I have a Knifemaker. This does not make me elitist – it makes me happy. It’s surprisingly affordable and it provides me with the best kitchen tools I’ve ever owned. You should have a Knifemaker too, and believe me, you can.
Prepping for dinner the other night prompted this post. I looked at my knife block, and was about to reach for The Thumbslayer, my pet name for the last knife my guy made for me. It’s my go to blade, and with that and my favorite parer, I can do every job that requires a knife in my kitchen.
Anyway, my eye drifted up a slot, and landed on the first knife Andy Gladish of Element Fe Forge made for me, and I grabbed that instead.
As for why it’s called the Thumbslayer? Let’s just say that if you lose focus during prep, shit can happen, and leave it at that. One of my favorite Tony Bourdain quotes is this – ‘when you cut yourself in the kitchen, half the pain you feel is the realization that you’re a dumbass.’
That blade I grabbed is the biggest one I own, an 8” Santoku, with a lovely live edge. As I prepped mire poix, I noted how well this one felt in the hand – an extension thereof, really – with perfect balance and power, making the job a joy.
When Andy made this one for me, we had collaborated on what I wanted, but he really didn’t know me at all – and yet the blade ended up perfect for me.
There were others after that one, of course – in fact, there were eight more, and as you can see, they’re the only knives I own and use every day. There’s the Thumbslayer, which is our riff on a Chinese cleaver, a boner, a carver, a serrated slicer, and four, count ‘em, four parers – a thin, flexible drop point 3”, a stiffer 3.5” spear point, a 3” hawkbill, and a 5.5” serrated – and yes, even Andy once asked, ‘haven’t I made you enough parers?!’
The truth is that I don’t really need all those others, and you don’t either. One version of a general chef knife that floats your boat and one paring knife will do pretty much all of the work you need done in your kitchen too.
So why do I have so many? Well, ‘cause I can, and because I do stuff you might not where having a job-specific blade is important, and because I love the relationship that sees them made and then housed in my kitchen. And if you want more than two knives, you can have ‘em, too.
The differences between a great, handmade knife and even a good knife are profound – The former does everything a knife needs to do better than the latter – with less effort, greater control, and a much better feel for the work – In other words, it’s well worth it.
Having a knife made for you by Andy won’t cost you any more than a decent name brand production knife. In a world where you can easily spend several hundred bucks on a chef’s knife, (and way more than that if you really wanted to), his will cost well less than that.
If you buy something he makes a bunch of, it’ll be a hand forged knife with great balance and power, just like mine.
If you discuss something specific you want, and partake in the design process, it’ll be even better.
And if he makes more than one for you, the next will be better yet. It’s probably not coincidence that the two blades I use most are the last two he’s made for me – by this point in the relationship, he knows very well what I want.
When you have Andy make your knife, you’re supporting a network of small businesses, (if you include Andy’s suppliers), and you’re getting a very high quality hand made tool in return – I guarantee that you’ll find that process infinitely more satisfying than paying a faceless mass producer.
So what do you want in a chef’s knife? You can go the western route, (think Wusthof or Henckels), or Asian, like my Santoku or Chinese cleaver inspired blades. Size is a matter of what you need versus what you can comfortably wield – my Santoku is an 8”, the thumbslayer is around 7” – I prefer the shorter length for most jobs, and anything between 6” and 9” is reasonable.
A paring knife with a blade in the 3” to 4” is all you need there. Then decide how you like that blade to perform – do you want it flexible or more rigid? Do you like a drop point, or a spear point, or something else? It’s your knife, you get to choose.
As for what to have them made from, that too is your choice. Monica likes stainless steel, while I prefer high carbon. There are pros and cons to both. Generally, stainless is harder and holds an edge longer, while high carbon sharpens easier and, to me at least, gets sharper – but it will stain, and requires a bit more upkeep. Andy can explain the options on steel better than I can, but in a nutshell, that’s it.
I’ve gifted Andy’s knives to others, and recommended them to anyone and everyone. To a person, everyone who now owns one says the same thing – love them, best I’ve ever had.
I think that Christy Hohman sums up what I’m trying to say here better than I can –
‘Since I am the happy owner of two knives made by Andy, I have to add a KnifeTale here. I have always loved to cook, but usually got by with whatever motley assortment of knives happened to be in the drawers of various places where I lived. Then I got a knife block and set of Chicago Cutlery. Wow, I was in heaven…. until Eb and Monica sent me a set of Henckels. Then the Chicago set moved to the cabin and I was in heaven again. But then Eb gave me two knives made by Andy and I’m set for life. They are never put away because I use them multiple times a day. They are always at the ready on the butcher block my bro made me. The Henckels are only used on occasion when I need a larger knife to do something like cut a winter squash. I love my knives and you deserve some too!’
If you’re in the market for a new go-to knife, you now know where to go. I’m sure there are many other reputable makers out there if you prefer to find one near you – This is simply the guy I know and love and recommend without hesitation.