Very Basic Sharpening Set Request

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Boar_d_laze,

I have read many of your reviews, some on other forums and I've yet to encounter an instance where you weren't helpful, insightful and well written, so as many before me have said, thank you for providing the benefits of your experience.

I've found what you've written about the Tojiro DP, how the handle is a little boxy but if purchased at the right price point it is a good value and how you prefer the MAC Pro. It seems both are on the harder side and may be a little more prone to chipping than some. I guess at this point in my education I'd rather take my chance with the $70 Tojiro than the $120 MAC. lt also allows me the luxury of buying the petty knife.

I own a bike much like the Tojiro, I equate it to being the lower end of the good stuff. I've had it for 4 years put over 16,000 miles on it and based on use could have made a case for spending more. There is pride that goes with owning some of the best equipment but there is also satisfaction in buying value suited to use, well not to mention the practical application of having the money to spend elsewhere. My bike gives me 90% of the value of equipment easily costing twice as much.

If I spent the time you do with a knife or was in the culinary arts, I'd buy the Mac in a heart beat. If I was a racer I would have spent the extra money on the bike. I think that the Tojiro will be such a step up that I will be quite happy for some time.
 
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Going back over this reminded me of another question I wanted to ask, how far do you push a Chefs Knife? By that I mean, I know you don't get near frozen food or real bone, but are they acceptable for cutting up a chicken where the bones are less dense than beef?

Are there other chef knives than the Tojiro DP that would be better suited to general tasks including cutting up a chicken?  That could change my opinion on the DP, as neglecting to spend a few extra dollars to get a knife best suited to tasks would be a regretful use of money.

I can use the Henckles for tougher jobs but would still like some flexibility is the use of a new knife.  
 
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The Tojiro DP is a decent, entry level Japanese Chef's knife.  It's not the best by any means, and probably not even the best deal.

If you're going to do a lot of heavy duty tasks involving cartilage and poultry bones,  you'll want some sort of heavy duty knife.  Ordinary, high quality Euros such as Wusthofs or Henckels are up to the task, as long as they're given a fairly obtuse edge.  Forschners chef's knives are a little problematic because they're pretty light.  I use an ordinary, 12" K-Sabatier au carbone as my "chef de chef." 

One of the drawbacks to Japanese made knives is that they're both lighter and hardend in such a way that the "strength" alloy is favored over "toughness."  In practice that means that a Japanese knife might chip at the edge when a western knife would only deform; and that when a Japanese knife does deform, it doesn't "steel" back into shape as easily.  When it comes to Japanese made knives, you'll probably want something special -- along the lines of a "western deba" or maybe a garasuke. 

Tojiro DPs used to have a reputation for being slightly over-hardened and consequently prone to chip.  They were also marginal when it came to steeling.  At a guess, DPs are one of the sources of the myth that Japanese knives cannot be steeled.  Back to the topic, it's my understanding that they've made some subtle improvements to the line over the years and that the alloy is lightly tougher now.  Still, I wouldn't use one frequently for heavy duty use.

BDL
 
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Steels, while I do a double take on my knife choices I figure I should review my ability to care for the knives.

I have a old ceramic steel with no makings of any kind on, it feels fine grained but probably best to not take the chance and buy the Idahone fine.

The other is a JA Henckels Soligen that has a fine ribbed structure. I've read not to use true steels on Japanese knives (though that may be brand dependent) and as I've read various opinions on do/don't use ribbed steels. Thanks for any comments!

I have a 1000 / 6000 waterstone so should be OK there but wouldn't use it on a new knife until I had more practice.



 
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The ceramic you have actually appears to be an Idahone -- or something very similar.  It needs cleaning -- Idahone sells an "eraser" and I think Japanese Knife Sharpening carries it.  At least they used to.  In the meantime, wash the rod with soap or a mild abrasive and a mildly abrasive rag or sponge like a Scotch Brite.

There's any need to buy a new ceramic hone unless the current one is too short or is scuffing up your knives.

I actually use two rods.  One, a HandAmerican borosilicate (glass) is an "ultra-fine;" it's so fine, you might as well call it smooth.  I use it when the knives are still fairly fresh from the stones and the edge has deformed but not worn down at all.  When the glass hone no longer gives me the results I want I switch to an old Henckles -- much like yours but worn down somewhat smoother.

MACs aren't hardened to a high enough degree that you have to worry about hurting them with a steel (as long as you steel properly and don't clang the knife against the rod).  You may certainly steel a MAC as long as you haven't made the edge highly asymmetrical.

BDL
 
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Lol, that was after cleaning with a scotch brite! When I went looking for the Idahone I saw the eraser and plan on getting one though I've temporarily suspended the knife purchase due to information overload.

I'm sure there are a dozen knives that I could buy and be happy with but sometimes it's good to step back and re-evaluate before committing. I suffer from engineering analysis decision making mentality disorder anyway and it gets worse when the purchases involve subjective values.
 
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BCycler,
I'm sure there are a dozen knives that I could buy and be happy with but sometimes it's good to step back and re-evaluate before committing. I suffer from engineering analysis decision making mentality disorder anyway and it gets worse when the purchases involve subjective values.
Beautifully put.  By the way, your bicycle comparison is pretty good too.  At least I found it illuminating.

Perhaps the best way to deal with "paralysis by analysis" is arriving at a position where all of the choices but the very good ones have been eliminated, and raise your awareness to the point that you understand there is no one, "best" choice.  Whatever torments of the damned you go through then are just part of the fun. 

So far you've been the one suggesting manufacturers' lines and models.  Maybe if you told us something more about what you want and how much you're willing to spend ...  MAC Pro isn't the only recommendation I make, y'know. 

Nor is Tojiro the only alternative.  Some other good entry level knives are Misono Moly, Kakayagi VG-10, Togiharu Inox to name a few. 

As to MAC Pro, I really like their chef's knives for a lot of reasons for a lot of people.  But not only isn't it a knife I own, it isn't the knife I'd choose for myself even if I were looking for a western handled, stainless knife in that price range.  FWIW, that would most probably be a Masamoto VG or possibly a Sakai Takayuki Grand Cheff.  Let me spend a few more bucks (which I would certainly spend), and it would be a Tadatsuna.

The larger truth is that I'd be very happy using any of the named knives, including the MAC Pro.

MAC Pro has a few outstanding qualities which make it an easy recommendation -- great handle, easy to sharpen, doesn't chip easily, good agility, good "feedback," and so on.  But it's outstanding characteristic for people new to high quality, Japanese knives is its stiffness. 

The overarching concept is that just as there are a lot of very good choices, there are a lot of nuances. 

The more we know about you, the better we can help you narrow it down to the set of knives that would suit you very well indeed.

BDL
 
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BDL,

It may seem like I'm making the suggestions but I've tracked your comments (and others) across so many continents that I feel like Philias Fogg. I've reduced them down into what I thought were the best sauces and tried to judge from there.

I am not and never will be a food industry professional, unless by the most bizarre twist of fate. Like many folks I really appreciate equipment that works well and I will buy the best (or something close to it) if that's what the situation calls for but I'm much more about function than aesthetics, so my best is heavily waited toward function. Aesthetics are the icing on the cake, nice to have if you can get them reasonably as part of the package. Sometimes it's a precious waste of money to buy the best, there are tools which are best left in the hands of professionals.

All I'm looking for is to replace a few of the poor knives in the collection with good working knives that function well, hold an edge and that eventually that I will be able to properly sharpen after much practice on the run of the mill pieces.

To my mind the two most likely candidates would be a Chef's knife and paring, or a petty knife (on the shorter side). I would lean more towards a general purpose Chef's knife. I have the Henckels for the heavier tasks but still I wouldn't want something so fragile that the prospect of separating a piece or two of chicken would cause horror to race through my mind (for fear of damaging the knife). If I absolutely have to make that hard line use distinction I can but it wouldn't be my first preference.

Other wise the main uses will be for cutting up vegetables, there's only the wife and myself at home and we eat lots of salads, a fair amount of chicken and the odds and ends of meat that make it across the table every now and then.

Since routinely it's just the two of use, I'm leaning towards the 210mm Chef Knife as the 8" blade seems adequate for general purpose use. I can see the 240mm for some of the things I do but usually it's breaking down a few carrots and an onion, peppers and not in quantity.

Regardless I think part of the joy in anything is owning something that you look forward to using.
 
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About the joy in owning items that work right, somewhere along the way, or in another topic I've posted we recently bought a Samsung electric range that has a convection oven.

There are times when I do minimize the value of equipment, boy have I ever been wrong. We fixed a small turkey tonight with no prep (other than rinsing), tossed into a pan uncovered, inserted an electronic thermometer and placed in the oven on convection roast. 2 1/2 hours later out came a golden brown, moist, tender, turkey the best we've ever fixed including the ones I've brined. The meat came out perfect.

Unlike the regular over there was little extra run up in temperature. I turned the oven off when the bird hit 175 and the resting temperature maxed out at 178. The only negative is I have to buy a bigger drip pan now, too much grease splatter from using a regular pan. Sorry for going off topic but I'm a little giddy at the moment! 
 
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BCycler,

First of all, I entirely agree with you about function over form. Of the kitchen-knife-enthusiast community's various topics, the one that means nothing to me is the aesthetics. Some people get very excited about "Damascus" lines, hammered finish, black steel, whatever. I want utility. I get really weirded out by the intricacies about handles -- I just want them not to fall off, and to have an appropriate weight for the knife.

Second, you really need to kick back, breathe, and have a couple cold ones. This isn't rocket science. More to the point, a decent knife used for purposes within its intended range, without grotesquely bad technique, does not need to be treated like it's made of glass. That goes for both cutting and sharpening. The only serious knife style I know of that must be treated with kid gloves is the usuba, and I assure you that you not want one of those anyway. A chef's knife that is not a piece of junk will not respond badly to strong usage, and since you already have a Henckels to use as what I call a "brutality knife," you're in the clear.

The principal issue is money. The Masamoto KS wa-gyuto I have is very expensive, and even BDL admits it's right up at the top of the list among truly great chef's knives. But you don't need to spend that kind of money to get a great knife. Every one of the knives BDL has suggested, here and elsewhere, is a good knife. A few are known to be idiosyncratic, particularly the Tojiro, which seems to have a kind of love-it-or-hate-it thing going on. So I'd pass on it for that reason -- what if you hate it?

Once you have the knife, don't do this thing everyone does about sharpening, where you plan to practice and practice on your old beaters until you know enough to approach the Good Stuff. Beaters can be very difficult and awkward to sharpen, teaching you bad habits. You've got a good knife, sharpen it and stop worrying. Use a decent-quality medium-fine stone, and a good rod for honing if that's what you like, and don't put a lot of force into it. Go slow, pay attention to what you're doing, and it will be fine. If you later on decide you don't like the bevel on the knife, because of your sharpening or the way it was initially ground, go ahead and put a new one on it. Takes some time, but it's not especially difficult. Decent, effective sharpening is easy, and don't let the enthusiasts and occasional fanatics tell you otherwise.

What's the worst that can happen? You break the tip or put in a big old chip. You know what? It can be fixed. Sure, the knife will lose something in the process, but it can be fixed. Got some micro-chipping? Fine, just plan to spend half an hour sharpening instead of the usual 10 minutes and it'll go away.

As the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy put it, "Don't Panic!"
 
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What Chris said.  Mostly. 

I've always thought Masamotos were among the very best and have always coveted several.  So, it's not a question of "even BDL" at all. If I were buying a new knife tomorrow it would either be a Masamoto or a Tadatsuna.

The stone you want to start with is not a medium/fine but a medium/coarse.  In (Japanese) grit size, that's about 1000.

After you learn to "pull a wire" or "draw a burr" (same thing), chase it and deburr with the medium-coarse, you can step up to a medium-fine and learn the rudiments of polishing.  It takes about twenty tries (roughly) before you can reliably make a knife sharper than it started on a 1000, and about twenty more to step up to a 4K, 5K, or 6K and not actually dull the knife.

It's mostly a matter of learning to hold a steady angle, and learning to see and feel the changes you make as you go.  Once you've got that down, it's safe to move on to a coarser stone. 

That said, most of us learned on a coarse/medium-coarse combination stone and managed to do just fine.

FWIW:
  • Coarse (profile, repair) < 700
  • Medium (sharpening) ~ 1.5K to 4K
  • Fine (polishing) > 6K
  • Ultra-fine = 10K and up
  • Anything in between is something in between.
BDL
 
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Good advice ChrisLehrer!  The odds are I wouldn't hate the Tojiro though. My experience has been that to hate something it has to be a peice of junk, or it had to be compared to something much better, bearing in mind that better might only mean personal preference.

There is a certain amount of bliss in being an ignorant savage. I didn't hate my 20 year old straight ski's until circumstances forced me to rent a pair of shaped ski's, and now I own shaped ski's. I'm pretty safe in that I don't run in circles that would have me comparing knives but the point is well taken and I have been trying to balance out the price differences with the risk reward potential. 
 
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BDL and I are in perfect agreement. I just think of 1000 grit as being medium-fine, for some reason. As to "even BDL," that came out wrong. I guess I just meant that there's no question of there being a few truly super-fantastic chef's knives, the Masamotos among them, but they're also truly expensive.

BCycle, you're probably right about the Tojiro, but there's no question some people hate them. I have never heard of people having this kind of strong negative reaction to the other knives BDL has recommended here and elsewhere. Never having handled one, I've got no real take on it, other than that I'd avoid something that provokes, however intermittently, hate.

But my primary point, which I'll repeat because I think it bears repeating, is that you shouldn't think of a chef's knife or petty or paring or whatever as something to baby. They don't need it. Be sensible -- don't try to chop large frozen objects or on a metal counter or something -- but other than that you can treat them as the fine tools they are. Which, in the case of knives, includes sharpening them.
 
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I appreciate the comments as I have read some reviews with comments about chipping (including the Mac Pro) and was starting to get a little paranoid.   
 
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More often than not chipping results from a bad board.  Use a good one.

As you learn to sharpen, learn to thoroughly "deburr."  Burrs, aka "wire edges" can tear and the rupture can easily turn into a chip.  Properly sharpened knives (and it ain't that difficult) are very resistant to chipping.  Part of the art in sharpening is shaping an edge appropriate to your knife.  Fortunately, the best edge shapes for a MAC Pro are very easy to learn and do -- and are quite robust as well.

People who lump Japanese made knives into one basket and make universal pronuncements like "never use a steel" are either trying to simplify things for you or don't know very much themselves. 

No extra juju attaches to a knife simply because it's made in Japan.  Whatever differences there are in maintenance occur as a result of alloy, hardening, knife profile and edge profile -- not provenance. 

MAC Pros are made with the stainless ally VG-5 (probably); hardened to around 58-60 HRC (a good balance of strong and tough); shaped with a fairly conventional French profile; and should be sharpened to a simple and fairly symmetric flat bevel (50/50 to 60/40 about) at around 15* or slightly more acute, or else a simple double (ideally 15*/10*).  

The knife should be profiled, sharpened and polished on a good three or four stone set, and for most purposes is best finished to a polish in the 8K to 10K range.

MACs do not "wave" easily -- but they do wave.  Given that the alloy is not over hardened, not too hard, and assuming that the edge is not to asymmetrical, the edge should be occiasionally trued on a good rod hone (aka a steel) such as an Idahone fine ceramic.  

Don't worry.  When the time comes, I'll teach you what all of it means.

BDL 
 
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More often than not chipping results from a bad board.  Use a good one.

BDL 
Along with all the other information given here, this point is very well spoken.  Some of the national manufacturers use a resin hardener on their boards which contributes to chipping.  And well worn cutting surfaces with deep cuts can also lead to chipping. 
 
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  BCycler...have you thought about making your life easier by getting an EdgePro Apex?  They may be a little bit of money up front, but they let your produce some pretty nice edges!  It seems like you've spent a decent amount of money so far...I was just wondering if you've considered it.

   stay sharp my friend,

    dan
 
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I haven't looked at the edge pro seriously though I have heard it mentioned. Of the money I've spent so far I expect the diamond stones to be very useful for tools if only marginally useful for knife sharpening, so that only leaves the one combination waterstone I bought recently (about $35), the jury is out on it but I think it's OK for the 1st run. The ceramic steel I've had for probably 20 years and the steel "steel" for more than 5 years.

It is an interesting process, I don't wish to repeat the pain of those gone before me but there is a certain amount of experimentation that needs to be done to become knowlegable on any topic. Some of the most useful information comes from trial and error (mistakes) but I'd prefer not to make any expensive ones.

The cutting boards I've also had for many years and I"m sure they are not the best so I swung by Bed Bath & Beyond a few nights ago, checked their stock and decided I had no clue if the boards had a good resin or not, I'd picked up that clue from some other forum posts.

The other casualty in this will be the current magnetic knife holder. It's not quite strong enough for the bigger knives and one lost it's grip and hit the new stove (no damage). It may well have been the wife's placement of the knife but regardless, I've ordered magnets and am going to take a shot a making a no damage magnetic keeper with sufficient holding power. I know they are available commercially but making one should be fun.  Based on my tendency to over-engineer I may have to keep it away from any metal surfaces until I get it mounted and put up a couple warning signs for people with pacemakers.
 
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Stones:

If you're going to buy Japanese knives, you'll need a quality waterstone kit.  The 1K/6K combination stone -- or any other combination waterstone for that matter -- is a stop gap.  Combination waterstones break easily.  You'll wear through the 1K a lot quicker than the 6K (which you won't even learn to use profitably for months).  The stone's too slow for bevel flattening and minor repair.  

There are some minimalist "two stone" guys out there, but most good sharpeners go through with three or four stone kits.   

There are some decent, inexpensive stones out there.  The names can be confusing, but it's interesting to note that a lot of them are made by or for King to be sold under their name or under another. 

Inexpensive stones usually employ "mud" (natural clay) binders.  The downside is that they also use low-end abrasive which is distributed unevenly, sharpen slowly, dish quickly, chip, nick, crumble at the corners, etc.   There are some good mud binder stones out there, notably Nortons and the very best Kings (including Ice Bears).  But the good mud binder stones are not cheap.  They're just as expensive as resin binder stones.  

If Norton waterstones were a revolution when they hit US sharpeners, Shapton synthetics took it to a completely different level.  But that's history, not a recommendation.

I like Naniwa 10mm Super Stones for beginners.  They have a lot of "feedback" and are great to learn on.  They are easy to maintain.  They come already mounted on bases.  If, after you've figured out what's going on you decide to move to something different, they're cheap enough to replace without regret. 

In the meantime, if you're going to maintain European stainless knives, you'll want coarse and fine India stones, and a soft or hard Arkansas stone. 

On a personal note, I disinterred my oilstone kit to sharpen a friend's Henckles.  I used the two Indias and the soft Ark with soapy water and was surprised at how sharp the knives got and how quickly it all went. 

Boards: 

A board is a big deal thing in your kitchen.  Don't buy plastic or fiberglass, they'll ruin your knives.  Even the color-coded plastic that the Food Network loves to "use for chicken and avoid cross-contamination." 

If you're buying from BB&B, Wal-Mart, or somewhere similar you want to stay away from bamboo.  Otherwise, buy hardwood, buy rectangular, and buy big enough -- you should be fine.  An 8" x 12" board is not big enough.  Board management is one of the most important knife skills.  In addition to making knife work difficult and dangerous, small boards are impossible to organize and ultimately make cooking a lot messier than it otherwise would be.

BDL
 
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Thanks BDL, big cutting boards would be great but it's going to take a re-work of the kitchen to get enough counter space to house good sized boards. I hope to do a gut and rebuild this year but as everyone knows the kitchen is the most expensive room in the house, let alone the disruption of normal living and moving of appliances as part of the process.

Spare change?
 
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