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Dec 10, 2013 03:13 PM

Knife Misinformation's_Knives_C...

During my internet browsing, I came across a page on kitchen knives brimming with misinformation. I know, I know, stop the presses - someone on the internet is wrong about something. This page, though, is elaborately deluded and detailed to the point of actually being interesting, rather than just misguided.

The page comes from a custom knife maker who probably specializes in non-kitchen knives. And of course, he is likely selling knives to those who are more interested in collection pieces than in functionality in the kitchen. Fair enough. But I found it, frankly, fascinating how he applied the depth of his knowledge to justify so many awful design choices, to trumpet them as superior.

Yes, this thread is snarky. I can live with that. I realise this may only appeal to a few fellow knife geeks on the forum. It might stir up some interesting discussion about theory, or it might be nothing more than an interesting read. I was fascinated, anyway.

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  1. Would you take a moment to highlight some of the misnomers and misguided points so a non geek can receive some guidance.

    23 Replies
    1. re: HillJ

      I will soon. For one, I figured it might be cool to let people read it first without my thoughts on the matter push the discussion too far in any one direction (though I guess my scorn is quite evident).

      More importantly, I have to go pick up my son, make him dinner, and fly him around my apartment for an hour or two while pretending to be an airplane, a horse, or a pterodactyl depending on his whim.

      1. re: cowboyardee

        Lol, well I won't be reading much of the site linked since I'm out of my element to fully understand what points met with scorn. I'll lurk.

        1. re: HillJ

          I'll say this until I have more time: he has several recurring design features that I think even a non-knife nerd could foresee causing problems just by looking at his designs and knowing how to use a chefs knife. His single biggest problem was that he obviously doesn't know how to use kitchen knives well and didn't consult anyone who does.

          1. re: cowboyardee

            Well that's just my (perhaps poorly conveyed) point. A non knife nerd looks at the beautiful design, the artistry over function and thinks wow, what a beautiful kitchen knife.

            Knowing why the design is not ideal for a kitchen knife (other than considerations like weight, hand feel, awkward to hold, which I can't tell without holding it) is where a newbie begins to learn something, yes?

            I look forward to learning.

            1. re: HillJ

              OK, here goes. In a basic sense, I could nearly write a book detailing and explaining everything he's wrong about. See that huge webpage of his? Well, pick a sentence...

              So I'll just list some of the biggest head scratchers and explain a bit.

              1) I'm not a big fan of full length bolsters, since they get in the way of sharpening and eventually sit below the heel of a blade after enough sharpenings, keeping parts of the edge from contacting the board. But not only does he use full length bolsters in some of his designs, but he takes it a step further... by stretching the bolster over the first 3rd of the blade.
              Now imagine trying to cut, say, a winter squash with this knife. Or a melon. Or even a large onion. It renders a third of the knife useless. Worse, the heel of the knife - the now-useless part - is exactly what you want to be using for these jobs.

              2) He loves a hollow grind - where the part above the knife's edge is ground concave - and talks about how awful and inferior all other knife grinds (and by extension, 99%+ of all other medium- and high-end kitchen knives) are. He argues that it preserves edge thinness (it does, but this is also easily achieved using other grinds) while allowing for sufficient thickness at the spine (his spines are so absurdly thick that they're going to get stuck in any food taller than the knife blade - seriously, meat cleavers have thinner spines). Unfortunately, in addition to being completely unnecessary, a hollow grind also:
              - is less stable near the edge, which is a minor problem/tradeoff.
              - Sticks to many foods like the knife was coated in glue. It seems to create a suction cup-like effect with foods like potatoes. This is a fairly large problem, since it can seriously hinder cutting efficiency. Food will stick a bit to most knives - a little bit of sticking can be worked around. But food clinging to your knife as if for dear life - that's just a pain in the ass.

              3) He mitigates that tendency of food to stick by drilling holes in some of his blades (but not all of them). These holes supposedly reduce the surface tension created by the grind of the knife as food contacts it. Heck, I'll take his word for it - they probably do.
              'What about concerns of cleanliness, about food getting stuck in these holes and being a PITA to clean?' He thought you might ask. His response (paraphrased): only soft and sticky foods like fruit would likely get stuck, and you shouldn't be cutting fruit with a chefs knife anyway. Someone should alert cooks everywhere.

              4) He claims that you almost never see hollow grinds on factory-made knives. He claims this is because they are too expensive to make.

              In reality, hollow grinds are featured on many of the cheapest knives you can find. Go to walmart and look at all the knives you can find under $10. Bet several of em were hollow ground.

              5) He rants about how other knives are made of steel that is too soft to hold an edge well. How his knives are so hard and wear resistant that they'd file a honing steel smooth.

              But if you start clicking on his knives and reading their specs: they're mostly 440c steel hardened to 58 on the rockwell scale. There's nothing necessarily wrong with this. But it's about standard hardness for German, modern French, and American knives. It's quite soft compared to Japanese knives. So what the hell was he ranting about? Has he looked any of this stuff up since the age of the Ginsu?

              6) He hates carbon steels. Fair enough - there are legit arguments to make against them. He say's they'll rust easily 'in open air,' that they'll pit and corrode 'at every opportunity... in any part of the blade where moisture from any source contacts it.' This is not the legit argument I mentioned. Rust isn't a ninja that leaps from the shadows and attacks your carbon knives the second your back is turned. Knives rust when they're left exposed to moisture and/or acid for a prolonged period. Keep em wiped, and they'll be fine.

              Much of this was part of a rant directed at another custom knife-maker, likely Bob Kramer (who does much better work with kitchen knives). The other knifemaker was writing about 52100 steel, and about how the fine grain structure of its carbides is an advantage in terms of how well and easily the knife sharpens. This is very much true in my experience. He also wrote about the converse (also true in my experience) - some highly alloyed steels can be more difficult to sharpen well due to their less-fine grained structures. Not always the case, but it's something I've come across in more than a couple high-chromium and/or high-vanadium knives. Jay Fisher dismisses the whole issue and instead attacks the other guy's steel of choice with the exaggerations listed above.

              7) Probably my favorite: he claims that the Japanese make traditional single beveled knives that way because it's cheaper to manufacture. He wrote:

              "Having a[n]... edge on one side of the blade only is not some great advantage to the end user of the knife, its one of savings in manufacturing! It's cheaper and simpler to take a thin blade blank, put a relief angle only on one side, cut your machining expenses in half"

              This is so stupid, it's kinda hilarious. For one, these knives have a far more complex grinding pattern than Western knives, including those of Jay Fisher. For another, he seems to misunderstand the basic function of traditional single beveled knives. They are designed to make very fine and very precise cuts while pushing food away from the knife. Cut sashimi with one of Jay Fisher's knives, and you'll get mashed, ugly pieces of fish. Not because the knife is too dull but because the fish will stick the blade and deform as you cut it. Squishing itself. Using a yanagiba? The fish peels away from the blade (and its compound convexed bevels) as you cut in one clean stroke. No problem.

              That's kind of the whole website in a nutshell. He seems to have no understanding of how food interacts with a blade. But he's willing to call out better custom makers, companies that make more better-functioning products at a fraction of his prices, and entire knifemaking traditions that he doesn't begin to understand in order to push his product.

              1. re: cowboyardee

                :) I read so many similar points as you did (see I highlighted some of the same points in my reply).

                However, I did miss a few points because I didn't get to read through his whole website, not even 1/4th probably.

                <by stretching the bolster over the first 3rd of the blade. >

                I agree. I saw that and I was like. What the heck is that? It rendered the knife useless for cutting any "Tall" foods over this large bolster. Tall foods as in anything taller than the blade, like onions, squashes, potatoes. I also think it will tough to do a pinch grip over this huge bolster.

                <seriously, meat cleavers have thinner spines>

                It looks like that to me too. I have a couple of meat cleavers and I think they have thinner spines than his Chef's knives.

                <Probably my favorite: he claims that the Japanese make traditional single beveled knives that way because it's cheaper to manufacture. ... It's cheaper and simpler to take a thin blade blank, put a relief angle only on one side, cut your machining expenses in half>

                I didn't get to read that part. Really? He wrote that. That is pretty funny. Like you said, a traditional Japanese knife has a so called single bevel, but it is a pretty complicated design. It is difficult to make, and complex to sharpen.

                The so called flat side is not entirely flat, and the so called single bevel side is not just one flat surface neither.


                <Cut sashimi with one of Jay Fisher's knives, and you'll get mashed, ugly pieces of fish. Not because the knife is too dull but because the fish will stick the blade and deform as you cut it. >

                I don't know cowboyardee. I have to give this one to him. He did say "His response (paraphrased): only soft and sticky foods like fruit would likely get stuck" Fish is plenty soft and sticky, so he did warn you about not using his knives for soft sashimi cutting.


                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                  <It looks like that to me too. I have a couple of meat cleavers and I think they have thinner spines than his Chef's knives.>

                  Another thing I didn't mention. If you look at top down pics of his knives, amazingly it looks like there is no distal taper. That is, the spine doesn't get any thinner as it moves from the heel towards the tip. Because of the dropping tip, the last inch of the knife still thins out. But any fine work with the tip is gonna be tricky. The basic technique to dice up an onion.... good luck.

                  < I have to give this one to him. He did say "His response (paraphrased): only soft and sticky foods like fruit would likely get stuck" Fish is plenty soft and sticky, so he did warn you about not using his knives for soft sashimi cutting.>

                  Fair enough. Though I don't think he offers any sashimi knives (he does offer 'fruit knives'). And meat is similarly soft and sticky. As are many vegetables. Perhaps a 'mindful chef' (his term) uses his master chefs knife to cut crackers.

                  1. re: cowboyardee

                    <Perhaps a 'mindful chef' (his term) uses his master chefs knife to cut crackers.>

                    I was thinking just that today (as I was driving to Toronto). Fruits are exactly the softest foods. So, if his advice is to avoid cutting fruits because fruits are soft, then many foods cannot be cut with his knives: fish, meat, .....etc, just like you said.

                    1. re: cowboyardee

                      While I was driving today, I thought of his website some more. He mixed some good advices with some really bad ones.

                      He said that he like hollow grind because (1) a hollow grind design keeps the blade thin near the edge, and (2) hollow grind also provide a thicker top (spine) and therefore provide additional mass to provide cutting momentum.

                      These are not completely wrong. It is nice to have a thin blade behind the edge. It is also nice to have some momentum during cutting. A hollow grind can provide these, but it also creates problems as you have said.

                      You may know Andy's and Joe_C from the from knifeforums. I believe both of them like Chinese cleavers because a Chinese cleaver can be very thin, but the additional blade width adds mass without thicken the blade.

                      Anyway, while I was driving today, I just remembered all these massive holes in Jay Fisher's knives.


                      These holes completely contradict his earlier point. If the main point for using the thick hollow grind is to provide mass and to provide cutting momentum, then these massive holes just reduce all these masses he was talking about.

                      Now, you get to have a light weighting knife (a bad thing in his opinion) and a thick spine knife at the same time (a bad thing by most people's standard). He just managed to create the worst of two worlds.


                2. re: HillJ

                  cowboy, the link you provided is some kind of crazy sharp thingy, it's not even attractive but I've got fairly small hands and my hands shake (essential tremors) so I take one look at a knife like that and I know, no way can I hold it or use it without hurting myself instantly. There are knives I can use well. That would NOT be one of them. Now that I tremor, using just any ole knife doesn't work for me. And, I do need new knives..

                  #2,using the technical aspects of what you describe as a shopping guide and applying it when shopping for a knife is where I get lost.

                  #3. a non knife geek like me needs to better understand value. Some knives go for a good dollar and I don't always understand why. Some shit knives have lasted me years. I do have pros nearby to sharpen my knives. I can no longer do that task.

                  If you are able, what type of kitchen knife would you recommend for multi tasking without common injury?

                  1. re: HillJ

                    Hopefully just about any well made knife should last you a good number of years whether it was cheap or expensive. That said, I'm not sure how to pick out the safest knife necessarily. It would probably depend on exactly what aspects of a knife make you feel unsafe or not able to control it.

                    What knives seem to feel better and more under control for you- heavy knives, lighter knives, wide handles or narrow handles, longer or shorter?

                    How do you grip a knife?

                    Are you worried about cutting your non dominant hand during normal use, or of the knife slipping wildly, or of nicking yourself with the heel of the knife with your dominant hand, or some combination?

                    Do you rock chop a lot, and are you used to a curved blade?

                    What kind of budget for a knife?

                    1. re: cowboyardee

                      You get it! Okay, currently I'm finding that I get the best jobs done with a heavy handle but a flexible blade. Fish knife. Tremors have spikes and spasms to their "rhythm" so a knife that for lack of a better description allows me a firmer grasp at the handle but a slide motion should I experience a tremor (few seconds in length) is best. I wear a knife glove on my left, non dom. hand just for the just in case moments. While I use to be able to use a curved blade the required rocking and that type of repetitive motion can bring on tremors so I stopped. I use scissors sometimes in place of a knife. A light tip to tail knife could and does fly out of my hands. Too small a knife, paring, and I can't hold it for a period of time.

                      My budget is wide open.

                      1. re: HillJ

                        What about re-thining what a knife looks like?


                        I would think a design like this would keep your fingers away from the blade, but still give you some control.

                        This particular example is a bit....caveman-ish (I knida dig it), but we use a similar design by Dexter (I think) to chop up herbs and it works great!

                        best of luck, and I am so impressed that you are looking at what you CASN do, as opposed to resigning yourself to what may not be possible. KUDOS!

                        1. re: Westy

                          Rethinking is the only way to go. I've made other modifications for pottery, glass cutting, guitar playing and drumming (not to mention using a keyboard, touchpad & mouse) I also enjoy so a new way of using a knife should be easy right?!

                          I've been thinking lately a custom knife might be the better way to go. Curved blades are a challenge for me; the rocking aggravates my tremor.

                          1. re: Westy

                            That is an Ulu. It is a traditional knife used by Eskimos.


                            A similar knife is the mezzaluna:


                            These type of knives work best either without a cutting board (in the case of an Ulu) or with a curved cutting board shaped like a bowl. You can use them on a flat cutting board, but it will be a lot more work having to rock chop everything with a relatively small blade.

                      2. re: HillJ

                        You might look at the Dexter Duo-Glide. It is a unique design for people with compromised grips and, as the handle is nearly halfway up the blade, it feels shorter than its 8".

                        Due to the unique properties I can hold it with 2 fingers and effectively, but slowly, cut product where any of my others I can't.

                        It looks weird and feels weird but until you lay hands on it with a compromised grip you can't appreciate it.


                        1. re: knifesavers

                          I appreciate the recommendation. A friend of mine with similar but slightly diff dex issues really found these knives helpful and comfortable. Her issue was pain related. Mine is staying steady. My hands don't hurt, they move. I found them too big and thick at the handle and clunky for my hands and they didn't address enough stability for me. However for anyone following along, here's a video that demonstrates the knife line in use:

                            1. re: knifesavers

                              I'd like to take a closer look at that knife style. Thanks.

                              1. re: HillJ

                                You may want to think also about the Dexter Safe Splitter. You can't move the blade anywhere but up and down.


                                1. re: knifesavers

                                  Okay now we're talking. Some of the tasks my kitchen mates are taking on I could now do using this stablized knife. I've not seen this before and while it's not "pretty" it does address the kind of tasks that I find more challenging. Thank you very much.

                                  1. re: HillJ

                                    I like the suggestions of a sujihiki and the Safe Splitter. The sujihiki should be able to do most things that the safe splitter can't. I've seen good chefs use a sujihiki as their primary chefs knife to good effect, despite their design as a slicer. It sounds as though you'd likely prefer one with a western grip since western grips tend to make the overall knife a bit heavier and the balance more handle heavy.

                                    I don't always believe that everyone must hold their knives in hand before buying, since that can limit your options, anf many knife styles are adaptable for most people. In your case, its probably a necessity though, or nearly so. The trick then might be mainly in finding a very good knife store in your area that has a number of sujihikis to try out. Some are a while thicker than others, and some have a large grinding bias (right handed) while others are fairly neutral. I would think you'd benefit from one that's thin so that you don't have to apply much force, but still substantial enough to have a little weight for stabilization.

                                    1. re: cowboyardee

                                      cowboy, this thread provided a few new leads for me, so thank you for opening up the discussion to accommodate my very specific questions. Thanks, all!

            2. Wow serisouly do not have time to read this however the knives in this website are super impressive!! Looks like a few of these knives would run more than my morgage.......

              1. I skimmed over a bit of it, and only saw one knife that even remotely looked like a chef's knife, and the handle on that one looked, just, wrong somehow. It curved down where it looked as if if it should stay straight.

                1. This is a very long read, but I will surely finish reading.

                  So far, I read some misinformation mixed with accurate information.

                  "This is probably because as factory produced knives increase in cost, the investment to properly outfit and equip a chef approaches that of custom knifemakers."
                  (very sure that factory produced knives is not increasing in cost)

                  " Carbon steels and non-stainless damascus steels are not a good choice and there are several clear reasons"

                  "and the thinness at the spine can dig into the chef's hand"

                  "A spine that is too thin will not allow you to grasp the knife in a pinch position"

                  " the knife blade must have the proper balance of heft to apply that force, and sufficient thinness in the blade to execute the cut. This job is best performed by a hollow ground knife blade"

                  "A hollow grind also provides the highest longevity of all knife grinds."

                  "This is where factory knives fall flat on their face. Factories do not use steels that can be both hard and tough, so they settle for tough"

                  "a hard knife will be wear-resistant and hold an edge longer, and therefore last many, many years longer, perhaps even for generations!"
                  (very sure that no knife can hold an edge for generations)

                  "There are also other considerations. In many hand-forged and handmade knives, as well as most of the Asian cutlery from Japan and China, finishing is ill-considered, hasty, cheap, and fast. I cringe when I see so-called chef's knives with a finish that is crusty, hammered, scarred, gouged, dented, dark, beaten, and scoured."

                  " The huge and looming problem is that these are dirty finishes, they trap and hide moisture, bacteria, foodstuffs, fungus, molds, viruses, and all sorts of nasty things you don't want on your knife blade"

                  "Why don't more makers and manufacturers use a hollow grind in their chef's and kitchen knives? Skill, time, and expense. It takes a very skilled and practiced hand to execute fine, balanced, matching hollow grinds on knife blades, and bringing those grinds to a high level of finish is beyond the skill of most makers "

                  "Bolsters are important"

                  I will read the rest later.

                  1. Wow! They look more like ancient ceremonial knives used to sacrifice animals to appease the gods than functional kitchen knives...

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: petek

                      Hi petek. I was getting more of a Klingon vibe, personally. Vague mating/fight-to-the-death ritual kind of thing.

                      1. re: cowboyardee


                        Like if Warf went to the CIA (the cooking school, not the espionage service).

                        "A winter squash? A winter squash? I shall slay it and mount its scooped out shell upon my fridge!! To battle!!!!!"