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In need Knife-guidance for a complex household

  • sancor Nov 18, 2013 11:08 AM
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Hi guys,

I've found myself suddenly and unwillingly thrust into the knife world. You see, I hadn't been planning to think about knives at all until such a time that I lived primarily by myself - and right now I live in a house with five other roommates.

We've been making due with a ragtag assortment of *terrible* knives, that until yesterday was more or less an okay situation. We had been relying almost entirely upon one of my roommate's Kyocera 5.5'' Santoku for practically all our needs. Unfortunately, yesterday as we were trying to half some gigantic onions, the blade just snapped right off in my hands.

So now I'm responsible for solving our no-knife problem... and frankly, I'm not sure what to do about it. Clearly it wouldn't be advisable to spend the money on a really nice knife considering the amount of abuse it would get in our kitchen. Several of my roommates dishwash everything indiscriminately, and they won't believe me when I tell them it's bad for certain kitchen items. On top of that none of us have any experience with competently sharpening knives.

I'm kind of tempted to go on the ceramic knife route again because they seem to hold an edge the longest, but I'm afraid we'll just break it again. I don't know much about steel knives, but it sounds like the affordable ones would be a "soft" steel that would demand frequent maintenance to keep an edge and wouldn't respond well to the abuse my roommates would put it through.

Should I just buy terrible 10-20 dollar knives and replace as necessary? What would you do in my situation?

Thanks!
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  1. My advice would be to buy yourself a "personal" knife just for your own use. In college I kept my kitchen knives in my room so that my roommates wouldn't use them--since I, too, would not have trusted them not to cut on stone, put them through the dishwasher, leave them in the sink, etc.

    On the other hand, buying an inexpensive knife and an inexpensive sharpening stone might be a good idea. You can practice sharpening on a knife (probably pretty frequently with the conditions that you describe of your kitchen) until you get very good. If you wanted to continue the tradition of communal kitchen knives, this is what I would recommend.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Cynic2701

      I agree. You could also probably get some decent knives at thrift stores, I know friends have. Get them sharpened commercially once so you and the roommates know how sharp a good knife is. The learn to sharpen as Cynic has recommended.

    2. <the blade just snapped right off in my hands.>

      You broke it. :)

      <Should I just buy terrible 10-20 dollar knives and replace as necessary?>

      I would get either a Dexter-Russell or Victorinox/Forschner knife. They are about $25-35. They are restaurant workhorse kitchen knives, so they can take up abuses. They will need sharpening about once every 6 months to once every 2 years.

      If $25-35 is too much for you, then try something like the Komachi or Kuhn Rikon or Kiwi knives for about $10 a piece.

      10 Replies
      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

        Oh yeah, it was totally my fault. The onion was rolling as I cut through it and I didn't pay enough attention and the sideways torque snapped the blade like it was peanut brittle.

        I don't think it would have happened with a steel knife though, and considering I might be the most conscientious cook in our kitchen I wouldn't be surprised if a new ceramic knife wouldn't suffer a similar fate.

        I think I've read that the Victorinox Fibrox knife has 15 degree edges as opposed to the traditional 20 degree western blade edge... would that change how we would sharpen them?

        1. re: sancor

          How do you currently sharpen?

          1. re: Cynic2701

            Ha...we...dont :( Though to be fair we were using the ceramic knife mostly which we couldn't sharpen ourselves according to the manufacturer.

            We did have a roommate that moved out who had a nicer set of knives with a honing steel, but that isn't really sharpening I guess. I think it's fair to say we will be starting from square one here.

            1. re: sancor

              The best way to learn to sharpen is to start ;)

              If you are interested in learning, then I would wholeheartedly recommend beginning with an inexpensive knife. I'd suggest picking up a King 1000/6000 stone to start with:

              http://www.amazon.com/King-47506-1000...

              Look around on Youtube for knife sharpening videos. MrKnifeFanatic has a few good sharpening videos.

              And then just pick up a suitably sized chef/santoku knife on the cheap since you will likely mark up or make mistakes while learning to sharpen. From experience, I can say that learning to sharpen on a $200+ knife can be painful in a variety of ways.

              As pointed out by others, garage sales and thrift stores might be a good idea. Recently a friend suggested looking through a store like TJ Maxx and I was quite surprised at the kinds of finds you may come across, so this could be another place to look as well.

          2. re: sancor

            <Victorinox Fibrox knife has 15 degree edges as opposed to the traditional 20 degree western blade edge..>

            I don't think it has a 15 degree, but I could be wrong. The skill to sharpen knife by hand (by hand and flatstones) is pretty much the same. If you currently is using one of those pull through gadgets, then the gadgets will change the angle, which isn't really the end of the world. The knife with the new angle will function.

            1. re: sancor

              <the sideways torque snapped the blade like it was peanut brittle>
              LOL...mine developed hairline cracks and broke like a windshield. Anyway, i'd suggest going with something cheap & decent like the Forchner/ Victorinox and a sharpmaker or lansky.

            2. re: Chemicalkinetics

              I second dexter-russell, great knives...if they can survive a commercial kitchen, they can survive your place

              1. re: BiscuitBoy

                +3 on dexter-russell.

                go to local restaurant supply and get a few good knives.

                or, places like ross and marshall's will have cheap stuff this time of year - i have a cuisinart chef's knife that would be just fine for your situation. got it for $20 or so at ross a few years ago.

                1. re: rmarisco

                  +4

                  DR knives from a restaurant supply store is the way I'd go.

              2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                I now have 3 Victorinox knives, and I'm very happy with them. After decades of horrid knives and multiple cuts to my hands, I now slice, dice and chop with speed and precision. And fewer scars.

              3. Having been thru this scenario with my kids' roomates, I'm going to say get an inexpensive set. Something like a $29 block/set from Marshall's/TJMaxx/Homegoods would be a step up from old junk, & should last several years considering the simple fact that you'll have 5 to 7 different knives to spread the abuse across.

                Yes, I've shopped at thrift stores & found nice knives at great prices ($150 10" Wusthof chef for $2; $50 6" Mac cook for $2; $25 4" Mac paring for $1; several older Chicago Cutlery chefs for $2-$3 ea), but all require some work to bring back to usable cutlery. (The Wusthof is the worst, needing both blade repair & handle replacement.) Most people in your situation are not prepared to deal with pre-abused knives, so I don't recommend it for your situation.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Eiron

                  If you ever find a Wusthof with a broken handle you can mail it back and they will replace the entire knife without charge.

                2. I highly recommend the Wustof Pro line. Yes, the are stamped blades but oh so sharp, and easy to maintain. A 10" chef will run you $45. At that price you can add the santouko for an additional $40. Check out eversharpknives.com, or SLT has them also.

                  1. Get yourself a decent german bladed knife as well as a good sharpening stone, a steel and USE THEM!

                    1. Have each house mate ask mom (or dad) if s/he has an old knife they wouldn't mind chipping in.

                      If nobody has, get a Victorinox/Forschner knife and beat the crap out of it. I won't say you can't but it is really hard to break a steel knife. Nothing like a ceramic one.

                      1. While not a kitchen knife, a Havalon solved the "no sharp knife" problem at a friend's cabin. They had a nice knife set, might have been Dexters, wood handles, but no one would sharpen them, they didn't have any equipment nor desire.

                        The guy who owned the place, didn't cook much, most of his meals were from cans or were sandwiches. Occasionally, someone would bring up a "supermarket" knife, there were several dull ones in a drawer. I bring my own knives when I go. One trip, there was a Havalon. Someone got tired of dull knifes and purchased a Havalon knife with a package of replacement blades.

                        The knife was utility knife size, cost ~$40 and replacement blades are ~$1 each. The knife was a folding knife.

                        If you use "knife skills", this knife won't work well, but if you want an easy to handle, very sharp knife and don't care about the "chef way" to chop an onion I recommend you give it a try.

                        1. go with the Victorinox. They have an 8" chef's knife for $30. It will outlast all 7 of the cheap knife block set.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: DebinIndiana

                            Unless, of course, one of the roommates moves out & decides to take the 'nice' knife with them.

                            But that would never happen, right?

                            1. re: Eiron

                              No, what is more likely to happen is that one of the roommates uses the knife to unscrew a stubborn screw or hammer a nail...!

                              I still think the Victorinox is the great deal.

                          2. Hi. If I were in your situation (Boston, right?), I would head to an Asian market and pick up two of these Kiwi knives. They're about $5 each.

                            http://www.amazon.com/Deba-Style-Flex...

                            And two of these(about $3 each

                            )

                            http://www.amazon.com/Stainless-Steel...

                            And an Accusharp from Amazon

                            http://www.amazon.com/AccuSharp-1-001...

                            Four knives and a sharpener for $26. That should keep the whole household happy.

                            If you can't get to an actual store, just get the Kiwi in the first link and the sharpener.

                            1. Gotta agree with the consensus on Dexter or Victorinox for your situation. Get a honing steel also if getting those avoid diamond rods.

                              Gotta disagree with grabbing ones at thrift stores to learn to sharpen with. Most thrift store finds have egregious knife woes that are a lot of work to fix.

                              If learning to sharpen get a Dexter or Victorinox and once it goes dull, start learning.

                              Jim

                              1. In your situation I would buy either DR or Forschner and an Egemaker Pro sharpener. Not to be confused with Edgepro.
                                All are resonably priced and will suit your needs well.

                                1. I'd recommend a cheap chinese chef's knife (often called a cleaver, but much thinner than a true cleaver, and not as indestructible). Something like this : http://www.amazon.com/Winco-Chinese-C...

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: seattle_lee

                                    While Chinese cleavers are awesome for light duty tasks people see a large rectangular blade and think heavy duty bone cleaver and bad things result.

                                    Seen it and fixed it many times over.

                                    Jim

                                    1. re: knifesavers

                                      good for business.

                                      " 1 out of 5
                                      Chipped blade first time used.
                                      Blade chipped when I chopped through the leg joint of a chicken. Very dissapointing.
                                      Spend your money on another type of knife."

                                      "1 out of 5
                                      This is a knife posing as a cleaver-don't cleave.
                                      A cleaver is designed to chop, to be used with force against bone, cartlidge. You do not seek the joint, you chp where it is supposed to be. Since this is tempered like other Shuns, doing so ruins the edge. You can fix it, of course, with a stone, but it is not suited to cleaving in the first place. A good cleaver requires two or so touch ups a session with a steel. This would need to be re-edged via a stone and then steeled. There are a lot of good Chinese cleavers out there for next to nothing. Get one of those. (I have 12 Shun knives, so I know about chipping. If they come up on a bone it is my fault, so I sharpen."

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

                                  2. I bought two Wusthof knives about 15 years ago from Williams Sonoma. I put them in the dishwasher. They both are in great condition and were worth every penny... (they have a lifetime warranty, so if something were to happen to them, they can be replaced).
                                    If there is anything I would recommend spending money on in the kitchen, it's a good knife. Using one will cut down on your preparation time and kitchen injuries.

                                    1. I don't have advice for knives, but I found the most useful tool for my knives is a diamond coated sharpening steel. They are only about $ 25 and well worth the price to keep your knives sharp. On another site (ChefTalk) a professional chef recommended this. He said some claim a diamond coated sharpening steel removes too much metal, but with years of frequent use, his professional knives were fine, and no one had shown him a knife with too much metal removed by one.

                                      1. Thanks to everyone for the advice, it has been really useful and much needed.

                                        I've decided to get a couple 8'' Victorinox Fibrox chef knives and a sharpening stone and manual sharpener. I got the knives for about $22 apiece from WEBstaurant store, so I won't always be worried about them. Plus we will hopefully get a chance to learn to properly sharpen once they inevitably dull.

                                        7 Replies
                                        1. re: sancor

                                          Glad to hear that you've muddled through and made a decision!

                                          I, personally, find sharpening to be very relaxing. Perhaps you will enjoy doing it too.

                                          1. re: Cynic2701

                                            I have a Lansky system with regular and diamond sharpening stones. After about the 3rd knife it's not fun anymore, it's drudgery. I also have choc sticks in a block of wood and a diamond sharpening steel. The diamond sharpening steel is the easiest and probably best choice for the average person.

                                            1. re: Antilope

                                              Diamonds can be interesting, and even quite useful at large grit numbers in the 60+ micron range, however diamonds aren't always the best choice for every sharpening job. Thin high hardness blades (HRC 63+) can get stress risers from the way that diamonds interact with the blade steel, which is one of the reasons why waterstones are commonly recommended fro Japanese knives.

                                              Softer blades like those found on Wüsthof, Henckels, and Victorinox blades will be just fine with diamonds. In fact, the cutting speed and the convenience of not having to "flatten" a diamond stone make them good choices for beginner sharpeners.

                                              Have you ever sharpened to a mirror edge (i.e. sub micron finish)? It is pretty rewarding, though it could take up to a few hours to do it right. An edge that can whittle hair is the goal, though, admittedly, such an edge degrades to hair popping after only a few cuts--such an edge is best suited for slicing knives like a yanagiba for sushi.

                                              1. re: Cynic2701

                                                <Softer blades like those found on Wüsthof, Henckels, and Victorinox blades will be just fine with diamonds.>

                                                Not too long ago, someone said the opposite. Not so much that diamond is bad for the softer steel, but that the softer steel is bad for the diamond stone. The diamond can cut too deep, and in effect, the soft steel can start to rib the diamond particles off the diamond plate.

                                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                  I've found this to be true for some of the cheaper diamond stones (e.g. Smith's) but the higher quality and more expensive diamond stones like Atoma or DMT are bonded quite strongly to the substrate.

                                                  I've got a couple of cheap Smith's diamond stones I picked up when I was out of town - without my sharpening equipment - and needed to sharpen a friend's knives. They degraded to a finer grit after only a few knives. In comparison, I have several DMT benchstones that I've used for years that are pretty close to the same grit as when I first purchased them. I am able to make a comparison because I've bought several different sizes (2x6 and 3x8) in the same grit and compared the old to the new.

                                                  I have an Atoma 140 that I've heavily used to reprofile probably in the range of 40-50 knives in a variety of steels (S90V, 3V, S30V, White #1, Aogami Super, CTS-XHP, etc.). It seems to cut just as well as the day I got it.

                                                  Like many things, you get what you pay for. I think that in the long run a more expensive diamond stone will last long enough in use to match having to buy multiple cheaper diamond stones as they wear down--or, more accurately, diamonds are ripped out of the substrate.

                                                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                    I have a set of mid-range Henckels that I bought one at a time. A knife store had closed about 10 years ago and was selling its inventory on E-bay.

                                            2. re: sancor

                                              Glad to hear, and thanks for your update.

                                            3. Hey Sancor,
                                              For the most part, I had been using those Kuhn Rikon paring knives that I picked up from TJMaxx. They are usually only $3.99 and are great for vegetables. After reading the chowhound cookware threads for a year, I really wanted to try one of those beautiful Japanese knives. However, I don't now how to sharpen my knives. So, I bought an 8 inch chefs knive from Mercer. I love it! It was under $40 and feels beautiful in my hand. It will be a great knife for increasing my skills. I suggest looking at the Mercer and the Forschner.

                                              4 Replies
                                              1. re: Kalivs

                                                Thanks for the advice Kalivs!

                                                Probably the only serviceable knife left in our collection is the Kyocera ceramic paring knife - and even that one is kind of dull. The rest of our line-up belongs to another roommate and consists of the Kuhn Rikons you mentioned. They're so dull they can hardly cut much of anything, but I'll be interested to see if I can get them sharp once the whetstone arrives.

                                                1. re: sancor

                                                  the roommate who does the washing up in my house is my father & he puts everything in the dishwasher. So, I'm happy getting a new paring knife every 3 months. My Mercer gets washed and dried by me and I have a knife guard.have fun with your new knives.

                                                2. re: Kalivs

                                                  Thanks for bring this Mercer knife option up. While I have no direct experience in Mercer knives, several people here (knifesavers and others) have favorable experience with them. For people who prefer a forged knife as opposed to a stamped knife, Mercer knives are attractive options. I do want to point out that not all Mercer knives are made of the same steel. Therefore, some are better than others.

                                                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                    Thanks, Chemicalkinetics!
                                                    I have really enjoyed reading all the advice on the knife threads. I was trying to decide between the Forschner and the Mercer. I chose the Mercer because I I like the way it looked, but really could have gone with either one.