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Petty Things

Cutting citrus fruit, trimming meats, mincing garlic, any of those little tasks where a slice or two will suffice and then you don’t need your knife anymore—there are those times when I don’t always feel like a chef’s knife is the best tool for the moment. These thoughts recently combined with my growing dislike for my old, Target-bought santoku and the knowledge that I feel great amounts of joy when purchasing a new knife to cause me to seek out information on petty knives (often referred to as utility knives ’round these parts) that are readily available (and some that are not, but they will have to form the subject of another post at some later point in time). So, when earlier this week I noticed that there was a certain amount of extra time between performing Task A (go to bank) and Task B (go to grocery store) and that Sur La Table and Williams-Sonoma  were relatively close to where I could go to accomplish Task A, I decided some investigation was in order. As an experiment, I had myself a look at a variety of knife offerings in the approximately 6-inch, generally under $130 range. The following are my completely subjective, grossly opinionated findings.

 

The Good:
Zwilling Kramer chef’s knife in 52100:
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Okay, okay, it’s not a petty and it’s waaaaaaaay beyond the target price range that I set out to explore, but I tried it out anyway, and I have to say it was pretty durn cool. It was very light in spite of the broad look, had a fully rounded spine and choil, and a strikingly thin blade. I chopped up a bunch of zucchini and cabbage with it, which didn’t leave me much space on the cutting board to try out the knives that I had actually come intending to try, but I guess that’s okay, since one should be able to maneuver a petty when there’s limited space… or something. Anyhow, it was fun turning the chopped vegetable bits into ever smaller chopped vegetable bits with this thing in between trying the other knives out.  I would also highly recommend taking a look at this line of knives at SLT if you’re in the market for a higher end piece of cutlery that’s still readily available enough to be tested out in person rather than simply being ordered online.

Shun Classic utility:
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I felt like this knife was good. The price seemed a bit high, and I’m not a big fan of the D handles that Shun uses (this one in particular was a bit too tall and wide compared to the blade for my taste), but overall it was good. It didn’t have that YES! factor to it, but it was certainly more pleasant that not, which is substantially better than I can say for a lot of the other things I tried out. I’m sure that a lot of people would be more than happy to have a knife like this at their disposal.

 

The Bad:
Global “nakiri”: I don’t know what about this knife made it a nakiri instead of the petty that it looked, felt and acted more like (well, the label, I guess), but regardless of that, it was mostly just a reminder that I like neither the way Globals look nor how they do their handles. I know that some people really like the all-steel tapered handle thing that Globals have going on, but I am not one of them.

Wüsthof Classic utility:
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They didn’t have an Ikon to test out, so I poked a few things with the old-skool model instead. There was a time when I thought it would have been great, but my standards have risen since then. The large bolster and heavy weight, in particular, were unappealing for a smaller petty; they impart a feeling of mundane serviceability rather than speed and precision.

Miyabi Kaizen utility:
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I’m a fan of my Miyabi Fusion gyuto, and when the sales associate assisting me heard that, she was quick to assure me that the new Kaizen line by Miyabi was pretty much an “upgrade in every way” and went on to support this claim with such direct-from-the-sales-blurb-on-the-website points as there being more layers in the cladding and the handles being made of nicer material. I was skeptical of the actual upgradiness compared to the Fusion line, since one of the things I really like about the Fusion knife I already own is the western handle and the Kaizen was sporting an obvious D handle. The Kaizens also appeared to have more belly than the Fusions, in spite of the associate’s insistence that the blade shape was “pretty much the same.”
A brief cutting test proved my doubts–the Kaizen basically took the element I didn’t like from the Shun (too-wide D handle) and compounded it by feeling weightier overall and being extremely blade-heavy. My suspicion that the blade also had more (significantly more, as it turns out) belly than its Fusion cousin was also confirmed. I’m not inherently anti-belly, but I don’t see much point in a knife that has a ton of curve in a blade that’s too short to really rock with.  Cutting with this thing was an odd experiment in sensing that the knife clearly had a keen edge that was being kept from performing at the level it could by the other properties of the knife.

Kyocera ceramic utility
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If the Wüsthoff and Kaizen were too overweight, this thing was anorexic. It also looked like a toy. And while the blade was indeed extremely sharp (as expected from a ceramic knife), I couldn’t help but feel like I was standing around cutting stuff with a very pointy credit card. Not my cup of tea.

 

The Ugly:
Shun “serrated” knife-paddle-thing:
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It’s like someone flattened a ladle and put a scalloped edge on one side. If I ever find myself shrunk down to 1/20th of my original size and having to paddle a miniature canoe across a bathtub infested with baby alligators, then maybe I will discover the utility that this thing claims to offer, since I could try to use it to row and fend off uppity reptiles at the same time. Until that happens though, I will have to stick to wondering how somebody out there managed to convince somebody else out there to sell this thing as cutlery.

Shun Ken Onion what the heck?:
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Okay, so unlike the other two entries in this category, this one actually did have some positive aspects, namely a decent cutting edge and a handle that made using a pinch grip relatively comfortable. That said, the handle also more or less prevented one from using any other type of grip, not to mention it’s just plain hideous. Also, the blade was way too curved and using the tip felt awkward because of how you have to hold the knife (you have to really angle your wrist down to do tip-work). The fact that it was also the most expensive of the blades I looked at did not help its cause. I know that there are people out there who like the Shun Ken Onion knives, but I can now say that I’m definitely not one of them.

Zwilling One giant failure
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The people at Zwilling JA Henckles clearly know how to do things right at the higher end of the spectrum (like that 52100 Kramer, for example). They’ve also got tons of lines to fill the needs of people who just want cheap or mid-level knives. The Zwilling One is therefore baffling to me because it’s way too expensive to be a cheapo-knife and it’s way too crap to be a decent knife. This thing is far too heavy for its size, the blade has too much belly to be a good slicer but not enough length to be a rocker, and the back of the handle curves downward awkwardly, preventing you from being able to bring the full length of the unnecessarily curved blade to bear on what needs cutting. And yes, as is fitting for this category, it’s also stupid looking.

 

The Winner:
Miyabi Fusion utility:
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Sporting a profile that was significantly flatter and more slender than a lot of the competition along with good balance and light weight, this knife felt more like an extension of my hand than any of the others. I felt it was conceived of more as a small slicer than an all-purpose knife and as a result I think it really lends itself more to filling that niche of being good at dealing with “things I want to cut but don’t want to bust out a chef’s knife/gyuto for” than the competition. The biggest downside to this knife was the shorter blade length compared to most of the other offerings (only 5 1/2” rather than 6”+). In this respect it kind of dabbles in “long paring knife” territory, although I was able to overlook this with the thought that it leaves me justification for buying a longer petty in the future.

 

Overall the experiment left two main impressions on me.  First is that there are relatively few readily available options for knives in this sort of size and price range, especially compared to other knife varieties.  (And yes, if you search online you will find a lot more but if you actually want to test the stuff out in person before you buy it, your choices narrow down very quickly.)  Second, the variation in the knives from one brand to another and even one line of knives to another within the same brand was surprisingly high.  If you’re looking for a knife like this, I highly recommend trying several out to see what sort of blade suits you the best because there really is a large degree of variation and what works incredibly well for one person may not work at all for the next!


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6 comments to Petty Things

  • princesszyrtec

    Where’s the pics of the good and the great?! Or, did you just want to turn this into a freak show where you charge customers ten cents each to peek under the tarp and gaze at the hideousness that is the onion knife?

    • Amon-Rukh

      Gosh, okay–if your 10 cents are worth that much to you, I’ll add a few more pics. The post is now officially updated. I didn’t put up pics of the global knife since a google search for Global nakiri turned up pictures of something rather different from what I tried out in the store, leading me to believe that the sales associate who was helping me out really had no concept of what they were talking about. At any rate, whether the thing I tried was what Global considers their nakiri or their utility knife, I still don’t like their handles.

      But to get back to more important news, that Ken Onion knife really is ugly, isn’t it?

  • Totally don’t get the Ken Onion thing. Ken Onion may be a little bit special.

    A tour-de-force, although I’m a bit surprised that there’s ever a time when an 8-inch chef’s isn’t the right tool for the job (giggity). Also curious as to which store was selling the Miyabi; round my Williams-Sonoma and Sur La Table, they push Shun, Global, or a variety of Wüsthofs. Nothing quite so classy.

    Personally I love the D-grip of my Shun knives, and they’re sharp as hell, but I use a pinch grip on the blade, so that may be the difference. I also admit to owning a ceramic paring/utility knife that is kinda amazing, but they just don’t hold up to true usage. Rather, they excel at extremely simple slicing. Any advanced move, and the blade will probably snap in half. The point of mine is no exception…

    • Amon-Rukh

      The 8-inch chef’s is indeed a mighty versatile tool (mm-hmm), but a nimble slicer does come in handy at times. I also freely admit that I take pleasure in purchasing knives, so some things aren’t always highest on the priority list, but it sure is fun to buy them anyway!

      As for the Miyabis, they were all at SLT; I believe the Fusion line is a SLT exclusive but I’m not sure about the Kaizen. Both of those lines are priced fairly similarly to Shun and Global, although there appears to have been a slight price bump on the Fusions a little while back.

    • Amon-Rukh

      Some additional thoughts on handles: I also pinch grip but often feel like a D-handle is filling out the space behind the blade more than necessary. I’m not entirely sure why, since I’ve definitely used knives with big, bulky western handles and not had a problem with them. Maybe it’s the asymmetry? I don’t know. I DO know that the Fusions have particularly slender handles, and I like that a lot.

      I think a lot of it comes down to personal taste. I’ve got a few knives incoming that sport handle types I wasn’t able to try out beforehand, so it’ll be interesting to see how they feel!

  • […] the Miyabi Fusion 5.5 inch utility knife (initially found during my petty search described here). Granted, I purchased this knife back in October but since I’m talking about it now, it […]

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