Expensive distractions to performance

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Grant Brook

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I generally prefer substance over style when it comes to knives. I’ve been wondering what characteristics to look for, and to avoid, to satisfy myself that my hard-earned is primarily directed at functional performance, not aesthetics. Put another way, what should one focus on to get the greatest cutting performance per dollar.

My current (perhaps uneducated) thoughts of some expensive distractions to functional performance-per-dollar:
  • Anything beyond ho wood handles (if wa handled).
  • Damascus finishes.
  • Textured finishes on blade face other than those genuinely left behind from the forging process.
  • Highly polished blade faces. (Related: is a kurouchi finish the ‘lowest cost’ finish for a hand forged blade?)
  • Nicely finished choil and spine (noting this can be done by the owner).
  • (I'm less convicted of this one): Hand forged versus factory made (for some steels).
I’m interested in people’s thoughts on the above suggestions and other ideas on what to look for / avoid. I’m also interested in any smiths/companies that are known for more of a focus on performance than style.

P.s. I’m not suggesting makers of prettier knives (e.g. Saji? Kurosaki?) don’t have great cutting performance; just I’d rather pay less for the same performance as the pretty features are not something I value.
 

Jovidah

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The difference between ho wood and other fancier handles is not just looks, it's also weight, so it influences the balance of a knife. What you prefer in that regard largely comes down to personal preference.

Textured / polished finishes can have an influence on food release. Highly polished actually causes more stickage.
 

Hockey3081

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Not with you on the choil and spine being done at home. These things are actually part of function since no one wants an edge digging into their fingers, especially for extended use. Can’t think of any other tools that I’m paying good money for but would have no problem putting in time and effort to make them comfortable to use as well. It takes a couple of minutes tops on a grinder to do a halfway decent job rounding out a spine and choil. It would take me a heck of a lot longer to do this at home by hand.

That being said, everyone values things differently, especially their time. I love faceted/sculpted handles and am willing to pay for that “pretty” handle despite knowing that not all of those facets provide function, yet I appreciate the the time that went into creating the aesthetic.
 
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The trouble is, form and function in the kitchen cutlery world are not always mutually exclusive.

For example, I have a Hinokuni that's about as basic as it gets. It's thin and the steel is well done. However, it also has quite uneven grinds and the handle really does feel cheap.

Bump up a notch into my two Tsunehisa in ginsan. In terms of cutting performance, these knives will blow unmodified Henkels, Wusthofs, Shuns, etc. out of the water. They are solid, with no glaring detractions. But the grinds are still a touch on the robust side. I love 'em and if performance were being measured from a no nonsense, mostly worry free, very good cutting capability standard, value ratio, these would rank quite high for me.

But then we step up another notch into Kurosaki, Yoshikane and Akifusa. Still not "expensive" knives (not the lines I have anyway) but getting into knives with some more bling, nicer handles, and attention to detail. But along with those things comes extremely well executed steel and fantastic grinds. The cutting performance is outstanding and they just make you happy to use. So yeah, the fit and finish adds some to the cost, but you also get other benefits as well. Also, the Akifusa is a "factory stamped" offering as are the Ginga lines. Hand forged vs. stamped is largely legend and myth. But heat treat, now that is where the real magic lies.

Clearly some things are pure cosmetics and you can spot them when you see them but other things are less obvious.

I'm with you on damascus though. I rarely like the looks of it and it often adds girth and weight.

From a pure performance perspective, I say define the performance type you want out of your knife (robust, laser, etc.) and then start looking at models with grinds, steel and overall design that fit that and if you find it in a model with a little bling, then you accept that to get what you're really after. Being driven by frugality can mean missing out on a lot of performance.

Like everything, it's a balance.
 

Pie

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Not with you on the choil and spine being done at home. These things are actually part of function since no one wants an edge digging into their fingers, especially for extended use. Can’t think of any other tools that I’m paying good money for but would have no problem putting in time and effort to make them comfortable to use as well. It takes a couple of minutes tops on a grinder to do a halfway decent job rounding out a spine and choil. It would take me a heck of a lot longer to do this at home by hand.

That being said, everyone values things differently, especially their time. I love faceted/sculpted handles and am willing to pay for that “pretty” handle despite knowing that not all of those facets provide function, yet I appreciate the the time that went into creating the aesthetic.
Agree with this 100%.

I’ve done the choil and spine recently on a couple TF’s for a customer, and it truly makes a positive performance difference. Some of them are actually sharp and very uncomfortable, especially if you have one with a smaller notch.

I do them by hand though, and it does take quite some time, but it’s so so worth it.

F6173C8A-82B5-4BF6-B303-DC598C7A30AE.jpeg
EC110A38-7B55-43F1-805C-EC9ED70174BD.jpeg


Can’t tell me that the after is no better than the before, in these cases. Maybe you don’t have to go all the way to mirror polish, but the rounding is pretty key to using these things for extended preps.
 
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tcmx3

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polish absolutely how a knife cuts, stiction, etc.

wrt ho wood and "performance", well what if a knife is too blade heavy? also like, is stain resistance performance? it seems like it could be to me.

look Im not opposed to any of these "rules of thumb" as long as they stay rules of thumb in people's minds (ie a useful simplification) and not rules (absolute truths).

also "performance" is one of those "objective" things that is anything but in most cases. a lot of people who go on aren't busting out their CARTA machines, attaching g sensors and cutting 1000 carrots, etc. do not mistake "I like this" for "this is objectively better performance"
 

M1k3

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Some maker(s) don't care one bit about consistency (grind, sharp corners, handle scales/tang 🤷‍♂️) and charge on the upper end of the spectrum. And sell pretty much everything! And people like it...🙈
 

Delat

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Damascus and an intricate handle are probably the biggest unnecessary add-ons in terms of cost.

Going up a price bracket, differentially hardened steel might fall into that bucket. Even mono steel I think might be more costly to make than using a factory san mai billet.

Stainless steel, either for the whole knife or just the cladding is likely higher cost than non-stainless.

Migaki or fully clean polished finished is also additional cost.

Hmm, so if I was a maker wanting to bang out a knife for the lowest cost in terms of time and material, it would be carbon ironclad san-mai with rough texture and forge scale above the blade road, and a low-grit finish on the blade road with leftover deeper scratches from grinding. And a plain old single piece of wood finished at low grit with no ferrule stuck on for a wa handle.
 

M1k3

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Damascus and an intricate handle are probably the biggest unnecessary add-ons in terms of cost.

Going up a price bracket, differentially hardened steel might fall into that bucket. Even mono steel I think might be more costly to make than using a factory san mai billet.

Stainless steel, either for the whole knife or just the cladding is likely higher cost than non-stainless.

Migaki or fully clean polished finished is also additional cost.

Hmm, so if I was a maker wanting to bang out a knife for the lowest cost in terms of time and material, it would be carbon ironclad san-mai with rough texture and forge scale above the blade road, and a low-grit finish on the blade road with leftover deeper scratches from grinding. And a plain old single piece of wood finished at low grit with no ferrule stuck on for a wa handle.
You might be able to save some money by buying ho wood handles in bulk from Sakai? 🤷‍♂️

 

Delat

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Here’s an example of a maker’s “budget” line vs his regular knives. In addition to the cosmetic difference, he says the budget knives are a touch thicker so might need some thinning.

Compare these

To these
 
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Agree with this 100%.

I’ve done the choil and spine recently on a couple TF’s for a customer, and it truly makes a positive performance difference. Some of them are actually sharp and very uncomfortable, especially if you have one with a smaller notch.

I do them by hand though, and it does take quite some time, but it’s so so worth it.

View attachment 167482 View attachment 167483

Can’t tell me that the after is no better than the before, in these cases. Maybe you don’t have to go all the way to mirror polish, but the rounding is pretty key to using these things for extended preps.
What is your method to get a chamfered easing rather than rounding. I always use the shoe shine method, which is fine for rounding, but would be fun to mix it up a bit.
 

spaceconvoy

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I'm surprised no one's mentioned horn vs hardwood vs plastic ferrules yet.

Hmm, so if I was a maker wanting to bang out a knife for the lowest cost in terms of time and material, it would be ... a plain old single piece of wood finished at low grit with no ferrule stuck on for a wa handle.
Not so sure about that... Looking at prices, basic ho wood handles with a plastic ferrule go for much cheaper than mono-wood handles. A single piece of wood has to stronger to resist splitting at the neck, and I'm guessing the machining/finishing would have to be more meticulous, unable to hide any sloppiness with the ferrule.


But ultimately all handles are an unnecessary expense.
 

Delat

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Agree with this 100%.

I’ve done the choil and spine recently on a couple TF’s for a customer, and it truly makes a positive performance difference. Some of them are actually sharp and very uncomfortable, especially if you have one with a smaller notch.

I do them by hand though, and it does take quite some time, but it’s so so worth it.

View attachment 167482 View attachment 167483

Can’t tell me that the after is no better than the before, in these cases. Maybe you don’t have to go all the way to mirror polish, but the rounding is pretty key to using these things for extended preps.

That’s some really nice work!
 
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M1k3

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Maybe I’d just buy the square blocks and let the user round them off while they’re rounding the spine and choil. 🤣
🤔

Surprised it hasn't happened, yet.
 

Pie

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What is your method to get a chamfered easing rather than rounding. I always use the shoe shine method, which is fine for rounding, but would be fun to mix it up a bit.
I try to do a flat cut at around 45 degrees with 60 grit sandpaper first, then soften the edges with 120 grit before moving onto polishing. I use a chopstick wrapped in sandpaper, so the cutting phase involves an unpleasant sawing motion - easier to maintain a consistent angle.

What’s the shoe shine method?

Oh, and i think handles matter to a degree, maybe not ultra luxury handles but say if you had a mazaki from last year with the massive handle that’s just plain inappropriate, there is performance benefit to switching to a more suitable one. Doesn’t have to be shiny or made of 1000 year old wood tho.
 
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I'm surprised no one's mentioned horn vs hardwood vs plastic ferrules yet.


Not so sure about that... Looking at prices, basic ho wood handles with a plastic ferrule go for much cheaper than mono-wood handles. A single piece of wood has to stronger to resist splitting at the neck, and I'm guessing the machining/finishing would have to be more meticulous, unable to hide any sloppiness with the ferrule.


But ultimately all handles are an unnecessary expense.

A superfluous extravagance for people with Pantry Fingers. More vanity than anything. As long as there is a bit of tang to hold onto, what more do you really need?

😂
 

Jason183

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My current (perhaps uneducated) thoughts of some expensive distractions to functional performance-per-dollar:
  • Anything beyond ho wood handles (if wa handled).
  • Damascus finishes.
  • Textured finishes on blade face other than those genuinely left behind from the forging process.
  • Highly polished blade faces. (Related: is a kurouchi finish the ‘lowest cost’ finish for a hand forged blade?)
  • Nicely finished choil and spine (noting this can be done by the owner).
  • (I'm less convicted of this one): Hand forged versus factory made (for some steels).
It depends on what you cut. The best performance knives for slicing sashimi are those highly polished/mirrors finish blades, it cuts super smoothly compared to rough blade surface finish knives.
 

Leo Barr

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I generally prefer substance over style when it comes to knives. I’ve been wondering what characteristics to look for, and to avoid, to satisfy myself that my hard-earned is primarily directed at functional performance, not aesthetics. Put another way, what should one focus on to get the greatest cutting performance per dollar.

My current (perhaps uneducated) thoughts of some expensive distractions to functional performance-per-dollar:
  • Anything beyond ho wood handles (if wa handled).
  • Damascus finishes.
  • Textured finishes on blade face other than those genuinely left behind from the forging process.
  • Highly polished blade faces. (Related: is a kurouchi finish the ‘lowest cost’ finish for a hand forged blade?)
  • Nicely finished choil and spine (noting this can be done by the owner).
  • (I'm less convicted of this one): Hand forged versus factory made (for some steels).
I’m interested in people’s thoughts on the above suggestions and other ideas on what to look for / avoid. I’m also interested in any smiths/companies that are known for more of a focus on performance than style.

P.s. I’m not suggesting makers of prettier knives (e.g. Saji? Kurosaki?) don’t have great cutting performance; just I’d rather pay less for the same performance as the pretty features are not something I value.& then combine that with a gaudy handle
I have say I find Damascus acceptable if it carbon Damascus at lest is definition is kept using natural stones I do not like stainless Damascus or Damascus with copper & brass added , etched blades often hide uneven finishes distracting the eye worse still the addition of a multicoloured handle & the effect to me looks like the result of someone having vomited not overly keen on seeing nickel borders between cladding & the higgle.
Plain is class I do understand the lure of the eye candy of Damascus but once one is over this there is no need to add many of them to a collection.
Mirror finish is not helpful unless one is happy sanding & polishing every time a knife is sharpened especially in view that many honyakis are made of very hard steel.
I am seeing some knives chefs are buying because they are cheap they have garish handles they are Damascus they have kiritsuke tips (another fashion okay for hoenesukis or hankotsus) these particular knives are nearly always tipped since the geometry is flat towards the tip the belly is way too far back towards the heal there is a cut out in the heel (fujiwara ish) but there is a point at the bottom of the cut out at t he heel so in practice I have taken to removing the dangerous part of the heel tip.This particular knife seems to have been designed with ingredients - Damascus-kiritsuke- heel cutout produced on mass at a factory with no feel for knives probably in China.
There are also many cheep Indian knives made with Damascus although these are more often carbon steel which is a slight plus although child about must be involved to churn them out at such low prices.
I could go on but...
 

mpier

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I think it’s a lot more than just cutting performance that makes an affordable or best bang for the buck knife. Longevity should also be considered, which is tied into many aspects of your knife. For instance I bought a Yanagiba, it’s a great cutter but it was supper jagged behind the heel, I couldn’t leave it because not only was it sharp but I couldn’t dry it properly in that area, so I had to buy some files just to get in the tight area and then sand it out, cost time and money.

Handles can be another issue for longevity, not sealed properly, bad grain and cracking issues. I personally like to upgrade to a burl or tight grain wood when I can, they just have less issues.

As others have mentioned steel is probably one of the main focuses, here again longevity is the best value, how often do you need to sharpen, how often do you need to thin it, what stones will you need, do you need to oil it, remove rust, thing that cost time and money.

And what of your personal preference, heel height, length, grind and finish. I mean you really don’t want to buy knives you don’t like but that’s why some of us spend extra to get exactly what fits our style.

So I think the answers your looking for are complicated maybe the “ best beater” Thread may have some good advice for you
 

WildBoar

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I generally prefer substance over style when it comes to knives. I’ve been wondering what characteristics to look for, and to avoid, to satisfy myself that my hard-earned is primarily directed at functional performance, not aesthetics. Put another way, what should one focus on to get the greatest cutting performance per dollar.

My current (perhaps uneducated) thoughts of some expensive distractions to functional performance-per-dollar:
  • Anything beyond ho wood handles (if wa handled).
  • Damascus finishes.
  • Textured finishes on blade face other than those genuinely left behind from the forging process.
  • Highly polished blade faces. (Related: is a kurouchi finish the ‘lowest cost’ finish for a hand forged blade?)
  • Nicely finished choil and spine (noting this can be done by the owner).
  • (I'm less convicted of this one): Hand forged versus factory made (for some steels).
I’m interested in people’s thoughts on the above suggestions and other ideas on what to look for / avoid. I’m also interested in any smiths/companies that are known for more of a focus on performance than style.

P.s. I’m not suggesting makers of prettier knives (e.g. Saji? Kurosaki?) don’t have great cutting performance; just I’d rather pay less for the same performance as the pretty features are not something I value.
You are channeling your inner Salty :cool: He had no time for any frills. And he dipped the ho wood handles in plasticote to make them slip resistant (and it made them easy to distinguish from the knives the other chefs/ cooks were using)
 

ian

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A superfluous extravagance for people with Pantry Fingers. More vanity than anything. As long as there is a bit of tang to hold onto, what more do you really need?

😂

I like a little weight at the back, and something resting against my palm when I'm holding the knife. But a yard of duct tape wrapped around the tang works!
 
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I like a little weight at the back, and something resting against my palm when I'm holding the knife. But a yard of duct tape wrapped around the tang works!

For my pinch grip the handle is not really necessary for cutting. But it is much more comfortable to sharpen with a good handle. And duct tape definitely counts.
 

Pie

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With the knife clamped in a vice, you take small strips of sandpaper, hold the strips on the ends, and go back and forth like shining a shoe. Does that make sense? Hard to describe.

Ya that makes total sense. I can see how this would result in a consistent curve, literally rounding it. This actually seems like a better way to shape the spine than how I do it!

Also wish I had a vice 😬
 

Delat

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I used stones to round the spine and it was pretty fast and easy. I just set the stone in the holder as usual and rotated the knife while doing push/pull strokes.

For the choil I wrapped sandpaper around a sharpie - the curve matched pretty well. Spine and choil didn’t take much more than 15 minutes of actual sharpening time, it was surprisingly quick. I didn’t polish very high though.
 
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I used stones to round the spine and it was pretty fast and easy. I just set the stone in the holder as usual and rotated the knife while doing push/pull strokes.

For the choil I wrapped sandpaper around a sharpie - the curve matched pretty well. Spine and choil didn’t take much more than 15 minutes of actual sharpening time, it was surprisingly quick. I didn’t polish very high though.

This is pretty much exactly what I do. You can even slip the sandpaper under the cap clip to help hold it in place. :)
 
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Im not going to lie I value my time enough that I'd rather just pay the maker to handle rounding of the spine and choil.

I'm not going to lie. I made it through more than ten years of my career using knives with hard corners on the spine and choil and it never bothered me. Didn't even know that easing and rolling the spine and choil was a thing people did. Nowadays if the knife comes that way, great, but I won't be spending any time and effort on it if it doesn't. Probably as a consequence of using restaurant supply knives for so long, It's not relevant to how I grip or use the knife. If the maker would give me a discount to skip rounding or polishing anything I would gladly take the discount.
 

Hockey3081

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What is your method to get a chamfered easing rather than rounding. I always use the shoe shine method, which is fine for rounding, but would be fun to mix it up a bit.

I would think it would be your angle and hand position. So if I had my hands 30° below the top of the spine in the shoe shine method, I’d likely adjust sandpaper over the corner and maybe pull the angle up to 15° to soften the rounding.

Recently making a knife in a class, I was blown away how easily grinder handles this with nothing more than a side-to-side twist.
 
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