Looking For New Knife Set / Block

Joined Jan 31, 2010
We've recently moved into our first home together and buying all new kitchen equipment. We're strong believers in paying more now for future proofing and investment. We're reasonably experienced and enjoy cooking, but have to date put up with a mismatch of VERY cheap knives (take IKEA as an example :level:).

Could you recommend a knife block set of circa 6-9 knives? Budget is around £500 ($800).

I've been tempted by a Wuhstof set, however have been reading more about Japanese knives around here. Although don't see much as far as a set goes with a block? We also like the mass of European knives, something that I don't think Japanese knives have?
Joined Aug 18, 2009
Yep the general advice is that sets are bad value.
The only styles I need for what I do is a chef/cooks knife, and assorted paring knives, though I've got others for occasional use.
*"All Purpose" knife, what you can use for the majority of tasks, usually a chefs knife, though some prefer a santoku style or even chinese chopper. The only 'pro' I see for western made knives (Wustof, etc) is you're less likely to harm them if used on 'heavy' jobs, cracking lobsters etc, than opposed to the Japanese knives.
*Bread/Fillet/Slicer are often recommended if you have a use for them
*Paring knives, I don't think many people use them in the home kitchen. I have a few and use them for peeling, detail work, opening packing etc
There's a lot of 'what ifs' that you need to detail more, how are you going to keep them sharp? What sort of food will you be making most often? How's your knife technique? And so on.
I highly recommend Victorinox/Forschner (different name in different places, I'm talking about the stamped ones not the forged ones, and greatly prefer the rosewood handles over that plastic stuff) as a good home cooks knife or good first knife in a pro kitchen. Especially so if you haven't practiced sharpening knives yourself yet (may save you from harming an expensive knife), or have any bad technique (not cleaning knives, hacking through tough bone etc). Plus I believe they're totally unbeatable in value in their price range, actually I personally rate them higher than some of the big names like Wustof, Global and Shun (though I don't think many will agree with me on that so take it as you will).
I have however retired my Forschner for a MAC Pro (Japanese made, western style, well sort of, all the good points of western style IMO) and am really impressed with it.
Anyways there's others here who know infinitely more than about this, just thought I'd put in my 2c, hope it helps :)
Joined Jan 31, 2010
Most definitely does help, thanks! However, what do you keep your knives in? Surely not just in a draw? Do you guys purchase knife blocks seperately?
Joined Aug 18, 2009
I keep mine in a knife roll. When at work or cooking at home I just lay them on a shelf, then back in the roll when finished cooking.
At home I keep some of my (cheap) knives on a magnet rack but a lot of people don't like that idea because of risk of scratching/chiping the blade, knives falling or being knocked off, dangerous to kids/pets and so on.
You could always buy a block, just make sure your knives will fit. I saw a good block but can't remember the maker, it had groves right through from top to bottom and you could fit just about any knife in it.
Or you could either get plastic blade guards, just a plastic sleeve that goes over the blade so it can be safely stored in a draw, or better yet, get some cardboard fold it around the blade then tape it closed and you got the same thing the exact size and almost free.
Anyway if you could provide more details of what you were looking for or if you wanted help with a knife you're looking at in particular let us know :)
Joined Jan 31, 2010
A knife bag or plastic/cardboard sleeves simply aren't practical for me, it's either a knife block or draw. This is for a home kitchen after all and as much as I hate to say it, the knives will quite likely get a bit of abuse over the years.

We've always thrown ours in the dishwasher, but this will stop if we get a nice new set (you can all breath a sigh of relief :)).

I guess forming my own set of individual knives is the way forward, but ideally I'd like them all from one manufacturer. I've been researching for the last few days and MAC seem to be very highly rated. I like the fact they have a 'western' handle and weight. These two factors are very important to me as we both like 'heavy' knives. The other factor is that I can't seem to find MAC in the UK anywhere so will have to order online from the US.

Any specific MAC knives you can recommend for everyday use? For meat, veg, fish, peeling, bread, etc?

Or any other manufacturer other than MAC?
Joined Aug 18, 2009
I'm using the MAC Pro 275mm chefs knife, it works great for almost everything. I keep a heavier knife on hand for tough jobs like breaking down chicken, cracking crabs/lobsters and so on, good news is just about any large-ish heavy knife will do for that, odds are you already have something you can use for the tough stuff.
The 'Pro' range is MAC's most recommended so I'm inclined to stay with that line when I need any other knives, though the bread knife from their 'superior' line is supposed to be really good ('Pro' is the step up from 'superior' BTW).
The 275mm may be too big for general home cooking but I do find the larger knives to be more productive once you feel comfortable with them. A 'Chefs' style knife should be able to do most things well, as I said all I really use is chefs and paring knives and very rarely need anything else but maybe look at a bread knife or fillet knife as well if you think you'll use them. Santoku style knives can be good but aren't generally as versatile, I still take my old forschner santoku to work but only really use it for it's agility on small items - unless you need to chop a few boxes of button mushrooms I wouldn't waste money on one.
The only issue I had with MAC (don't worry it was minor) is that the spine and the shoulder (think that's what it's called, the 'back' of the blade) was quite sharp and uncomfortable if you're using the pinch grip, this can be fixed easily with sandpaper or a sharpening stone by rounding the edges slightly.
Also the MAC might not be quite as heavy as you expect it to be if you're used to using western knives, but it does feel solid, sturdy and not 'thin/whippy'.
Um what else, yeah avoid dishwashers and glass chopping boards like the plague ;)
PS, I use the MAC for veg, meat, fish and poultry (assuming I'm not cutting through bone, thats what the 'heavy' knife is for), I use some cheap no name bread knife for breads. forschner/victorinox paring knives are great value for money (as is anything by them), I use their 'birds beak'/tourne knife for peeling potatoes and things like that.
Having a plan for sharpening is vital, as I hear around here often "All blunt knives are equal". Not much point in spending four times as much for a Mac vs a Victorinox if they're going to be equally dull in a few months. There's a few people around here that can tell you more than you ever wanted to know about sharpening knives yourself if that's the path you are willing to take ;)
Joined Jan 31, 2010
Yup, I think I'll go for a 5 knife MAC Pro 'set', will need to research the exact knives in a bit.

I just require some block suggestions now :).
Joined Feb 13, 2008
MAC makes very good knives, and the MAC Pro series is especially good for people looking for their first high quality Japanese knives to do western style cooking. However, they are not "hefty," in anywhere near the way any of the good, forged German knives are. Their advantages lie elsewhere -- one of them being their lightness. We can talk more about them later, if you like.

Any good block will hold all of the knives you're lucky you want. You don't need a Henckels block to hold Henckels or a Wusthof block to hold Wusthofs.

The first thing to do is to figure out which knives you're going to need, and how you're going to sharpening them. Storage is easy. The most popular good solutions in a home kitchen are a block, a knife holding insert for a drawer, and/or a magnetized bar.

The "basic set" for a good home cook, serious about knives, is chef's, slicer, bread and petty/parer. Of these, you can most easily put off buying the slicer -- but when and if you do buy, you should buy quality. You can skimp on the bread, and on the parer. But I suggest getting a good petty instead of a parer; or, if you must have a parer than a good petty and a very cheap parer.

One of the lessons to take is that knives can be "mix and match." You don't gain anything buying a single line or limiting yourself to one manufacturer.

There are a few qualities which really determine the character of the knife. The most important are, shape of the kinfe, which is called its "profile;" the sharpening and maintenance qualities of its blade alloy and construction; and the comfort of its handle.

Things like "balance" and "heft," which seem very important to novice buyers are far down the list.

As to balance, unless it's done intentionally like Global or Gude/Viking, longer knives are blade heavy compared to shorter knives. Vikings have a heavy weight at the end of the handle in order to make them consistently handle-heavy. While most Globals are made with hollow handles which can be filled with sand, in order to give them a neutral balance.

For other western handled knives, the actual balance point may vary depending on the type of the tang; but depending on the presence or absence of a bolster and on their length, most full-tang knives have similar balance points relative to where the handle joins the knife. For instance, a 10" (254mm) Wusthof, 10" Sabatier au carbone, a 24cm MAC Pro, a 27cm MAC Pro, a 27cm Masamoto HC, and a 24cm Masamoto HC will all balance very close to where the blade hits the bolster. The 24cm knives' balance points will be slightly closer to the handle than the 27cm knives; at about the same place as the European knives whose full finger-guard bolsters move the bp back slightly -- but all of the balance points will cover the "pinch point." The difference, such as it is, being to which side they shade it. In other words, they're all fairly neutral.

Heft (aka weight) feels solid, well built and expensive in the store. But for most purposes, with use and time, it's just another obstacle. As with most tools, everything else being equal, lighter is better.

Then, there's the very important matter of how you will keep your new knives sharp. All knives get dull eventually and no matter how much better than its competitors a particular knife is when it gets sharp -- all dull knives are equal. It's foolish to spend money on knives you can't or won't keep as sharp as they should be.

So far I've skipped over the two areas which I said were most importnat. Profile and edge qualities.

German knives have a "German profile," which means there's a lot of width between the spine and the heel, plenty of arc along the blade as it approaches the belly, and a deep, rounded belly. Japanese knives are typically built along a modified "French profile." The back of the knife is narrower, the edge straighter, and less belly as the edge approaches the tip. German knives are heavier and more powerful. French knives are lighter and more agile. Most, but by no means all, good knife technicians prefer a French profile.

Japanese modifications to French profile consist of delaying the drop to the tip along the spine (top of the knife) -- as opposed to the typical French "spear point -- which is very common; and a still flatter edge profile -- reminiscent of the usuba, a traditional Japanese chopping knife -- which isn't exactly unusual but not nearly as common.

The various alloys used by Japanese knife manufacturers for their "better" knives are far superior to the single alloy (X50CrMoV15) which, with a few minor variations, all the Germans use. Remember that I said German profile knives are more "powerful" than French? Well, sharp beats power (nearly) every time; and Japanese knives get significantly sharper and stay sharp longer.

There are important issues regarding price, service, availability, etc., which are unique to the UK, or at least Europe. I'm afraid I can't give you much practical insight other than by repeating what I've heard from other Brits.

That's a lot to think about right off the bat. Why not come up with some more questions, more specific if possible, and we'll start breaking this down in a way which makes the most sense for your individual situation.

Joined Jan 31, 2010
Wow, plenty of information there :)!

a ) Why do you recommend a petty over a parer? Isn't a parer more useful (i.e. for peeling) over a petty for general use? What would a petty be used for that a parer couldn't do as easily?

b ) A "chef's, slicer, bread and petty/parer" is precisely what I am looking for. Are there any specific MAC models which you can recommend? I'm not sure whether to go for larger knives such as a 10 inch chef's or shorter 8 inch ones?

c ) Which of the above knives would be best for boning? The parer?
Joined Feb 13, 2008

Good questions. Precisely for the length. The only time a short knife is really helpful is for point control in decoration or for special purposes like tourne -- and tourne really wants a "birds beak" (bec d'oiseau). Some people like to "carve" the peel off with a thumb along the back of the blade -- in which case a sheep's foot (pied d'mouton) profile is very useful.

If you're used to a paring knive (and who isn't?) a petty takes a little getting used to. They're becoming immensely popular and replacing parers in pro kits at an amazing rate because they're so generally useful. If I had to choose between a petty and a parer in my block, I'd choose petty. That might not be your choice. However, you don't have to choose -- get a decent petty and a cheap parer.

Yes. If you're willing to take the time to learn to handle the extra length, a 9-1/2" or 10-1/2" is far more productive than an 8" knife. However, you do need to at least learn to "pinch grip" and orient your body appropriately to the board. Those things will allow you to place the point intuitively.

The techniques make lengths manageable in terms of knowing where the point is, and using your board effectively but there are limits. A 12" knife is difficult to manage on ordinary depth kitchen countertops, not to mention most boards.

A regular length (~10") chef's knife wants a bigger board and better board management skills than an 8". If your kitchen is very cramped, and if you find organization impossible, you'll want to stay with the shorter knife. Otherwise, go long. There's a lot more difference between 8" and 9-1/2" and 10-1/2" and 12" than there is 9-1/2" and 10-1/2". So if you find the extra length intimidating, go with the 9-1/2", a 10-1/2" doesn't really offer much more.

In the world of MAC, I think an ideal set would be MAC Pro Chef's, either 9-1/2 (MBK-95) or 10-1/2 (MBK-105); MAC Pro 5" (PKF-50) or 6" Petty (PKF-60); MAC Pro Slicer (MBS-105); and MAC Superior 10.5" Bread (SB-105). However, I don't doubt that this would be a budget buster of epic proportions. Start with a good chef's and petty, hold off on the slicer, get an inexpensive bread knife, and a disposable parer.

If you're really into bread, the MAC Superior is well worth the extra price.

You also need a decent board and an adequate sharpening system if you dont already have them. The importance of the sharpening system can't be overemphasized.

. You want something longer than a parer. A sharp petty is excellent for home "boning" tasks, and actually better for most of them than a classic "desosseur." If you do a lot of meat work, you'll want some specialty knives -- both for their shapes and because you'll want to sharpen them slightly differently.

But that's a lot of meat work. For most homes, the next choice would probably be something heavy enough to split chickens and handle other knife-abuse tasks -- rather than a specialty boner. The desosseur profile is included in most knife kits to satisfy demand created by the feeling that one should need it -- but one doesn't. It's not a bad choice for people who cut big bones out of thick cuts -- like butterflying legs of lamb -- but otherwise not so useful. Even professional butchers seldom use one. Not only is it unnecessary for the more common home butchering tasks, it's a difficult knife to sharpen.

Another argument for the greater utility of the petty.

Last word: Let's talk sharpening. What are your plans?

Joined Oct 9, 2008
My opinion differs slightly from BDL's, while I agree with him on essentially everything that matters much.

At base, I don't think you need a bread knife unless you are baking or buying very crusty country boules on a more or less daily basis. I don't think you need a slicer either. As to the petty/paring thing, I agree that a little length is nice, especially with a full-sized chef's, but I don't think you need to spend much on it. In essence, I'd like to see a new serious knife shopper buy one full-sized excellent chef's knife, and some functional sharpening equipment to deal with it. Then look at what's left in the budget, pick up a petty or paring knife that seems appropriate, and wait on the rest.

The Mac Pro 9.5" or 10.5" chef's knife is going to be pretty spectacular. You'll want to use it for just about everything.

Then you need a short knife for some detail work, including boning; as BDL says, a petty is handier on the boning end of things, but I'd note that it's trickier for things like coring an apple, so think about what you'll use it for.

For sharpening, I think a King 1000 stone is a great place to begin.

With that set, you've used a reasonable chunk of your budget, and I think you can and should spend the rest buying good ingredients to cut up.

Yes, you will eventually want a slicer. Yes, you will probably eventually want a bread knife, though I confess that I find my chef's knife handier for almost all bread. Do you need these things now? I don't see why. What is it that you slice so much?
Joined Jan 31, 2010
MAC Pro Mighty Chefs Knife 9.5" @ £146
MAC Pro Paring Knife 5" @ £46
MAC Pro Mighty Slicer Knife 10.25" @ £153
MAC Bread/Roast Slicer Knife 10.5" @ £63 (we eat alot of crusty bread thus this is a must)

Total is £408 ($650), which is right at the edge of the budget, but doable.

I'd still need a block (magnetic, worktop, or drawer) and sharpening device.

a ) What are the difference tasks that a Slicer would be used for that a Chef's knife wouldn't be as preferable?

b ) I require a very thin blade for cutting sushi, will any of these be good for the job? Or do I require a fillet knife of sorts?

c ) Sharpening is another area which I have no clue about. I'd love to learn the art of doing it manually but what is the likely-hood of me picking this up quickly? I'm quite a hands-on type of guy so I'd like to think this may be easier for me to pick up than most? What sort of apparatus could you recommend for sharpening?

d ) Also to throw another spanner in the works, some of the Wusthof Sets (and 'create your own' sets) are at extremely good prices (take the Grand Prix II & the Classic Ikon). I'm talking about half what I'd be paying for the MAC knives. I know about all your opinions on knife sets, but for this price, is the product still inferior? Are the MAC's really worth 100% more? I do note that many of the Wusthof knives are shorter than the MAC equivalents. If they are inferior, then by all means I will go with the MAC's, I'd rather buy once than twice ;).
Joined Sep 18, 2008
I'm a MAC user since 2000, in fact I was a dealer for a number of years.

Currently, ALL of my restaurant knives are MACs, mostly original, Superior, and a few Pros.

With regards to sharpening, BDL and all you "knife types", please skip ( or at least don't snicker ;) ), I use the Fiskar Roll-Sharp as needed, generally daily or at least once a week on the lesser used knives and IMHO, they are as or sharper than OOTB.

No chips, no "steel", no "stones". Oh, BTW, I do NOT sharpen the bread knife.
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