I know what you’re going to say. This is GunsAmerica. Not KnivesAmerica. But we’ve been kicking around a big question lately. That question is hard to frame, but it goes something like this, are expensive guns worth what you pay for them? Or you could ask it’s transverse, why would anyone pay big money for a gun when cheap guns work just as well? Clearly the target you are shooting doesn’t care if your chunk of lead comes out of a Guncafter 1911 or HiPoint. And the same questions apply for optics and a lot of gear. The simple fact is that modern machining is leveling the playing field.
So what’s the answer? I guess it depends on what you’re talking about. And today, I’m talking about a knife. This is a topic we’ve explored before from another angle, specifically “Cheap Damascus Knives For Christmas.” But I’m looking at a knife that’s a bit more refined.
See, I had an epiphany over the summer. As mentioned, it had to do with my love of knives. I realized that as much as I enjoy collecting tactical and combat knives, I rarely used them. Living in and around city centers for the past decade (Los Angeles, Buffalo, Louisville) I almost never got an opportunity to take them out and put them through their paces, sadly. Aside from the occasional excursion to the countryside to visit friends or the infrequent trip to a wooded hiking trail on a weekend afternoon, my beloved knives sat in a dresser drawer and collected dust.
I was beginning to think I had wasted money. Some of my combat knifes are worth serious cashola. Due to that eye-popping price tag and the proprietary steel they’re made from, they are meant to be used and abused! And that’s exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to pack up some camping gear, grab my knives and head into the wild to chop down some dead trees, build a cool fort, baton some fire wood, whittle some sticks, make a spear — you know, all the fun things that the kid-in-us wants to do with knives. I just never seemed to find the time.
Continuing with that aha moment, I then recognized that although I didn’t use my combat knives all that often I did use one knife almost everyday. It was a $20 Oneida chef’s knife I bought at a Burlington Coat Factory some years back when I first started learning how to cook.
I then asked myself, Why am I spending top dollar on combat knives I hardly use and virtually nothing on a tool that I handle on a daily basis? The next question was rather obvious, do I really need to spend more money on a kitchen knife or is my $20 Oneida perfectly suited for the tasks at hand?
Quite honestly, I never had a major issue with my $20 Oneida. As a one-sized-kinda-fits all knife with a lifetime warranty, it performed well on pretty much everything I threw at it — I should note that I’m a novice cook and not a chef. I don’t do any advanced trickery in the kitchen. Just basic slicing, dicing, chopping, carving, etc. — The truth was I didn’t need a new chef’s knife. But after that inspiring cognition, I decided I would get one anyhow.
When it comes to certain items I like to have the best of the best. I guess I’m a gear snob to some extent. I like to have stuff that (a) is top of the line (b) no one else has (c) is aesthetically pleasing. Let’s be honest, it’s fun to show up with something that makes a friend covetously inquire, “Where did you get that?!”
So, I did some research into knife makers and kitchen cutlery. I came across a knife maker by the name of Ban Tang. He makes all sorts of cool knives, from large bowies to competitive choppers to a variety of awesome-looking EDC knives. And, of course, kitchen knives. The name of his operation is Ban Tang’s Stupid Sharp Knives. As the name suggests, his blades come with a razor’s edge.
After looking over his catalogue, I ordered two knives. A paring knife and a santoku. I’m going to feature the santoku knife in this article, even though the titanium paring knife he made me is badass. If you’re not familiar with the santoku, it’s Japan’s version of the chef’s knife. It’s an all-purpose cutlery instrument with a sheepsfoot blade that is carefully balanced and aptly suited for slicing, dicing and mincing. To the layperson (which I am admittedly — I am not an expert or a seasoned knife reviewer), when compared to the chef’s knife the tip is less pointy and the vertical width of the blade is thicker.
The santoku knife Ban made me had the following dimensions:
- 10 1/2″ OAL with a 6 3/4″ Blade
- .100 thick AEB-L Steel
- Full Convex Grind
- High Polished Convex Edge
- Black Diamond Wood Handles
As you can see in the photos, the blade is sweet! The obvious question now is, what did I pay for it? Unbeknownst to my GF, I dropped $300 for it. To move on to the next obvious question: Was it worth it?
Yes, absolutely. The knife is great. Like my $20 Oneida it comes with a lifetime warranty. I can also send it in to Ban at anytime for re-sharpening. With respect to performance, the knife eats anything in its path. It sings when it slices, dices and minces fruits, vegetables, poultry, beef; basically whatever I’m cutting in my kitchen. And it’s sharp as hell. To state the obvious, it’s “stupid” sharp. Why is it so sharp? Well, it’s made from AEB-L steel, a popular stain resistant steel that is known to take a very fine edge due to its fine grain structure. It’s why it’s known as “Swedish stainless razor steel,” because many knife makers use it for razors.
Ban heat treats his AEB-L using a paragon furnace. After the furnace it is tempered once before undergoing cryogenic treatment. Then it is tempered two more times to reach 61 HRC. With respect to the scales or handles, they are attached via epoxy plus stainless rivets. The rivets are basically fairly thick walled tubing that are flared out under high pressure using a special die.
Does it outperform every other kitchen knife I’ve ever owned, including the $20 Oneida? My inclination is a resounding yes but I can’t say that for sure as I have not done any empirical side-by-side testing — nor do I plan on doing any (I personally believe that hand testing one knife versus another is an ultimately flawed and reductive process unless it’s done by a professional. Too many variables to reach any reliable results. Are the blades equally sharp to begin with? Am I applying the same pressure when I use one versus the other? Am I cutting at the same angle? Obviously, this is a totally different discussion for a totally different article.)
What I can say for sure, however, is that with my santoku a mundane culinary task like chopping the potatoes or mincing the garlic becomes a pleasurable and engaging experience. I actually look forward to kitchen prep now. That to me is worth the price tag alone.
Yet, I recognize that by not doing a real comparison comparison test, either with my Oneida or another santoku, I am unable to definitively make a case that this knife is superior to others. I can argue that it’s prettier than other knives, but that is inherently subjective. Plus, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. On some level, my affinity for the knife is predicated on the price I paid for it. I place a high value on it because I paid a lot for it. As humans we tend to do this. Hell, as gun owners, we tend to do this. To circle back to those questions raised at the outset of the article, is an Ed Brown 1911 really all that functionally superior to a Springfield 1911 or Rock Island 1911? Ultimately, I think the answer is, it depends on whom you ask.
I love my santoku. But skeptics will wonder, though, are there any drawbacks or shortcoming to the knife? At that price point, perhaps one can argue there shouldn’t be. But after extensive use I’ve noticed a few. I should preface this by saying, I’m being extremely nit-picky here and fussy. Generally speaking, the knife is perfect. I’m only mentioning these because, well, nothing’s perfect.
For starters, I f-ed up when I ordered. I had a choice between Micarta handles and wooden ones. Instead of getting Micarta handles, I went with the diamond wood. It looked cooler, I thought. Yet, now I realize that I should have opted to go with toughness over coolness. Micarta is much more durable than wood. I found this out after my GF accidentally put my titanium paring knife in the dishwasher. She warped the handle. I fear that one day she may inadvertently do the same with my santoku despite my explicit warnings and reminders. In the end, I’ll probably end up having both knives re-handled at some point for this very reason.
Secondly, to put it succinctly, big hands small handle. I have rather large hands. Ogre hands, really. The handle on the santoku is fit for someone with more medium sized hands. Is this really that problematic? No, not at all. But what this means is that during extensive use — say, chili day, when we’re in the kitchen cooking all day — the knife isn’t as comfortable in my hand as it could be were the handle to be bigger. Again, maybe when I get the handle switched out I’ll ask for a thicker one. Then again, proportionally speaking, a thicker handle might blight the sleek design of the knife.
Lastly, this has nothing to do with the knife itself, but instead has to to do with the time it takes for Ban to make you what you want. Four to six months or thereabouts is what I waited to get my knives. As an impatient person that long wait sucked! But Ban’s not shy about telling you that up front. And truth be told, it makes sense. He is a one-man operation, and his cutlery is in high demand. I should have been more prepared to wait.
With all that said, I suggest that you give some serious thought about investing in a quality kitchen knife. Whether it’s a high-end chef’s knife or santoku or maybe even a full set of kitchen knives, getting a quality tool(s) to work with has the potential to change your attitude about food preparation and cooking, especially if you’re a knife guy who finds yourself in the kitchen more often than not. I’m sure you don’t have to spend $300 and wait half a year to obtain an optimal knife, but if you’re willing to, you may want to check out Ban Tang. I think you may like what you see.