What "features" do you look for in a kitchen knife?

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There are so many nuances in the design and fabrication of any knife! I was just reading thru one of the posts on knife steel (S35VN) and started to wonder what folks here prize most when picking a new knife. Do you base it all on specs? Or appearance? Or do you "have to pick it up to know"?

Since I don't do a lot of heavy work, I generally prefer a thinner/lighter blade. But, even using a pinch grip, I find a knife's handle to be a key factor for me. It's not only my 'interface' with the knife, but it's really the primary area where any artistry can be expressed. And as I get older I realize I'm happier using things that bring joy both in their design and their appearance. :)
 

phatch

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Steel, temper--RC around 60 which is lower than some here prefer, geometry, (thinness, height of grind, thickness behind edge) minimal belly, symmetric grind, no bolster the height of the blade. Handle just needs to be tough, minimal contour, impervious to common kitchen elements, bonus points for flat butt reinforced for crushing.

More bonus points: crowned spine, true distal taper,
 
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Steel, temper--RC around 60 which is lower than some here prefer, geometry, (thinness, height of grind, thickness behind edge) minimal belly, symmetric grind, no bolster the height of the blade. Handle just needs to be tough, minimal contour, impervious to common kitchen elements, bonus points for flat butt reinforced for crushing.

More bonus points: crowned spine, true distal taper,
Do you have certain steel(s) you look for, or just those that meet your HRc and geometry/design requirements? Does "minimal contour" mean something like a wa handle or simple slabs of wood on a full tang (like Warther uses), but done in synthetic materials (G10/micarta)?
 

phatch

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1050 or better in carbon (better meaning higher carbon up to about 1%) and useful alloying agents. Low/no silicon
440 C is my preferred start in stainless, but frankly most stainless makers don't reach that high. Sandvik stainless I've liked all the varieties I've tried. I really dislike the the AUS 6,8 10 steels though 10 is very similar chemically to 440 C. N690 is another 440C-ish steel I've liked when I've used it.

The various XCROMOV family is usually not hardened enough. It's not bad if hardened higher.
 

phatch

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Most mainstream handles are fine, they make little difference. I just don't want to baby the material. Cocobolo or stabilized wood (pressure injected with resin so it won't obsorb water and such. Pakka wood is one but most any wood can be stabilized. ) would be my limits in wood. Otherwise, a fiber reinforced composite is good. Micarta is a bit absorbtive on the surface layer, especially canvas micarta. FRN is fine with me too as in the Victorinox Fibrox line.

For example, the VG10 Slitbar from Ikea is an inexpensive knife I use a lot. It's not pretty, and it's a bit thick behind the edge, but offers a lot for the money. Too bad it was discontinued. I have a MAC 10" chefs. I have a 10" Henkels. I started with a 10" Wusthof I liked better than the Henkels, but it broke and had changed more than i liked at the time of replacement from what I originally had. I have some Victorinox hanging around, I particularly like the Victorinox paring knife. I'd prefer the blade was bit stiffer in that one. I've used a bunch from New West Knives. I use their petty regularly, I think that's BG42, or something similar or at least from the vintage mine is.
 
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Another question: what do you mean by a "true" distal taper? Do you mean there are some makers that claim a distal taper but don't actually have one? Or have some type of 'modified' distal taper? Just curious.
 

phatch

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You can kind of fake it with dropping the spine along the length of the blade. This brings the spine down in thickness but the angles are slightly different than tapering the billet to begin with or forging it in.
 
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Sharpness, the most important feature, as for me!
LOL, yes.
How do you ensure this feature remains a constant on your knives?
And do you have a preferred steel material and/or hardness, and a preferred edge angle?
 
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Well, I sharpen my knives once a week or depending on the frequency of use. I do not have a preferred steel material, but I do love to cut when it is perpendicular .
 
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I like White #1 and Aogami Super for carbon with a softer stainless cladding. The trade off is white #1 takes the finest edge, but sacrifices retention. AS has the best retention, but sacrifices sharpness - that said I'm hard pressed to tell the difference fresh off the stones. For stainless steel I like AEB-L, Sandvik 19C27 and Ginsan silver 3. I did acquire a 210 gyuto in Carpenter BD1N taken to 63 hrc and it performs admirably.

Most Japanese blades have little to no distal taper till you hit the grind. They are just forged that way and one adapts. I'm not too fussy about handles other than they be comfortable in the hand. Since I use a pinch grip it's kind of a moot point for me. The thing is my knives get wiped clean after every use even in between ingredients. They are tools and I treat them as such.
 
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I like the look of Japanese blades, but in use they are pretty tough. I mean, everyone with his own preference...
 
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It's a funny thing. I've been in my share of top kitchens. I cannot remember seeing any big-name Japanese knives being used by the main-line guys. The guys not wielding the standard-name German stuff all have either Macs, Gordons or Victorinox. I do know that if whatever you're using ain'te razor sharp all the time you'll be working the dish-pit. A boss once grabbed my knife to cut up some stuff ... cursed at me and threw it maybe 5-feet into the sink.

So blah, blah, blah ... what I'm saying is the stuff I see the most is either Messermeister, Zwilling / Henckels or Wusthof. Does that mean anything? ... NO ... I'm just having conversation.
 
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I want to share with you my favorite chef's knife. I prefer to go with something more classic, newild kitchen knife 8 inch chef's knife.
 
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The guys not wielding the standard-name German stuff all have either Macs, Gordons or Victorinox. ... what I'm saying is the stuff I see the most is either Messermeister, Zwilling / Henckels or Wusthof. Does that mean anything?
What that says to me is that affordability and toughness are more important than expensive, hard blades, which makes sense in a commercial kitchen. Knives that get abused all day long (and thrown across the room?!?) will require less work to maintain a daily dulled edge than constantly repairing chips or broken tips.
 
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I want to share with you my favorite chef's knife. I prefer to go with something more classic, newild kitchen knife 8 inch chef's knife.
Interesting knife. It uses softer, tougher steel but also has the appearance of soft cladding. Is this actually layer-cladded, or an etched pattern?
 
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If something I don't know please tell me what I miss?
Nothing specific. Everyone has their own criteria and I was curious what different things folks looked for.
I make custom kitchen knives and I incorporate the things I feel are important into them: hard, tough steel that takes a super-sharp edge and holds it for a long time; thin and lightweight; ergonomic design; and artistic details. For me, these make an ideal kitchen knife that works well, feels comfortable, isn't fatiguing or irritating, and looks beautiful.
 

phatch

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There is no best knife. All knives are a trade off of characteristics. As you increase the hardness and edge holding, you also increase the brittleness and likelihood of chips for example. There isn't a right answer, there is the balance that matches your preferences, sharpening equipment and budget.

How much angle do you like between the flat of the blade and the handle? Again, this is about preference, not right or wrong. Some of it will have to do with how tall you are and the height of your work surface. Recommended work heights are just based on averages of humans, not you specifically.

What knives have you liked in the past? What was good about them? And what was bad? How do you sharpen them? What is your budget? Where are you shopping from as availability and cost changes by location. Answers to those and other questions help us point you to good candidates.
 
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eiron ... I think you're taking something from my point that isn't really there. Now what you said about "get abused" just doesn't happen to a top Chef in a pro-kitchen. Nobody's knife gets thrown around even though it happened to me. I was a brand new fill-in guy working a Michelin kitchen. The sink was a good long arm's reach from where we were working. That same owner/Chef was impressed with me enough to invite me back. The guys I've worked with just don't have any love-affair with Japanese stuff. There is no romance involved with a tool. YES ... it's a very important tool, but it either works or doesn't work. They've got the name-brand stuff with great resumes that you can find all over the country in regular stores; and they ain'te all so cheap. They are generally heavier and do take their share of a night's work in step. Gordon or Victorinox are also quality names affordable to new young guys earning an honest living that have to pay for a lot of other things instead of a fancy Japanese knife. I've been using my Chef's knife since 1974 and have never had a chip or broke the point. You could replace it today for under $20. It's an original from Chicago Chicago Cutlery knife. I love it.

Sorry it took me so long to get back to chat with you. Yeah ... affordability and toughness are important too. ... Like you said.





"We work in kitchens ... It ain'te rocket surgery.".
 
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