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Advice on knife purchases... stepping up?

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 

I have been enlightened by folks on this forum (and a few others). Now I’m here to ask you all for some advice. I have gotten some money that I’d like to use to buy some knives I’ve been wanting. I knew what I wanted, until I looked for a discount code for the company and came across these wonderfully informative forums. I’ve been thrilled with my knives for 13 years, but now I find out there’s something better; and maybe for the same price.

 

I’m at the age and place in life that I want to buy the best for my needs and I want to buy things that are going to last. As I’ve replaced items and added items to my kitchen I’ve researched my purchases extensively. When I bought my knives, I was not as wise, and didn’t even think of researching. The young man sat in my kitchen telling me all about them and I said “Wait. I want to USE the knives.” I pulled out all kinds of fruits and veggies from my frig and was amazed at how easy it was to cut with these (expensive) knives. I had always used serrated knives because I’d never met a straight edge knife in anyone’s kitchen that could cut. I had a few 6” fine serrated knives, one serrated paring knife, a bread knife, and a serrated butcher knife that was really difficult to use. I’d been using knives like these for 16 years. It was all I knew. I replaced them all that day with those expensive knives the young man was selling. I don’t regret my purchase, though I now know I could’ve done better. I didn’t know that then.

 

Now I’m debating whether to just stick to the brand I have and get the few other knives that I want or begin replacing them with something else. I like having my knives match, but I think I could get over that. That sounds silly just typing it out... if I know there’s something better for the same price, why wouldn’t I try it?

 

So, here’s my situation: I cook for a family of seven. My three oldest are often helping in the kitchen. They are all adept at using our current knives. Since I also homeschool, we’re making three meals a day for everyone. We use our knives a lot. We eat a lot of fruits and veggies and make almost everything from scratch. We cut almost no raw meat. I read somewhere that the Japanese knives are better at veggies than German knives, so that’s what I was considering. I also read that the Japanese knives hold an edge longer. That’s a plus to me. I don’t have any incredible knife skills, but I’m cutting a lot of stuff every day. I’ve stuck with using 6” serrated knives because they’ve worked. I’ve read all the posts that say you should do almost everything with a chef’s knife, but I never used one except for melons and such. Even with my supposedly great, expensive chef’s knife, I can’t slice an onion very straight. I guess if I had a knife that worked, I might enjoy re-learning how to cut, rather than using a smaller knife for everything.

 

After all my reading on the forums (for two days now), I’m thinking a lower priced Japanese knife might be what I want to try. MAC Pro, Tojiro, Fujiwara (only big knives?). I don’t know about Shun prices. Some folks have said they’re not worth the extra price.

 

I know I need to hold the knives before I decide. I was just wondering if you think these brands might be a good fit for my needs or if there are any others. Do you all think it’s better to try a Japanese knife? As far as sharpening, my husband’s face lit up at the thought of learning a new skill (he’s a tinkering kind of handy man). Actually, I probably wouldn’t notice them getting dull for a while since it’s been 13 years and I’ve never sent my knives in for free sharpening (gasp). I have noticed a difference lately, though, so I’m going to send them in soon.

 

If I were to buy just one knife, to see what I’ve been missing/whether I would like something better than the knives I have; would you recommend getting a larger (chef/gyuto) knife or a utility/petty knife, since that’s the size I’m used to working with? I think I might like the santoku style.

 

Some other questions:

 

Do you recommend NOT storing knives in a block? What about cutting on plastic mats? Those have been so handy because we can just put them in the dishwasher and don’t have to wash off a cutting board (what seems like) ten times a day.

 

I would also like to get a decent cleaver for my husband. He smokes pork and would like to have a cleaver to chop it after it’s off the bone. Should I just try to find one at a local Chinese grocery, as some have suggested? It doesn’t need to be the best thing, but it’d be nice if it held up for years to come.

 

And I just remembered... My husband uses a Rapala filet knife. If there’s something nicer/better out there, that would make a nice Father’s Day gift. Any ideas on that?

 

I hope all this has made sense. I’m looking forward to your input. I have been amazed at the wealth of information I’ve found on these forums! It’s a world (of knives and metals) I never knew existed. My husband’s a mechanic and he knows the value of a quality tool.

 

Thanks for any advice.

post #2 of 13

If you're going to try one knife, this is it:

 

http://www.japaneseknifeimports.com/kitchen-knives-14/kitchen-knives/gesshin-uraku/gesshin-uraku-240mm-stainless-wa-gyuto.html

 

You can decide if you like it or not (you will).  More than that, you can decide on longer, shorter, thinner, thicker, knives based on this.  Also it's stainless, so the learning curve of maintenance is less.

 

For your husband:

 

http://www.japanesenaturalstones.com/itinomonn-kurouchi-170mm-wa-butcher/

 

This is for cutting around bones, any time I need to go through bones, I use a bone saw, but not often.  I think like 2 cuts, spine, and ribs,  when breaking down a whole pig.  This one IS carbon steel and needs to be cleaned and dried immediately after use.  For a dedicated meat knife though it should pick up patina quickly.

post #3 of 13

One thing came to my attention: the lack of real enthusiasm by you about sharpening.

 

It's good if your husband wants to learn how to sharpen.

 

Frankly, sharpening will be the key as to whether or not any new knives (or even the knives you already have) will work well for you.

 

Because it doesn't matter what new knife you get, if you don't keep it sharp.  The truth is, all knives get dull with use.  And the only way to keep a knife sharp without getting it sharp is to never use it.  It's just a fact of life.  

 

As for sending your good knives out to be sharpened, you are taking your chances with whether the knife will be damaged after going to a "professional" sharpener.  I've seen too many damaged edges after they were returned from so-called professionals.  Save your time and money (and probably your existing knives) by learning to sharpen your own knives (or let your husband do it)

 

I would first suggest you get some good water stones.  Chef Knives to Go offers a 3-stone basic kit for $139.95, which has a 500 grit stone for repairs, a 1200 grit stone for general sharpening and a 5000 grit stone for fine polishing of the edge to bring that edge to a sharper level.  These are water stones, which use water as the basic lubricant and are as good an introduction to hand sharpening as any other set.  The link is:  http://www.chefknivestogo.com/3pcstoneset.html

 

Next, get a really good honing rod.  My flat-out recommendation is also from Chef Knives to Go: the 12 inch Idahone.  It's $32, and will stretch the time between sharpening sessions out much longer.  The primary drawback is that it's ceramic.  Drop it and it shatters.  It does have a ring, so it can be safely hung up.  The link is:http://www.chefknivestogo.com/sharpeningrod.html   I have linked to the black-handled version - there's a light-handled version as well, if you would prefer that instead, for the same price.

 

Then, read this:  http://forums.egullet.org/topic/26036-knife-maintenance-and-sharpening/

 

Chad Ward gives a good introduction to sharpening.  This is a distillation of his 2006 book, An Edge in the Kitchen.  The book is also good reading, and many libraries will have it (or can get it through interlibrary loan).

 

Then: watch Jon Broida, one of the best experts anywhere on knife sharpening, go through various steps and aspects of sharpening:

 

https://www.youtube.com/user/JKnifeImports

 

That, in a nutshell, is a fast basic recommended list of items, reading material and videos.

 

I would first suggest you and/or your husband learn sharpening, before thinking about getting a new knife.  Sharpen your existing knives and use them, before buying something new.  See how they work when kept sharp.

 

However, once you do decide on an upgrade, my suggestion is that you should get a workhorse knife that will do most of the work in the kitchen: a chef's knife that's large enough to do the job.  Think at least 240 mm for the blade length (about 9-1/2 inch).  The style I would recommend is the Japanese version of a French classic chef"s knife, known as a gyuto.

 

But, I think that might be a little bit down the road for you.  Learning to sharpen should be the priority.

 

Just a note on cleavers, especially Chinese ones.  Many Chinese cleavers, more properly known as "broad knives", are not really hackers - they are slicers, and in the hands of experts can do wonders.  But slicers are definitely not whackers.  If you want a good western-style whacker of a cleaver, consider the Dexter Russell S5288.  It's a monster, weighs 2.75 lbs (according to one Amazon.com reviewer) and is capable of chopping through almost anything.  Two caveats - first, you will need a sturdy work location, because the force from chopping can and likely will demolish any flimsy table or board you are working on, and second, the blade is carbon steel, so it needs to have a patina set into the surface before first use.

 

Hope that helps.

 

 

Galley Swiller

post #4 of 13
... So what brand knife and which knives specifically have you been happy with?

For chopping smoked pork any big chef knife will work. A Chinese cleaver is good because it has wider
Surface for lifting the chopped meat not a plate but that's about the only real benefit.

I'd suggest that pulling is better than chopping but I realize the regional opinions prevail so I shall refrain from starting that discussion.
post #5 of 13
Thread Starter 

Thank you all for your time, suggestions, and links!

 

Quote:

Originally Posted by Galley Swiller View Post
 

One thing came to my attention: the lack of real enthusiasm by you about sharpening.  Yes, adding one more think to my life isn't initially exciting to me.  However, I can imagine that I would enjoy sharpening my knives at some point.  In the meantime, I totally trust my husband in learning the skill and teaching me.  For him, it would be actually enjoyable.  We will be reading and watching the links you gave.

 

I would first suggest you and/or your husband learn sharpening, before thinking about getting a new knife.  Sharpen your existing knives and use them, before buying something new.  See how they work when kept sharp.  Good suggestion.  A bit of a bubble burst, but wise advice.  Can we use wet stones for 440A or does that require something different? 

Quote:
Originally Posted by BrianShaw View Post

... So what brand knife and which knives specifically have you been happy with?  I've read so many negative comments on these kind of forums that I hated to say the name.  I have Cutco knives.

For chopping smoked pork any big chef knife will work. A Chinese cleaver is good because it has wider
Surface for lifting the chopped meat not a plate but that's about the only real benefit.

I'd suggest that pulling is better than chopping but I realize the regional opinions prevail so I shall refrain from starting that discussion.  We do pull the pork off, but it's sometimes nicer to chop it afterward so it doesn't all pull out of the sandwich when you take one bite.  I think hubby could do with a chef's knife, which I already have, since he wouldn't be needing it that often.  I didn't realize there were strong opinions on that!?
post #6 of 13
Realize one thing. The knife experts on these forums tend to be extremists and zealots. Great guys and really smart and I have a lot of respect for them, but they tend to be on the fringe where surgical capability is the minimum requirement. In practical applications less is possible and sometimes less is more. If Cutco works for you that's great. If you want better, that's great too. Think through your real needs and consider the advise accordingly. I like Henkels 4star and Shun... and can cook better than most so "less than the best" isn't really a problem. A lot of very experienced and professional chefs (as well as a whole lot of home cooks) do not use or need Japanese knives or Japanese cutting techniques or the most technologically advanced steel honed to the finest edge possible without requiring the use of specially-made abrasive fairydust to practice their craft in a very effective manner. But no matter, heed their advise to have a sharpening plan. Again, it need not be extreme but it does need to be effective. For many years I used a pro service with great success and did really crappy self sharpening. Different strokes for different folks!

p.s. For sandwiches I tend to chop too... and I use a Dexter Chinese cleaver just because it make loading the bun faster/easier than when chopping with a chef knife. smile.gif
Edited by BrianShaw - 4/17/15 at 7:32am
post #7 of 13

Knives and stones are taken care of for the moment, I'd just say you'd want a 240 chefs, and a 240 slicer/sujihiki also as it fits your current usage as you seem to describe it.  But a good chefs will excel at breaking down root veggies, large onions, etc, essentially anywhere you need to get a good grip and/or the benefit of knuckle clearance.  A nice 6" utility knife maybe also and thin edge parers might eventually want to go in there also.

 

Considering boards there are a few companies that sell quality end grain (preferred), and many that have good edge-grain boards (still very acceptable and much better than typical plastic and bamboo).  There are certain woods you want to stay away from like acacia and teak, they are abrasive.

 

There are the new synthetics which I know nothing about but are thought highly off by some real experts:

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_2?url=search-alias%3Dgarden&field-keywords=Hi-Soft%20Cutting%20Board

 

Size is another matter, considering your volume that would be a 24" X 18", or similar square footage.  The synthetics run narrower and longer it seems.

 

 

Rick


Edited by Rick Alan - 4/17/15 at 7:47am
post #8 of 13

As long as one person in the household is willing to sharpen, then that's fine.  At that point, the need is covered.  Two would be really great, but it's the first who will be essential.

 

Wet stones will work with any steel.  The only issue here is that for blades which have been hardened to a Rockwell "C" Scale hardness ("hRc") of 58 or more, such as with better Japanese knives, where it's good to finish at a higher grit number, which gives an edge which is smoother in profile and actually sharper.

 

Depending on how it was heat treated, generally 440A steel is usually not hardened to 58 hRc, and so is good up to about 1000 grit.  Finer than that and it will polish the edge, but the polish won't last that long.  If you are going to practice sharpening first with 440A, then getting a 1000 grit stone for general sharpening and something between 400 and 500 grit for repairs is a good way to start out.  You can probably wait until you get something like a good Japanese knife before getting a 5000 grit stone.

 

Especially withknives with softer steels, getting and using the honing rod will also be more essential.  Again, the Idahone fine rod is the flat-out recommendation.  It will probably stretch out your time between sharpening sessions several fold.

 

Hope that helps.

 

 

Galley Swiller

post #9 of 13
Thread Starter 

Thank you again!  I am going to start by using some of my money for sharpening stones & a rod.  We'll learn to sharpen and I'll watch some videos on cutting techniques.  I have been cooking mostly vegetarian for 25 years, but I know I'm not getting the best results with the way I cut.  I want to be able to cut faster.  You'd think after all these years, I could :o  I am better than some I've seen, though.  I did work in several restaurants during my college years.  That helped.  I guess I'll put the rest of my money back in "the sock drawer" for the future.  I definitely want to to get the experience of a Japanese blade some time.

 

All this started by googling for a coupon code for Cutco because I wanted to add a few more knives.  With four or five of us cutting at the same time, which happens frequently, I could use a few more.

 

You all are a wealth of information and very kind to help me out!

post #10 of 13
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Galley Swiller View Post
 

As long as one person in the household is willing to sharpen, then that's fine.  At that point, the need is covered.  Two would be really great, but it's the first who will be essential.

 

Wet stones will work with any steel.  The only issue here is that for blades which have been hardened to a Rockwell "C" Scale hardness ("hRc") of 58 or more, such as with better Japanese knives, where it's good to finish at a higher grit number, which gives an edge which is smoother in profile and actually sharper.

 

Depending on how it was heat treated, generally 440A steel is usually not hardened to 58 hRc, and so is good up to about 1000 grit.  Finer than that and it will polish the edge, but the polish won't last that long.  If you are going to practice sharpening first with 440A, then getting a 1000 grit stone for general sharpening and something between 400 and 500 grit for repairs is a good way to start out.  You can probably wait until you get something like a good Japanese knife before getting a 5000 grit stone.

 

Especially withknives with softer steels, getting and using the honing rod will also be more essential.  Again, the Idahone fine rod is the flat-out recommendation.  It will probably stretch out your time between sharpening sessions several fold.

 

Hope that helps.

 

 

Galley Swiller


If I get 500 and 1000 grit stones now (and a rod) I understand I would need a 5000 grit if/when I got a Japanese knife.  I wouldn't need the 1200 that's in that kit, too, would I; if I already had a 1000?

post #11 of 13

I finish all of my knives at very high grit, including cheap stainless, I feel they stay sharper longer.  The Idahone will actually leave a finish in excess of 3K, as I understand it.

 

Your husband my want to buy stones  individual, and you certainly can take a little time deciding here.

 

Iminishi makes a combination stone that is 400/1000.

 

CKTG used to offer a kit with 400, 2K and 8K, all very good stones, out of curiosity I'm going to email them and see if they will still put that together.  That is the direction I personally would go in, but that's me.

 

There are stones that cut very fast, dish slowly, and leave a superior finish.  They cost more of course.

 

Bottom line as I see it for you at the moment:  Stones are important, quality/price to consider - but knives are a lot more exciting than stones.

 

 

Rick

post #12 of 13

As for a 5000 grit stone, it's up to you whether you would use them on a cheap steel knife.  Personally, I don;t see much difference in length of time between sharpenings  when I sharpen a cheap steel knife up to 5000, than when I just take it to 1000.  Others may find a difference.

 

Using the Idahone is different.  There is a significant and noticeable difference in using an Idahone, rather than not using it.

 

Generally, the difference between 1000 and 1200 is considered as minimal.  As shorthand, I usually just write "1000" or "1K", rather than write out "800 to 1200".  Laziness on my part.  So, if you have (or see in an offered kit) a 1200 grit stone, that would also cover having or getting a 1000 grit stone.  

 

Certainly, once you do decide on trying a good Japanese knife, then a 5000 grit stone will certainly come into its own.

 

 

Galley Swiller

post #13 of 13
In addition only to Galley: with harder stainless as the Japanese, you will need a high-grit stone for deburring, and touching up, even if you don't want a highly polished edge. The same with both soft and hard carbon steel, but there it's less imperative, as deburring is so much easier. But with some carbons you may want to achieve a very refined edge.
Edited by Benuser - 4/20/15 at 11:08am
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