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Equipment & Gear: Saber Kitchen Knives
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Cooking For Engineers



Joined: 10 May 2005
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 01, 2009 3:58 am    Post subject: Equipment & Gear: Saber Kitchen Knives Reply with quote

As a fairly picky, detail-oriented person, it's not often that I find a product that I like. It's even more difficult for me to be pleased once I've experienced a wide range of products that perform the same task but are of widely varying performance, quality, and feel. This is especially true of knives - so it came as a surprise that I would find myself wholeheartedly recommending a knife set from Saber Knives.

I should start at the beginning of the story of these knives. Inventor and entrepreneur, Richard Menefee decided to stage (work without pay in hopes of learning the trade) for six months in the kitchen of Michael's On Main in Soquel, California to improve his cooking skills (in much the same way Bill Buford did before writing Heat). From this experience, Menefee learned a couple hard truths - cooking in a commercial kitchen is some of the hardest and most demanding work around and those who choose to do so are generally not well compensated. Menefee found that most of the cooks and chefs could barely make their rent and afford daily necessities much less saving up for high quality tools of their trade. After his time at the restaurant, Rich decided to thank those he worked alongside of and learned from by doing what he does best. He designed a safe, comfortable, and sturdy knife bag, then manufactured a handful which he gave out as gifts. The bags were such a hit that everyone who got one started to provide feedback on how to make them even better. After several revisions, Menefee felt he had a product that culinary students, chefs and cooks might purchase.

Menefee took his bags to the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) to see if they'd be interested in the bags. The CIA loved them, but told Rich that they get bags for free from the knife makers. The bags supplied by the knife makers weren't nearly as nice, useful, or safe, but it's hard to beat free. It was then that the words: "Richard...you should put the same level of devotion and caring into a set of knives to match your lovely bag" were uttered and Menefee started an 18-month project that resulted in the set he is selling under the brand Saber Knives.

As is true of all products, there's a target audience. The MAC knives I use and the Global knives that my wife uses are expensive and aimed at people with disposable income, executive chefs, and the cognoscenti. They are sharp, hold an edge supremely well, and not only look beautiful, but feel wonderful when using them. They are also around $100 each. The most popular German knives are in the same ballpark - $80 to $100 per knife, but are designed differently. Generally, they are heavier and less delicate. The thicker blade isn't suitable for holding an edge with an angle as narrow as the Japanese blades, but the heft of the knife helps cut through when razor sharpness cannot. Again, for students and cooks, it's a high price to ask for a quality tool. (Just a few months ago, I met a fishmonger at the headquarter Whole Foods in Austin who saved up for a year to buy his Shun knife - waiting until he felt like he had matured enough to take care of a knife as expensive and beautiful as a Shun.) There is a place for expensive tools - sometimes you have to pay for quality - but what if you can't afford it? Are you stuck with inferior products (like Chef's Mate from the grocery store or J.A. Henckels International that is sold as an affordable alternative to the overpriced world-famous Zwilling J.A. Henckels lines)? For years, I've been telling people that there are high-performance kitchen knives available for the masses with the Forschner Chef's Knife as one of my favorites. It is this market segment - affordable but high quality - that Saber Knives is trying to satisfy.

Over the last couple months, I've had the opportunity to test Menefee's hot dropped and fully forged Saber Knives, and I'm happy to say that here is another affordable knife that performs like its more expensive counterparts. I ran it through the same battery of tests that I performed in our Equipment & Gear: Chef's Knives Rated article and found it to be around the same cutting performance as Wusthof. There are some differences though. Each of the Saber Knives has a granton edge (divots are cut into the side of the blade to reduce the surface area that food like potatoes and cucumbers could stick to). That's every single knife (except the bread knife) - even the paring and utility knives. Why? I suppose it was a matter of "why not". The granton edge does work in reducing sticking, and it certainly doesn't hurt on the smaller knives. The santoku is a little larger than most santokus we've tested, but it's the first one that Tina has liked in terms of curvature and how it moves in her hand as she cuts. That's saying a lot given that we've tried a half a dozen santokus - some as expensive as $350.



The bag that the set comes with is really a magnificent knife bag. I've been using a $40 Dexter-Russell bag for the last couple years and the design lets blades slide around during transportation. There's a strip of Velcro that's supposed to do something, but I'm not sure it works except at being annoying. I've resorted to buying knife blade protectors ($2-$5 each depending on material and size) for each of the knives I carry in the bag so I don't end up cutting myself. My bag is also soft and flexible which means I have to lie it down flat or risk having the knives slip out of their sleeves and pool at the bottom of the bag (knocking against each other as I pick up the bag again). It's ridiculous, but there was nothing better... until I opened up Menefee's bag. His bag is compact (but holds twelve knives, a cleaver, honing steel, and a pouch for other small tools), made of durable nylon (reinforced by stiff paper board), stores blades snugly and safely, has a heavy-duty zipper, and comfortable hand grip (as well as a detachable shoulder strap that doesn't need to be unclipped to open the bag unlike my Dexter-Russell bag).


The Saber knife bag works differently than most other knife bags - the blades are inserted into tight fitting sleeves (instead of the handles dropped into pockets), so much of the blade is covered and the rest of the edge is held snugly against the side of the bag. Additionally, nearly undetectable magnets embedded under the blade sleeves help keep the knives in place under normal transportation conditions. When I received the bag with knife samples, it had traveled halfway across the country via UPS. The box arrived beaten up and dirty (I'm living in a rural area right now and stuff seems to always come having tumbled in some dirt and dust). When I opened it, only a couple knives had slipped out of their sheaths, but the bag was still perfectly safe due to the protected cloth covers (which Velcro down snugly). Under normal use, I've not experienced any slipping or sliding of the blades.








Saber Knives are made of a blend of German steels and manufactured in China (the blades are completely hot drop forged - no welding of forged or stamped components or other funny stuff). A lot of stuff made in China is low quality, but there is a lot of stuff that is high quality (often coming out of the same factory). In the end, it depends on how much you want to pay for your manufactured good - the Chinese are happy to accommodate. Although the knives are more expensive to manufacture than many others made in China, Menefee feels that he can keep total cost down by keeping his staff lean (he doesn't have a secretary and writes his own letters), producing only two product lines (a set with the bag for professionals and a set with a block for home chefs - keeping down inventory and packaging costs), and sacrificing a bit of his profits. In the e-mail interviews that I've had with Menefee, he struck me as a man with a mission - focused from his time in the restaurant kitchen working alongside people less financially fortunate. In our conversations he keeps coming back to the need for affordable but quality tools. His current target? A street price around $300 for either set.

At $300, his home chef set will have a unique wood block (designed so you can see which blade you are about to draw), kitchen shears, honing steel, and the knives. As of my last correspondence, a variety of vendors will be carrying this set as production ramps up in the coming months. As vendor commits and details become available, I'll either update this article or post a comment with the information.

The Saber knife set is a deal and perfect for anyone starting out on a culinary career, getting into their first apartment, just learning to cook, or avid cooks who never got around to getting a set of high quality blades. The set costs half as much as similar quality knives (the only thing you don't get are bragging rights about the recognizable German company name and where they are manufactured), which makes them perfect for the individual who is more concerned about performance, practicality, and cost over prestige and status.


The set for the home will most likely include:
Wood block
Scissors
Two 3.5-in. paring knives
4.5-in. paring knife
5-in. French boning knife
5-in. tomato knife
6-in. utility knife
8-in. serrated bread knife
7-in. santoku
8-in. chef's knife
Fork
Steel


The professional/student set will most likely include:
Knife bag
3.5-in. paring
4.5-in. paring
5-in. French boning
6-in. utility
7-in. santoku
8-in. chef's knife
8-in. serrated bread
8-in. slicer
10-in. ham slicer
10-in. chef's knife
Steel




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madball911



Joined: 01 Oct 2009
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Location: San Marcos, CA

PostPosted: Thu Oct 01, 2009 4:58 am    Post subject: Saber knives Reply with quote

I'm drooling over that case. And the block is ingenious. Love that it's open, especially at the bottom. I get kind of weirded out every time I think about what's inside the closed holes of my current knife block.
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Jason
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 01, 2009 5:32 pm    Post subject: available Reply with quote

Any idea when these will be available?
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 02, 2009 2:29 pm    Post subject: price change Reply with quote

In your Orthogonal Thought post you promised the 10-piece set would only be $200. Now they're $300? I'm disappointed, man.

(Just kidding. I'm drooling.)
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Michael Chu



Joined: 10 May 2005
Posts: 1631
Location: Austin, TX (USA)

PostPosted: Fri Oct 02, 2009 5:13 pm    Post subject: Re: price change Reply with quote

Guest wrote:
In your Orthogonal Thought post you promised the 10-piece set would only be $200. Now they're $300? I'm disappointed, man.

(Just kidding. I'm drooling.)

I did, didn't I? I think that's still a goal for Menefee over time - to be able to produce a set that retails around $200, but I suppose it's not easy to convince retail stores to carry your product if profit for them is going to be to small. If this first batch sells well, he should be able to order a much larger batch of knives to be forged which should bring the cost down. At $300 it's a good deal especially if you consider that an equivalent bag or block is probably $75-$100. Well, there isn't an equivalent bag or block on the market, so I just made those numbers up - the bag really is better than anything else I've tried and the block is both unique and genius.
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CookBot
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PostPosted: Sat Oct 03, 2009 5:41 pm    Post subject: I want both! Reply with quote

I hope they sell those blocks and bags separately from the full knife set, cause I want both! That's hands-down the best knife block design I've ever seen, and the bag looks terrific too, even though I don't often transport knives.
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 05, 2009 6:15 pm    Post subject: When are they coming? Reply with quote

Any idea when these knives will be on the market? I've just gotten my first real apartment and I'm tired of using my roommates shoddy, blunt knives. These look perfect, and just in my budget.
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Michael Chu



Joined: 10 May 2005
Posts: 1631
Location: Austin, TX (USA)

PostPosted: Mon Oct 05, 2009 11:42 pm    Post subject: Availability Reply with quote

Received an update on when the knives will become available. It looks like it'll be on Amazon.com first and may be available as early at Wednesday October 7, 2009. Saber Knives told me the first batch has already been shipped and is en route to Amazon.com.

Here's where you'll find it on Amazon.com: click to go to Amazon.com's listing of Saber Knives
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 06, 2009 4:19 pm    Post subject: not sure this is such a deal... Reply with quote

I don't know that I'm as convinced this is such a "deal". Full disclosure: I haven't used the Saber knives, so what I'm saying below is based on general thoughts about purchasing knives, as well as Michael's description of the Saber knives.

Getting a large set of knives is almost always a bad idea for a beginner, and frankly even for more advanced cooks. Typical advice would be to start with a chef's knife, a paring knife, and a bread knife that can double as a slicer. For a similar amount of money, one could buy a Tojiro DP chef's knife, a Misono or Shun paring knife, and a Forschner bread knife -- and still have a good chunk of change left over. Bottom line is that it's a myth that you have to spend huge amounts of money to get good quality Japanese knives.

The Saber knives look heavy, and with a full bolster will be a PITA to sharpen. Granton edges are less functional than most people would like you to believe (compare this to Glestain knives, where stick resistance is seriously reduced...other than that Granton edges are typically not worth it). By contrast, the chef and paring knives in the starter set above will deliver much higher performance to the average home chef.

Just a note to prospective purchasers of such a thing: find a way to get your hands on Chad Ward's An Edge in the Kitchen (if you can't afford the book then take a look at your library), or spend a little bit of time on Knifeforums.com "In The Kitchen" forum, before plunking down $300. You may well find that you are able to both save your hard earned cash and come out with a high performance solution.
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Michael Chu



Joined: 10 May 2005
Posts: 1631
Location: Austin, TX (USA)

PostPosted: Tue Oct 06, 2009 4:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Truth be told, I did struggle a bit with this part - the massive set. I wrote a paragraph on it several times while preparing this review and in the end axed it because I couldn't get the right message across. It occurs to me that in the various revisions of the review, I lost the crux of it - so here's my executive summary:

Saber Knives performs on par or better than famous brand named German knives. Saber Knives do not perform as well as the Japanese knives that I prefer. The bag and/or block that comes with Saber Knives are unique. The bag is the best designed knife bag I've ever seen or used to date.
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Dilbert



Joined: 19 Oct 2007
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Location: central PA

PostPosted: Tue Oct 06, 2009 7:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I have a small issue with the block design.

it is neat - it is unique - it is clever. in theory I like it....

my problem is the vertical withdraw motion needed. on a counter top with overhead cabinets, a slanted withdraw angle avoids the knuckle banging on the over head cabinet bottom.

if one has a "clear" space - obviously not a problem. but in working up a custom design block for my collection I am concerned with having an angle that permits an easy withdraw motion. my cooktop has a hood - and overhead cabinets left and right - so a "vertical" withdraw of an 8 inch or ten inch knife just would not work without pulling the whole block out to the front of the counter.
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Rich Menefee
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 08, 2009 5:35 am    Post subject: Saber Knives responds Reply with quote

Hello all, this is Rich Menefee, founder and creator of Saber Knives.

I wanted to take this opportunity to address something that " Dilbert " mentioned in his constructive criticism of my block.

Dilbert, you are absolutely correct on your observations on the limitation of my block. I know this because I discovered it early on in the prototype stages.

There are hundreds of block designs currently on the market. In my humble opinion they are all roughly the same. Slightly different shapes, colors, materials...but basically a sloped / slotted hunk of wood that prevents you from seeing the desired blade, holes that fill up with all manner of debris, and are stationary.

I felt there were ample options for consumers who wanted a block that was traditional and common.

My goal was to do something completely different.

Is it for everyone? Obviously not.

I have one of these blocks on my counter top, ( I'm not just the founder, I'm a customer ) and I have cabinets that hang down and prevent me full access to the block.

This is what I have done. I have placed one side of the base against the side of my stove top. I have then moved it just far enough away from the tile back splash so it rotates freely on its lazy Susan base.

It is high enough off the counter so it clears my stove top, and I simply rotate the device towards the stove top where there is ample room for me to pull the biggest knife out without interference under the range hood.

This process is very simple as I can not only see what blade I wish to pull, but can easily rotate into position.

I look forward to answering any questions you might have about my product and encourage any of you who have ideas on how to improve upon any of my products to please contact me.

Nothing would make me happier then to listen to the people who buy these things on how to make them better.

You have my word on it.

Thanks,

Rich Menefee
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Michael Chu



Joined: 10 May 2005
Posts: 1631
Location: Austin, TX (USA)

PostPosted: Sat Oct 10, 2009 7:03 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

It looks like Amazon.com has a seller pricing the set at $350. I've received a couple emails asking me if I really do recommend these knives at $300 (and I guess, now at $350) and to be honest, I didn't know the price would rise so high. When I started testing the knives I thought the set would have a street price of around $200-$250, but since then (apparently due to market forces and economics of the retail world) the price has jumped 50%. I still think these are a great alternative to Henckels and Wusthof, but I'd probably opt for a set of Forschner or a few Japanese knives now that we're talking $350. I know that day in and day out, I use an 8-in chef's and a paring and that's pretty much it. In my block, those are the two that are "expensive" and the rest (bread knife, boning, etc.) are fine quality, but low cost (nothing over $20). However, if you are new to cooking and want to have a full set so you can experiment with what knives feel best for different tasks or you like to have a set of high quality matching knives, then purchasing a set isn't a bad idea - and this is a good quality full set that is still a really good price. Unfortunately, at $350, I can't recommend the set to everyone. (At $200, it was easy to make that recommendation - at $300 when I published the article it was a harder - at $350, I felt it was necessary to write this comment.)
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PostPosted: Sat Oct 17, 2009 2:50 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Will the knife bag be available for purchase separately?
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Michael Chu



Joined: 10 May 2005
Posts: 1631
Location: Austin, TX (USA)

PostPosted: Sat Oct 17, 2009 7:17 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Anonymous wrote:
Will the knife bag be available for purchase separately?

At first, I think it will not - but it is my understanding that it will eventually be available. I don't know how much it will be or when they will be available, but if I find out, I'll let you guys know.
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