To make a long introduction short, my wife and I bought a new house last summer, and as of this coming Friday, we'll have closed the sale on the old house and I won't be paying 2 mortgages any more. That, coupled with a bonus check from work, and I told my wife that "after all the work in selling the house, I'm buying myself a present." (Her reaction - "It's about time, you never do that for yourself." I married well. :) )
My primary knives now are a Henckels 4-star 8" chef, a Global G-2 8" chef, and a Henckels Pro-S 4" paring. The Henckels chef is the workhorse of the bunch, often what I reach for first. The Global cuts beautifully, but because of its convex edge and my distrust of my sharpening skills, it has seen gentle and increasingly rare use. I've now sharpened all three and proved to myself that I can do that successfully and well - they all cut well now.
Running through the pros/cons of the chef's:
Henckels - On the plus side, it's sturdy and heavy. Very solid feel. It's a bit of a brute, but it's definitive in its action. On the downside, I'm becoming less and less a fan of the belly on this blade - it rocks a lot, but that seems to mean that when chopping not nearly enough of the blade is in contact with the board, so I end up with tails of uncut scallions or edges of onions that aren't sliced all the way through. The bolster doesn't bother me at all, but I think the handle is a bit too large, which surprises me as I have large hands.
Global - On the plus side, it slices beautifully, especially now that it's sharper (duh). It's thin. I use a pinch grip, very loose on the handle, so its slick handle doesn't bother me unless I'm working with super-slick hands.
So, what I'm thinking:
* I will be buying a Sabatier, either K or TI, 8" chef's. This is a given I've been staring at that knife since I first joined these forums a couple of years ago to learn about them, and never pulled the trigger. It's about time. It's a French profile (less rock, more chop, I hope), it's French (purely sentimental), and it'll be my first carbon blade (takes a very sharp edge, even if it doesn't hold it as well, and I can handle the care and feeding needs). On a side note, to force a patina or not? I don't know enough yet about how this will react with foods, whether I should force one or let it happen naturally, best way to force one, et cetera. Opinions welcome.
* I keep looking at Japanese gyotus as well. Thin, sharp, effortless cutting. I'm fine with either yo or wa handles, although it'd be nice for aesthetics to have one with the Japanese style handle (always get yo and wa confused....). I assumed at first that this was all a function of thickness at the spine and steel used, but it's a much broader world than that - and, since the Global does a nice job, I need something to outperform it, not be redundant. Bonus points if it's something I can maintain.
* I suspect I'll also be very happy to own a 6" utility/petty, something between the paring knife and the chef's size. It's on my list, and may be part of this or a near-future purchase. I haven't come across anything I can't do with the paring+chef combo above, but intuitively it seems smart to have something in the middle.
* While not at all unrestricted, cost is less of a concern - this is a bit of indulging myself. Let's put a $350ish ceiling on the discussion, to avoid a $1000 world's perfect custom knife that comes with its own chef to do the cutting for you. :)
* Coupled with any knife is how to maintain it. I currently own a DMT DuoSharp 8" stone, 600/1200 mesh (their red and green designation). It's good, and it's good enough for the knives I own, but I expect (especially if we're talking about some finer Japanese knives) that I need to add on finer grit polishing stones above that. I'm hoping the DMT will still do a decent job at the coarser end, so I don't have to replace with a full set now and can just add on finer water stones for finishing. Thoughts?
* And finally (in for a penny, in for a pound) if anyone has recommendations for blade guards and/or knife rolls (preferably basic and unbranded), I'm all ears. I'm finding that I'm doing more and more cooking when I go to visit friends, and while they have good knives, they aren't *my* knives.
There you have it. I've run my head in circles trying to learn and keep up with different blade smiths, American and Japanese, and work out what characteristics to watch out for (spine thickness, grind, finish, sharpening regime, edge taking, edge retention, yadda yadda yadda). What I've concluded is that it's a LOT harder to read about a knife's performance than to feel it in the hand, but also that I'm not likely to go very wrong - I'm out of the realm of "bad" knives, and really trying to pick out which really good knife is a great knife for me.