Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Cookware >
Mar 12, 2013 04:39 PM

Knives for Grandma: Sabatier or Japanese?

Grandma, actually my mom, is now a vegan and has been a very good modern style cook for many years. She could use some new knives, wihch I plan to provide. She likes smaller knives and smaller handles, and likes sharp. I do her sharpening, and am good at it (I use an APEX with Chosera stones now) but I don't always have time to keep up with her shapening, so I want good edge retention (Carbon or Japanese). I won't buy soft stainless (e.g. Forshner, Victorinox, Wustoff, etc.). She is fine with carbon steel. She still recalls "the old days" when knives were grey/black but sharper.

As I mentioned she likes smaller and smaller handles. I got her a Wantanabe Santuko. It took her years before she really used it, but she says she likes it now, but even that, I think the handle is a larger diameter than she prefers, and I don't think she's comfortable yet with the shape/feel, and may never be. I think the French Sabatier style would be to her liking.

I'm thinking that the Sabatier french style carbon would be the handle she likes, since these handles are similar to some old ('60s) knives she has and says work for her. So I'm thinking the regular french style Sabatier from The Best Things, or similar for a paring knife (her go to paring is losing it's handle and blade is wore to very little).

She also lacks a good chef knife. I've shown her mine (240mm) and she says she wont use anything anywahere near that large. So I'm thinking either a 180mm gyuto (e.g. Tojiro DP) or the french Sabatier in the 6-inch Chef.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Get her whatever she likes. At the end, she will be the one using it.

    <so I want good edge retention (Carbon or Japanese)>

    Sabatier knives relies on honing. You need to regularly use a honing steel because many of them are made of relatively soft steel. They are actually softer than many modern stainless steel knives.

    "52 to 54 HRC hardness"

    "A) Sabatier-K (French) 8" Chef Forged Carbon Steel HRC 54-56"

    "The whole knife is forged in a single mass of CARBON steel. The steel, Rockwell 54-56 HRC, is tempered, "

    Either Henckels Zwilling or Wusthof knives are harder, let's alone the Japanese stainless steel knives like Shun Classical and Tojiro DP.

    So if you are really looking for edge retention as you have said, then I would advise you to get the standard Japanese knives, but the knives are not really for you, so just get her whatever she likes.

    For some reasons, the Sabatier handles do not look exceedingly thin to me, but I could be wrong.

    <So I'm thinking either a 180mm gyuto (e.g. Tojiro DP) or the french Sabatier in the 6-inch Chef.>

    If you are to get the Tojiro DP, then get the wa wood handle because it should be thinner. However, also keep in mind that Tojiro DP knives are not carbon steel. Good luck.

    1. Japanese Stainless is the way to go. Remember, you are buying them for her use, not yours.

      The Gyuto is a French profile with much harder stainless steel. It's hard to argue against the convenience and performance of modern Japanese stainless steels (not the cheap stamped stuff ;-).

      6 Replies
      1. re: Sid Post

        Not to seem facetious but Japanese generally have smaller hands than the French-the popular octagonal wood handles on so many better quality Japanese knives may take some time for her to adjust to but they are that way for a reason- ultimately very comfortable and serviceable.

        1. re: Sam Salmon

          I don't agree. Here are pics of the Sabatier Nogent parer vs the Misono. The Sabatier handle is quite small.

          I think she might like the Sab handles. Does no one have one?

          She has had a Watanabe Santoku for years now, and thinks it's good. And it's pure carbon steel, so she's quite comfortable with that. But would prefer a more narrow handle. And I think she might like a 180mm gyuto.

          We live in a rural area. There's no where to "try out" knives.
          The smallest gyuto I've got is 240 and she says that's too big. She's 82, so she isn't likely to "adjust" to a new style.

          I'm going to give her one of my carbon opinel parers, which she said she liked. I find the handle too narrow for me, and an under-utilized MAC Superior 8" Chef's Knife (SA-80) that I'l let her try out. It's lightweight anyway.

          1. re: Eager6

            Note-you may disagree but the Japanese women I have carnal knowledge of have had much smaller hands than the French women.

            As it happens none of them were particularly good cooks.

            1. re: Eager6

              <Here are pics of the Sabatier Nogent parer vs the Misono. The Sabatier handle is quite small. >

              Looking at the photo, the Misono handle looks narrow er to me, but it may be due to the shadow. No, I don't have a Sabatier knife, but I have seen them. The handle is small, but it just does not look particular small. There are many people who have Sabatier knives on this board, so I am sure they will stop by soon. Good luck.

              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                I have a Nogent paring knife. The handle feels quite dainty. It is noticeably smaller circumferentially than the handle on the regular Thiers Issard carbon parer.

        2. Carbon Sabatiers made before the 1980's are nice knives.  They sharpen very easily, and will take a better edge, but their edge retention is not as good as a std (~54...56 HRC) European blade.  The size of Sabatier slab style handle isn't small, and are larger than the Sabatier Nogent style handle. 

          A std Jblade @ 58 HRC and up, will take and hold a better edge.  BTW, the slab handled Tojiro DP is kinda chunky. The handles on Kanetsugu  Pro M are supposedly on the smaller side.

          Have you considered rehandling the Wantanabe?  Swapping out a wa handle is not difficult and the ones used on a petty or yanagiba are generally smaller.

          7 Replies
          1. re: JavaBean

            <Have you considered rehandling the Wantanabe? >

            I was thinking just that too. Good advise.

            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

              Nah, I'm just a little faster than you today. Alternatively, simply sanding down the wa handle is even easier to do.

              Btw, I saw and passed your thoughts on the Artisan along.  Your impression of it feeling hefty makes sense.  I believe the Artisan and Fusion were designed as a German/Japanese hybrid, while the Birchwood and Kaizen were designed as a Gyuto. That double bolstered handle on the Artisan likely weighs more than a simple yo or wa handle, and give a butt or handle heavy balance (like the Fusion).  

              A thick spine and upper 2/3rds of the blade is common with Tsuchime / hammered finish knives as the cladding is often thicker than non hammered finish cladding or mono steel blades.  

              1. re: JavaBean

                <I believe the Artisan and Fusion were designed as a German/Japanese hybrid, while the Birchwood and Kaizen were designed as a Gyuto.>

                I didn't know. Thanks for letting me know. Maybe I will test-drive them.

                <and give a butt or handle heavy balance>

                Yeah, it is heavier, but it sure looks nice.

                <A thick spine and upper 2/3rds of the blade is common with Tsuchime / hammered finish knives>

                Good point. The other thing I was thinking the after writing the last reply to you is that the Tojiro DP Chef knife is a narrower (spine to edge) knife than the Artisan Chef's knife. All else equal, a narrow knife will have a thinner spine thickness than a wider knife.

                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                  Personally, I like gyutos to be very thin at the edge, but am ok with some thickness at the spine and middle of the blade as it provides rigidity and backbone, and allows for convex blade face.  They cut with a little more resistance, but is very good at pushing the food away from the blade and don't torque on dense foods ( winter squash, rutabaga, etc).

                  Those that are thin from edge to spine knives are great at reducing wedging and resistance, but are more opt to food sticking issues, and susceptible to torquing on denser foods.  

                  You just have to watch out for those thick V, double convex...battle axe ones.

                  1. re: JavaBean

                    <but are more opt to food sticking issues, >


                    By the way, I love your suggestion to look for a long petty knife. That should have very low knuckle clearance as the original poster has asked for. Of course, I haven't think of any perfect knife which matches the original poster's request.

                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      Your just having an off day, I'm sure you'll come up with something more ideal.

            2. Here's a photo of my Sab vs some of my J-knives.

              The handle"s definitely smaller,but will it be more comfortable for your Mom?

              9 Replies
                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                  OK that photo shows a lot. She is used to, and therefore wants a shape similar to... the knives she has from, she says 1958. The chef is very similar to the Sab in the photo. Narrow blade, spine to edge, mostly straight, very little knuckle clearance, small diameter handle. This is what I'm looking for, but with good steel, but also short, because I think If I give her even a 210, she will reject it (not ever use it). Another key parameter is the knuckle clearance. She's used to, and I suppose "prefers" very little. She is used to, and likes a handle that is close to the edge in relation to the spine. She isn't used to wide blade knives, or knives with the handle centered at the spine, as the Wa handled knives appear to be. This is a problem. The Watanabe is a great blade, and one far superior to anything she has. She recognizes that. Even so, I'm sure her first reactions are to reach for her old knives, with that old familiar shape, like the old Sab in the photo. The only thing that holds her back is the crappy dull edge, because her knives are of some godawfully soft stainless.

                  What she wants is that old Sab in the photo, but with great steel, and shorter (maybe 180 to 200 mm). But no, I don't have a custom budget, nor do we want to wait for that. This is why I keep saying Sab, or 180mm gyuto with a small diameter western handle. If there is such a thing.

                  She needs a paring knife maybe first. This may be easier. Her (almost dead now) "fav" of '58 looks a lot like the old Sab above, but scaled down more or less proportionally, with a 3-inch blade. She likes my Opinel carbon paring, so I gave it to her. The handle is narrow (she likes) but I think she'd prefer a shorter blade (3-inch I think would do it), and stiffer, and less wide (spine to blade). One of those Globals might work, but I dunno if she's going to like a steel handle. The Misono and MAC Pro look OK, but she might find the handle too fat.

                  Really, I think the Sabs would be "it" except for the soft steel. I had hoped that people would like them a bit more. Maybe I'll just buy something, and if she doesn't like it....

                  ...I'll keep it. :\

                  1. re: Eager6

                    <What she wants is that old Sab in the photo, but with great steel, and shorter (maybe 180 to 200 mm)>

                    I see. If I think of something like that I will post right away. I am sure there are. I am just in the middle of something now.

                    < Maybe I'll just buy something, and if she doesn't like it.......I'll keep it. :\>

                    Except she likes short knives, and you don't....

                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      I like ALL knives. Also, my daughter is starting to cook, and a shorter gyuto, or Sabatier might be the thing.

                      I might re-think the Wa handle thing. I'll have to see how much she likes or dislikes the santoku she has now, i.e. see if she wants more of that, or somehitng else.

                    2. re: Eager6

                      Hi, the problems with 180mm gyutos are a) there aren't many in that size to choose from, b) the Gyuto blade shape compressed into a 180mm length is doesn't work very well.  

                      Off the top of my head, check out the Sugimoto French, Shun Classic Asian,  or see if Masamoto KS or Sakai Yasuke makes a 180mm petty.  All of these are kinda close to the Sabatier French blade shape. 

                      1. re: JavaBean

                        Yes, that's what I was worried about. How short can I go without losing function. I had a 7-inch Messermeister Asian Precision gyuto for a while, and it was OK, but...

                        1. re: Eager6

                          IMO, a chef's knife needs to be at least 8" long. Shorter ones aren't long enough to slice and don't have enough flat cutting edge to handle many normal size onion, grapefruit,etc.

                          If you need to go short, look for a petty or something like a Nakari with a mostly flat cutting edge.

                          1. re: JavaBean

                            I have the Tojiro DP Nakari. Very thin, extremely sharp and very handy. Very economical too.

                      2. re: Eager6

                        <The chef is very similar to the Sab in the photo. Narrow blade, spine to edge, mostly straight, very little knuckle clearance, small diameter handle.>

                        @Eager6..the Sab in my photo is actually a tranchelard/slicer hence the slim profile..

                  2. I'd suggest a Shun 7" Asian Chef Knife. The length is right, the shape is right, the steel is excellent, & the handle is small in diameter.

                    18 Replies
                    1. re: Eiron

                      I'll look at that. Perhaps a Japanese handle might work.

                      1. re: Eager6

                        The Shun 7" Asian Chef's knife may work well for your need. It is relatively short and has a straight blade profile. However, the handle is still align with the knife spine -- something you don't want.


                        I would take a look in your nearest store.

                          1. re: JavaBean

                            I personally like the handle alignment, but Eager6 (original poster) prefers a different style. The Shun Asian Chef's knife has the handle aligns (parallel) to the spine. Eager hopes for handle which aligns with the cutting edge. He wrote:

                            " She is used to, and likes a handle that is close to the edge in *relation to the spine. She isn't used to wide blade knives, or knives with the handle centered at the spine, as the Wa handled knives appear to be."

                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                              Ooops, I missed that part. Handle running parallel and closer to the a Sujihiki? 180mm....hmmm.

                              1. re: JavaBean

                                Yeah, while you were look at the long petty and suggest a 180 mm petty. I was looking for a short Sujihiki online, but I didn't find anything I can suggest. Yeah, if you find a short Sujihiki, then it may work well for the original poster. Let us know.

                                Edited: See Eiron's interpretation below. I may have read it wrong too.

                              2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                I took that to mean having a handle in which the *centerline* of the handle was *in line* with the top edge of the spine. (i.e., the top edge of the handle would be offset *above* the top edge of the spine)

                                Of course, the Shun Classic knives are *not* made that way.

                                1. re: Eiron

                                  Oh....Yeah... that may be what it means. In which case, Shun Classic should be fine.


                                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                    This is proving tougher than I anticipated, because of her preference in handles... and blades. I'm going to have to do some detailed reseach and experimentation on her. My 16 yo daughter, who has been cooking with her, confirmed my suspicion that "I've only seen her ever use a real small knife to do everything". That knife is the really narrow bladed, narrow handled, 3-in long blade paring knife of soft stainless from 1958, which is now missing a chuck of handle and the blade of which is very worn. She mostly uses it by pushing the item against the blade, ultimately touching the blade with her thumb. Usually the blade is so dull that the fruit is more wedge split, than cut. I'm not sure that she even wants a sharp bladed parer. I'll try to find out. I might have to throw out all logic, on this one. :|

                                    So much for man's quest for a sharp blade.

                                    1. re: Eager6

                                      Yeah, you never know if you can get what she really wants. You can consider a petty knife as JavaBean has suggested. A petty knife is very much like an utility knife except it has better knuckle clearance.

                                      The good thing is that if she does not like it, you can use it for yourself. A 150 mm (6") petty knife is considered very normal. Whereas if you get a 6" Chef's knife for her and she does not like it, then you are stuck with a knife which may not like and difficult to sell.

                                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                        Jeezer, I had hoped to be into the joy of knife buying by now. Dumb ol grandma :(

                                        Hey! Maybe I can get my kid to use knives!

                                        1. re: Eager6

                                          How old are you kids? 2 years old? :)

                                      2. re: Eager6

                                        Granny technique + sharp knife == Not Good. Unless she's willing to adjust her ways ( good luck with that one), you're better off avoiding high performance edges & knives. She's going to appreciate anything you get her, but would likely like the Sabs more than a Jblade.

                                        1. re: JavaBean

                                          <Granny technique + sharp knife == Not Good>

                                          That is an excellent point. Many people, including professional, develop their skills based on semi-dull and dull knives. For a long time, I developed my knife skill based on my dull knives. As such, it was actually challenging when I got my first sharp knife. I had to unlearn previous methods.

                                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                            Ditto. Spent weeks just trying to break my German  knife habits.  I was all kinds of stupid, and kept embedding and grinding the blade into the board. I had to change my grip, cutting stroke, and learn to not apply a lot of downward force.  

                                            I put the training wheels on again with the single bevels. Totally different animals. With them, I had to learn to just aim and prevent the blade from free falling too hard. They're awesome if used as intended, but a nightmare otherwise.  I'm currently learning to use a Usuba and thus far no chips or stitches. :-)

                                            1. re: JavaBean

                                              I have a usuba too. I used it for awhile, but slow down. I like it very much, but I got it mostly for the rotary cut, so I better spend some more time to practice.

                                              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                My katsuramuki skills suck; i take forever to do it just to avoid an ER visit. I've been cheating by sticking two wooden matches on the blade and using them like rails against the board.

                                                I'm having a blast making see through cuts and julienne-ing everything in sight with it.

                                                1. re: JavaBean

                                                  <My katsuramuki skills suck>

                                                  I honestly believe either of us can get very good by just practice. I have practice a couple of time, but it is time consuming, and I just get lazy. :P