Maintaining new T-I Nogents...?

Discussion in 'Cooking Knife Reviews' started by arlena, May 25, 2013.

  1. arlena


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    Home Cook
    Hi all,

    Background - I've just purchased a few T-I Sabatier **** Elephant Nogents (parer, slicer, chef) and am having them sent to Dave Martell for a professional sharpening (I read the Nogents are not that great OOTB) who will then forward them to me where I live in Tokyo, Japan.

    I've spent the last week or so reading a ton of different knife threads in different forums so I know significant more info than I did before - but I'd still really appreciate some help in narrowing down the choices and making sure that what I buy suits the Nogents - and hopefully my future knives too... Thx!

    Questions -

    1) After I get and start using the Nogents, what do I need to do - and buy - in order to maintain the knives as best as possible? ie honing? stropping? How often etc..?

    2) When it's time for them to be sharpened again (not just maintained) what kind of stones etc should I get to work best on the Nogents..?

    3) Would it be best to buy one or two cheap knives to practice sharpening on before I 'let loose' on the T-Is, or can I (a complete beginner) practice on them without damaging them (?!)

    Other info -

    * At some point in the not-too-distant future, I'm intending to add to my knife collection with some med- to high-end SS or carbon Japanese knives. Probably to include one or two single-bevel (chisel) traditional ones and one or two double-bevel ones. Therefore, whilst I am happy to add to my stone & sharpening tools later on, it would be great to have tools I can use on both the Nogents and the J-knives rather than a seperate kit for each, (if possible).

    * Oh - I should say that I definitely want to learn how to sharpen freehand and am prepared to invest the necessary time and effort. (For many reasons I won't bore you all with!) I'm not interested in the Edge-Pro or similar systems.

    * Also - I' m not worried about the cost / budget aspect of the stones/ sharpening tools etc... Mostly because it looks like the prices I can get here in Japan of most of the brands (King, Shapton, Chosera etc) are only about 50-70% of the U.S prices listed on CKtG and other sites. (So I'll be telling myself that I'm really *saving* money, and not spending it!) And if some items are better in the US (maybe the HandAmerican balsa stropping magetic board/base for example), I'm also happy to import a few things in.

    I think that's about it... Any help and advice you can give me would be hugely appreciated. Thank you!! :)
  2. boar_d_laze


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    Cook At Home
    TI Nogent is an interesting, retro, and ironically hip choice for someone living in Japan -- the country which spawned a quality revolution in modern, western-style knives.  Bravo!  Bravo bravissimo!

    The TI Nogent blanks were made before WWII.  Compared to post-war, full-tang, Sabatier production they're a bit lighter, thinner and act as though they're also harder.  However, sharpening and maintenance are still the same.

    They, along with most European and American made knives will sharpen perfectly well on oil stones.  In fact, I prefer using oilstones for all my softer-alloy knives so that I can finish on Arkansas stones. 

    However, since you live in Japan, oil stones make NO sense whatsoever.  If you're determined to do your own sharpening, aren't already competent, and considering importing any sharpening equipment from the US, that should be a good tool and jig sharpening system like an Edge Pro Apex.  Not that you can't use strops, but they don't bring any special benefits to knives like Nogents.  From what I understand of Japanese hamono, unless you're already a skilled sharpener, I'm not sure that doing your own sharpening makes sense either.  Let's talk about how and who before discussing which stone choices.    

    No matter who's doing the sharpening, Nogents won't hold a polish higher than about 5K (on the Japanese grit scale, called JIS) for very long at all, and even 5K is pushing it.  Anything less than 2K will feel very toothy in the cut and won't hold up very well.  Anywhere between 3K and 5K is good.  In other words, on the border between naka toishi and shiage toishi. 

    Nogents "impact burr" out of true at any and every opportunity.  You will need a good rod hone (aka steel).  You'll want a fine, extra-fine or polished (aka packer's) texture.  I generally prefer fine ceramic to metal of any texture because of its resistance to chipping and scratching.  While I don't know enough about what's available in Japan to discuss prices, one of the best performing ceramic rods, the MAC Black, is made there.      

    You may want to read a couple of my blog posts; one about Nogents, and the other about steeling.

    Last edited: May 25, 2013
  3. arlena


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    Home Cook
    Hi BDL -- thank you for your input and answers - I appreciate it.

    I chose the Nogents for a few reasons - one of which is that as a lefty and being aware of the blade assymetry of most J-knives (not just the edge assymetry but the whole left side flat, right side rounded thing), I'm not yet sure whether to save up and get custom J-knives made for me at a later time or just deal with them as are. Plus I really want a few of the chisel edge traditional J-knives (again at some point in the future) and so specially made lefty ones will obviously be unavoidable.

    So, whilst considering all that, I needed some knives right *now* and after doing a bunch of reading was attracted to the lighter weight, pre-WW2 Nogents. The romanticism of their 'lost' story also appeals, and as they might 'run out' of blanks soon / at some point, I figured I'd take the plunge on the Nogents now and then figure out which J-knives I want to get 'later on'... I'm not going anywhere for a bit, so can get J-knives for a decent non-US price almost anytime I want... 

    I do understand what you say about sharpening - but then again if all beginners decided that it didn't make any sense to sharpen our own knives until or unless we were already a skilled sharpener - nobody would ever get started... :)

    Thank you for the 2 links - I've read those and found them very helpful and informative. Plus I understand what you are saying in the above post about the honing and the 3K-5K edge for the Nogents - that is new info for me and just what I was hoping for, thank you. :)

    I still have a few more Q and I'd really love to have your advice and input on the next 2 questions....

    1) I understand about the honing and truing the edge  - but do I also need to strop the Nogents? (If so, I'm probably leaning to getting the HA magnetic strop choices at CKtG rather than figuring out which ones they have here.)

    EDIT have reread your answer and seen what you said about the stropping... Thx.

    2) When it comes to sharpening the Nogents (and my future J-knives!), which grit stones and brands makes would you recommend? Shapton glass stones? Chosera? Nubatama? I've already checked loads of the CKtG/JKI inventory against what I can find and get from Japanese e-tailers and found that pretty much anything they sell at CKtG or JKI I can get here in Japan for much cheaper (about 30-50% off)... So it's fine to give me recommendations based on their inventory. Again - I'm not really on a budget and would just like some good options.

    As I mention, I'm starting from a viewpoint of "we all have to begin somewhere...!"

    Thanks in advance for any help with some additional specifics...! :)
    Last edited: May 26, 2013
  4. arlena


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    Home Cook
    OK - I didn't know that about the Chosera grits - thank you :)
  5. galley swiller

    galley swiller

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    At home cook
    Hi BDL, I've enjoyed reading your blogs and posts for some time now.

    Since you linked your comments on the Nogent history to this thread, I thought it might be a good opportunity to possibly make a significantly belated comment concerning Thiers-Issard and "New-Old'Stock".

    A little review might shed some light on how stock can be "lost" and "found" without necessarily involving bad faith on the part of Thiers-Issard during World War II. (Okay, it's not so little - my last boss did say at my retirement sendoff that I tended to run on too long).

    Before my retirement from gainful employment, I was a Title Examiner for a local government, which meant that I frequently had to dig up old records going back to the latter-1800's. Accordingly, I became very familiar with how events and records can become confused, distorted and forgotten. Before computers and the Internet, there were two forms of memory - paper and personal memories (usually referred to nowadays in organizations as "institutional memory"). Both were and are extremely susceptible to being lost, mislaid, destroyed, forgotten or otherwise evaporate. Paper records are subject to disappearing - housecleaning of records, accidental office fires, etc., and records being lost because of paper decomposition (paper based on wood-chip pulp, such as was the overwhelmingly primary non-archival paper used in the late 1800's through the mid 20th Century, is subject to acidic decomposition from reaction with atmospheric sulfur dioxide). Institutional Memory is very susceptible to being misremembered or being misinterpreted or disappearing with the passage of an individual's retirement or death. And here, we are looking at about 6 decades in time between acquisition and re-discovery.

    BDL, you made it clear a few years ago that Thiers-Issard was a cutlery company in Thiers that started as (and remains to this day) a straight razor maker and didn't make knives until they bought up knife producers and assets in the 1930's. That distinction as a straight razor maker (in an earlier world with far fewer disposable razor blades - which were then mostly an American invention and sales target) could explain how T-I would have had a constant business sales and revenue stream independent of culinary cutlery during the Depression and subsequently remained solvent when some knife companies were floundering. People could put off buying new kitchen knives, but men would have wanted to be clean shaven to either keep their jobs or find a new one if they were out of work. That would have meant that barbers would have been buying razors at the same rate, or individual men would have been buying straight razors to shave themselves.

    At least in the U.S., buying up corporate brands, machinery, real estate and other assets through bankruptcy takes effort and paperwork by Bankruptcy Courts, Court Receivers and asset purchasers - not to mention the efforts in identifying and hiring skilled workers recently laid off from the previously bankrupted companies. The purchase and sale through bankruptcy of general physical stock (e.g., knife blanks) would have been comparatively almost no paperwork at all, and might be even more simplified as a few typewritten words on a bankruptcy form, followed by a onetime movement of crates to the back of a warehouse (if the warehouse was not already part of the assets sold during bankruptcy. Which leads to another possibility - what if the blanks were just bought as a part of the entire purchase of a bankrupt company, where T-I bought the assets of company name, machinery, factory, warehouse and physical stocks, with no need to shift crates or even make a detailed inventory? How much attention would the T-I owners and management paid to the other company's old physical stock, compared to the much important purchased brand rights, machinery, forges and ovens - and hiring the really skilled labor. My guess is that in the 1930's, blanks would have been an afterthought, at best, if the entire assets of a previous company had been bought by T-I.)

    As for a French steel drive, .....

    France had invested extremely heavily in the 1930's in developing a massively strong border defense system known as the "Maginot Line" near the French-German border, but the Maginot Line was weakly extended along the portion of the French border with Luxembourg and Belgium. All of this was done before France declared war on Germany in September, 1939, in response to the German (and Soviet) invasion of Poland. Once war was declared, the French called up their Reserves (which probably stripped many of the workers from factories and offices, including T-I). And then, for 8 months, nothing - the "Phony War".

    Everything changed on May 10, 1940 with the German Blitzkrieg invasion of Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands, resulting in an end run around the strong portion of the Maginot Line and a series of defeats of (primarily) French forces. The British staged their evacuation from Dunkirk between May 27th and June 4th. The Wehrmacht swept into Paris on June 14th, an armistice was signed between France and Germany on June 22nd and France formally surrendered on June 25th. Two million French soldiers went into German POW camps (essentially as hostages) and most were kept there until the German surrender in 1945. France was divided into Occupied France under German administration (the Atlantic Coast, English Channel and Northern France) and Vichy France under Petain (the remaining southeastern portion of France). The commune of Thiers (about 25 miles south from Vichy) was in Vichy France - not that it would have mattered much. After the American landings in Africa in November, 1942, the Germans just swept aside all pretense and took over all of France. By that point, the Germans were making sweeps throughout France and all other occupied countries, to grab ordinary people to ship to German factories as "guest workers", though the "guests" were there involuntarily (little or no pay, lousy food, subject to being shot if found doing sabotage, etc. The comparative difference from Concentration Camp laborers was that "guest workers" were a little bit better fed and treated, and were not expected to be literally worked to death). The individual responses of the French outside of cities such as Paris was for large numbers of people to go into hiding in the countryside - and grow their own food (the Germans were also requisitioning a significant part of food supplies moving through what remained of the French food distribution system - half of meat production, 20% of the remainder of French food - with the result that the French could starve, with the Nazis not particularly concerned). And, there was no French equivalent to our "Rosie the Riveteer" - the Petain Government strongly insisted on a traditional role for women as homemakers only.

    In short, Thiers-Issard very possibly went into corporate hibernation during the war. As for steel drives, they take time to organize - and 8 months during the "Phony War" is usually not enough time, especially with manpower shortages (all those workers in the Reserves being called up, then sitting around during the Phony War, then marching into POW camps). The carbon steel used in knives might not necessarily be the type of steel needed for munitions by the pre-Blitzkrieg Third Republic French government. After the French surrender, Germans were thin on the ground and (with the probable exceptions of the Gestapo, aided by the French Police and the local Nazi sympathizers) were busy with: (1) sending the bulk of the Wehrmacht to fight on the Eastern Front; (2) setting up a defense along the Atlantic Coast and the Channel against an Allied invasion; and (3) rounding up people and loot - which probably left the Germans just too busy to poke into every nook and cranny in French warehouses for something like carbon steel.

    After the war, T-I started up again, but stainless steel knives became the popular rage - so why bother with carbon steel blanks? And then the passage of time would very likely erase already faint memories from management.

    Yes, the T-I explanation is feasible and not at all necessarily made up. It's not as sexy as a tale of "misremembering" on the part of T-I, but it is a workable, honorable and plausible interpretation of history by Occam's Razor.

    And that's my take on it.

    Galley Swiller