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Lefty
04-19-2011, 11:57 PM
With all of the high level knives out there, it got me thinking...
What is the most important characteristic for me (in a gyuto/petty/Suji)?
For me, I'd have to say it's a toss up between profile and a nice taper from spine to cutting edge.
If a knife has too much or not enough belly, I suddenly lose my ability to fully cut through an item. I leave the pieces together at the point closest to me, on the board. It's a pretty decoration, but doesn't do anything positive in my food.
If a knife is too thick behind the edge, I just don't enjoy cutting with it. It gets stuck, feels clumsy and worst of all, turns a razor into an axe.
Another very key component for me would have to be durability. I hate having to baby a knife, when I know my Henckels chef knife can plow through a squash and squash though clove after clove of garlic and make paste on my board, when needed.
Durable and thin behind the edge with a perfect amount of belly. Sounds great to me!

mainaman
04-20-2011, 12:42 AM
geometry, if it is not proper everything else does not matter IMHO.

Dave Martell
04-20-2011, 12:50 AM
Here's my list in order of importance...

1. Geometry

2. Profile

3. Heat Treat

4. Steel

5. Handle

mattrud
04-20-2011, 01:17 AM
I pretty much have the same list as Dave but I think within those factor they are subjective to each person. A lot of people prefer different geometry to one another.

oivind_dahle
04-20-2011, 01:20 AM
1. Geomentry
2. Profile
3. Steel - no fan of patina
4. Balance
5. HT

Larrin
04-20-2011, 01:28 AM
I think you guys are putting the handle a little low on the list.

Lefty
04-20-2011, 01:37 AM
It makes sense that we all agree that geometry (taper) is arguably the most important characteristic in a knife, and so far not a single person has said hardness or steel.
While the sales reps and newbies worry about hrc or vg10/sg-2, etc we have all figured out that we would rather have to sharpen a knife more often, as long as it makes cuts that make us go "daaammmn!" than have a knife made out of ZDP-189 and hardened to 64 with a fatness behind the edge.
That does make me wonder, however, why the fabled aritsugu type a is such a legend. Upon purchasing, it is reported you have to blow through a 220 stone just to get it thin enough to be enjoyable to use. Of course, once you have it where you want it, the edge holding ability is supposedly phenomenal.
So, realistically, you turn a knife with nice steel, a decent handle and incredible durability into a knife with those characteristics, plus the most important of all, good geometry (to you). It's almost like getting a knife made for you, by you.

Salty dog
04-20-2011, 01:38 AM
I'd have to agree with everyone. It's also related to a subject I've been thinking alot about lately. When we say "geometry" essentially we're talking about the grind. The perfect balance of thickness, weight, taper, etc. It seems that a number of makers are capable of producing knives with good steel but what sets them apart is the grind/geometry and polish. You could add handles but I prefer function over beauty, although I recognize some people are into wood and Americans like their sizzle.

With that being said, the Japanese still set the standards on geometry and grind.

Lefty
04-20-2011, 01:42 AM
I think you guys are putting the handle a little low on the list.

I almost agree. If I'm getting a custom, then yes the handle is hugely important, because it is where we can best make it a true custom knife. We get to show our personality and have the exact knife we have been daydreaming about...plus, we're all a bit vain, aren't we?
I realized today, while making a dinner that I often have such a light grip on my knife that the handle is almost unnecessary. You could attach a weight to the opposite end from the tip to balance the knife, and I would still be happy cutting with it. That of course is assuming the geometry and profile are to my liking. :)

tgraypots
04-20-2011, 06:33 AM
I like the word "architecture," vs geometry, as I think that's more inclusive. Shape, grind, balance, form follows function, and how that particular object (a knife in this case) occupies it's space.

Chef Niloc
04-20-2011, 08:06 AM
I think kitchen knifes are like good food. Every thing is just as important, every thing has to come together just right for the perfect blade. How ever a good blade can be achieved by over compensating for some shortcomings.
So not necessarily in order:
Good recipe= geometry
Is it cooked right= heat treat
Ingredients = steel
How does it look = well looks, this includes the handle.
Does it taste good = how does it cut?

So based on that I would say heat treat is #1. if the blade's not cooked right it will suck.
#2 geometry
# 3 hoe it cuts
#4 look's
#5 the steel.

StephanFowler
04-20-2011, 08:11 AM
FYI - I am finding this thread to be very interesting.

Marko Tsourkan
04-20-2011, 08:12 AM
I think kitchen knifes are like good food. Every thing is just as important, every thing has to come together just right for the perfect blade. How ever a good blade can be achieved by over compensating for some shortcomings.
So not necessarily in order:
Good recipe= geometry
Is it cooked right= heat treat
Ingredients = steel
How does it look = well looks, this includes the handle.
Does it taste good = how does it cut?

So based on that I would say heat treat is #1. if the blade's not cooked right it will suck.
#2 geometry
# 3 how it cuts
#4 look's
#5 the steel.

LOL. I too use cooking as an analogy for heat treatment (though up to now on a theoretical level, but not for long!). Each step in HT is equivalent to a step in cooking a meal. Ingredient (steel), temperature, cooking time, resting a meal, and a cook's knowhows (anything that improves an outcome) are the steps.
I think this analogy is easier to grasp, than laying out steps in technical terms at least for those who cook.

I think geometry, heat treat and a choice of steel are three components one needs to understand how to get the most from to produce a well cutting knife. Other things one can compensate for.

M

Delbert Ealy
04-20-2011, 09:58 AM
Here's my list in order of importance...

1. Geometry

2. Profile

3. Heat Treat

4. Steel

5. Handle

Dave and I think alike(and I'm in trouble now) but I would add that the balance is important too.

Please keep in mind that although Dave and others have ranked these characteristics of the knives, in order to have a great knife all of these have to be done well.
I too have preferences in which are most important, but you have to have all of them in order to have a fully functional knives.
Larrin points out that most of you have put the handle low on the list and thats a good point, the handle is the interface between your hand and the blade, so it is very important.

Michael Rader
04-20-2011, 10:41 AM
FYI - I am finding this thread to be very interesting.

I second that.
-M

Citizen Snips
04-20-2011, 10:45 AM
well balance is a tricky one because if you have handle as one of your top 5 and the knife originally had to rehandled by one of our own wonderful handle makers, the balance will change from what was originally intended. every handle is going to change balance so in reality, the balance of the knife and handle work together

mhlee
04-20-2011, 11:09 AM
+1 to geometry, architecture, grind . . . whatever you guys decide is the proper term to describe the shape of the knife from the edge to the spine, I'll go with that. :thumbsup: All other things being equal, this, IMHO, separates a good knife, from an average knife. As I've learned firsthand, a decently sharp knife with great geometry, grind, architecture, will cut much better than a scary sharp knife with average geometry.

However, for me, since I'm simply a knife user, and not a knife maker, I'll add one characteristic that I personally think is especially important - stiffness. An average knife, even if extremely sharp, that is somewhat flexible, does not allow me to make accurate, detailed cuts using the tip of the knife.

Customfan
04-20-2011, 11:10 AM
Agree with all above factors, they are paramount!... Geometry (Architecture), handle, aesthetics, etc.

Having said that.. In my personal opinion.. I believe that Kirenaga deserves a special place. Ability to hold and edge (Duration of sharpness) and also the ability to attain a keen edge (Be it carbides, properties of steel, heat treatment or such)... I guess they fall in the category mentioned previously... steel!!

If the knife has a good profile, good Width of blade and comfortable handle (Which I have on most of my go to knives) I will veer towards the one that will keep a decent edge the longest..

:viking:

goodchef1
04-20-2011, 11:12 AM
I assume it would be different for one who buys knives and one who makes them.

for me (one who buys them) I would have to say at present:

BEFORE I PURCHASE:
1. Blade profile/Thickness, (too thick, too thin,too generic, I don't buy it!)

2. Steel/HRC, (I agree that steel is like a recipe, some sound delicious, and some sound blaze and old hat. We all like to try the new and exciting steel, or heat treatments, or steel mixes etc..) selling point.

3. Blade appearance (Very subjective, but for me, I don't like rough finishes, or when getting high carbon, layers that react very harshly to acidic foods. I've seen these ie: copper inlays)

AFTER I PURCHASE:
4. Blade/edge geometry (before we knew what the heck that meant, Shun sold us on the 16 degree angles and were happy with the performance, plus how long can I use my knife before I have to sharpen it again.)

5. Balance (for my precision work and kinetics. This goes to the top of my list once I shell out the bucks for this knife)

6. Fit & Finish (A well made and great looking knife gives me pride when I work, making me put out happier food:lol2:)

This for me is what I try to envision my purchasing habits to be from the moment I start looking to buy, to the end result and over-all satisfaction in the long run.

tank yu betty much

StephanFowler
04-20-2011, 11:13 AM
flexibility is purely a function of the geometric qualities of the knife,

how thin, how much taper, where the taper occurs, etc.

steel type and hardness don't effect how easily a blade is flexed from it's original position. the DO effect how easily the knife will become "bent" (exceeding the modulus of elasticity for a given steel) and need to be straightened


effectively this means that if you want a stiff knife, it will necessarily have to be thicker than a flexy knife.

Marko Tsourkan
04-20-2011, 11:24 AM
Most Japanese wa handled knives are blade heavy, so a balance will be up to 2" forward from the handle. It's not an issue if you are using a knife as intended with a pinch grip or a light grip with an index finger on the spine. A handle in this case is more for a leverage than for a grip.

I balanced a wa gyuto on a couple of occasions, through using 1/4" NS spacer in the front and 1/16 in the back and embedding a small piece o metal in the rear, but it added to the weight of the knife and I didn't see any real advantage from balancing. Most wa hande knives have have at 1/2 -5/8" space between a handle and a heel, so a pinch grip or a forward grip with a finger on a spine is a comfortable way of holding and using a knife.

For full tang western handled knives, the balance at the handle is more important even though many still use a pinch grip.

M

jaybett
04-20-2011, 11:52 AM
Out of curiosity, what is geometry? I've seen posts that have rated a knifes geometry from average to perfect. What makes a good geometry?

The most commonly used test for geometry is wedging. Does the knife wedge in food? Knife technique, can also cause wedging. So is the wedge test, good for evaluating geometry?

Some users pay attention to spine thickness, taking measurements at the choil, halfway down the spine and near the tip. Thin knives mean less wedging, which supposedly equals good geometry. By this definition, would the sujihiki, be the perfect knife?

Jay

Dave Martell
04-20-2011, 11:59 AM
Here's my list in order of importance...

1. Geometry

2. Profile

3. Heat Treat

4. Steel

5. Handle


I can't believe that I didn't note "sharpenability" as a key factor for me. I think that I assumed that between steel and heat treat choices this would automatically happen, and it will if everything is done correctly, but when the wrong steel is chosen or poor heat treat is performed (actually poor forging - if forged- too) then sharpenability becomes a major issue that is too often overlooked.

For my way of thinking, I'd rather have a crappy steel that I can sharpen than a super steel that I can't.

Avishar
04-20-2011, 12:00 PM
As someone who works on the line, If I had to isolate a single factor that defines whether I will use a blade or not, it is relevance: is it made in the way, shape, or form in which its suited to its task?

If I'm going to be cutting through soft bones or doing more rigid duties, I want some thickness on my knife and a softer spine (a sharp spine and the shock of board impact is a recipe for easy blisters). I would want a sturdy steel, I don't want the steel to hold an ultra acute edge.

If I'm reaching for a slicer I want it to be narrow and thin with a balance slightly forward, it doesn't need to be super wide or clear the cutting board. If I'm using a parer the feel (and size) of the handle is pretty important whereas balance may not matter as much.

If I am using a chef knife Dave's list seems to be in line with my thoughts. In that regard I do look at handles a little more, as nothing irritates me more than if a knife is made in different lengths and sizes but the exact same size handle is stuck on all of them (A la Shun, Shun Elite, and the original Henckels Miyabi MC66 where the 240 length was required in order to balance the heavy handle). Overall though, If the knife isn't created in a way that it will fulfill its purpose effectively, then why even make it? After all, how many would reach for a Nakiri for cracking king crab legs? (Expert village video person doesn't count)

bieniek
04-20-2011, 03:14 PM
Exactly yes, when the handle is way to big compared with size of blade itself, it makes cutting/peeling harder if you have a lot to do.

My list would look like:
Sharpness as i think you can't do sh*t with dull knife at all. Doesn't really matter who produced it and how good it looks etc
Profile of blade and the angle its connected to the handle
Handling and maintenance
Versatility - i dont mind bringing case full of knives to the kitchen, but when its busy, how many of them do you really use? And space for how many do you have at your section?
As you can see there is no steel or hardness on the list, that obviously doesn't mean to buy wooden knives. But is that as important? I agree with Dave, owning knife is one thing, but maintaining sharpness is what you gonna do the most - apart from giving it hard time :)

Cadillac J
04-20-2011, 08:29 PM
You really can't just pick one trait that is the most important, nor do I think you can really list in order either...as it could be different on a case-by-case basis. Like mentioned above, it is how all the characteristics come together that makes the knife what it is, and if it is worth buying or not.

For those saying geometry is most important...does that mean you would purchase knives made out of cheap, soft stainless if the geometry was perfect? No you wouldn't, as a knife has to be good/acceptable in all areas for the task at hand. Not knocking the geometry guys here(as it is one of my tops as well), just the example I used, as the same argument could be made for any one characteristic.

Jon is the only retailer I've seen that displays the cross-section of his products, as he knows what we like to assess visually without being able to inspect.

mainaman
04-20-2011, 08:34 PM
You really can't just pick one trait that is the most important, nor do I think you can really list in order either...as it could be different on a case-by-case basis. Like mentioned above, it is how all the characteristics come together that makes the knife what it is, and if it is worth buying or not.

For those saying geometry is most important...does that mean you would purchase knives made out of cheap, soft stainless if the geometry was perfect? No you wouldn't, as a knife has to be good/acceptable in all areas for the task at hand. Not knocking the geometry guys here(as it is one of my tops as well), just the example I used, as the same argument could be made for any one characteristic.

Jon is the only retailer I've seen that displays the cross-section of his products, as he knows what we like to assess visually without being able to inspect.
I think most of us here assume we are talking about Japanese knives which more often than not come with good steel.

Cadillac J
04-20-2011, 09:00 PM
I think most of us here assume we are talking about Japanese knives which more often than not come with good steel.

Just trying to emphasize my point about how its hard to narrow down to just one characteristic as most important, especially as that can even change by knife type.

I've had knives with stock geometry that was average, but after putting in some work grinding and thinning a bit, they turned into exactly how I wanted them to be...just like Lefty mentioned with the A-types.

However, there have been times when I've eliminated a possible contender due to only one of its characteristics. In general though, when considering knives, I tend to think of each knife as the whole, rather than the sum of its parts.

Eamon Burke
04-20-2011, 09:51 PM
This is my list when I approach a general-purpose(see: NOT a Yanagi, oyster knife, etc) knife in person, use it heavily, and judge it.
1. Geometry(thicknesses + taper)
Most important: it's geometry. By that I mean thickness + taper, and how they work together. I will grab a $4 Kiwi knife over any new restaurant supply brand knife laying around at work. I often do. But it won't make a knife worth owning. Those Kiwis are junk once they dull down, and if you abuse them, they REALLY can't take it.
There seems to be this idea that Thinness is a fad of knives these past few years, but it's a fact that thinner cuts better. A thicker blade only provides weight in a kitchen, unless your menu has feisty live animals on it. The thicker it is, the less helpful it is in a kitchen, but lots of weight in the blade can help(and some perfect amount is required), which leads us to....

2. Center of Gravity
This is a design challenge, because the placement of the CoG needs to be a natural fit for the knife and it's function. A well designed thing needs no instructions, it just performs its task almost independently. You should pick up the knife, and the weight should be set to tell your arm "let's cut something". A good baseball bat makes you want to hit something, a knife should do the same. It should be placed as far forward as possible to do the most work, but not so far forward that you feel you need to hang on tight or lose it. A knife feeling like it "fits" is not a handle issue, but a balance issue.

3. Edge Retention
I don't really care how easy it is to sharpen, I want it to either keeps it's edge forever or refresh to a "like new" condition until the edge totally degrades. This is, IIRC, a heat treatment issue mostly, as well as a steel choice issue. As with all things in a kitchen, durability is king. I know there is not perfect for edge rentention(or else it would be literally impossible to sharpen), but the more, the better. If it's an s30v scimitar, just send it to a pro, like Dave...that's what he's there for right?:devilburn:

4. Ergonomics
This is almost entirely a backseat issue because a great CoG and a good sharpening job and you won't really notice how comfortable it is or isn't. And slippage is a technique problem, not a design problem(as long as the handle isn't a polished ceramic cylinder, you'll be ok). The main issues here are a bolster and spine that don't abrade and open callouses--I rounded the spine on my gyuto because some long days at work would eventually leave my hands hurting or bleeding from pushing that piece of steel through so much food. I don't know why anyone would want a knife with a spine and bolster as sharp as my Tojiro was when it was new.

5. Blade profile.
This is the LAST on the issue, because this is really what people need to learn to CHOOSE. Picking the right profile for you can be the biggest challenge--and you can't exactly put a Ken Onion belly on a Shigifusa.

Other things like handle materials/nuances or cosmetics are all easily managed by cooks themselves or servicemen, and you will rarely totally please even 2 people on these issues.

Larrin
04-20-2011, 11:00 PM
You really can't just pick one trait that is the most important, nor do I think you can really list in order either...as it could be different on a case-by-case basis. Like mentioned above, it is how all the characteristics come together that makes the knife what it is, and if it is worth buying or not.

For those saying geometry is most important...does that mean you would purchase knives made out of cheap, soft stainless if the geometry was perfect? No you wouldn't, as a knife has to be good/acceptable in all areas for the task at hand. Not knocking the geometry guys here(as it is one of my tops as well), just the example I used, as the same argument could be made for any one characteristic.

Jon is the only retailer I've seen that displays the cross-section of his products, as he knows what we like to assess visually without being able to inspect.
I would still pick edge geometry and then handle. However, with real knives you don't have to pick. Compromises are for suckers.

Chef Niloc
04-20-2011, 11:02 PM
All in all I would say that who makes the knife is the #1 factor in a great knife. I'd bet that Bill could make a better knife then most using scrap found in a junk yard.

Mattias504
04-21-2011, 02:08 AM
I would have to say that sharpenablity (ease of sharpening) would have to be close to if not number one for me. I am a pro cook and I don't always have hours to sit around and thin out a knife or flatten a blade road. So if a knife can just be touched up often and easily regain its sharpness, it jumps up to the top of my list for working knives.

I want my knives to be as close to working geometry and edge grind as possible. That has always ruled out Aritsugu wa gyuto for me. I don't want to spend all that time just to get a knife "working."

1. Ease of sharpening/edge retention
2. Blade profile(including geometry and thickness)
3. Steel hardness
-this one is important to me when I am picking a knife for a specific task. For example, when I work the line I usually go with my Nenox because I know it isn't as hard as a Heiji or honyaki gyuto and it can take a little more beating than the harder steels. But for protein, prep, veg work, etc.... I usually go better edge retention a la harder steel.
4. Handle
-lets be honest, this is important to everyone at some point.
5. Fit and Finish
-this could probably go with handle but this is mainly regarding spine and choil roundedness. Nothing is nicer than using a knife that just feels smooth. (Shigefusa, etc...)

Salty dog
04-21-2011, 03:23 AM
I would still pick edge geometry and then handle. However, with real knives you don't have to pick. Compromises are for suckers.

Freaking nailed it.

Cipcich
04-21-2011, 04:33 AM
All in all I would say that who makes the knife is the #1 factor in a great knife. I'd bet that Bill could make a better knife then most using scrap found in a junk yard.

Niloc's right. Buy the maker, not the knife.

Chef Niloc
04-21-2011, 06:11 AM
Niloc's right. Buy the maker, not the knife.

That should be a t-shirt

bieniek
04-21-2011, 06:13 AM
well, none of mine are a good buy then. Damn ...

Lefty
04-21-2011, 06:22 AM
Niloc's right. Buy the maker, not the knife.

I tried, but my wife said there's no way we're keeping a bear in the house....

Mattias504
04-21-2011, 09:04 PM
Freaking nailed it.



+1
I also agree. Buy based on maker reputation.

Eamon Burke
04-21-2011, 09:20 PM
Well, I surmised the question was for production-line knives, like Tojiros, DT ITK, and Wusthof.

The most important characteristic of a custom knife is communication--does the maker really understand your vision, and where and how much he is allowed to be creative.