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Intermediate Home Cook with Culinary Degree Looking for a Knife block set

post #1 of 20
Thread Starter 



I am a food service professional with a degreen in culinary arts.  Most of the cooking I do is done at home, since I am a kitchen manager where I work, I mostly oversee menu development, staff performance and customer satisfaction, however I do occasionally do some cooking at work as well. Nothing I do is heavy duty, I use all pre-cut meats, so I don't need a knife that can withstand cutting through bone, generally.  I would say I have above average knife skills and I do a lot of chopping and filleting.  I LOVE the hammered look and am familiar with the Shun Premier knives, but have read mixed reviews on them.  Can anyone recommend another brand/set with the hammered look? Also, non-hammered?  I don't have a preference re: country of origin.  I know a lot about knives is preference, but I feel like most of my knowledge of good kitchen cutlery is mostly mainstream.  Can anyone shed some insight as to what the difference is between Damascus steel and carbon steel?  


This will be a huge investment for me so I want to make sure I make the right decision!


Thank you in advance!!


post #2 of 20

Carbon steel is reactive and can rust if you don't treat it right.  It's alive and it demands attention.  In return you are rewarded with easy sharpening, better edge retention, and generally harder steels that can hold more acute angles.


The opposite of carbon steel is "stainless".  Nothing is really stainless only more stain resistant.  It will all rust eventually if you mistreat it.


Damascus in the price range you're looking at is just a cosmetic cladding over the core steel that your cutting edge is made out of.


Everyone has priorities and no one can tell you what yours are.  Maybe it is helpful for you to rank  maintenance,  looks, price/performance


Personally I'd drop the looks for the other two

post #3 of 20
Just to add: in comparison to stainless, the carbons' grain is much smaller, and their sharpness is higher with an identical edge geometry.
post #4 of 20

And then of course you have to think about how you will keep these sharp.  And along with that:


During the times you help out, about how many hours would you typically spend doing prep?


What particular knives do you feel you need enough to spend money on?  A chefs/gyuto, slicer/sujihiki (I suppose you can decide yourself how big), 6" utility/petty and pairing knife are all easy enough to get in stainless hammered Damascus with good performance.


As separate items we could recommend sources for more conventional bread knives, particular-purpose filet knives and the like.





post #5 of 20

Welcome to Cheftalk - do you have a handle preference?  Wa (Japanese style stick handle), or Yo (Western style handle)?  Since you are state side there are a couple of good vendors you can check out.  JKI -  Jon is also a member here and CKTG - check out the close out section here -  A lot of us are going to  try to dissuade you from buying a block set.  The reason being too much redundancy and knives you might not even use.  

post #6 of 20
Thread Starter 
I have to be honest, my knowledge of good cutlery is minimal. I have a Shun Elite Santoku, which I've had for about 5 years and I like, when it's sharp, but I find that it pits easily, is not as heavy as I like and does not maintain its edge as well as I would like. So, I guess from a lot of the questions posed above, I can say the following:

-I haven't a clue re: handles. I believe I know what you mean in regards to Japanese style vs. Western Style, and I do tend to like Western Style handles better. Any thoughts as to whether wood vs. acrylic vs. resin vs. various other materials may be more appealing?

-I would love a knife that has relatively good edge retention, as I don't really have any back up knives to be sending them away or being without them for a day or two and outside of work, I don't get out much because I have two little ones under 3!

-As I rethink the looks, I would love a beautiful knife, but seeing that typically I don't "judge books by their cover" for anything else, maintenance and performance are definitely top priority here, as I am looking for a brand that can offer longevity.

-Price is hard to say because I am still deciding whether I want to purchase a block set as a whole or just piece together my own knife set comprised of the knives I prefer, all things considered. Anyone have any opinions on that? I already have a Santoku (which I would like to replace, since it is getting quite worn) and a 10" Rhineland Chef Knife, which I like a lot. So I am thinking, just supplementing these knives with others may be the way to go.

-Overall, what is the difference between Japanese knives vs. Western style knives when it comes to performance rather than looks?

Thank you for the website recommendations, I will definitely check them out.

Anyone care to share any recommendations for make/model? What is your favorite knife and how long have you had it?

post #7 of 20

Sarah, Rick Alan is right to lead off in asking how you will keep your knives sharp.


So, that immediately leads into -


How are you currently keeping your current knives sharp?  I'm seeing you referring to sending knives out, so my guess is that you don't sharpen your own knives.  Of course, I could be wrong.....


But, if I'm not, then getting a good gyuto and some very good stones (such as "splash and go" stones like Choseras or Shapton Glass stones) will  be a revelation as to what sharpness really is.


With that mentioned right away in the post, let's see if we can narrow things down just a bit.


Let's also talk about budget.  You mention one potential set: the Shun Premier.


Unfortunately for my crystal ball (aka searching the Internet), the Shun Premier comes in all sorts of combinations.  So, I cant't quite figure out what a realistic budget would be.


I'm also in a bind on what sort of cutting board set-up you want to consider (if at all).  Home?  Work?  Both?


Let's tale a look at your current knives: first the Rhineland 10" chef's knife and then the Shun Elite santoku


In looking at your current Rhineland 10" chef's knife (I'm assuming we are talking about Rhineland Cutlery; see:, I see where it's made of "X50CrMoV15" steel (aka Krupp 4116 steel).  That's precisely the same steel as used by Wusthof in their Ikon and Classic lines, and as used by Victorinox, and as used by Mercer, and as used by Messermeister, and as used by (well, plenty of mass market European cutlery manufacturers).


4116 steel is very much favored as being tough and very unlikely to chip or break.  The reverse of that compliment is that 4116 steel is very difficult to sharpen.  It is a very tenacious steel, and abrasion sharpening takes quite a while.  It's also a steel which  will not stay all that sharp for that long.


The blade profile of the Rhineland chef's knife is also with a very pronounced belly.  That's going to make use of the tip somewhat problematic.  You end up having to raise the handle of the knife to a high level if you want to bring the tip of the knife against your cutting board.  It's a major reason I prefer knives with much shallower belly.


The Shun Elite Santoku is an entirely different critter.  A simple san-mai clad blade with a Takefu SG-2 core, it's almost the reverse of the Rhineland.  The core steel (SG-2) has the potential for being very hard and holding an edge, while the general santoku blade profile is much flatter than a german-style blade profile.  That makes working with the tip against a cutting board surface easier with less need to raise the handle up high.


On the negative side, SG-2 steel really requires that a sharpener needs to keep the combined primary edge bevels to not less than 15o per side, or 30o combined, or significantly risk carbide loss and chipping.  I'm also wondering about the quality of the SG-2 steel heat treatment in Shun knives (there have been reports of problems with Shun and other Kai knives and heat treatment problems).


Also on the negative side, santoku's in general are usually too short (180 mm) to be used as a primary knife (gyutos that are 210 mm and larger are the usual preferred length).


Mike9 is right to say that many of us will try to argue you out of getting a set.  You can much better use your money for a really good chef's knife, a reasonably good paring knife/petty, a not-very-expensive serrated edge bread knife (excellent also for such tough skin/soft interior foods such as tomatoes), a knife roll and some sharpening stones - especially "Splash and go" stones.  Any money left over would be better spent on your two little ones.


Hope to hear back from you about your sharpening procedures and your budget.



Galley Swiller

post #8 of 20
Thread Starter 

You are (kind of) correct in assuming I do not sharpen my own knives, mainly because I am afraid of ruining them!  The Shun I do not get sharpened nearly enough because I take it somewhere when I do get it sharpened (to a local sharpener) and the Rhineland came with it's own sharpener, which I use when I feel it is dulling.  I am not at all familiar with the stones that you speak of, so specific recommendations would be helpful, as I am willing to learn.  I use bamboo cutting boards at home and plastic at work.


I had some of my own doubts about buying a full block set from the beginning and I have pretty much decided against it at this point for exactly the reasons you brought up.  I was prepared to spend up to about $1500, but now see the value in building my own knife kit and keeping them in a good knife roll.


I believe I have narrowed the knives I want to add to my collection down to the following (I might add that I also have a Shun Elite Paring Knife, it came with my Santoku as a set):

--Bread Knife

--Utility Knife

--Fillet/Deba Knife


--Sharpening Stone


Thanks so much for the feedback!

post #9 of 20

Regardless of how often they need sharpening you really need to somehow get your knives properly sharpened on waterstones.  You do not want to give your dearly won knives to someone who is going to rape and otherwise burn them on a belt sander, or worse.  We can even consider a ceramic rod for touching up in between.


Performance wise Japanese knives are way ahead of western knives in general, custom makers excluded.  There is an US company called New West Knifeworks that makes a descent and good looking, though somewhat expensive, series of knives.  But I don't care for their German profile.


As to handles I can tell you what your options are in hammered damascus.  In Wa (Japanese) handles you can get knives in Swedish stainless, as well as VG-10.  For Western handles (Yo) you are limeted to VG-10.


VG-10 is difficult to sharpen well, and it is not as tough as Swedish stainless (purported to be Sandvick high wear resistant 19C27).  19C27 has edge retention as good as any conventional stainless and takes a fairly sharp edge.


As far as your Shun Elite goes it has been replaced by the Kaji.  I hear the heat treat is much better but even the best SG-2 (also called R2) is still not very resistant to chipping when compared to conventional stainless.  I really like SG-2, it can get as sharp as any carbon and has great edge retention [when done right], but you can't be cavalier with it.  Probably best you steer clear of SG-2 for your present needs.


You say you'd like high wear resistance but I hesitate to steer you toward any of the super wear resistant pm/cpm (powdered metallurgy alloys (btw, SG-2 is a pm steel). They are not out of your price range, not all of them anyway, but again they are just not as tough as [most] conventional steel knives (have to exclude some carbon and even stainless knives that are made extra hard).  Well HAP40 may be somewhat of an exception, but I have inadequate information on it.


I can make it real easy on myself and just say go with Geshin Gonbei Swedish hammered Damascus, and learn to love Wa handles.  They are very good knives from a very reputable dealer, and they certainly fit your primary stated desires.  For plain Western handled knives I might have you stay in the neighborhood with the Gonbei AUS10.





Edited by Rick Alan - 1/6/16 at 5:52am
post #10 of 20

My two go-to recommended learning resources for sharpening are as follows:


Chad Ward has a good written tutorial at eGullet, which you can read here:


Jon Broida of Japanese Knife Imports has some superb videos you can watch here:


For stones, you will want perhaps 3 to cover your likely needs.  


For edge repairs, where you are likely to want to remove considerable metal, a coarse stone (500 grit or so) is used.


For general maintenance, where you are mostly bringing an edge back to basic sharpness, a medium stone (800 to 1200 grit) is used.


For edge refinement, where you are smoothing ("polishing") an edge to make it sharper, a fine stone (3000 to 5000 or higher grit) will be what you use.


A minimum size for the surface of the stones should be not less than  200 mm x 50 mm, but larger is better.


If you are going to carry the stones in yoour knife roll, then they should be "splash and go", which means that the stones do not need to be pre-soaked.  Instead, you simply splash some water on the stone, swirl the water around to raise a slurry, and you can then immediately start sharpening on the stone.  The two best known brands of "splash and go" are Chosera and Shapton Glass (though they are of course much more expensive than stones which are first soaked for 15 to 20 minutes before use).


Sooner or later, you will probably want to get a new Japanese-made chef's .knife and try it out against the Rhineland.  At that point, my guess is that you will simply say to yourself, "Why did I wait to get a better knife than this Rhineland?".  For suggestions on Japanese chef's knives (usually gyuto knives), feel free to ask here as well.


Me?  Right now, as a first Japanese chef's knife, for someone who does know about a Japanese-made santoku, I would suggest you consider a MAC BK-100.  On discount, it's $110 through eBay or through  Good steel (much, MUCH better than 4116 steel), good feel when holding and using the knife, both as a racquet grip and a pinch grip; and like all MAC knives, good sharpening feedback, with the usual semi-decent edge holding characteristics.


(I say semi-decent, because it's just the nature of any good knife to become dull through use.  That's just a given).


Galley Swiller

post #11 of 20

Oy, I really need to read replies more thoroughly.


You asked about stones, so I really didn't need the first paragraph in my comment above, but at least you know not to trust your knife sharpening to just anybody should the need arise to have someone else sharpen for you.


Especially if you are going to go with Geshin then get Geshin stones, they have no equals in the eyes of many.  Chocera/Niniwa Pro (the current name for them) are in the same category.  But Shapton Glass I understand have poor feedback and may be difficult for novice sharpeners.


You can go simple with just a 1K/6K combination stone.  But given that these knives are going to see more than home use the Geshin 3-piece set, 400, 2K, 6K, is worth the outlay.  A lot of folks think 6K is too fine but I really like a decently fine edge.  Whoever you buy from will likely be able to supply a diamond flattening stone, get one, they run between $30-60.  A stone holder is nice but everything from a piece of rubber mat to folded wash cloths to a water-sealed 2X4 will do.


For bread knives the MAC Superior is amongst the best but maybe a little pricey. Tojiro makes a nice one.  And there is always Victorinox-Fibrox or Wusthof Pro.


Not sure what to recommend for a deba, but Millions is the cleaver expert, maybe he'll chime in.





post #12 of 20

Are you talking about a meat cleaver or chinese cleaver?  All I can tell you about meat cleavers is I have one.  I don't use it as often as my boning knife and meat saw.


Chinese cleavers are a different story!  I do 95% of my knife work with it.  Easily replaces chef, paring, and utility knives,  bench scraper too

post #13 of 20
Thread Starter 

Is a Nakiri considered a chinese cleaver?  I have used a smaller one of these before and I have really liked it's multiple uses.  

post #14 of 20
Thread Starter 

I just answered my own question through a google search, and see that it is not.  I may still go in that direction though, I think it may be better for my use.


I will check out the MAC bread knife.  I want a decent one, but I don't use them frequently.  I have a pretty inexpensive store brand one right now, which is rather dull and is beginning to smash instead of slice.

post #15 of 20

The MAC BN is definitely one you sharpen rather than toss.

post #16 of 20

For a less-expensive bread knife, the usual suspects are from Victorinox or Dexter-Russell.


For a serrated edge bread knife, I would not get anything shorter than 10 inches.  If cost is a major consideration, I would go for a Victorinox fibrox handle or Dexter Russell nylon or plastic handle.  I would go new, rather than used.  And I wouldn't bother to sharpen either a Victorinox or Dexter Russell - I would just replace the blade once it gets dull.


I would rate Victorinox as a bit better than Dexter Russell, if only because of the steel (4116 steel).  A very quick eBay viewing showed this one at just $30:


If $30 is more than you want to spend, then here's a Dexter Russell 10 incher for just over $16:


If I wanted the best, then it would be the MAC Superior bread knife (Model SB-105).  It's more pricey than the other knives, at $90.  But, it's worth keeping and sharpening.



post #17 of 20

If the Mac Superior is too pricey (and they went up a year, or two ago) the Tojiro ITK 270 is a direct knock off and an excellent knife @ $55.  Spend an extra $5 and get free shipping  ;) 


Here it is in action -


post #18 of 20

You are in good company here since you will likely not find as many people as passionate about knives as you will here.


First thing - (as I have posted previously) Don't buy a set of knives!  Let me say that again . . . Don't buy a of set knives!


Why?  For the following reasons:

  1. You will likely not get the best knives for the money.  Too often, the knife sets are substandard.  The most frequent offense are bread knives and steels that are too short.  For example, the bread knife in most sets are only 8" long . . . Way way too short.  Some say the minimum is 10" for a bread knife.  I think 12" is a much better choice.  (BTW - don't underestimate the versatility of a great bread knife.  They're great for slicing bread - duh!  But, they're also great for slicing tomatoes, etc.
  2. You will likely get knives you don't need.   
  3. The knives won't necessarily fit your hand or feel balanced.  Knives that feel good in your hand and are well-balanced are so much better (and safer) to use . . . but, what feels good in one person's hand may not feel good in your hand.


After reading the posts in this thread, I think you have two priorities.  1)  Get a good chef's knife and 2)  learn how to hone, sharpen, and maintain your knives.  


You wrote you like your Shun santoku when it's sharp.  Santoku knives are nice to have; however, I don't think they're an adequate replacement for a chef's knife.  Plus, asking what others recommend is fine, but a knife needs to fit your hand and feel good for you to use.  Even though I have relatively small hands, I prefer the feel of a heavier knife compared to what some people prefer.  


At the present time, do not buy knives one the internet.  You don't have enough experience.  I only buy knives over the internet when I've had experience with it.  Instead, go to a reputable store and try out their knives (take some things to try cutting . . . carrot, tomato, whatever).  See what you like.  For example, many people recommend the Victorinox knives.  I can't stand them.  They feel terrible in my hands.


Good knives for a chef or home cook are like instruments for a  musician.  A great musician can get a lot more out of an instrument than someone that dabbles at playing with it.  They know how to use and maintain it.  Raking a bow across a cello can produce a bad sound, but in the hands of Yoyo Ma it's beautiful.  Same thing for knives.  It's likely you're holding your knife and moving it incorrectly while you use it.


Your discomfort with sharpening knives is not a bad thing.  It means you respect the damage you can inflict on a knife.  But, owning good knives requires that you learn how to maintain them properly to get the most out of them.  If you don't, you will forever be dependent on others to sharpen your knives . . . then it becomes a waste of money and doesn't matter what you own.


Before you get too concerned about sharpening, are you honing your knives on a regular basis?  Regular honing is much more important than most people realize.  It will extend the edge . . . and hence, the quality of a knife's ability to cut/slice between sharpening.  I often hone every time I use a knife.


Sharpening knives takes practice.  If there is a SurLaTable in your area that teaches classes, they often offer knife skill classes.  Or if you know of a chef with good knife skills, including sharpening, ask them to help you.  Getting feedback on your knife use and sharpening skills will help you develop the necessary skills.  A well-respected chef was at my house many years ago and after 15 minutes of his observation and discussion, his feedback and instruction became one of the most invaluable things as far as maintaining my knives.


Another thing you may want to try is the online class "Complete Knife Skills" at Craftsy . . . It's one of their free mini-classes.  The whole thing is about an hour long; however, the last section is on knife maintenance and includes honing and sharpening.  You can find it at the following link.  I don't agree with 100% of what the instructor teaches, but I think it contains a lot of very good information.

post #19 of 20

I agree with much that Loomchick says above.


I do disagree with the comment about not purchasing over the Internet.


The problem with not purchasing over the Internet is that the selection of knives decreases big time.  Here, I'm not talking about knives like Victorinox.  I'm talking about knives like MAC.  Or Tojiro.  Or any number of brands and models.


Bed Bath & Beyond, Sur La Table, Williams-Sonoma and Crate and Barrel are the only national based brick and mortar chains which sell anything better than mass-market Victorinox, Henckels or Wusthof.  And there are vast parts of this country that don't even have those particular big box culinary stores anywhere nearby.


And of the good stuff they do?  Guess what - it usually has to be pre-ordered.  Not much chance of "try before you buy" there.


I can't say I'm all that tempted to buy anything from those Big 4  From my visits to local brick and mortar editions of their shops, what I've seen of their selection is pretty limited (mostly either junk or very upper-priced versions of cutlery which is likely very high profit margin).  Most of the "good stuff" has plenty of 33-layer, 65-layer or 128-layer Damascus in  their primary promoted displays.  About the only thing I'm even remotely tempted about is the "economy" version of the 10 inch Bob Kramer chef's knife.  And that's (with coupon) about $200 from BB&B.


Small specialty cutlery shops are even more scarce on the ground.  


That leaves the great equalizer - the Internet.


Yup, I would recommend inexperienced buyers generally stay away from anything used (with one exception).


But, anyone with even basic Internet skills can google about various specific knives.  Heck, even ChefTalk can yield vast amounts of information.


As far as any actual value for most people in visiting a store - I don't think much of that.  Most people are going to notice two things: the sharpness of the knife's edge and the feel of the handle.


Knife edges can be artificially sharpened by machine.  Most machine sharpening use very coarse grinding wheels.  That leaves a very "toothy" and aggressive edge.  It's very good for cutting through foods fast.  But, it's also very quick to dull.  Hence, daily sharpening sessions through that electric sharpener.  And a knife that is probably replaced much more quickly out-of-sight of the public than any good home cook or professional chef would ever want to replace a blade.


As for the feel of the handle, using a pinch grip in my experience will make the feel of the handle much less relevant.


And how many people are going to think about how easy or difficult a knife will be to sharpen with a big thick bolster at the end of the edge?  How many people will think of how easy (or hard) using the tip of a knife which has the tip way up in the air?  Those two issues alone can be viewed on the Internet without visiting a store.


Now, for practicing sharpening.  The one knife I think a beginner in sharpening should buy is a used MAC Original Series knife.  Anything with a blade at least 5 inches long will work.  The steel is very typical of Japanese knives in how well it will sharpen and the beginner will quickly feel how the knife and edge respond.  If the knife is bought on eBay or some other used site cheaply enough, then there should be less fear of "ruining" the knife.  Original Series" MAC's have the advantage of an almost "flat" profile (with the exception of the rounded tip), making it an ideal sharpening practice knife.


Just my opinion.


Galley Swiller

post #20 of 20

Second what GS just said.

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