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View Full Version : How do you decide on a custom knife?



Lucretia
12-21-2011, 06:37 PM
Coming up on a major birthday soon, and thinking about telling the spouse that I need a custom knife for a present. But how do you decide which one? I'm working on a short list of knife makers--one uses steel that I know I like and makes outrageously gorgeous knives. Another uses steel that I'm not familiar with, but sounds like F&F are outstanding. I'm a home cook and will use the knife regularly, but cooking for 2 doesn't subject it to that much abuse. I've been trying to rank what it important:

1) Cutting--if it doesn't work as well as my production knives (ZK, Epicurean Ryusen) it would really hack me off
2) Comfort--it needs to fit my hand. And I want all the comfort features--rounded spine, choil, etc.
3) Bling--hey, it's kitchen jewelry or diamonds. It's a BIG birthday!
4) Steel--I adore my 52100. But damascus is sooo pretty! (see #3) And I don't want something that's going to be too fussy.

So how do you decide on a custom knife? And how do you know it will "fit" once you get it?

WildBoar
12-21-2011, 07:11 PM
1) Go with a maker who has a proven track record. There are many makers on this site, but some are fairly new to kitchen knives and are still on the steep part of the learning curve. As a result, their prices are usually lower, but if you absolutely cannot tolerate a knife that may not do as well as what you have consider going you may not want to help with their learning.

2) Rounded spine, choil, etc. are pretty standard with most of the makers around here, and as long as you make it clear that is what you want you should be able to get it. As far as fitting your hand, you may want to give them examples of knives that do fit you well so they can at least look at pics.

3) Can get a bit of bling with the handles, such as damascus or mokume bolsters/ ferrules, end caps, etc. Some offer etching on the spine (Randy Haas, maybe some others).

4) Lots of makers here use carbon steels, typically either 52100 or O1. And the damascus guys usually all offer carbon damascus (stainless steel damascus is a bit harder to make, from what I have been told). Also, some makers who cannot make damascus themselves will buy from DT, Del, etc.

To a certain extent, it's up to you to do your homework ahead of time in order to help ensure the knife will 'fit' you. But most experienced makers will be able to provide recommendations based on criteria you give them. I had 3 customs made by Pierre Rodrigue early on in my knife learning, and they turned out pretty well even though I was not able to provide him with a lot of criteria other then handle types, basic profiles and steel.

The best thing you can do is call or email one or two of the knife makers who consistantly catch your attention. I have spoken with several of them, and found them to be quite willing to spend some time getting to know what you like and look for in a knife.

Your biggest hurdle may be the timeframe -- it can be 4-6 months for some of the makers, and over a year for others.

kalaeb
12-21-2011, 07:29 PM
Here is my take:

I have bought, sold and used many J knives in the past three years, most of them have been great knives. I have sold most to get custom knives, but... in regards to your question #1, you probably will not be able to detect a hugh difference. If you are expecting the knife to perform X times better because it cost X more, you will be hacked off.

They more than likely will be more comfortable, and can be as "blingy" as you want.

Many makers here work with a variety of steel from 1095, W2, 52100, to CPM 154 and AEB-L and damascus patterns from infinity and beyond. I am confident you can find one who will work with the steel you prefer.

Here is my real reason for getting customs:

For me it means more! Nothing else.

It means more to me to support the local craftsman and members of this community.

It means more to me to have a one of a kind hand crafted piece.

It means more to me to have "heirloom" quality pieces.

As crazy as it seems I like thinking to myself as I am cutting, slicing and chopping that the knife I am holding has been meticulously hand forged, crafted, treated and sharpened by a real person for countless hours. Instead of cranked out by a factory.

I am willing to pay more for that pleasure.

Hope you find what you are looking for, Happy future birthday!

ajhuff
12-21-2011, 11:59 PM
Steel is overrated. Any respectable knife maker is using quality steel to make a quality knife. I think you can remove that criteria from your decision tree.

-AJ

jmforge
12-22-2011, 12:01 AM
Hell, most DISREPUTABLE kniemakers use quality steel these days. I should know.:doublethumbsup:
Steel is overrated. Any respectable knife maker is using quality steel to make a quality knife. I think you can remove that criteria from your decision tree.

-AJ

Andrew H
12-22-2011, 12:37 AM
Steel is overrated. Any respectable knife maker is using quality steel to make a quality knife. I think you can remove that criteria from your decision tree.

-AJ

It depends how particular you are. Seeing as we are a forum of very particular people, I would say steel choice is important to many people on this board. Just because a knife maker works with a quality steel doesn't necessarily mean you like how it feels on the stones or the level of edge refinement you can get from it. :2cents:

DwarvenChef
12-22-2011, 03:12 AM
Steel is overrated. Any respectable knife maker is using quality steel to make a quality knife. I think you can remove that criteria from your decision tree.

-AJ

How could I NOT reply to this :p Not to bash :) Everyone here knows I'm out in left field in this... or did I fall off the map?? Anyway, the choice of steel is truly up to you, as long as what you want is something the maker you like is good with that kind of steel. There are makers on this forum I would dearly love to have knives from, but they work in that funny shiny stuff and I just can't get past it :p

oivind_dahle
12-22-2011, 07:27 AM
Go for a Bill Burke custom
He is the master of 52100
http://www.epicedge.com/shopexd.asp?id=89777

I see you are writing "soon". Then I have to say: A custom knife from a top maker is at least a year waiting.
Devin and Bill Burke are the best you will find on this site, and I guess their waiting list is at least a year. But I can tell you: its worth it .)

Lefty
12-22-2011, 11:05 AM
I only have my one custom knife, made by Pierre. To be honest, I went with him based on the pictures and praise on these forums (all of the guys here get and deserve it), and I also wentwith my gut. We sketched out a tentative design and chit chatted back and forth (over coffee, for me) about what to go with, steel types and the Leafs and Habs. I knew I had the right guy making my knife, right off the hop, and it is a thing of beauty!
My advice is to discuss what you want with one of the makers here. If it doesn't feel right, try another maker until you get the right vibe. It is important that the maker sees your vision, and has the technical and artistic ability to create a knife that is everything you pictured, and more.
Good luck, and let the good times roll!

Lucretia
12-22-2011, 11:15 AM
IMO, a custom knife is functional art--with emphasis on "functional". I don't expect it to go in the kitchen and prep by itself, but it would be disappointing to get a knife and end up not using it because it's not as good a cutter as something off the shelf. If it's just jewelry, I want to wear it--and for some reason folks get excited when you walk around with a 10" blade hanging around your neck....



I see you are writing "soon". Then I have to say: A custom knife from a top maker is at least a year waiting.
Devin and Bill Burke are the best you will find on this site, and I guess their waiting list is at least a year. But I can tell you: its worth it .)

The "soon" would entail getting a spot in the queue. I don't mind waiting a year. It builds the antici....................pation.

Eamon Burke
12-22-2011, 03:38 PM
My answer in short: talk to them directly! Check out their work here, and then contact the ones you like. It's a custom knife, they will do it just how you like!

welshstar
12-23-2011, 01:22 AM
There is no comparison, a custom knife is probably not the way to go if performance is your main goal.

If beauty and pride of ownership is important then custom is the only way to go.

Custom knives are some of the best value things in the world

Alan

Eamon Burke
12-23-2011, 02:27 AM
I'm not sure I understand that last one. The customs I've used(except for one) have all been solidly ahead of the pack, performance-wise.

jmforge
12-23-2011, 03:23 AM
I was going to say that properly made customs and expensive J knives are or should be made to almost a cost/labor time no object standard and not a price point like their more affordable cousins, so the performance should be better.
I'm not sure I understand that last one. The customs I've used(except for one) have all been solidly ahead of the pack, performance-wise.

Lefty
12-23-2011, 12:44 PM
The performance compared to price argument always makes me a little bit torn. Of all of the knives I've used, my favourite is my only custom. It honestly does cut as well as, or slightly better than my favourite "stock knives" made by Carter. Without going into details about price, the bit of extra cash I spent on it is more than justified by performance, quality and beauty. To be honest, I'd pay what I did again and again to get a knife like I did.
It's when you get into the 10x the price for a custom market that I wonder how much a one of a kind is worth. Luckily, I'm too cheap to have to worry about that one. ;)

welshstar
12-23-2011, 12:51 PM
I'm not sure I understand that last one. The customs I've used(except for one) have all been solidly ahead of the pack, performance-wise.

My only point was that if you have a limited budget then typically for say $300 you can get better performance from a stock knife than a custom. I was not implying that customs always have lower performance.

Lefty
12-23-2011, 01:14 PM
My only point was that if you have a limited budget then typically for say $300 you can get better performance from a stock knife than a custom. I was not implying that customs always have lower performance.

I see what you're saying, but I think a more accurate way of explaining it would be that you could get better performance at a smaller size in a custom, for the same price as a bigger stock knife.
As a home cook, I'd take a 210 suji or a 185 gyuto from Pierre, Carter or Marko (by the pics and reputation) over a 240 gyuto by Shigefusa, Nenox, Hattori, etc. The only exception, from my experience might be Konosuke. However, this is why I love the idea of "Mid-Techs". I'll be getting a pro series Rodrigue for about the same price as a Kono, and I know the performance will be great, as will the "uniqueness" of the knife.
By the way, I've already put my name in for a pro series, so I think that's proof, should you need it.

oivind_dahle
12-23-2011, 01:29 PM
Most makers like to thing their knives are better than factorymade knives, however I suspect this to be not true. There are few makers out there that makes knives that will outpreform Masamoto KS or other great knives. This forum got 2 makers that are active here on the forum that will make better knives, and their pricing starts on 2000 USD for a knife and have waitinglist for over a year....

Are you willing to pay that amount of money on a knife?
I am, but then again Im a homechef and Im not afraid that anyone else than me and my GF will use em, Im not afraid of them being stolen or lost at work :)

RRLOVER
12-23-2011, 06:28 PM
I would say you should get a custom,lots of good makers to choose from.As far as performance goes there is a lot of BS'in,the money you are spending is on fit and finish.You will get a great performing knife but a $1500 custom is not going to cut 7x better then my $200 TKC.So if you have the cash order yourself a bada$$ custom and love it any time it hits the board,

jmforge
12-23-2011, 09:19 PM
I know that my new Carbonext gyuto and Hattori FH are not top of the line J knives, but there are a couple of things about them that would not be acceptable to the folks on here on pretty much any custom knife, even a reasonably priced one. They do not have rounded or even beveled/chamfered choils or spines and there is an uncorrected divet on both of them on the spine right in front of the bolsters. I would guess that this came from shaping the handle, but for $125-250 retail, they have to move pretty quickly on the line. i guess that my point is that with any custom, you should expect a fair bit more hand work and attention to detail.

Marko Tsourkan
12-23-2011, 09:41 PM
A better fit and finish, is just one aspect of a custom knife (and relatively insignificant, in my opinion, think Carter knives). Other aspects as a choice of steel, RC hardness, heat treatment (tweaked to user preferences), geometry, balance, handle size they all matter. . One can control all these things in a custom knife, while can't in production or ready-made knife.

M