I've had quite a bit of European kitchen knives used and reviewed during my kitchen knives collecting and research years, but absolute majority of those were either Wusthof kitchen knives or Henckels kitchen knives. Yeah, I did manage to get my hands on one Messermeister Meridian Elite paring knife, but that was rather an exception. When my coworker mentioned Robert Herder knife I was really curious, because it was a new maker for me and especially because they get mentioned on kitchen knives related forums in very positive ways, and I've seen a few claims stating comparable performance with high Japanese knives. Although, those claims were about carbon steel Herder knives. The one I managed to acquire for sharpening and testing was unfortunately the stainless steel version. Still valuable from the variety perspective, but frankly I'd be more excited about the carbon steel knife, even though the steel used in Herder knives is a simple C75W1, typically hardened at 60HRC, but about that later. In short, I got the knife, for couple weeks, to sharpen and test. Carbon steel or not, Herder knives are unusually thin for the western kitchen knives, at least as far as western kitchen knives are concerned, and that's what makes them to stand out. Compared to Japanese knives they're pretty close. All I had to do, compare the performance.
General- Well, generally speaking I was rather disappointed when I saw the knife for the first time. For one it turned out to be stainless steel, not the carbon steel, second, the handle was way too simplistic, one might say crude. I don't really judge knives based solely on their looks, but I can certainly appreciate their finesse and attention to details. Apparently the knife I had was an earlier model, and later on the handles became better, because current models on various websites do have better handle slabs, cherry wood, but apparently with some treatment and ergonomics are changed as well, hopefully improved too. What was good and didn't disappoint me was the thin blade. Instead of typical 4-6mm thickness for the euro knives of that size, it was just under 2mm. Funny I have to comment on that as something unusual and positive, ideally that's how things should be, medium size, dedicated veggie knife, why would you need more steel in it, but that's how things are in western knives, thick and heavy is better(allegedly), well it's not. The knife was used, so can't comment on its original packaging and conditions. As it was, I'd say Herder nakiri ended up with me in a pretty good shape. The edge was of course very dull, but no chips or significant rolling, no rust spots, it was never washed in a dishwasher, and generally I could see nakiri was properly taken care of, minus sharpening. Pretty light knife, for its size - 125.60g(4.25oz), obviously thanks to its thin edge and wood handle, plus lack of bolster which is super popular on western kitchen knives and doesn't add much to the knife qualities, aside from extra weight and sharpening problems in case of the full bolsters. Overall, very simplistic looking knife, and I can't say it is a cheap knife either, stainless nakiri sells for around 60 euros in Europe, that's around 80$ as of spring 2012. On the other hand, it's a better knife than comparable mainstream western kitchen knives due to its thin blade. If you don't abuse the knife and utilize its features properly, you'll be better off with Herder's thin knives. Comparing to Japanese knives paints a different picture though. Thin blade is no longer an advantage, and better performers can be found at the same price, if not cheaper. I'm referring to carbon and stainless steel versions, e.g. Dojo, Tojiro, Watanabe standard line, etc.
Blade- Herder nakiri knife blade measures 180.00mm(7.09") in length, 1.95m thick spine throughout the entire knife and 49mm wide at the heel. Blade geometry is pretty standard nakiri shape, a rectangle in other words, although herder nakiri has the most rounded tip compared to all nakiri knives reviewed or used by me. I am not sure if that curve serves any practical purpose, I've tried few things here and there when I was testing the knife, and couldn't find any practical purpose for it, or any advantage over more rectangular Watanabe nakiri knife I've used for head to head comparisons during the testing. Other than that, Herder has a standard nakiri blade, satin finish, with their Windmill logo and markings stamped on the right side. This is also where it says rostfrei(stainless). I've tried to find out what type of stainless steel do they use, but I couldn't get solid info. On the other hand, given the origins and how widespread X50CrMoV15 steel family is and how the knife behaved during the sharpening and testing, I'm fairly certain it is either X50CrMoV15 stainless steel or X55CrMoV15 stainless steel. Neither is anything new or exceptional, but they do provide okay performance when heat treated properly. According to various sources, stainless steel in Herder knives are 57-58HRC. Don't have the Rockwell tester, but based on sharpening experience that seems to be the case. It wasn't difficult, and wasn't as easy as butter soft 52-54HRC knives either. Initial edge was standard V edge, greater than 20° per side. Obviously I was not excited about that at all. Way too thick for a kitchen knife, especially dedicated veggie knife, although behind the edge, the blade was just 0.4mm thick. Come to think of it, I've not used thin blade with such a thick edge in the kitchen, not for a long time, so I've figured it'd still be worth testing to see how it worked. Running ahead, I have to say the results were not positive. So, I've sharpened the new edge at 20° per side. Unlike the original edge, I went with high polished one, 100K grit finish, usual sequence of sharpening whetstones ending with 0.25µm diamond charged leather strop.
As for the carbon steel version, it would definitely be a better performer, at least in terms of pure cutting performance, although for some users non stainless knives prove difficult to maintain. In other words, if you don't take care of the knife it'll rust. Neglect them more and stainless knives rust too. Seen that more than enough since I started sharpening other folk's knives. I am guessing, CK75W1 at 60HRC will perform on par with some budget Japanese knives, at comparable hardness, but it won't be competing with Aogami or Shirogami series, or other high end steels, which are routinely hardened at 62-65HRC, that's for sure.
Handle- The least exciting part of the knife, and I don't have much to say about it. Rather rustic looking, two slabs of walnut, fastened to the tang using triple rivets, loved so much by knives salesmen :) Well, loved or not, they do keep the handle slabs in place. Even though the knife is several years old, the handle was not neither deformed nor weakened. Nothing was separated or rattling. I've already ranted about the handle above, and also said the current generation of Herder knives has better handles, so no need to go on about old handles here. Ergonomics on the model I had were not so good. No significant problems, but I'd prefer either D or octagonal handles let alone more sophisticated kitchen knife handles I have on some of my knives. Ergonomics and comfort aside, it's a pretty good handle in terms of drip security, doesn't get slippery to be precise.
Usage- Well, in the beginning, I've had grand plans on testing the Herder knife, but unfortunately my enthusiasm quashed was very quickly. I've prepared standard set of vegetables, used in many other tests, 20 different kinds, about 15-16lb total mass. I've started with Brussels sprouts, as they are harsher than other ingredients. And that's where it immediately became clear that despite of the thin blade and 0.4mm behind the edge thickness, cutting performance was still very low(relative to Watanabe Nakiri). All because of the 20° per side edge. I guess I have to mention that when I was testing the Herder nakiri, I haven't used a knife with such a thick edge(in the kitchen at least) for few months. So, picking up a knife with 40° inclusive edge was rather a shocker. The difference was very dramatic, Watanabe nakiri I was using that day had about 10° per side(or 20° inclusive) and all other kitchen knives I have thinner or similar edges. I don't want to totally put down Herder knife, because on its own turf, that is when compared with other western knives it performs better than most, because of its thin edge. I guess I was expecting too much of an improvement form the thin blade and its 0.4mm behind the edge thickness, and I was proven wrong. Still, comparing to other western kitchen knives, Herder did cut considerably better, I've pulled out Wusthof chef's knife, which was donated to me a while back, but I've never bothered with testing, but now was a good time to try that Wusthof knife to compare its performance with Herder, and hurray, Herder cut better :) Well, at that point I've decided that there as no point going through 15lbs veggies with the herder nakiri. Cutting performance of the Herder nakiri was quite clear at that point, and I didn't need to cut everything to get the idea about edge holding ability. Basically, after mincing the batch of those Brussels sprouts with the Herder Nakiri, and then cutting some broccoli, I did notice minimal edge degradation, specifically, the knife failed cherry tomato cutting test under its own weight. That failure was more or less in line with what I'd seen before with other kitchen knives in X50CrMoV15 steel. May be slightly better. Still, VG-10 steel knives from Shun and Tojiro, both fare better than Herder stainless Nakiri, and comparison with higher end Japanese knives is simply unfair to Herder.
I did sample(cut with Nakiri) most of the vegetables with Herder stainless Nakiri, just to get the feel, but there was nothing interesting or disastrous to report about. 40° edge performed as expected, aided with thin blade and 0.4mm behind the edge thickness. A thin blade is good for vegetables, but whichever way you put it, the edge needs to be thin too if you want high performance. So, in the end, I wasn't too happy with chiffonade, chopping Italian parsley was alright, same goes for Broccoli, green onions and Bell peppers, but Brussels sprouts were rather difficult, unreasonably so, but that's me with my super thin edged Japanese kitchen knives. Don't have much to say about the rest of the veggies, nakiri is a dedicated vegetable knife and depending on your use style you may or may not prefer over a traditional chef's knife, but if you like Nakiris with their straight edges, then Herder makes a better nakiri, compared to other western makers that is.
Conclusions- I gave up on comparison cutting with Watanabe Nakiri after the first cut, the difference was huge, and not on the Herder's side. Like I said, on the positive side, Herder did outcut thicker blade of Wusthof chef's knife, even though they both had the same 40° inclusive edges. So, there you have it, it is definitely somewhere in the middle between mainstream western kitchen knives on lower end, and budget/mid range Japanese knives on the upper end of the range. If it was up to me, I'd still pick up harder steel for a nakiri, because it's a vegetable knife and there is no benefit in having neither a thick blade, nor a thick edge on it. Edge holding ability is similar to other stainless mainstream knives, may be a bit better, but nothing I'd call "significant". In the end, to me its not really interesting, budget isn't dictating it, and traditional Japanese or custom western nakiris work a lot better, without going into really expensive knives realm. If I get a chance, I'll test the carbon steel nakiri, but frankly, I have very strong doubts it will be able to keep up with harder Japanese counterparts.
- Blade - 180.00mm(7.09")
- Thickness - 1.95mm
- Width - 49.00mm
- OAL - 295.00mm(11.61")
- Steel - X50CrMoV15 steel at 57-58HRC
- Handle - Wallnut
- Weight - 125.60g(4.25oz)
- Acquired - 03/2012 Price - 80.00$
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Last updated - 05/03/12