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Advise for a beginner

post #1 of 12
Thread Starter 

Hello everyone,


I have been reading through some of these threads, and I hate to bore you with another help me page, but could really use some advise on my first kitchen knife purchase.  I only cook at home for a small family, basically trimming meats & cutting up vegetables.  I am embarrassed to say that when I do these things now, I only have cheap garbage steak knives or utilities. 


I have been overwhelmed by looking at so many knives.  I tried to narrow it down by taking a budget minded approach, and would appreciate any advise you may have, Thoughts so far have been the Tojiro DP, MAC Pro, Kagayaki VG-10 & CarboNext, Masamoto VG, and say a JCK Gekko that looks very nice for the price but is it practical for me. Would rather stay on the $ lower end $ of these though.  One other concern is size (I know a lot of you reccommend bigger, but seeing how I have never used a knife like this, would I be more comfortable with a 210mm?)


I'm sure I would be thrilled with any of these, but trying to make the smartest decision financially and quality wise.  Was leaning towards the MAC Pro but couldn't decide on the one with dimples or the solid blade. Is there any other differences between them?  Tojiro keeps getting stuck in my head too ($$ I suppose).  It seems like a lot of people have owned and used these and liked them, but talk about F&F.  Would I be happy or wish that I payed a little more for the MAC?


I do plan to sharpen my own knives.  I don't have a lot of experience sharpening, (hunting knives & pocket knives) but I am confident that I can do an acceptable job and just get better.  Would you recommend something like the roll sharp or a fine ceramic hone to use in between sharpenings?


Thanks so much for your thoughts



post #2 of 12

There's a range of prices in what you're looking at, and it's very hard to say whether spending more is "worth it" or not -- it'd be hard to say for myself, and next to impossible with someone else.


My own take on some of what you wrote -- and this is just a point of view, and some prejudices, not anything like Truth -- is that the Tojiro used to be a supremely high value, because they used to be much less expensive than they are now. I don't know the macroeconomics of the situation, but my guess is they were VERY popular and recommended based on price and just the difference between what Euro-knife users were used to.  But they got popular enough to raise prices and keep a lot of good-will.  They're still well-priced knives, I'm not contradicting that.  But they used to be such an easy first choice for someone who has not used something similar because it was a very inexpensive entree into this new world.


The Tojiro is a "clad" knife, too (or "san-mai" or "warikomi").   Which means the middle layer is a harder steel with softer steel wrapped around it.  They sell this as if it's a big advantage.  Some people don't care at all, some care a lot (think it mutes the feedback of the knife against the board, or against food).  This is a minority concern, evidently, but it's one difference between the Tojiros and the Mac or the Masamoto.  Tojiro also has a blockier handle which is not as good, but might not matter to you.  (Truth be told, I like a nice handle, but I like how my perception of "nice" looks about as much as I care about how it feels.  That is, unless it's one of those hump-backed "ergo" handles, I seem to get along with most any of them just fine.  Fewer or softer "corners"  is nice.... but I'll stop talking here, because I think it matters less to me than I thought it would, ever, prior to trying a variety -- and it may matter a lot more to you).


All that said, I have a Tojiro parer, which sees the occasional apple peel and otherwise a lot of darkness inside the knife block.  I haven't used a clad cook's knife to know if I dislike them for reasons described as the minority-view problem above. And now that I've already typed too much for someone who has only read about some of these issues... I'll recommend searching the history of posts for "Tojiro" and reading about them from someone who has used these types of knives, both on the cladding and the handles.


The Mac -- great knife, no real downsides, but higher in your price range.  There are lots of posts (if you just do a search) comparing the Mac Pro to the Masamoto VG, and I won't rehearse them here because I haven't used the Masamoto. Never held one, even, much to my chagrin.  But you're talking knives on very close to the same level, or the same level, here, just with slightly different strengths.


All that said, I think if price doesn't make the call for you, don't bother with the dimples.  Really they're ignorable... eventually they might get in the way if you're sharpening and thinning behind the blade for years to come (which is probably not an issue), so the downside is almost fake; the upside is that food doesn't stick to the knife when you're cutting -- and that's probably not true, or not noticeable, or not in almost any circumstances.  So the upside is also almost fake. Don't worry about it.


If you want to develop a good grip and some basic skills, then a longer knife will make you happier in the long run.  I think with knives this light, there's not any particular comfort even for a beginner in a 210mm knife.  If you plan on using a hammer-grip and don't really care to improve, then maybe whatever you're already used to will be more comfortable for you.  (And actually while on the one hand this is a bad idea, on the other it's still fine -- and better to have a sharper knife than what you're used to, so you still get to play the "which knife?" game!)


Depending on which knife you buy and how the bevels are ground... yes you want something like the Ceramic rod hone.  Clearly you're looking at the Mac.  You can spend less on the Idahone fine ceramic honing rod (from chefknivestogo.com or from Dave Martell's site).  It will break if you drop it.  And get the 12" if you end up with a knife that's 9" or longer.  I haven't used the Mac one -- I believe it's sturdier (steel core?) and not quite as fine, but that's hearsay that might be misremembered (as hearsay always is) anyway.


The rollsharp -- some people are happy with them forever.  Another thing there are many posts on here about.  And again you're getting this from the Mac site, no doubt.  It will give you a much rougher edge than can be done by hand sharpening.  And a less sharp edge, too.  But it's do-able by someone who doesn't want to be bothered with either the expense of better options or the time involved in learning to make use of better options, so that's your call.  Here I think (and maybe I'm in the minority), if we're talking about the Mac, it's STILL so much better than most European knives, thinner than any forged knife, that it might sever really well.  On the one hand.  On the other hand, the knife has enough more potential than that, which is why you're paying a relatively high price for a knife, and if you're not going to bring it to that potential, maybe it's not worth it.  (?).  Maybe have a look at the Forschner's (Victorinox) Fibrox knives. (Or the same knives with the rosewood handle).  OK I just re-read what you wrote... no I wouldn't recommend using this between sharpenings... if you are confident you can do a decent job sharpening, then skip the rollsharp.  It's not an in-between-sharpening maintenance tool like a honing rod is.  It is a sharpener. 


CarboNext -- good knife, thin blade, but you'll be committed to sharpening on stones.  It won't come to you with a good edge (the Mac would).  That and... what's good about it is it WILL take a good edge if you know how to sharpen. 


Gekko -- I really don't know at all.  It's not my idea of "pretty" which seems to be one of the sellling points.  (I DO like some Damascus or  Damasc-oid knives, to look at, but that's not one of them.  And there aren't many of them, actually. So I haven't really explored Gekko at all).


I like the handle on my CarboNext, the knife is pretty, the knife is very easy to sharpen, it keeps a good edge.  My "F&F issue" is something I didn't notice until I sharpened, and that is it has a slight overgrind.  In other words, on the face of the knife, if held against the light and looked at down from the handle to the tip, there's a small area that looks dished where it should be perfectly flat.  This will only be an issue if that dishing is deep enough (it may not be) that when the knife is thinned to the point closest to the blade, it makes the bevel "dip" too. Not an issue so far, and it might never be  But it might.  And I don't have any idea if this is something to be concerned about for other people, or if mine is anomalous.  But you won't run into this with a Mac, I'm sure; and again, the Mac will at least come sharp out of the box, so you'll have some time on it to see what it's like before having to deal with sharpening.  (A good sharpener will get it sharper than OOTB, right away even, too though).


So laying my prejudices on the table -- I'd go for the Mac Pro or the Masamoto VG.  Or down a price point, you wouldn't go far wrong with CarboNext if you are ok with sharpening.


I got distracted above by the rollsharp question, and "missed' that you're planning to sharpen (presumably on stones).  Sorry.  I won't re-write though, because I think I foregrounded some of the questions you asked even by missing this.  And I'm a fast typist, but a lazy thinker.

post #3 of 12

I have purchased three Tojiros and have never had any issues with F&F for them, nor have I read any such concerns from others.  Carbonext is the one that people seem to have F&F issues about.


The Tojiro handle is "blocky" but it doesn't bother me at all.  It might be because I have big hands.  But since it's just pakkawood you can always sand it if you want to round the edges some.  The only issue in my opinion is the clad construction which may not be a problem at all.


However, if you have the money, I would get the MAC pro -- it is a superior knife overall.  If you have the money, you might as well step up, because the volume of cooking you do means that the knife will very likely last you a lifetime, so you might as well just buy the best you can afford in the first place -- the price difference is nothing if you count the number of years you will be using it.


And stay away from the dimples.  Really.  They add little and may take away a lot, especially if you plan to actually sharpen (and maybe even thin) your knives.

post #4 of 12
Thread Starter 

After doing some more reading, and hearing what you guys feel so far, I think I would be smart to lean in the direction of the MAC Pro and the Masamoto VG.  If there are any more knives that compete with these two, please let me know (including thoughts or info you may have for both the MAC Pro & Masamoto VG).  For instance, I hear that the MAC is stiffer which is something I may like.  I like the looks of the VG a lot too.  How do they compare OOTB - I like the idea that I can use a sharp knife and get a feel for it before worrying about sharpening it.  Although, I do plan to sharpen, it would be a nice feeling to save up and buy good equipment to do the job right.


Since this will obviously be my main knife, I don't mind spending the little extra and stepping up to this level.  I think it would be smart.  But what are your thoughts on a paring or utility knife?  Would it be OK to keep it a little bit more inexpensive (say the Fujiwara FKM).  I like the look of this knife for the price, or will I not be happy?


Oh, and I do hope to develop a good grip and cutting skills, so when you say a longer knife would make me happier in the long run.  How long are you talking?  An inch doesn't sound like much, and I don't want to regret the choice I make, whichever way that may be.


Thanks again for all of your opinions, I appreciate it so much.


post #5 of 12
In European style kitchens, the 10" (250 - 255mm) chef knife was king for a long time. However, Japanese makers don't manufacture in inches OR millimeters. Their unit of knife measurement is called the "sun," which is about 30mm; and nearly all Japanese made knives are sold in multiples of sun -- even though they're advertised and described in cm and mm.

It seems like home cooks with good skills (or who are willing to make the effort to acquire them) tend to prefer 240mm (9-1/2"), and most professionals with good to very good skills prefer 270mm (10-1/2"). That's my recommendation as well -- unless there are special circumstances.

The MAC Pro and Masamoto VG are great knives for people looking for their first very good gyuto, and who don't want to mess with "carbon." In my opinion the Masamoto VG has a better profile -- but unless you already have good enough skills to appreciate it, you won't lose anything by buying the MAC. In every other respect the MAC is the equal or better of the Masamoto. Stiffness is one of those aspects where the MAC wins, but there are others -- including warranty, U.S. support, typical F&F, handle comfort, and OOTB sharpness (which I gather is important to you).

Like 24cm for a home cook, I recommend the MAC Pro unless given a reason not to.

I don't recommend the dimples (kullenschiffen) either.

Compared to the MAC Pro and Masamoto VG, all the popular lesser priced knives either have particular issues and/or miss the overall level of quality the MAC and Masa provide. We can get into specifics if you like, but the other posters are running through the group, nicely.

It's funny that you say "paring or utility." The modern trend is towards something called a "petty," which acts as both. The most common paring profile (couteau office) and slicer (trenchelard) are the same -- and that's the petty's profile as well. The most common length is 150mm (6") -- a very versatile length which will serve you well as a parer, boning knife, trimmer, bar knife, you name it. 180cm is also useful, and you're even starting to see some 210mm. Because petties get so much use and so much sharpening on a relatively narrow blade, they get sharpened to death pretty quickly. Saving money by going a step or two down in quality from your gyuto is very sensible.

Thinking, scheming, talking about, saving for knives is fun. Sharpening, much less so. But sharpening is THE key to getting performance and fun out of your knives. If it isn't everything, it's sine qua non, and damn near. You'll also need a good (or at least adequately sized and not edge-anathema. Prepare to spend.

post #6 of 12

BDL said:  "Thinking, scheming, talking about, saving for knives is fun. Sharpening, much less so."


Except there are some wacky folks for whom sharpening is a lot of fun.  And a social occasion.  Seriously, I've witnessed two guys go visit a knife shop and get sharpening on different stones and sharing ideas about sharpening with each other and the prioprietor.


So once you get to sharpening, it might be tons of fun to talk edges and stones and all that.  And you might buy more knives just because you don't dull yours fast enough.


Or, on the other hand you might not need a shrink that bad.  Just sayin'.





post #7 of 12
Thread Starter 

Any recommendations on inexpensive petty knives to check out?


That is just too funny!  I am really getting excited about starting

Edited by mjb3093 - 9/10/11 at 8:30pm
post #8 of 12

I have the Fujiwara FKH petty and think it is a very nice knife for it's price (even though I don't have much to compare it with). Very easy to sharpen as well!


Life is too short to drink bad wine


Life is too short to drink bad wine

post #9 of 12

I actually have the Tojiro petty and it does a fine job.  The clad construction is not that big an issue for me because the petty is so thin in the first place, and the use of a petty demands more lateral strength forcing me to put a fairly conservative angle on it, that I have not run into any issues with thinning the clad blade.


I also have a Miyabi petty that I bought in a set on sale.  It is an excellent knife, with flawless F&F, beautiful design, and absolutely amazing steel.  But to be entirely honest, I would not recommend it because extreme hardness is actually not in my opinion the best attribute in a petty.  It also has quite a belly which I'm not crazy about, especially in a petty.


So, as a semi-disposable knife, Tojiro is not a bad way to go for a petty.  Fujiwara is also good, and comes in solid steel, not clad.  So, inexpensive, works well, durable...  If you're looking for an inexpensive entry into the world of Japanese steel, these two are very good candidates.

post #10 of 12
Originally Posted by Capsaicin View Post

[snip].  Carbonext is the one that people seem to have F&F issues about. [\snip].

I  haven't been hearing this -- is that  a common consensus on the forums? I thought I was the only one. 

post #11 of 12
Not so much F&F, but the knives are shipping very dull. JCK sells an extra-cost sharpening service, but from all accounts it's not worth a damn. All of the buyers who've ordered the special sharpening on the CarboNext, and then posted in FF or the KF have been very upset. The consensus is don't buy a CarboNext unless you know how to profile and sharpen; but if you do, it's a quite a bargain.

My advice on the petty is not too worry or spend too much. Get something stainless, 6" long, decent and not too expensive. Once you get a feel for it -- if you like it, what you use it for, how often you sharpen, and so forth -- you can climb a rung or two up the ladder if you think it's warranted.

post #12 of 12

Thanks, BDL -- yeah I guess that might be "finish" -- especially paying the $12 for "extra sharp" should be finish.  I did that. Knife came sharp enough to cut, but the bevel was bizarrely, almost randomly, uneven.  Fortunately whatever tool steel they use is super easy to sharpen on the stones.  It's strange to have a knife I like to sharpen that much, when I like to use it less than 2 other choices.  It stays pretty sharp being almost unused!  It will eventually become a gift for a a family member or something should I not find more use for it soon.

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