Jay Fisher - World Class Knifemaker

Quality Without Compromise

Maker's Mark:
Knife Maker's Mark for Jay Fisher Knives
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"Arctica" obverse side view in CPM154CM powder metal technology tool steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Coyote/Black G10 fiberglass/epoxy composite laminate handle, locking kydex, anodized aluminum, stainless steel sheath
"Arctica"

Chef's Knives, Kitchen Cutlery

Welcome to the largest, most comprehensive page about the best fine handmade and custom chef's, kitchen, and culinary knives on the internet!

"Antheia" custom knife sculpture; chef's knife set in 440C high chromium stainless steel blades, hand-engraved 304 stainless steel bolsters, handles of Thulite, Blue Willow Sodalite, California Nephrite Jade, Australian Black Jade gemstones, stand of hand-cast bronze, pecan hardwood, Black Midnight granite
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Jay,
First, MERRY CHRISTMAS!
K. absolutely loves the knives and sculpture! She marveled at the balance and said each knife felt like a part of her hand and wished she had them for use preparing Christmas dinner last night. She recognized it immediately as an incredible work of art.
We both thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your “Labor of Love” – it shows in every detail.
Jay, you know I am a knife collector and have large collections of Loveless and Moran knives among many others. I have told many of the people in the knife world I deal with that you are the finest working knife maker in America. So many today are “Copycats” trying in vain to make a Drop Point Hunter or Damascus Fighter, rather than create from within themselves as you do. Keep it up and continue to be true to yourself.
With our warmest wishes,

K. and L. B. and Family


I am committed to making completely and clearly the best knives in the world.

--Jay Fisher

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Fine Chef's Knife: "Hestia" 440c high chromium stainless steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Amethyst gemstone handle, walnut, Amethyst, black galaxy granite baseClick here to see a special page on this fine chef's knife with many more pictures and information.
More about this Hestia


"Concordia" chef's knife in 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Poppy Jasper gemstone handle, Amerian Black Walnut stand inlaid with Poppy Jasper gemstone
More about this Concordia

Introduction

My professional goal is to make the very best chef's knives available in our modern times.

This page is about the knives I make here at Enchanted Spirits Studio for culinary use, specifically chef's knives and cutlery, kitchen knives, cook's knives, professional food service knives, meal prep knives, tools, and accessories comprising of but not limited to cutting tools, knives, choppers, cleavers, used to and for slicking, slicing, chunking, julienne, butterfly, chopping spices, cubing, dicing, scoring, shredding, brunoise, preparing stir-fry, slicing bread, fining, grinding, carving, and separating foods, ingredients, and components. I've included some topics that I think you will find worthwhile, and also included thumbnail photographs in captioned boxes with the name of the individual knives. If there is a featured page about the knife, the name is linked to that page. As with all my pages, I'll continually add new projects and knives as they are completed.

As you read this page, you'll probably begin to realize that a lot of what you think, have heard, or read about common chef's and kitchen knives is the result of mass marketing created to sell volume knives. Volume knife sales is a great idea for the masses; knives can be made cheaply and uniformly, in great quantities, by bulk manufacturing interests (mostly in China). The knives made this way are utilitarian, common, and inexpensive. There is nothing wrong with making and marketing knives this way; you get what you pay for, and it's not much, either way.

These are not my clients. My patrons and customers are interested in the very, very best. They want knives that are built with intelligent, modern materials, methods and techniques. They want the absolute premium modern tool steels, they want modern, scientific, accurate and verified heat treatment and cryogenic processing, they want first-class, contemporary fittings and design, they want the pinnacle of art and functional form for the knife that rests in their most honored place of gathering, nourishment, and sharing: their kitchens.

My personal and professional drive is to make and offer these knives through my own creative works as well as through custom works individually suited to each client. The knives you see on this page (and on all the other pages of the site apart from my "Knives for Sale" pages) are sitting in someone's favorite spot in their kitchen, on their counter, on their dining table, at the ready, in a place of respect that is important to them. I consider this the greatest honor I can have: that someone has a fine work of art and precision made completely by my hands in their life, that they adopt it to become part of their family of possessions, that the knife or knives are to be handed down to generations to come. This is why I do what I do.

The difference between the work of a professional custom knifemaker and mass-marketed knives is fairly simple to determine, and it can be summed up in the phrase "Quality vs. Quantity." Because there is so much mass marketing hyperbole on the internet, on media sources, in print, on television, and in advertising generally, I've taken considerable time to illustrate what these differences are generally on my "Factory Knives vs. Fine Handmade Knives" page on this website.

There is much more to these comparisons, mainly how my work, inspiration, art, and professional creations differ from other knifemakers who make kitchen knives by hand. There is a lot to learn here, and my clients deserve to know the difference between my works and the works of others. They have a right to know what are the best steels and designs, what are the best fittings and handles, what are the best stands, blocks and accessories, and exactly, technically, artistically, and aesthetically why this is so. This is the purpose of this page as part of my Service Commitment to my professional trade. 

A professional knifemaker's perspective is markedly different from a manufacturer's viewpoint, just as an accomplished chef's viewpoint differs from a cook's. Additionally, as a maker of top grade weapons, tools, and fine instruments, my perspective is not the same as other knifemakers who use simple, antiquated methods to make knives.

If you are reading this, you deserve to know the distinctions. I'll do my best to lay it all out: the history, the reasoning, the technology, the direction, and the value. By the time you are finished reading this page, I guarantee that you will know more than most other people about truly fine chef's knives, more than most chefs, more than knife manufacturers, and even more than most knifemakers. While others may offer you baseless generalities, notions of great traditional histories, vague and non-specific ideals about their knives alongside tiny photos and very little useful information or specs, I will offer facts, specific descriptions, very clear and abundant evaluations and comparisons for your consideration. Armed with this concrete knowledge, I believe that you will be better equipped to purchase any chef's knife from any source for the purpose you intend.

You deserve a fine knife for your most important and frequent knife duty, task, and passion.

Thanks for being here!

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"Saussure" master chef's knife, obverse side view in 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Argentina Agate gemstone handle, Working, display stand of American Black Walnut Hardwood
More about this Saussure


Great Knife..such balance no hand fatigue and sharp too.
With that knife in my kitchen. . . I am a surgeon--- not a butcher.

-- B. M.


The Custom Approach

A superior knife can create an exceptional meal and an extraordinary experience.

Chef and meal prep knives and kitchen cutlery are the most common knives seen. Every household has these kinds of knives, and they probably see the most duty of any knife. Newer kitchens are equipped with the best appliances, finest counters, floors, and walls, best modern lighting, sophisticated plumbing and sanitary equipment, and newest and most efficient modern cookware, well-designed tools, utensils, and accessories. At the forefront of every meal preparation with fresh, healthy, and delicious food is the knife.

The knife is where the meal starts, and I believe it should be the most reliable, durable, distinctive, and useful tool in the kitchen, because it is the tool that physically creates prepared food from raw meat and produce. One simply cannot be a chef without a knife. While a good chef can create a great meal with an average knife, a superior knife in his hands can create an exceptional meal and an extraordinary experience. It's about the chef's personal relationship to  his knives. How the chef lives through the work of the knife will translate into how the meal experience occurs for others around him. The chef should be eager and excited about the prospect of putting his knife in his hand, working at his board, in his kitchen with his unique tools and appliances to create his distinctive meal. The use of the knife should be a flowing, fluid, and comfortable experience, and when it is, the preparation of the meal becomes a creative and wonderful event for not only the chef, but also his friends and family.

The tools and utensils of the modern kitchen are the most advanced and wonderful they have ever been in history. We are all lucky to be living in our modern world, and the chefs of the past would be astounded at what we have available in even the most modest modern kitchen environment. Though there have been a few new inventions in the culinary world, the major change in the world of the chef in historic times has been refinement. Meat and produce have been refined and cultured, cookware has been improved, and appliances have brought the chef out of the smoky fires of antiquity into the clean and efficient creation space of the modern kitchen. The cooking experience itself has been meticulously and accurately refined as art across many mediums and cultures.

Since the knife is the central tool of the cooking experience, it is important to be knowledgeable and well-informed about chef's knives. Thankfully, we also have refined our information technology to a high degree, and more detailed, specific and clear information is available from worthwhile sources to more people than has ever been available before in history. Right now, you are reading this because of refined information technology. The interpretation, direction, specifics, and art of knives is now available from metals artists and craftsmen like myself for anyone to see, at any time, in the privacy and time frame of their own personal choosing. I feel very lucky and thankful that you are reading this now, and want you to know that I have a great deal to offer based on my own practice, experience, and art in this field. I consider it an obligation and responsibility of the service aspect to my clients, my trade, and my art.

In my field, I have made many, many knives. Every knife I've made has been a refinement of at least one of several attributes. An attribute is simply a logic, quality, characteristic, property, philosophy, or character. On the surface this may seem a heavy group of considerations, but I want you  to know exactly why handmade custom knives and my knives in particular are created the way they are.

Logic: My professional logic is that I want to create and supply the finest knives available in our modern world, with modern materials and techniques, to some of the finest chefs and clients, whether they are cooking at home, as a profession, or are determined to become fine chefs. I strive to create designs that are logical, for uses in the real kitchen, with reasonable and dependable geometries, materials, finishes, and accessories.

Quality: My standard is to create the highest quality knife, tool, and work of art that is possible using modern technology and process. Like my fine Tactical Combat Knives, I am determined to make only the very best. I use the highest technology modern corrosion resistant tool steels available, with modern and specific processes of heat treating, tempering, cryogenic processing, and testing with professional apparatus, in house, here at Enchanted Spirits Studio. I use the most modern and refined fittings, designs, and finishes on the most durable handle materials possible for each knife. The fit, finish, balance and accuracy of each component is of the highest quality, and the excellence of the knife is matched by any accessory that accompanies it, so and my clients and patrons are assured they are acquiring the very best.

Characteristics of the fine modern chef's knife vary widely, perhaps more than any other type of knife known. Since there are many different processes that the chef's knife must complete, there is a great variety of blade styles and shapes, grinds and finishes, handles and forms. Chef's knives may perform delicate tasks requiring thin, hard blades, other chef's knives may need an improved and refined grip to apply great force with extended blade toughness. The characteristics of each individual knife determine which one you reach for in the block, sheath, or roll, depending on the task you have in the kitchen.

Properties of each knife distinguish them from others. For example, making a knife from modern high chromium, high technology martensitic tool steel distinguishes the knife from one made of 1095 or 52100 plain carbon steel by many orders of magnitude. The property of a gemstone handle distinguishes the well-made fine tool from a factory knife that has a polypropylene molded handle. Properties of fine handmade chef's knives instantly set them apart from mass produced knives in every way: materials, finish, design, balance, embellishment, fit, finish, accessories, and service.

My Philosophy of my chef's knives is unique. While every individual maker may say that his works and philosophy about the knives he creates is exclusive, I actually detail these specific distinctions on this very page, and on the 500 other pages on this very website for all to see. There is no mystery about why I make the knives I do or how I do it, I believe this field should be modern, transparent, evolving, and inviting to all who are interested in fine knives. One could boil down this philosophy quite simply: I am a full time professional knife maker, artist, and writer who does my very best to create the finest modern handmade knife and work of art for each individual client.

The Character of each knife, group of knives, or art project are what sets it apart as distinctive. No other knives look like or have the character of the knives I create, and that specific character appeals to each client, patron, or chef in a very personal way. The character of the fine, modern handmade and custom knife will prohibit it from ever being grouped in the endless clones of production work, replicas, primitive, or manufactured items, and exhibit the personality of the owner who appreciates finely crafted works of art as well as accurate and refined tools.

The only way to experience this personally is through a direct conversation. This is not available from manufacturers, boutique shops, and even other makers may not accommodate this. If you are interested in an extremely fine chef's knife or set, Email me here to discuss your project or idea!

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Mr. Fisher,
It is just before midnight here in NYC, just walked in the door, home from a long day at the restaurant. To my surprise was a FedEx box waiting for me in the hallway. I am normally a pretty collected individual, however I was like a kid on Christmas as I opened the box.
I am beyond impressed with the knife, it truly is a work of art and great craftsmanship rolled into one. From the sheath, to the balance of the blade, to the beautifully sculpted handle, I really could not ask for more. You have a great talent and I thank you for putting such time, effort and precision into this knife, it will be cherished for a lifetime.
Thank you again Mr. Fisher.

Sincerely,
L. C. G.


"Andrimne" Chef's Master Knife, obverse side view in 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, 304 stainless steel guard ferrule and pommel ferrule, Peach hardwood turned handle, hand-stamped, hand-laced leather sheath
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What are chef's knives and why are they different?

Interest in fine chef's knives is on the rise. Most professional chefs are covetous of their knives and tools; indeed a fine custom knife set can personalize, identify, and distinguish a chef and his kitchen environment. Ask a professional chef what he most values and he'll probably tell you his knives. What kind of knives equip a custom kitchen or chef distinguishes his passion for the culinary arts.

You might also realize that most of the information about chef's knives is based in the past. Historically, extremely finely made knives were distinctly not chef's knives; the knives used to cook in the past were the cheapest, most common sort, made to use, use up, and throw away. Knives do not typically have a historic past of high value in culinary work. Since the very best knives ever made were either for recognition, dedication, or war, it's a new concept that extremely fine knives and accoutrements could be made for the kitchen. This new and exciting concept means that for the first time in history, knifemakers are using premium materials: extremely high alloy, high tech steels, clean, sanitary, and incredibly durable fittings, exotic or rare handle materials, extraordinary artistic blocks, stands, cases, rolls, and accessories.

You might wonder why top chefs are rarely seen with fine custom knives, particularly in public.

  • In the public realm, finely made custom chef's knives are rarely seen. This is probably because there are actually so few of them in existence. When you consider how many millions and millions of standard, typical, and manufactured common-pattern kitchen knives exist in the world, it's clear that the fine handmade custom chef's knives by top level knife makers are a very elite, exclusive part of the large picture. They are, quite simply, rare.
  • Though in the very public field of cooking you may see many types of common knives, the finest custom handmade knives are often more protected, coveted, and cherished by their owners. Many of these chefs would not flaunt their extremely fine knives any more than they would flaunt their private art collection in the public realm. Sometimes, modesty is a dish served publicly, but refinement is a feast for the home.
  • Most people relate to the common knife with more familiarity. They are comfortable with known and established everyday tools, and the top chef may wish to relate to the public and the products of his efforts (his dishes and meals) rather than have them distracted by bold and stunning artwork in the form of a knife. It's not surprising to see how many top chefs in the public realm are marketing their own name etched and stamped on cheap, common manufactured knives. This is basic mass-market manufacturing.
  • Most people merely consider a knife as another piece of cutlery, like a fork, spoon, or butter knife. The difference between a stamped-out piece of stainless cutlery and a refined, hardened and tempered instrument is profound, yet most people aren't aware of this.
  • Because of the relative rarity of fine custom knife making, most chefs have never even seen a very fine, custom, handmade knife. While they may recognize some factory knives as "top of the line," they can be quite shocked to see just what a really fine knife is.

Extremely fine, well-designed and handmade chef's knives can be works of art. In my own works, every knife is absolutely distinctive, and every creation is first and foremost a cutting instrument. In the form of the knife, you will see the movement, feel the grip, sense the slice easing through the subject of your dishes. The very foundation of a fine chef's knife is the most substantial consideration that not only sets it apart in the realm of knives, but also offers the physical basis and traits that will establish its value. If you want to know the exact basis for the fine knife when compared to inferior knives, I've detailed the specifics in the next sections. As promised, by the time you have finished reading this page, you will know more about fine, handmade, and custom chef's knives than most other chefs, factories, or other knife makers!

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"Concordia" fine master chef's knife, obverse side view in CPM154CM high molybdenum powder metal technology tool steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Brecciated African Jasper gemstone handle, chef's roll case in latigo side leather and leather shoulder, hand-tooled, hand stitched with stainless steel snaps
More about this "Concordia"

Blades: The Chef and the Steel Rod
If you are a fan of the steel, and love to whip a blade across the rod, and think that this is what makes a cook appear to be a chef, the fine handmade custom chef's knife is not for you. Knives that need frequent steeling and honing are soft, inferior knives. Try to steel up some high chromium, high vanadium carbide tool steel knives, and you will be throwing away that rod as it glazes over in failure.

Please read the wisdom box above again. This perception (a chef steeling a knife) is a persistent and cultural icon, often played in the media as a defining activity. When one sees a chef, he's wearing a double-breasted white jacket or smock,  a white toque hat, perhaps an apron, and he is steeling a knife. This uniform dates back to French traditions; more on that later.

Why is he steeling his knife? Because it is dull. It starts out dull, and dulls easily, and dulls frequently, so he steels and steels and steels... After a while, he becomes pretty quick at the motions, and may even make it look effortless, like some graceful flourish before the cut. To a maker of fine custom knives, however, this action screams out, "Help! My knife is dull, it's continually dull, and I can't keep it reliably sharp!"

Sharpening a knife before every use is absurd. Do you honestly think that we are unable to make and offer extremely wear-resistant, edge-holding, instrument-grade tool steels in our modern world?

Please consider this. The chef's steel rakes away tiny chips of metal, some microscopic, from the knife blade. They settle on the blade, and are carried into the meat and produce that are cut by the knife. How often do you see a chef wash his blade after steeling but before cutting? Hmmm?

I consider it my duty as a maker of extremely fine chef's knives to help the chef out. But I can not help him if he has a low grade, inferior, and weak blade steel. The foundation for every knife is the blade, and the blade is made of fine, modern tool steel (or should be). The fine knife blade should not be a low alloy, old-world style carbon steel, but the finest engineered, most modern, highest quality, refined, clean, and scientifically made, machined, ground, and finished tool steel we have available. A good piece of professional chef's cutlery simply starts with the foundation of an exceptional blade. This doesn't only mean an ornamental blade, although style, appearance, and artistic value can be well-applied here.

In the next topics, I'll cover the specifics of history, the myths of chef's knives, the technical realities, and the specific reasons I make knives the way I do. I promise that when you are done reading these sections, you'll know more than most people, more than most chefs, and more than most knifemakers about what constitutes the very best chef's knives and why. Thanks for being here!

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"Sanchez" chef's knife in 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Lapis Lazuli gemstone handle, courbaril (Jatoba) exotic hardwood, Poplar hardwood, black galaxy granite base
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Carbon Steel and the Myth of History

Look around at what other knifemakers tout as the best chef's knives and you'll notice that many of them recommend and use carbon steels. The term "carbon steel" is usually used to identify and distinguish steels that are NOT stainless. I'll assume that you first want to get this clear as to why these steels are used, have been used historically, and why they are claimed to be superior when they are absolutely not. In fact, carbon steels are inferior to high alloy hypereutectoid stainless tool steels in every single characteristic except two: they are cheaper, and easier to make a knife out of, and they sharpen easily and quickly since they dull quickly!

First, the name, carbon steel. All steels have carbon. All of them. This is what makes steel different from raw iron. Iron is the element; add carbon of enough percentage (a tiny percentage) and you will make steel from iron. When knifemakers, machinists, and layman use the term "carbon steel," they are referring to plain carbon steel. Let's get very clear on what carbon steel contains, so that there will be no confusion: Carbon steel, according to AISI, SAE, ANSI, machinist's and engineer's references, and official organizations is steel that it is steel (iron with carbon) that contains manganese limited to 1.65%, silicon limited to 0.60%, and copper limited to 0.60%. That is the official classification for carbon steel. No other alloy elements are added intentionally. Clearly, carbon steels are low alloy, plain steels, without any beneficial ingredients (for you of culinary language). Carbon steels are cheap, common, and plentiful steels.

Historically, this is how steels have been for about 4000 years. Only in the beginning of the 20th century have scientists and metallurgists started adding beneficial elements to this recipe to create alloys. The reason they did is to make superior steels; steels that have higher wear resistance, higher toughness, and higher corrosion resistance alltogether. Carbon steels are notorious for wearing quickly, dulling in the kitchen, bending or breaking, and rusting at the first exposure to moisture. Add enough chromium to the steel and it becomes stainless steel, resisting corrosion to a very high degree, adding substantial and beneficial wear resistance, and increasing toughness overall.

Why have knifemakers, manufacturers, and the public stuck with carbon steels if high alloy stainless steels are so much better in every way? It's because they are selling a myth, and the public is buying it up.

Take a look at some major players in the kitchen knife and handmade knife world, and you'll see mythical Japanese fascination with edges, words like "mind," "body," and "soul," while referring to ancient Japanese techniques and superiority in knives and cutting tools. They love to use the Japanese words to describe their blades, the features of their knives, and their philosophy as if Japanese is the only language that has words to describe these things. For example, the phrase "temper line" (described by John Yumoto in his reference book The Samurai Sword in 1958) is now called "hamon" only because the Japanese word carries some mystique and exotic interest; it's still just a temper line. The phrase "temper line," after all, is so pedestrian...

This is all part of the myth, distraction, and fascination with a culture that is not distinctly known for fine culinary practice. If someone asks you what culture was historically known for the finest culinary refinement, chances are you would answer, "The French!" So why is it that Japanese-style knives and cutlery hold such a mystique for Americans?  Know that as early as 1958, there were more Japanese swords in the United States of America than had ever existed in Japan. This is cultural fascination, originating in the spiritual history of the national treasures of Japan, repackaged by Hollywood, the media, and knife makers and knife manufacturers, and sold as some unique, superior concept and product.

The truth is, every single culture on the planet has created good knives and dishes, bad knives and dishes, and every type in between. Isn't it interesting that since most mass-marketing comes from the east, Americans tend to adopt that as technically superior, when this is simply not the reality?

While the Japanese did have advanced techniques for working with steels and producing effective weapons a thousand years ago, today, the very best steels are found in the industrial, military, and scientific field. Please don't buy the hype promoted by media and Hollywood, repeated by knifemakers who hammer steel, no matter on what public outlet their "spiritual journey" is sold. Every single culture on the planet produced and used kitchen and chef's knives, yet somehow, here in America, there is almost a worshipful embrace of a 1000 year old foreign Japanese culture.

There is no blacksmith in any machine shop, anywhere.

II prefer truth to mysticism, and the truth in steels can be found in the most advanced, modern technological, scientific and sophisticated metallurgy in the history of mankind. If ancient, well-documented steel and blade-making techniques were superior, we would see them used in modern industry, where shear blades must cut thousands of miles of tenacious abrasive material, where car bodies must be sheared and pressed, where molten plastic must be injected into forming molds at incredible speeds and volume, where ball bearings have to pump liquid oxygen into rocket engines. But no where, NO WHERE, is there a blacksmith in any machine shop; nobody is pounding away at layers of different steels to achieve improved performance, because it doesn't. No where in the professional field of metallurgy is any engineer touting the advanced technology of any country in 1600 AD. There are no helicopter gears, machine cutting tools, aerospace tooling, turbine blades, crankshafts, valves, or any significant metal piece that must be hard, wear resistant, tough, and durable that is made of carbon steel or is hammer-forged.

It's time this myth was put to rest. It's an embarrassing artifact of our tradecraft, and it needs to stop. The only advantage of using carbon steel is because it's cheap and not wear resistant, so it's easy to steel up an edge with no effort, an edge that quickly wears away (and rusts) and needs to be steeled and sharpened again.

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"Concordia" obverse side view in 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Nebula Stone gemstone handle, stand of American Black Walnut, Poplar, Nebula Stone, Baltic Brown granite
More about this Concordia

What knifemakers, companies, and manufacturers don't want you to know
Easy to sharpen; Easy to Dull

The people who push carbon steel and damascus knives do not want you to know that the reason a lot of cooks like them is that they are easy to sharpen. That's it! They are easy to put an edge on because the steel is not wear resistant, not tough, and not abrasion resistant. It is simply easy to hone up a fast edge with no skill. The low-information cook will then go on to claim that carbon steel and damascus blades are better, because he can get an edge on them easily.

He needs to do this often, because his blade dulls quickly. He grabs a dull blade, flourishes it across the ridged steel rod, feels that he is now a pro, and goes to cutting. It would surprise him to know that if he upgraded to a premium steel, he could throw away his rod, stop honing, and sharpen his knife once a year or less, and it would always be razor keen. But then, would he feel like a chef if he didn't have to hassle with the knife blade: honing, wiping, oiling, scrubbing, drying, babying, coddling, and fondling his knife?

The truth is, if a knife blade needs steeled and sharpened often, it dulls easily. If it dulls frequently, it's soft and not wear resistant. If a knife blade is hard and wear resistant, it doesn't need constant sharpening or attention to the cutting edge. If a knife is hard to dull, it's hard to sharpen, usually needing diamond hones. If it's easy to sharpen, it's easy to dull.

Who would know this and say, "I like to sharpen my blade often; I need a soft blade that I have to constantly work on to get it to cut correctly."

Who would say, "I like to pick up my knife and simply cut with it, without worrying about the edge, and focus on preparing my meal."

Which person are you?

Pretty steel; Appearance over Performance

The people who push damascus steel blades do so because they like the look. The look is different, they think the blades are pretty, even though they are inferior in every single aspect and characteristic to high alloy stainless tool steels. They are selling a look, not performance. The only advantage of Damascus pattern welded steel is appearance, all damascus pattern welded steels are inferior in every way to high alloy hypereutectoid stainless steels. More about the severe limitations of damascus pattern welded steel at this link on my Blades page.

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"Sirona" chef's knife, obverse side view in mirror polished 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Green Orbicular Agate gemstone handle, slip sheath in kydex and 304 stainless steel fasteners
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Let's get into the details of why and how modern alloy steels are better choices overall:

Steel Type

Clean, modern, high quality martensitic high alloy stainless tool steels are the best choice for fine, well-made, and durable chef's knives.

Carbon steels and damascus steels are not a good choice and there are several clear reasons. Plain carbon steels will quickly and easily rust if not meticulously cared for, and that doesn't often happen in the kitchen. What are the bad carbon steels I'm writing about? 1095, 1025, 5160, 1085: these are all low alloy plain carbon steels that are inferior to fine high alloy steels by many orders of magnitude and on many levels. Carbon steels corrode, and the steel that corrodes away goes somewhere, usually into the food. Because the entire blade corrodes, that means that the cutting edge also corrodes, so they dull faster.

Carbon steels sometimes have a greater following because they're the cheapest and easiest to make a knife with, they are forgiving of process errors, and they are cheap to replace if any part of the knife making process fails. They are cheaply purchased, commonly available, and easily ground, easily machined, and easily sharpened. A few well-angled whips over the steel is usually all it takes to sharpen them, and this has to be done often, since they dull so quickly. This is why you so often see the chef reaching for the steel. So the misperception is that carbon steel blades are better, because they seem to sharpen easily, and seem sharper. Why do they sharpen easily? Because they are low alloy steels, and are less wear resistant and dull quicker!

Standard carbon steels contain none of the alloys that allow the creation of chromium carbides, tungsten carbides, or vanadium carbides that are the extremely hard particles in the structure of stainless tool steels that give these high alloy steels such substantial and profound wear resistance and strength. Carbon steels are not as strong as high alloy stainless steels.

Note that I refer to stainless tool steels, as not all stainless steels are durable and wear resistant. Stainless steel for chef's knives got a bad reputation in the 1960s and 1970s due to the cheap 420 series stainless blades that were sold as bargain, universal, forever-sharp knives. They're still sold as such, and they are simply thin, weak, stainless springs, and not tools. I detail this more in the topic below.

Fine, high quality martensitic stainless tool steels, when properly hardened and tempered, will hold an edge many times longer than carbon steels, will not corrode, rust, pit, or stain, are much tougher and more resistant to breakage, and can be made thinner at the cutting edge than standard carbon steel knife blades. They are also many times stronger, with markedly greater tensile strength, shear strength, and compression strength.

What are these fine high alloy martensitic stainless tool steels I'm referring to? 440C, ATS-34, CPM154CM, CPMS30V, CPMS90V, BG42, and D2. Remember that these modern, isotropic, homogenous, refined and engineered steels are used for extremely wear-resistant, corrosion-resistant ball bearings, valve seats, high speed metal cutting and forming blades, and injection mold dies. They are used in industrial, military, medical, and mechanical field high strength, high wear applications because they out-perform all other steels. If standard carbon steels were better performers, engineers and machinists would be using them for these extreme applications. They don't because they are inferior steels, plain and simple. Please think about that. There are more details about these knife steels on my Blades page.

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"Edesia" fine handmade cleaver, obverse side view in 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, copper fittings, olive hardwood handle, hand-tooled leather sheath
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Heat Treating

The most important, scientifically controlled, accurate, and technically proficient process performed in the knife making studio is heat treating. Proper heat treating is what makes the steel blade excel in performance, durability, longevity, and value. Heat treating, on the surface, is a simple process, but in the very best technical execution of our art and craft, it's a lengthy, detailed, and specific set of steps requiring a sophisticated shop and studio environment.

Heat treating by novices and factories can be a very simple affair. In any blacksmith's shop, a piece of steel can simply be heated to red, quenched, and reheated to a lower temperature, judged by the color of the oxide surface on the steel, by eye, and the steel will be harder than it originally was. This is not how the best modern blade steels are treated, and the results are that when properly accomplished, and the wear resistance, toughness, and corrosion resistance is tremendously enhanced. So much so that yearly sharpenings (or even less often) are all that is required to keep the knife blade razor keen. The custom knifemaker, then is also the custom heat treating shop and there should be no question about his experience.

On one knifemaker's site, I smiled when I read the maker claimed he had a 6 hour heat treat process comprising of 7 steps. This is a laughable, inferior process, and I can tell that just from his simple description. My clients deserve to know exactly what happens during heat treat, what the advantages are of my processing, what is necessary and recommended for each steel type, what to expect from the detailed processing, and how it all happens. This is available on my "Heat Treating and Cryogenic Processing of Knife Blade Steels" page here on the website. A typical processing of a high alloy martensitic, hypoeutectoid stainless tool steel takes 15 actual steps, and 95 hours. I take my heat treating very seriously; it's a major part of the professional knifemaker's responsibility.

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Evening Jay,
I wanted to give you a proper testimonial now that I've had time to use Sirona at work for a day. I couldn't wait to bring out Sirona at work, everyone noticed the shining mirror polish immediately while I was getting ready to small dice about 150 tomatoes to keep the restaurant stocked for the day. Sirona was well up to the task. The knife felt like an extension of my hand, and the extra weight also feels good, knowing that I'm not using some flimsy piece of carbon steel that I'm so used to. After seeing in person how good a knife could be, my first thought was that I can't wait to order my next two! It was a pleasure to speak with you on the phone and I look forward to doing business with you in the future.

--A.


"Sirona" chef's knife, obverse side view in 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Bronzite Hypersthene gemstone handle, stand of American Black Walnut, Red Oak Padauk hardwood
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Grind Geometry

The part of the knife blade that thins the steel to create a cutting edge is called a grind. Some people and sources call this a "bevel," but a bevel is defined as simply the slant of a line. It doesn't apply because not all knife blades have linear, slanted, flat lines that create the cutting edge, but all of them are ground. So modern knifemakers call this a "grind."

The grind of a knife is extremely important to the chef's knife. If the blade is thick at the spine, or back of the blade, it means that the blade is extremely strong, since a thick spine translates to high strength. Depending on the geometry, the intended use of the knife, the design, the steel choice, and the strength, the maker may choose different grinds to achieve a thin blade at the cutting edge.

The hollow grind, when well executed, creates the thinnest cutting edge that lasts the longest time, when the blade stock is thicker at the spine. When you think of the words, "razor-keen," you are undoubtedly referring to a hollow-ground straight razor of old. The hollow grind is detailed and described, and compared with flat grinds and convex grinds on my "Blades" page at this bookmark. In that section, you can easily see why a hollow grind has such longevity and thinness at the cutting edge, and why it's considered one of the best grinds. With a thicker spine, the hand can be used to apply pressure to the cut without digging into the heel of the hand.

The flat grind is also used in chef's knives, but only when the blade is very thin to begin with. In knives that are less than 1/16", (.0625", or 1.5mm) thick at the spine, a hollow grind can not be accomplished, and wouldn't be of a benefit. So these knives are typically flat ground. The flat grind is usually a long, continuous grind to the spine of the knife, without thinning the spine and weakening the blade, particularly at the blade-to-handle junction, the ricasso. One of the drawbacks for a thin, flat grind is that the thin spine can be uncomfortable to use if bearing down and applying pressure with the heel of the hand. So flat-ground knives are not typically used for this.

Something that is usually overlooked by knife buyers that it is far easier and cheaper to flat grind a knife with automated equipment than to hollow grind and mirror finish. The same can be said of unskilled labor. A flat grind can be done completely by machines and jigs and untrained hands, but the hollow grind can not be, particularly when both types of grinds are finely finished. Any machine can do an initial rough grind, but not a finished grind. Without going into technical specifics, I'll say simply that machine finishes of flat grinds are simpler and cheaper, and manufacturers know this, and extensively hype flat knives to keep their manufacturing costs low. Consider this: there are several firms that sell blade stock pre-ground into flat beveled shapes to further cheapen the manufacturing process. Also, a very thin piece of steel is cheaper overall, so the investment in materials by the manufactures is lower.

A flat grind often has a problem of foodstuffs stick to the flat side of the blade because of surface tension, and the hollow grind can allow air to come between the steel and the material being cut, allowing a cleaner release. Addition of milled holes, slots, and surface texture may help both knives.

In either case, the purpose of the grind is to thin the metal blade so that a fine cutting edge can be created by hand-sharpening. If a blade is too thick, the knife user will often tilt up the spine of the blade when sharpening on a stone, creating a less than optimum angle that does not aid in slicing. A thin blade grind, a low angle sharpening, and very good blade steel properly treated will offer the very best performance.

Both hollow grinds and flat grinds have their place, some of my clients request both.

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"Chef's Set" Concordia, Conditor, Consus, obverse side view in CPM154CM stainless steel blades, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Petrified Palm Wood gemstone handles
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Blade Hardness

In most applications, the chef's knife blade must be hard. In knives, the term hard is a not a generalized description, but a specific number (Rockwell), based on the ability of a diamond or carbide point to penetrate the steel when pressure is applied by a calibrated, scientific instrument called a hardness penetration tester. Details about this process are on my Blades page at this bookmark. When a knife of fine tool steel is properly heat treated and hardened, the high hardness translates to increased wear resistance. If the heat treating and cryogenic processing is performed in-house under the maker's control, he can assure that the proper hardness (and wear resistance) will exist throughout the blade's geometry, and that repeated sharpenings will always yield a hard and wear-resistant cutting edge.

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. Like a spring, they will flex, but not break. But they will dull quickly, and are usually left and used dull, or constantly beg steeling to sharpen. While this type of knife is one that requires frequent honing on a steel, a hard knife will be wear-resistant and hold an edge longer, require markedly less sharpening, and therefore last many, many years longer, even for generations!

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"Chef's Set" "La Cocina" in 440C high chromium stainless steel blades, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Larvikite (Blue Pearl Granite) gemstone handles, block of Pecan, American Black Walnut, Blue Pearl Granite
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Blade Temper and Toughness

The chef's knife blade must be tough. Toughness is resistance to breakage, or literally, the ability of the crystalline structure of the steel to be ripped apart from itself which is a fracture. For a knife to be tough, it has to be tempered back from full hardness, but tempering a knife back can reduce the hardness and wear resistance. This is another reason for a careful steel choice and accurate heat treating. Only high alloy steels are capable of being both very hard and very tough when properly heat treated and tempered. This is also a reason for the heat treating to be performed in-house at the knife maker's studio, shop, or establishment. That way, the temper of the knife is created by the maker to his standards, for the specific knife requirements, and accurately tested with calibrated instrumentation for certainty. Factories and manufacturers usually temper a blade way back, into the realm of softness and flexibility. They want the blade springy, so that if it is somehow bent severely, it will not snap.

What experienced chef would ever bend a knife this way? He would know better, so the reason this is done is for the general public. The price of having a springy, bendy knife is loss of hardness and wear resistance. This translates to frequent steeling, a short blade life, and an inferior edge.

Some blades are designed with a bit of flexibility. Boning knives and fillet knives are sometimes created this way so that they can form to the cut using the force of the hand through the meat. Proper deep thermal cycling in the heat treating and tempering process can yield the blade that has limited flexion, while maintaining high wear resistance.

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Fine Chef's Knife: "Hestia" 440c high chromium stainless steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Amethyst gemstone handle, walnut, Amethyst, black galaxy granite base
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Blade Shape and Type

There are a bewildering number of blade shapes for chef's knives, and this is a good thing. Every task in the kitchen is different, and every chef is different, so it makes sense to offer a variety of knives to the chef. In fact, the chef is the one type of client I have that requires many knives of different designs, suited to his own personal preference, style, and passion.

While a factory and many other makers only offer a small group of similar knives based on their limited manufacturing ability, a true custom knife maker will offer a wide, ever-growing assortment of knife blade shapes. There simply is no singular knife for all tasks and requirements in the modern kitchen and the maker should work with the chef to build a knife to his specific personal needs. This is why I have over 450 different patterns of knife, and add new patterns in every batch. Where will you go to see that many patterns or have custom designed the knife of your choosing and particular needs? This is the realm of an experienced custom knife maker alone.

The neat thing is that as the field grows, so does client and chef's input. While chefs do not have any say in what knives are offered by factories and most other makers, a true custom knifemaker will work with their clients to get them the type of knife they desire. In blade steels, the custom knifemaker is the singular person who can and should answer any question the chef has about his blade steel choice.

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"Nereid" obverse side view in 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Fossilized Crinoid Marble gemstone handle, brown Stingray skin inlaid in hand-carved leather sheath
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Blade Finish

The chef's knife must be kept clean, and be able to be kept clean. You understand by now how standard carbon steels can corrode, rust, and pit, eating away the metal on the cutting edge and on the surface of the steel. These same steels can corrode underneath the bolsters, guard, ferrules, fittings, and handle material: unseen, until an absolute failure of the knife blade, tang, or handle.

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. Most people think that this is done to show some hand-crafted nature of the piece, giving it a primitive look, linking it in concept to some ancient master toiling away at his bellows and coal forge high in the mountains of east Asia (or Appalachia).

The reality is quite different and frankly, sad. This type of primitive finishing is fast, easy, and requires no skill whatsoever to do, and is simply a cost-cutting measure for the knifemaker or factory and of no benefit to the knife owner. The whole idea of making a knife look crude and "handmade" by beating the surface with a hammer is prevalent in mass-manufactured Japanese knives. The huge and looming problem is that these are dirty finishes, they trap and hide moisture, grease, bacteria, foodstuffs, fungus, molds, viruses, and all sorts of nasty things you don't want on your knife blade, and ultimately, in your salad.

A chef's knife has to be able to be cleaned and kept clean. Though a mirror finish on the blade is best, a fine satin finish will also provide a smooth, cleanable surface that prevents or inhibits bacterial and other growth. Why do you think that professional counters, pots, pans, implements, tools, and objects in the restaurant and medical field have satiny smooth and cleanly mirror or polished finished surfaces? You've got to be able to clean them, that's why. This is the same reason that medical equipment is clean, smooth stainless steel.

While a primitive look may go well when hung on a wall as part of a crusty, primal decoration, it does not serve the chef where he preps, cooks, and serves.

Another consideration is fracture. Metallurgists, machinists, engineers, and scientists know well that all fractures start from surface imperfections. Why saddle a client and chef with a steel that starts out with surface defects that can encourage this?

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"Vega" Master Chef's Knife obverse side view: 440c high chromium stainless steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Larvikite (Blue Pearl granite) gemstone handle, kydex, nickel plated steel slip sheath
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Longevity

Endurance of the chef's knife or well-made kitchen knife blade is paramount. Please consider this: the chef's knife sees the longest, most active, most continuous and regular use of any knife made for individual use. There are industrial knives that don't see as much use as the common kitchen knife. The person who is an established chef, whether as a hobby, interest, or vocation will use this type of knife daily, with little exception. Imagine any other sort of tool or instrument that is used daily. Wouldn't it be built to the highest standards that the user can afford? Would not the longevity of the knife be a significant, determinant factor in the knife design, style, and purchase?

Blade Grind Longevity: In blades, the most important geometric attribute to the longevity of the fine chef's or kitchen knife is the grind. This is called a bevel in the common hobbyist terms, but make no mistake; it is a grind. Most manufactured and most handmade chef's knives are flat ground. This is necessary on only very thin blades, as detailed above. Flat grinding means that the cross sectional geometry dictates that as the knife is sharpened, it will become thicker. You can not ignore the fact that every knife must be sharpened over the course of its life, and, as stated earlier, this type of knife sees the most daily use. In order to be significantly thin after repeated sharpenings, a hollow grind is the best for knives over 1/16" thick, and a flat grind (taper grind) for knives less than 1/16" thick. You can clearly understand the reason for this as you look at the grind geometry profiles on my blades page and note the relief face widths and blade thicknesses after repeated sharpenings.

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 (and all manufacturers). No matter how the grind is performed, a thin, long-time, thin serviceable edge is the goal. Sharpening is the only function that the knife owner or chef will perform himself, and to do so, a thin, functional grind is necessary.

Steel Type Longevity: Another important factor for knife blade endurance in the chef's knife is the steel type. Carbon steels are out as they rust and corrode, shortening the life of every chef's knife. Stainless steels like 420 stainless are bad choices, even though 420 is the mainstay of nearly all chef's knives in the modern world! This is because 420 stainless, no matter how it's heat treated and processed, can only be 52 HRC in hardness. This is softer than a sewing needle, and softer than a wood cutting saw. It's so soft that, in order to be sharp, the steel must be continually sharpened, wearing away the steel at an extremely high rate. This "planned obsolescence" is great for the company that plans to sell you another knife set.

The best knives are built to last for generations. You won't live long enough to wear out a truly fine blade made with modern steel and methods, and will be handing the heirloom down to your grandchildren.

The finish longevity is a serious concern for the modern fine chef's knife. As detailed above, rough or coarse finishes are out, as they will hold moisture, grease, debris, foodstuffs, and bacteria. A fine finish will last a very long time, will resist corrosion, repel moisture, release foodstuffs, and facilitate easy cleaning. This will contribute greatly to the longevity of the knife blade. The very best finishes have always been and will continue to be mirror polishes. This is also the most difficult finish to achieve. Which is why you'll never see it on lesser knives.

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"Sirona" chef's knife, obverse side view in mirror polished 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Green Orbicular Agate gemstone handle, slip sheath in kydex and 304 stainless steel fasteners
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Chef's Knives Fittings

The fittings of a fine chef's or kitchen knife consist of the bolsters, pins, ferrules, guards, pommels, and other fastening agents or mechanisms that mount and solidify the handles, strengthen the blade to handle junction, and protect the vulnerable parts of the knife and handle. They can also create or enhance grip areas, aid in corrosion prevention and create easy maintenance and cleaning. Some fittings allow areas for embellishment, personalization, and distinction.

  • Materials: Only the highest corrosion resistant materials should be used for fittings for the fine chef's knives. Some metals, like brass and copper not only can corrode, but also can impart an odor that may end up in the food. Nickel silver is probably a limited choice also, because if you are cooking for the public, you should remember that some people are allergic to nickel. Copper, though traditional in some kitchens for pots or fittings, will tarnish and discolor, and must be continuously maintained. Even though I don't recommend these metals, once in a while a client specifically requests them. As long as they know that it will take daily polishing and meticulous care to keep them maintained, I'll use them by special request. Normally, I use 304 austenitic stainless steel, the same stainless steel that is used to make fine cookware, medical equipment, and high strength nuts, bolts, and fasteners. Other makers usually use 400 series stainless steels, like 410, and their choice to do so is one of ease in machining, and not of real value to the knife owner. Just know that 410 stainless steel is the easiest to machine and this is why it's used (more on 410 stainless steel). Many of these steels have more sulfur than 300 series steels, added to make the steel more machinable which also imparts a bit of a yellowish cast, not the bright bluish chromium, and many of them do not reach the toughness and durability of 304 austenitic stainless steel. 304 is also much more corrosion resistant than the 400 series. 400 series stainless steels do not reach their full corrosion resistance until fully heat treated and hardened, something that is never done. More about these materials is detailed on my Handles, Bolsters, and Guards page.
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  • Shape and Contouring: The best knives have contoured fittings. In manufactured and poorly made knives, the front bolster face is often simply left flat, or sharply angled, or abruptly machined. This shows a lack of care while cheapening the manufacturing process. Chef's knives have to be able to be cleaned and abrupt, coarse, or unfinished surfaces here will make the knife harder to clean and foodstuffs will lodge and cling there. Around the finger placement of the front bolster should be well contoured, rounded, and comfortable. The human hand is rounded and made of soft and sensitive tissues, and any sharp, cornered, abrupt, angled machining in the bolster areas will cause discomfort and possibly chafing. On a knife used only occasionally this might be overlooked, but a chef's knife will see daily, sometimes heavy use, and it needs to be comfortable, particularly where the fingers bear down on the bolster to apply pressure (assuming the knife is bolstered at all!). The heel of the palm will also bear on the butt of the handle, and a sharp, straight, square, cornered, or ill-finished rear bolster or butt will not be comfortable in the hand.
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  • Importance of Bolsters: Bolsters are important! They strengthen the handle to blade junction, offer a surface to bear for the fingers and thumb, support and protect the butt of the handle, bed and solidify the handle scales, and can mean the difference between a knife lasting a few years or for generations. Integral bolsters are inferior, mostly because of corrosion. Even the highest chromium, most corrosion-resistant blade steel can rust, because there is no rust proof, completely corrosion-resistant stainless tool steel. So to make the bolsters out of the same material as the blade means they will have the same reduced corrosion resistance. The only way to increase the corrosion resistance somewhat on the integral bolster is to harden it to its highest hardness, but this is never done because the blade must be tempered back for the proper temper or toughness. Even if it were hardened, the integral bolster can never reach the high corrosion resistance of 304 austenitic high nickel, high chromium stainless steel, which will simply last indefinitely with zero care with zero concern for corrosion. Why are integral bolsters touted? It is an artifact of machining cost. It's cheaper to machine a bolster into the blade stock with a computer numerical control milling machine (CNC Mill) than to hand-cut, shape, pre-finish, drill, mount, contour, shape, and finish the small pieces of metal that will become attached bolsters. Attached bolsters are also tougher, that is, they are more resistant to breakage than the blade. Attached bolsters can also offer an improved area for embellishment, which is not possible after an integral bolstered knife is hardened and tempered. More about bolsters.
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  • Importance of Ferrules: On hidden tang knives, ferrules should be used. This is one of my main complaints about the popular Japanese knives. A hidden tang is the handle that has a reduced shaft of metal (tang) that is mounted, pinned, or glued through the handle material which is drilled out. On cheap knives, the ends of the handle material is simply unprotected. When the knife handle is made of wood, this is the end grain, and the end grain is always more absorptive than the sides of the handle. So moisture wicks and infiltrates there and the handle swells. Eventually, the handle splits at the end grain, either at the ricasso and shoulders or at the butt. The handle then comes off. Even if the handle material is sealed, stabilized, or made of material that can not absorb moisture and contaminants, without ferrules the handle ends and tang are unprotected from chipping, abrasion, wear, and damage. Moisture will still be able to infiltrate the union between the tang and the handle material. Why make the knife this way? It's cheap. You'll read that it's traditional, but how good is the tradition that shortens the life of a knife? Metal ferrules (Latin for little bracelet), when well made, surround the end grain of the handle, support and protect the ends of the knife handle not only from moisture and contaminants, but also from abrasion and impact. They also make the hidden tang knife handle much easier to clean, and keep it cleaner by preventing moisture, fluids, or foodstuffs from entering the critical junction of the tang and handle materials. They can also add weight to the pommel end and help to balance a large-bladed knife. They should be sealed and permanent, and soldered to the blade shoulders to absolutely seal the area. They can also serve to create a guard or increased diameter that prevents the hand from sliding forward onto the cutting edge.
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  • Mounting Methods and Sealing: I mount my bolsters with zero clearance pins, securely peened. They will not, can not, ever come off, loosen, or move. They are sealed between the tang and handle scales with jeweler's quality bedding compounds, and ferrule-guards are soldered with corrosion resistant, lead-free solder. The fittings are mechanically and adhesively secure. In over 30 years of making, I've never had a knife fitting fail. Pins and attachment methods vary greatly in this industry, and it is common to see most manufactured full tang handle scales mounted with large, flat, and often soft rivets. This is simply a cheap and fast method of mounting knife handle scales. A large rivet or screw through the handle scale cuts away a significant portion of the scale, which will eventually lead to cracking between the large rivet and the edge of the scale. Most of us have seen old knives handled this way and notice loose, even sloppy handle mounts. The same can be said for large diameter mosaic pins. While once unique and interesting, these pins are now common and cheap, no matter what "mind, body, and spirit" mystical meaning is assigned to them. They are large in diameter, and often made of easily corroded and soft materials like brass, copper, and aluminum. Just like the large rivets or screws mentioned above, mounting them requires large portions of the handle scale material to be cut away, weakening the handle scales. On hidden tang knives, I always use full length tangs with threaded pommels. I've seen many knives (and most Japanese knives) that have rabbeted tangs. This is the method of cheap and fast manufacturing construction, not one of any benefit to the knife user. Called a blind tang, the tang is a reduced piece of metal that only runs half (or less) the length of the handle. They drill a short hole and notch the tang so that glue will fill the spaces and then simply glue the handle on. This is very weak, in fact, this is the weakest handle mounting method known or ever devised in the history of knives. This is no way to make a fine chef's knife, yet is the common practice. The next step up from that is the pinned rabbeted tang, where a single pin is drilled through the tang and handle near the end of the tang. You'll note this mounting method by the single pin. Though better than the glued blind tang, this is still a weak method of handle attachment. My way, and the best way to mount the hidden tang handle is to drill all the way through the handle material, thread the tang itself at the butt, and mount a threaded, solid pommel that pulls the entire handle together. The best hidden tang knife handles have tangs that are made of metals that differ from the blade stock, so they are tougher, less brittle, and even more corrosion resistant than the blade (such as 304 stainless steel). These metals have to be welded to the blade tang in a high purity controlled process, and they have to be fully annealed for maximum toughness. The entire assembly is filled with jeweler's quality bedding compounds for the greatest moisture resistance, impermeability, longevity, and solidity.
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  • Strength of the fittings is important. Metals like aluminum, brass, and carbon steels should be avoided in knife fittings of chef's and culinary knives. The mechanical arrangement of the fittings should increase the solidity of the handle and fittings, not decrease it. On hidden tang knives, significant tangs should be supported by wide shoulder areas at the ricasso. Any welds or reduction of blade thickness, width, or dimension should be accompanied by annealing for maximum toughness, thus maximum fracture resistance. Fittings should be substantial, should add mechanical strength and advantage, and should be adhesively as well as mechanically bonded for permanence. All of my knives are made this way.
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  • Fit of the fittings and handle should be extremely tight. This is probably the most noticeable factor in inferior knives. It is difficult to achieve fine fit: where there are no gaps to be seen in any material unions anywhere on the knife. This seamless construction takes many years to master, and it can be noticed even by an untrained eye. It is critical to have excellent fit for several reasons. A tight fit of components assures that the junction between them is well-sealed and solid. This will prevent moisture and fluids from entering these seams and causing corrosion or even failure of the knife. The tight fit also allows a minimum of bedding compounds filling any void, and this strengthens the handle. If these areas only rely upon epoxides or adhesives for solidity, they will eventually fail. While having great shear strength, all of these compounds have great flexibility. Relying upon them to strengthen a seam will mean that sooner or later, through the normal movements and pressures of daily use, they will fracture or come un-bonded, creating a crack where moisture can enter. If the fit is extremely tight to begin with, no flexing can occur, and the knife handle and fitting area will last indefinitely. The most noticeable reason is quality. Fine fit means care and attention to detail and extremely high quality; poor fit simply means cheap and fast production.
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  • Embellishment and Personalization: Only a custom knife can be embellished, and often this is done on the fittings. Bolsters offer an area for fine embellishment, as do some guards, pommels, and even ferrules. If engraving or etching is done in these areas, it is of high importance that the fittings be made of highly corrosion resistant materials, as cuts in metal hold fluids and can promote corrosion. This is another reason to use 304 high nickel, high chromium austenitic stainless steels for the fittings. If a blade has integral bolsters, embellishment simply can't be done unless the bolsters are annealed, and that will reduce the corrosion resistance of the bolsters at the handle, exactly where you need it most!
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"Chef's Set" obverse side view in CPM154CM stainless steel blades, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Petrified Palm Wood gemstone handles, case of Pecan, Arririba, Padauk, Bloodwood, Bocote, Poplar, stainless steel
More about this Chef's Set

Chef's Knives Handles:

The chef's knife handle can be an individual affair, and I'm often asked to make very distinctive and specifically designed handles. There is a reason for this. The distinctive and well-made knife handle is what often sets the individual knife apart from every other knife in the world.

Here are some emails that illustrate one of the typical and looming issues of poorly made knives. Sadly, these knives are touted as "The Best Chef's Knives" by the factories that sell them.


Jay, I have a Sabatier boning knife with a broken 3-rivet Micarta handle. Would you give me a price for replacing the handle?
Thanks.
B. L.

Three rivets is a very poor way to mount a handle on any knife, yet you will see this over and over in all types of knives. Why are handle scales mounted this way? It's because it is cheap and fast for the manufacturer, maker, or factory. It is not because of any advantage to the owner or user of a knife. They will eventually fail.


Jay,
I saw on your page that you won't re-handle knives. That being said, and understood - I have a 5 original Hoffritz kitchen knives from the late 70's that have migrated through the family and that I absolutely love. The wood has delaminated and I am looking for them to be re-handled with manmade materials. Please advise if you would be interested in this re-handling and cleaning up the blades or if not, can you recommend someone that might be.
Thank you.
-Steve

Okay, he absolutely loves the knives except for the handles coming apart thing... If he took the same interest in a really fine knife or knives, he would be handing them down to his grandchildren with handles intact. By the way, the steel in these knives is the French version of cheap 420 series stainless steels, with a little more carbon. Boy would he be impressed with a good piece of 440C! The website for these knives claims (of course) that it is the "finest grade of cutlery steel available," which could be true if all you have available is the steel you happen to use... see how vague and misleading these claims are? Sigh...

  • Shape and Size: There are many shapes and sizes for knife handles, and the maker should work with the client to outfit the knife with the handle that suits him (or her) individually. Factories and most other makers will not do this for any client; they simply sell what they have. True customization is no better represented than in the handle. For me, it is one of the most exciting artistic and creative endeavors I accomplish, taking into consideration the desires and wishes of the client and the incredible scope of exotic, domestic, manmade, and gemstone materials available.
    • Handle shapes for chef's knives vary greatly depending on the task the knife is suited to or designed for. A large, hefty handle can balance the blade weight of a chopper, hop knife, cabbage knife, or master chef's knife; a leaner and narrower handle can offer smoother movement on a Sabatier. The bread knife handle must allow a sawing motion, a paring knife often has a shape that allows it to rest inside the palm without extending out the back of the hand. This is an individual choice and each knife and person is different. That is why I have over 450 different pattern styles, and create new ones nearly every batch.
    • The comfort factor of a chef's knife means the difference between a pleasurable experience and monotonous labor or even discomfort. A knife handle should be well-contoured, shaped and fitted to the round nature of the human hand. An typical Japanese-style octagon-shaped straight handle with abrupt corners is not comfortable, no matter how much foreign tradition and culture you try to accept. The human hand is rounded, of moveable tissues, muscle, and bone, and the knife handle is the link to the blade. The knife should feel like it belongs in the hand, and the handle not even noticed, that is, blended, bonded, molded, and formed to the shape inside the hand. Have you ever really looked at the interior grip shape of the hand? There are no square edges, no flat surfaces, no machine marks on your hand, so there shouldn't be any on the handle, either. The only way to have that is have a practiced, experienced maker craft the handle. In poorly made knives, the handle is an afterthought because all of the steps to create a finely tuned, balanced, and finished knife handle are labor intensive and take large amounts of time. So the blade is typically hyped so the knife buyer doesn't notice the poor, weak, and machine-made or poorly finished handle.
    • For individual use, the handle must suit. I offer a hand-sizing method to fit the handle to the individual hand, and have even made custom handles for people who have some limitation or disability of the hand for a custom fit. You won't get that from any factories and most other makers, as I'm committed to the individual client.

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  • Materials for knife handles abound, and the chef's knife is no different. There are some important considerations here. Since the chef's knife will encounter moisture and daily use, only materials that are up to that exposure level should be used. This requirement eliminates most of the woods, but not all. Naturally oily and self-sealing hardwoods like rosewoods, ebonies, and ironwoods are durable enough, and even some maples, fruitwoods, olive, and nut woods are up to the task. Open-grained woods like walnuts, oaks, cherry, and tropical hardwoods that have to be sealed should be avoided in the handle of chef's knives. Materials like horn, bone, and ivory are simply not suitable for any chef's knife, and it pains me to see factories and individuals offering these on kitchen, sushi, chef's, cooks, and prep knives, because in the long run, they will fail. The only exception is if they are pressure stabilized (impregnated with tens of thousands of pounds per square inch of pressure with phenolic resins), and factories do not do this. Stabilized densified laminate plywoods are a good choice for durability, and no matter what the individual company or maker calls them, they were originally created by Rutland Plywood corporation in Vermont, but now others have gotten into the act. They are dyed and layered birch stabilized with polymers, similar the old name Dymondwood. They are waterproof, and great for the chef's knife, though some of the colors are garish and even offensive (read Fuchsia). Manmade handle materials like Micarta® phenolics, G-10 fiberglass-epoxy composite laminates, and even carbon fiber reinforced polymers are up to the long-haul task of permanent, long-lasting knife handles for the chef's knife. What is not suitable and often seen in inferior knives is the manmade handle material for counter tops, named Corian, or the equivalent. This material is relatively soft, is absorptive, weakens in low heat, stains, is flexible, and is not durable. It is a cheap way to handle any knife. The same goes for acrylic and polyester, the princesses of the hobbyist knifemakers. What is the ultimate material? Why gemstone, of course; not the plastic imposters used by many foreign companies that are supposed to look like gem, but real gemstone. By the way, all of those imitations can melt, smear, abrade, dent, scratch, and even burn. Real gemstone is strikingly and uniquely beautiful, extremely durable, comfortable, solid, and smooth, a delight for the hands and eyes, and will absolutely, positively outlast the blade, fittings, and block. Stone will outlast your kitchen, your home, your life, and your future generations. It will, quite frankly, look the same a thousand years from now as the first day you put it on your counter. The very oldest of man's monuments, creations, or tools are made of stone and only stone. What other material can make that claim?
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  • Mounting Methods for full tang chef's, kitchen, sushi, and culinary knives should be carefully considered. If you see a full tang knife from the last century (and even the century before), you may notice two or three large round rivets in the center line of the handle. These are often copper, aluminum, or brass, and this is a poorly crafted handle arrangement and identifies this as a common, cheap knife. Soft metals like copper, aluminum, and brass can and will corrode, deform, oxidize, and much of this takes place where you can't see it, underneath the face of the fastener and against the tang and handle scale. This is because moisture and fluids soak into the spaces there, and are held against the fastener. The fastener will eventually fail. Failure may not be a complete fracture of the fastener allowing the handle scale to fall off the blade, but may present as a loosening of the handle scale. If the handle material moves in any way on a knife, it has failed. Moisture and fluids will continue to accumulate there, and the full, flat tang itself will corrode. That corrosion may end up in your food (yuk!), will weaken the tang and handle mounting, and will mean the loss of the knife, sooner or later. Wetting and drying of the handle area causes many materials to expand and contract with every wet/dry cycle; some materials will expand and contract with changes in temperature. Unless properly mounted and bedded, these handles will fail. Another issue is that a large portion of the handle scale is drilled away to mount the large, bulky, and voluminous rivet, screw, mosaic pin, or fastener, and this weakens the handle scale considerably. Whether wood, reinforced G10, or Micarta phenolic, removing significant portions of the scale weakens the scale. These are the reasons that on full tang knives, I use multiple zero-clearance small pins for mounting. They are made of highly corrosion resistant materials (304 stainless steel is the predominant material) and of relatively small diameter (3/32", .0938, or 2.4 mm) and multiple pins are used (usually at least six). On gemstone full tang knife handles, multiple hidden rivets, keys, and bonds that extend completely through the metal of the knife tang and into both scales secure the scales permanently in place. Multiple attachment methods help to distribute the forces that will be applied to the handle scales while preserving the scale's strength. My reasons can be thought of this way: which is more stable, a large diameter spot weld, or numerous spot welds all along a car body? The numerous welds are stronger and that is why an automobile frame is made this way. One could liken this to the way a garment is put together (with stitches vs. a few rivets), or the way the ironwork of the skyscraper is assembled (with banks of small bolts instead of a couple large ones).
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  • Mounting methods for hidden tang knife handles, are as detailed above. I always make and recommend full length hidden tangs secured with a threaded pommel. A short tang (rabbeted tang) is only held in place with glue (blind tang) or sometimes one screw or rivet and is simply a weak way to attach a handle. On any hidden tang knife handle for the chef, there has to be a metal guard or ferrule against the shoulders of the blade to physically anchor the handle material at this high-stress point. That junction has to be sealed (soldered) to prevent moisture infiltration and the shoulders at the ricasso must be sizeable enough for strength. Wide, also, must be the tang: left as wide and thick as possible for a stable, strong, and reliable handle mount. If the handle material is wood, no matter what kind, both ends of the hidden tang handle's end grain must be sealed and in my knives are typically mechanically protected with ferrules, rings, or other methods to prevent swelling and splitting at the end grain. I use highly corrosion resistant ferrules, fittings, and guards on the chef's knives to accomplish this critical task. I've seen many of the so-called finest sushi, eastern, and European knives that have no metal on the guard and butt areas of the knife handle at all! Where do you think that the handle will eventually split?
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  • Sealing and stabilization of the handle is critical to the longevity of the knife handle. Any union of dissimilar materials must be accomplished with both mechanical and adhesive methods. This means that a jeweler's quality bedding epoxy (polyepoxide thermoset) created just for these long-term exposures should be used. This is not a hardware store five minute bonder for utility repairs; what I use is an expensive, water-clear, long-term agent that has very high bond strength, attains a high hardness, never yellows, has extremely high shear strength, polishes well, and creates a permanent bond and bedding that will outlast most handle materials (except gemstone, of course, which outlasts everything including the blade). All areas of the inside of any knife handle should be bedded and bonded this way, and mine are. Where two metals meet are either welded, soldered, or physically sealed with these agents so fluids can not infiltrate. Surfaces can be naturally oily and resinous, sealed with agents, and are easy care. My chef's knives, no matter the material, can be washed, dried, and lightly waxed for luster with little other maintenance.
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  • Bedding and bonding for strength and force transfer is the trait that assures well-fitted components can transfer the forces and energy from the hand into the handle, and ultimately into the blade. A knife blade works by pressure applied through the blade and handle by the human hand. If there are voids, pockets, or spaces in any of the fittings, that area of void will not help transfer or distribute forces. When voids exist, this means that areas that are in contact will have to endure more pounds per square inch. This is the reason a rifle action is bedded to a stock, to distribute forces. With a rifle, the forces are simply an aftereffect of the shock of the shot, but in knives the forces are the main action that makes the blade work. To properly bed the handle solidifies these areas, evenly distributes forces, and increases the longevity, durability, and stability of the knife for its entire existence.
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"Dagon" fillet, boning, carving, chef's, collector's knife, obverse side view in 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Green Orbicular Jasper gemstone handle, frog skin inlaid in hand-carved leather sheath
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Accessories for the chef's knives

Accessories and accoutrements for fine chef's knives are a broad, expansive, and exciting subject. Accessories may include sheaths, slip protectors, blocks, stands, bowls, and even cutting boards exclusively made for the kitchen.

  • Sheaths and rolls for the chef's knife can be made of leather or manmade materials, just like many other knife types. One might ask why you would need a sheath for a chef's knife. The sheath protects two things: the knife, and the chef. If a knife is carried from one area to another, some means or method is necessary for this protection. While leather is a traditional material, I also use kydex to make slip sheaths for the chef's knife. Kydex is waterproof, durable, and can allow an executive chef to move his knife or knives from one location to another while protecting the cutting edges and even the handles. The cutting edges are most vulnerable to other knives, utensils, or hard objects in the kitchen. It's best to realize that the most damaging item one knife edge can contact is another knife's cutting edge, because both are hard and can abrade, scour, scratch, or dull each other. While I do not recommend long term storage of knives in sheaths or rolls, for short term storage, carry, and transport, a sheath or roll is essential. The sheath or roll should match the knife in style, function, flavor, and be commensurate with the quality of the knife, and should last for at least a generation. Learn more about sheaths on my dedicated page.
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  • Knife blocks or stands are permanent affairs, and the knife is typically stored there. There is no reason a knife block should be a boring square of wood, and some creative and appealing artistry can occur in the stand and block materials, design, construction, and finish. Please look around on this page and on my Knife Stands page for some examples. I create and build original works of display art, as well as durable and functional devices. Each one is an original piece, suited to the specific work of knife art.
  • Cases are a specialized affair, and when the highest quality chef's knives demand a very special home, a case appropriate to their storage can provide not only a storage solution, but offer a work of sculptural art in exotic and domestic woods. Fine cases for the kitchen can be a center of artwork on their own, with the beautiful addition of artistic knives resting within. All woods and fittings should be moisture resistant and fittings highly corrosion resistant for longevity. Also, cases should not rest directly on the counter, but be elevated somewhat to allow air to circulate and dry beneath and around them. See a beautiful and elegant chef's knives case here.
  • Boards are necessary and critical pieces that accompany the knife. While for many years I left the board choices to the client, I have recently reconsidered this in order to offer well-made and sound cutting boards that compliment and are commensurate with the chef's knife experience. Look for more of these to come!
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Jay,
Now that I have had the chance to use the Vega chef's knife for several weeks, I wanted to write to you and let you know how fantastic it is. First, the knife itself is a thing of beauty. The hollow grind is a work of art. The gemstone handle is stunning, the filework adds to the whole package and the finish is flawless. It is almost too pretty to use, but use it I have. The knife is large but it is so well balanced that my wrist does not fatigue even with large cooking tasks. The edge is so sharp that it glides through everything I have used it on. I look forward now even to what were formerly mundane chopping tasks. Dicing onions can become the highlight of my day! I have many knives that I do not use ("collector's pieces"), but it is so much more rewarding to develop a working relationship with a fine blade.; I can't tell you how pleased I am. I am looking forward to getting my Cyele. You are a master craftsman.

Thanks,
D. E.


"Cyele" obverse side view in 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, nickel silver bolsters, ivory micarta phenolic handle, kydex, nickel plated steel slip sheath
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Why do you have those crazy serrations on your bread knives?

If you look long enough at this page, you'll be able to spot my bread knives by the serrations on the blade. This type of serration has evolved in my own work and from use and customer feedback over the decades. The shape of the blade is specifically suited to penetrate hard crusted loaves, yet cut through soft bread with a minimum of tearing. Bread is especially difficult to slice, because of the differing hardness of in the loaf. If a knife edge were super-thin and smooth, it would be perfect for cutting thin slices of the softer parts (like a scalpel), but would merely glide over the hard and sometimes tough crust. Add nuts or other hard or tough material to the loaf, and the task becomes even more difficult. The shape of these arcing theatre curtain serrations creates enough localized pressure to penetrate the crusts, and offer enough angled edges to slice inside the softer parts. The edge is hand cut and extremely thin, sharp and keen all along the serration curves. The feedback from these knives has been great. You won't see this much on factory knives, as the blade shape and grind can only usually be hand-made and must be hand-sharpened. Factories are only interested in serrations that can be milled on automated machinery, thus the frequent appearance of small, machine-cut teeth to create a more aggressive cutting edge. Factory serrations created this way will tear through most breads creating plenty of crumbs. Great for the knife manufacturer, not so great for performance.

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Saussure master chef's knife and Sasserides bread knife, obverse side view in 440C high chromium stainless steel blades, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Australian Tiger Iron gemstone handles
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Why do you have holes in some of these knife blades?

On some of my larger chef's knives: master knives like the Saussure and the Vega, you'll see an arrangement of holes through the blades. These have several purposes. The first is to create a means of breaking the surface tension (some call it vacuum) that happens when cutting wet vegetables, fruits, and some meats. You've no doubt experienced this problem and had to take the time to drag the flat part of the blade over the edge of the cutting board, or bowl or even use your fingers to clear the blade. This is never a good idea, because dragging the blade over the corner of anything can mar, scuff, or scratch the finished surface of the blade or the object, and the cutting edge can slice into the bowl, board, or pan. Obviously, the fingers should keep clear of the razor-keen chef's knife's cutting edge, unless you want some personal flesh in the recipe!

Other makers (mostly factories) grind a series of gouges in the blade surface to do the same thing (clear the blade). They do it with coarse grinders, and the gouges are rough and ugly. The modern factory Santoku is usually made this way.

By drilling and milling (rather than grinding) several advantages are noticed. First, the additional milling has removed unnecessary material and significantly lightened a thicker blade without sacrificing the great strength of this type of blade.  Secondly, the release of clinging foodstuffs is easier, as a hole completely through the blade allows air to break the tension. Thirdly, the decorative and custom aspects of the knife are exhibited.

The reason you seldom see holes through the blades of factory knives and other handmade knives is that the steps of drilling and/or milling these holes is an additional production step requiring layout, tool work, machinery, time, and stress relieving process in the heat treat to make sure that the integrity of the blade is sound. Most factories take the why bother approach, and eliminate this step altogether. They still recognize the clinging problem and choose to assign the task of gouging some repeating grooves in the blade surface as a cheaper and simpler approach. By the way, these gouges do not work very well, because they are not deep enough or abruptly machined at the surface (simply lightly ground) and do not release foods as well. Since the factory gouges are washed over along with the blade by surface conditioning abrasive wheels (like Scotch-Brite), they have soft and non-abrupt edges and do not always release soft foodstuffs well.

The one concern I hear is that with holes through the blades, the chef will have trouble cleaning them. One wonders what the chef might encounter that would be difficult to remove from the blade, as most of these knives only require a simple rinsing to clean. Sticky dried fruits would come to mind. Raisins, dates, figs, dried apricots, peaches, and tamarind might cause a problem here if they are forced into these holes. But what are you doing cutting fruits with a master chef's knife like this anyway, and how are those materials forced into the holes? The knife used for cutting fruits should be a fruit knife, like my very popular La Cocina knife design seen all over this page. Thankfully, I do not mill holes in the La Cocina blade, so this is not a problem. When the master chef's knife has milled holes in the blade, all that is required is a rinsing after use. The mindful chef would be doing that anyway in the typical care regime for his blade.

All chefs are different, and I get plenty of requests for milled blades as well as blades that are not milled, drilled gouged, or textured. This is a custom affair, and I make the knife the way the client wants it.

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"Saussure" master chef's knife, obverse side view in 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Argentina Agate gemstone handle, Ostrich leg skin inlaid in hand-carved leather sheath
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'Saussure' has been in my proud, but somewhat startled hands for over a week now. I really did not expect to own a Jay Fisher knife so soon.

In the brief time that I have owned this knife I have done everything from chopping pork ribs & butterflying a leg of lamb to Julienning carrots & chopping coriander (that's cilantro to you, Jay). Seriously, this knife is excellent. It fits my hand like a well designed tool should and it is always beautifully cool to pick up out of the stand. The control that I have using the standard cutting grip is wonderful and when I move my hand forward into a pinch grip to chop herbs or mince garlic... superb. That extended front bolster should be patented and made compulsory on all chef's knives.

Oh, and did I mention that it is absolutely beautiful to look at? Gorgeous, simply stunning. Sometimes I just pick it up to look at it, to feel it in my hand, even when there's no cooking or food prep involved!

All in all, a piece of functional artistry. No, that's wrong - many artistries - knife work, lapidary, leatherwork, carpentry. They all come together in this wonderful, beautiful, wickedly sharp tool.

Thank you, Jay.
--J.C.


What about longevity, finish, and service in a fine custom knife?

What kind of knife does Jay Fisher use in his kitchen?

From my email response to a client in January 2007, who wondered how his knife might look after use:

I took my favorite chef's knife out of my kitchen, the one I used this weekend to prepare a huge stir fry with chicken, a whole Napa cabbage, garlic, onions, cilantro, Chinese black mushrooms, ginger, broccoli, and spices for my wife and I and one of our children visiting with the grandkids. This very same knife has been used to prepare countless meals for years, no, actually for decades. I built this knife in 1987. My Chef's knife after 20 years of service. 440C high chromium hollow ground stainless steel, nickel silver bolsters, Honduras Rosewood handle

What a main kitchen knife goes through in 20 years is sometimes hard to imagine. I've open packages, chopped frozen meats, hit bone and pounded it through dry galangal root, the knife has been washed a thousand times, been wet for far too long, been scrubbed, even with abrasive cleaners by visiting chefs or the unannointed, used and abused. I sharpen it every year or two, which doesn't take long because it's incredibly thin, and I keep promising myself I'll make another, one with a more sturdy handle, but my cooking hasn't suffered from not doing so. I'll probably continue to use it another 20 years. Scuffed and scratched finish on 20 year old chef's knife

The finish on the 440C was mirror when it was new, but it has attained a scuffed appearance that reminds me just how much I depend on it. Even though it's a bit foggy and scratched, it is incredibly easy to clean after all this time; just a rinse is all that's usually required. I don't oil it, wax it, or care for it in any other way than rinsing after using, and the steel shows not a trace of any discoloration or blemish. This knife blade will literally outlast me, and my heirs.

The wood is Honduran Rosewood burl, it's cracked in several places (wood, not stone), and has shrunk a bit, but is still firmly attached. This is a hard working knife + 20 yrs. I thought you'd like to know just how it has fared.

Cook well, my friend, eat healthy, and live long!

--Jay

Now, I'm writing this in 2017; another decade has passed, and the knife is still working hard, looking good, and doing the job. 30 years and still counting...

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"Vega" Master Chef's Knife obverse side view: 440c high chromium stainless steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Larvikite (Blue Pearl) granite gemstone handle, kydex, nickel plated steel slip sheath
More about this Vega

Mr. Fisher,
It is a honor to have the knife featured on your home page. Brought the knife to the restaurant today for its inauguration, had one of my vendors deliver a case of cabbage just for the occasion.
The knife is truly perfect; the Sabatier's, Tichet's and Henckels I own couldn't hold a candle to Andrimne. I am still amazed I own such a knife.
Thank you again for everything. Best to you and your family, I will be in touch in the future.

Sincerely,
C.G.


"Andrimne" Chef's Master Knife, obverse side view in 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, 304 stainless steel guard ferrule and pommel ferrule, Peach hardwood turned handle, hand-stamped, hand-laced leather sheath

What about gemstone on chef's knives?

Just like most of my other gemstone handled knives, I receive a lot of questions about the use of gemstone for custom knife handles. People have concerns. Are they slippery, are they durable, are they expensive? Why would one use gemstones, when no one else does? I'll will answer all those questions in this section.

Reasons: Probably the main reasons for using gemstone in the construction of a chef's knife handle are beauty, originality, and value. Because the materials, effort, and skill required to mount and finish gemstone on a knife tang are rare and difficult, gemstone is seldom used in any knife handle. Therein also lies the value. Nothing synthetic has the appearance and beauty of gemstone, and each piece is unique. Wood also pales in comparison to gemstone. The investment value of a gemstone handled knife always increases at a greater rate than knives handled with more common materials. So, beauty, originality, and long term value are the major reasons I use gemstone on my finer knives, including chef's knives.

Economy is not a reason to use gemstone on the handmade or custom knife. It is not cheap to acquire, work, construct, and finish gemstone, and this is the reason you don't see more of it used in the larger knife world. Specialized equipment and practiced skill are required to properly fit and finish gem, and few artists and craftsmen have the background or practice of a lapidary and knife maker. If you're looking for an economical or cheap chef's knife, you're in the wrong place at any custom knife maker's web site. Gemstone handled knives may raise the quote for each knife from $300 to $1000, depending on the gemstone used. Some gemstone (like fine Lapis and Pietersite) may add thousands of dollars to the cost of one knife.

Mounting: Though you may see pins used to mount many knife handles, you'll seldom see them used in gemstone handled knives. Pins are necessary to stabilize and support wood, horn, bone, and ivory handles, as they have a large propensity to move, expand and contract, absorb moisture and dry, shrink and swell, work loose from the knife tang, and crack. This may allow moisture to accumulate and remain between the handle material and the tang, further accelerating corrosion, perhaps even allowing the entire tang to crack, snap, and fail. Gemstones are mounted in a different fashion; they use hidden pins or mounts, and are bedded to the handle somewhat like a fine gun action is fitted and mounted to a stock. In an effort to display the gemstone faces completely, pins seldom are brought completely through to the surface of the stone. The bedding allows a sealed joint between the tang, bolsters, and the gem material, and since the gemstone does not expand and contract or react to moisture or contaminants, security and longevity is assured. In the several thousand gemstone handled knives I've made, I've never had one of my standard gem mounts fail. Many of these knives have been in daily use for decades.

Grip security may be an issue on chef's knives, as hands may often be wet. Gemstones are usually smoothly polished, so it would seem that the handle might be slippery when wet. Of course, most other finished handles are also finely and smoothly finished, including plastics, hardwoods, and metals. Though there are some materials that get tacky when moist, they are few. So if the issue of grip security is so large, why is it that the industrial standard for knife handles is a smooth finish? With a rough surface, you face the possibility of skin irritation and abrasion on any type of handle material. If you use a knife for twenty minutes a day (a very long time for the home chef), you probably wouldn't notice the roughly finished handle irritating your skin. But if you are a professional chef who may work with a knife in his hand for several hours a day, you will suffer the consequences and pain of a poor finish and a rough surface texture. I discuss in depth on my Military Combat and Tactical Knife page surface texture verses handle shape, and illuminate why the shape of the handle is more important to grip security than the surface texture.

Many people who ask about slippery knife handle grips refer directly to chicken, and sometimes to fish. Good chefs know well how to handle these two meats and don't complain of slippery hands. How do they do this? First, they handle them carefully. Chicken and fish are best prepped when very cool, even frosty, and they can be sliced with greater accuracy and control. Additionally, good work technique with any knife is key. The hand that is gripping the knife or utensil handle is not the hand that manipulates the food on the board, and thus, the hand gripping the tool is not in contact with the food or slimy. The ingredients are then scooped or scraped into the dish or pan with the knife. Of course, this is prep 101 for most people who are looking at these fine custom and handmade chef's knives.

You can read more details and see many examples of gemstone handled knives on my Gemstone Knife Handles Page. There are more details about Knife Handles, Fittings, Bolsters, and Guards in general on this page.

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Dear Jay - just a short note to let you know that my Cyele arrived yesterday and I put her right to work prepping dinner.

My initial impression is one of lovely lines, nice balance, and great artistry in her design and fine craftsmanship in execution. I own a number of custom kitchen blades, and your Cyele is a standout in every respect.

Many thanks, Jay - and my deepest appreciation for your skill.
--Doug Cremer


"Chef's Set" knife group, in hollow ground mirror polished 440C high chromium stainless steel blades, hand-engraved 304 stainless steel bolsters, scapolite in sodalite gemstone handles, stand of gemstone, rock maple, paduk hardwood
More about this Chef's Set
"Concordia" fine master chef's knife, obverse side view in CPM154CM high molybdenum powder metal technology tool steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Brecciated African Jasper gemstone handle, chef's roll case in latigo side leather and leather shoulder, hand-tooled, hand stitched with stainless steel snaps
More about this "Concordia"

What about construction of Chef's knives and bacteria?
You won't find any tools in the operating room that are not stainless steel.

Occasionally, I get asked about the construction method of my (and other) kitchen and chef's knives and the possibility of trapping bacteria and contaminating food. This is a hot topic on many people's minds, one that is regularly covered in the morning network television shows, particularly if they have no other worthy news. I always know when things are going relatively well, because the television networks start the "germs on your kitchen counter and cutting boards" segments. They'll make a great show of swabbing various areas and growing cultures in Petri dishes to illustrate the dangers of bacteria in our homes. As always, fear sells best, and they have done their research to know just what you might respond to in the face of fear. It's important to note that the main commodity they are selling in the advertising of these programs is soap, cleaners, and disinfectants. I hope you recognize the process.

No one likes bacteria, though we could not live without them. No one likes a dirty or contaminated kitchen, utensils, implements, or hardware. So where does the knife construction come into play in this discussion?

Most people who ask about contamination and trapping bacteria are concerned about pockets, voids, recesses, joints, and shapes of the modern chef's knife, and the possibility of those areas trapping and holding debris that will foster bacterial growth. They may even claim that integral or one-piece knives are superior than bolstered and handled knives because there are no voids or seams. This would be a worthwhile argument if these tools were being used to perform surgery in a sterile operating room, but, after all, this is a kitchen. Here are some points to consider:

  • All surfaces can become hosts to bacteria; no surface can be completely sterile unless it is autoclaved before and after every use. Please consider your cutting boards, pots and pans, bowls, plates, silverware, countertops, plastic storage containers, refrigerator doors, drawers, and surfaces, and all of the surfaces that lead to the kitchen tasks of prepping a meal. Consider the sink area, which remains damp, the handles of the faucets, the spigots, the drain board and drainer. Consider the light switch over the counter, the receptacles for the appliances, and the plugs on the cords that are inserted in them. Many of these items are never cleaned, much less decontaminated for sterility. Some of these items are permeable, or even porous.
  • Every knife, no matter the construction, can host bacterial growth if not kept reasonably clean. While there are obvious choices that would foster trapping debris (the beaten, rough, blackened, gouged and scoured primitive knife blade finish), there are choices that will make a knife blade very easy to clean and maintain (stainless tool steels, brightly satin finished or mirror polished). Please consider that in the medical field, most surfaces are smoothly finished or polished and not pitted, rough, or scoured. This is because they are easier to clean and keep clean. Note also, that they are all highly corrosion resistant. You won't find any tools in the operating room that are not stainless steel.
  • There is no knife without some type of seam, unless you are describing a solid metal knife and handle. These are heavy, uncomfortable to use, and not practical from a construction or user standpoint. If the concern for bacteria was high, this is the only knife you would see. Conversely, this type of knife handle is actually rare. Some knives along this line have hollow handles and are welded in construction, but you might consider what is trapped in that hollow void.
  • Even when the continuous metal blade and handle is used, it is often shaped at the handle with cuts and milled grooves to aid in gripping, or with rubber or plastic inserts to improve the grip. These can host bacteria as well as any other void or seam on any other knife, so there is no obvious advantage.
  • Integral knives with handle material other than solid polished stainless steel have other handle materials attached. These all have seams, potential voids to trap bacteria. It does not matter whether the handle material is synthetic, manmade, wood, horn, bone, ivory, or gemstone; whether they are ribbing, pads, or plastic inserts, all have seams or microscopic voids and can trap bacteria.
  • The knife blade itself can be a trap for bacteria. Consider carefully that damascus blade now. All those welds are seams. Microscopically, those seams can and do often have voids. Those voids can and do trap debris and can host bacterial growth.

Obviously, this could get ridiculous. If one dwells on the subject too long, he'll chance the conversion to an obsessive-compulsive personality disorder like an eccentric billionaire, confining himself to darkness in a Las Vegas penthouse and counting and arranging his peas on the plate while insulating his flesh from the world with layers of boxed tissue. Bacteria exist. Keep your home, your kitchen, and your utensils clean and dry them after use. Just to sooth your fears though, here are some points about my own knives:

  • Most of my knives are polished, which makes them easier to clean and keep clean. Polished surfaces also dry quicker. In knives that are not mirror polished, they are finely satin finished, the same finish you would encounter on a scalpel in an operating room. They are very easy to clean.
  • Many of them do not have filework, or the filework may be limited to the blade only, making them easier to clean.
  • Most gemstone is not deeply permeable, so cannot host moisture and contaminates. The same can not be said for woods, horn, bone, ivory, and (believe it or not) synthetics and plastics. But I use those materials too, if requested.
  • The fit on my knife components and handles is excellent, preventing voids or cracks at seams of different materials.
  • All of my handles are bedded and sealed with high strength, industrial jeweler's grade polyepoxide thermosets, eliminating voids.
  • The seams between the bolsters and blades are also sealed with epoxides or cyanoacrilate esters.
  • Though the blocks are wood, just like a cutting board, wood tannins are believed to inhibit bacterial growth.
  • In over thirty years of making fine knives for kitchen, chef's, prep work including hunting, field dressing, and cleaning fish in the wild, I've never heard of anyone getting sick from a knife... anyone's knife!

If you're still worried about this whole contamination thing, take a coarse bristle brush to your fingernails with a generous dose of surgeon's anti-bacteriological soap. Then do it again, and again, and again... okay, one more time to be sure-

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"Artemis" obverse side view: CPMS30V high vanadium stainless tool steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Red River Jasper gemstone handle, ostrich leg skin inlaid in hand-carved leather sheath
More about this Artemis

What about wooden, plastic, glass, and metal cutting boards?

This one has stirred up a lot of talk, and it's clear that there are distinctions and unlikely results in the testing of bacterial growth on cutting boards related to their use, environment, care, and application. If you want some high detail about this, please look up (in any search engine) the set of studies done by Dean O. Cliver, Ph.D., of UC-Davis Food Safety Laboratory. He references many other additional studies and they're fascinating and educational. For those of you who want my quick take on this, please know that this is not only an opinion of a professional knifemaker, but also a conclusion from a group of scientific studies by scientists. Please don't write me telling me I'm wrong; do your own research and see if your results differ from Dr. Cliver et al.

  • I don't recommend cutting boards of glass or metal. Sharp, hard knives can cut tiny chips of glass, glass is hard and abrasive, and will dull cutting edges. Metal cutting boards will simply dull edges.Don't use glass, ceramic, or metal: just don't.
  • Wooden boards should be close-grained woods and hard woods, like rock maple. Preferably, cutting boards should be made so that the knife blade contacts the end grain, but not always. This is because there will be less cuts and nicks in the end grain, since penetration of the end grain is less than a knife blade cutting into and along the grain when offered longitudinally. The end grain is simply harder and more durable than across or along the grain.
  • Nicks and cuts are important. In any material (wood or plastic) these cuts into the surface can and will harbor bacteria. Every cutting board will have nicks and cuts; it's simply the result of use.
  • Bacteria in the cuts in wood cutting boards do not multiply, and dry up and die. There may be many reasons for this, but eventually, the harmful bacteria (the ones we're most concerned about) do not propagate, and eventually die off. The laboratory studies have proven this.
  • Bacteria in the cuts in plastic do not die readily, and more bacteria can be harvested from plastic cutting boards than from hardwood cutting boards for a much longer period of time! The studies have proven this.
  • More illness is contributed to plastic cutting boards than wooden cutting boards, since the cuts in the plastic surface allow bacteria to thrive, and since all cutting boards will have nicks and small depressions for bacteria to lodge. By the way, these studies have shown that since the plastics cut deeper, the bacteria live longer, offering an even greater contamination risk!
  • Though studies have not absolutely confirmed this, to me It makes sense that plastic boards cannot dry out as readily, as the plastic does not absorb water, giving a supportive environment for the bacteria to survive and flourish. Wooden boards tend to wick away the moisture in order to establish equilibrium with the environment and the mass of the board. Additionally, tannins and the natural chemistry of the wood may help to eliminate bacterial growth.
  • To clean cutting boards, ALL cutting boards should be cleaned with hot, soapy water and rinsed after use, and periodically given a light wipe of bleach water, and rinsed again.
  • However, it's fascinating to know that these detailed scientific studies have shown that the effect of cleaning wooden cutting boards after every use in preparing meat was not statistically significant in the bacterial growth.
  • Shockingly, and most important, a case control study of older children and adults revealed that those using wooden cutting boards in their home kitchens were less than half as likely as average to contract salmonellosis, and those using synthetic (plastic or glass) cutting boards were about twice as likely as average to contract salmonellosis. Wow, just wow.

So, here's the grist: Try to stick with wooden cutting boards; they've been used for millennia with little effect. Clean the boards regularly (after every use) and bleach it every now and then. Coat it periodically with a mineral oil-based cutting board oil, since mineral oil will not go rancid. Make sure that after you've cut raw meats, you clean it before using it to cut food that will not be cooked. Current studies have shown that this is the best course.

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"Concordia" fine master chef's knife, obverse side view in CPM154CM high molybdenum powder metal technology tool steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Brecciated African Jasper gemstone handle, chef's roll case in latigo side leather and leather shoulder, hand-tooled, hand stitched with stainless steel snaps
More about this Concordia

Sell the blade; the handle's crap!

This subject goes hand-in-hand with the previous subject, and addresses the most prevalent knife sales practices used today to mislead, trick, and even lie about knives, all in the singular effort to get uninformed, ignorant, careless, or low information people to purchase a knife. The subject is false advertising, and it happens all the time.

There was a time when Madison Avenue advertising gimmicks were all the rage, when companies would pay large sums of money for the ad men to come up with catchy, short, punchy, and clever phrases to hawk their wares. It was like standing on a street corner, screaming at the passersby, hoping to get a little attention and have just enough of an advantage to make a potential customer (the mark) choose their brand over others. Typically, this is done with toilet paper, shaving cream, or soap, as there really is little difference in these products. They figured that if they could just plant a seed of brand name into the mark's mind, then when the mark was standing at the row of 40 different selections of the toiletry, they would simply choose what was stuck in their mind, rather than look for any real advantage or superior product or performance. This is fine for low end, similar, low cost, common everyday stuff, but how does this translate to knives?

Because most companies consider the practice of selling stuff a simple carryover from text, television, and radio an identical process on the internet, they figure the same short, punchy spew will be enough to make their mark go to the effort to buy their products. So, rather than even make an attempt to produce and offer a superior product, they come up with a gimmick, a trick, a feint, a ploy, ruse, and outright hoax to sell their knives. This happens all the time, and it's time it was stopped. Thankfully, the internet does not run on a pay-by-word or pay-by-second advertising pricing structure. The internet is so different that it is literally revolutionizing the way people buy things. The internet is doing this in a precisely opposite fashion than print or broadcast media advertising. While the other forms of advertising purposefully neglect this one factor, the internet, instead, puts it in the very forefront of consideration, and makes what was once completely unavailable to the customer the first thing the customer expects. That factor is information.

The web runs on information. In fact, it is the greatest information tool ever to exist, and it's exploding with a constant influx of knowledge, facts, points, opinions, and features. This is laying waste to other forms of advertising, and it's all because of information. No longer does a customer have to settle for a "best choice" among identical items, businesses like mine have a direct conversation with a customer to create just what they want. It's my job to answer EVERY question they may have, to give them all the information they require to help aid in their purchase, and this is the perfect medium for this. Still, companies try the quick hustle to sell their stuff, and knives are no exception to this.

Take the company that sells knives with blades made of what they call "amorphous metal alloy" knives that never corrode. Let's look into the information they don't offer to their potential marks, yes, I mean marks because they are being deceived. I'll go point by point to detail these tricks and misleading claims, and expose them for what they are. This is strictly informational, so you know from a professional knifemaker's experience how the public is duped into thinking these products are worth your money. Then, at least, you will have more information than when you started reading this section, and will likely understand the difference between solid, detailed descriptions of products and misleading, short, lacking and slippery sales advertising techniques.

They use the term "Amorphous" to describe the metal in the blade. Amorphous is a big word, but it has a simple, clear, and plain definition. It means without form. What? The definition is strictly having no determinate form, formless, shapeless, irregular shape, without developed organization, an anomalous character or form. How do I make this clear? What in the world does this have to do with a knife blade? Okay, the only possible meaning here is that the metal is of a non-crystalline form. Still, what in the world does this have to do with a knife blade? Nothing, that's what, not a thing, except a big word to assign a material to make you think it's somehow more than metal, more than other knife blades, and tempt you to buy it.

They claim that this special material (just like the special designation topic above) was "perfected in space by NASA." Wow. Really? Just what does that mean? Does NASA now manufacture knives in space? If so, this really attests to the misguided governmental organization's modern directives, as earth is a better place to make a knife due to the cost of lifting everything up there. I'm sure you're saying, "Well, Jay, you know, it's just a phrase letting you know that this material is "space age" and modern. Really? Just what is this material, and what is its origin and use? They wont' tell you on their website, no, they want to mislead, misinform, hint, suggest, and influence. Please read this section about about not revealing a knife blade steel and why it should never be omitted. So what is the material? A titanium/nickel alloy, that's what. What is that? Simple, the same as SM-100, Talonite, Stellite. These are not good materials for knife blades, and I go into great detail in the linked section describing why. But let's go on to the advertising hype to tear it apart, and try to make sense of why they're making these claims and just what the claims are. They list five reasons to purchase their knives:

  1. Stronger: They claim that their material (Titanium/Nickel) is not brittle like ceramic. Just how is that measured? Brittle? Is the word brittle a new measurement of metals listed in engineering sources? Is there an index of "brittleness?" No, this is a vague and unspecific claim, plying on the hopes that when you read the word "ceramic" you'll be thinking of your mom's china plates, and how you dropped one as a kid and watched it shatter. They don't specify what ceramic they're comparing it to, just planting the seed in your mind that ceramic is brittle and this is not. Now I will state that nickel/titanium alloys are very springy. Springy, springy, springy, detailed in that section above. In their first reason (titled "Stronger), they claim that their "edge is six to ten times more durable than steel." What? Where is the "durability" number of steel alloys? There is none. Durability is a subjective measurement, and can encompass a bewildering number of individual interpretations. It's not a word that scientists and metallurgists use in anything but a general way, but here they actually throw out a number (six to ten times) that is done to make you think that "durability" is something that can be measured! What a ploy! And what kind of edge? Edge geometry is a science in itself. To top it off, they don't even mention what steel they are comparing it to! There are literally thousands of different steels, made by thousands of different sources, with thousands of different arrangements and applications. Even the title of this "reason to buy" is a trick. What type of strength are they trying to compare? Is it tensile strength, yield strength, compressive strength, fatigue strength, or impact strength? These are specific, measurable terms that engineers use to compare materials, not simply the word "strong." They should be ashamed of this hype.
  2. Inert: They claim that because their metal is inert, there is no metal taste imparted to food. This is a good take on why you should not have and use plain carbon steel knives in the kitchen, but their statement is entirely misleading. First, there is the term inert. Let's get this clear; there are only six inert elements: helium, neon, argon, krypton, xenon, and radon. That's it. No more. Everything else can react with its surroundings and exposures. I've got acids on hand that will easily etch pure titanium, gold, and all stainless steels. However, let's forgive that ridiculous claim and hope that they just mean that the surface of the nickel/titanium will not react to most foodstuffs. Of course, they didn't use that phrase, that's not as cool as the word inert, which is, of course, misleading. So how is this  metal different than any other stainless steel used in the kitchen? Has your flatware imparted some flavor you didn't expect to your pasta? Has any stainless steel blade ever imparted metal tastes to your food? Of course not, and that is why materials like 304 stainless steel are approved by the National Sanitary Foundation for food service work and meal prep and service. Hey, so is that ceramic material supposedly inert to food. Their claim is then ho-hum,  meaning little.
  3. Impervious: They go on to claim this third major reason to buy. They claim their blade does not corrode and greatly increases the durability and longevity of the knife. Let's be clear; this is exactly the same as the previous claim, "inert." This is because any reaction with another substance (food) would be in the form of corrosion, so there's really nothing new to claim here. Just to rehash old words, they throw out "durability" again, which is subjective and pretty much meaningless, since there is no scientific measure of the subjective and relative description of durability. They throw in longevity too, but every single knife and every single piece of stainless steel flatware, even the most poorly made, has high longevity. How long does most silverware last? You'll only throw it away because it's scratched, not because you've worn down the tines of your forks and can no longer poke your pork chop! This then means that it will probably last as long as your flatware.
  4. Antibacterial: Oh, no, not the new age stuff! They go on to use the word holistic (really!) to describe the "glasslike surface that does not harbor bacteria like steel." Really? What steel in particular? I do agree that hammered, pitted, and damascus steel blades do not have a place in the kitchen because they are hard to clean, but what do you think operating room equipment is made of? Huh? It's made of stainless steel. I'll profoundly state that it does not harbor bacteria either, especially when cleaned with anti-bacterial chemicals or when it's autoclaved and sterilized. So, again, by not describing what steel is supposed to harbor bacteria, the ad copy is written to make this stuff sound superior to all steels. If their claim is true, why haven't they replaced all  operating room and medical equipment with this stuff? By golly, they could make a fortune, much more than simple kitchen knives would sell for. This, then, is a weak claim, and very similar to the two previous. By the way, do you sterilize your vegetables before you cut them up? What? No? Not very holistic, are you?
  5. Dishwasher safe: Okay, you can throw it in with your other stainless steel flatware, and clean it up. Unless, of course, you choose the wood handled model for $150 more. Then, you're back to hand-washing, or the wood will shrink and crack.

They go on with a bunch of testimonials by people who make unsubstantiated claims, innuendo, and suggestions, but offer no real substance. The knife is presented with a plastic handle, and they don't even tell you what the plastic is. They even call one plastic handle "jade," which appears to me to be a pale green acrylic or polyester. One of the most offensive comments is that this company represents "the most dramatic advancement in knife technology in 1000 years." Really? If so, why aren't all industrial cutting tools replaced by this stuff? Why aren't high pressure dies, valve seats, ball bearings, and shear blades replaced by this stuff? Why are real advances like stainless steels, high speed steels, carbides, cermets, and powder metal technology steels somehow not worthy of note, when all these steels represent actual major advances in steel and materials technology that have been proven by decades of superior performance? Why must this earth-shattering material be leaked out in relative trickles to the wannabe chef community for mediocre consumption at a couple hundred dollars a blade? With no sheath, stand, case or accessories of any kind? And a plastic handle of unknown material?

Guess what? This is a knife company that appears to have started on an internet project promotion site. You know the type: set a goal, heavy on the hype, promotion of unsubstantiated claims, a new mousetrap... and if it really was that good, you wouldn't need an internet donation fundraising campaign. Asking for donations and making misleading claims? They should be ashamed.

Make your own decision, armed with information, based in reality.

Please help to stop wives' tales, knife myths, and misconceptions in our trade through education.

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"Antheia" top to bottom: Corymbus paring, Eridanus boning and trim, Cygnus Sabatier knives in mirror polished 440C high chromium stainless steel blades
More about the knives of Antheia

Some Insight About Factory Chef's Knives

A client sent me an article clipped from the New York times about knife sharpening and the legendary skills of the Japanese in making blades and having a better cutting edge. It was the usual knife hype from a mass-market industry, and I evaluated and wrote:

Hi, B. Thanks for the article clipping. It's interesting how little people actually know about the cutting edge. There is no mystique, no legendary knife style or unique quality necessary for a very sharp, very long lasting cutting edge. It's simple, really: the blade behind the cutting edge must be as thin as possible, and the sharpening angle as low as possible. There are other considerations, of course, being the type of steel, and the geometry of the grind, and the intended use of the knife. Chef's cutlery is ground as thin as is reasonably possible. In some ways, the chef's knife is one of the toughest to make by hand, and I grind them incredibly thin. I also use a hollow grind, something you will seldom, if ever, see in a factory chef or kitchen knife. Factories flat grind the thin blades on automated machines, and though the flat grind is initially sharp, it will get much thicker with the first and successive sharpenings. I detail this on my Blades page here

When I got into knives, I looked for the ultimate resource on the cutting edge. What I found was a man who had made a living for over 35 years as a sharpening consultant to the textile and meat packing industry. Now in industry, these guys don't screw around. They don't have time for confusing and mystical gimmicks or hyperbole. They must have the sharpest cutting edges, for the longest time, with a technique that is clear, maintainable, and very sharp. If you've ever seen the "line" at a packing plant, it is an amazing thing- the people are whipping meat off the bone at an incredible pace! The knives are super-razor keen, and they wear special Kevlar or stainless steel cut-resistant gloves for protection from the blades. In textile plants, razor sharp wheels, shears, and blades cut through thousands of miles of materials, without snagging or tearing. This guy advised them on how to maintain their cutting edges. His name was John Juranitch, and he wrote a good, short, concise book on what he knew. It's called "Razor Edge Sharpening" and it's available through this link. They also sell gadgets on their site that help you maintain that sharpening angle, but I don't recommend them on a custom knife, because they clamp on to the spine of the knife and can mar the finish. But the resource and technique is worth it, and that's why I recommend Juranitch's book on every knife care sheet I supply with every knife. I can't live long enough to have the experience this man has had sharpening blades, so I use what he learned.

About the companies selling kitchen knives: these types of knives are a big volume business. They rely upon continuous sales in a pretty low end market. There is a heap of competition in what they do, so the only way they can be successful is by selling more units at a higher price than the competition. So, the industry relies upon an immense and embarrassing amount of hype. There are no 'legendary' kitchen knives, anywhere in history, no matter what they say. Here's a comparison: In the days of old, the musicians, jesters, actors, and entertainers were some of the lowest class, lowest paid, taking bones thrown from the King's court as payment for their services. Today, they are hyped by our culture and media's hunger for dollars to a point of absurd payment for their services, some have become "idols." Is their talent really that precious? Or is it a twisted part of capitalism that has somehow skewed our values? The same can be said of kitchen knives. Kitchen knives are common, mostly cheap and every household has them, but somehow these companies try to hype the quality of their cheap knives for a greater return.

Here's a prime example from the article: the difference of having a relief angle and edge on one side of the blade 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, and then hype it up as some great benefit. It makes no difference whether the compound angles come from one side or two, a low angle is possible with both methods, and thus, there is no sharper knife. What it says to me is that these Asian cutlery firms are competing with the dominant German firms for moderately priced kitchen cutlery, in a world where people are starting to realize that they don't want a "Ginsu" kitchen knife sitting on the counter of their very expensive and important kitchen. That's where fine custom knives come in. Factories can't even come close...

Want to learn more about the astounding differences between factory knives and fine handmade and custom knives? I've dedicated a special page to this topic.

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"Vitruvius-Vega" obverse side view: 440c high chromium stainless steel blade, nickel silver bolsters, Monzonite gemstone handle, kydex, nickel plated steel sheath
More about this Vitruvius-Vega

Making Chef's Knives for Professional Chefs
Consider the role a fine knife can play in your profession, passion, and career.

Evening Jay,
I wanted to give you a proper testimonial now that I've had time to use Sirona at work for a day. I couldn't wait to bring out Sirona at work, everyone noticed the shining mirror polish immediately while I was getting ready to small dice about 150 tomatoes to keep the restaurant stocked for the day. Sirona was well up to the task. The knife felt like an extension of my hand, and the extra weight also feels good, knowing that I'm not using some flimsy piece of carbon steel that I'm so used to. After seeing in person how good a knife could be, my first thought was that I can't wait to order my next two! It was a pleasure to speak with you on the phone and I look forward to doing business with you in the future.

--A.


From one professional to another, I get asked continually to make professional chef's knives for the professional chef. This is a very important service that I offer here in Enchanted Spirits Studio, one of my most important duties and skills: to be able to take another professional's design ideas and preferences and build them into the tool that he will use daily in his trade and passion. Like my combat knives, I take the commissions and trust of the professional chef seriously, building the chef the very best knives possible. A good portion of the knives you see on this page and the related pages on the site are for professional chefs.

The great thing about working with professional chefs is their ideas, input and passion for their art and craft. Since they use knives probably more than any other accomplished trade, they have a special and deep relationship with their tools. They have given me great insight over the years as to what constitutes the very best chef's knives, whether for general use or for specific tasks in the full service kitchen. These ideas, designs, patterns and features are then not only incorporated into their knives, but also offered to other clients as well, just as my combat and tactical knives benefit from the input of serious combat and rescue professionals. This relationship between the metals and tools artist and the professional who uses his knives to feed his own family through his daily passion and art is very old and honorable, and I'm proud to carry on this historic tradition.

Though there are many kitchen and chef's knives in the world, and many claim to be the top of the line, the best, and the finest, please take a very close look at those claims, the knives, and the company or person who offers them. Most of what is offered for kitchen, professional, or chef's use is clearly cheap and low grade. Even the so-called best standards of the chef's knife fare pale and wither when compared to a truly fine handmade and custom knife by an experienced craftsman with decades of practice making fine knives. The makers or manufacturers may claim superiority by nebulous historic relationships to old warriors or practices of the past or they may claim that the knives originate in the classic European guilds or locations that were once revered for the finest cutlery (but no longer exist). You may see claims of superior and yet mysterious steels and processes, but know this: most of the chef's knives and kitchen cutlery made in the world today is made in China, Taiwan, India, and Pakistan, no matter who claims to historically run the manufacturing firm. Of special interest seems to be Japanese knives, which are poorly made, stick-handled pieces of hammered plain carbon steel; the very worst type of knife for the kitchen. More on these on an upcoming page on the site.

Compare this to the artist and craftsman who works with the finest, highest alloy ultra-modern tool steels and practices, a craftsman who is responsible for every component, piece, part, operation, and interaction of the custom knife experience, and you cannot ignore the glaring truth that the very best knives made in the world are made in the modern metal artist's machine shop and studio, not in a foreign manufacturing plant. It is my goal to pull back the curtain on knives and the knife industry in very specific, clear, and definitive language, without any hype, mystery, or claims of historic relationship to once-great industries or traditions. On this very page, I go into great detail to clarify what makes a very fine knife compared to a factory or lesser knife, and it should then be clear to anyone who has read this that today, the very best knives in the world are handmade.

Sadly, many of the finest chefs in the world do not use the finest knives. Since the price of these fine knives are well within their reach, there are several reasons why they may not acquire and use the finest knives:

  • They have never seen or experienced a truly fine chef's knife. You would think that with all the knives in the world for the best chefs to try, they could have their pick of fine knives. This is not the case. Extremely fine knives are hard enough to find, and extremely fine chef's knives are even harder to find. They won't pop up in kitchen supply catalogs, on television, or even on the internet without a detailed search. They simply are very rare. They are rare because most companies and individuals who make knives are focused on one thing: volume of units. The more knives they can sell, the better. A knife making artist is focused on extremely high quality, not volume, and even if he has made thousands of knives in his career (like I have), please remember that there are millions of knives made and sold annually. The percentage of the very best chef's knives are incredibly small. I'll go so far as to say that there are many more chef's competition and cooking programs on cable than there are knife makers who make these exceptionally fine pieces.
  • Some of the best chefs use the worst sort of tools. Yes, it might hurt a bit, but it's true. I've seen these so-called best chefs whip a blade over a striated steel rod with obvious careless abandon, as if this is some great flourish before the cut. To the maker of fine knives, this is the result of years of suffering cheap, inferior knives. Only a cheap knife needs to be constantly sharpened, and even the honing steel has a specific and careful application on those cheap blades, detailed by a true expert on sharpening, John Juranitch, who quite literally wrote the definitive text on sharpening knife blades. How many of these accomplished chefs have even read the book on how to sharpen a knife? They haven't learned by watching other chef's sharpen cheap knives on a steel rod, have they?
  • Some chefs do not consider a fine knife important. To them, it is simply a tool, like a spoon, whisk, or pot. Since there are no custom handmade fine spoons, why would they be interested in a knife made this way? This is probably the saddest attitude, because it does not persist because of unavailability of the tools or ignorance of the tools, but because the tools and equipment of their trade (cooking) are simply not important to them. From a craftsman's standpoint, this is one that I can not fathom. The tools of the trade, in many ways, dictate the quality of the result of the artist's or craftsman's work. To compare, a knife maker can make a knife with a hand-drill, file, torch, and sandpaper, so why would he need anything else? It's because if professional results are expected, a professional tool set is required as well as a professional's attitude, practice, and skill using those tools is necessary.

If you are a professional chef reading this, please consider the role a fine knife or fine knives can play in your profession. If you do not order a knife from me; that's fine, but please consider getting just the knife you want from another custom knife maker who can answer your questions and build you a knife suitable for your passion, your life's work, and your career.

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The very best knives made in the world are made in the modern metal artist's machine shop and studio.
Professional Chef's Evaluations

I consider it very important to have worthwhile evaluations of chef's knives by the professionals who use them. You'll see several of those on this very page, and just below, I've included a highly detailed knife evaluation of "Cybele," a boning and fillet knife owned by Ulises Magana. He's been kind enough to give detailed points about the Cybele, and honored to consider all the specific points in upcoming projects. It's extremely important to knife makers to encourage this conversation and continue to grow in their pursuit of the ultimate professional and investment knives. Since we, as knife makers, do not have the experiences of a chef, nor can we in the short time we are alive, it's critical to continually evolve and improve our service and our potential. Otherwise, all we will offer is what everyone else is making, the 8" Sabatier with three rivets in the handle.

Hello Jay,
I have been using Cybele, holding Cybele, and trying to learn how it was created (specially its edge) by observing. This is a review of your knife; one of many. To give only one would be a ridiculous insult, it is not a meal that is eaten and then gone and remembered (I will probably never have a chance to remember this blade of yours and mine, because it will outlast me). While both a meal and a knife can be masterpieces, the time in which each is experienced is different. I am glad that you exist.

  • I have held it for every waking moment that I am home; holding it, waving it, running my fingers across its edge, and looking at the multi-planar surface of its edge.
  • Cut potatoes, apples, pumpkins, tomatoes into a extra fine brunoise, and spinach into a ridiculously thin chiffonade.
  • felt its edge before and after using it. Usually the edge changes (with a regular knife), but no noticeable change was found with Cybele.
  • I've held it in every way I could think of; in a pinch grip, forward grip, a glide grip (which is used mainly for delicate or hard to cut food due to its decreased traction when pressure is applied to it, such as squid, seaweed, nori, dried limes, soaked dates. These foods are common to me by the way)
  • I have tried to imbue it with as much of my energy as possible.

When I opened the FedEx package I was confused at what I was holding in my hand. Heavy...well heavier. I held it for hours before I cut anything with it, I slapped the blade against my hand, knocked it with my knuckles. I had never experienced a knife made of this steel before. Nor one made this well. Its shape still confused me though. It felt the most natural when held in a forward grip I was unsure if the handle was any good at all. I held my other knives in comparison and soon I started to dislike them. The knives I had had so much experience with and had done things so well with, were nothing in comparison to the cuts full of finesse I was making with Cybele, a knife I had never played with.

I wasn't having to accommodate for the knife, finally the knife was doing as I commanded. I will send you a video so you can see Cybele in action. I have broken down many fish, and I am waiting for a good sized opportunity to test how it will do with a large one (TUNA :) ), since its design is better suited for that. As a Chef knife it falls short because of its height, the amount of clearance in height for your fingers between the edge beginning after the choil and the belly of the knife, and its pivot point has a significantly decreased edge sharpness. Usually with a Chef's knife because it is quite large and tall you are able to easily curl your fingers and rest your proximal joints against the side of the blade. With Cybele this is not possible and the alternative is to rest the top surface of your intermediate phalanges at about 110-120 degree angle. This is not bad but it is not the most desirable for someone like me who can go a great speeds with a knife; the upward force exerted against my fingers can sting and burn from the rubbing. But, I experienced this from the up and down rubbing against my joints from larger Chef knives so the trade of is not bad.

I am a small guy, I am 5 foot 5 inches. My hands are small my fingers are not thick, and I bump or squish my fingers against the cutting board when trying to use the full length of Cybele's edge. Since Cybele has a curved blade the percentage of the actual edge that comes in contact with the surface of the cutting board is about 33%. A percentage similar to this is inherent with almost all cooking knives, but with Cybele in order to use the last third of the cutting edge the handles rear quillon needs to come down millimeters away from the cutting board. This does not leave enough room for my fingers. So, I have to remove them from the belly of the knife and switch to a glide grip (where the blade is held by the sides), again not bad; but not Great. Then, usually the Chef's knife pivot point is at the tip of the blade, in Cybele there exists two pivot points (the stinging trailing point (I think that's what its called) and the transition point/tanto blade ) The one usurping the traditional tip of a Chefs knife is that transition point; it is not as sharp as the rest of the blade. Dragging the knife along this point can cause ripping and not cutting of food stuff (though I see that the primary edge was continued farther up well into the beginning of the secondary edge).

-8/12/12
I wrote the previous paragraph thinking I understood Cybele having used it. But, cutting with it is a delightful experience. Every cut is exact, every slice is even, every dice looks like it was machine cut, and every piece of food minced has absolutely defined borders. Cybele is not the sharpest, fastest, thinnest; but overall it is the best by very very VERY far. Usually you would expect to teach the blade. Use it wear out the edge, train the edge, smooth in the middle from wear and deliciously sharp at the tip from occasional wear. The change in Cybele's edge is the least detectable that I have ever experienced. Knives to me are like nails to fingers, I can feel exactly where every part of the knife is. I have never had a blade with such a great fit. I hate hidden tang blades for this reason (but I'll hold my tongue since I have not had yours), the transference of force is not good. Often the transition and loss of force from blade, to handle, from handle to hand is to great. Even with full tang forged blades I have never had such great transference of energy. I was never a butcher, and I now am able to crack atoms and see inside them with Cybele.

It is a very releasing experience to use Cybele while cooking because the blade has tamed me, Cybele has taught me. I am incredibly fast and precise with every knife that I own, but I have never felt the need to slow down and enjoy the cut. A lot of the problems I faced with my fingers not having enough space were almost all gone because I reduced the speed of my cutting.

All my blades have "para aprender" etched on them that only I can see, Cybele is the only blade that has it physically engraved. The reason for it being written in Spanish is because of its double meaning; for the sake of learning and for learning with (meaning Cybele is a tool to be used for learning).

-9/6/12
Thank you so much, I want to continue ordering and working on the rest of my future knives with you. It is a great feeling to come home tired as hell from a 16 hour shift and go to my kitchen and cook for even longer and more enjoyable hours than ever before. I want you to do me a favor, if you will allow it; every time I purchase potential (a knife) from you I want you to put my full name on the page of every knife that I purchase from you. I am a proud owner of your work! We need to have a long talk as to how this project of mine is going to come to fruition.

thank you,
Ulises Magana


Rusty and Jay,
When I first saw my knife in person I was blown away, it is exactly what I needed. It's sturdy, strong, sharper than a razor and holds an edge perfectly. It is the all around knife that in my nearly two decades as a chef I have never before had the pleasure of owning. Words cannot express how pleased I am. You are true craftsmen. I'm truly honored to possess this amazing piece of art. I can't wait to start another project with you both in the very near future.
Thank you.

--D. K


"Concordia" chef's knife in 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Poppy Jasper gemstone handle, Amerian Black Walnut stand inlaid with Poppy Jasper gemstone
More about this Concordia

Chef's set in 440C high chromium stainless steel blades, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Crocidolite gemstone handles, block of maple, black walnut
More about this chef's set




Why do the knives you classify as Chefs knives have sheaths?
The worst enemy of a knife is another knife.

A knife can never be disarmed or made safe.

You will notice a lot of sheaths with the knives on this page. Conventional wisdom is that a sheath knife is for the "field." The truth is, a sheath protects the knife and the owner. If you're going to store your knife in a drawer banging into other knives and kitchen tools, your expensive custom knife is going to get dinged, have the edge dulled, and get torn up. The sheath will offer protection. The worst enemy of a knife is another knife and other metal kitchen tools.

"Volans" fillet, boning knife: 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Antelope Jasper gemstone handle, emu skin inlaid in hand-carved leather sheath Also, many of the knives shown are dual purpose, that is both utility knives and chef's knives. Some are well suited to boning, dressing, and carving. Some have more elegant displays. There is no "rule" about knives, and some of my clients insist on taking a fine sheath knife to even the best restaurants, where all they have to offer to carve a thick steak is a worn-out thin stainless steel spring saw the restaurant calls a steak knife.

"Volans" fillet, boning, carving knife: 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, hollow ground and mirror finished, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Fossilized Cretaceous Algae gemstone handle, hand-carved leather sheath When the knife owner pulls out his fine custom knife, people at the table (and sometimes other tables) beg him to use it when they see it glide through the meat. Some of the knives have blocks or stands, some have sheaths. Some sheaths are kydex, some are leather. Protection for the owner and the knife is important, and sometimes a big bulky counter block takes up just too much precious counter space. Since this is a custom affair, I strive to make the client just exactly what he needs and wants.

Read details, see more pictures of these fine boning, carving and fillet knives on special pages here and here

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"Cyele" chef's knife: 440C high chromium mirror polished hollow ground blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Australian Tiger Iron Gemstone handle, kydex sheath
More about this Cyele

Chef's knives and kitchen cutlery patterns, styles, applications, and photographs

While many different knife shapes can be used in the kitchen and the type of knife varies from chef to chef, there are some standards that have proven track records in the art of cooking and meal prep. These are usually recognizable knife shapes, but not always. There are no rigid rules about what knife to use for each task, so the variety can become bewildering. In my 390+ knife patterns, certain knives have been specifically used by chefs, many other blade and handle designs are used by cooks, but span type styles for other uses. The thumbnail group below gives a general idea of knife styles that are applicable in the kitchen, from fine chef's knives to designs that cross over into other uses. If a dedicated page is available, it will be linked at the caption below the thumbnail photo. Please contact me if you are interested in any fine custom, handmade chef's knives.


"Vega" master chef's knife, obverse side view in milled 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Australian Tiger Iron gemstone handle, slip sheath of kydex, nickel plated steel
More about this Vega

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