1. Are fit/finish going to be a problem for me with the non-mainstream knives? I realize it's not a big deal in the long run, but I know I'll be disappointed if I open the box and there's a glob of epoxy in the handle or something isn't lined up right. I would also like something to be at least fairly sharp out of the box, so I can at least have something to compare it to when I'm trying to get the edge back or get my Forschner at a comparable edge.
The "non-mainstream" knives on your list so far have very good F&F -- but they're not in the same league as a Henckels, Wusthof, Global or Shun. That sort of quality comes from a mix of huge production runs and very high QC. The specialty market knives we're talking about are more handmade; it shows with some of them, while some of the others are practically works of art. In short, "it depends."
2. Regarding lasers being chippy or fragile, if I'm being paranoid, that's fine. As long as I can do most kitchen tasks without worrying about it (excepting frozen food, bones, pineapples, etc) I should be fine.
As long as you stay away from things as obviously stupid as splitting chickens, you should be fine. The real knock against lasers -- such as it is -- is their flex. Just like a panel saw cutting wood, they'll jam in the cut if you twist, bend or pronate the blade. That's usually a consequence of combining hurry with an overly tight grip (also just like a saw). Consequently a laser isn't a great choice for a newbie in a pro kitchen, where the pressure to go faster than his skills is intense.
Pro or home cook, learning to keep the knife square to the cut and cut in a straight line is one of the most basic and important knife skills. A good, unstressed grip helps as does a sharp edge; but the real key is taking the time to feel and see what you're doing. Home cooks aren't under the same pressure, and if the blade starts to stick they can relax their grip and square the knife into the cut.
Hail to the home cook!
3. Am I going to need waterstones right away, or can I muddle through with the Sharpmaker for a bit (or at least the original sharpening, if it needs one out of the box)?
The Spyderco Sharpmaker is not a good option for most of the knives we're talking about. It's too slow (not only tedious but makes for uneven bevels), the contact patch is too narrow (also makes for uneven bevels), it's too short for good angle holding, and it doesn't polish fine enough. The plus side isn't large. A Sharpmaker won't do as much harm as a carbide sharpener.
It's a good idea to start by isolating and controlling the variables. Let's figure out one end -- whether it's knife or sharpening kit -- before dealing with all of the possible permutations.
4. That HH Konosuke looks very nice and does seem to best fit my criteria; it is probably top of my list right now (probably with the ebony handle at CKTG). I was also considering the Richmond Addict and the Moritaka Gyuto 240mm, if I went carbon.
All good. And there are more. The suggestion to talk to Jon was good; his store, JKI has a completely different selection than CKtG. Speaking of CKtG, talk to Mark too. The best part of the job for each of them is helping customers find that "just right" knife.
Carbon doesn't require a lot of extra care, but what care it requires it requires RIGHT NOW! If you're the sort of very organized person who takes care of his tools immediately, no problem. Otherwise, stainless or semi-stainless will probably suit you better. Carbon brings some bang for the buck, but it isn't the huge advantage it once was. It's not the best choice for most people and while I'm not warning against carbon knives, do think about waiting until you've lived with a good knife for awhile and had a chance to develop a comfortable ritual.
I can't believe I'm saying that, I was a carbon-only guy for so many years. But times change.
5. As someone with admittedly little knowledge, and who admittedly wants something pretty, should I just shut up and get a Miyabi/Shun?
Edited by boar_d_laze - 7/8/12 at 5:48am