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Al Mar Ultra Chef knives - how do they compare? Ryusen? Kanetsune?

s
sunrider Feb 16, 2011 02:19 PM

I love Japanese blades, but am always annoyed by the fact that they never seem to offer a bread knife or a carving fork - OK if you're selling only in Japan, but kind of limiting for a worldwide audience. If you're trying to put together a matching set that's not Global or Shun, it's near-impossible to find a bread knife or carving fork with matching handles.

Now I'm looking for a 'set' for a friend's wedding registry and would like to get one with a matching bread knife.

Performance/sharpness-wise, does anyone have experience with the Al Mar Ultra Chef series? How do they compare with Shun, Tojiro and other makes?

What about Boker's damascus lines?

Finally, I've noticed that many of Ryusen's handles look very similar to those used by Kanetsune:

http://www.epicedge.com/shopexd.asp?i...

Does anyone who owns both think they are similar enough to match?

  1. Chemicalkinetics Feb 17, 2011 08:15 AM

    Like what cowboy said. The Al Mar knives you mentioned are pretty much VG-10 knives with dasmascus patterns. They are not very different from other VG-10 knives, but they are much more expensive.

    Good Japanese knives require good care and that include decent sharpening. Either you can sharpen them or find a good professional knife sharpeners (many are not custom to sharpen Japanese knives). I would advise against using an electric knife sharpening machine on any decent Japanese knives, Shun or Tojiro or any. There is absolutely no reason to purchase Japanese knives to only subject them into electric knife sharpening machines. So make sure you friend knows how to take care of them. The JCK Kagayaki VG-10 Series is something to think about as well. It looks very attractive to me:

    http://www.japanesechefsknife.com/KAGAYAKIVG-10.html

    I own a Tojiro knife. Tojiro knives are of great values and good quality

    As for carving set, a few Japanese brands offer carving knives, but not necessary with carving fork. I personally am not a big believer in sets. If you want a set, I suppose you can get the Shun Kaji carving set:

    http://www.williams-sonoma.com/produc...

    Otherwise, I suppose a Sujihiki or a Yanagiba can also perform carving.

    27 Replies
    1. re: Chemicalkinetics
      s
      sunrider Feb 17, 2011 08:24 PM

      Thanks for the info - she's pretty careful with knives, so I'm sure she can look after them.

      Basically, I'm thinking of a set comprising:
      - 21-24cm western deba (meat knife, for cutting fish/chicken bones, then able to slice them finely; also for other heavy work)
      - 16-18cm santoku (general purpose/vegetables)
      - 24-27cm sujihiki (slicing/carving)
      - Bread knife
      - 8-10cm paring knife

      Does that sound like a good, all-purpose set?

      1. re: sunrider
        Chemicalkinetics Feb 18, 2011 07:26 AM

        Sound good. For the general purpose knife selection (the most important of all), some people like a straighter edge knife like a nakiri and a santoku. Other like a curved knife like a French Chef's knife or Gyuto. To reiterate cowboy's point, you can also consider putting a knife sharpener tool as part of the wedding registry, though not necessary.

        1. re: Chemicalkinetics
          s
          sunrider Feb 18, 2011 08:00 AM

          I doubt I need to include a knife sharpener - she already has a collection of waterstones for her sword collection!

          Come to think of it, do you think a thinner western deba (e.g. the Ryusen Bu-Rei-Zen 'Heavy Chef's Knife') would be a good alternative to a gyuto or santoku? They would certainly take a much sharper edge than a typical 'German'-style knife, while being more chip-resistant than a typical gyuto due to the width - no worrying about chips from bundles of herbs, occasional bone fragments, etc.

          http://www.epicedge.com/shopexd.asp?i...

          Also, all else being equal - VG-10, SG2 or another steel for toughness and chip resistance (no doubt they can all take on and retain a very sharp edge, so toughness is probably a bigger issue - after all, microchips can dull a knife faster than wear).

          1. re: sunrider
            Chemicalkinetics Feb 18, 2011 01:19 PM

            Well, who is that lucky guy marrying this lady? :) Yes, she won't need any sharpening tool nor would she wants any. On the other hand, won't someone like her already know what kitchen knives she want?

            How about getting a thicker blade main knife and a thinner blade main knife?

            Cowboy has an all around (mighty?)Gyuto and one high performance Gyuto, so he may able to shred some light on this approach.

            1. re: Chemicalkinetics
              s
              sunrider Feb 18, 2011 02:46 PM

              Well, that's one of the reasons I didn't include a full-size meat cleaver for hacking large bones - a short, one-handed falchion, cutlass or grosse messer, or a medium-large kukri, does the job just as effectively! But you don't want to be pulling out a sword every time you want to chop up a chicken, fish or some pork ribs.

              The thicker/thinner combination is what I'm thinking with the western deba/santoku combination - the santoku for the really fine slicing tasks, the western deba for chicken/fish (able to cut through bones, as well as thinly slice the meat), rock chopping, etc. Essentially like a European-type chef's knife, just as tough but sharper. Any idea if you'd get much wedging with the 3.8mm-thick Bu-Rei-Zen, or other western debas?

              By the way, which lines would you recommend for toughness/chip resistance? Given that all will take a good edge, toughness becomes the next main differential...

              1. re: sunrider
                k
                kaleokahu Feb 18, 2011 06:39 PM

                sunrider: A kukri? Really? If you go that route, please post photos of their cutting blocks/boards on their anniversary, will you?

                1. re: kaleokahu
                  s
                  sunrider Feb 18, 2011 09:24 PM

                  Well, don't forget, the Nepalese used to use large, ceremonial kukris to slaughter water buffalo; smaller ones make short work of cuts of meat just as well. Also, a Malay parang - fairly similar to a kukri in design (recurved blade with a normal distal curve) - makes a wonderful field knife for similar reasons - cleave apart bones or crack lobsters using the heavy, tough middle section, slice it fairly finely with the well-sharpened distal end, open cans with the tip... then use the same blade to chop wood for a campfire to cook the meat on a griddle, or skewers. They're really that versatile!

                  1. re: sunrider
                    Chemicalkinetics Feb 19, 2011 04:33 AM

                    Then you have your answer.

                    1. re: sunrider
                      k
                      kaleokahu Feb 19, 2011 04:28 PM

                      sunrider: So, you are Nepalese! Great--How DO you use a kukri as a cleaver on a flat board or block? Do you really have to knick yourself when you dice vegetables, or is that only for Ghurkas?

                      1. re: kaleokahu
                        s
                        sunrider Feb 19, 2011 04:37 PM

                        No, I'm nbt Nepalese - just that I've seen it in action!

                        It's not used to cut vegetables - only to slaughter buffalo. A smaller one would have no problems chopping bones - it's got a very nice convex edge for that. I'm not suggesting that a kukri be used instead of a regular kitchen knife - just that it can be effective as a cleaver.

                        1. re: sunrider
                          k
                          kaleokahu Feb 19, 2011 04:54 PM

                          sunrider: Thanks, but I still don't grasp what would make a kukri a good cleaver in a kitchen. What would you be cleaving *on*? Do you cleave from the side so the tip and front hang over your board? Do you kneel and cleave up over your head? I must be missing something here--a kukri in the kitchen kinda sounds like a basketball helmet to me.

                          Now CHEM might be the one person here who already has a cylindrical chopping board (i.e., a log), specially turned for kukris' elbows. Straighten me out, buddy.

                          1. re: kaleokahu
                            s
                            sunrider Feb 19, 2011 05:02 PM

                            You wouldn't cleave with the concave, inside part of the kukri - you'd use the convex bottom and distal edge. So you'd use it just like a regular cleaver, except it's probably slightly more ergonomic, since you wouldn't require as much ulnar flexion at the wrist. Better for shorter people or higher benchtops, too.

                            1. re: sunrider
                              k
                              kaleokahu Feb 19, 2011 05:10 PM

                              sunrider: One more try... To cleave that way, either your hand has to be below the surface you're cleaving on, or you're just using the tip, right? Isn't the tip the only real place on a kukri that has any belly?

                              1. re: kaleokahu
                                s
                                sunrider Feb 19, 2011 05:18 PM

                                Yes, you're using the tip. But the tip on a kukri is often quite broad.

                                http://www.woodlandsurvival.com/kukri...

                                Essentially, you'd use it like a tomahawk with a wider blade.

                                1. re: sunrider
                                  k
                                  kaleokahu Feb 19, 2011 07:47 PM

                                  sunrider: OK, to each his own. THe photo you linked to is not, IMO, a stadard kukri geometry--it has a lot less dogleg, and a much shorter... I'll call it a choil.

                                  I think the only way to compare a kukri with a tomahawk would be to dogleg the 'hawk's handle down at about a 45 degree angle, and then you'd just be digging in the end to cleave with it.

                                  My understanding of the big virtue of the kukri as a *weapon* and an *all-purpose* machete-like tool is that it does NOT present its edge to the target perpendicularly when swung. More like a scythe or a pruning hook than a tomahawk.

                  2. re: sunrider
                    cowboyardee Feb 19, 2011 06:59 AM

                    You'll find that a western deba is not as versatile as you're probably thinking. It's actually pretty bad at filleting fish (a traditional deba filets very well, but is also very specialized and requires a lot of practice), cutting most hard vegetables, most boning/disjointing jobs. It's good at chopping through chicken bones and lopping the heads off fish. It won't be a great all-purpose knife. I wouldn't use one to rock chop vegetable prep.

                    Most home cooks don't do a lot of chopping through bones, but you know your friend better than i do. If she does a lot of it, a western deba will work well. So would a Chinese bone cleaver. Maybe a bit more useful with larger mammalian bones than most western debas.
                    http://www.chefknivestogo.com/cckbbqc...
                    For me, I find that my beefier gyuto and/or my honesuki can go through chicken bones and small fish bones, though I don't cut through even these bones very often. For anything larger, I've got a hacksaw. Definitely not as quick as a massive chopping knife, but I don't cut through large bones often and a massive chopping knife doesn't have many other uses.

                    "By the way, which lines would you recommend for toughness/chip resistance? Given that all will take a good edge, toughness becomes the next main differential..."
                    _________
                    First off, any knife you sharpen at a more obtuse angle will be less likely to chip. Most VG-10 (Tojiro DP, Shun classic, Al Mar, Kanetsune damascus) can be a little prone to micro chipping. Some people say the Hattori HD, though VG10, doesn't chip as much. I don't know - I've sharpened em, but never used em.
                    Blazens are powdered metal, and these don't chip much compared to other knives at the same hardness.

                    Softer steels are generally tougher - you might think of the Fujiwara FKM as an alternative to a Tojiro DP for people who are concerned about chipping, though the edge retention otherwise is a bit reduced.

                    For hard steels, Hiromoto AS is a step up from vg10 in terms of toughness. Carbonext and Kikuichi TKC are both said to be a step up from that, though I haven't personally handled these. At the high end of the scale for hard knives (but still affordable-ish) is Aritsugu A-type, but unless you're a busy line cook, that knife is kind of overkill, since it comes without an edge and is an absolute beast to sharpen.

                    1. re: cowboyardee
                      Chemicalkinetics Feb 19, 2011 09:18 AM

                      On zknives, Aogami Super (AS) was described as the least tough among all Aogami (less than Aogami #1 and Aogami #2). Is that your impression?

                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                        cowboyardee Feb 19, 2011 01:06 PM

                        I haven't used Aogami #1. The Aogami #2 I've used seemed just the tiniest bit less tough than AS steel, but that could have also been related to the temper or edge geometry.

                        I've definitely seen some people say their AS knives can be chippy. Mine hasn't been.

                      2. re: cowboyardee
                        s
                        sunrider Feb 19, 2011 02:39 PM

                        I guess I'm probably more worried about chipping because, being more familiar with field knives, durability becomes a major issue.

                        So, with regards to blade geometry, when using a microbevel, I guess sharpness is mostly to do with the angle and width of the main bevel, with the angle of the microbevel itself only playing a small part - after all, even if the microbevel is at 45° or so per side (which would be ridiculously blunt as a main bevel) it's still a very thin edge. Chip resistance would be more dependent on the angle of the microbevel (since that's the thinnest part of the blade) while wedging in solid fruits and vegetables depends more on total blade thickness at the spine. Therefore, a thinner blade (say, 2mm) ground to a 6°-per-side main bevel, with an 18°-per-side microbevel, would have less wedging than a thicker blade (e.g. western deba), still be extremely sharp (due to the acute relief angle) and have fewer chipping issues than the same blade ground with a 12°-per-side bevel, with no microbevel. Would I be correct in this?

                        Regarding steels, I guess a steel tempered to a higher HRC rating will hold its edge for longer against abrasion than the same steel tempered to a lower HRC rating, but would be more prone to losing its edge to microchipping, with some steels being naturally more prone to chipping than others. The steel itself has nothing to do with sharpness - it's the edge geometry that determines this - merely how long it can hold on to its sharpness at a particular bevel angle. In other words, you can sharpen a HRC 62 SG2 blade to 12° per side, and it will be fairly sharp and hold that edge for a while. You can also sharpen an HRC 48 420 stainless blade to 12° per side and it will be just as sharp as the SG2 blade initially, but will probably be blunt after minimal use. Again, would I be correct in all this?

                        With that in mind, and with a concern for durability, would you suggest a reasonably hard steel (to support the geometry), with a relatively thin spine (for less wedging), sharpened with a very acute main bevel (for sharpness) with a fairly obtuse microbevel (for chip resistance)? In general, would such a blade have difficulty with fish bones, etc. without chipping, yet be sharp enough to easily slice onions and tomatoes thinly?

                        Regarding the abuse-resistance of specific steels, how would you say TKC compares against the SKD used in the Yoshikane lines? What about the SRS-15 in the Akifusa blades, or the SG2 in the Blazen lines? Where would you say VG-5 fits in - I've heard some good things about its toughness, while sacrificing little in the way of hardness, compared with VG-10.

                        This is getting a little confusing...

                        1. re: sunrider
                          Chemicalkinetics Feb 19, 2011 03:08 PM

                          Being knowledgeable in field knives, you probably know as much as some of us. I have a few opinions differ from yours, not sure if I am correct, but here they go:

                          "sharpness is mostly to do with the angle and width of the main bevel"
                          First we have to define sharpness, but in my definition, the sharpness depends on the primary bevel as well as the back bevel. For a compound bevel edge, the very initial cutting power still depends on the primary bevel (what you call the microbevel). The back bevel (main bevel) affects blade thickness which affects blade resistance during cutting. Many traditional Japanese knives have thick blades yet low angle edges (traditional Japanese are mostly sharpened on one side). Here is a yanagiba with a 4 mm wide blade at the knife spine.

                          http://www.japaneseknifeimports.com/k...

                          In fact, when a knife goes dull, it is the very tip of the edge goes blunt, so we know the very tip of an edge is important.

                          “a steel tempered to a higher HRC rating will hold its edge for longer against abrasion”
                          My understanding is that steel strength vs steel toughness has more to do with rolling/bending vs chipping/crack. A strong/hard steel with high HRC will be resistance against rolling, while a soft/tough steel will be resistance against chipping. You mentioned that you like Japanese blades. Isn’t this the reason why you like Japanese knives: that their edges do not earily roll?

                          “The steel itself has nothing to do with sharpness”
                          In my experience, I find steels matter. Some steels simply have problems forming an edge at low angles. For example, most knives have no problem forming an edge at 20o on both sides, but many knives have problem forming an edge at 10o on both sides.

                          Don't worry about the chipping so much. These knives are not as fragile as you may think. Most of the Japanese knives mentioned here hold their edges better than most Henckels and Wusthof knives despite people will tell you that these German knives are more resistant against chipping.

                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                            s
                            sunrider Feb 19, 2011 04:17 PM

                            Well, I'm picking knives for a girl who's a fan of good blades!

                            'First we have to define sharpness, but in my definition, the sharpness depends on the primary bevel as well as the back bevel. For a compound bevel edge, the very initial cutting power still depends on the primary bevel (what you call the microbevel). The back bevel (main bevel) affects blade thickness which affects blade resistance during cutting. Many traditional Japanese knives have fairly thick blades yet sharp edges (traditional Japanese are mostly sharpened on one side). Here is a yanagiba with a 4 mm wide blade at the knife spine. '

                            Yes, the microbevel still determines the initial 'cutting power' (i.e. 'razor sharpness' as opposed to mere 'sharpness'), but the main source of resistance when cutting comes from the geometry of the main bevel - at least in field knives and swords. If the angle is too obtuse, you get wedging. If the steel can support it, the sharpest 'main bevel' would be one that goes all the way to the spine, forming a triangle (plus the microbevel on the edge).

                            Obviously, a more acute microbevel angle will be sharper, but also less durable - I guess the balance is to find an angle that is both acceptably sharp and acceptably durable (the obvious extremes being a scalpel and a club). With the greater hardness and wear-resistance of Japanese blades, I'd probably be looking at a more acute angle than German blades (thus sharper) but not so acute as to chip easily, like many of the ultra-high-performance blades which cut like razors, but chip on a fishbone or piece of grit not entire washed out from a lettuce. Your thoughts?

                            'In my experience, I find the steel matters. Some steels simply have problem forming an edge at low angle.'

                            The steel is the substance that supports the geometry, but in the end, it's still the geometry that matters. Finer-grained steels are generally able to be ground to more acute angles without carbide loss and edge breakdown. Harder steels can retain a highly acute angle for longer than softer steels against wear/abrasion. Tougher steels can retain the angle for longer against micro-chips, which destroy the edge. More corrosion-resistant steels can retain the thin edge for longer against acidic foods. But a fine-grained, HRC 65, super-tough, stainless blade ground to 20° per side will be no sharper than the same grind on a blade made from aluminium - it will just be able to retain that edge for a long time, whereas the aluminium blade will probably be blunt after slicing through an eggplant (if it even gets that far). Also, you can re-grind the super-steel blade to 12° per side, for a sharper edge, whereas you wouldn't be able to do it with the softer blade.

                            'My understanding is that steel strength vs steel toughness has more to do with rolling/bending vs chipping/crack. A strong/hard steel with high HRC will be resistance against rolling, while a soft/tough steel will be resistance against chipping. You mentioned that you like Japanese blades. Isn’t this the reason why you like Japanese knives: that their edges do not earily roll?'

                            Well, a harder steel will usually have more carbides, thus being very wear-resistant. It will also be more resistant against plastic deformation ('rolling') but will usually be less resistant to failure (chipping) than the same steel tempered to a lower HRC point. At that lower HRC point, however, it may sometimes still be tougher than a different steel at the same HRC point which is being pushed higher in its effective HRC range. In other words, Steel A with an effective HRC range of 61-65, when hardened to HRC 65, may be more brittle than Steel B, with an effective HRC range of 57-61 at HRC 61; however, when Steel A is hardened to HRC 61 (the bottom end of its effective range), it may be tougher and less brittle than Steel B at the same hardness (the top end of its effective range).

                            I guess it's about finding a balance - sure, you can take a super-steel, harden it to HRC 65, grind it to 5° per side and have a super-sharp blade that can split hairs lengthwise, but chips on an apple seed. Or you can take the same steel, harden it to HRC 61 (still harder than any German blade), grind it to 15° per side (still more acute and sharper than German blades) and end up with a tough-as-nails blade that's still sharper than any European-style blade. Or you can go anywhere along the spectrum. Given the generally high performance of steels used in Japanese knives, I.tend to prefer more conservative hardening and edge geometry (but still sharper, and able to hold the edge for longer, than German knives) but able to take a lot more abuse than the super-hard 'glass cannons' of the knife world.

                            Your thoughts? Any particular makers/lines/steels I should consider, in light of this?

                            1. re: sunrider
                              Chemicalkinetics Feb 19, 2011 04:54 PM

                              If you want something that are made from hard steel and have slightly wider edge angles, then you can looked into the Chef's Choice Tizor and few of the Henckels Miyabi lines.

                              Chef's Choice Tizor knives: hard steel blade (HRC 60) with a multi-bevel (three levels of bevels).

                              http://www.chefschoice.com/page2c_trizor.html

                              Miyabi 7000 MCD and Miyabi MC are powder steel knives hardened to HRC66:

                              http://www.miyabi.eu/miyabi_fx.html

                              However, they have thick blades, and I don't really like them anyway, but they do fit some of your description.

                              Personally, I have good experience with Aogmai steel. It is carbon steel, but with some level of rust/corrosion resistant. It takes on a nice edge and it holds on that edge for a long time. I have an Aogami knife which I put on a 10o bevel on both side and a Tojiro DP (VG-10 core) knife which I have a 15o bevel on both side. The Aogami holds its edge noticeably better than my Tojiro. Now, I don't think my Tojiro lost its edge because of microchipping, I actually think most of the time its edge got rolled. So even for a HRC 61, rolling may still be an important factor.

                              If you are interested in Aogami core knives, then these look very good (I don't actually own these lines):

                              http://www.japanesechefsknife.com/KAGAYAKIAogamiSuperSeries.html

                              The Hiromoto AS knives are great too. They are considered sharp, inexpensive and very functional:

                              http://www.japanesechefsknife.com/TenmiJyurakuSeries.html

                              On the other hand, I heard very good thing about the CarboNext knives, the line which cowboyardee mentioned. They are also carbon steel, but supposedly even more rust resistance than Aogami. Koki really likes them.

                              http://www.japanesechefsknife.com/KAGAYAKICarboNextSeries.html

                              Finally, you want a thin blade knife with little wedging and yet made from semi-hard steel? What about a CCK 1303? Heh heh heh.

                              http://www.chefknivestogo.com/cckclea...

                              P.S.: Are you looking for stainless or carbon steel?

                              1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                                s
                                sunrider Feb 19, 2011 05:14 PM

                                I'm not too concerned about the edge angle they come with, although preferably not too acute (it's easy to thin the blade and make the angle more acute, but you can't add more metal on to make the angle more obtuse). I'm more interested in the steel composition and heat treatment - something that's acceptably hard so as to be able to retain a good edge, but not brittle so as to chip easily (I know VG-10 and some powdered steels have that problem, when knife-makers push them to their limits in terms of hardness). You can thin, re-profile and re-bevel a blade, but you can't change the steel or heat treatment.

                                Stainless or highly stain-resistant (e.g. D2/SKD) definitely - don't want to have to baby the knives!

                                1. re: sunrider
                                  Chemicalkinetics Feb 19, 2011 05:24 PM

                                  "a lot more abuse than the super-hard 'glass cannons' of the knife world"

                                  The knives mentioned are not glass knives. They are used in real restaurants and can handle good volume of works. Good luck.

                          2. re: sunrider
                            cowboyardee Feb 20, 2011 06:26 AM

                            "Therefore, a thinner blade (say, 2mm) ground to a 6°-per-side main bevel, with an 18°-per-side microbevel, would have less wedging than a thicker blade (e.g. western deba), still be extremely sharp (due to the acute relief angle) and have fewer chipping issues than the same blade ground with a 12°-per-side bevel, with no microbevel. Would I be correct in this?"
                            ______

                            Sort of. In practice, the microbevel provides resistance against edge rolling if the larger bevel is particularly acute and the steel is soft enough to permit rolling (which still includes most Japanese knives if the edge angle is low enough). But also, it provides a measure of protection against micro-chipping - the tiny chips out of the edge that come from more or less normal use. These chips are scarcely visible, but they make the edge feel rougher and eventually less sharp.

                            But the microbevel provides no real resistance against large chips that come from mis-use or dropping the knife. A more obtuse secondary bevel actually provides more insurance there. So basically, your thin-but-micro-beveled example would be more resistant to micro chipping in regular use, but more prone to developing a large chip if you used it to open a can or accidentally knocked it off your counter or hacked away at something hard.

                            __________
                            "you can sharpen a HRC 62 SG2 blade to 12° per side, and it will be fairly sharp and hold that edge for a while. You can also sharpen an HRC 48 420 stainless blade to 12° per side and it will be just as sharp as the SG2 blade initially, but will probably be blunt after minimal use. Again, would I be correct in all this?"
                            __________

                            You would be correct in theory. In practice there are a few minor points to consider additionally. Grain structure has a major effect on how well a steel can take a sharp edge, especially when we're talking about low angles. Many cheap, soft stainless steel knives won't actually take a very fine edge at an acute angle. I occasionally refer to this effect as 'carbide tear-out' - I'm guessing what's happening is that low angle sharpening results in larger and unevenly-sized carbides are pulled out of the knife edge by the stone as you sharpen, and the knife never gets really sharp. Imagine trying to sharpen a block of wood to a razor edge - the problem isn't the softness, it's the grain structure. I can't even say for sure this is the nature of the problem - it's just my guess.

                            Not all soft steels have this problem (and some hard steels do too, though not many kitchen knives are made out of hard steel with poor grain structure). Many razors and scalpels are made out of soft steel, sharpened very acutely, and they're plenty sharp. As for 420 steel - there are a few variants, and I believe sharpenability varies between these, with heat treatment also playing a major role in defining grain structure and regularity. Large harder carbides in a soft steel matrix makes for a knife that won't sharpen well, and some 420 steel definitely fits this bill.

                            As for the rest of your post...
                            I like thin, hard knives with acute main bevels and a microbevel added. They offer excellent cutting performance along with acceptable resistance against micro chipping and normal wear. But most of these knives aren't great for cutting through bones. If you get a knife also made out of a tougher steel like some of those I mentioned in my above post, it can handle chicken and small fish bones if you push through them, but probably not if you take swinging chops. Honestly, meat cleavers can be fairly cheap, and good at that kind of cutting.

                            Yoshikane SKD - haven't handled one, or any SKD steel elsewhere. I know it's a beefier gyuto.
                            Akifusa SRS-15 - Also haven't handled one. I know its PM steel
                            Blazen SG-2 - Moderately thin. Very wear resistant. Fairly resistant to chipping, as well, but not immune. Better than most for chicken bones and other borderline work. It takes a little bit of extra work to sharpen, but strangely doesn't seem to be as difficult as Shun Elites which are also SG2.
                            VG5 - Can't say. I've read that it's tougher than VG10 (hardened typically to 58-59 HRC, it should be) and that it takes a good edge easily. The only knives I know of made in VG5 offhand are Tamahagane.

                            _______
                            "This is getting a little confusing..."
                            _______

                            Most definitely. It doesn't have to be though. I'm nitpicking a lot of points here cuz I like talking knives, and it seems you do too. But the truth is we've discussed some dozen or more knives on this thread, and they're all excellent knives that perform better than what's in 98% of most kitchens.

                            You seem especially hung up on toughness in Japanese knives - maybe an Aritsugu A-type really is for you. It's a bitch to sharpen. The factory grind, weight, and width can be inconsistent. The fit and finish is poor for the money. You'll have to spend a long time grinding in your own initial edge. But it is also the consensus top choice of hardass line cooks who want to use an acute edged gyuto for everything shy of meat cleaver territory and still be sharp at the end of a long day.

              2. re: Chemicalkinetics
                k
                kaleokahu Feb 17, 2011 09:19 PM

                Chem: I think these Al Mars are laminated steel with a VG10 center layer, and three bends (16 layers) of SS Damascus on each side.

                Maybe you already know this history, but Al Mar was a man--I believe of Chinese ancestry-- who worked for an industrial design firm in Los Angeles in the 1960s. Gerber's first designer retired about this time and Mar joined Gerber 1967 or 68 (American Blade magazine Dec. 1976) after Pete Gerber gave Al the task of coming up with an aluminum handle for a kitchen knife. Pete Gerber thought the project was so successful that he offered Al the position of design chief. Did you know that Al is credited with designing the Gerber Mark I--one of my carry knives?

                He left Gerber in 1979 to start Al Mar Knives and he died in October of 1992, at 54 years old. The new owners (including Gary Fadden) have now discontinued most of Al's original models, and moved to other makers on the remaining models. This leaves the knives made while Al was in control of the company very desirable and collectible.

                In my experience, original Al Mar knives stand for fabulous-fitment, delicate folders, whereas the post-'92 knives are mass-produced to *look* like higher-end blades, and the brand has "matured" into the semi-surreal wold of "tactical" knives with designs by American bladesmiths.

                So I would caution the OP and others not to consider this Ultra-Chef line to be one of Japanese blades, although that is where they are made. For what they are, I consider them overpriced and a little misleading in their origin and genealogy (i.e., the chop and pictographical characters).

                1. re: kaleokahu
                  Chemicalkinetics Feb 18, 2011 07:21 AM

                  "Chem: I think these Al Mars are laminated steel with a VG10 center layer, and three bends (16 layers) of SS Damascus on each side."

                  Yes, I was being careless when I simply referred these Al Mar knives as VG-10 knives, which sounds as if they VG-10 solid blade, but as you correctly pointed out, they are not solid VG-10. They are similar to other VG-10 core knives like Shun Classic knives, JCK Kagayaki VG-10 Series.... etc, but Al knives are more expensive than those.

                  Yes, I know a little of Al Mar's history and background. Mar is his last name and it is a Chinese last name. His original knives (when he was alive) were considered very good. I think the Ulra-Chef Al Mar knives are still mostly Japanese. Yes, the original history of the company is not Japanese, but the knives are indeed made in Japan and the steel is from Japan. In fact, I am somewhat sure that Al Mar Corporation simply have a contract with a Japanese company to make these knives. I agree with you. They are probably overpriced.

                  Similarly, we have Henckels Miyabi knives? They are made in Japan with Japanese steel, but of course the parent company is Henckels, a German company.

                  http://www.miyabi.eu/

              3. cowboyardee Feb 17, 2011 02:54 AM

                I haven't personally used or sharpened Al Mar knives. I don't think you'll find many who have, but I could be wrong.

                There are very few reviews from knowledgeable people available on the internet. This is about the most in-depth I could find from someone who knows what they're talking about.
                http://www.knifeforums.com/forums/sho...
                Pretty scant stuff.

                What I can tell you - the VG-10 steel used in Al Mar knives is the same steel found in Shun Classics, recent Tojiro DPs, Hattori HD, Kanetsune damascus. The Al Mar Ultra is a tall blade, with a bit more belly than most Japanese knives but less than the Shuns. The price is a bit high compared to other high quality, vg-10, damascus-clad blades, which is probably why they aren't more popular.

                I don't know much about Boker either. They aren't popular with Japanese knife enthusiasts, probably because they don't have a Japanese profile - lots of belly. Frankly, they look like a more expensive rip-off of Shun Classics. But again, haven't used em. If you like the look of these, just get Shuns unless you're putting a lot of value in just getting something less common.

                I don't put a whole lot of stock in a matching set of knives (or in expensive bread knives), though I guess I can see the point if they're a gift.

                If you're dead set on a matching set, I'll point out that MAC makes both a carving fork and a (much loved) bread knife.

                Massahiro also makes a bread knife (though I think Massahiro is also overpriced for what it is), as does Tamahagane (a bit better performance for your buck, IMO), and Tojiro DP (GREAT value) though none of the above makes a carving fork AFAIK and none are damascus clad. Tojiro flash makes a bread knife and is damascus clad, though I haven't handled this line.

                With any of these knives, your friend will have to either sharpen by hand (or high end device like Edgepro) or find a decent pro to get the most use out of these knives - they're not really designed to be honed on a grooved steel and run through a chefs choice once a year. If they don't already sharpen, you'll be serving them better by getting em a slightly cheaper set than you would otherwise along with an Edgepro Apex or Spyderco Sharpmaker.

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