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Opinions/advice on a working set of knives

post #1 of 7
Thread Starter 

I would appreciate some advice/opinions on a knife purchase for my daughter.   She is a college student who currently works part-time doing prep, deserts and sandwiches at our local winebar/café.  She has the opportunity to learn more from the owners and the cooks there.  They have the usual assortment of Forschner knives for the staff and I’d like to get her something somewhat better, but still geared towards “working” production knives rather than high end or home use knives.  I don't know that she will make a career out of it, but she is a theatre major and we all know how that works in reality – really a theatre/food service major.  On the other hand, she is pre-med as well, but who knows how that will go.  Surgery I suppose.  I figure if she develops her cooking skills, she can get a job and can keep herself fed while she figures out what she wants to be when she grows up.


We have Wusthof (34 year old classics – wedding gift and added to since), MAC, Sabatier and Forschner knives, and CCK cleavers at home that she has used.  I’m thinking of a basic set along the lines of a chef’s knife, 6” petty, bird beak paring knife, bread knife and boning knife.  Probably a Idahone 12” rod.  I do my own sharpening using water stones (decent but not a pro by any means), so I will probably attempt to teach her and get her a set of stones (or failing that an edge-pro system).  I’m inclined to get a Forschner boning knife (have one and like it) and either a MAC or a Forschner bread knife, although I also have the Wusthof super slicer and like it as well.  I suppose a 12” bread/cake knife would be good as she does bake and would have the opportunity to split rounds.  That may limit choices to Forschner or Wusthof unless someone knows of another 12” bread/cake knife worth considering or if you think the standard 10" or so bread knife would be adequate.   


After that, it is an open issue.  I’d like to get her Japanese knives with maybe a Wusthof or similar German profile chef’s knife thrown in for when she actually has to whack something and needs a heavier knife that won’t chip.  I’m thinking MAC Pro or Tojiro DP or Kikuichi TKC or similar for the gyuto, petty and bird beak.  Something that will hold up in a work environment and take some abuse, but where she won’t have to be overprotective of or worry about them.  BTW, she does like knives and has a few non-cooking knives and swords of her own.  If she wants to get something high end later on, she can do that on her own nickel.


A final question – how big a gyuto?  She’s tiny – 5”2” and 95 pounds.  I’m fairly sure she hasn’t used anything bigger than a 210 at work, but I’m wondering if a 240 still makes more sense – at least for a Japanese French profile knife.


Thoughts, opinions, the meaning of life?


Thank you!

Edited by pohaku - 8/2/11 at 10:07pm
post #2 of 7

Great post.  On top of all the necessary information, you're a good writer -- which didn't hurt it any.  Do you need advice, or maybe just an ear?  Sounds like you already know quite a bit. 


If I understand you correctly, you're willing to go upmarket to some extent with a yo-gyuto, but plan on staying more conservative with the rest of the kit.  Good thinking.  Let's start with the chefs.


Nothing wrong with the Tojiro DP, but it's in a very different class from the MAC and Kikuichi. I can't begin to advise you whether you want to go entry level or get something better.


The Tojiro is a decent knife for its price, but not the only one in the same range. You should consider the Fujiwara and -- for a few bucks more -- the Kagayaki VG-10.  Both are lighter and more agile than the Tojiro.  They'll all get as sharp as your ability to sharpen, but the Tojiro is comparatively a trifle thick.  They all hold the edge fairly well -- with perhaps a very slight nod to the Tojiro, but it's unlikely you'll notice that as a practical matter.  All of them can be steeled profitably.  Fujiwara and Tojiro both have decent F&F, the Kagayaki is better. 


The Kagayaki has the shortest and narrowest handle.  The Tojiro's is somewhat blocky.  Fujiwara's is in the middle, but a bit short and narrow compared to Euro handles.   Given her size, it's unlikely your daughter will have any problem with length, but width preferences can be idiosyncratic.  Which knives does she feel most comfortable with now?   


FYI, "Kagayaki" is JCK's house brand.  Almost certainly, the different models are made by different sets of makers.  Not that I have any specific knowledge, but that's the way things are usually done in Seki.


The MAC and Kikuichi TKC are both endgame knives for the professional kitchen.  You can spend a lot more and get a little more, but the higher end knives (which you aren't interested in anyway) aren't appropriate for a first good knife -- especially in a pro environment.  There are quite a few other knives at more or less the same level too.  If your daughter's favorites are Sabatiers, you might also want to consider the Masamoto VG.  Masamoto and Sabatier chefs have a lot in common.


MAC has an excellent warranty -- a very unusual thing with Japanese knives; and incredibly good U.S. support.  Those are important things and shouldn't be discounted too heavily.


MAC has -- or is tied for -- best handle in the industry.  I don't know anyone who's used one for any length of time who doesn't love the handle.  Better than Sabatier. 


I recommend the MAC Pro more often than any other knife, and it's also the knife I give as a gift, as it has all the virtues of a good yo-gyuto but is nearly as stiff as a traditional Euro.  Stiffness is big thing with most western cooks -- especially those who are more interested in prepping with something comfortable rather than a search for potential absolute sharpness they'll never achieve, and/or the next knife that will save the world.


If I were buying a mass produced, stainless, yo-gyuto for myself  it would most likely be the Masamoto VG, or possibly the Kikuichi TKC.  But I don't care too much about stiffness.  The Masamoto is great for its profile.  The Kikuichi is gaining the reputation among knife guys as being one of those knives which does everything extremely well and is universally liked.  Most knife guys are more into knives than cooking, but two of the best chefs I know, both familiar with the TKC, are pushing it pretty hard.  Of course neither uses a yo-gyuto himself, so take it for what it's worth.


I haven't spent anything like quality time with the Kikuichi, but a lot of people, including the self same knife guys I respect most are very high on it.  At this time, it's probably the classiest of the knives being mentioned. 


An alternative to the TKC is the Kagayaki CarboNext.  The Kagayaki is about 30% less, lesser F&F, lesser support, smaller handle (like the Kagayaki VG-10) and does not come sharp out of the box.  It also has a terrble name and terrible graphics. Also, JCK's optional, extra-cost sharpening doesn't seem to net an acceptable edge either.  But since you can sharpen, who cares?


Petite women often talk about strength, stature and hand size as though they were important considerations for choosing length.  They aren't, at least not as long as they can see the top of the cutting board. Controlling the knife -- as long as it's not too heavy -- is in the grip and in practice.  With a good grip and posture, the point of the knife is controlled by the cook's eye, not a lot of contortion of the wrist and elbow.  Pinch; don't choke the handle, put the off-foot forward (helps keep the knife square to the counter), keep the wrist straight, drink plenty of fluids and call me in the morning.


240 is more productive than a 210, and most people can not only learn to handle the extra length quickly, but become addicted to it just as quickly.  That said, length is a taste more than anything else.  If you're consulting her, abide by her choice.  If you're surprising her, go 240 and don't look back. 


You'd already set forth the MAC Pro and Kikuichi TKC has your high end choices.  Assuming you can afford the freight, you can't go wrong with either choice. 


So?  What are you thinking?



post #3 of 7
Thread Starter 



Many thanks for the lengthy, thoughtful and kind response.  I have perused the forums here which helped narrow down choices somewhat.  While the discussions have been fascinating, I've been trying to sort what knives would really be suitable in a work environment, as opposed to a home or enthusiast environment.  Your comments help.  Based on your discussion, my inclination is to get her a MAC Pro 240 gyuto and see how she fares with it.  We have some MACs at home (the chef line gyuto and petty and the pro line nakiri) that I use when traveling and camping (the knives at timeshares are always terrible) and have liked them.  Being stiff and having good customer service are pluses.  If she doesn't like it, I suppose I will simply be forced to ,ahem, take it off her hands and get her a 210.  But it seems to make sense to start there.  After all, we are not talking about a lifetime commitment to this one knife - I suspect there will be others down the road. 


May I presume that the MAC petty in the pro line is also recommended?  Are there others I should consider?  I've looked at the Nogent, but I'm not sure she will want to deal with carbon.  Is it worth getting a better bird beak paring knife, or are these relatively "disposable".  Any suggestions there would also be appreciated.


Thank you!

Edited by pohaku - 8/2/11 at 10:13pm
post #4 of 7
Thread Starter 

Just following up.  Went and picked up a Wusthof chef's knife for my daughter for when she needs to whack something that would be inappropriate for her Japanese knife. I dropped by my local Wusthof/commercial sharpening shop because they often have Wusthof on sale and they carry very nice refurbed knives.  And they are very nice people.  Picked up a nice refurbed Classic for @ half price - looked just fine to me.  The surprising thing was that, despite obviously having been just sharpened (it was a refurb after all), it really wasn't all that sharp.  I think they do them on a wheel and don't take them up to a fine grit.  So, we now have a teaching opportunity.  She gets to learn how to sharpen and we'll start with that knife and some finer stones.  Actually I mentioned to her that it wasn't as sharp as it could be and she said I should teach her how to sharpen it.  Sua sponte.  Makes a father proud I tell you.

post #5 of 7

Finer grits don't make things sharper, just less toothy.  The problem with the Wustie is probably wedging. 


Thin first, maybe all the way down to 15* per side, then sharpen at their normal 20*.  The alloy is soft and won't hold anything more acute. When you thin, you don't have to polish the bevel.  1000# will be fine.


You can take the cutting bevel up to 4 or 5000 on water stones, but old Wusthof steel is so soft it'll scuff in no time and anything finer is a waste.  Not that it makes much difference, but I like Arkansas stones for the final edge on Euro blades.  For whatever reasons fine edges from natural stones cut a little more efficiently and hold up a little better.  Emphasis on "a little."


Say "Hi" to your daughter for me.



post #6 of 7
Thread Starter 

Thanks BDL.  Yes, it feels quite "toothy" which I perceived as less sharp.  I'll try your suggestions and see how we do.  I'll pass your regards on to my daughter.  She's going to have to see how she can smuggle her knives off to college.  The Dorm rules forbid anything longer than 4", yet they provide them with kitchens.  Go figure.  I mean, yes you can certainly cook with just a paring knife if you really had to, but it would certainly take the fun out of it.  She will have to leave her tanto and her wakizashi home though.  Might be a bit too blatant.


By the way, have you tried Wusthof's PEtec knives?  Allegedly the same steel but tempered differently to be harder and then sharpened to 13*  Or so I was told.  Same geometry though.  They were selling little bitty 6" chef's knives in that line (PEtec Classic) for $50.  Cheap enough if not exactly the most useful size.

Edited by pohaku - 8/12/11 at 7:17pm
post #7 of 7

The big PEtec difference seems to be computer controlled machine (as opposed to hand) sharpening at the factory at (as you said) a flat (as opposed to slightly convex) and more acute bevel angle.  I can't find anything on different hardening.  Wusthof claims a C Hardness of 58* for all their knives, which should be hard enough to hold the angle. 


I've got a problem with their implied claim that the knife can be maintained indefinitely with a steel.  It flies against everything we know from experience about every other knife.  Steels can true, but not repair wear which requires "thinning" by controlled removal of material. 


If it results in a thinner, more acute edge, you've got to say it's a good thing -- as long as it's reasonably durable and easy to maintain.  March of Progress, and all that.  Still, my internal Luddite hates to see the end of factory, hand sharpening.   


A 13* edge angle is going to make an already good, high quality knife even better; but probably won't change its essential, German characteristics.  Good thing there's plenty of room for everyone.


Speaking of a 13* edge...  Any practical differences between a 13* and 15* fresh edge will be minimal.  But -- and here's the rub -- there's a nominal difference from any pre-set sharpening gags on the market.  Once Wusthof admits that PEtecs need occasional sharpening, the people who buy pre-set, pull-throughs (choice of the home "gourmet-cook") will be stuck with Wusthof. 



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