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Taking a different approach

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 

All --


Good to be back in the forums; I've missed all the borderline obsessive knife and sharpening talk. :)


I'm getting the itch to add another knife to the collection at home. Much has already been written, repeatedly and with great patience, answering the question of "what knife should I get"? I don't want to rehash opinions on knife brands, et cetera but I do want to open up a question that will help me internalize some of this:


Can anybody give a rundown of the characteristics of different knife steels in use today?


It's a much more complicated world than "carbon", "high carbon SS", and "stainless steel". What I don't have is any way to compare what all these steels are. I don't think the question has ever been asked this way, so I wanted to try and see what comes out - even if it's "That's not really the right way to ask that question".


More background:

In the knife block is an 8" Henckels Twin 4-star chef's, 8" Global G-2 chef's, 10" Forschner chef's, 7" Henckels Pro S santoku, 6" Kyocera ceramic santoku, 4" Henckels Pro S paring, miscellaneous pieces from my old Chicago Cutlery set (slicer and boning see the most use), a red Kuhn-Rikon bread knife, some knives my wife had before we got married, and a $1 plastic handled paring knife I bought at the grocery store on a whim. All of them sentimental, now that I stop to write that out - they each have a story.


And before BdL has to ask, I can sharpen on a stone - well, functionally, anyway. Not well yet, but I'm learning. I'll say that I've never sharpened a knife and had it not be sharp, and the edge glint test looks to be even, but I've still got a lot to learn.


The two 8" chefs are my constant-use knives. The Global is thin and good for slicing, the Henckels has more heft and feels sturdier. I like the Forschner a lot - it holds an edge surprisingly well - but I'm rarely on a work surface where it doesn't feel too large. I'm frankly just more comfortable at 8" now.


I know I want something more like a French profile, with less belly than the German profile - it's my one (well, one of a few) complaint about the Henckels.


On the one hand, I'm looking at Sabatier (TI or K) carbon steel - one, because from what I read here they take and hold a screaming sharp edge well and while they need TLC attention it's not so bad, and two, because I'm unabashedly Francophilic in my cooking techniques, flavors, et cetera. (Hey, call it what it is.)


On the other hand, I'm interested in a Japanese gyutou because, well, it's not another German knife. Thinner blades, better slicing, a little more delicate so less hacking on things (does rocking the blade over a clove of garlic or a pile of chopped onions count?). I have less working knowledge of good vs. mediocre vs. bad manufacturers in the Japanese space, so I'm prejudiced to what I read here and what I know from talking to working professionals in town. MAC? Tojiro? Masamoto? etc.


Price point is sub-$200. Even better - don't laugh :) - if it's one I can source from Amazon as I've got a gift card from Christmas itching to be used, but that's not a requirement (otherwise, CKtG is likely who I'll call - interestingly, who also has a line of knives he's designed now, so put the Artifex on my what-do-we-think list).


In fact, it's the Artifex that got this question started for me. AEB-L is a steel I haven't heard of yet, so I threw my hands up in the air and decided to ask you folks.

post #2 of 6
Thread Starter 

So, after much more reading, and a lot of things swirling around in my head, and the lack of clarifying responses in this thread, I'm rescinding the question. What particular steel a knife is made of, while important, isn't the deciding factor. I'm now more convinced I want to add a new knife to my collection and less clear as to what need I'm filling. More to come...

post #3 of 6

I'm sorry I missed your first post, it just went by me.  The alloy is important, so is the heat treat, hardening, and some other junk too. 


In terms of hardening, you want the manufacturer to hit the "optimal level" for the alloy in order to maximize certain characteristics -- but you have to decided on the circumstances.  For instance Hitachi G3 stainless hardened to its typical 58 is a different beast than G3 hardened to 61 the way Tadatsuna does it.  The first is more durable and easier to maintain, the second has better edge characteristics and is more resistant to dinging out of true.


Your Forschner is X50CrMoV15, the most common (by far) high-end German alloy.  The Henckels are made from something extremely similar but just barely different enough (don't ask me how) to be proprietary.  German steels are made to be very durable, but don't have great edge properties -- and that's not helped by typical German edge geometry.  They're hardened to be tough but not strong -- which fits with the durable but dull thing.


Globals are made from a steel developed for them called Cromova 18.  It's got too much chrome to have really good edge properties, it's surprising they're as good as they are.  It's something like watching a bumble bee in flight.  You'd have said it was impossible if it wasn't right in front of you.


If you like your Global, there are a scores of knives which do almost everything better for similar money.  I guess that's probably the real bottom line towards which we're heading.


If you know the name of an alloy which interests you, you can look them up here and learn some things, but not every thing you really want to know.  As far as I know there's no resource which breaks down all the popular knife alloys and all the ways they're handled in terms of what a user can expect.


Don't worry about my wasting my time in terms of asking the "same old questions."   



post #4 of 6
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the tips! I'm about to re-address this in another thread - I was hoping steel would be an easy way to narrow the field greatly, but I'm thinking now that's not the case.


In other news, while I've practiced freehand sharpening on the Henckels with reasonable success, I'd been hesitant to put my Global to the stone until I felt a lot more comfortable - it's the jewel in the collection.


The other day, I decided that it was time, and sharpened the Global (no turning back now!). It took a decent edge, but not amazing.


I re-read, re-watched, and thought a lot more about it. Last night I put the Global back on the stones and ... well, it's like angels sang. It's got one hell of an edge on it now, that was the easiest test onion I've cut in a long time, and I know I can put that edge back on it when it's time to sharpen again.


My eyes have been opened. And, for anybody else who was like me and hesitant to actually scrape metal off a knife - you can do it. Honestly. Go for it.

post #5 of 6

Thanks Mike - that's good to know because I'm pretty scared about putting my new knives to the new stones that are coming when I've never done it before (yes, that was new knives AND new stones). Your success is a (small) boost to my confidence.

post #6 of 6
Thread Starter 

So, there's a lot I could do better. But, as someone once said, "great is the enemy of good" - if you're always trying to be great, you might miss good, and good is a hell of a lot better than dull.


There is quite a bit of technique in hand sharpening, strokes and stance and grip and the like. I won't claim mastery of any of it. At its fundamentals, though, sharpening a knife is about putting steel against stone, holding it at about the right angle, and scraping away. That, I can handle.


The other piece that helped me is to remember that anything I did wrong on the edge now, can be ground out and fixed, even if I have to take it to somebody else better than me. So, it's not like I"m going to break the knife and render it forever unusable.


So, go on! Tell me how it went.

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