Posted by Derek Swanson on 11th Feb 2016
We love when people march into our shop declaring they want a knife that will last them their entire life. Our usual response to these customers is, "Do you want to use a lousy knife for the rest of your life, or an AWESOME one?" Since even the lowest quality knives can last decades if properly cared for, we advise basing one's selection criteria on how a well knife performs instead of how long it will exist for.
Years ago while checking out knives at the Seki Outdoor Knife Festival in Japan, ABS Master Smith Murray Carter advised us on the 3 most important things to consider when selecting a kitchen knife:
The best blades in the world excel at these 3 criteria. Such blades are ground very thin so that even when their primary edge has dulled, they will continue to cut well. Blades that are heat-treated to a very high degree of hardness while maintaining durability tend to stay sharp the longest. Ease of sharpening, or restoring the edge, is usually determined by the type of steel the blade is made of and the blade's thickness. In our opinion laminated Shirogami (aka white steel) blades tends to be the gold standard in all 3 categories; great blacksmiths usually forge it very thin and it takes an edge faster on stones than other high-performance steel. Knives by Teruyasu Fujiwara, Hiroshi Kato and Murray Carter are great examples.
Is performance worth the money? The best German knives might need proper sharpening 3-4 times per year to match the performance of the best Japanese knives, which might need sharpening 1-2 times per year. We currently charge $15 to sharpen an 8" chef knife, regardless of its origin. If you own the Japanese knife for 10 years, you will spend $150-$300 to maintain it. The German knife will run you $450-$600 over the same 10-year period. While the upfront cost of the best performing knives tends to be slightly higher, the smart buyer will consider the long-term savings gained by lower maintenance (sharpening) costs. Extend those same costs over many decades, and the value of choosing AWESOME in the first place is clear.