How To Choose Kitchen Knives
Don't Fall For The Marketing Hype

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Probably more appropriate title would've been: "Don't fall for the marketing hype and BS". Unfortunately, there is a significant amount of incorrect information floating around regarding the kitchen knives, what's really important about them and what not. I don't mind marketing, even excessive. After all, that's their job to sell products, but when you get pushed to pay for unnecessary features, or when incorrect information is passed as an irrefutable truth, I kindda get irritated. That happens in any product marketing, and kitchen knives are no exception. So, I'll try to review the most common lies and misconceptions about kitchen cutlery. The statements below can be seen pretty much in any promo for the kitchen knives, every knife salesman will repeat them, and as far as I see, every culinary school is hammering the same statements into the heads of their students. Which goes back to Chef's and Knives topic, in that, the Chef's aren't the best knife advisors.

Good Kitchen Knives Must Be Fully Forged

 - Obviously, you will be asked to hand out extra hard earned cash of yours for that fully forged knife. This myth clearly has roots in the history of knifemaking, and the generally true statement that handmade knives are better than mass produced ones. Back in the day, all of the knives were forged, simply because there was no machinery to make knives. Later, at the end of 19th century such machines started appearing. As with everything else, first steps weren't perfect and the knives produced in those factories using early machines were far from perfect and were clearly outclassed by quality hand forged knives. Of course, stamped knives were "outlcassed" by forged knives in pricing too.
    The truth today is that modern CNC and other machining technology can produce absolutely the best quality knives. Their fit, finish and precision will be hard to match by hand, and yes master craftsman can still make better knives by hand using the same type of machinery too. On the other hand, most of the today's makers use CNC machines and other equipment to make their custom masterpieces. Yes, there are still those who make everything by forging, but that is neither requirement nor the stamp of absolute quality. Phil Wilson, Alen Elishewitz, Jerry Busse, just a few of my favorite makers, make exceptionally good knives, and they all use modern technology. Besides, for both factory and custom shops, the process is often mixed. Some parts are fully or partly forged, then CNC is used, plus all sorts of surface grinders, belt grinders are widely used. What's the point of wasting time and energy if the machine can help to do the job faster and more precisely. It's still the human that is the creator of the final product.
    To give you better understanding, let's review forged knife making process in the factory. Actually, Discovery channel aired Factory Made show documenting knife making process, chef's knife to be precise. First the 15" long square blank is stamped by first press. Next, the middle of the blank is heated to ~1200C°(2200F°), a robot squeezes it from both ends, causing the heated part to bulge. Now, the third robot delivers a single blow to shape that heated and bulged section into the bolster. After that, another robot stamps the "forged" blank into rough shape and then another robot grinds primary bevels on the edge, and only at the final stage the knife is hand sharpened on the wheel, using 320 grit. So, there you have it, your fully forged factory knife. If you were imagining couple hundred Watanabes and Moritakas swinging heavy hammers and forging knives at Wusthof or Global factories, you were sadly mistaken. As you can see, the whole forging process consists of single blow form the mechanical hammer. Not that I have anything against mechanical hammers, custom makers use different type of mechanical hammer too, the difference as you can guess is in the number of hits on the blade, and master forger's fine tuning and control of the process. Obviously, a single hit can not deliver any of that, it's not meant to. Clearly, that is not the forging most of the folks imagine when being told about fully forged knives. I am not so sure how does that even qualify as fully forged, since neither the blade, nor the tang areas ever receive a single blow from that hammer.
    Most of the Global knives aren't forged. Whatever are, tend to be heavier than stamped counterparts. Having handled both kinds, I can't tell the difference in quality. Just the weight. For other knives even the weight difference would be insignificant. One thing is true, forged knife most likely will have good quality. It is more time and labor consuming, so why waste time to make a crappy product, right? However, don't just ignore the knife you like because it isn't forged. If a machined knife performs well and fits your needs, that's all you need. It doesn't matter how it was made.

Good Kitchen Knives Must Have Bolsters

 - Another, most of the time false statement that you will hear pretty much from 100% of sales people. First, lets sort out the terminology. There are two bolster types, full and just a collar. For whatever reason, marketing guys love to promote fully bolstered knives, because allegedly they are safer. No, actually a good knife is perhaps better off without a thick collar, and a fat chunk of metall all the way to the heel which is what the bolster is. Only with the very narrow blades you really need one. If you like the knife with a bolster that is fine. Collar bolsters, besides sealingthehandle, often add to visual cue and appeal of the knife. I have nothing against that. Got a few knives like that myself. If that bolster makes the balance of the particular knife more to your liking, that's also very good. However, just having the bolster slapped on the knife doesn't mean squat. It won't tell you anything about quality or performance. The major con with the bolster, that marketing won't talk about, is the fact that most of the bolsters extend all the way to the edge, and make sharpening pretty much impossible at the knife heel. That is the part of the blade edge closest to the blade/handle juncture. And, of course you can guess, extra metal adds more weight to your knife. Nothing to be excited about, I already discussed that aspect in Heavy Or Not section.
    Part two of the bolster legend is that allegedly the bolster is there to protect your finger(s), prevent slippage and cutting them. That is also not true. Bolster can prevent that, but it isn't required, or the actual part that works as safety feature. Blade height does that for you. To be more precise, the difference between blade and handle heights. If the blade heel is high enough, that is what will prevent your fingers from sliding down on the cutting edge. Bolster just makes that portion thicker, but not safer or better. Given the same blade geometry and knife design, the heel would be the same height with or without the bolster. Thus, the only time when the bolster acts like a finger guard, is when the blade is very narrow, such as one found on the boning knife.
    So, unless you like a bolstered knife, or it makes better balanced knife for you, it's better to avoid them altogether. Troubles with sharpening, extra weight and of course extra price. Not worth it. I have over two dozen high end knives in my kitchen as I write this article, prices ranging from 50$ small peeler, all the way up to 1000$+ gyutos and sujihikis. Not one of them has a bolster. The only knife in my kitchen arsenal with a bolster - Global boning knife, on the narrow blade such as that it does play finger guard role, but that's about the only case when you really need it.

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Last updated - 05/19/19