  Caveat:  I am also a full time student.  Normally I work about 30-35 hours per week, not 50+ like I did while I was cheffing.  But back when I was routinely doing banquets for 2,000+ per weekend I found I had no problem getting thru a weekend without much maintaining.

"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 #9 of 12

In the few times I've needed to steel my UX10, I jus pull it backwards on the SS work surface each direction a couple times - That's all it takes. I don't even carry a steel anymore - I carry a little, lonely crock-stick (just one) and a damaged ceramic tri-stone from an old SpyderCo - And those are just for the other crap I find in kitchens, like damaged food processor blades, a quick and unsafe touch-up to an abused meat slicer wheel, etc...


Do or Do not - There is no Try. - Yoda
Do or Do not - There is no Try. - Yoda
post #10 of 12
Thread Starter 

Phaedrus/Trooper - Thanks for the replies. Since the original post I've gotten a Echizen suji which has become my primary knife for dinner service or for prepping items used as garnishes that my Shun paring is too small to handle the work load of. I also found an old set of western style knives made with Japanese high carbon steel that I believe my mom purchased while my family was stationed in Japan many many years ago.


As I had also stated in another thread, with the American knives, I honestly had no idea what a sharp knife was. Getting that suji was a culinary revelation for me. It changed the way I look at knives forever. I also invested in an EdgePro Apex, so I was able to sharpen the high-carbons far better than was being done by the sharpening services in the area.


My current kit is heads and shoulders above anything I've used before and am getting amazing results from the improved equipment. My only desire now is to eventually invest in a gyuto as my primary chefs. While my current chefs holds a phenomenally sharp edge and for much longer than my previous chefs, its too thick at the heel for my tastes as I become more comfortable with the suji. And I'm glad you mentioned the UX10 Trooper, I think that might be the direction I go for the price and performance of the knives. Glad to hear it performs well.

post #11 of 12

Glad you found the right tools. I am ordering a 270mm UX10 tomorrow - But will probably stick with my 240mm UX10 for when I work in commercial kitchens. The worse thing that ever happened to my knife in a high-volume setting was having my UX10 between my 3/4" SaniTuff and an ice cream machine - and having another cook slam a frozen pork belly across the table - hitting my board, slamming it into my knife, and into the side of the icecream maker. ggrrrrrr.... : /


I recall saying a few out-of-character words that day. So I grabbed my 8" Le Cordon Bleu backup chef's knife from the truck and brooded for the rest of the day. 


I did get three beers out of the deal, so that was cool.   ; D 

Do or Do not - There is no Try. - Yoda
Do or Do not - There is no Try. - Yoda
post #12 of 12

I'm all about the globals, I have used them now for around ten years and won't go to anything else. I use a 6 inch utility on the line for slicing and such for service, a large veg cleaver for most veg cutting and a few specialty fish knives. I have about 12 or so that I use frequently. I fell in love with them, their balance, maintain an edge and weight which helps for those 14 plus hour days of preping and cooking straight through. I do advise though to go and pick one up in a store and make sure it fit's your hand correctly and you like the feel of it. Some don't like how light it is but it's perfect for me. They have great deals on starter kits too that contain a paring, santuko, and a utility for a reasonable price through jb prince. Anybody who has used my set has fell in love with them and has pretty much switched over completely though each person looks for different qualities. Wish you luck in your search but I recommend you don't look past the globals check them out it's well worth the time to stop in and at least feel it in your hand.

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