Question - What do you think makes a good 'relationship' with a knife?

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Joined Apr 9, 2018
Hi!

I am doing my thesis project in a design school at the moment and I FINALLY got to do a project with kitchen knives which I've been interested in for a while now, sooo I have a provocative question for everyone...

I think its interesting how some of us have very positive relationships with our knives - e.g. I love my Gyuto and rarely is anyone else allowed to use it - and yet many cooks have terrible habits of using and maintaining their knives - despite the fact that it is the most used tool in the kitchen and requiring most skills to master. So I am trying to find out more about what makes some of us have good relationships with this iconic tool to hopefully find ways of enabling others to improve theirs....

Currently I am working on a website for my project where I am collecting stories of kitchen knives with photos so you can see what knives people are using, and read about the relationship of the owner towards each knife, perhaps to find some inspiration or realize that you may be missing on something - you can find it here (tho it is not quite finished as of now).

I would be super interested to hear the story of your kitchen knife, if you want to share it?

or if you have any other thoughts on what makes your relationship with your kitchen knife(s) good, or what it took for you to make the relationship good - I´d love to hear!

Cheers!
 
3,235
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Joined May 5, 2010
Welcome to ChefTalk zahor.j

I write a monthly column in the local newspaper called "Ask the Chef." This next months question brings up a great point I made in my column. Basically "if you have to alter your hand grip to accommodate the knife, then it is the wrong fit."

The relationship between a cook and the knife is that said tool is an extension of the cook's hand. It should feel natural.
Those that purchase the high quality steel with an edge that can cut a human hair in half is all great, but how does it feel in the hand? How does it react to the handling? That's the relationship..... Anyone else?
 
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Joined Apr 9, 2018
Welcome to ChefTalk zahor.j

I write a monthly column in the local newspaper called "Ask the Chef." This next months question brings up a great point I made in my column. Basically "if you have to alter your hand grip to accommodate the knife, then it is the wrong fit."

The relationship between a cook and the knife is that said tool is an extension of the cook's hand. It should feel natural.
Those that purchase the high quality steel with an edge that can cut a human hair in half is all great, but how does it feel in the hand? How does it react to the handling? That's the relationship..... Anyone else?

Hi and thanks!
That is a very good point, and from what I have seen recently, especially for most untrained home cooks with no enthusiasm for knives this is a very confusing subject.
 
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What chefross chefross said is spot on. However, to add to that, the question is how does a beginner or intermediate cook know what feels good in the hand or how do they know how to gauge the reaction of the knife when handling it? Those of us with years of experience know what we like because we went through years and years of trial and error. Most of us have used just about every style of knife under the sun. Beginners and intermediates do not generally have the benefit of that experience.

So, whenever someone asks me to recommend a knife, I ask them two questions: What is its intended use and what is their skill level? Knowing what the knife is going to be used for obviously determines the style of the knife. But, knowing the user's skill level and technique determines the precision of the knife. What's the sense in spending $400 on a hand forged Japanese knife designed to filet fish and make precision cuts if you don't know how to filet a fish and/or lack the skill to make precision cuts?? Not to mention that someone who does not have good knife skills can get seriously hurt, especially with a knife sharp enough to split atoms.

Once I know the user's skill and technique level, I can better match them with a knife best suited for them. In that process, they learn the details of what style of handle they prefer, how different blade lengths and thicknesses feel and perform, how the difference in blade flexibility performs and so on.

Granted, there is no substitute for time and experience. But, by matching the user's skills more accurately to the knife's characteristics can cut down on the amount of time it takes to gain good experience.

Cheers! :)
 
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Joined Apr 9, 2018
Interesting thoughts here! I remember buying my first knives and going through the process of learning what feels right (so far) not to long ago and without good advice it can take both lots of time and money to find.

Recently someone shared this story with me, which I think is interesting and reads very nicely. Funayuki-Gyuto
 
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Joined Nov 15, 2012
Benusers comment about habit is very cogent here. Having done original research into biomechanics and motor control, it is my strong belief that habit restricts us, in all areas, and no where can this be seen more in culinary circles than in the area of knives. And that any chef can handle quite a variety of knife idiocincracies, and should aspire to such ADAPTABILITY, instead of succumbing to "habit" and believing that there is only one perfect knife for him.

So whereas I agree with Benuser, with all due respect I have to "sort of" disagree with ChefRoss. Poorly conceived ergo-handles and unwieldly high tips and big bellies aside, one should not experience difficulty adapting to slight variation of handle, blade geometry and balance, so far as what is encountered in the range of well respected, "performance oriented" kitchen knives. Not so long as proper technique, biomechanical/motor-control considerations, are recognized and employed - along with recognition of the knife's particular characteristics and how they are best put to use.

Most knife-nuts have this down pretty good, which is why their collections can get so huge and varied.

PS you'll noticed upon examination that most so-called ergo-handles actually facilitate a hammer grip more than anything else, and are strictly meant for those with poor technique.
 
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Joined Apr 9, 2018
Interesting to hear the different angles.

I am curious how this translates for someone not into knives who buys only a few knives, or is actually given the knives without having a say in it. I reckon most people try to evolve their style around the knife they have, rather than having the luxury and interest in buying a knife that best suits their "style" as they most likely use variations of hammer grip.

Recently received this story which is really nice - Funayuki-Gyuto

Would much appreciate if anyone wants to share their story btw ;)
 
3,235
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Joined May 5, 2010
What chefross chefross said is spot on. However, to add to that, the question is how does a beginner or intermediate cook know what feels good in the hand or how do they know how to gauge the reaction of the knife when handling it? Those of us with years of experience know what we like because we went through years and years of trial and error. Most of us have used just about every style of knife under the sun. Beginners and intermediates do not generally have the benefit of that experience.

So, whenever someone asks me to recommend a knife, I ask them two questions: What is its intended use and what is their skill level? Knowing what the knife is going to be used for obviously determines the style of the knife. But, knowing the user's skill level and technique determines the precision of the knife. What's the sense in spending $400 on a hand forged Japanese knife designed to filet fish and make precision cuts if you don't know how to filet a fish and/or lack the skill to make precision cuts?? Not to mention that someone who does not have good knife skills can get seriously hurt, especially with a knife sharp enough to split atoms.

Once I know the user's skill and technique level, I can better match them with a knife best suited for them. In that process, they learn the details of what style of handle they prefer, how different blade lengths and thicknesses feel and perform, how the difference in blade flexibility performs and so on.

Granted, there is no substitute for time and experience. But, by matching the user's skills more accurately to the knife's characteristics can cut down on the amount of time it takes to gain good experience.

Cheers! :)



....oh I forgot to mention the "Chefs" callous that stays with you throughout your career.
 
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....oh I forgot to mention the "Chefs" callous that stays with you throughout your career.

Callous (a dead skin buildup) is always the result of improper usage and development practices. I have met martial artists who break bricks with their knuckles, and they have no callouses, just very thick, healthy skin over their knuckles. Same with bone tissue, no calcification growths/ugly bulging of the knuckles, just a healthy thickening of the bone sheath.

A relaxed grip and properly prepared equipment as Beneuser stated, along with a reasonably gradual and relatively short break-in period, this is all it takes. A simple vinegar tincture of safflower petal applied with a dropper is a very potent break-in salve here (don't taint the solution by dipping your fingers into it), and your local chinatown herbalist will be able to provide even better, though it's not necessary.
 
3,235
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Joined May 5, 2010
Callous (a dead skin buildup) is always the result of improper usage and development practices. I have met martial artists who break bricks with their knuckles, and they have no callouses, just very thick, healthy skin over their knuckles. Same with bone tissue, no calcification growths/ugly bulging of the knuckles, just a healthy thickening of the bone sheath.

A relaxed grip and properly prepared equipment as Beneuser stated, along with a reasonably gradual and relatively short break-in period, this is all it takes. A simple vinegar tincture of safflower petal applied with a dropper is a very potent break-in salve here (don't taint the solution by dipping your fingers into it), and your local chinatown herbalist will be able to provide even better, though it's not necessary.


Too much too late, but thanks for the info now.
From a home cooks point of view perhaps the Chef's callous will never appear, however; when tasked with chopping a 50# bag of Spanish onions in a limited time EVERY DAY for weeks on end, the most important thing a cook is going to think about is how to hold a knife properly and comfortably. Time restraints, and stress can take their tolls.
 
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Joined Apr 9, 2018
Rounding the spine and loosening your grip helps a little bit.

This is something that surprises me - the spines - the round spine makes a lot of sense with "the claw", but it is quite rare - even my most expensive knife (Minamoto Blue #2 Gyuto 240mm) doesn't have that, but is adds so much to the comfort.

Actually recently I tried to teach a friend to use pinch grip and claw his fingers on the ingredients and this was his biggest remark - that it is really uncomfortable how the sharp spine rubs against the finger.
 
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You should also round the heel, along with doing the Spine, just the side your middle finger hits in the pinch, that way you get the biggest radius.
 
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Joined Jul 13, 2012
Do you mean the "choil" (back of the blade) or the "heel" (rear bottom of the blade)? I tend to round both when refurbing a blade.
 
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Well, heel-end or choil, that section hanging down from the tang, that your middle finger inevitably comes in contact with in the pinch.
 
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Yes, technically speaking the heel is actually that annoying, mostly right-angle point located bottom of blade, handle-end - known mostly for drawing blood with any careless use of the knife-hand with well sharpened Japanese knives. I round them a mere 0.5mm radius with a fine hard stone, this relatively insignificant alteration of geometry does significantly cut down on blood loss, especially for those of us who suffer from sub-clinical seizures.
 
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It really can't be over stressed that the process of sharpening and otherwise maintaining the blade-road and cross section profile geometry is essential to any reasonably complete "relationship" with a knife.
 
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Haha, that is the way I cut myself a couple of days ago - on the heel, but I never considered 'rounding' it before. Tho I do round the curve where fingers rest, not the tip however.

Last weeks I was making my own knife from a blank by stock removal, all by hand files, sand papers and stones and that gave me time to rethink a lot of the details on the geometry of the knives that I use, and I ended up making a completely round spine and heel towards the handle actually.
 
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Some makers round the heel, I have on a few refurbs. Saves towels too . . .
 

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