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First Purchase of Good Blades; Professional Application, Personal Passion

post #1 of 12
Thread Starter 

Hello lovely people - I will immediately apologise for starting yet ANOTHER thread on 'tell me what knives to get'.


Now that that's out of the way, I will admit to only a passing knowledge of the knife world, gleaned from reading forums, reviews, buying guides, etc.  I am currently working full-time as a pastry cook in a fine dining establishment, and spend about 10 hours a week in the kitchen at home baking or cooking something.  I'd like to make a purchase of several decent blades, and the accompanying maintenance equipment involved.  My brother does quite a bit of woodworking, and has offered to help guide me through learning basic sharpening skills, so I'd like to start in on that as well.


I learned on dull steak knives that are STILL in the kitchen drawers at home; so my knife skills are basic, and I am unsure what techniques I actually follow - I have smaller hands. I have used Global, Wusthof, Forschner-Victorinox, Henckels, Shun and MAC's before (I am sorry, I do not know the lines for any of the specific knives I used).  I don't really like the handles on Global or Shun, but apart from that I don't have a preference for different producers.  I really, really don't care about what the knife looks like, or buying from the same company - just that it does what I need it to.


Am Looking For:

-chef's knife

-serrated slicer - bread knife (10-14")

-paring knife

-whetstone or diamondstone set (possibly and angle guide as well)

-honing rod


Will Be Used:

-at work (herbs, fruit, veg, pastry and doughs - both baked and raw, cakes)

-at home (same again, I think)


Price Range:

-nill to 500 for all miscellaneous bits, unless I can be convinced more will make the difference


My first plan was to just get a basic set of stamped blades from Victorinox, but I'd like to get knives that will last me through long-term, and I'm not sure these are it.  I'm open to suggestions!


And I thank you for all and any help in advance, I really appreciate you taking the time to respond.

post #2 of 12



Let me start by saying that unfortunately any advice I may give should be taken as only a starting point as I do not work in a professional kitchen. 


As to chef's knife, petty/paring you should first determine whether you would rather start with carbon or stainless...there are benefits and drawbacks with each.  If you plan on getting good at sharpening, it would make sense to reap the benefits of carbon.  If you are going with Japanese steel, you will need to figure out which type handle (yo/wa) you would prefer, length (240/270), weight (do you want a lazer?).  I'm sure there are a few other things but this is likely a good starting point.


For the scalloped edge knife there are a few standards (Forschner Wavy blade, MAC Supreme) that people seem to enjoy.


You'll need to decide whether you want to sharpen on stones and it sounds like your friend can be a good starting point for advice--freehanding is the way to go if you don't mind the learning curve.  Most people would recommend a kit that would contain at minimum 2 stones (I use 4), I would suggest learning first on a 1k and maybe a 5-6k finishing stone.  You will eventually likely want to add a coarse stone (something maybe in the 200-600 range).  My personal progression is 220, 700, 1k, 6k.  It's nice to have a few old/cheap knives to learn on--you'll likely do a bit of scratching and dulling as you learn. 


You will want at least one steel and maybe two if you go with good Japanese blades.  I use a fine cheapo metal steel from China as well as an Idahone ceramic.  You will want to learn to use these correctly as well--the blades will ride these more than the stones and the importance can't be underestimated.


Hope this gets you started in the right direction,



Edited by chinacats - 3/25/12 at 9:46pm
post #3 of 12
Thread Starter 

Thanks Chinacats - you've brought up questions I didn't even think to consider!


Carbon vs. SS - I'm not bothered by regular maintenance, but I am wary of jumping whole-hog into knife maintenance from 0-mach 6.  My biggest concern is damaging a new blade through ignorance of maintenance routines.  Apart from that, I really have no preference.  I should make note that I am a vegetarian and practically never deal with meat at work, so it doesn't matter how the knives cut meat (which I had always been told was carbon steel's point of strength).  I fear I am betraying my noobness though...


Yo vs. Wa - The VAST majority of blades I've used have western handles, with the exception of asymmetrical Shun's and Globals (both of which I did not enjoy), so the honest answer is 'I don't know'.  I understand wa sometimes offer better control over fine movements, and so might be a good choice for a paring knife (for carving and detail work), but for the sake of familiarity I'd judge that yo is a better choice for the chef's knife.  Additionally, I enjoy a partial bolster on my chef's knife.


Length - I will admit that the bigger sizes intimidate me some, and I also have a smaller prep space at home (though there are acres and acres of counter space at work). So I want to say 240mm?


Weight - Heft is lovely, but it hurts after a day in the kitchen.  I don't want to go so thin as a laser (in thinking this is a VERY thin blade?) for fear of breaking it if I twist in the wrong direction.  Wusthof is much too heavy, and ceramics are too light - does that help?


I LOVE the Forschner wavy blade, and have used it extensively.  However, I am not fond of the single bevel, which can play havoc with some of the more delicate work I use the serrated slicers for.  I understand the MAC to be a thicker blade, which is a drawback for cutting layers, but I could be mistaken.  Hence my general hesitance!


I like the idea of stones - my only concern is that without an angle guide, I won't be able to reproduce angles accurately enough for a double bevel, or even a symmetrical edge! (if desired) I definitely don't mind taking the time to learn though, and we have LOADS of old straight blades around the house to practice on.


I've been eyeing an Idahone since I started my 'research', but have held off until I know what kind of blade I get.  A chef in the kitchen suggested a trip to the hardware store for a polished, or 'smooth' honing rod replacement (ie piping), if only looking to true an errant edge.


Again, thank you so much for bothering answer - I am so impressed and warmed by the generosity of sharing time and knowledge here!

post #4 of 12

Originally Posted by CowtownBrewster View Post


Yo vs. Wa - The VAST majority of blades I've used have western handles, with the exception of asymmetrical Shun's and Globals (both of which I did not enjoy), so the honest answer is 'I don't know'.  I understand wa sometimes offer better control over fine movements, and so might be a good choice for a paring knife (for carving and detail work), but for the sake of familiarity I'd judge that yo is a better choice for the chef's knife.  Additionally, I enjoy a partial bolster on my chef's knife.



I have to say that it's surprising how much this is NOT an issue. I was certain that I wanted all yo handles when I went on a spree a couple of months ago - no way could I get used to a wa. 


Honestly, it makes about a 2% difference if you're holding your knife properly....and not in a good or bad way...just feels a touch different. 


Now that I have both (and the wa is in my long gyuto...270 Moritaka...yo in everything else including a 240 gyuto and 270 suji), I can honestly say that I wouldn't even consider it a factor anymore for any reason other than aesthetic. It makes that little of a difference (to me, at least). I guess it might generate some weight/balance issues but I generally assume that most "good" knives are well-made and, for how often I use it, this isn't a reasonable consideration. 


Just wanted to drop that thought in to give you some perspective that I've acquired on the subject in the last couple of months. Fact is that I use the Moritaka the most (and not because of the handle but because I love the length and the blade profile and the way it handles/cuts).

post #5 of 12

I've never understood the non-love for the Victorinox Forschner stuff. For the regular average home cook person, even those that put gourmet dinners on the table every night, you will not have any difficulty with VF products. Unless you sharpen with cave-man grinding wheels, and sharpen just for the sake having something in your hands to play with, you won't wear them out. If they are properly sharp, you won't know any real difference from a $2000 laser. Unless you are making your living cutting stuff up, just be real. Say "Look, I want to spend money on something cool. I know I'll never know any difference, I just want a really cool toy.". It's OK. Having good feelings and a good attitude helps produce better products in all fields. 

My first plan was to just get a basic set of stamped blades from Victorinox, but I'd like to get knives that will last me through long-term, and I'm not sure these are it.  I'm open to suggestions!


post #6 of 12

I disagree with IceMan regarding the chef's knife certainly; and with your slicer(s) as well if you use it (or them) a lot.  Forschners will take good edges, but ding out of true very easily and won't hold them for very long without a lot of steeling.  When it comes to butchering knives, they're gold standard.  Their 10.25" bread knife is a helluva deal.  There's an excellent bang for the buck argument to be made for their parers and "petties."  But chef's and slicers -- not so much. 


As a sort of generic recommendation, a good chef's knife is the knife purchase first priority.  But be aware that figuring out what you're going to do about sharpening comes before choosing the knife for a lot of reasons.  To name a couple, sharpening can soak up a lot of money and some sharpening methods are more suitable for some knife sets than others.  


The better your grip, the less "yo" or "wa" will matter to you.  Learning a proper grip is not only fairly quick and easy, it will make a big difference in how well and how much you enjoy using your knife.  It will also allow you to use longer knives as intuitively as you now use a short one.  While "lasers" and other very thin and relatively light knives are now available with yo handles, they still carry a weight penalty.  Also, since you'll be keeping your knives very sharp always (right?), you don't need the extra power which yo brings.


That said, I've got working sets with both types of handles and like one no more than another.  Equally good, but different.  


But... sharpening is where this all starts.  You're expressing a lot of anxiety about learning to hold a steady angle, and indeed that's both important and does take practice.  However, angle guides aren't great for kitchen knives -- especially long kitchen knives.  While opinions vary, if you're going to use benchstones at all I think you're better off learning to sharpen freehand than using a sort of half-a$$ed gag like an angle-guide clamp.  The quality alternative to sharpening freehand is one of the really good tool and jig systems -- like an EP or a Wicked Edge.  They aren't cheap (north of $200, certainly), but you'll be doing some very high-end sharpening (better than a factory edge) in no time and it's a life-time investment. 


I think the choice between freehand and tool and jig (I do both) is about learning curve and comfort with the learning process than anything else.  To give it some perspective, assuming you sharpen three or four knives three to five times a year it's going to take you about two years to become a decent freehand sharpener; but with an EP, you'll be "good" after four or five blades.  On the third hand, good angle guide clamps (like the ones sold by Jurantich or Bottorf) will get you adequate right away, but you'll never really get better... and they won't do anything to improve learning.


If we stick with your current ideas and budget your set will probably end up looking something like this:

  • CKtG 3 watestone sharpening set ($140), or Minosharp 3 (but only if you're going to stick with knives that come with a 15* OOTB edge, $80);
  •  Idahone fine ceramic rod ($40)
  • MAC Pro 9.5" Chef's ($170)
  • MAC Pro 6" Petty  (they call it a "utility", $70)
  • Forschner Rosewood 10.25" bread ($45)


Your thoughts? 



post #7 of 12

BDL it don't take no abacus to realize that I think you are this boards absolute knife geek expert. I'm not about to challenge what you say. My point is that for the most part, regular "Joe Homecook" would be just fine for a very long time with VF knives. I think more than anything else, I took issue with them (or any other regular non-geek brand) being put down again. In my +/- 35 years of professional cooking, I've seen maybe 3 or 4 guys as knife happy as I've seen on the boards in the last 2 years. And I'm not talking pro guys either, just regular "Joe Homecook" guys. I'm not saying that is a bad thing either, just a point of reference. In professional kitchens, from greasy-spoons to Michelin* places (I've worked in both), the only thing that makes any difference is "sharp"

post #8 of 12
Thread Starter 



Deputy, thanks for the insight.  I was paying pretty close attention to how I grip my knives today, and realised that you're probably right - I use the handles to steady and support more than anything, and I rarely if ever actually have my fingers wrapped round.  If, by your word, if it's mostly a matter of aesthetic I'd probably still prefer yo.


IceMan - it is great to hear such an enthusiastic advocate of VF.  To clarify, when I was working abroad and needed to borrow knives, in a kitchen with a great range of choices across makes and price points, I always chose the VF's - I am familiar with, and very fond of, these knives.  The reasons I'm not sure they're for me in the long run are; as I gain more technique with my chef's knife, the Fibrox becomes less and less comfortable - I suspect due to it's 'German' profile.  I'd like to get a blade that will grow with me and my budding knife skills.  Also, as I mentioned earlier, the single bevel feature on the wavy bread knife causes problems with some of the more delicate pastries I have to carve.   I might very well stay with VF for my paring knives at the moment because, as you say, they are SHARP - and it is the easiest piece to 'scrimp' on right now, if later I should choose I want to upgrade.  Thanks for keeping VF in strong consideration!


BDL - As I'm sure you've heard before, your insight is always welcome.  I am keen to take the time to learn freehand sharpening; with a vague reassurance that I can't cause irreparable damage, I will pursue that goal.  My brother (who spends an awful lot of time sharpening tools) suggested diamond stones to avoid the worry about truing water stones - is this a bad recommendation? Also, whilst I don't mind spending money on an EP, I wonder that with a few years of practice on benchstones I can't still match that quality?  Out of curiosity, you say you use both freehand and an EP - which applications do you find each excels in?


I love your recommendations, and am familiar with the Mac Pro from your sound advice in other threads.  I am actually not sure I'm satisfied with the Forschner bread knife though; admittedly, there is no match for price vs. value, but that single bevel has tripped me up at some very inopportune moments.  Can I fix that problem by improving technique, or should I look at equivalent stamped scalloped slicers with an even edge? I suspect VF is what I'll end up getting, but I find shopping for long serrated knives a barren landscape of few possibilities, in comparison to the ocean of chef's knives.



Friends, I wish I could return the favour of all your help, but I am afraid I am a beer-head not a knife-head; feel free to drop a line if you'd like advice on brewing or beer recommendations, but until then I find myself in your debt for the assistance.

post #9 of 12
Thread Starter 

Also, and I fear I am opening yet another can of worms with this; should I even bother looking at classic French carbon knives, or is KISS (keep it simple, silly) my best course?

post #10 of 12

Sabatier is your friend!  Mine anyway--I just spent a few minutes with my nogent chef's on the stones and it makes me so happy I could cook dinner all over again!  Again, realize I am just a guy who likes to cook, but the Sab's are less expensive, the Japanese 'borrow' their profile, the steel is not so quick to stain, they are extremely easy to sharpen to a really sweet edge.  In fact, I believe that this may be the simplest solution--too much to choose from in the Japanese market--at least too many options among very nice knives.  That being said, I'll be interested to see what others have to say.




post #11 of 12
Thread Starter 

Gah - it's a pain how real life can get in the way of interesting conversations sometimes.  Thanks Chinacats - I was in fact looking at the nogents when I asked about carbon knives.  Which would you choose for yourself, between a Sab Nogent or a Mac Pro?  Are the honing and sharpening regimens similar?

post #12 of 12

Since I own quite a few Sab nogents, the choice is easier for me to make.  I am truly in love, they sharpen quickly, hold an edge for a very long time (as long as you steel every use), and get extremely sharp.  Unfortunately the only MAC I've worked with is a bread knife so I cannot be helpful on those lines, though they do have a reputation of being able to get very sharp.  Again, the only thing I may add is that as far as sharpening, I do not believe I have ever sharpened anything that was easier than Sabatier.


Good luck,


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