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My first knife - Suggestions? Japanese, German, French? Buying in the UK

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 

While there is a huge wealth of knowledge on these forums, everyone seems so helpful, I was hoping I could get some more personalised advice.

While I title the post my first knife, it may be slightly misleading, because I am not buying my first knife, but it seemed catchy so I thought I would run with it. While I own a very average set of knives, I plan on buying a serious upgrade.

I am looking for a set of knives which I can build up over time (or maybe buy set of). I have a little knowledge about knives but I would very much appreciate any advice anyone could offer and any recommendations. It should be noted, I am from and I currently live in England and I have had trouble finding some of the beautiful Damascus knives I have seen recommended on the forums.

I am looking for a knife that will last me a life time, price isn’t much of a concern but £200 ($300) would probably be the max I would be willing to pay for any one knife. While build quality and sharpness are obviously the main things I am looking for, looks are very important. I prefer the western handle to the Japanese style, although I certainly don’t hate it. I love the look of the Damascus knives, but the main problems I have found is, I can only find Kasumi and Tojiro readily available in the UK. Are they good?

As for German, I have been looking at the carbon steel Wushof Ikon series, I have heard good things and to my tastes they are very aesthetically pleasing, they are also fairly easy to find. Are there any other high quality sets similar to these? My mother owns a set of Sabatier carbon steel knives which I loved cooking with growing up, what would Sabatier’s top of the range knives be?

As for Japanese, my main problem is to find somewhere that sells them. The ones I have been looking at are the MAC Pro, Masamoto VG, Hattori HD (although I can find no sellers anywhere in the UK, do I look to import from Japan?). I don’t have very much experience using Japanese knives, I've used a friend’s Kasumi 17cm nakiri on occasion but I am keen to improve and learn new cutting techniques. The Hattori is the most visually appealing knife I have ever seen, I don’t know if I should cut with it or put it in an art gallery!

I have some limited experience sharpening knives with water stones and have a set of dual sided stones 400/1000 and 3000/8000, while I am far from an expert, I'm gaining confidence and proficiency each time I use them and don’t plan on stopping practice. What do people hone their blades with? I have been recommended to use a leather strop instead of a steel to finish.

If anyone gets through this wall of text and can think of any recommendations for me, I would be very grateful.


Edited by Mindtrix - 5/21/13 at 12:03am
post #2 of 14

That you're in England makes this a bit different. 


One of the best sources for UK buyers was a Japan based outfit called Japanese Chefs Knives (aka JCK).  Besides a great selection they did a wonderful job -- somehow -- of avoiding duty on their shipments.  However, someone recently purchased a 50GBP knife from them and was assessed a 22GBP tax.  It's hard to know what to say. 


There are a few good sources for Japanese knives in Europe, among them: Korin (France);; and Dieter Schmid (Germany).  


Your best shot at paying a reasonable price for a Masamoto VG or Hattori HD might be through JCK -- whether or not they can slip it by David Cameron without him knowing. 


MAC is sold in the UK by CCS.  Depending on which length you like, the 9-1/2  or 10-3/4" MAC Pro Mighty gyuto are the best choices. 


Tojiro DP is at  It's a very good entry-level knife.  Be aware that the DP handles are largish -- too large for some people. 


I'll go ahead and recommend the MAC Pro and Masamoto VG over the Hattori -- but it's not worth going too deep into the differences or bringing up the other possibilities if you can't figure out where and how to buy.  So... the ball is in your court. 


Wusthof Ikon is a good series of knives -- traditional Wusthof virtues with a nod towards modern (Japanese) knife design.  Maybe not enough of a nod, as their character is more German than Japanese.  As far as I know the Ikons are only available in stainless.  You might be confusing the concepts of "high carbon" steel -- a guaranty of at least 0.45% carbon by weight in the alloy -- with "carbon" steel; i.e., any steel alloy which doesn't include enough chromium to be termed "stainless," "stain-free," "stain-resistant," or "semi-stainless."   


In my opinion the best Sabatiers are K-Sabatier au carbone, Mexeur et Cie Sabatier carbon, Thiers-Issard Sabatier carbon, and Thiers-Issard Sabatier Nogent (also carbon).   I've got lots of carbon Sabs and think they're great.  I think you can get rebranded Nogent and K-Sab au carbones though E. Dehellerin in Paris. 


Sabatier stainless knives are lighter and more agile than their German counterparts.  Fit and finish is typically nowhere as good.  The alloys are of roughly equal quality.  Expect any Sabatier you buy new to require sharpening before using as Sab factory edges -- regardless of the marque -- tend to be pretty bad.  I'm not in love with stainless Sabs, but that's me.  You're under no obligation to feel the same way.  



Edited by boar_d_laze - 5/23/13 at 5:54pm
post #3 of 14
K Sabatier knives can be found at which is located in France, but ships to all of Europe (and the US for that matter). In my expirience it's a quick and reliable place to buy, and the knives are very reasonably priced. Be warned, however, if you choose a carbon steel knife, you will need to keep it clean, i.e. clean it not now, but NOW!!!

post #4 of 14
By the way, and not meaning to hijack the thread: does anyone know an EU online seller of Thiers-Issard kitchen knives? All I've found were their razors.
post #5 of 14
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the replies everyone. I've been busy searching for various different places that sell Japanese knives to the UK and I have a found a couple but as far as I'm aware, I'll have to end up paying import tax which I'm fairly keen to avoid paying.


The above site is a UK based seller of the Masamoto VG series, which they import from Japan but they quite clearly state I will have to pay import tax. Does anyone have any idea of what this would be? Is it proportional to how much I spend? sells MAC Pro but they don't mention anything about import tax and a cheap looking site always concerns me when I'm handing over my payment details.


Richmond is the best place I have found for Wusthof Ikon knives if anyone is looking to buy them in the UK, they offer free delivery to the UK and also they will price match if they are found cheaper but I haven't found anywhere that gets within 10% of the price they offer. There are some beautiful looking Wusthof beach chopping boards on their site, which also caught my eye.


I think you may be right BDL, I was confusing 'high carbon' steel with 'carbon' steel, you have such a wealth of knowledge, it's quite astonishing.


Thanks for the tip Morton. I am fairly familiar with how easily they can rust and that they will need to be oiled if left for any significant period of time. I have a carbon steel Scottish claymore (whiskey tasting and tourist shopping in Edinburgh gets quickly expensive), which I have always used gun oil on, obviously I wouldn't want to do this on a knife I was cooking with, what type of oil would people recommend? I imagine olive/vegetable oil would go rancid?


I think what I may end up doing, is going for the 6-peice set of Wusthof Ikon knives and treat myself to a gyoto also, that way, when my girlfriend or visiting parent cooks I wouldn't have to stand over them quite so close if using the Wusthof set, damn that import tax!


I prefer the looks of the Masamoto VG to the MAC Pro, what are the main differences between the two?

post #6 of 14
you may find even better prices for the Wüsthof.
post #7 of 14

The Masamoto VG's profile is the same as a classic Sabatier's.  In other words, perfect.  The knife is lighter than the MAC Pro (good thing), but more flexible (bad thing.  In the past, Masamoto has had trouble with handle's shrinking, swelling and cracking, but they have gone to a POM handle which shouldn't have any of those problems.  They've also had problems with handle fitting.  The way to address that is having the dealer inspect the knife before it's shipped to you, or arranging some sort of exchange in advance, so you don't have to bear the freight for shipping a problem knife back for exchange -- just in case.  Otherwise the Masamoto handle is very comfortable.  The out of the box ranges from indifferent to good.  Usually there's enough of an adequate edge so the first sharpening doesn't require a complete profiling.


The MAC Pro has unusually good quality control, and ships with a sharp edge.  It has a very comfortable handle, slightly better than the Masamoto's in my opinion.  The knife handles very well, but not quite as well as the Masamoto.  It is much stiffer though, stiffer than just any other single-steel gyuto in its weight class.  That's something most western users appreciate.


The two knives are made from very similar alloys, probably some variant of VG2; grinds are similar too.  So, as you'd expect the knives have similar edge taking and edge holding properties -- falling in the good to very good range.  Both are sharpened to 15* (ish) on both sides.  Each benefits from thinning and micro-beveling; but neither needs it to perform well.  The Masamoto comes OOTB asymmetrically sharpened to around 70/30 righty; but can be moved to 50/50 (or lefty) very easily and stay very functional.  The MAC comes from the factory with 50/50 symmetry, but the user/sharpener can profile an asymmetric edge if desired -- with an increase in perceived sharpness but some loss of durability.  


Masamoto doesn't offer much in the way of a guaranty or after-sales support; if there are problems with the Masamoto you'll have to rely on the dealer.  MAC has an excellent warranty and excellent factory support if the retailer is problematic.  No Japanese maker offers Henckels level supprt, but MAC is as good as any of the others and far better than most.  However, if anything goes wrong your first option should be the dealer.  


If I were buying a mass produced, stainless, western-handled gyuto in this price range for myself, it would be a Masamoto VG for its profile.  However, I most often recommend MAC Pro for its other virtues. 



post #8 of 14

Hey Joe... where you going with that knife in your hand.... lol, sorry, couldn't help it once the greeting "Hey Joe" popped into my head. 


Anyway get a load of this:


I just stumbled across these guys' account on twitter, which reminded me of this thread because based on the URL alone I wondered if I'd found an as yet undiscovered  UK version of CKtG. Oh how wrong I was! Once I loaded the site and started reading I didn't know whether to laugh or be intrigued by what I'd discovered. I have very little knife knowledge. I ended up here at cheftalk via a google search in the process of trying to learn a little just a few days ago. To my ignorant eye some of the specs they mention look good and the pricing seems incredibly reasonable for damascus steel, but a line of knifes called "Naifu"? Are they for real or could this site be an April fools joke someone forgot to take down on April 2? Oh well, I started off with good intentions and now, if nothing else, maybe you and others will at least get a chuckle out of it. eek.gif biggrin.gif



post #9 of 14
Thread Starter 

I would prefer the Masamoto VG, I've got to admit, while perhaps not the best reason, the looks gave it the edge over the MAC, my main problem is finding a retailer that might be able to slip it past customs. Anything over £135 has to pay additional import tax along with VAT. It looks like JCK would be the best place to buy from, as the 240mm Gyoto works out just under £135 so I may get away with only having to pay VAT, if I have to pay anything 'fingers crossed'. How is the customer support from JCK? The only problem is, if I have to return it, I will need to ship it to America while L'ohira is based in England. It's a tough call, has anyone had any experience with either company?


MAC have sellers with stock in the UK, so I know the price on the site is what I will have to pay. If there is anyone looking for the MAC Pro range the cheapest site I have found in the UK is below.


I'm also looking at the Wusthof range, they seem to have 2 types in the IKON range, the IKON and IKON Classic, as far as I can tell, the only difference is the ebony wood handle on the more expensive version, are there any other differences in the blade?


Hey Tony, I don't know anything about the site but it's more likely just a bad name which they are over advertising. If I was buying damascus steel, the Hattori HD range is what I would go for.

post #10 of 14

Wusthof Ikon are among the best German knives.  Compared to most other brands (especially compared to most other brands' "classic" series), and compared to other Wusties, they at least nod to the Japanese revolution in that they're lighter and the chef's are profiled with slightly less belly.  Great quality control, great manufacturer's support, durable alloy, and all the manifold virtues of German knives.


But they are still heavy, dull quickly, can't take an acute edge, won't hold much polish, German knives.  If you want German, they're good.  Well, not Gude, but fine.  And parenthetically, Gude are good Germans too.  They don't really compare with MAC and Masamoto.  Apples and oranges.  



post #11 of 14
post #12 of 14
Thread Starter 

Update - I have found a UK seller with stock in the UK of the Masamoto series, so I am currently waiting delivery of the 240mm gyoto, I have to admit, I am a little excited.


I am looking to get a range of knives, is there any reason to not get the petty and boning knife from the VG series?

post #13 of 14

Could you post the url for the UK retailer with the Masamotos, so I can bookmark it?


Might be a good idea to hold off on the boning knife until you see whether or not you find that the petty does the same things as well.  I pretty much stopped using a traditionally French shaped boning knife when the 6" petty came into my life.  They're just about as agile, and soooooooooooooooooooo much easier to sharpen.  Just sayin' is all.


Also, if you use a boning knife to scrape up against bones (of course you do) you might want to go with something a little cheaper as well as more wear and chip resistant, like a stamped Victorinox.  Again, just sayin' is all. 


Neither is the one true answer -- but things to think about. 


For the little it's worth, I do most of my boning using a 6" T-I Nogent carbon Sab petty.  The US retailer lists it as a slicer, but it's... y'know... the same couteau office shape as a petty or utility.  My "big stuff" meat knife is a 10" Victorinox Fibrox.  FYI, we often call the stamped Victorinox knives "Forschners" here in the States.   



post #14 of 14
Thread Starter


I contacted them asking about import tax and they got back to me fairly quickly saying they have stock in London, although they did say it was limited. I would advice anyone to message them first as they were really helpful and even offered me a free delivery discount code. They said that, right now, they only have gyotos in stock in the UK, but they are expecting some petty knives (VG Masamoto) among others to be arriving in July.

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