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I want to buy a chef's knife, but I can't sharpen, and I don't plan to learn it. I will have to send my knives for sharpening, so I obviously prefer this to happen as rarely as possible.

I am leaning towards a Solingen style knife, probably a forged Zwilling. But I read in an answer herethat the Japanese style knives like Global need less frequent sharpening. This surprised me, as I seem to recall reading the opposite somewhere (but don't recall where).

Assumed that I hone the knife after use, which type will need less frequent sharpening?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 9 down vote accepted

The reason you're seeing conflicting opinions is because there are a number of factors (including steel composition, grind angle, grind profile, and usage) that contribute to a knife's edge-holding ability.

German/European knives are made of a softer steel than Japenese knives - they need sharpening more often but are easier to sharpen because of the softness. Since the steel in Japanese harder, it needs to be sharpened less often.

The other factor is the angle of the edge - the German/European angle is flatter than the Japanese knives. This means the German knives take 'abuse' better on the edge and requires less sharpening because of that. You can see below that there are two different angles:

sharpener

As far as which requires sharpening less, I'd say it depends on how general purpose your knife is going to be. If its going to be going through bone and all sorts of things, the German edge will probably stay a bit better and the softer steel will re-hone better. If you're mainly cutting veggies, breads, cheeses, and other soft items - the Japanese knife will last longer because the difference of edge doesn't matter as much as the steel here.

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If you're not that comfortable with sharpening tools, I recommend that you stick to stainless steel knives and stay away from carbon steel. Henkels, Wusthof, Sabatier, Victrinox, Shun, etc., are going to be about equivalent here. Regardless of what country in which the company is headquartered, most of these knives are actually made in China.

Global knives are special; I strongly recommend that you not consider buying them based on sharpening alone. Their steel handles, flexibility and razor sharpness are not for everyone. Make sure you try them and like them first. Global knives will, indeed, require less frequent steeling or sharpening.

Most other Japanese knives are carbon steel and single-sided, and require special care. Again, not recommended for someone not interested in home sharpening.

If you get a good sharpening steel (Global knives will require a ceramic rod), and "steel" your knives ever other use or so, you won't need to have them sharpened more than once every couple of years unless you're doing a lot of chopping bones. This assumes that you're using a sensible cutting board (wood or soft plastic). So taking them out for sharpening once every couple years isn't a big deal.

When you do take your knives out for sharpening, make sure you get someone who knows what they're doing. A lot of knife-sharpening places use low-grit belt grinders or stone wheels which take far too much steel off the knife and ruin them. I certainly wouldn't buy knives which are too expensive if you're going to let someone else sharpen them.

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Disagree with "actually made in China". I am sure that at least Dick have production in Deizisau and Bayreuth, in Germany. Even though some manufacturers have recently acquired production sites in China (Zwilling seems to have done it in the mid-aughts), it is probable that they left the hand-forged blades at home and only moved stamped-blades production. Also, this is their own factory, not a clothing-shop which sews for all big names changing only logos, so I expect the different brands to be somewhat different. –  rumtscho Mar 17 '12 at 21:06
    
rumtscho, I'll dig up some references. Some "competing" brands are, in fact, made in the exact same factories in China. That's why brands which used to be quite different 20 years ago now seem identical ... they are. –  FuzzyChef Mar 18 '12 at 19:45

Yes, Japanese knives are made with harder steel so they will hold an edge longer. On the other side of the coin, they may require a more expensive honing steel (global ceramic for instance) and may be harder to sharpen when necessary. For the sake of conversation, Zwilling, Wusthof, Shun and Global all make superior quality knives. How do you decide than? Think shoes. Which ones feel the most comfortable? Look at the shape of the blade of the chef knife. The Zwilling has a more severs arc towards the tip of the blade, facilitating a rocking motion. Ask you retailer if you can cut some veggies and se for yourself which fits your cutting style. Any knife in this class should last you a lifetime. Take the time to get it right.

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