Kramer Knives Background
Last updated 10.09.19 — To lovers of fine kitchen cutlery, Bob Kramer knives (his original hand-wrought versions) have achieved an almost legendary status. We’re talking about blades that, depending on the fit and finish, can take up to 100 man hours to create (plus 25 years of bladesmithing experience as Kramer likes to quip) and cost $6,000 or more. (Yes, you saw that number right.) Blades not only beautiful, but potentially tough enough to pass the stringent standards of the American Bladesmith Society—i.e. slice 1-inch thick corded rope with a single swipe, chop through a couple of two-by-fours, and still have edge enough to shave off arm hair. Even at this lofty price, there’s still a high demand for Kramer hand-made knives. But you need to be patient enough to wait an unspecified amount years, or lucky enough to pick a winning lottery number, before you’ll pinch-grip one of your very own. Kind of a drag.
(Below, a Bob Kramer original: 8″ Chef, Euro Style, 400 Layer Chevron Damascus with Dyed Big Leaf Maple Handle.)
Then, just a few years back—something happened. Kramer went commercial. He teamed up with J.A. Henckels, one of the largest and most famous German-knife conglomerates, to design and produce a Bob Kramer knife for the everyman. One that would retain the heart and soul and razor-sharp edge of his handmade original while reducing the cost and manufacturing time. How? The usual way—by allowing other humans (and more of them) to join in the process. While still keeping an ultra-tight rein on quality control.
Bob Kramer Carbon Steel Chef Knife by Henckels (8-inch)
Henckels Meets Kramer
Yes, this “everyman’s knife” still costs $300 (ha, ha, ha). So, let’s take a look at what you get:
…you get the very same material as the Bob Kramer knives that come out of his shop—52100 steel.1) First, and foremost, you get the very same material as the Bob Kramer knives that come out of his shop—52100 steel. Because of its potential for a super-fine grain structure, its excellent hardening and toughness, and its wear resistance, this has been Kramer’s “steel of choice” for the past 19 years. The blade’s been heat treated to a Rockwell hardness of 60–61 which makes it substantial harder than your average German-style knife and closer to a Japanese (apropos, since they’re manufactured in Seki City, Japan). Which means it will take, and hold, a wicked edge for quite a long time, but also must be treated with greater care than your average Henckels or Wusthof, which are made of softer steels that will tolerate more abuse.
Please be aware that this is a high carbon steel. Not just carbon steel, and definitely not stainless. If you’re in the habit of leaving your knives lying in pools of water, this is not the knife for you. In short order, it will begin to rust. You must wash and dry it after using it, and oil it periodically in order to protect it. And, unlike stainless, it will not stay shiny. With age it will develop a darker-colored patina that actually protects the steel somewhat and gives it a sexy vintage look. (Below: Two identical Kramer/Henckels carbon steel knives—the top one having developed a patina.)
2) Next, you get an extra wide blade, especially in proportion to its length. Like a Japanese santoku. Its maximum width, at the heel, runs a full 1/2-inch wider than your average 8-inch chef knife and is closer to the width of a 10-incher.
There are two things nice about this: 1) If you have larger hands, it pretty much guarantees you’ll never need to worry about your rapping your knuckles against the cutting board while chopping carrots. 2) You get some of the cutting power of a 10-inch knife minus the unwieldiness. 3) You can use the broad blade to easily scoop up chopped zucchini and such and toss it in the soup pot. (One negative though—it won’t fit in your average knife block. It will require a block with extra wide slots.)
4) Finally, you get the hefty handle of a German-style knife, but the lighter, thinner blade of Japanese-style. Which means it’s comfy in your grip, but will slip through food with less resistance than, say, a Henckels Pro S or a Wusthof Classic. If you’re accustomed to wielding the aforementioned German-style knives, you will be surprised at how much lighter the Kramer feels. (Right: African Blackwood handle.)
Oh, and you also don’t have to deal with a traditional bolster. Which makes the knife easier to sharpen—whether you do it yourself or send it out to a pro. (See How to Buy a Great Chef Knife for more on all this.)
But Is It Worth $300?
No doubt about it, there are comparable knives out there, some by Henckels even, that you can buy for half the price. They will slice and dice beautifully and take an excellent edge. So why pay the extra?
- Because the steel (which includes the heat treatment) on this baby is truly excellent. It will take a super-fine edge and retain it.
- Many of the Japanese knives that might compete with this knife cannot be safely honed to bring back their edges. They require a waterstone—which is not a huge undertaking, but still not as convenient.
- High carbon steel is much easier to sharpen than stainless steel.
- This knife has got a unique feel—a substantial handle with a thin blade. Whether you like this feel or not, only you can decide. But if you’re within striking distance of a Sur La Table store, it might be fun to give it a hands-on audition.
- Bob Tate, of Seattle Knife Sharpening (my favorite professional sharpening service), claims it’s the best mass-produced knife he’s had the pleasure to know. Yes, Tate sells these knives on his Seattle Sharpening website, so he’s not a totally disinterested party. Nevertheless, every single day he’s in close contact with a wide variety of knives that come from kitchens (home and professional) all over the country. Nothing to sniff about.
Bob Kramer Carbon Steel Chef by Henckels
BUY NOW @ Amazon / Sur La Table
Is buying this chef knife going to rock your world and magically transform your kitchen, your life, into a super-charged fountain of bliss? Of course, not. It’s just a knife. But it’s a good one. And if you treat it well, which is what you should do with all your kitchen knives, it will last a lifetime. (To view some other top-notch knives that are a bit more affordable, mosey on over to Best Chef Knives — Six Recommendations.)
Bob Kramer Knives by Henckels — Three More
If you can’t deal with the thought of maintaining a carbon steel blade or the feel of the Kramer carbon steel knife doesn’t work for you, or, if its design is simply not your cup of tea—there are three other Kramer knives worth looking at:
1) the Essential
2) the Stainless Damascus
3) the Meiji.
Like the carbon steel, all three of these Kramer knives were created in collaboration with Henckels and (according to Henckels’ promo copy) go through a rigorous manufacturing process involving 45 artisans and 100 distinct steps in Seki, Japan. As in the carbon steel knife above, Kramer has been closely involved in their design and manufacturing process.
Before we get into the details of each individual knife and how they differ, let’s look at their commonalities (which, except for being stainless, they share with the Carbon as well):
- Almost identical blade and handle shape for the Essential and Damascus (and Carbon)—but not the Meiji. That is not to say that, in your hand, the Essential, Damascus (and Carbon) will feel exactly the same. For one thing, each handle is made of a different material, and, for another, their balance will vary slightly. But they’re very close. (Note: This does not hold true for the Meiji which has a noticeably different handle and feel.)
- Wider than average blade. The average 8-inch chef knife measures around 2 inches at its widest. These blades (including the Meiji) all measure 2.5 inches at their maximum. They will not fit in your average chef knife slot.
- No bolster—which makes them easier to sharpen.
- Sharpened at an edge angle of 15 degrees. This is the minimum standard for most Japanese knives—and becoming the new standard for high-quality German knives as well.
- All stainless steel knives, not carbon—irregardless of Damascus patterning.
- Thin, Japanese-style construction for minimum resistance.
Also—all these knives share such perks as a rounded spine (which won’t give you blisters when you chop with two hands) and the special Kramer decorative logo pin embedded in the handle.
Bob Kramer Essential Chef Knife by Henckels (8-inch)
The Essential is a less-expensive recreation of the Carbon Steel using stainless steel (FC61) instead carbon and sporting a black polymere handle (that looks like wood, but isn’t) instead of African Blackwood (a very hard and special species). It’s the least expensive of all the Kramer knives, but it’s no slouch. If you really really love the feel of the original Carbon Steel, but can’t handle the maintenance of a carbon blade and have a tight budget, this is the Kramer knife for you.
Although the handle material is the same kind of polymer most classic German knives are made of, it’s “brushed”—which makes it matte, not shiny. Personally, I prefer it.
Bob Kramer Stainless Damascus by Henckels (8-inch)
Although the Stainless Damascus has the same shape and very similar look as the Essential (and Carbon, for that matter), it’s made of distinctly snazzier materials. Think of it as a dressed-up, deluxe sister. These three elements dress it up:
#1: Chevron Damascus patterned blade. Created from a 100 layers of nickel and stainless steel, these layers of softer steel wrap around a hard core, and not only decorate, but protect the cutting edge. It’s an age-old manufacturing process perfected on Samurai swords and resurrected by modern-day Japanese knife makers such as Shun. (If you run your finger over the flat of the blade, you can actually feel the layers.) Designed to dazzle.
#2: SG2 steel core. SG2 is often called powdered steel and is the latest technology in steel making. Even though it’s very hard (HRC63), it can remain more flexible (less brittle) than other, similar, steels like Shun’s VG10. It excels at edge retention and is highly-resistant to corrosion and chipping. Next to the other three Kramer knives, you’ll need to sharpen this one the least.
#3: Micarta handle. Micarta is created out of multiple layers of linen and organic resins. Curvy linear patterns run through it, similar to grains in wood, and it feels textured to the touch. It’s been scrupulously finished to slip into your hand and feel like it belongs there.
All three of these elements raise the bar on opulence and justify the higher price tag.
(Note: Some have found the Damascus layers very subtly resist when cutting dense vegetables like cabbage or even an apple. So, if you’re finicky about this kind of thing, make sure to test it out first in a store.)
Bob Kramer Meiji Chef Knife by Henckels (8-inch)
In the Meiji, Bob Kramer makes his most serious nod to traditional Japanese knifemaking. It looks and feels like a meld between Kramer’s signature style and a Japanese chef knife. Or, to put it another way—it’s Kramer’s answer to Shun.
1) Although the blade is still broad, the shape is not quite as wide (as the other Kramers), but a touch more eleganted and allied to the Japanese gyoto.
2) The D-shaped packawood handle (derived from Japanese knives) is a total departure from his other knives. Gone is the hefty rounded form, replaced by the straight, stripped-down, angular contour so common to Japanese handles.
As you might guess, the patterned and sandwiched construction of the Meiji blade is very very similar to the Stainless Damascus. Both have 100 layers of softer stainless steel/nickel wrapped around a harder core. But, instead of SG2, the Meji’s core is FC61—same as the Essential. (But the Essential is one complete piece of it.) Thus, the cutting performance of the Meiji should pretty much match the Essential, as well as its ability to take a keen edge and retain it. So even though the Meiji blade might look more like the Stainless Damascus, it should perform more like the Essential. Am I making sense?
The handle feels great, really conducive to feeling the knife as an extension of your hand rather than a separate tool.At any rate. . .if you love the idea of a Kramer chef knife, and love his sense of design and quality, but are not crazy about his signature style, this might be the knife for you. Because this is the most dramatic departure from what he’s done before. It’s a different animal. And judging from the comments on the Sur La Table website, it’s a success. Everyone raves about the Meiji’s feel.
Who’s the Sharpest?
In order to get a clearer sense about how these Kramer knives might differ performance-wise, I was fortunate enough to have a brief phone chat with the man (Bob Kramer, that is) about his creations.
First and foremost, he affirmed these knives should all perform really really well in any kitchen. And, depending on your use, you’d be hard put to detect much of a difference in their cutting power. But heavy (or finicky) users will probably notice that the Carbon Steel outperforms all the stainless and that the two knives made with FC61—the Essential and Meiji—will tie for second. This is primarily due to the fact these steels have the finest grain structure and, thus, can take the keenest edge. The Damascus will trail slightly in this regard.
On the other hand, the Damascus will come in first in edge retention, beating out all the other three, including the Carbon. (It’s that SG2 steel.) The Essential and Meiji will again tie for second and the Carbon might be last in this regard, but will be, by far, the easiest to sharpen and touch up. So, each knife (and the steel its made from) has it’s own specialities.
In the end, all of these Bob Kramer’s should perform very well out of the box—as well as in the long-term. If you add to that their feel, the beauty and attention to detail that has gone into their design, and their high-quality manufacturing and finish, you’ve got some terrific options to choose from!
Kramer Knives Summary
Bob Kramer Carbon Steel ($300)
– same 52100 carbon steel Kramer uses in his hand-made knives; HRC 61
– will take the keenest edge and is the easiest to sharpen
– susceptible to staining and rust
– African Blackwood handle
Bob Kramer Essential ($200)
– very similar in shape and feel to original Carbon
– FC61 stainless steel; HRC 61
– brushed polymer handle (seems like wood, but is not)
– most like the original Carbon and the most inexpensive
Bob Kramer Stainless Damascus ($400)
– very similar in shape and feel to original Carbon
– SG2 powder steel core; HRC 63
– clad in 100 layers of nickel and stainless Damascus steel
– micarta handle
– best edge retention (but hardest to sharpen)
Bob Kramer Meiji ($250 on sale)
– Kramer meets Japanese—most different design than all the others
– core FC61; HRC 61
– clad in 100 layers of nickel and stainless Damascus steel
– packawood handle
– handle and feel distinctly different from the others
Bob Kramer is an amazing knife. Excellent choice. I have always been a fan of the Bob Kramer knife because it is exceptional, but a close second would have to be the bench made. Thanks for this guide! I know a lot about pocket knives, but I’m still learning about the Kramer knife.
Great post. I really want to get a Kramer in carbon, but being a home cook with three other Japanese chef knives it’s a bit difficult to justify the price.
I totally hear you. On one hand, a great kitchen knife can make cooking a joy, on the other, it’s just a knife! No to get too heavy, but only our hearts know the diff between what we need and what we want :)
I test drove a Kramer Essential at Sur la Table, what do you think of it?
Substantially cheaper, but is it as good?
I think the Kramer Essential is a well-made, high-quality blade. Like the original factory-made Kramer in the post above, it’s modeled after his original handmade chef knife, the knife that nowadays you can only buy at auction or a lottery/waiting list and will cost thousands of dollars.
Buuuuut, there’s a twist—instead of being made of carbon steel it’s made of stainless. What does that mean? Plus side: the blade’s not prone to rust, so you don’t have to be so careful to wash and immediately dry it. Minus side: it will not keep it’s edge quite as long as the carbon steel, won’t be capable of taking quite as sharp an edge (pretty marginal), and won’t be quite as easy to sharpen. Plus side: it costs less and can probably take a little more abuse than the carbon-steel version (meaning it will be less prone to chip or crack).
Oh, and the handle on the Essential is NOT made of natural wood, but a wood-like, feeling polymer. (If you look in the comments section from the above link I’ve given you to the Sur La Table website, you can read more discussion and comparison.)
Over Christmas, Sur La Table had the Essential on sale. Who knows maybe they will discount them again? See my post: Quality Kitchen Knives on Sale. If you love the way it feels, and you don’t want to have to worry about maintenance. . .I would feel free to buy it :)
I’m very interested in Bob Kramer’s knives and his branching out to Zwilling due to the amazing craftsmanship. Would you be able to give more details on comparison of Bob Kramer’s Meji Japanese collection and the Carbon Steel knives? These knives would be used by a chef in hospitality rather than in a home.
Yes, Bob Kramer loves quality. Thus, all the knives he’s licensed with Zwilling JA Henckels are designed to be pleasing to eye as well as perform superbly. For the average home cook, I think looks and feel should be the deciding factors, but for a professional (which is your need) performance is usually at the top of the list.
1) I believe the original Kramer Carbon Steel will out-perform the Kramer Meiji. It’s the nature of the carbon steel which is the very same steel Kramer uses for his handmade knives that auction for thousands of dollars. Carbon steel will take a sharper edge and hold it longer than the stainless steel that I believe is at the core of the Meiji. But I have not tested these knives side by side, so the difference may not be that noticeable. And the fact that both have been tempered to a hardness of 61 HRC would indicate that the steel in both blades should behave similarly.
2) You will need to be a touch more careful with the Carbon Steel than the Meiji. It might not take quite as much abuse as the Meiji and will definitely rust if you do not wipe it dry on a regular basis. This might be a pain in a professional kitchen and might not make it worth the extra performance. The Carbon will also develop a patina which will give it a worn, vintage look, while the the Meiji will pretty much retain its beautiful Damascus pattern because it’s stainless.
3) I have not had a chance to try out the Meiji yet, but it’s pretty clear from photos that the handle and feel are different from the Carbon Steel knife. The Carbon has a hefty handle and a very wide blade. The Meiji handle looks slimmer and the blade not as wide. This may, or may not, make any difference to you, but you should be aware. If you are finicky about how a knife feels in your hands, I would recommend trying them both out in a store. Or. . .you could order both online and return one. (But you should check with whoever you order them from to make sure they will accept a return.)
Hope this guidance is helpful. Let me know what you decide :)
I just received an offer in my email from American Test Kitchen for the Bob Kramer Carbon Steel Euroline 8″ chef’s knife at a reduced price of $199.00. I am a housewife who cooks everyday, who loves good knives—but I really don’t need another knife. Do you think this is a good price? I’m so tempted! I recently purchased a Tojiro Santouko which was only $48 at Amazon, but it’s crazy sharp! However owning a Bob Kramer would be a dream come true!
I’m still enjoying your website and would appreciate your advice. Thanks!
Number One: Let’s make sure we’re talking about the same knife. You wrote “Bob Kramer Carbon Steel Euroline 8-Inch”. The term “Euroline” is usually connected with the stainless Essential line, not the Carbon Steel line. So this is confusing. And, as you can see in my article above, the Essential is currently on sale for $200 at Sur La Table. Make sure you’re clear on which knife they are offering! Is it indeed the Carbon Steel?
If it is the Carbon Steel, then it’s quite a deal—$100 off the best price you can get anywhere. I’ve never seen it that inexpensive. If you love to cook, and you fully appreciate fine knives and know how to care for them, then you might want to jump on it. But don’t take my word for it, read what the reviewers on Amazon have to say: Bob Kramer Carbon Steel Chef Knife, 8″
I join Sydney in the applause for your website. Take a well-deserved bow, my good man.
My mistake! It’s not the Euroline it’s the Bob Kramer Carbon Steel, 8-Inch chef knife. Below is the description. An incredible deal from American Test Kitchen who rated it the best carbon steel knife.
Bob Kramer 8″ Carbon Steel Chef’s Knife
$199.95 / Compare at: $380.00
Great! So my comments are accurate and complete. It’s an especially great deal for a very special knife.
One caveat though: Have you ever tried one out, held it in your hands? Because, although the knife itself is pretty light, the handle is substantial and the blade broad. It’s especially well-suited for cooks with larger hands. If you have smallish hands, you might find it off-putting. Make sure the ergonomics are in your comfort zone :)
Great site. Thanks for hard work.
I tried out the Bob Kramer Carbon Steel at a Sur La Table in Seattle side by side with a Shun, the Kramer Damascus, and another (unsure of which one.)
I immediately fell in love with the Kramer Carbon Steel and spent the next two years trying to find a deal like Sydney’s. I eventually ordered it from Bed, Bath and Beyond using one of their 20% off coupons.
Sydney – The offer is AMAZING, and just about unheard of for that knife. I do NOT regret spending the $264.00. The knife does take a bit of maintenance, and it will acquire a patina pretty quickly. I have found it necessary to take it to a whet stone about once a month, and hone it on a steel (Zwilling) prior to every use. The handle, as KKG stated, is pretty hefty and extremely comfortable for my medium large hands. I agree that you should go and test drive one at a Sur La Table prior to purchase.
BTW – The photo in this article comparing a new BK Carbon Steel knife with one with a patina shows exactly what my knife now looks like. I like the patina, and it seems to provide some protection for the knife, as well as adding a kind of non-stick property to the knife.
God bless the patina, no? I own the Wusthof 200th Anniversary chef/paring knife set which are made of carbon steel. They are both deeply on the way toward developing patinas on their blades. ’Tis a beautiful thang. . .
I debuted the Bob Kramer knife with the cashew chicken and fried rice recipes which require a lot of chopping. It’s a dream come true! I have never chopped raw chicken, onions, peppers, garlic and ginger so effortlessly! You can slice garlic thin enough to see through! I’m so thrilled with the knife’s performance. It also feels very well-balanced in the hand and with just enough weight to feel substantial, but it did not cause any wrist fatigue.
I found things stick to the blade a bit, but I read in a review, that when the patina develops this will diminish. The patina already has started, even after one cooking session, but I don’t mind. As per the instructions provided, I hand washed it, dried it and oiled it with the camellia oil so rust does not develop. All-in-all it’s a wonderful knife and I would highly recommend it.
I’ve also decided that when it needs sharpening, I will send it to the Seattle knife service you recommend on your website. I’ll also follow your advice and not use the ceramic hone. I’m not taking any chances with my baby! LOL
Thanks for giving us the skinny, and sharing your delight with the Kramer Carbon!
Perhaps I let you astray somehow regarding honing though. It’s my understanding that you definitely CAN use the ceramic hone on this knife. (It’s mainly traditional Japanese blades that the ceramic hone is not recommended.) I would use a lighter hand to start with though (lighter than for your Tojiro, for example), especially since the carbon steel is not as resistant as stainless and should respond to honing (and sharpening) more readily.
Kudos for your purchase! I love mine, and you are correct about the patina and the non-stick quality. I also don’t smell my knife anymore now that it has a mature patina.
I found that I went about 3 months when the knife was new before I had to take a waterstone to it. I go to the waterstone about every 4-6 weeks now.
I watched all of Bob Kramer’s sharpening videos before I started. The main difference between our knives and a run-of-the-mill knife is the angle of sharpening. Bob is pretty clear on how to best determine that and get the best results.
Good to know that Kramer gives good video lessons as well :)
Thanks so much for clarifying that I can use the ceramic hone on the Bob Kramer knife! I was at a loss as to what to do when it needed honing, other than sending it to Seattle. If I can hone regularly, I can hope to keep the edge longer and delay sharpening.
I do not know how to use a whetstone, but was thinking of learning. Do you recommend it? If so, what grit? Or should I just leave it to the professionals?
Thanks again, Sydney
Although it’s empowering to learn know how to do some of your own sharpening/touching up, I think you need to be willing to give it some serious time and energy. Otherwise, instead of improving your edges, you are more likely to leave them the same or in worse shape than they were to begin with. So, first think about if you can spare the time.
If I had the time (which I might someday when my daughter goes to college), I would not invest in a whetstone, but in waterstones. Waterstones are less aggressive, so there’s less chance of unnecessarily taking off more metal than you need to. I would consider the Edge Pro sharpening system or simply buy the Murray Carter Intro to Sharpening DVD and a couple of quality Japanese waterstones.
Hi! I’m super interested in the Kramer knives, but I have a question or two about them.
So can you use a regular metal honing steel on these knives, i.e. any of the four? It’s been my understanding that as you go up on the Rockwell scale (say, 60-61 or higher), using a honing steel could cause tiny chipping on the edge due to the fact that the steel is less ductile and the edge will break rather than bend. I have a couple of Shuns that I avoid honing for this reason. Is that not the case here?
I really like the edge retention of Japanese knives, but wish I had something that performed with their keenness of cutting that I could also hone once in awhile to touch up the edge. These knives seem like they can meet my needs, but I want to make sure that’s the case.
You’ve done some good research! The solution to your problem is a ceramic hone. Ceramic, because it is so much harder than steel, can handle the higher HRCs without chipping the steel. And it even cleans up the edge bit, to boot.
For any of the four Kramer/Henckels knives (as well as your Shuns), a ceramic hone will work perfectly. I’ve used one on my Shun Classic chef knife for a couple of years now and it’s kept the edge remarkably fresh.
For more details, please check out both of these articles:
What’s a Honing Steel?
How to Hone a Knife (and Keep It Sashimi Sharp)
(Also, please add the Idahone ceramic hone, to my list of recommended hones.)
Have fun in the kitchen with your Kramer knives! And if you have any other questions, I’m here for you. . .
I wonder what sharpening materials/methods Bob Kramer himself recommends for these knives. I have a ridiculous array of sharpening tools and I still am not sure what I like best for my good knives. (I don’t own a Kramer – yet!)
You don’t have to wonder! It’s pretty clear from all of Kramer’s videos and sharpening products that he recommends sharpening with a Japanese waterstone. At least for the layman.
Otherwise, if you don’t have the time or inclination to sharpen yourself (like me, alas), you can send your knives to Bob Tate at Seattle Knife Sharpening. He was personally trained by Kramer in all the methods Kramer actually uses when he doesn’t have the time to hand-sharpen. (Kramer was a professional knife sharpener before he was a bladesmith.) Tate is the finest knife sharpener I have come across so far. (He’s also a really nice guy.) You should read my two-part interview with him when you get a chance.
Just bought the BC carbon steel 8″ Chef Knife yesterday and I’m so excited to use it at work tomorrow!! I’m a Raw Vegan Chef on the Superfoods Team in the Living The Dream Cafe at the Facebook headquarters and I cut lots of veg all day long! So excited to use this knife! Bless.
Molto congrats, Julia! Tell us how it goes :)
I’m a professional chef, just received the Damascus for early Xmas gift. Absolutely love it! Definitely one of my sharpest knives in my set now, the feel is incredible! My new go-to knife for sure.
Executive Chef Scott Long
Thanks so much for offering your feedback as a professional! Please feel free to check back in and tell us how the Damascus is working for you further down the road.
Great article! Kramer actually partnered with Shun many years ago and produced a knife that the Meiji is almost an exact duplicate of (down to the name). They were a Williams Sonoma exclusive and have been discontinued for some time. I picked up the 8″ chefs knife and ceramic hone as a wedding gift and it has been a great companion in the kitchen. Unfortunately, it is nigh impossible to find any of the other knives in the set any more, except on FleaBay (which I refuse to deal with). If I didn’t have a set of Shun Classics under the tree, I’d seriously consider filling out my current line with the Henckels.
Ah, come on, Jason. . .there’s always room for one more knife! At least, that’s what I tell my wife. . .ha-ha!
Thanks for your story. Yes, I was aware that Kramer had his first run at licensing knives with Shun. But it was not a match made in heaven. . .
Have a cutting-edge Christmas. . .and cook up a storm with your Shuns :)
A week into using a new Kramer Stainless Damascus Steel set, I offer the following observations:
– Feel great in the hand. Well balanced. The micarta and shape of the handles are spot on for me.
– Super sharp out of the box. Honed after every other use as is my routine. See no change in sharpness.
– Amazing for mincing, dicing, and slicing. Pure pleasure. I love dicing onions and bacon for my morning veggie hash.
– There is a little resistance from the damascus layers on certain veggies. Not upsetting, but noticeable.
– Love all the knives in the set: carver, bread, utility, paring, and of course, chef’s.
– Value is relative… Very pricey (I am not a pro chef!). But it does make cooking more enjoyable.
– Also bought a new cutting board to add to the pleasure and to protect my investment.
Thanks for sharing your observations, Michael! They seem to be in sync with what I’ve heard as well. Sharp, great feel, fun to use, but with a touch of resistance from the Damascus layers on some veggies. Could you be more specific about what kinds of vegetables? I’m assuming it’s stuff that the uses the full blade width like cabbage or large onions. How about large fruits like melons. . .do you feel a touch of resistance on them as well?
I tend to agree about value. If a kitchen knife performs well and you use it a lot and you can afford it—it’s worth paying more for aesthetics. It will dollar cost average down to nothing over 20 or more years :)
Thanks for the article. A quick question, however: after cutting into a steak (seasoned with salt and cooked in oil/butter), the knife developed some discoloration, similar to what an oil slick might look like on the ground. As I wiped the knife after each use, and cleaned/dried it thoroughly, I assumed that this was a non-issue and just part of using the knife. However, I was surprised it occurred after the first use. Long story short: I want to make sure that I am cleaning and caring for the knife properly. I poked around your site for an article but didn’t find one, and I’ve found some other resources online to be a bit lacking. Do you have any recommendations for resources, or have any to offer yourself? I really like your site, and intend to keep coming back to it. Thanks for your hard work!
Glad you’re enjoying the Kramer!
The discoloration you are observing is the natural phenomena of carbon steel when it meets the world of food, especially acidic food. It’s called a patina. As long as you thoroughly rinse/clean and DRY your knife after using—or even during, if it’s a long session—the patina will develop naturally and not harm your knife. As a matter of fact, as the patina grows to cover the entire blade, it will act as a natural protector against rust.
Rust will definitely harm your knife. And that’s why it’s important to never let the blade drip dry, never leave it wet or around water for any length of time (i.e. more than a few minutes), never leave it in puddles of tomato juice, etc. Acidic foods like onions and tomatoes and salt will react on the carbon stronger than water and produce more patina. And if you don’t rinse/clean the knife and dry it, the patina will veer towards rust. Not good. Here’s Cook’s Illustrated take on it:
You can also lightly oil your knife after you use it—either while, or after, it’s developing a patina. (It’s especially a good idea if you don’t use the knife often or live in a humid climate.) That’s what I do with my Wusthof Anniversary carbon knives which are on their way towards developing full patinas. Actually, now that I think about, my oiling is probably slowing the patina process down a bit. Whatever. I’d rather do that than risk any unexpected rust attacks—which I did have on the paring knife because my lovely life-partner forgot to dry the knife after washing. (It’s now more thoroughly hidden away, ha-ha!)
But back to oil. . .I believe you can simply use mineral oil (the same type I recommend to keep your wood cutting boards refreshed). But whatever you do, make sure the oil can be consumed and won’t harm you. I would NOT use vegetable oil, mainly because it gets gummy and turns rancid. I use a Camelia oil from Japan that’s designed for carbon knives. Here’s the kit I bought on Amazon:
Yoshihiro 100% Pure Tsubaki Japanese Knife Maintenance Oil with Complimentary Sabitori Rust Eraser, 3.4oz
Hope this helps. . .have fun in the kitchen with your Kramer!
Thanks so much, this is incredibly helpful! I’m definitely going to look into buying that oil.
You’re welcome! :)
This was a great article! I found Bob Kramer knives about a year ago and haven’t looked back. My wife and I have been taking cooking classes at Sur La Table and after each class you get 20% off any one item and 10% off everything. I’ve taken two classes and brought home two Meiji knives. I absolutely love the fit and finish and the design is really nice.
Thanks for the tip on the ceramic hone. I’ll be getting one soon. My next Kramer will be the 8″ carbon steel chef’s knife. We’ve got another class coming up in June.
Glad KKG could be of service, Scott! And thanks for sharing.
That is so cool that you and your wife are taking cooking classes together. Is this a brave new world for you or have you always enjoyed cooking? It reminds me of a couple I know (retired) who signed up with Blue Apron a year or so ago and it’s revolutionized their kitchen. Neither was that much into cooking before, but now they’re loving it and he’s been leading the way :)
Nate (aka KKG)
Hi Nate, Thanks for the reply. I worked in restaurants (nothing high end) in my early 20’s before I became an engineer. Now, I get to cook for fun but the prep and the process are ingrained in me. The cooking classes are awesome. No matter how much you know, you’ll always get a nugget or two that makes it worthwhile. Plus, for the price of a nice meal, we get a date night and I get 20% off of a Bob Kramer knife. My wife is a great cook too but we both benefit from the classes.
BTW, just saw your book. I’ll have to get a copy.
Hey, KKG. I wandered over to this thread and see I commented here shortly before I bought my Meiji. So allow me to reiterate some of the things I said in a different thread (and add some others):
1. For those left-handed folks wondering about the handle on the Meiji (and other Japanese knives), let me just say I’m left handed and it hasn’t been off-putting to me at all. Maybe I have just learned to adjust to the right-handed world, but the handle seems to fit my left hand just fine using a pinch grip. It’s like the ridge on the right side of the handle is the perfect place for the meaty pad at the base of my left thumb to sit while I pinch grip the knife.
2. Is the price worth it? I’ve always believed you get what you pay for. KKG suggested to me about a year ago that I wasn’t being too indulgent spending money on Meiji given that I do a fair bit of home cooking (large family and the kids occasionally request that I cook for their friends as well). When, eight months into my ownership of this splendid blade, I can still easily zip through onions, it makes me look back and think, yep, it was pretty well worth it.
3. I think a big test of decent sharpness is attempting to butterfly a chicken breast. If you don’t have a decently sharp knife, it ain’t gonna go well. With just the limited maintenance of a semi-regular honing, the Meiji is still able to butterfly a chicken breast very smoothly and easily. Glides right through the raw chicken with minimal effort.
To me, another indicator of sharpness is how easily your knife glides through the skin of a ripe tomato. Does the knife cut right through the tomato skin with, basically, no effort, so that you wind up with nice dice rather than mush? Again, Meiji passes this test easily, nearly a year from buying it.
Original factory edge has held up well. No sending away for sharpening yet. Just regular honing and that’s really been it.
Conclusion: I shopped around a long time before I decided on a knife because I knew this was going to be a long-term partnership, and I wasn’t going to go plunk down another big chunk of change on another blade if I didn’t like this one. And I am not beholden to any retail outlet or knife company. I just invested in a really good blade and I’m really glad I did. The difference between what I had before (even when new) and what I have now is just night and day.
What’s your current take on the Bob Kramer Essential Line? Are the knives distinctive qualitatively or am I just paying for the name?
My sense is that it’s probably a bit of both—buuuut, that the level of quality far outweighs the hype factor.
My impression is that Kramer cares about everything he does and certainly anything he puts his name on. I have never been able to verify this, but I remember hearing once that his original manufacturing partnership with Shun failed because Shun was not willing to raise the bar as high as he had wanted. Thus, with Henckels, I don’t think he has merely stamped his name on these knives, but put serious time, thought, and energy into designing them and the materials they’re made from.
So, I think you’re definitely getting some quality. But the next two questions that naturally follow the quality question are harder to answer: 1) Are Kramer’s worth what you must pay for them? 2) Are there better options out there?
#1) A knife is a knife is a knife. If you care for it and keep it sharp, you don’t have to pay $300 to enjoy it. On the other hand, if you’re in the kitchen a lot and enjoy cooking, the $300 or so dollar-cost-averages to very little over 20-30 years. And these knives should last that long and more, if you treat them right. You don’t necessarily need a bunch of chef knives to be happy in the kitchen. . .one will do the trick. And, I’ve found, the more you love and care for your knife (or knives), the more fun you have in the kitchen.
#2) There are a whole lot of great chef knives out there! And when you get into the the price range of the Kramers, there are smaller boutique knife makers, some custom knife makers, Japanese knife makers that offer plenty of competition. Because this gets to be an expensive and more specialized world, to be honest, I’m not that well-versed in it. Although I can tell you that if I were shopping in this price range, I would take a good look at the Miyabi Birchwood. They are beautiful, beautifully made, and sharp as razors.
One last thing. . .some people simply do not like the ergonomics of Kramer knives. They find the handles too chunky and wide blade too cumbersome. So you should make sure you like the feel and design before committing :)
Soooooo, there you have it. Hope this helps. If you have more questions, please feel free to ask :)
I’m trying to decide if i should go for one of these…or save for the Carbon….
Ahh. . .you’re trying to choose between the Carbon Steel and the Essential.
#1) If you are going to use this knife a whole lot and it’s going to be your mainstay in the kitchen, then I would try not to make the extra moola the main issue. Because you will not remember the money diff, say, five years from now. Sorry to harp on this, but I really feel it’s true.
#2) So, to me it should come down to performance, maintenance, feel, look. I’ve probably covered these pretty well in the article above, but I’ll hit them once again here. . .
performance: The Carbon Steel should slightly out-perform the Essential, meaning it should take a slightly finer edge, meaning it should appear to cut better, with less resistance. But I’m guessing a home chef would barely be aware of this. The Essential should hold it’s edge a bit longer, but, like any stainless steel, be harder to sharpen.
maintenance: You will need to be much more careful and dutiful about cleaning and washing and drying the Carbon. Acidic foods like tomatoes, lemons, onions will stain the blade if not cleaned soon enough. And the carbon steel will rust if left wet too long and/or not properly oiled. Eventually, it will develop a protective patina that will make it less vulnerable. If you think you can handle the maintenance, but if there are others in your kitchen who might not, then the Carbon might not be a good idea at this point. The Essential will not require this vigilance.
feel: They should both feel pretty similar—other than the fact that the handle of the Carbon is actual wood while that of the Essential is a polymer imitation. (With your eyes closed, I highly doubt you would feel any difference in the handles.)
look: The Carbon has a brass bolster while the Essential remains all steel. The Carbon has a brownish handle while the Essential is black. The blade of the Carbon will age with a darkish patina while the Essential will remain shiny and new-looking.
I think the biggest thing is the maintenance of the Carbon. Ask yourself: Can you, and will you, deal with it? I can tell you as an owner of the Wusthof Anniversary carbon steel chef knife that, although I love it dearly, there are times—like when it’s late in the evening and I’m cutting up some fruit for tomorrow’s breakfast—that I really don’t want to have to deal with oiling the blade. So, if you have an alternate chef knife that you can use for situations like that, it will help immensely :)
Well, after much deliberation I decided to go for the 8-inch Carbon Steel model. With a 20% discount, only 239.95. A little bit more than I had planned to spend, but a pretty good deal.
Yay! Keep in touch and let us know how you like it. To keep the rust at bay, buy yourself some Tsubaki oil IMMEDIATELY!!
I am the proud owner of six Kramer Damascus steel knives: paring, utility, bread, slicer, 8” chef and the 8” narrow chef. This article is spot on—the knives are excellent, hold a keen edge and are an absolute pleasure to use. The Damascus steel represents thousands of years of bladesmithing history and are works of kitchen art. I’m making a custom knife easel similar to the one currently available, but wider to accommodate all of my knives.
I did the research, I tried out many knives at Sur la Table. And although I was initially drawn to the Miyabi knives, the Kramer’s won me over.
It’s a joy to reach for, and use, every one of these knives as they perform extremely well. Overkill? Absolutely! However, if you enjoy cooking and want to invest in the absolute best knives available (other than those made by Bob Kramer himself), buy a Kramer Damascus chef knife first.
Thanks for sharing your experience, Rich! Sounds like you’re definitely having fun in the kitchen. And, yes, I can see how the Sur La Table Miyabis would be a close second :)
All the best, KKG
Looking to join your newsletter..great information!
First, I wanted to say great article! Secondly, I wanted to clarify, the new “commercial” knives are still handmade, using the same techniques as Kramer’s but made by people he’s taught his “recipe”? Or, put another way, the difference between one of these and one made by Kramer is the prestige you get by owning one made with his hands instead of an apprentice?
No, the difference between Kramer’s hand-forged knives and the knives he’s created in collaboration with Henckels is much greater than that.
Kramer’s original handmade knives are designed, fashioned, and finished by him and him alone. Kramer has no apprentices that help him, or work with him in his shop, that I know of. That’s why the knives are such high-quality and so expensive. It’s like having Calvin Klein, or Versace, design and create a custom suit for you alone. That would cost a pretty penny, wouldn’t it?
Kramer’s factory-made knives are designed from specs and pro-types that Kramer created in conjunction with Henckels. But they are, for the most part, mass-produced in Henckels’ factories by a combination of highly-trained craftsman and machines. Kramer keeps close tabs on quality and he stands behind them. But the manufacturing process is completely different than his custom handmade knives.