Cool, thanks Michael!
Opinions and experiences vary tremendously and the context of the person's opinion and experience are critical. (I think the pro/home environment question is essential.) One knife that someone loves, may be a knife that someone else hates. Sharpness, thickness, weight, balance, vary with every knife, and as a knife gets used, it changes. A single steel used by different maker exhibits completely different characteristics. The only way to provide "basic knowledge" about specific knives, IMHO, is to provide such knowledge about a knife right out of the box, and give each a similar edge which is nearly impossible because of human differences, steel, etc.
And, this was not the purpose of this thread, which was to focus the questionnaire so that it's more responsive to members who are looking for knives - to obtain information from the member, so we can then provide better information to the member, not just to throw information at them because the member may not even care about that. Expecting a member to accept information, opinions at face value requires a willingness to learn from the member, which, in my experience, is sometimes too much to expect, not to mention the fact that many opinions posted may not be based on personal experience or facts.
I can't tell you how many times how many times I've asked what kind of performance a member is looking for only to have them simply say "I want something that will keep an edge a long time" and then have them go off and list a number of great looking knives, that are way beyond, for example, their stated budget and that may or may not be appropriate for the member, even though I (or someone else) asked repeatedly about performance, food release, wedging, etc. (Sound familiar, Matus?) More importantly, most people who want great knives aren't even prepared for (1) the price, or (2) the care required.
But, rather than blaming the member who filled out the questionnaire for not providing enough information, we can revise the questionnaire to address some of these deficiencies.
"Don't you know who he is?"
From my recent experience of knowing nothing about knives and coming here I can say that the question about oiling a handle made me think "of course I have never oiled a handle" and seemed elitist. I think it served an interesting purpose though, which was to put into my mind the fact that handles might actually need oiling. Similarly with chopping boards, sharpening/maintenance and storage questions. It makes you realise that these are important things to consider with decent knives.
Maybe a questionnaire should have some initial sections somewhat like this [what my answers would have been will follow in italics]:
1. Budget, L/R handed, use. (~$150, R, general cookery)
2. What do you have already, and why are you looking for a new knife? (10 yr old battered stainless 8" Sabatier, it is old and battered and I think it is time for a new knife. Also have a small Global that I rarely use.)
3. Are you looking at a particular knife, or type of knife, and do you know why? (I was looking at wusthofs etc then discovered the world of J-knives and so would like a J-knife because They seem to be the best. I think an 8" gyuto?)
Then have some refining/technical questions about the knife, ie:
4. Are you aware of differences in steel types, and do you have a preference? (unaware, willing to learn)
5. Would you like a wa or yo handle? (unaware, willing to try anything)
6. are any of the following important to you, and how: aesthetics, weight, etc(?) (aesthetics are important, but very subjective. I like the kanji, I would like a light knife perhaps.
Then have Q's to teach maintenance.
7. What kind of chopping board, pointing out that Wood/plastic are ok, glass etc not okay (bamboo, willing to learn)
8. Sharpening and edge maintenance, handle oiling, pointing out that decent knives need decent maintenance. (I have a 240/1000 stone, again I need to learn all this stuff, didn't realise a knife would be so complicated!)
EDIT as I just read Michaels post above:
I think you are right - it is important with the questionnaire to establish quickly whether the person is a complete novice (like I was), or whether they are someone who has pretty good knowledge and has a decent idea what they want. It might even be good to have a link that says "if you are a novice, then you should read this first" that links to a basic guide detailing costs and what you can get in each price band, differences in steels and maintenace, and the need for stones with suggestion of very basic entry set-ups etc.
It can be tiresome to see one's advice ignored, but it also is tiresome to say "I have budget of $100" and then get recommendations with no qualification for $200 knives!
Most of these questions are addressed in Kitchen Knife Knowledge, or there are links in that forum to websites that provide such information.
And, again, there are nearly no universal answers to several of your questions, e.g. What is required to take care of a Japanese knife? What are the advantages/disadvantages of carbon and stainless steel? What to expect from a knife at the $100 - $200 level, the $300 - $400 level, $500 and up?
Of the top of my head, I can only think that whetstones are required to take care of a Japanese knife, and the only universal advantage/disadvantage of carbon vs. stainless is one stains, the other doesn't.
"Don't you know who he is?"
"Don't you know who he is?"
Someone first coming here will probably be used to idea that they can pay maybe $100 for a top end german knife. It is easy to say that for $100 you can get a good entry level J-knife, but that the price rises to thousands, and that for $100-200 you can expect a knife with better steel/better F&F, again up to $500 the best steel, and past that crazy custom heirlooms. The idea is that this is a really basic guide for people who know nothing, and could show them that they can get a very good knife for $100, but also to try explain why other knives are more expensive.
Of course there is no universal answer, but it is not very controversial to say that learning to use whetstones [or having someone do it for you] is important with a knife, and not to put them in dishwasher, and to dry them, and that carbon will need different type of care to stainless.
As for you saying that pointing a novice to a basic guide is not the point of the questionnaire, I am at a loss there. The point of the Q is to help someone choose a knife. If we can point them to a very basic thing to read that will mean everyone doesn't have to keep saying "ah yes but what kind of chopping board do you have?" or "you have to spend $500 on stones" then I don't see why you would have an issue with that.
First, a questionnaire, is to gather information, not to present a guide. The members are to provide their own opinions as to knives that fit within the parameters of the answers to the questionnaire.
People also have budgets. If they want to go over it, that's up to the person filling out the questionnaire. But, that's why I'm thinking the "budget" should changed to "absolutely maximum budget" so people don't start recommending knives that $100 over the "absolute maximum budget."
Again, a "guide" to knives inherently includes opinion. And who's to say that a knife at $500 has better steel than a $200 knife? Who's to say that one steel is better than another? Some makers here are fantastic with the steels they use. But it's not necessarily a better steel for someone than another steel. What makes something "better steel"? Quality, hardness, toughness? What's "better" depends on opinion, use, and fit for the buyer.
As for the whetsone and cutting board questions, I'm working on them.
Please feel free to propose your own "guides" and put them up for comment and approval in a separate thread. Thank you.
"Don't you know who he is?"
Most people who use the questionnaire, are new to the forum. They fill out the form and then get follow up questions such as: Carbon or Stainless? Wa or Yo handle? Are you willing to learn to sharpen? What is your budget?
When I first came to the forums, I was surprised to learn that knives were still being made out of carbon. Why even consider a carbon knife?
First of all what is a Wa or Yo handle? How does a handle effect performance of a knife?
Most of the advice, in the food world, is don't sharpen your own knifes, you may ruin them, send them out to a pro. What is a new user to think, when they are asked that question?
It doesn't take long to realize that Japanese knifes are significantly more expensive then German ones. A new person wants a good knife, but they are not sure how much that is going to cost. I like Jon Broida's statement that the more expensive a knife is, the greater skills needed to take care of it.