I'm getting married next March and want to use the registry to beef up my kitchen. Knives are my first stumbling block. I have some old Oneida knives from my grandmother as well as one Henckels chef knife I bought at Marshall's for $13. I'm not interested in the 28-pc uber-sets, (nobody would buy THOSE for us anyway :), but if anyone has small-set recommendations or favorite brands, I'd love to hear. We'll be registering at Crate & Barrel and Williams Sonoma.
Here are some tips:
1. Opinions differ on whether sets are a good idea. The case against sets is that you usually end up buying more than you need (or buying a high quality version of some knife that you would have been better of buying a lower quality version). The other case against sets is that many people like to have the chef's knife made by company A, for example, and the boning knife from company B.
The case for small sets (i.e. 2-4 knives) is that you can save some money, and usually get a sharpening steel, kitchen shears, and knife block included. Besides, most people use between 2 and 4 knives, so if you find a set that has the ones you'll use, great.
There isn't a case to made for buying a large set (steak knives excluded).
2. THere are some knives where you'll want to spend money, and others where you'll want to go cheap. Spend the money on a good chef's knive (the most common size is 8" and it will cost in the range of $75-$90). Depending on your cooking style, you may also want to get a good quality pearing knife (3-5"), utility or boning knife (about 6-8"), or a Santuko knife. Serrated knives, such as a bread knife, you will be fine with a cheaper, "stamped blade," if you want to save money. Victornox is a top brand. If you want to save money, you can certainly get by with a lower-quality pearing knife also.
3. There are a number of good brands for top-quality knives, I like Wustof-Trident. But many of the differences among the high-end brands come down to how they feel in your hand and how the weight of the knife is distributed throughout the knife. No one can tell you which one will feel right. So the thing to do is go to your local store and ask to see the knives. Hold it, practice cutting, etc. and see which chef's knife feels best to you.
4. Different retail stores sell different sets. For example, the 3-piece Wustof set at Crate and Barrel may be different than the 3-piece set at W-S. Be sure to check all stores before making a decision.
5. Do not forget about storage and knife sharpening. Storage: you will need to store your knifes in either a wooden block, on a knife magnet attached to the wall, or in a special-designed holder for knives that fits inside your kitchen drawer. Do not just throw high-end, sharp knives into a drawer. Also, do not put them in the dishwasher.
Sharpening: you will need to buy a sharpening steel (or get one in a set). On their own, they cost about $20. A sharpening steel doesn't actually sharpen the blade; it straightens it. You need to use the steel every time you use the knife. THen, about once every 6 months to a year (depending on how often you use the knives) you need to sharpen the knives. I take mine to a kitchen supply store (Northwestern Cutlery in Chicago) where they use a very large stone to recut the edge of the knife. It costs $3 and is more precise than the do-it-yourself stones that are available.
6. To save money, think about multitasking before you buy dedicated knives: you can definitely use a bread knife to cut tomatoes. So unless you cut lots, and lots, of tomatoes, you don't need a dedicated tomato knife. Another example, I have an excellent flexible utility knife made by Messermeister. It is probably 6" long and is stiff enough to use for anything one would use a utility knife for, but is flexible enough to use as a boning knife for large cuts of meat or fish. So for me, no need to buy a dedicated boning knife, which are not good for too much else besides boning.
7. Buy a good cutting board. You want something large, but not to heavy that you won't ever use it. I like wood because it is heavy and doesn't move. Oxo makes some excellent plastic cutting boards that are light, dishwasher safe, and have rubber edges to hold them in place. (Do not worry about safety differences between wood and plastic -- both are fine.) Avoid glass cutting boards. It is also good to have a supply of smaller cutting boards (esp small Oxo plastic ones) and a supply of thin, flexible boards for small, quick tasks.
I know that is a lot of info. To get started, I'd begin with the chef's knife and see what two- to four-piece sets are available at the places you will register. I've seen sets that include the knife and sharpening steel, the knife and a Santuko knife, the knife and a pearing knife, etc. Test the different brands and see what you like.
Congratulations on the wedding.