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Larrin

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With the semi-recent passing of Steve Jobs, I've been thinking about his various philosophies and whether or not they have anything to do with knives. The big one, and one I've occasionally thought about, is whether or not you should listen to customers. In a 1985 interview with Playboy, he said: “We built [the Mac] for ourselves. We were the group of people who were going to judge whether it was great or not. We weren’t going to go out and do market research.” Twelve years later, he told Business Week: “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” And then on the same topic there is the possibly-not-from-Henry-Ford quote: "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses."

A similar thing happens time and again when up and coming knifemakers appear on these forums. They show some knives, some people use them, and say what's wrong with them. Generally this has an effect of making the knives made by makers that frequent the boards similar in many ways. Sometimes the knives change enough that the original designs are hard to recognize. Sometimes they are simply the product of knifemakers that really didn't know how to design a knife, and needed obvious changes to impractical designs and sharp spines. Without pointing fingers I would say that the geniuses of design are a bit of a rarity in the knife world. Some are downright ugly. However, sometimes innovative products are lost to time because of the forum "focus groups."

This leads to the question of whether or not there is any innovation left to the humble kitchen knife. I can't argue for many major innovations that could be made on the order of the automobile or the personal computer. Unless you want to count the food processor or the slap chop: https://slapchop.com/ The closest thing to actual innovation is the catching on of Japanese styled knives, so that we're no longer held down by overly thick European style blades. However, it's hard to call centuries old ideas an innovation, it's more like it just started to catch on in the U.S. Some ideas such as the Alton's angles (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0006HRPBE/?tag=skimlinks_replacement-20) or the hump spine design (http://www.knifeforums.com/forums/fbbuploads/1193637767-DSC00309.JPG) don't catch on because customers are looking for something else. Maybe they're ugly, maybe they just don't work, or maybe people just aren't/weren't ready. What innovations are there? There are changes in things like belly that are mostly preference. Does the handle really need a major change from European and Japanese styles? There are many traditional styles and patterns, do we really need another one that would shake things up?

On the topic of Apple, only rarely did they actually create a whole new product. Often they just gave clean, functional design to an old product, made it work right, and gave it an effective marketing campaign. While innovative designs are one thing, it's surprising how many knifemakers can't just make a traditional knife look "right" and work right. Either they can't see what's wrong or they're not able to do what they see in their mind's eye.

Then the final problem: factory knives have flaws in execution, and usually aren't hand-friendly, and custom knifemakers with quality products just can't make enough knives to meet the demand. Will factory knives be able to up their game? Will custom knifemakers be able to make more knives? Will anyone show real innovation?
 
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RRLOVER

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I have talked about the re-inventing of the wheel issue a lot with a forum member,and I do mean a lot!
 

WillC

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What i've found with invention, it fun till you realize someone already thought of it. But its also nice thinking someone came to the same solution as you.
 

stevenStefano

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Perhaps the fact that everyone loves Japanese knives that follow a Centuries old design is what holds innovation back. Perhaps their attraction is that they combine the old and new, why they are so popular is that they haven't changed, therefore there isn't so much innovation?
 

Marko Tsourkan

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I think some innovation can be had not in knife design, but in performance. Knives are hand tools and most hand tools don't change much through out the history, but I do like the idea of refining and improving where possible. Not big a fan of "designers" whose work makes you scratch your head and wonder if these people ever prepared food themselves.

M
 

Burl Source

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I guess I will take a chance and play the Devil's Advocate.

I feel customers do know what they want.
They want a product that performs well, looks good and has a good reason for it's value.

But ............... I think customers may have difficulty verbalizing just what it is they want.

I feel it is the responsibility of the manufacturer to educate the consumer on what makes theirs a good product.
Public awareness, independent product evaluations and forum discussions will either reinforce or debunk the manufacturer's claims.
But the maker or manufacturer is who needs to get the process started. .....and to listen to suggestions how to make their product better in the eyes of the end user.

Too many times product advertising is like politics.
They tell people what they think they want to hear with exagerated claims and think the public will be dumb enough to believe them.

In my opinion, if you produce a quality product, an educated customer is the most valuable customer.
People are willing to pay a higher price and want the producer to prosper as long as they can see the value in the product.
These same customers become repeat customers and provide the best form of advertising there is, word of mouth.

If a manufacturer makes an inferior product that sells based on hype, they make one sale, but never a second sale.

If you make a customer happy, they tell a friend.
If you make a customer unhappy, they tell everyone.

I am sorry if I wandered off topic a bit.
To make a long post short;
Customers do know what they want, they just need a little help identifying it.
 

RRLOVER

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SWEET!!! No more PITA Wa handles to make,bike handles.....why did I not think of that.
 

Eamon Burke

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To quote my favorite quotable person, ' there is nothing new under the sun'. I have said for years that the only true invention is the creation of new technique. Despite this, we are fortunate to always have new people to bring these good things to, hence why my passion is in showing and inviting the uninitiated. When new, good technique is created, and the tools are holding it back, meaningful innovation happens.

Plus we can always re-invent the wheel...it's a good design and reinventing it teaches us about it. You have to go up the mountain to look down, and understand the streets below.
 

Marko Tsourkan

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Here is a better one and more expensive too. A revolutionary handle design.

301_a500.jpg
 

SpikeC

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so what is the benefit of using 300 series SS?
 

Jim

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I had dinner at a place this past Friday that had this style knife, PITA to put down on the edge of your plate it wanted to flop over.

 

ecchef

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Eamon pretty much nailed it here. I do consider technological advances applied to established design to be real invention, rather than just innovation. A 19th century yanagiba is completely different from a new Kyocera, although they share the same heritage, purpose, and basic design principles. It's only the technology that seperates them, albeit that seperation is quite a gap.
Of course, not every invention is practical, aesthetically appealing, or worth the effort of producing it...at that point it becomes either a failed experiment or a misunderstood work of genius, depending on the ego of the designer. Or possibly a third catagory of 'functional art', like the Chroma stuff above.
 

tk59

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...What innovations are there? ...
The innovations in knives have been in the form of automation, ie blenders, food processors, etc. that combined with refrigeration, have made good knives essentially obsolete. My mother-in-law uses frozen, diced onions, for example. Aside from that, there may be innovations in materials but I think these would be modest improvements under the best circumstances.

...it's surprising how many knifemakers can't just make a traditional knife look "right"...
I do agree. On the other hand, that might not be what all knifemakers are trying to do in the first place. They are also looking for something by which they can differentiate themselves from other knifemakers. The challenge is to do that without sacrificing performance.

...it's surprising how many knifemakers can't just make a traditional knife...work right...
This has been the most frustrating part of my knife experience so far. It is pretty clear to me that this the biggest challenge facing new knifemakers. I haven't seen very many knives by anyone not from Japan and not named Devin that are really great cutters. The more I grind kitchen knives, the more I realize there is really very little wiggle room. I've seen people take a great knife and grind off a couple of tenths of a mm in the wrong place and turn it into a mediocre knife. I've also taken a mediocre cutter and ground off a could of tenths of a mm in a particluar place and make it excellent. I think knifemakers and customers alike underestimate how much experience or luck or [insert quality here] is required to consistently grind off the right amount of steel in the right places to make a great knife.
 

Knifefan

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Then the final problem: factory knives have flaws in execution, and usually aren't hand-friendly, and custom knifemakers with quality products just can't make enough knives to meet the demand. Will factory knives be able to up their game? Will custom knifemakers be able to make more knives? Will anyone show real innovation?
IMO the kitchen knife business underwent tremendous changes within the past 10 years. For one, factory knives today are A LOT better than they were 10 years ago. And whereas 5 years ago there were very few makers of custom kitchen knives, the success of Bob Kramer has inspired many to join the game. Competition in both factory and custom knives is a lot more intense today. And that competition is a catalyst of innovation. It will be interesting to see where that competition will lead us to in the coming years.
 

WildBoar

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It seems to me that kitchen knives are undergoing a sort of renaissance right now.

To most (not members of BBSs like this one, of course), kitchen knives have been a commodity item. Many think it's crazy to spend more then $150 on a set of 6-8 knives. A set of Wusthoff's, at $300, seems like an extravagance for the wealthy. This is the likely result of the economies of scale inherent in factory production combined with the convenience of stainless steel. My grandparents' generation had carbon steel knives, knew how to care for them and had someone who could sharpen it for them. Fast-forward to the baby-boomer generation, and it became a lot more about convenience. My parents had all stainless steel knives, and never, ever had them sharpened. Of course performance sucked. The 'fix' was to go for supposed high-end knives, such as Henckles and Wusthoff, and occasionally run them over the honing steel. To generalize, I would bet we thought that was superior to what the Japanese were doing -- which was sticking with knives that rust and outfitting them with poorly-fit wood handles that most would not to have on display in their kitchens.

Thanks to forums like this one, and some helpful vendors, the pendulum started swinging in the other direction. Carbon knives are popping up in the general public. Many are still commodity items, but there is an appreciation for the improved performance, and a growing consciousness about sharpening. But still, there is only so much you can do with a knife... It's a blade and a handle. Someone pointed out the advancements were in mechanization, such as food processors. And the electric carving knife is another.


If nothing else, the economy has forced many to give up convenience goods and to focus on relearning the old hands-on way of living. More have gardens now. More are cooking at home. And as a result, more are looking at the tools they use to perform these tasks. Some, like me, will start seeking out tools that allow them to work a little faster. This may initially guide them to the world of j-knifes, and then to the growing population of American knifemakers.

So where does that leave innovation in the knife world? Well, there will be plenty of cheesy knife designs backed by FoodTV 'stars' that will sell by the tens of thousands. It's sad, but it's the reality. But for a real knifemaker, it seems like there is not much potential for innovation, but instead for continued refinement. Small tweaks here and there. Experimentation with new steels. Beyond that, I think what will make a knifemaker viable is the level of their craftsmanship. Artistic touches can be incorporated into the handles to make the knife identifiable (Haslinger's handles are an extreme example), but they should not impact the comfort. At the 'high-end', the use of damascus can really add to the beauty of the knives, although it does nothing to help the performance (and probably hurts it a little).

For the very few makers at the level of Devin Thomas, the level of craftsmanship and the thought that has gone into the treatment of the steel will ensure a long waiting list. The more people get drawn back into carbon knifes, japanese blade profiles, etc., the bigger the base of potential high-end customers. I think the biggest innovation is really just the reeducation of the consumer, and the ability to show them the tools their grandparents used were actually better then the ones most use today. Sure, they take more care, but the rewards will be well worth it.

The same sort of thing is happening with cookware, as more are giving cast iron and carbon steel a chance. But the real difference there is the cast iron and carbon steel are a lot less expensive then the stainless steel most have been using. So maybe it will take mass-production of stamped carbon steel knives at a lower price point then the stainless steel factory knives to really get people moving into the high-performance world we KKF members live in.
 

mr drinky

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Interesting topic. I tend to think most consumers don't know what they want until they already have (more or less) what they want. Then we incrementally upgrade until we finally get exactly what we want.

With that said, my knife preferences have changed over the years, and I am just now getting to the point where (I think) I know what I want in terms of a knife.

k.
 

Larrin

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Someone pointed out the advancements were in mechanization, such as food processors. And the electric carving knife is another.
Well I pointed out the food processor in the original post, as well as the slap chop :) And tk59 mentioned some other things:
The innovations in knives have been in the form of automation, ie blenders, food processors, etc. that combined with refrigeration, have made good knives essentially obsolete.
Will knives ever be made obsolete? Or is this like Apple saying the iPad is leading the post-PC revolution? (See how I turned the question back to the topic of the original post? Man I'm good. :lol2:) It will be sad to me if kitchen knives become a vintage item like straight razors, records, or cameras that take film.
 

WildBoar

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Straight razors gave way to safety razors, then electric and disposable razors. Very similar to the knife thing. More convenient, and safer. But it is another area where the old tools are coming back into vogue. People want razors that shave closer, they don't want to clog landfills, etc. And they are also starting to appreciate the ritual that goes with mixing up the shaving cream in a cup, etc. While there is not a straight or DE safety razor in every household, I think people in their 30s and 40s who grew up with only electric or disposable razors are now trying out the old style razors.

And 'records' -- well they have been making a bit of a comeback in the US as well. And there are a lot more turntables on the market then there were 20 years ago -- which was needed in order to be able to market vinyl again.

Yes, these are all small-market items at the end of the day, but at least they are a lot more popular then a few years back. And items that do not require support from mechanical devices are in the best position to become popular. You don't really need anything else to use a knife (except a cutting board). You can use straight and DE safety razors with out-of-a-can shaving cream if you want, although real shaving soaps and creams and the brushes do not require much of a cash outlay. Film cameras are a different animal though, as they require special materials and equipment to develop/ print, and that usually means bringing it to someone else and forking out some $.

I think as long as more people start cooking at home, there will be an increase awareness about well-perfoming knives, and the customer base will increase. I'm not sure how you can speed up the process though, as the gimicky items are the ones that seem to get the TV infomercials, etc. People need to spend time with the knives in order to fully appreciate them.

Focus on quality and craftsmanship, and in the long term that will keep the DT brand in high regard and in high demand. I'm not sure you can really develop something new to push it. Although maybe you can incorporate a small LCD screen and CPU into the handle so we can monitor the contents of our refrigerators and automatically generate shopping lists... :)
 

memorael

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I think the greatest innovation in knives is the applied science of new materials, I never new a knife could be made out of exotic steels nor did I know that heat treatment was so important. Some technology has even been lost to time (real damascus) and more importantly AHEM* precision grinding techniques like Daves advanced set of waterstones and mechanized arms, precise up to an atoms width. Innovations sometimes should just be called renovations, carbide two stroke sharpening apparatus's aren't advanced anymore, think chocera and other binderless stones, those are pretty huge innovations IMO and I don't even want to get into the newer ways of creating finer grits and sorting them out too. These are all things that make any knife a better knife, I would like to see someone enjoy their knives without the ultra fine edges we are so accustomed to.
 

mhlee

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Looking at the small community of members here and elsewhere that really care about using and purchasing better knives, to me, IMHO, the root of the issue here is education. As a corollary to what Larrin pointed out about Steve Jobs and Apple, I think it's more along the lines of - "People don't know what they want, until you show them there's something better out there than what they're using."

I never knew there was such a fundamental difference between commonly available knives and "better knives" until I started really researching these issues. A lot of good information about knives is still hidden in the internet. Even stores like Williams-Sonoma and Sur La Table that carry higher end knives that offer much better performance for approximately double the price of some of their best sellers, do not explain how the increase in price relates to an increase in quality, edge retention, and most importantly, ease of cutting, speed, comfort. While the average person who cooks would be bored by technical things about better knives, e.g. steel types, fine carbide structure, if you started emphasizing characteristics that matter to a consumer, such as durability, comfort, cutting ability, smoothness, SAFETY, and allowing people to try these knives, just like cars, we would probably see, as a whole, a more competitive market where knife makers were challenged to innovate. (Whether there really are new innovations to be made, implemented is another issue.)

I think we're at the start of an industry wide push to raise the average standard of kitchen knives with the largest companies, such as Zwilling, putting their efforts into better made, better performing knives, and consequently, providing information to customers, i.e. educating customers, about better knives and, accordingly, what makes a better knife. Just like many other industries, such as the auto industry, computer industry, etc., once people know that there are better performing products available at a competitive, albeit more expensive price, than the average, run of the mill POS, people who care to buy better performing products will buy the better product.
 

unkajonet

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"People don't know what they want, until you show them there's something better out there than what they're using."
I think this comes pretty close to the mark. While the members in this community - and others who are genuinely interested in increased performance and knowing the reason why something is better - are willing to spend a little more, I think SLT is targeting a different market: those who want to be seen with something better. Those consumers don't really care about why something works better, as long as others know they have it. Living in an apartment-heavy neighborhood, I see this all the time with people and their cars. They live in a very modest apartment, and yet will drive around in a 60-70 thousand dollar car. Their "friends" won't see where they live, but will definitely know what they drive. The car industry knows this, and to me, it seems like SLT and other stores like them, have realized that they can also tap into that market.

The plus side is that the people who actually care about better knives have greater access to more custom makers who are in turn able to eke out a living putting out quality product. The minus? Most people are still sheep who don't know any better and will do what they're told...
 
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