Newbie to knives : interested in Japanese knives

Discussion in 'Cooking Knife Reviews' started by kohno, Jul 26, 2010.

  1. kohno

    kohno

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    I've always liked and enjoyed cooking and have always wanted a set of good knives for myself but never got to it until now...

    Was keen on going for Shun or Globals until i started reading more on this forum.

    I've been reading quite a lot of very useful (overload) of information here but have basically narrowed down to:

    1. Masamoto Gyuto 240mm

    or

    2. Kagayaki Gyuto 240mm

    At this stage, i'm only going to buy a main knife first with a knife block and see how I go from there... I have a number of questions though:
    • How do the above 2 compare? Is the Masamoto worth the extra price spent on it?
    • How hard is it for me to learn to sharpen using Whetstones? I've never used it before. Is there a high chance of me destroying the knife?
    • How can someone be so accurate to hold the knife 15degrees when sharpening? or is this a rough figure?
    • Can someone explain or direct me to a link that explains the meaning of bevels, etc?
    • Would a knife block be better or a magnet on the wall? I've seen some magnetic strips that has a plastic covering to prevent knives from knocking onto it.
    Any advice would be good...

    I see that JCK and Korin are both very popular and reliable retailers so I'm probably going to go with one of them.

    If it makes any difference at all, I'm in Sydney, Australia.

    Thanks in advanced!
     
  2. mikez

    mikez

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  3. mikez

    mikez

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  4. boar_d_laze

    boar_d_laze

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    Kagayaki VG-10 and Masamoto VG are two very good choices.  Kagayaki is JCK's house brand and only available through them.  

    Is the Masamoto worth the extra dough?  Well, that sort of depends on what you're looking for.  

    Taken as a whole, the Masamoto is a better knife.  That sort of expresses Masamotos generally.  There's no one thing that really stands out about them, they just feel and function better than just about anything else.  And, while they aren't cheap, they're so good they're still good values.

    The Kagayaki VG-10 represents a lot of value.  F&F is great for the price.  The blade profile and edge geometry aren't as good as the Masamoto's, but the knife is made of a nice piece of VG-10 with all of the great edge taking and edge holding characteristics that implies.

    Despite what Korin says and advertises, the Masamoto VG is NOT made with VG-10, nor is the line titled VG-10 in Masamoto's Japanese catalog -- it's just called VG.  There's some question about whether it ever was, but it certainly is not anymore.  By the way, that's what all that stuff about "cobalt" giving way to "hyper-molybdenum" on JCK's Masamoto page means.  

    The Masamoto VG alloy is probably (strong, educated guess) VG-5.  VG-5's edge taking qualities aren't quite as good as VG-10's, but on the other hand it's a little more durable.  Unless you're a very good sharpener and/or ride your knives right to the edge of the use/abuse envelope, you're unlikely to notice the difference. 

    The Kagayaki has a small and slender handle, while the Masamoto's is larger.  The Masamoto is a more comfortable knife for almost any hand and any type of grip.  

    The Kagayaki is a very good knife at an entry level price.  You're not going to get a decent "monosteel' VG-10 knife for much less, and the Kagayaki is one step better than decent. 

    The Masamoto VG is in an entirely different and higher class.  As western handled, mass produced, stainless gyutos go you can't beat its performance at any price.  There are other knives just as good that are maybe a little more or less expensive and slightly different in one way or another.  But the Masamoto is a Masamoto.  It sounds tautological, but it actually means quite a bit.

    The one caveat with the Masamoto VG -- and I'm not sure if it still applies -- is that the company was having some difficulty with the F&F of western handle scales.  When (and if) you order yours, make sure you communicate with the retailer and let him know you expect a correctly fitted handle. It's worth mentioning that Masamoto has changed the VG handle material to a POM they call "Duracon."  I imagine that solved he problem.   

    You don't absolutely need to buy a set of waterstones and learn to freehand.  An Edge Pro is much easier to learn and once you've got the right tapes and stones, will do as good a job.

    And yes, sharpening freehand on bench stones does take a while to learn to do well.  On the other hand, it's not that hard. It doesn't take a PhD or anything.  What it does take is practice.  About twenty hours to learn to sharpen and deburr on the medium-coarse stone.  Another fifteen hours to jump up to the medium-fine and hold an angle well enough to use the coarse (for profile and repair); and another ten or fifteen hours or so before you can reliably use an ultra-fine polishing stone.  

    You can think of about half that time as getting to where you understand what you're doing, can do it fairly well and fairly consistently; and the other half as developing expertise and confidence.  I've been freehanding for more than forty-five years and I'm still learning.

    Compare that to about five hours to really get the EP down.

    If knife skills or knife collecting are going to be a part of your life, go stones.  If you just want to flatten the learning curve, get an EP.  Unless that is you really NEED to keep your costs down.  You can get a basic combi-stone (enough to get you going) for about $50, far cheaper than an EP which runs around $150 for a minimal setup. 

    I'm sure you have a lot more questions.  Feel free to ask.

    BDL
     
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2010
  5. sockpuppetdoug

    sockpuppetdoug

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    kohno,

    I was in a similar position to you about 6 months ago.  After a lot of frustration with the knives I had been using, I wanted find the perfect "go-to" chef knife.  And the Japanese steels and profiles seemed to be where it was at.  I got my hands on a few knives from cooks and friends around town.  I was able to test or take home the Masamato 210mm VG, Masamato 240mm HC, Misono Sweden 270mm the 9 1/2" "Mighty MAC" and a 240mm Hittori HD.

    I went on to own a few of these but of those four brands the Masamato really stood out.  It had nothing to do with the sharpness or the handle although I have no problems with those qualities with any of the knives I looked at, it was the geometry.  And, (JMO) I think that's the most important aspect of any knife.  The profile is as good as I could expect and good enough that's it's actually motivated me to keep improving my technique so I can use it to it's full capability.  I went with the carbon because I prefer the ease of sharpening.  But that's neither here nor there.  If I'm not mistaken, the geometry between the carbon and VG are very similar if not the same.  They feel different but the geometry wasn't noticeably different to me.

    As to your other questions:  

    1.  For sharpening, I own an Edge Pro Apex.  In terms of achieving precise angles and extremely sharp edges, it's *great*.  After studying over the videos on the Edge Pro website and reading some of the advice on various forums I was able to get my knife push cut a tomato on my third sharpening.  Since then I've been able to keep the edge with only minor touch ups.  How's that for quick results?!  Having the proper setup for it is important but it's not hard to use.  That being said: there are things that freehand sharpening can do that the Edge Pro (or any jig for that matter) simply can't.  Single bevel edges are a pain.  Thankfully, I don't need them.  Clam shell edges aren't possible.  And varying the angle of inclination (if that's what you call it???) from the heel to the point of the blade is problematic and extremely time consuming.  One thing that I've learned recently is that I prefer a sharper angle at the front of the blade and a shallower angle towards the back.  If I were using bench stones that would be no problemo.  So it could be that I'll slowly start to collect a full set of stones for free handing in the future and keep the Edge Pro for setting initial bevels.  But I'm content to use the Edge Pro for now.  It's a very good system.  If all you want is a sharp knife and are concerned about the learning curve / muscle memory associated with free hand sharpening, then I would recommend the EP through Chefknivestogo.  I got the Apex 5:  not cheap but a good introduction to various stones and the best bang for the buck.  The Chosera stones that come with it are great.  The EP 320 stone is good too.  I can't say the same for the 220 tho.

    2.  As far as bevels go, it's not complicated but probably too much to cover in one post.  There are several books and a wealth of information online that cover the various types of edge bevels and their ideal application for any given knife and type of cutting.  The only thing that I would point out is that you have to discover what works for *you* and the type of cooking you do.  Just because someone says that so and so a knife works best with a 70/30 15* bevel doesn't mean that that's the best geometry for you.  It might be a good starting point.  But finding that right bevel is part of the process of getting to know your knife.  Don't think you have to get it right the first time.  You'll want to make adjustments as time goes by.

    3.  Knife blocks and knife racks.  As someone with a background in industrial design, I have a major problem with the lack of good knife holders out there.  Most of them are cheap and poorly designed.  Some are expensive and poorly designed.  Blocks are good but they take up precious counter space at home and they can be somewhat limiting with the slots provided.  I don't know of any knife block that will hold the set of knives that I've assembled.  The wall mounted magnetic racks with metal have a tendency to "snap" the blade to it's surface.  I don't know that it causes any problems but I don't like it.  The best I've seen is from these folks:

    http://benchcrafted.com/ordering.htm

    I don't have one but if I were to buy a knife rack, the above is what I would get:  they look good and people I respect online have said good things about them.  FWIW, I just use a knife roll.  It's temporary solution but a cheap one that works and since I cook at other peoples home a lot, it's handy.

    Lastly, be forewarned:  Once you have the right knife you'll want to treat it well and keep it sharp.  You'll quickly become curious about just how sharp it can get.  Then you'll be curious about other knives and how sharp they can get.  And then you'll want to know other ideas about sharpening and start experimenting with them.  Before you know it, you're a knife nut.  It's a vicious circle.  I'm just sayin... /img/vbsmilies/smilies/smiles.gif

    I still consider myself a newbie.  I'm learning more about my knives every day but hopefully some of this is useful info.  My vote would be for the Masamato.  I own a few different knives and love them all.  But the Masamotos are my favorite.  And if you don't like it you can always return it for a small restocking fee.  But I'm betting you won't.  Good luck!

    +D.
     
  6. kohno

    kohno

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    Wow!! I'm always amazed at how helpful forums can be and thanks for putting up with newbies like me. Really appreciate it.

    Mike: Thanks! I'll definitely check those places out.

    bdl: Exactly the comparison I needed. Thanks. I've got more questions about sharpening which I'll go into detail below...

    SockpuppetDoug: Thanks.. Unfortunately, I do know anyone else who's into knives so I cant try them out... Guess I've got to resolve to advice on forums for mine...

    Ok..

    Kagayaki vs Masamoto
    • Sounds like I wont go wrong with either of these 2. Down to how much I'm willing to spend I presume?
    Sharpening
    • I'd really like to learn how to sharpen properly (using a block) but at the same time worried about screwing up my precious new knife... Is it that easy to screw up?
    • First things first... Do I really need to sharpen the knife when I get it new? Was thinking maybe I could get the knife and stones AND practice using the block using my other knives (el cheapo ones in my drawers!) for the time being? And fingers crossed, i'll be able to be OK when it comes to sharpening my new knives?
    • The Edge Pro costs more than the stones but very little learning curve but not sure whether I'm being too ambitious but I'd really like to get things right right from the start?
    • If I go for the stones, can someone point me to a link or something that shows the 'right' way of using them? And which ones I would need / get to start off with?
    That's all for now.. still slowly digesting the overload of information above!
     
  7. kohno

    kohno

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    Just thought of something I could do but open for your thoughts...

    How about I consider getting some stones first (would still need recommendations)... and give it a go on my current knives...?

    Another question is can ALL knives be sharpened using stones?

    Also, is anyone here from Australia? Asking just in case there are cheaper/easier alternatives on getting knives/equipment from here locally.
     
  8. sockpuppetdoug

    sockpuppetdoug

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    I think if your gut wants you to go with water stones then go for it.  You might make mistakes but there's very little you can do to destroy your knife short of outright abuse (like repeatedly putting it in the dishwasher).  And yes, starting off with some beater knives is what I plan on doing as well.  I was just discussing this the other day with a professor at the culinary institute in Portland.  His advice was to get a hold of some cheap knives and learn on them first and keep sharpening with them until it becomes second nature.

    One thing to note that you may or may not already know:  most Japanese knives aren't shipped super sharp like Shuns, Globals or western knives.  Some are barely sharp at all and some aren't even sharpened.  So it's very likely that you'll need to refine the edge on your knife when you get it.  Having some prior experience with stones or a jig like the Edge Pro will save you some frustration.  So getting the stones first probably makes more sense.  

    I'm not the right person to give advice on stones or matching steel with oil or whetstone but one more thing that might apply:  I've talked with all the knife sharpeners in my area.  There's 6 of them.  They all do it a little differently - there is no standard.  Five of them don't seem to know what they're doing.  One of them is superb.  Don't be tempted to take your new knife in for an initial sharpening unless you know for a fact that the person doing the work is going to respect the quality of the knife you just purchased.  Maybe it's different in Australia.  I certainly hope so.  But the "professional" knife sharpening services where I live leave a lot to be desired.  And I don't say with any kind of moral superiority.  I'm no expert and I have a lot to learn.  And that's not a knock on people who sharpen for a living either - just a caveat.  If you do feel the need for someone to sharpen it first, make sure to check the quality of their work.

    +D.
     
  9. boar_d_laze

    boar_d_laze

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    Yes and no.  If the price difference is significant the Kagayaki is a great first step into Japanese made chef's knives.  If the difference is no big deal, date Kagayaki but marry Masamoto.
    You probably won't do much to actually screw it up if you approach learning rationally.  What you will do is make yourself nuts as your early efforts go largely unrewarded.

    The underlying question of learning to sharpen on beaters -- good idea, but not a necessity. 
    I've heard the Kagayaki comes out of the box with a better edge than the Masamoto.  I've heard it's actually pretty good.

    A lot of Japanese makers ship their knives with the idea that the retailer will sharpen at the time of sale or the buyer will want to "open" his own knive -- Masamoto is one of those.  OOTB the Masamoto will likely be barely adequate. 

    Whether or not it's the ideal edge for the knife, a Masamoto will work quite well with very simple edge geomtry.  If you don't feel competent to do it yourself, any competent, hand sharpener can.  We can talk about how to find one later, if you like.

    Caveat:   "Any competent hand sharpener," does not mean any knife sharpening service.  Doug was quite right about those.  You don't want to open or maintain either of these knives on a wheel.  You want a more acute angle than most services sharpen (be warned, a lot of services lie about their angles).  You want the knife finished to a far higher degree of polish than most services offer.  So you'll have to look around.  Skilled woodworkers are often great sharpners.   

    You could do a more than adequate job of creating proper bevels on one of the Chef's Choice electric sharpeners designed for Asian knives.  They'll give you a flat 15* bevel on each side, no problem.  They're also adequate, but just... for routine sharpening and maintenance.  I'm not sure about Chef's Choice prices or availability in Oz. 

    Practicing on your old knives is a great idea in terms of you learning to find the correct angle and holding it.  Whether or not it's going to do a lot for the knives is another question.  
    I've been freehanding for more than forty-five years, and don't use the Edge Pro myself.  However, the EP is good enough that I wonder if it's really worth learning to freehand sharpen anymore for anyone other than an enthusiast, collector, or someone who uses knives with special needs.  When it comes to sharpening ordinary kitchen knives for ordinary kitchen purposes the EP will do a better job than all but the very best sharpeners.  

    I'm not saying they're perfect -- just that they do a very good job while mostly avoiding the learning curve.  

    Before we let fear of sharpening grow too large, grab some perspective.  It's only rubbing a piece of metal against a rock, people have been doing it for thousands of years, and for most of those years it was the only way to sharpen.  It's not difficult to become competent -- mostly a matter of practice.  For that matter, it's not that difficult to become very good -- just more practice.  The better you get, the more money (quite a bit, actually) you'll invest in good stones.

    I can't tell you which method would be better for you.  My guess is EP if you can afford one. 
    Yes.  Start with this one, and if you're still interested I'll link you to a lot more -- some videos too.  Let me reiterate what Doug implied when he talked about professional knife sharpeners.  There are a lot of right ways to sharpen.  As it happens, my methods are similar to the guy who wrote the piece, but it's not a big deal.  I don't want to delve too deeply into all the possibilities because my feeling is that you only want to get a feel for what's involved before melting your credit card on an EP, and it can be overwhelming for a noob.

    What you should come away with is the sense that you certainly can do it, and learn to do an excellent job at that -- without too much difficulty.

    Hope this helps,

    BDL
     
  10. yogidog98

    yogidog98

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    I'm also a knife knoob. I have a 10yr-old entry-level Chicago Cutlery block set with wood handles that has been severely abused by repeated dishwasher use.  I know better now, and I'd like to upgrade to some quality cutlery, starting with a good Chef's knife.

    This discussion has just about convinced me to buy a Masamato VG Gyutou.  I want a really-nice all-purpose Chef's knife to start, so I'm a little worried to the thinner blade may not be the best choice for an all-purpose knife.  Of course I can keep my cheap Chicago Cutlery knife around for more abusive tasks.  I understand that the HC knife has some advantages, but while I know enough now to not stick a knife in a dishwasher, I don't know if I'll be diligent enough to maintain an HC blade. I may also consider a K-Sabatier at lower price-point, though I don't think I'd like the full-guard.

    My main question is about the appropriate length for the Masamoto VG.  I've been looking for a 10" blade.  The 240mm converts to 9.4 in, and a 270mm converts to 10.6in.  Is it better to err on the short side (240) or the long side (270)?  I'm definitely no expert with a knife, but I don't want to stay a beginner for long and I've read several posts suggesting 10" is a good general length.

    Also, what are the main trade-offs between the Western and Japanese-style handles?

    Thanks.
     
  11. boar_d_laze

    boar_d_laze

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    Japanese ("wa") vs. Western ("yo") handles:

    If you don't use a pinch grip of any sort, western handles are a little more comfortable with a "baseball" grip.  Lousy way to hold a knife, though.

    Japanese handles are narrower and longer.

    Some Japanese handles are "eccentric," for instance "D" shaped and are suitable only for one hand or the other.  Octagonal handles are ambidextrous.  Round handles are too, but they tend to be a little slippery.

    Wa-blades tend to be shipped narrower at the heel than yo-blades.  This has more to do with the economics of forging and grinding a full-tang blade vs a rat-tail tang, than with the capabilities of the knife.  Let's also bear in mind that wide heels can easily be thinned.

    Wa-knives aren't balanced by full tangs, and consequently are front-heavy compared to yo-styles.  Wa handled knives are usually quite a bit lighter.

    As a rule, the higher your skill level the more adaptable you are to handle shape and size, the less concerned you are about balance.  Similarly, the sharper you keep your knives the more likely you are to prefer a light to a heavy knife.

    Be honest about your skill levels.  You want make yourself a better cook by buying a knife that feels awkward.


    Masmaoto VG vs ST vs HC vs CT vs Some Other Knives:

    Other than handle materials (which doesn't signify much in terms of performance), the onlly things distinguishing the VG from the HC and the CT are the alloys.  If you want a stainless, western-handled Masamoto, VG is a better knife at a lower price than ST

    I'm not sure what alloy Masamoto uses for the ST, presumably some over-hardened flavor of 440C.  Whatever it is, it doesn't get as sharp, stay sharp as long, and chips more easily than the VG-5 (which I think is) used for the VG.

    The CT and HC are not stainless knives.  People who want carbon usually don't want stainless and vice versa.  The HC and CT are made from substantially similar alloys, but the HC's is "purer."  Consequently, it's slightly more corrosion resistant and has slightly better edge characteristics.  

    There are other stainless knives which perform as well as the VG.  Although I personally prefer the VG, I most often recommend the MAC Pro because it's stiffer, has a better handle and feels sturdier.  People coming from German knives sometimes feel that the VG is a little too whippy and fragile.    

    In my opinion the Masamoto HC and Ikkanshi Tadatsuna (shiroko) western are the two or three best, western-handled, mass-produced, carbon steel knives available at any price.  That's partly performance and partly taste. 

    However, the Misono Sweden and Kikuichi Elite are very nearly as good. 

    So, in their own way are a few of the carbon Sabatiers.  The Sabs are more durable, but the edges don't last as long.  While they're capable of a very high level of sharpness, it's not quite as high as the Japanese made knives.  The Sabs need frequent steeling; but steeling is something quick and easy to do and can keep the knives off the stones for quite awhile.

    My list for top stainless (or near stainless) in a similar price range to the VC includes the Ichimonji TKC (now that it's easily available through CK2Go), the Sakai Takayuki Grand Cheff, as well as the MAC Pro.  The Hattori FH and Ikkanshi Tadatsuna (western) cost a bit more, but each brings something a bit extra to the game in terms of fit and finish.  The Tadatsuna has particularly good edge geometry as well.  

    No need to discuss wa-gyuto unless you've got an actual interest.

    240mm vs 270mm:

    For a number of reasons 210 vs 240 and 270 vs 300 feels hugely more significant than 240 vs 270 -- assuming the manufacturer actually gives accurate lengths, a thing not always true. 

    Basically, if you don't have a big board and good knife skills you'll find the 240 a lot easier to manage than the 270.  If you do have good skills and a sufficient work area, a 270 will be more productive.  

    Again, be honest in your self assessment. 

    Bottom Line:

    Coming from Chicago Cutlery, all of these knives will look unbelievably wonderful.  The better, truer perspective is to see them as far more similar than making pretending their differences are anything but slight.  They're all well made using top alloys.  They all sharpen up very sharp, and all will reward good knife skills.

    I'm not telling you a Masamoto VG isn't your best choice.  It certainly is a very good knife indeed.  However, there are a lot of other choices, many just as good.  The more you talk about how you use a knife, and what you want expect from yours, the better I can tailor my recommendations to your needs and the actual differences between knives

    Before choosing a knife, please consider how you're going to sharpen and maintain.  All knives get dull eventually.  All dull knives, no matter how good otherwise or how expensive to begin with, are equal.  Don't waste your money on something that will end up too dull to cut.

    BDL
     
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2010
  12. yogidog98

    yogidog98

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    Thanks, BDL, for your thorough reply.  I always find your posts educational and insightful.

    To be honest, I don't really know how I'll use the knife other than to say "for general Chef's knife stuff."  I've just recently started to have time to do more home cooking, so my original goal was to just upgrade my Chicago Cutlery set for a higher quality set.  I was originally leaning toward a core set of Wusthof Classic, but after reading several of your other posts mentioning better quality knives at lower prices, I realized Wusthof/Henkels/Shun may be overrated and the better option would be a knife brand not typically found at my local retail or department stores.

    I suppose I'll mostly use the Chef's knife for slicing, dicing, and mincing fruits, vegetables and nuts (including citrus, tomatoes and onions), slicing and cubing meats, and occasionally smashing a garlic clove (maybe a cleaver for that?).  Other common knife tasks I have are peeling and coring apples, carving thick slices of pork or beef, splitting chickens, and opening bottles (just kidding), but I'm guessing other knives would be better suited for those tasks.

    Of my current set, I rarely use the 8" Chef's knife, mostly because it seems too short for a rocking motion and has been too dull.  Now that I've read several of your other posts and the knife maintenance and sharpening guide  I know how to remedy that problem; I hadn't even steeled any of my knives more than twice in the last 10 years I've owned them.  Now that I'm educated, I plan to invest in some sharpening equipment and stay diligent keeping my cutlery sharp.  Sad to say that I currently mostly use a 5" non-serrated steak knife for slicing, paring, chopping, boning, slicing, and general use, and an 8" carver/slicer for cutting thick meats.  Needless to say, I have a long way to go to recognize the right knife for the job, but I attribute some of that to not having sharp knives available.  That's my own fault for knife maintenance ignorance.

    As I've learned more about proper kitchen knife use, it's evident that the Chef's knife is the most important piece of cutlery, so I thought I'd start with that.  Since you are the most knowledgeable cooking knife expert I've found on the Internet, I've spent the last couple of days just reading your other posts trying to figure out what you'd recommend if I asked you directly.  I think I want a stainless, 10",  Japanese-made, French-profile (you seem to favor), western-handle Chef's knife without a full bolster (for easier sharpening).  I also have larger-than-average hands.  I'm not sure I understand the differences between the French and German-profiles or which would be best for me, but I think you mentioned you prefer the French profile in another post.  

    I wasn't originally planning to spend as much as a Masamoto, but I'm looking for the best I can afford, and you made a pretty strong statement favoring them:
    As for length, I don't think cutting board space is a problem--I'll upgrade to a bigger board if it is--but I'm sure it's obvious I have novice knife skills.  I can slice a carrot, cucumber or onion with proper technique (as far as I can tell), but I certainly don't have the experience or confidence to do it quickly.  I'm worse with dicing and mincing.

    As you know from one of my other posts, I already impulse-bought a Calphalon LX 3" parer and 5" utility knife.  After I get a good Chef's knife, I'll probably buy the MAC Superior 10.5" bread knife you recommended in another post and then look for a good carver to finish off a core-set.

    For sharpening equipment, I'll probably start with a Spyderco SharpMaker and a ceramic "steel".  I plan to eventually invest in 2-3 waterstones.  I think the Edge Pro would get me better results, but it is so expensive that I think I'd rather invest the time to learn how to use waterstones.  Are there any specific brands of waterstones I should look for or stay away from?
     
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2010
  13. kohno

    kohno

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    Thanks bdl.

    I'm looking at a 240mm Gyuto.

    Masamoto 240mm VG Series - $183

    Kayagaki 240mm VG10 - $141

    If only they're readily available here in Oz for me to have a feel of both in my hands... FYI, over the years, I've grown accustomed to the size and weight of a chinese cleaver... would this make a difference in whether i go for Masamoto or Kayagaki?

    If you're saying that the Masamoto OOTB is less than adequate, i reckon it'll be a challenge for me to find a 'good' knife sharpener here... as in someone who can do it professionally for me.

    In terms of sharpening the knives myself, i'm trying to get away from electric sharpeners - it's either I go for EP (i presume the Edge Pro 3 is sufficient?) or I use stones (can you recommend a couple of stones for me to start off with?)

    Also, why wouldnt my other knives benefit from sharpening using stones? Which brings me back to a question i previously asked - can ALL knives be sharpened using stones? Do all knives need to be honed?

    Not sure whether i'm confusing you more but i'm just trying to digest as much information as possible before i make my purchase.
     
  14. boar_d_laze

    boar_d_laze

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    Some Sharpening Stuff:

    Spyderco Sharpmaker and a ceramic steel are redundant.  The fine stick makes a pretty good steel -- if too short and too much of a PITA to set up for my taste.  People LOVE the Sharpmaker, but it's really not a substitute for stones.

    Regular flat bench stones will work for nearly all knives.  For the sake of completness the limitation on all is that some serrated knives are or highly curved knives are better sharpned on slip stones (or curved files).  Not much of an exclusion, really.

    Not all knives sharpen best on a given set of stones, or even -- if you're dividing into types -- on waterstones.  I'm coming to find that my oilstone set is more efficient on tough steels which aren't very strong (i.e., Euro stainless), than my waterstones which seem to be more efficient on everything else.  Does this mean that you NEED two complete sets of stones?  No.  You can get by with a waterstones and add oilstones later. 

    Just one of those nuances.  I've been sharpening for a long time, more than forty five years (and have been pretty good at it for more than thirty-five), and I'm still learning stuff.  Moral of the story:  I'm not trying to steer you away from stones and towards an EP.  On the contrary.  I just want you to be aware of what's involved.  

    Knives like the Kagayaki and Masamoto require a good bevel, a sharp edge, and a fair bit of polish to operate at its best.  That means a good set of waterstones.  The good news is that you don't need them all at once.  There are two ways to start.  One is to buy a medium-coarse/medium-fine combination stone.  The other is to buy individual stones at those levels. 

    Once you've learned to use the medium-coarse stone to consistently do your basic sharpening, you can move up to the medium-coarse stone.  If your angle holding isn't solid and you haven't developed a sense of touch and pressure, you'll mess up your bevels and edge -- dulling instead of refining a fine edge, smoothing the bevels, and preparing the knife for polishing. 

    The same "dull instead of sharpen" is true if you move on to a polishing stone if you haven't developed the technique to use it. 

    If you start messing with coarse stones before you're ready, you can mess up your edge badly enough to need a skilled sharpener to correct it.  That's the whole point to coarse stones -- they're FAST.  But, thank God, you don't have to know THAT much.  Armed with a basic understanding of what you're trying to do; enough practice on the medium-coarse that you can kinda-sorta hold an angle; and the magic marker trick, you'll be OK.

    So, it takes about four times the amount of practice just to get the point to  get solid enough on the medium-coarse to move on to the medium-fine with some assurance that you'll actually make the medium-fine work as it does to master the whole Edge Pro system. 

    Is it worth it? 

    To me, yes.  To you?  I can't say.  If you like working with your hands, developing feel, all that sort of thing; or, if you see yourself as becoming a knife collector or if your a tradition bound luddite; or a whole lot of other things, then stones or for you.  If you simply want the best practicable edge and get on with it, I'd go with an EP. 

    You're not going to get me to make up your mind for you on this.  I don't know if it will make it easier or harder -- but it should make it more comfortable -- for you to know that these are two good choices and you can't go wrong either way.

    Kit 3.  Wonderful stuff.  Would work great for all your knives.

    Let me add that the EP Apex is not a perfect tool.  Although very well made, might feel a little rickety and might slide around a little if you don't put it on a good surface.  The Pro is better in those respects, but it's nowhere near worth it's price for what you want to accomplish.  If you were sharpening twenty knives a month, yes.  But five knives every 10 weeks?  No.

    I like Naniwa 10mm stones for beginners because they're very responsive (as stones go), fast, inexpensive, maintain easily, pre-mounted on bases that add more responsiveness, and thin enough so they're not a life time commitment.  I don't know whether they're available in Oz or not.  Something makes me thing they aren't.  

    What you will need if you do go stones is a medium-coarse (which is around 1000# JIS), and a medium-fine (3000# to 6000#).  There are plenthy of fine choices, but I don't know what's available to you.  I prefer Naniwa over Shapton and just about everything else.  Bester 1.2K and Arashiyama (aka Takenoko) are an outstanding pair which are durable and good enough to last a lifetime. 

    Suehiro makes a good, reasonably priced combination stone.  Everyone and their aunt learned on the King 1K/6K or Norton 1K/4K.  Combi stones are an economical starting point, but you'll outgrown them. 

    Whatever you choose, be aware that you'll also have to make some provision for flattening.  It doesn't have to be an expensive choice, but it will have to be a choice.  FWIW, most of my peers use a DMT XXC (expensive) diamond plate but I use (cheap) drywall screen.

    Do all knives need to be honed?

    Unfortunately "hone" is one of those words that can mean a lot of different things. 

    If by "honed" you mean "trued on a rod honed" aka "steeled," the answer is:  Almost all knives can be dinged out of true and require truing of some sort; but not all knives should be trued on a rod hone.  

    Knives made from very strong, very hard steel chip too easily to make it worth the risk of steeling.  You wouldn't steel a metallurgical powder hardend to above 63RCH ,for instance.  Knives with highly asymmetric edges -- chisel edges for instance -- don't respond well either. 

    For those knives, the most efficient way to true either is to "touch up" on one or two stones.   And yes, ordinary sharpening does true the edge. 

    High end, traditional Japanese knives tend to be both asymmetric and extremely hard.  And, the Japanese have pioneered the use of very hard alloys and extreme asymmetry in western profiles as well.  But not all -- or even most -- western profile, Japanese knives are made that way. 

    Neither the Masamoto nor the Kakayagi fall into either of the unsuitable categories as shipped.  You can, if you like, sharpen either to that level of asymmetry in a search for absolute sharpness.  I don't recommend it though, because the edge collapses too easily.   

    Did Your Cleaver Leave You Forever Sullied?

    Your cleaver use won't make any difference in how you feel about Kagayaki vs Masamoto.  Just as the moonrise restores Aphrodite's virginity every night, switching from a cleaver to a pro quality gyuto should do the same for you.

    THE Dreaded Sports Cars Analogy:

    The Masamoto is a better all-round knife.  It's better in ways that will make a very small difference in terms of your knife prep, and won't make much of a difference at all in your general cooking.  Sort of like the difference in choosing between Porsche and a Mazda roadsters to drive to work.  Porsches are nicer, Mazdas cost less. 

    Masmaoto OOTB Edge:

    One never knows exactly which edge is going to come out of a Masamoto box.  It seems to depend on who's doing what for Masamoto, things which are by no means constant; and what Masamoto and the e-tailer have going on between them. 

    Most likely you'll get a Christmas Morning edge -- sharp enough to fool around with for a week or so.  You'll want nice, wide, flat bevels and a fine, polished edge to not only get a sense of the knife -- but to have an edge that will stand up to a couple of months of ordinary home kitchen use without dulling too much or too fast.

    E-Tailers and Sharpening and E-Tailers and Korin's Weirdness:

    Both JCK and Korin will arrange to have the knife sharpened for you before shipping -- for a price.  Either will do a good job.  Getting the edge you want as opposed to the edge Korin thinks you should have can be a bit of a chore.  You have to be very specific with Koki (at JCK) about what level of quality you expect from sharpening.  

    I'm not sure about shipping to Oz, but I quite like dealing with Chefs Knives To Go (aka CK2Go).  I'm not sure if Mark will arrange for an initial sharpening or not. 

    Purely as a side note, Korin is reliable, honest and very good to deal with, but they have some eccentric opinions.  They can also be startlingly misinformative.  You're only likely to run across two issues with them.  If you ask them to open the Masamoto for you, they'll likely recommend a higher degree of asymmetry than you want.  IIRC, Masamotos ship at 50/50, and Korin likes to sharpen at 70/30.  In fact, Anywhere from 50/50 to 2:1 (66/33) is OK, with 60/40 an excellent compromise. 

    Also, if you ask, they'll tell you not to use a "steel" on any Japanese knife.  That's crap.

    Masamoto Handles -- Known Issue:

    For awhile western-handled Masamotos shipping from several sources have had some serious issues with sizing, smoothing, gaps, climate shrinkage, and just plain bad F&F. Why?  It's probably one of those weird OEM/keiratsu things that's impossible to deal with because it's... well... Japan. 

    Viel erfolg explaining that in Solingen.  Not to mention why you won't let it put you off. 

    If you order a Masamoto, be very specific with your e-tailer (especially if it's JCK or Korin) and insist that you want handle scales which fit properly. I think Masamoto's resolved the issue at the production level, but why take a chance?  They'll look through their stock to choose the best knife for you if you ask, so ask.

    Hope this helps,

    BDL
     
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2010
  15. chrislehrer

    chrislehrer

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    At that price difference, go Masamoto. As BDL has said, the Masamoto is simply a superior knife. I'm amazed by the price you're getting for the Masamoto, however -- that is VERY far under the Japanese list price. Assuming it's not an error (yours or the seller's), snap it up. If you don't like it, you can sell it for more than you paid.

    Length: Masamotos run long, typically by 5%-10%. I don't know why.

    Usage vs Chinese cleaver: yes, it's going to be a change. A BIG change. If you make an effort to learn -- proper grip and stance, cutting a little slowly at first, aiming for push-cutting whenever possible, etc. -- you will quickly pick it up and, in my experience, never look back. I used a Dexter Russell Chinese cleaver for years, loved it, bought a Masamoto 270 wa-gyuto in Japan, now cannot understand what I saw in the cleaver. But save the cleaver: if you keep a slightly fat edge on it, it will be spectacular for occasional brutality (splitting a lobster, for example, or shearing through chicken legbones).

    The EdgePro will do a lovely job. As someone already said, it does have problems, notably when it comes to single-beveled knives, but this isn't a single-beveled knife so that's moot. Hand-sharpening is fun and not difficult, and a Masamoto is truly a pleasure to sharpen: it's remarkable how little effort is required to put a disturbing edge on these things, and once it's there it'll stay there surprisingly long. But you will quickly get used to a screaming edge, and find yourself touching up your edges more often than is really necessary. Either way will suit. The main objection I have to an EdgePro is that it's a relatively large object that has to be set up, and that makes sharpening a project in a way I find irritating. Many people do not feel this way -- it's simply a question of what's convenient and appropriate to you. I like taking out a brick (basically what a standard stone is), dropping it in water for a little while, putting it on a damp cloth, and sharpening on it. When I'm done, I put it aside to dry and that's it. For me, that makes touching up one knife a quick thing, not a big deal. If I were using an EdgePro, I think I'd probably end up doing all my knives in one big session. Just some thoughts. Either way, if you use the equipment effectively, you will get very good edges. And don't be scared about freehanding: take it easy, go slow, and you'll get good edges quite quickly. It's very satisfying.

    Full disclosure: I bought a carbon Masamoto, not a VG, but I have heard reliable reports that the VG is also delightful to sharpen. I use an eclectic set of waterstones based around Chocera 400, 800, and 2000, with a synthetic Arashiyama 6000, SuperStone 10,000, and small natural finishing stone rated somewhere in the vicinity of 15,000. For my Masamoto, which I use as an all-purpose knife, stopping at 2000 is beautiful, but I can never resist going up to ludicrous levels of polish, which the knife adores.
     
  16. chrislehrer

    chrislehrer

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    A brief addendum based on stuff BDL just posted:

    In my considered opinion, asymmetrical sharpening, as a good thing, depends very heavily on a couple of factors, not all of them obvious.

    First, you need a knife with really excellent steel. Not an issue here, with either knife.

    Second, you need to be a semi-passable freehand sharpener or a careful, patient user of an EdgePro or similar high-quality jig system.

    Third, you need a good high-grit stone (I agree with BDL -- about 3k minimum) that dishes as slowly as possible, or its equivalent in EdgePro terms.

    Fourth, you need to be willing, until you master the system reasonably well, to touch up your edges pretty often, like every couple weeks or so.

    Why?

    Asymmetrical sharpening is absolutely dependent on the steel --- if you do this to a soft Euro-style steel, it's going to fold on you badly. Doing it freehand is quite easy; doing it with an EdgePro or the like means switching angles back and forth very consistently and carefully. To get edges like this to be really excellent, you've got to bring them to a pretty high polish, in my experience, and that means regular touch-ups on a high-grit stone -- and if it dishes badly, you're going to do a lot of flattening, which is a pain and ultimately rather expensive.

    If you have a reasonably clear sense of how to use a good sharpening "steel" (hone), and you keep your edge close to symmetrical, and the steel in the knife is not ludicrously hard (as these are not), a 50/50 edge is simply easier to maintain.

    Myself, I like extreme asymmetry, and keep pushing my Masamoto on this. To do it, I sharpen my knife regularly -- sometimes two or three times a week -- only on my hard natural stone, grit ~15k. That's ridiculously high polish, and I do just a tiny bit of grinding. I go very low angle on the face, maybe 10 strokes, and then just 3 or 4 strokes on the back, edge-trailing only, very lightly. Repeat, with 5 strokes front and 2 back, then 3 and 1. That's it. Since the stone doesn't soak, the whole procedure takes about three or four minutes.

    But if this sounds like lunacy or a pain or whatever, insist on a 50/50 symmetrical grind, and keep it that way by whatever means, and also touch up regularly and carefully on an excellent hone. You will not regret it.
     
  17. boar_d_laze

    boar_d_laze

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    Hey fellas,

    Chris's Masamoto is Hitachi's wonderful YSS "shiroko" alloy, a very strong and tough steel hardened to around 63RCH (Rockwell "C" Hardness).  Masamoto is VG-5 at a tad under 60RCH, and Kagayaki is VG-10 at right around 60RCH.  They are different animals.

    Neither the Masamoto VG nor the Kagayaki will be anywhere near as durable as Chris's KS at extreme asymmetry (70/30 and more).  If you try it with one of those, your edges will collapse.  Maybe not as though they were made out of paper but darn quickly.  Remember, too much asymmetry means no steeling so you'll be pulling out the stones every week at least -- if you're lucky.  Although it's an interesting experiment for a hobbyist and/or seeker of wisdom and truth, that much maintenance is too much for most home cooks. 

    It wouldn't be that much of an issue with a knife that doesn't take the hard knocks of a gyuto.  I don't see it being a problem with a yanagi for instance, or even a suji.  I do know a couple of pros using equivalent stainless gyutos sharpened to a chisel or near chisel in pro kitchens, but they both sharpen every day or every other day at least. 

    A final polishing phenmenology (which Kohno should probably ignore):  Chris, assuming you sharpen more or less the way I do, you're not going to get the edge much finer by going to a higher grit than you'll get on a good 3K.  (As it happens, we both use the Chosera -- which is NOT a good choice for Kohno.)

    Just to be clear, by "finer," I mean thinner at the intersection of the bevels, the width of which the quantifiable measure of true sharpness. 

    Medium-fine stones (2.5K - 6K, about) do leave a little bit of scratch on the bevel face, and a tiny bit of micro-serration as well.  Ultra-fine polishing stones (>6K, approximately) polish out the bevel face and knock the teeth off resulting in less friction.  A polished edge isn't sharper than a properly sharpened edge, but acts sharper in that it glides better.

    Some steels take more polish than others, similarly some hold a high polish better than others.  All of the knives we're talking about will easily take and profitably hold the equivalent of a Naniwa SS 10K polish. 

    I'm not sure if I'm adding to anyone's knowledge storehouse or just blathering.  Let's hope for the former.

    BDL
     
  18. chrislehrer

    chrislehrer

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    Oh -- I didn't realize that the KS series steel is so different in hardness from the VG. Sorry! OK, yes -- DO NOT go with strong asymmetry, or it will end in tears (of frustration, if nothing else).

    As to the grit level, polish, whatever thing -- mild disagreement with you, BDL, but mostly because I didn't probably give enough information. It's irrelevant to this discussion -- sorry I brought it up.
     
  19. yogidog98

    yogidog98

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    BDL, I'm glad you mentioned the details about e-tailers and sharpening.  The only e-tailer reference to edge symmetry I found for Masamoto VG was at JCK link, which said the knives ship with 70/30 asymmetry.  I had assumed that was how they were manufactured and what Masamoto recommended.  It sounds like you recommend a 60/40 or a 50/50 (factory?) edge.  If I go with the Masamoto, I'll have to check with my e-tailer to see if they just leave the factory edge or if they've already modified it.
     
  20. chrislehrer

    chrislehrer

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    yogidog98,

    I can say with some certainty that Masamoto's ship, from the main company in Tokyo (want the street address?), with no bevel at all. They're not sharpened. They're very thin, very plain, very straightforward, and as a result they're very sharp by the standards most Western home cooks are used to. But they're not ground.

    In my opinion, however, the way the Masamoto KS wa-gyuto (the thing I actually have) is set up, it's somehow leaning a little to the left. I don't know how to explain this, because I'm not quite sure what I mean. I just know that when I took my totally unsharpened knife and played with it, it seemed like it had just a hint of left-ness, as though it were a distant cousin of a right-handed single-beveled knife. I did not see any of this in angles, so it may be total illusion, but I assure you I had no previous expectations on the issue and I picked this up strongly. Maybe someone else has seen it?

    That said, Masamoto swears --- guarantees, actually --- that their unground double-bevel knives can be ground lefty just as effectively as righty, and I would be deeply, deeply surprised if they were not being dead honest about this.

    Result: if anyone tells you that Masamoto's ship from the factory ground asymmetrically, they're full of it. The knives ship unground, and perhaps with a faint lean. (On which I wonder whether a lefty would have perceived the thing to have leaned in the other direction, but that's another question....)