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Sep 19, 2009 08:57 PM

Boning Knife (Shun or Wusthof)

Hey everyone,

This my first post, but I have certainly read from this site many times before. So here is my situation. Everyone has his/her all-purpose knife. Some use a French chef's knife, other use a Japanese Santoku bocho. I use a Chinese chef's cleaver (Dexter-Russell) and like it very much. In addition, I have a very crappy knife set. Every knives from that set can be bended. I can easily bend the French chef's knife and even the cleaver a bit. Imagine that, a semi-flexible cleaver. I am ready to purge the set.

As you know, a Chinese chef's cleaver is great for many things, but not good for delicate jobs. I am hoping to get a boning knife to compensate the Chinese chef's cleaver.

My first question is:
Do you think I am correct to consider the a boning knife or should I consider a flexible fillet knife or maybe even an yanagiba?

I went to Williams-Sonoma to test-hold the a Wusthof Classic boning knife and a slightly smaller Shun Classic utility knife, as there was not a Shun boning knife. I knew Wusthof is heavier, but I didn't expect the difference. The Wusthof boning knife is quiet heavy in comparison, especially at the handle. The Shun knife is lighter and has a sharper edge and a thinner blade. Although I didn't get to test the Shun boning knife, I am quiet certain it will also be lighter than Wusthof's.

So my second question is:
Am I correct to think the Shun boning knife is better due to its sharper edge, thinner blade and lighter weight. Unlike a cleaver which uses momentum, I fail to see the advantage of a heavier boning knife. The only advantage I can see for Wusthof is that it can be sharpen easier and may be it is stronger (stronger but not harder). I don't even know if it is really stronger.

One last question. I heard many people say Victorinox boning knife is very good, even it may look cheap and sells cheap ($20). Any thought on Victorinox? Free feel to suggest other brands.

I like a good knife, but I am not in a competition to spend the most.

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  1. What do you intend on doing w/ your boning knife? Breaking down whole chickens, frenching lamb racks, etc...?

    A yanagi shouldn't even come into this equation for those tasks. You want a yanagi if you plan on breaking down fish, skinning fish, slicing fish.

    Any boning knife that flexes will dull quicker, that's unavoidable. The harder the metal, the longer it'll hold an edge, but the less flexible it'll be (chips easier). It depends on which you prefer.

    Victorinox won't hold an edge for long. It's an average knife, you get what you pay for. If I had one I would use it for rough work like frenching lamb.

    An alternative to your two choices are hankotsu's, Misono makes a nice one.

    1 Reply
    1. re: aser

      Thank you. I am not trying to use a Yanagi as a replacement for a boning knife. I was asking what is a first good knife to expand upon an Chinese chef's knife. Would a boning knife, a fillet knife or even a yanagi makes more sense? As I implied, I am leaning toward a boning knife, but if others disagree and think I should go for say a yanagi, then I like to listen why. Thanks

    2. Chemicalkinetics, you have made a good start by going to the store and actually handling the knives you provisionally are interested in. Knives are very personal, and how a knife feels in your hand is paramount.

      Having told you how personal the selection is, we will reverse course, and tell you that were we the ones selecting a new boning knife, at or near the top of the list would be -- shock! -- two American-made knives. Not because there is anything wrong with a German knife or a Japanese knife or a French knife -- we have examples of good knives of several nations in our kitchen, and the one that my spouse uses almost exclusively is Brazilian -- but because there happen to be two exceptionally good boning knives made in the U.S.A. that (in our opinion) are not surpassed by any others.

      The following page will help you to expand the universe of candidates: Part way down that page, you will see four versions (differing only in the handle material) of the Lamson Sharp 6" fillet/boning knife. The Lamson Sharp knife follows the French philosophy of knives, where the blade can be sharpened to a very fine, wickedly sharp, edge but it MUST be sharpened frequently, the obverse of the same quality that allows it to take such a fine edge. While it is sharp, the Lamson Sharp is as sharp a vorpal blade for snicker-snacking as one can get, and after you have used it, while the meal is cooking, you sharpen the knife again for its next use. <g>

      The Edgecraft Chef's Choice 5.5" boning knife 2000300 comes from the other end of the spectrum. Edgecraft uses a proprietary alloy in its knives that is very high in carbon content and thus is very hard, just short of the hardness of some very hard -- and very brittle -- German and Japanese knives, but the Edgecraft alloy has six times as much molybdenum content as the molybdenum content in any Japanese or German knife, which makes the Edgecraft (Chef's Choice) knife much tougher (less brittle) than other knives of equal hardness. The hardness allows the Chef's Choice knives to hold an edge longer than the edges on knives made of softer alloys like the Lamson Sharp -- which is a good thing, because the Chef's Choice knives are a devil to sharpen; it is a blessing that they do not need to be sharpened as often, because you basically need diamond abrasives to sharpen them.

      (True confessions time: in our kitchen we do our boning with an Eberhard Schaaf knife, and we love it. That is another line to look into -- you will find it on the same page as the one above that displays the Lamson Sharp choices. The Eberhard Schaaf line recently has been marketed under the mark "Solicut," presumably a contraction of Solingen, where it is made, and "cut.")

      10 Replies
      1. re: Politeness

        Hi Politeness,

        Thanks for the reply. It is very helpful. I have considered the Lamson Sharp. I have not considered the Edgecraft. So you are saying that the Edgecraft is harden to a higher Rockwell (RC) so it holds an edge better? That also means it can hold a smaller angle edge as well. So that can be one sharp knife. You also said Edgecraft has six times the molybdenum and therefore tougher and less brittle. That would mean Edgecraft has a very good steel which is both hard and strong. I have ordered a DMT diamond whetstone, so that may come in handy if I do get a hard knife. I really need to read about that Edgecraft steel.

        Ok, just read that Chef Choice claims it has a RC 60. That is on par with many Japanese knives, and if it is alot a stronger knife in term of tensile strength, then it is clearly better than Henckels and Wusthof. I will read about Eberhard. Thanks.

        Opps, just thought of a problem... I don't think I have seen Lamson Sharp or Edgecraft sold near my area, so I may not able to test-hold them. In othe words, I can read about the steel, but cannot feel the balance.

        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

          Chemiccalkinetics: "I don't think I have seen Lamson Sharp or Edgecraft sold near my area, so I may not able to test-hold them."

          There are some on-line merchants that have excellent return policies who will allow you a reasonable period to decide if you want to return your purchase, and will give a full refund, less shipping charges, if you return the knife undamaged within, say, 30 days. See, for instance, If we recall correctly, the Knife Merchant, to which we previously gave a link, also has a good return policy. (If you cannot find the return policy on the site, which, looking just now, we could not, it cannot hurt to telephone to ask about it.)

          But one of the silver linings behind the dark clouds of the current economy is that merchants who sell the kinds of items (like quality knives) for which most purchasers can defer gratification are very accommodating to real customers. If you find an on-line merchant that carries two or more of the knives you are looking into, you might want to be right up-front that you will be purchasing multiple knives but will return all but the one you decide to keep. In these hard times, you may find that a merchant will be very understanding and might accommodate you to the extent of combining shipping costs to lessen the shipping in one direction, at least.

          1. re: Politeness


            Thanks for point it out. Yeah, I would probably still feel like an jerk by returning the knives. I only return items if I truly think something is wrong with them. Hey, I just read a little bit about Edgecraft. Although it is harden to RC60, a person online thinks Edgecraft has over hardened the steel, beyond the optimal value. In other words, he has experienced chipping issue. Now, this is just one guy, but have you experienced anything like that?

            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

              Chemicalkinetics, our only Chef's Choice knife is the 8" chef's knife. From an "abuse" standpoint, however, that knife probably gets harder duty than any knife in the kitchen. Two or three days ago, for instance, we purchased a whole fresh wild salmon from the Native Americans (who have exclusive taking rights) at North Bonneville, and after bringing it home, used that knife to cut it into pieces to share with friends (a shame to freeze it when it is so fresh). Have you ever tried to cut through an adult salmon's spine? It is not easy, and involves some violent motions. That is also the same knife that, laid on its side, we use to crush cloves of garlic. Anyway, in several years of very hard use, we have never had anything like a chip on that knife.

              As for feeling like a jerk, you can bet that any of the merchants you would be purchasing from would love to be "jerked" around like that in today's economy. However, we did suggest that you be up-front with the merchant that you will buy six knives, return five; that way you certainly should not feel like a jerk.

              1. re: Politeness


                No, I have never cut an adult salmon. Small fish (~18 inch). yes, but no large salmon. Can I ask, why did you cut through the spine with a chef's knife and not a heavy cleaver knife? You sound like you are in the restaurant business, so I am sure you have a heavy cleaver. Or were you just trying to do the whole job with one knife and did not feel like switch knives back and forth?

                Yeah, I will be upfront to the merchants if I believe I may return the knives.

                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                  Chemicalkinetics: "Can I ask, why did you cut through the spine with a chef's knife and not a heavy cleaver knife? You sound like you are in the restaurant business, so I am sure you have a heavy cleaver."

                  <smile> No, we are not in the restaurant business, and we <blush> do not own a heavy cleaver. The chef's knife (we have two, actually, an 8" and an 11") is the most heavy duty, serious business, knife in our kitchen.

                  Trust us: when it comes to cutting through an adult salmon, visions of chain saws dance in the head.

                  1. re: Politeness


                    Thanks. I guess somehow when you said "we" recommended this knife and "we" purchase a whole salmon, I simply translate the "we" into like 10 people.

                    I do want to get a heavy cleaver next after purchasing a boning knife/paring knife. Although I have a very cheap set of knives, I enjoy very much whacking my meat with that poor quality meat cleaver (not referring to my Dexter Chinese cleaver). Occasionally, I whack my foods with a cleaver even when I don't need to. I think I need help. It is just so cool to chop though my meat in one swift move. By the way, I have a pinewood tree trunk chopping block -- a soft wood. So when I whack the meat, it will cut through the meat into the wood slightly -- a very clean cut.

                    I saw some Chinese heavy cleavers in Chinatown. I don't care for the really huge one, but they have those medium size thick blade ones, like a mini axe (cheap, $30). I might get one. Or maybe I will get a more refine one from Wusthof ($90).

                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      For rough work like that, don't waste your money on fancy schmancy, a Chinatown cleaver will do. Actually, most of these cleavers have great potential, a lot of them are not made for bones but for slicing. They mostly come rather dull brand new, a session on water stones will change that.

                      A recommended brand of Chinese cleavers is Chan Chi Kee. They're from HK but also has a retail location in Markham, a suburb of Toronto. The variety will surprise you, one long one is made for butchering pigs.


                      1. re: aser


                        Yep. I know about CCK. I was actually born in Hong Kong. Anyway, I don't have one though. CCK knives are very difficult to find and thus far I am happy with my Dexter-Russell Chinese chef's cleaver. It is respected among in San Fransico Chinatown circle.

                        I am thinking about a real meat cleaver, not a chef's cleaver (aka vegetable cleaver) as I already have one. Just thinking.... It will be one of those knives very cool to have, but won't be necessary.

                      2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                        Chemicalkinetics: "I guess somehow when you said 'we' recommended this knife and 'we' purchase a whole salmon, I simply translate the 'we' into like 10 people."

                        Journalistic habit on "our" part. <g> The use of the first person plural also helps a bit to avoid stereotyping by some individuals who respond differently according to the assumed gender of the person to whom they perceive they are responding.

        2. Firstly welcome to CH!
          As another poster already noted a Yanagi should not be a consideration. That is a very specific use slicer.
          I own both a flexible and stiff boning knife from Wusthof. In my experience one will not stay sharp longer than the other because it is stiff or flexible however I use the stiff boning knife much more frequently.
          It's not much of a comparison to set a boning knife against a utility knife as far as weight goes. I want at least some heft in a boning knife for Frenching bones, breaking down birds etc.
          Having said that Japanese knives will almost always be lighter than a comparable German or Euro style knife. One is neither "better" or "worse" it's just a matter of personal preference.
          In regards to sharpness how sharp either will get and stay is as much, if not more a function of your knife sharpening skills than just knife brand or type of steel. If you are using a grinder or a pull through sharpener it is un-likely one will be sharper than the other. If you posses good hand sharpening skills the Shun should have a slight edge. However the Wusthof is a bit easier to sharpen and maintain.
          German steel tends to appear "stronger" from the way the knife is ground and the steel is a bit more forgiving. Like you I have a Dexter cleaver and I'd really have to muscle it to make it flex. If you try that flex test that you used with your cleaver on a long knife like a yanagi or hard Japanese steel you run the risk of breaking the tip or just snapping the knife.
          I'm not a Shun fan. I do not like the cheesy cladding that they use. However some feel that the classic Shun classic boning knife is one of the better knives Shun makes.
          The Forschner Victorinox gets a lot of play as it's inexpensive. That's really it's best attribute. It will perform but since one of the reasons you are buying knife is to up grade and you do not seem to want any flex then I would suggest you skip over Forschner.
          You should understand that generally Japanese knives are thinner so more prone to flexing. German and most Euro style knives are thicker, heavier and less prone to flex.
          I think you need to focus on what you want to do with the knife and what type of knife you want before you focus on a brand.
          I would also consider Mac Pro or on the higher end the Hattori.

          8 Replies
          1. re: Fritter

            Thank Fritter,

            Yes, I read the Damascus pattern in Shun is mostly for show. I think I was being confusing early. I have no problem with a flexible boning knife (a fillet knife). I was merely pointing out that I bought a very cheap set of knives, in which even the chef's knife and the cleaver are flexible. Thanks for the links.

            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

              I Wasn't sure about the flexability of the knife being ok with you or not based on your OP. You should be aware that a higher HRC is not "Better" unless you have the ability to sharpen it. There are many other factors that go into making a quality steel like the heat treatment and that is not reflected in HRC. HRC like many things can be maniplated into a slick marketing tool. The harder the steel the harder it is to sharpen and the more prone it is to chipping.
              If you are trying to do a two knife combo with your cleaver neither a pairing knife or a boning knife would not be my first choice.
              As much as I like my cleaver it can not take the place of a Chefs knife which is the single knife I would chose if I only had one.
              Most of the "Better" brands will have to be mail ordered.

              1. re: Fritter


                I was confusing I suppose, but I am not against a flexible boning knife (a fillet knife), just against a flexible cleaver, you know. I was just trying to really make fun of my cheap sets of knives. Yes, you are correct that a higher HRC is not better since there is a trade-off between hardness and strength. For a given mental, a higher HRC usually means a lower tensile strength. Since RC is often used a marketing tool, one can make a very brittle knife and only promote the hardness without stating its unacceptable strength. In fact, I think it is slightly better to be on the softer and stronger side if one has to choose.
                Maybe it is just because I have more experience with a thin cleaver, I can go through my food prep faster than a French chef's knife. In fact, I have been doing all my home cook pretty much with just the dexter thin cleaver. Anyway, I am too old change now (at age 35).

                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                  I still use a Dexter cleaver and have for many years. They are a bargain.
                  The thing about HRC is that you can have a lower HRC on one brand Vs another and the lower HRC may have better edge retention due to the type of steel and or the way it was treated. That is often over looked.
                  It seems you have a preference for thinner knives so you may favor a Japanese knife. You really need to consider what method of sharpening you will use in this purchase as your stone type or sharpening method needs to match your knife to some degree. Not many are going to lay a nice Japanese knife on a diamond stone or hone.
                  If you do opt for a boning knife I do not suggest a flexible boner. It is the least used knife in my kit.
                  Have you considered a Petty knife like the Hattori? You may find a knife like this far more useful for fish or other detail work than a boning knife. OTOH the boning knife will be better on meat like pork and lamb and tasks like Frenching bone.
                  A pairing knife is a separate issue. You can pick up a Victorinox pairing knife for under $10. I do suggest you have one as they are very useful but not really a good single knife compliment to your cleaver (IMO).
                  Here is a link for Hattori. You may want to look through the other brands from this vendor as well. AFAIK they ship world wide at very reasonable fees. I receive my orders from them in around 4 days from Seki Japan to the USA. Freight is around $7.


                  1. re: Fritter


                    Well, I bought my Dexter at near full market price at ~$40. Sometime they sell for less, but I wasn't lucky. Actually l like it a quiet a bit and like it better than my previous lighter and thinner Seiko Chinese chef's cleaver. I am not sure if I always prefer a thinner knives. For example, Dexter Chinese chef's cleaver is slightly thicker and heavier than other Chinese chef's cleavers. I also like those really big fat heavy meat cleavers.

                    I thought, and please correct me, that it is better to have a thinner and lighter boning because it is more maneuverable. Unlike a meat cleaver which the weight delivers momentum and it is essential, I don't see the advantages for extra weight in a boning knife. Maybe for stability? Let me be very clear. I don't know much about boning knives, so maybe it is desirable to have some weight to a boning knife.

                    Yeah, I think I understand the edge retention you are talking about. Two knives may be the same hardness HRC, but one may be stronger with a greater tensile strenght -- less prone to chipping, right?

                    I have a Japanese water stone (1000/8000 grits) with a DMT diamond whetstone for flattening the water stone.

                    Thanks Fritter. I have not considered the petty knife. I will definitely look into it.

                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      Sounds like you have a good sharpening plan!

                      " I don't see the advantages for extra weight in a boning knife. Maybe for stability"

                      Yes stability especially for Frenching bones and strength for cutting through fat or muscle. I guess I should go through my old box more often as I just found a new Wusthof fillet knife I never even knew I had.

                      1. re: Fritter


                        Thanks. It makes sense. A thinner bonning knife maybe more maneuverable, but may not have the durability and stability. Maybe I need to test-hold these knives again.

                        You are not trying to sell me your new found Wusthof fillet knife, right? Just kidding.

                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                          You don't want the Wisthof fillet knife for a two knife set. It's a lot more like a thin flexible slicer.

            1. re: jaykayen

              Thanks jaykayen. I think some people believe a paring knife accommodates any all-purpose knife better than a boning knife can. That is if one can only buy two knives, buy an all-purpose knife and a paring knife. On the other hand, I don't notice I ever really use a paring knife, maybe just the way I cook.

              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                I'm like you-I rarely used a paring knife until I cooked professionally. Then, I realized how handicapped I was in not having one. Most people use just their chef's and paring knife. Most home cooks do not really break down that much meat or fish to require specialized knifes for those purposes.

                You wanted a second knife to expand on your Chinese cleaver, since it cannot handle delicate tasks. I think a yanagi is just looking down the wrong road.

                I think the Shun offset utility is worth looking into.

                But I bet once you have a nice parer, you'll realize how useful it is. And they're not too expensive.

                1. re: jaykayen


                  Thank you for your suggestion. I will think a bit harder if I should get a paring as opposed to a boning/fillet knife. You are correct about a parer is cheaper so maybe I should start there. I will think about it. I do most of my food prep with my Chinese cleaver, and notice I am handicapped when I want to take the skin of a fish or cutting the meat around the pork shoulder blade.

            2. No one else has mentioned, so I will. How about a honesuki? I have a Tojiro one that's relatively inexpensive and you can get it wicked sharp. Not flexible but it'll attack bird bodies with no problems. I occasionally use my cheapo Chinese cleaver, which is a boning one rather than a slicer like the CCKs.

              I wouldn't get a Japanese paring knife (petty) and use if for something with bones. I only have one, but it's too thin and has too fine an edge for that. I'd take chunks out of the edge if I whacked it on a bone.

              That's food for thought.

              2 Replies
              1. re: ted

                A honesuki is not a bad suggestion by any means. A Petty and a pairing knife are not the same beast. A petty is typically about 2-3x as long as a pairing knife.

                1. re: Fritter

                  Are you guys trying to slowly but surely convert me into filling my kitchen with Japanese style knives instead of French style knives? :)

                  Actually, I thought about that option, but I guess French style knives are less risky. Although technically, I would probably impress people more with an entire set of Japanese style knives than French style knives.