Gateway knives discussion / suggestions

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Jovidah

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Figured I'd launch this to maybe get some discussions and suggestions going. A few things that I noticed in more recent times and that mildly bothered me....

-'My first J-knife' threads almost default into pushing people into higher budgets and high end high hardness knives
-When people say they prefer to rockchop, they're almost invariably told to just stop rockchopping and get with the program and just learn to pushcut.

It feels to me like we're sometimes missing the point, trying to convert people instead of actually helping them. And I get it; most people don't exactly get excited by yet another 'my first knife thread', and most people who actually have the experience and actually used a lot of knives don't necessarily have the time to keep answering the same question.
So I figured maybe we should just try to condense a solid list to start with. Maybe a shortlist, or just a place we can point to, or sticky somewhere so that we have some solid suggestions for people to start with.

Because it feels to me like, at least when it comes to suggestions, there's sort of this 'gap' where people jump from suggesting either a Victorinox to a Yoshikane, with if you're lucky maybe a Kaeru in between. There have to be some good option in between. What are your experiences with and suggestions for good bang-for-the-buck knives that are more gentle on the budget, and perhaps more forgiving to rockchopping, that can be nice gateway knives for people who don't want to immediately jump into the deep end of the pool?
 

ian

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I think Kaeru and Gesshin Stainless get recommended a lot in the "a little over $100" bracket. Even Shuns are fine imo if you really want the curvy rock chop profile, or just get a Sabatier if you want softer steel but something a little fancier than a Vic. Gesshin Uraku's ok too, or Mac Pro, if you want the $150 bracket. Lotsa people seem to like Takamura or S Tanaka at the "a bit under $200" price.

Edit in response to @btbyrd's comment: Yea, the last two are basically just here for budget reasons. Gesshin Stainless and Uraku are decently robust, I think. At least, they're not fancy hard steel, although I haven't tried a G Stainless. I have an Uraku, though, and it is a tank, despite being thin overall. You can really abuse it, and there's enough belly for rocking. Mac Pros take some abuse, although my parents still managed to put a 5mm chip in one. Same for Shuns. I don't think they're quite as thin overall as Macs, but they're brittle so the edge will probably chip, but they're still not so fragile. Sabs won't chip, and would be fine.
 
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btbyrd

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Ideally, responses will try to be clear on what makes the knives in question good gateway knives. There's the obvious budgetary consideration, but factors like steel and profile matter as well. I wouldn't recommend a thin and hard Takamura as a gateway knife to someone who's going to go rock-chop crazy on a bamboo board (or whatever).
 

tostadas

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About the rocking, you dont necessarily need a massive belly knife. @stringer posted quite a few videos demonstrating this, but here's one with a watanabe.
 

DitmasPork

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Figured I'd launch this to maybe get some discussions and suggestions going. A few things that I noticed in more recent times and that mildly bothered me....

-'My first J-knife' threads almost default into pushing people into higher budgets and high end high hardness knives
-When people say they prefer to rockchop, they're almost invariably told to just stop rockchopping and get with the program and just learn to pushcut.

It feels to me like we're sometimes missing the point, trying to convert people instead of actually helping them. And I get it; most people don't exactly get excited by yet another 'my first knife thread', and most people who actually have the experience and actually used a lot of knives don't necessarily have the time to keep answering the same question.
So I figured maybe we should just try to condense a solid list to start with. Maybe a shortlist, or just a place we can point to, or sticky somewhere so that we have some solid suggestions for people to start with.

Because it feels to me like, at least when it comes to suggestions, there's sort of this 'gap' where people jump from suggesting either a Victorinox to a Yoshikane, with if you're lucky maybe a Kaeru in between. There have to be some good option in between. What are your experiences with and suggestions for good bang-for-the-buck knives that are more gentle on the budget, and perhaps more forgiving to rockchopping, that can be nice gateway knives for people who don't want to immediately jump into the deep end of the pool?

IMO, it entirely depends on which 'gate' a knife buyer wants to walk through for a first Japanese knife.

I don't like to assume what the knife skill level, knowledge or finances are of a first time J-knife buyers—it's like cars, you don't need to work your way up to buying a Porche, if you can afford it. A good 'gateway' purchase could be a 2k Kato or a Mac Pro, depending on the needs and objectives of the buyer.

I'm a believer of jumping the queue of knives to what I want when possible, never understood the concept of an 'intro knife.'

A list of 'gateway' knives would be a long one—unless defining who the buyer is.
 

tostadas

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IMO, it entirely depends on which 'gate' a knife buyer wants to walk through for a first Japanese knife.

I don't like to assume what the knife skill level, knowledge or finances are of a first time J-knife buyers—it's like cars, you don't need to work your way up to buying a Porche, if you can afford it. A good 'gateway' purchase could be a 2k Kato or a Mac Pro, depending on the needs and objectives of the buyer.

I'm a believer of jumping the queue of knives to what I want when possible, never understood the concept of an 'intro knife.'

A list of 'gateway' knives would be a long one—unless defining who the buyer is.
I like to try as many examples I can within a particular price bracket before moving up to the next to see the tangible improvements, if any, between them. It gives me the the chance to appreciate the differences rather than taking one big step to something expensive just because someone online says that it's the best.
 

Cliff

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I think of gateway more often for sharpening than for knives, insofar as I get the idea of wanting to learn angle control on a blade you don't mind scratching up. Cheap stainless is hard to sharpen, so I get the common recommendation to look to affordable carbon.

In terms of knives, once you have a decent beater, I don't see what difference it makes in looking for something better.

ETA - I just got a Kaeru, more than a few knives into the hobby, and think it's terrific.
 

DitmasPork

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I like to try as many examples I can within a particular price bracket before moving up to the next to see the tangible improvements, if any, between them. It gives me the the chance to appreciate the differences rather than taking one big step to something expensive just because someone online says that it's the best.

I'd used Wustofs/Sabs for many years without the urge to upgrade. The weird thing with J-knives is that from the get go, I wanted to upgrade and try different shapes, grinds, steels, etc. The range is immense.
 

tostadas

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I'd used Wustofs/Sabs for many years without the urge to upgrade. The weird thing with J-knives is that from the get go, I wanted to upgrade and try different shapes, grinds, steels, etc. The range is immense.
I fully agree with that. I now find my price range steadily increasing, and the rate at which I'm acquiring new ones is as well. There are so many different ones to try, and it certainly doesnt help that people on this forum post pics and reviews of all their cool stuff.
 

DitmasPork

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I fully agree with that. I now find my price range steadily increasing, and the rate at which I'm acquiring new ones is as well. There are so many different ones to try, and it certainly doesnt help that people on this forum post pics and reviews of all their cool stuff.

Sadly, my choices of knife acquisitions often comes down to how much money I'm willing to blow on yet another knife.

If buying knives were purely based on performance or kitchen requirements—I'd have stopped buying/trying knives about a decade ago—and the knife market would suffer. Characteristics of J-knives are so varied, I'm always searching for knives I respond to on a personal level.

As a home cook—a gyuto and petty in white 2, with ho wood handles are perfectly adequate; food release and edge retention are overrated characteristics. However, it's damn fun chasing makers, slapping koa and reindeer horn on a knife, landing single bevels, etc. Kitchen bling.

Before venturing too off topic—the thing about 'gateway knives,' they're just knives. If a cook knows their way around a knife—it's not a big transition, or learning curve, going from a Wustof to a Kato, most anyone blowing +1k on a knife will be made aware of basic care, etc. And, if they can't hand sharpen, no worries, they'll perhaps send it out to a good sharpener like Kev or Jon—which they can prob afford since they've spent +1k on a knife. Hand sharpening is not a requirement for buying a fine J-knife.

This said, the knives I recommend most to cooks with good knife skills, looking for a first J-knife, and want something cheap ($100–$250):
Mac Pro
Misono
JKI Stainless
 
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McMan

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I see a "gateway" as something that sparks an interest... that causes one's thinking to become more intentional and motivates reflection... I agree with the ground that @ian list covers and also with @DitmasPork point about ways European-made knives can also spark an interest in Japanese knives.

I think owning an old Sabatier, a Wakui, and a Tosa should be mandatory :)

--The old Sabs are very user friendly, overall fun to use, and really a knife that gets you thinking about knives. Also historical. The old nogents have wonderful distal taper (and a whispy-thin tip with some flex), a lot of flat spot and a pointy profile (think the inspiration for the KS profile... KS=Sab K), and are easy to keep screaming sharp with a steel. (Early (1900s-WWI) Henckels and Wusthof have similar attributes too.) The WWII Sab stuff is beefier but still a blast to use.

--I'd add Wakui to the list--a knife that punches above it weight class. In my thinking, Wakui is one of the most performance-oriented Japanese knives in the sub-$200 bracket. A great benchmark to get to thinking about tastes in grind and food release and to learn more about how Japanese steels/HT behave.

--Tosa. Hardly any recommendations for Tosa anymore. This makes sense considering what's out there. But I think for $~60 it's very hard to beat a Tosa. The grinds are nice (and @stringer pointed out that many have a hammered hollow above the bevel), food release is generally good, they're thick enough to not be delicate but thin enough to not be wedge wedge monsters, and usually HT ranges from good to surprisingly good. The downside is there aren't many offerings at 240 gyuto. But the ~180 Tosa bunka should also be mandatory.
 
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DitmasPork

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Alright, this was my 'gateway knife,' a 240 Masamoto HC that I bought at Korin (circa 2011?). They let me pick one from the bunch—not that it mattered, since these are cranked out from a factory. I got to cut celery with a tester knife at the store.

Being at Korin blew my mind, it was my first time in a store that specialized in J-knives.

This was before I stumbled onto KKF. This knife was recommended by a dude named Boar de Laze on ChefTalk forum.

Nostalgia. Maybe I'll sharpen her up to use tonight!

EE7AC1DE-0EED-4433-BA98-1954E4174590.JPG
 

spaceconvoy

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IMO, it entirely depends on which 'gate' a knife buyer wants to walk through for a first Japanese knife.
Definitely. And I think their willingness to learn sharpening is a more important distinction than cutting style, bling factor, or the workhorse-laser spectrum. Without that, this hobby is a dead end.

If they're unwilling to learn, then a more expensive knife with great OOTB geometry and edge (Yoshikane) might be an ideal starter knife. The gradual loss of performance would either force them to learn, or make them realize they should stick to Shuns.

If they're enthusiastic about sharpening, then a forgiving steel with decent overall geometry but a thicker factory edge (take your pick of ~$100 Seki-made carbon) will encourage them further by showing big performance improvements with relatively minimal effort.
 

DitmasPork

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Definitely. And I think their willingness to learn sharpening is a more important distinction than cutting style, bling factor, or the workhorse-laser spectrum. Without that, this hobby is a dead end.

If they're unwilling to learn, then a more expensive knife with great OOTB geometry and edge (Yoshikane) might be an ideal starter knife. The gradual loss of performance would either force them to learn, or make them realize they should stick to Shuns.

If they're enthusiastic about sharpening, then a forgiving steel with decent overall geometry but a thicker factory edge (take your pick of ~$100 Seki-made carbon) will encourage them further by showing big performance improvements with relatively minimal effort.
I sharpen, not an expert, but know how to get what I want outta a knife.

However, although useful and IMO a good skill to have—knowing how to hand sharpen is not a requirement for buying a high end Japanese kitchen knife. I know some pro cooks who love their pricey j-knives, but don’t hand sharpen their own knives, either from not knowing how, or lack of interest—they just get someone else to sharpen, nothing wrong with that approach if they can afford it. Keeps the pro sharpeners happy to have regular customers. If someone wants to buy a Shig, and can’t sharpen—I’ve nothing against it.
 
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Definitely. And I think their willingness to learn sharpening is a more important distinction than cutting style, bling factor, or the workhorse-laser spectrum. Without that, this hobby is a dead end.

If they're unwilling to learn, then a more expensive knife with great OOTB geometry and edge (Yoshikane) might be an ideal starter knife. The gradual loss of performance would either force them to learn, or make them realize they should stick to Shuns.

If they're enthusiastic about sharpening, then a forgiving steel with decent overall geometry but a thicker factory edge (take your pick of ~$100 Seki-made carbon) will encourage them further by showing big performance improvements with relatively minimal effort.

So much this! Or at the very least, as @DitmasPork said, have a solid plan for maintaining and sharpening the knife.

It is surely not restricted to kitchen cutlery but I have so, so many times seen knives recommended to people who obviously aren't prepared for using and/or caring for the knife. As has been said, getting a somewhat deeper sense for the individual really needs to be considered when giving recommendations. It shouldn't just be a personal favorite that checks a box the person mentioned.

I think this thread idea is nice but like others, really hard to do as a "gateway" idea. As @McMan mentioned, for me, the gateway was about experimentation into Japanese knives. I had decades of sharpening experience and pocket/sporting and western kitchen knife usage. I'd done my research into Japanese knives many times and had a sense of what they were about. But did I want to go there?

In my mind they were predominantly rust prone, fragile and expensive (which I mean they sorta are) and I was doing some pretty good stuff with my Wusthofs. I'd gone through a steel experimentation phase with pocket knives so that allure itself wasn't as compelling. But geometry...Now that did pique my curiosity.

I don't remember just now which I got first as they both came fairly close together but it was either the Yaxell Dragon Fire 8.5" BD1N gyuto (no longer made) and, believe it or not, a Dexter Russell "vegetable cleaver."

JaU6emn.jpg


Those top two knives were my gateway knives. The Yaxell gave me a sense for a flatter profile and thinner grind (and BD1N is an awesome steel) and the Dexter gave me a sense of if I'd like a nakiri. I was really fascinated by them at the time.

It turned out to be positive all 'round so then it was do I want to take on water stones, new techniques and new steels? And before you know it I'm buying carbon steels that I swore for decades I'd never own. But it was those two knives that next to no one would have recommended to me had I asked, that opened the door for me.

From there, it has been about budget-oriented offerings to explore what I like.

Now, if the idea was purely, budget-oriented offerings, that I would think would be a different thing and honestly what I think the OP was shooting for.
 
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I think of gateway more often for sharpening than for knives, insofar as I get the idea of wanting to learn angle control on a blade you don't mind scratching up. Cheap stainless is hard to sharpen, so I get the common recommendation to look to affordable carbon.

In terms of knives, once you have a decent beater, I don't see what difference it makes in looking for something better.

ETA - I just got a Kaeru, more than a few knives into the hobby, and think it's terrific.

I tend to agree with the sharpening point. I hate to see people new to sharpening leaping into >$300 knives. They aren't likely to do any real damage that isn't readily fixable but the pain of mistakes on CKC 1303 or one of the numerous Tosa Aogami knives is decidedly less than with a $400 gyuto.
Learning sharpening aside for gyutos I usually recommend a MAC or maybe the Chromax Takamura but if they are actually enthusiastic about learning sharpening and not adverse to reactive knives the Tosa makers are IMO hard to beat on a bang for the buck basis for the reasons @McMan outlined.
 
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DitmasPork

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I tend to agree with the sharpening point. I hate to see people new to sharpening leaping into >$300 knives. They aren't likely to do any real damage that isn't readily fixable but the pain of mistakes on CKC 1303 or one of the numerous Tosa Aogami knives is decided less than with a $400 gyuto.
Learning sharpening aside for gyutos I usually recommend a MAC or maybe the Chromax Takamura but if they are actually enthusiastic about learning sharpening and not adverse to reactive knives the Tosa makers are IMO hard to beat on a bang for the buck basis for the reasons @McMan outlined.

Personally, I like sharpening, it helps me to get to know a knife, bond with it. At the end of the day—a knife is a knife is a knife, it's just a tool. Makes no difference to me what a newbie learns to sharpen on—doesn't matter if they totally mess up a Tojiro DP or a Shigefusa Kitaeji while sharpening—both are tools, not works or art. If a newbie destroys a Shigefusa Kitaeji learning to thin, it's a good thing in the long run—unless wanting to flip it on BST. I love my knives, treat them well, but have never been too precious with them.

Shig is more enjoyable to sharpen than Tojiro DP.

Yeah, Mac Pro and Takamura are solid recommendations, dig them both, though I've only used the red handle R2 Takamura.
 
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If I know the person will somehow “abuse” the knife I’d recommend Kanehide TK or Konosuke HD2 Western (the $249 one) or Ashi Ginga SS depending on the budget. These 2 are monosteel and not super thin behind the edge so they are decently tough. Still nice to learn sharpening with as semistainless steel.
 
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Our definitions of gateway seem to vary widely (“I shall not today attempt to further define [a gateway knife]…and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so…but I know it when I see it”).

I’m jumping in here because, for me, it was a Tosa AS long petty/short suji for many of the reasons that you all mention.

1. It’s reactive, but not that reactive. I ain’t scared.
2. It has a good grind and rewards good cutting technique without being two inches of vertical steel (or 10 inches of longitudinal steel for that matter).
3. The fit and finish is already imperfect, so I’m not so worried about that first supermarket door ding.
4. It is a fair buy-in at < $200.
5. Sharpens nicely (I’m not experienced to put it on a continuum, but maybe that proves the point. I’m not that experienced after all) and holds an edge so I don’t feel like sharpening is a routine part of cooking. On the contrary, I found myself wishing for something else to sharpen because the Tosa petty didn’t need it. Gateway…
 

DitmasPork

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If I know the person will somehow “abuse” the knife I’d recommend Kanehide TK or Konosuke HD2 Western (the $249 one) or Ashi Ginga SS depending on the budget. These 2 are monosteel and not super thin behind the edge so they are decently tough. Still nice to learn sharpening with as semistainless steel.

I suppose I’m coming from a different perspective than many others here based on comments—I sell for a living, to collectors, and have the attitude that I’ll give my recommendations for what I feel is appropriate, but won’t stand in the way of what the buyers wants. Once the sale goes s made, it’s theirs to do what the please. I also wouldn’t cringe if someone cracks open a fine burgundy to down with their KFC.

Last knife I recommended to a j-knife neophyte was JKI stainless, good price, came with saya, …Jon also set her up with a stone. Perfect intro knife for her, low maintenance, tough steel, looks good.
 
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@Jovidah I do think this is a good idea. What do you think about starting a new thread with something like "Your Picks for Knives under $200USD" or similar?

EDIT: Or maybe even better, "Your Experience with..." Something like that. We might have tried knives we wouldn't recommend. Anyway, just a thought.
 

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I'd second the opinion about misono carbon as a gateway knife...or any misono for that matter...I bought a misono moly at korin in 2001...almost 20 years later it still makes it into the rotation that goes to work with me...I have a misono carbon that's 15 years old and as mentioned above I wonder why I need all those other knives every time I use it...

Often if I see a young cook struggling with their knife...I'll pass it to them for the remainder of mise en place...it blows them away...then I tell them if they get good enough at using a knife properly maybe someday I'll let them try the more expensive ones...that usually makes their eyes bug a bit..

take care
Jeff
 

Cliff

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I suppose I’m coming from a different perspective than many others here based on comments—I sell for a living, to collectors, and have the attitude that I’ll give my recommendations for what I feel is appropriate, but won’t stand in the way of what the buyers wants. Once the sale goes s made, it’s theirs to do what the please. I also wouldn’t cringe if someone cracks open a fine burgundy to down with their KFC.

Last knife I recommended to a j-knife neophyte was JKI stainless, good price, came with saya, …Jon also set her up with a stone. Perfect intro knife for her, low maintenance, tough steel, looks good.

Burgundy and KFC sounds good.
 

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For Japanese knives, there's also the matter of whether the user is righty.
 

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So I came here from Reddit, and there’s a pretty good Getting Started over there. In my mind there are 2 types of recommendations I’ll make. If you are brand new and have never had a knife, not never had a good knife, this is your first one, Victorinox Swiss Modern or Fujiwara FKM. If your budget is higher I go up to Suisin Inox, which is thinner towards the tip and has a bit better fit and finish, or a Gesshin Stainless wa-gyuto, which is about the most money I’d recommend spending to start.
After that I have a ‘what’s the next knife after a starter knife you should get’. The answer is almost always a Takamura. A VG10 Takamura isn’t any more than a VG10 Miyabi or Shun, or a Wusthof Classic for that matter, but it’s thin, has a convex grind, excellent fit and finish, and is practical. Mine is my daily driver. For less than $200, you can get a Takamura HSPS/R2, which is in the same price category as Miyabi’s lowest end SG2 knives. The alternative to a Takamura I’ll usually recommend is an Ikazuchi from JKI (or similar knives like the Tosa-ichi or Nakamura Kaishin AS) if they really want a wa handle or a 240mm. It’s slightly thicker behind the edge than a Takamura (or Wakui for that matter) and so a bit more forgiving in use. It’s still thin, and convex ground, and symmetrical (same as Takamura and Wakui). It’s not as practical not being fully stainless or having a water resistant handle, but it’s not difficult to maintain either.
There’s also reviews of the Victorinox Swiss Modern, Fujiwara FKM, and Suisin Inox on Reddit. No Gesshin Stainless review yet, anyone I know who owns one won’t write one (and take pictures). No reviews of Takamura or Ikazuchi or Wakui, but they’ll eventually come as I own all 3. Takamura are pretty well known though.
 
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