The Knife Rack
By Greg Gonzales
Canghsung Cutlery brought incredible colors to kitchens last year with the introduction of the S+ Series and TC Series, and plans to bring more surprises in 2018. According to the team, this year is all about doing something a little different. The company plans for a new focus on Swedish steel, eye-popping designs and a knife made for the space age.
“We are pushing heavily into Swedish steel,” said Rob Walling, Cangshan National Sales Manager. “We really believe in it, and formed a partnership with Sandvik, a Swedish steel company thats been around for generations. More and more of our product will feature Swedish steel as we move forward.”
Christopher Saunders, Creative Director of Canghan, said Swedish steel is a high-alloy steel much like German knife companies use, but the difference is that Swedish is finer-grain, which allows manufacturers to get it harder in the heat treatment process. What that equates to is a knife that’s sharper out of the box, and edge retention goes up significantly, he said. “Swedish steel versus German steel, the Swedish will hold its edge up to five to seven times longer than the German steel, which would be softer. Usually when you use hard steels, you can get them sharper, but with that hardness comes brittleness. Very hard steel, you can get it very sharp, but it has a tendency to chip when it hits something hard, like a chicken bone, and your knife is basically done. With the Swedish steel, you’re not getting that brittleness. We think it’s the future of cutlery.”
This year’s introduction has an interesting texture built into the knife to add grip. “The texture is based on the patterns of the surface of Mars, so we’re pretty excited about presenting that at the show,” Saunders said. The new knife will be part of the Top Cut brand, and is called AEOLIS, named for the mountain on Mars also known as Mount Sharp. Cangshan Owner Henry Liu wanted to create a knife from a single piece of metal that was suited for commercial kitchens and designed one with a textured finish to ensure a firm, secure grip. “Commercial kitchens have chefs and artists, and we wanted to push a little design in there,” Saunders said. “All-metal knives, a single piece, very easy to clean, easy to maintain – we wanted to design something along those lines. Thinking of ways to add grip to the texture of the handle, Henry, who’s designed a lot of our products, he came up with the surface of Mars. We played around with raindrops and water, and really couldn’t get the look we wanted, but when we went with Mars, it really became a fascinating, interesting texture.”
Cangshun’s push into Swedish steel included the TC Series, a German Design Award winner noted for its sleek, modern look and simple, smooth lines. The set of full-tang knives is forged from high-alloy Swedish Sandvik steel and includes a solid walnut wood block, an 8-inch chef knife, 7-inch santoku, 6-inch boning knife, 5-inch serrated utility knife, 3.5-inch paring knife, 2.75-inch peeling knife, four 5-inch steak knives, a honing steel and a maple block. “Knives are very personal,” said Saunders. “The TC is our heaviest knife, but then we’re doing a 5-inch santoku that’s a lot lighter, different feel in your hand. We get that there’s minimal kitchens that only need your two essential knives, but then there’s those people who do want a 23-piece block set. We’re looking to fill every cutlery need.” The TC Series Swedish Sandvik Steel Forged 14-Piece Knife Block set has a suggested retail price of $749.95.
The S+ Series is a vibrant two-piece set that includes a 5-inch santoku knife and a 3.5-inch serrated paring knife, the latter of which combines elements of a paring knife with a utility knife. “Santoku knives are traditionally 7 inches, but we got a lot of feedback in the marketplace telling us that a smaller knife is sometimes a little less intimidating to some people,” said Walling. The knives are forged from premium high-alloy German steel, hand-sharpened to an Asian-style cutting edge, full-tang, non-stick and coated with titanium. Each set comes with protective sheaths, which match the color of the handle. “So far, the retailers that have adopted it have really gravitated toward the color more than anything else,” said Walling. “Anybody who’s looking for something a little different, that’s unique, that makes a statement in the kitchen, doesn’t want a whole block set with 14 knives in it – you have your two basic knives that will get you through just about any given situation in the kitchen.” The S+ Series is available in Jupiter Red, Atlantic Blue, French Teal, Vanilla White and Noir Black, for a $49.95 suggested retail price.
Walling and Saunders agreed that color and design are extremely important, but that nonessential gimmicks don’t work in today’s age. It has to serve a purpose that’s essential, that’s practical, said Saunders. “Today’s consumer is way too savvy — this is not 1974.You can’t do design without quality knives, otherwise, nobody’s going to buy your stuff. You’re going to be a one-trick pony — if somebody thinks it’s really cool and buys it, and then it doesn’t perform, you’ve accomplished nothing. We put the quality of our knives up against any of our competitors, but we’re focused on doing something that’s different.”
Before December 2017, I’d never sharpened a knife. As a kid, I used to mimic the motion, but I didn’t know the finesse and subtlety that went into perfecting a blade’s edge. So when DMT’s DuoSharp® Bench Stone with Base and the Diamond Steel™ arrived in the newsroom, I jumped at the chance to get myself a crash course and see what sharpeners are all about.
Out of the box, I could tell there was a steeper learning curve for the bench stone than there was for the steel. Not that the bench stone was complicated — it came with 12 rubber feet to place on the bottom for stability. The edge had two grits already locked into the base by two clips, and removing the clips to change grit was as easy as giving them a pinch from the bottom. The steel was even less complicated: remove from box, then rinse. In minutes, I was ready to sharpen, and test out the results with carrots, onions and paper (after a few YouTube instructional videos, that is).
The Tomodachi All-Purpose 6-inch knife from my childhood wasn’t looking so hot when I first got to it. Tiny dents, dulling and other imperfections made slicing through even the softest foods a bit rough; the blade would snag on food and then aim for my fingers.
After about 10 minutes of sharpening on the fine grit, I ran the onion test to test basic sharpness; onion skin is oily and slick, so I was impressed to find that my knife could now catch on the skin with relative ease. The movement wasn’t quite as smooth as I would have liked, though. Each slice still caught a little bit, and I could tell that the blade was uneven. After about five minutes more of the fine grit on each side, and another five on each side with extra fine grit, the Tomodachi was slicing paper-thin tomatoes and cutting carrots like butter. When I did the paper test, the knife slid just as easily through the page as carrots, like I’d expect from a crafter’s razorblade. The DMT Bench Stone (W8) had my knife slicing like it was 2008 instead of 2018.
According to the instructions, I could have sharpened dry, but I went wet because the fluid floats away the swarf (waste material), which keeps the stone from clogging. Though my results were exactly what I was looking for, my only regret was that I couldn’t repair the worst of my knives, which was rife with dents and extensive damage from drawer storage and misuse. For that, I’d need more than the fine and extra fine grits that came in the package. DMT’s Diamond Sharpener grits come in extra extra coarse, extra coarse, coarse, fine, extra fine and extra-extra fine, all color-coded on the package and on the edge itself to help users stay organized and efficient. For home cooks and chefs who are serious about keeping their knives in perfect working condition, I recommend getting a wider range of grits.
The Diamond Steel was a cinch to use, even for a beginner like me. All I needed was a cutting board, the steel and a slightly damaged Hoffritz knife. Again, getting the stroke right from heel to tip took a bit of practice and some direction from strange YouTubers, but I had it down in less than 10 minutes. Since my knife wasn’t too badly damaged, it was slicing paper-thin tomatoes by the time I finished practicing!
Nice as the bench stone was for sharpening, I rarely have damaged knives to fix, so it takes a little too much space in my studio-style apartment. However, DMT’s sharpeners proved to be just what I needed to get a couple knives back into working condition. These are a must-have for anyone who uses a knife every day, though most of us home cooks and small-living folks will be fine with the Diamond Steel on its own, which fits in my knife block or kitchen counter carousel.
MIXX Duo from Dexas uses mixed materials and patters to create an unforgettable look and unlimited possibilities for food presentations. MIXX Duo is actually three boards that nest together to create one dynamic serving piece – a natural, beveled edge bamboo frame with special wells that hold two beautifully unique PolyMarble cutting boards. Dexas is once again leading the way in realistic stone looks that are actually knife-friendly poly cutting boards. This set is the best of both worlds: the natural warmth and sustainability of bamboo and the food safety and ease of use of poly.
By Micah Cheek
It’s scary to sharpen knives. Nobody wants to damage their knife, especially if it’s their new handmade santoku. For retailers selling fine cutlery, the sharpening process can be a great conversation starter and a way to offer customers the right sharpening tool for the particular knife.
Steve Watkins, Knife Maker and Owner of Ironman Forge, says that a lot of sharpening difficulties come from the steel used to make the knife. If the steel is hard, it will hold an edge well, but the blade will be brittle. If the steel is soft, it will be flexible, but won’t hold an edge. “Most people’s frustration with sharpening knives is because the knives are heat-treated in a way that doesn’t hold an edge,” says Watkins. “In the 1950s, steel manufacturers started developing alloys. Once they developed hardenable stainless steel, the culinary industry thought, This will be a miracle steel because it won’t tarnish or rust… The alloys they use are not developed for knives. They lend themselves to tool manufacturing because they are wear resistant, but that makes it incredibly difficult to sharpen.”
For chefs and experts, knives are sharpened according to their function. A Japanese Nakiri, for instance, is made of very hard steel and sharpened to a very fine edge to make quick work of soft vegetables, but has no place getting close to anything tougher to chop than squash. Other highly specialized knives will be crafted with different levels of flexibility, and require different sharpening regimens. But that level of expertise isn’t typical for home cooks, who generally want a dependable, all-purpose tool. Sharpening stones are the tool of choice, and come in a variety of coarse to fine grits. Consumers can even choose how to sharpen based on what they plan to cut. “I go from 600 to 1000 grit, 4000-5000 grit on the finish – that will be my last pass. Stones leave a tiny microscopic tooth on the edge. You want the teeth to grab a tomato skin and go through it,” says Watkins. “The only reason that I would hone higher would be if I had a specialty chef. If you were only going to cut meat or sashimi, I would take that even finer and finish it on a leather strop. It basically becomes a scalpel. Meat is sticky and will grab the edge, so you don’t need that tooth.”
“A lot of people will buy one knife that’s special to them that they will take really good care of. I will sharpen that so it will breast a turkey, dice, filet, whatever you need to do. So I’ll leave just a little bit of tooth on there,” Watkins adds.
The key to refining a cutting edge is simply practice. “Most people are going to struggle because they don’t know where to start. Go to a junk store and find any knife that has rust on it (carbon steel), and sharpen it,” says Watkins. “What you want to do is take strokes away from you, and you’re going to push against that stone. And you’re going to feel friction with that. If you’ve got the spine of the blade too close to the stone it will scratch, so you just lift the spine up enough that you’re not doing that anymore.” While there are a range of prices for sharpening sets, Watkins recommends focusing on the grit. “My stones just need to work, man. Simple, cheap stones are DMT Stones. They’re diamond-coated stainless steel. I have sharpened thousands of knives on mine,” Watkins adds. “You can use something like a Norton stone, which is 1000 on one side and 5000 on the other side. For my final cut, I’ve got a Norton and a Chinese 8000 grit stone.” But one thing that should never be used on a blade is a belt sander or grinder. Over time, electric sharpeners will start to reshape the blade itself. “From the heel of the knife towards the front of the blade, if you stick that flat on your cutting board, you don’t want to see daylight. That happens a lot when you sharpen with a belt,” says Watkins. “Here’s the thing: Never let someone sharpen your knives with a belt. You’ll take away too much steel.”
After sharpening, the edge can be checked in a couple different ways. “Take that knife and push it down your thumbnail. If it grabs at your thumbnail a little, it’s getting sharp. Once I know it’s sharp, I’ll take a piece of thin magazine paper and make a diagonal slice on it,” says Watkins. Simply using the succession of stones can get a knife sharp enough to shave with. “In my house, my knives are still shaving after about eight weeks,” says Watkins. “I will touch them up every eight weeks. I’ll put them on a fine stone for a few minutes. Typically I’ll fully sharpen a set once or twice a year.”
The Viners Eternal Marble cutlery range is designed to add a touch of luxury and to fit with the style trend for natural materials in the kitchen. The German steel blades contain a higher than average carbon content, making the blade stronger, and the cutting edge longer-lasting. The curved handle has been ergonomically designed to provide optimum comfort during use. The knives come with a 25 year guarantee and will retail for $16 to $25. See them in the Typhoon Homewares booth at the International Home + Housewares Show.