A word on knives

Categories: Musings
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Published on: July 20, 2012

I bought a 3 piece Hammer Stahl knife set at the Bristol foodies festival last weekend after Martin Blunos recommended them (and mentioning a 20% discount).  The RRP of the set was £275 – a lot of money for 3 knives!  Thankfully they were doing a bit of a deal, selling the set for £190 with a free 5.5″ Santoku knife.  After giving Martin’s recommendation and quoted discount I managed to get the set for £170, not quite the full 20% discount but they were throwing in a free knife worth £80!

All this money spent on a set of knives made me think about all the other knives I’ve had over the past couple of years.  When I first got my own place I went out and purchased a cheap, store brand block of knives… probably one of the worst investments of my life.  The Chef’s knife lasted a couple of weeks before going completely blunt and I didn’t know enough about sharpening to get it back into decent shape.  Even if I had, I doubt it would have done me much good, the knife was simply awful – a crowbar would have been as effective.  I made a second mistake by going out and purchasing another cheap chef’s knife to replace it; that one lasted about 3 months before it snapped.  After another month of working with my knife shaped hammer I decided to go and purchase something that would at least cut through butter.  I ended up spending something between £20-25 on a Stellar 8″ Chef’s knife.  It was comfortable to grip, having a rubber handle, it was a good weight and most importantly it was sharp, well for a few months at least.

Knife Evolution
From left to right: Store brand ‘hammer’, Stellar Chef’s Knife, Hammer Stahl Chef’s Knife.

I then discovered how to sharpen (actually hone) a knife using a butcher’s steel.  With the steel and my £20 knife I managed to get over 2 years of service – it did get chipped and I also allowed it to become blunt, cutting myself once or twice in the process.  But for roughly £20 I thought it was pretty good going.  I’ve come to the point where I need to replace it and it just so happened that Martin Blunos was recommending Hammer Stahl knives.  I hadn’t heard of Hammer Stahl before (although they look similar to Gunter Wilhelm knives) and it turns out they are fairly new as a company but they do make excellent, beautiful knives.

At somepoint I will do an article about kitchen knives and how to buy them (update: Kitchen Knife Basics).  But ultimately buying a knife is a personal choice, the grip, balance and weight of the knife is down to personal preference – sure there are differences in the steel composition of each brand of knife and usually the Japanese steel knives are better, but there is no “ultimate set of knives”.  I can properly pinch grip the Hammer Stahl knives, something I didn’t feel comfortable with using the Stellar knife.  I’ve tired using top quality Global knives but I didn’t feel comfortable with their handles, so you can buy the most expensive knife money can buy but if you can’t get comfortable with it, it won’t do you any good!  A knife is ultimately only as good as the person wielding it.

The set of knives I bought consist of a 7″ Asian Cleaver (Phoebe has been dying to get her hands on one of these since she came to the UK), an 8″ Chef’s knife and a 3.5″ Paring knife, as well as the thrown in freebie 5.5″ Santoku knife.  All stored in a very nice bamboo chopping board.  Those three knives are basically the main knives you will need in a kitchen – a good bread knife is also useful.  The cleaver will do everything, crush garlic, chop, mince, dice and slice any veg and completely demolish a chicken but it’s fairly heavy so prolonged use might get tiresome.  The Chef’s knife is my general purpose knife, I use it for everything except hacking bones (cleaver) and for the very precise, fine carving work (paring knife);  It cuts through everything with ease, it’s comfortable and very well balanced with a good weight behind it but without being “heavy”.  The paring knife I haven’t used as much yet, but it peels apples easily enough! With regular honing using a ceramic steel and the occasionally sharpening, I reckon these knives will last a long time.  They come with a lifetime warranty so if they don’t, they can be replaced!  So far I’m very happy with my purchase, particularly for the price I paid.

So, if you take only one thing away from this, go out and buy yourself a decent Chef’s knife.  It doesn’t have to be a £100 work of art but avoid that cheap, nasty supermarket block of knives and get yourself something useful.  You will notice the difference!  A sharp knife cuts food, a blunt one cuts your fingers, so whatever you buy, keep it sharp.

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