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Looking for a good "first" knife.

post #1 of 74
Thread Starter 
As the topic title says, I'm currently looking for my "first" main knife. I already own a knife set, though the set (a chef's knife, a boning knife, and a paring knife) came from culinary school so I don't really count them. The chef's knife is an 8" one from Tramontina's Century Line. It's a good knife in my opinion but after working with it for over a year, schooling plus my current internship, I've managed to put together what I want/expect from a knife. I'm hoping to get some input as to which brands and/or models to look into to narrow my search to replace my current knife as my primary one while at work.

My two main concerns are thus.

First, I'm looking for a Santoku. I'm not that tall so keeping the tip of the knife on the chopping board while I slice vegetables and such is cumbersome at best. But with the curved edge of a chef's knife, the way I cut often leaves a small portion uncut, especially when I'm working quickly due to having a lot to do to prepare for the day or an event, meaning I end up wasting time going back to cut that small part when, and if, I notice my mistake. I've already tried my coworker's santoku so I know that the straighter edge works better for me.

Second is the handle. I've noticed when I hold the knife in a pinch grip that there's quite a lot of space between the handle and the palm of my hand. While a pinch grip does help me handle the knife better, the gap between my palm and the handle sometimes causes the knife to move around unnecessarily, usually when I've used the knife a lot that day and using the honing steel to realign the edge is no longer enough. I'm not sure how big an issue this really is but I just wanted to throw this in to see if there's a knife that addresses this issue. If not, then I'm open to any suggestions with regards to this. Maybe even taping padding to the handle to fill the gap? :P

Also, my friend sent me a picture of his knife. It was a Shun knife designed by Ken Onion. Leaving aside the Shun brand for now, I'm honestly not sure what to think about this one. The curved handle looks like it could solve my issue but at the same time just the look alone leaves me doubtful for some reason. Since none of the shops near me, or in nearby cities, carry this particular design, and my friend lives in another country, I have no way to actually trying to see if the knife will feel comfortable in my hands. And though my friend swears it works for him, I'd rather not spend $200+ on a knife I've never even tried to hold.

Other, somewhat minor details are the following. High carbon stainless steel, 7 inch blade (I feel that the 8 inch one I have now is just a hint too long), full tang, a full bolster (the half bolster knives' balance feels awkward to me), and a granton edge. Also, I've heard a bit about hollow edged knives. Is it true that while it does cut smoother by design, is the edge really more brittle than it's regular counterpart even if it was under the same brand/maker? As for price, I'd prefer one roughly around $150 but if the knife is worth its price I wouldn't mind paying more.

Probably a lot to ask but since it's going to be my primary knife at work once I get it, I want one that's worth the money spent in every possible way, realistically speaking of course.

So, any suggestions?
post #2 of 74

My first comment is you don't need to keep your knife tip down.  The shorter your knife is the higher an angle you have to raise your elbow and shoulder.  With a 7" knife, you'll get fatigued in no time... 


This is how to cut with sharp knives:



push, pull, sometimes up and down chop.  You only raise the knife as high as the product, and you don't need to move your elbow or shoulder at all.  If you learn to use this technique instead of rock chopping, a whole different world of knives opens up.


BTW there are other flat knives that are longer than santoku and have a tip.  Stay away from german profiles and look at more french or japanese.

post #3 of 74

That's one school of thought (the formerly linked video), but even in the European style of knife handling you shouldn't be having as much trouble as you describe.  As a slight aside: There are two really annoying things that folks do: scrape the board with their blade and (not seen in this video but unfortunately too common elsewhere) continually tap the board with the blade in either a "wind up" or to provide some sort of culinary punctuation.


Millions is right about the knife length.  I'd only add that it sounds to me as if you also need to further hone your knife skills.  Being short isn't easy (as I can attest) given the standard counter height. I find using a thin cutting board much better than a thick board.

post #4 of 74
Originally Posted by BrianShaw View Post

continually tap the board with the blade in either a "wind up"


You mean chopping imaginary product before they slide into the real product?  That one annoys me too.

post #5 of 74
Thread Starter 
Huh. I knew my knife skills were my weakest point but I didn't think it was this bad that I start thinking the knife was the problem. I'll definitely have to try this out before anything else so I don't end up wasting money on a new knife I probably won't need if this goes well.

Still, I've never seen anyone cut by pulling or pushing the knife in that exact manner before, neither at work nor at school, so it's something to at least consider.

But doesn't chopping up and down wear out the edge faster? At least I remember someone telling me that at some point.
post #6 of 74
Originally Posted by LeiCiel View Post

Huh. I knew my knife skills were my weakest point but I didn't think it was this bad that I start thinking the knife was the problem. I'll definitely have to try this out before anything else so I don't end up wasting money on a new knife I probably won't need if this goes well.

Still, I've never seen anyone cut by pulling or pushing the knife in that exact manner before, neither at work nor at school, so it's something to at least consider.

But doesn't chopping up and down wear out the edge faster? At least I remember someone telling me that at some point.

You were probably trained "in the European style". Many folks on these forums eschew the European style and German-form knives in lieu of the Japanese style. (And some eschew certain "commercialized" Japanese knives almost as a matter of dogma or sport despite some rather questionable sources of data/information.) 


Which is best you might ask - depends. It's up to you and what works best.


The theories on what wears out a knife more/faster seem to go both ways due to a diversity of opinion and the amount of micro-analysis conducted. All I know is that frequent and/or improper sharpening will wear out a knife a lot more than friction/pressure on a cutting board. But if one leads to the other...

post #7 of 74
I'm not advocating one way or the other. You asked about flatter profile knives, which are meant for push cutting, not rocking. All I want to highlight is that your work will be easier if your techniques and tools match. If you want to continue rock chopping, get something with more belly like a wusthof.
post #8 of 74

The guy in the video wasn't controlling his force all that well at times.  Sure chopping may wear things faster, but not that much faster if you control your force well.  Also, a really sharp knife will stick right into the board if you're using too much force, so you just learn to control it.


You can also use a very slight pull while chopping and not loose any real speed.  The slight pull can make a big difference in cutting force, and is especially noticeable in cutting things like tomatoes, and hard oinions also.


I was loathe at first to use my sharp knife for chopping but now bottom line I think - chopping is faster so you can afford to sharpen more often.




post #9 of 74

Periodically I teach kids how to cook.  About half of the course is sanitation and knife skills. I constantly preach what Rick says about controlling force and making knife move in two directions at the same time when cutting.

post #10 of 74

LeiCiel, the classic German rocking motion with the tip perpetually on the board is just one of several approaches to chopping. Different techniques work better for different cooks, knives, and food items. Here's a bit of an overview of the various chopping techniques. I don't have the most experienced knife skills myself, so use this more as a starting point than a tutorial.


Virtually all chopping techniques are a combination of one or more of the following three motions: down, forward, and rock. By "rock" I mean moving the knife in the circular direction defined by the tip lifting up and the heel going down. Think of these three motions as being akin to mother sauces. Not all are used on their own. Here are the main chopping techniques derived from those motions:


1. Classic German - Just uses the rocking motion. Commonly seen with German profile knives since they have a lot of belly. Keeping the tip of the knife on the board, you lower the handle, causing the blade to guillotine the food between the edge and the board.


2. Classic French - Uses a combination of down, rock, and forward. Commonly seen with French/Japanese profile chef's knives but also with santoku. Former CT contributor BDL, who calls this "guillotine and glide", details it here: http://www.cookfoodgood.com/?p=405


3. Forward glide - A combination of forward and down. The part of the edge that will make the cut starts and stays parallel to the board. Commonly seen with thin Chinese "cleavers" but also with santoku and French profile chef's knives. MillionsKnives refers to this as a "push cut" above. That term isn't universal (nor is any chopping terminology) and the aforementioned BDL, among others, uses "push cut" to refer to #4. (Those who refer to this forward action as a "push cut" often call the slicing action in which you draw the tip of the knife towards you a "pull cut". Note that I'm not including that technique on this list since slicing often serves a different purpose from chopping and isn't interchangeable with the chopping techniques listed here, although it's sometimes usable and useful in place of chopping, such as with tomatoes when your knife has a toothy edge.)


4. Straight up and down - Called a "push cut" by some, this requires a *very* sharp edge with a high degree of polish. It's typically seen with a santoku, a gyuto, or a sujihiki that's being used as a main knife.


#2 is easy to do quietly. #4 is loud. #2 and #3 probably do less wear to your knife than #1. I don't know about #4.


This probably goes without saying, but these are just four labeled categories--Platonic ideals if you will. Not all cooks always use a technique that falls squarely into one of these four buckets. One might do an almost straight down chop but with a tiny move forward. One might start with the tip lower than the heel and do a mostly straight down chop with a small guillotine/rocking action. Different food items often work better with slightly different techniques. The important thing is to do what's comfortable given your knife and the food you're cutting.

post #11 of 74
Thread Starter 
Well, I just spent a few hours cutting vegetables for lunch, and probably again for dinner later, by both pulling and pushing. It felt alright, not awkward but just different. It's to be expected since I've used the same cutting motions for a few years now so I'll probably keep using them for a few more days before I decide to change how I work. I've never been a user of the rock chop, could never manage it properly actually, so I've always lifted up the whole knife. The motions were like the rock chop, only without the tip staying on the chopping board. But regardless, I'll probably switch to a knife with a straighter edge like I intended. So any recommendations in that departments?
post #12 of 74

It sounds like your previous technique was something in the neighborhood of #2 in my above post, but perhaps without the push forward in the second half. If I'm reading your original post right, it sounds like you have the accordion issue where some cuts don't go fully through the food. That push forward on the tail end of the rock should prevent that. I highly recommend reading that blog entry I linked to and trying it out with your knife. If you like it, we can confidently narrow your knife choices to French profile chef's knives or Japanese gyutos. They are much flatter than your Tramontina but still have enough belly to perform the rock/guillotine action easily. They also work just about as well as santoku for straight down push cutting. If you're not sure how you feel about that French technique, French profile chef's knives/gyutos are still good for straight down and forward-and-down chopping techniques. They're very versatile.


If you find after trying that French technique that you definitely prefer keeping the knife parallel to the board without much or any rock, then we should talk about santoku and Chinese "cleaver" [1] options. Unless you intend to keep your santoku insanely polished (sharper than I keep my laser gyuto) and touch it up all the time, you probably won't be doing a literal straight down chop. You'll probably use some form of rock or forward motion as in #3 above or maybe the slight backward chop that I now see Rick Alan mentioned above. If you're not doing a straight down cut off of a scary sharp toothless edge, you'll probably find that the extra distance from spine to edge on a Chinese cleaver gives you better leverage than a santoku and an easier time gauging thickness for consistent cuts. For what it's worth, in another thread MillionKnives made it sound like he's becoming a cleaver convert.


I look forward to hearing your report if you give the "guillotine and glide" technique a try!



[1] I put "cleaver" in quotes because I'm not talking about a thick meat cleaver but rather the cleaver-shaped Chinese equivalent of a chef's knife. The ones you might be interested in come in roughly two size ranges: (i) very thin and light with a blade length of around 180-215mm and (ii) pretty thin but heavier with a blade length of around 215-230mm. The CCK 1303 is probably the canonical example of the former, and the CCK 1103 is an example of the latter. The Chinese cleaver is called "chukabocho" in Japanese, and there are some very high end Japanese versions, especially in that larger size.

post #13 of 74
I worked a bbq catering event this past weekend. I brought a whole bag of knives and I used only 4 (had some backups and loaners)

Cck 1303 and itinomonn 240 kasumi did all the veg for 40 lbs of coleslaw and for stuff for the baked beans. If the cck was longer I would have used it for cabbage too. Cabbages, carrot, bell pepper, onions, jalapenos.

Itinomonn wa butcher trimmed 60 racks of ribs. Im real impressed how well it held up. Victorinox boning would have needed more and more steelimg with diminishing returns. Also chopped the ribs after.

Kochi 270 suji sliced briskets. Had trouble with the bark on some, but also they were overcooked and falling apart, cooked to 220 internal temp oh boy... extra thick slices

While other people were doing dessert and tending smokers, I did most of the knife work. I had help, but he cut his thumb bad early on.

Anyway yeah I like cleavers smile.gif
Edited by MillionsKnives - 6/16/15 at 4:42pm
post #14 of 74
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by Gladius View Post

It sounds like your previous technique was something in the neighborhood of #2 in my above post, but perhaps without the push forward in the second half. If I'm reading your original post right, it sounds like you have the accordion issue where some cuts don't go fully through the food. That push forward on the tail end of the rock should prevent that.

That's pretty much on the spot with regards to my technique. Once the edge near the bolster hits the chopping board I tend to lift the knife up and move on to the next stroke. I saw the post earlier so I tried adding that extra push at the end while prepping dinner earlier instead of trying the push cut and pull cut again. Again it felt different since I'm not used to it but I was able to cut up everything I needed at close to full speed without leaving anything improperly cut. Needless to say that solves that part of my problem.

As for a knife, I'm not really fond of the simple up down cutting motion, I really don't like the thought of what that would do to the knife's edge over time. Even if I control how much force I put into it to minimize the impact with the cutting board, eventually I'd need to speed up on busier days so I can't afford to baby the knife just because I worry about the edge.

So between the French chef knife, the gyuto, the santoku, and the Chinese cleaver, how would you guys rate them? The first two seem to be very similar in shape and blade width so are there anything significant differences between then? I haven't used a santoku for a proper length of time, just enough to know that I prefer the straighter edge, so between this and a gyuto/French chef knife, does the width of the blade make much of a difference? As for the Chinese cleaver, how does the extra length from spine to edge add more leverage and help judge the width of a cut?

Sorry to throw in all these question. I'm just the kind of guy who needs to understand the reason behind something otherwise I can't sleep :P.

And honestly, I've always been curious about using a cleaver as a main knife instead of a chef's knife. My uncle actually only owns two knives. A paring knife, and a cleaver. Asides from things that only the paring knife could do properly, he uses the cleaver for everything. From chopping, to filleting, and even de-boning a whole chicken. So yeah, I've been halfway to being a cleaver convert, even if it isn't a Chinese cleaver, ever since I was a teen.
post #15 of 74
Not much difference from french to gyuto technique. The differences are weight, hardness, and maintenance (no honing steel for gyutos, xcept ceramic maybe...not for me). Here is what got me trying cleavers: http://www.kitchenknifeforums.com/showthread.php/5319-Discourse-on-why-I-love-Chinese-Cleavers-re-post I would add they are real efficient. I never lift the cleaver higher than necessary for any cut. The flat front end doubles as spatula to lift up what you've chopped. You can crush garlic and ginger in one motion. Watch some martin yan videos on that one. And finally, I think it has great control on horizontal cuts that you dont see on the other knives. Love it or not, its something you have to try to know. The cutting performance will be better thsn anything you've used. Whether it's your style or not is a different question. You could always find a buyer for cck I think. If I had to do it again, id get the full sized cck kf1301 from chefsmall over small cleaver 1303
post #16 of 74
Thread Starter 
No honing steel for the gyuto? How come?

How are cck knives in terms of edge retention considering these are carbon steel knives rather than the more common carbon stainless steel seen elsewhere? I mean, will it go through a full day of use cutting meats, fruits and vegetables without needing to be honed or sharpened countless times throughout the day, provided it's properly used and taken care of during the day?
post #17 of 74
  1. Why shouldn't you use honing steels on gyutos?  Why use a honing steel at all? The honing steel applies pressure from the side.  On softer steel, it realigns the edge.  On a harder steel, it could chip your edge.  Harder steels don't bend like softer ones do.  They'll either stay straight or they'll chip.   So a honing steel 1) does nothing for you 2) risks damage
  2. All steels are alloy of carbon and iron.  "Stainless steel" alloys have some other metals to make it non reactive.  "Carbon steel" is a general term for non stainless because idk guessing .  Typically carbon steels keep their edge better than stainless and are easier to sharpen.  When we throw these terms around, it's not scientific, it's just industry standard jargon.
  3. Since the CCK cleaver is so thin, it has a lot of apparent sharpness.  Even if the edge degrades somewhat, it will still cut stuff.   It lasted me all day, no stropping, no honing, no touchups on stones.  I bet it would last another day.   A quick touchup on finishing stones (this is my preference for maintenance between full on sharpening) brings it back to screaming sharp.  As far as reactivity, it is one of the less reactive carbon steels.  I cut onions no problem, no discoloration.  I haven't even built up a patina yet.  I'm not saying to go cut lemons with it and leave it all day, but in normal usage cutting onions, I had no problems.  I cut a lot of onions and shallot...
post #18 of 74
About the eternal honing / steeling discussion: why would you want to redress an edge that has failed? Fatigued steel should got abraded, not redressed. Once you've used ANY rod, don't put it away, you will need it again after just a few cuts. Because your new edge is made of fatigued steel and will fail again in no time.
Better put an edge on your blade that doesn't fail within a shift. A fat microbevel perhaps?
post #19 of 74

It is only recently that I've been doing lots of board contact with my main knife, and the results are  bit of a revelation here in terms of fatigued steel.  I wound up have to remove a considerable amount more than usual from the edge before experiencing a burr that was reasonable to deal with.


I recall Benuser saying he had to remove a couple millimeters from the edge of a knife that had seen heavy steeling in order to fix the same problem.


My mud-binders don't take to dry-stropping at all, I really should stop procrastinating now and put together some diamond loaded strops.  I've been meaning to do it for a while now in order to get a more refined edge.




post #20 of 74
Thanks, Rick, but that was about a soft French carbon that had got steeled for some fourty years! But indeed, steeling will only fatigue a bit further.
Having fresh steel is hardly an issue with carbons, as they have such a low abrasion resistance. With stainless though, you should indeed make sure to get fresh steel.
post #21 of 74
Thread Starter 
So rather than using a honing steel repeatedly during the day, a quick touch up on a finishing stone at the end of the day would be better then? Am I understanding this right?
post #22 of 74

More or less!  BUT How often you need to touch up will vary.   Since you're using this knife all day, you will know when it needs a touch up.  I guess at that point your options are something like 1) ride it out until you have downtime 2) pull out your backup knife 3) ceramic honing rod


If we're talking carbon steel and a splash and go stone, touch up is only a few strokes on each side.  Altogether less than a minute.  Stainless is a little more abrasion resistent, but still not too much time.


For real sharpening, going down to coarser stones, raising burr, deburr, etc., up the progression of grits, this varies too.  Some people do it weekly, others can go a month or more.

post #23 of 74
Thread Starter 
I guess for now I'll move on to either a French chef knife or a gyuto. While interesting, and definitely something I'll need to try in the future, I'm not familiar enough with the feel of a cleaver and since we have a ton of weddings, concerts, and other events scheduled for the next two months at least, I'd rather stick to something I'm more familiar with in the meantime. So any recommendations in the way of a gyuto or a French chef knife?
post #24 of 74

Price range?   Carbon or stainless?  Handle style preference western or wa handle? Length? Where are you located? Left or right handed? 

post #25 of 74
Thread Starter 
Around $150 at most, I'm not really looking for a big name knife as opposed to one that lasts long, edgewise and in general. But if it's worth it I may go higher.

Carbon since I cut tons of fruits, vegetables and meats at least four days a week so I need the edge to last long and easily maintained during the day if need be. Unless you know a high carbon stainless steel knife that suits my needs.

Either handle works for me.

Length eight or nine inches. The knife of course.


Right handed.
post #26 of 74

I find it helpful with carbon steel to order the prep list least acidic to more acidic.   So meats first, then normal vegetables carrots potatoes, not very acidic fruits,  onions near the end (pyruvic acid), then citrus.  By the time you get past meat you should have a good patina going.  And yeah for onions and citrus you need to wipe more.


You can keep a wet and dry towel around like this:




First, for $30 you can pick up a vintage forgecraft off ebay.  You will need to spend a few hours thinning it on a coarse stone to make it cut acceptably.  I've restored three of these myself for gifts.  I like this better than vintage sabatiers because the steel is a bit harder.  It's a bit of a project, but you end up with a very comfortable knife that can be used for hours, for not much money. 


Now, closer to your budget, this one is $135.  I have bought a lot of knives under $150 for myself or for gifts and you can get some duds in this price range.  I've got bent knives, wavy grinds, lots of problems.   Buying from a good vendor will save you the headache of return shipping.  This is not a flashy knife, it's the house brand, made by yoshihiro with some extra specs by Jon.  Good quality control, good grind, easy to sharpen white steel.  Free shipping in the US.






I really like the Itinomonn from japanese natural stones a lot, but it's over your price range and also out of stock.


In your price range some stainless worth looking at are:

Gonbei hammered damascus

Gesshin Uraku stainless


From JCK, the AUS-10 hiromoto

post #27 of 74

I'd second the suggestion for the Gesshin Uraku or perhaps the newer yo-handled Gesshin Stainless (http://www.japaneseknifeimports.com/gesshin/gesshin-specials/gesshin-240mm-stainless-gyuto.html). Both should have significantly better edge retention than you're used to, and unlike French carbons, that means actual edge retention rather than "lasts a month between sharpening as long as you're willing to steel the edge the five or so times a day that it goes out of true."


As MillionsKnives said, you might also want to look at the recently popular Hiromoto AUS-10 gyuto on JCK. The profile looks almost as flat as the Hiromoto santoku, so I'm not sure how suitable you'll find it for that French chopping action, but it's only 110 USD for the 240mm and it's made from an interesting stainless alloy. It might be worth looking into. Benuser could tell you more about its edge properties. There's also JCK's CarboNext for $128, which is made from a semi-stainless alloy that should feel very similar to carbon on the stones. A lot of people like it, but do note that it has a reputation for inconsistent grind and terrible OOTB sharpness. The latter might not be a concern for you (or it might), and inconsistent grind is pretty common on <$150 knives, but JKI's Gesshin knives mentioned above are known for excellent grind and F&F for the price point.

post #28 of 74
Thread Starter 
Is it weird for me to prefer to buy the Hiromoto one partly because he's retiring and I want one of his last knives? It's not a bad knife by any means but I'm certainly leaning towards it partly because it's one of the last. :P
post #29 of 74

Not weird.  Also this is a stainless clad (best of both worlds really) aogami super on buy/sell/trade forum: 




Those stopped production almost a year ago. 

post #30 of 74
That's as good of a reason as any!
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