Posted by: Part-Time Audiophile | March 2, 2009

Your chef’s knife 6: miscellania


The bolster is probably the first thing that I look at in a new knife, because, personally, I dislike them intensely. Wusthof Classic has a thick bolster. Wusthof Ikon has a half-bolster. Most Japanese knives have no bolster. No bolsters are good. Another reason to like Japanese knives.

Apart from the sharpening issue (full bolsters make sharpening such knives problematic at the very least), they feel funny in your hand. When you “pinch-grip” your knife, the bolster gets in the way. Its uncomfortable, so I find myself using a different, less secure grip. Which is dangerous. So, I skip knives with big bolsters. I highly recommend you do the same.

Graton Edges

IMO, knife features like “hollow ground” or “graton edge” are nifty, but add expense and little value to your knife. These divots on the side of the knife-edge are supposed to make food less likely to stick to the knife blade, and they do work to some extent. But if you sharpen your knife, you’ll eventually be sharpening into the divots. The metal is very thin there, and will likely be brittle, be easily damaged, bent or chipped.

I have a 10.5” knife from Glestain, a Japanese company. What makes the Glestain different from the rest of my knives, that is, aside from its single-beveled edge, is the double row of divots on the right hand side of the blade. The left side is the “cutting” side, the right side is the “cut” side – and food that normally piles up on the blade simply falls right off. Supposedly. Works great for cuts that are large, like the first cut on a cucumber. Not terribly effective for brunoise (l/8” cubes). Anyway, if I had it to do over again, I’d skip the graton edge knives.

“Damascus” steel

I’m not a metallurgy student, so I’m going to oversimplify this one. Damascus steel refers to a steel-making process and not necessarily a product from somewhere in Spain. The idea here is that by folding steel in the forging process you can end up with a significantly stronger, and possibly more flexible, blade. You fold it enough times (and hammer, heat and do all those other smith things), you end up with a blade that has some interesting marks on it, almost like … folded steel. Good smiths can make their folds pretty strategically, and because of that, can end up with some pretty amazing patterns on their blades.

My understanding is that this is not precisely what happens when you buy a Damascus-style knife from Shun, who is probably most famous for this style of cutlery. Shun will sandwich their Damascus “cladding”, for which they use a soft stainless steel, around the much harder core, or cutting, steel. They’ll fold the cladding a dozen or so times, and then the three layers are all bonded together in the final product. I have several of these from Shun, from their “Classic” line. They’re nice.

Bob Kramer has a similar offering, but his website claims that he folds his cladding between 200 and 2000 times, depending on the desired patterns. FWIW, they look amazing. I’m on the waitlist, but if I ever get one, I’ll update this post.

Anyway, Damascus blades don’t necessarily perform any better than any other knife. Shun claims that the pattern is anti-stick, but I have no evidence of this. It’s just cool. In fact, its very cool. But, it does fade over time and with use. For me, I think of this as a bonus feature, but not something to shop for.

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