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James Ayres

3 Awesome Axes for Chopping Wood Like a True Lumberjack



We got snowed in one New Year’s in a rented cabin in the mountains. When I expressed concern about relying on electric heat in a remote cabin, the rental agent assured me that the electricity never went out. In any event, she said, “There was plenty of firewood for the fireplace and an axe. You’re an experienced outdoorsman. I’m sure you can cope.”

Of course, the electricity went out. I found about a cord of unsplit logs, each log 6-to-8 inches in diameter and 3 feet long. No split wood. No kindling. No axe. I batonned my ever-present Randall Model 1 around the edges of the logs to make kindling, and split enough wood to keep the fire going until the electricity came back on. Three days. I coped but every time I went to the wood pile, I wished I had an axe. Any of the axes in this field review would have been welcome.

Almost anything will chop softwood such as pine. For a proper challenge, we spent a day clearing madrone and oak at a friend’s property. Oak is a hardwood. Madrone is more fibrous and even tougher. We also split seasoned oak logs for our friend’s fireplace.

HIKING HACKER: The Fox Trekking Axe

The Fox Trekking Axe is a terrific chopper for the backpacker, hunter or woods wanderer. Reminiscent of a medieval design, it’s light enough to keep in a rucksack and very well made.

The thin blade came sharp enough to cut paper and kept its edge during a day’s work. Its good edge geometry and balance, comfortable and ergonomic handle—well, really, its overall efficient configuration, which I suspect was inspired by an old, well-proven design—enabled painless hours of chopping, limbing and trimming. The long edge worked well for stripping and shaving bark to make bare poles. I have no doubt that the Trekking Axe would serve to quickly erect a shelter against an incoming mountain snowstorm, or dress out and break down an elk carcass. With its long, almost knife-like edge, it could also skin out the elk.

The thin blade, so efficient at taking down saplings and other work, tended to bind when chopped into the center of the seasoned oak logs. That’s a matter of geometry—the blade is not wedge shaped and won’t serve as a splitting maul, which is outside of its design envelope. A change in method overcame that limitation. By working around the edges and splitting off sections an inch or 3 thick, we were able to reduce logs to kindling.

Overall it’s a well-designed, well-made tool that I wouldn’t hesitate to take to the deep woods.

Good edge geometry and balance and a comfortable, ergonomic handle enabled painless hours of chopping, limbing and trimming with the Fox Trekking Axe. Here it chops the Ma- drone sapling with aplomb.

BLADE STEEL: 12C27 Swedish stainless
HANDLE MATERIAL: Sassafras (wood)
WEIGHT: 13.8 ozs.
MSRP: $104.95

THAT’S AN AXE: Cold Steel Trail Boss

Photo from KnifeCenter.com

I hefted the Cold Steel Trail Boss, chopped through a 3-inch madrone sapling with one swing and paraphrased Crocodile Dundee’s line: “That’s an axe.”

About the size of a traditional cruiser axe, the Trail Boss has a smooth, comfortable haft/handle in-between axe and tomahawk length. The long edge came sharp and stayed sharp. The head has good wedge-shaped geometry that made splitting the seasoned oak logs a breeze. Unlike a splitting axe, it was not too thick for general work. One whack to the center of the log and there were two split sections on the ground. It’s not a splitting maul or splitting axe but almost as efficient. While it has enough heft to split oak, it’s also light enough and balanced so that downing saplings could be done with full control and no danger of cutting through and swinging too far.

When limbing, it was easy to control for precise cuts, even when limbing with one hand. The haft is not as long as that of a full-sized axe, nor is the head as heavy. However, the head’s well-designed geometry, the smooth, comfortable handle and overall good balance enabled it to perform almost as well as one.

This is a good, all-around chopping tool—actually, an excellent all-around chopping tool.

BLADE MATERIAL: 1055 spring steel
WEIGHT: 2 lbs., 9.5 ozs.
SHEATH: Not Included
MSRP: $49.99


Photo from CRKTknives.com

The CRKT Cimbri is an interesting design that, in my opinion, needs a bit of work to fulfill its potential. Modeled on a classic Frankish axe, with a nicely shaped head and a long handle, it is well balanced.

With a nicely shaped head and a long handle, the CRKT Cimbri is well balanced for such tasks as splitting oak logs.

Unfortunately, the edge wasn’t sharp out of the box and we test all knives, axes, tomahawks, swords, etc., as they come, so there’s a level playing field for all. The lack of a truly sharp edge required more force to chop through the saplings and impeded its penetration when splitting. Also, the thick coating on the carbon steel head caused it to drag in a cut. Even more unfortunate, and for some reason I do not understand, the haft is squared rather than oval or round. The acute edges of the haft/ handle not only were uncomfortable, they dug into our hands, producing blisters—in one instance breaking the skin of one of our testers’ palms.

The author stated he would round off the edges of the CRKT Cimbri’s squared-off haft.

Tuning up the edge would be a simple job, a matter of 20 or 30 minutes with a good stone. Reprofiling the haft wouldn’t be difficult, but I cannot understand why anyone would put a squared handle on an axe. Historical authenticity, perhaps?

BLADE MATERIAL: 1055 spring steel
FINISH: Manganese phosphate coating
HANDLE MATERIAL: Tennessee hickory
WEIGHT: 2 lbs., .8 oz.
DESIGNER: Elmer Roush
MSRP: $69.99


Which of the three would I choose if I were again snowed in and had only a stack of logs to burn? If I hiked in, the Trekking Axe would be my choice, no question. I’m too old to hump anything heavier in a rucksack filled with camping gear, food and ammunition. If I arrived by car or truck, the Trail Boss would be it. If I had only the Cimbri, I would use my belt knife as a draw knife to take off the corners of the handle and smooth it. That done, 20 minutes with a sharpening stone and I’d head for the wood pile.


Tips for Traveling with Knives in Europe

What knives are legal in Europe?
When traveling in Europe, the author and his wife often use small folding knives—from right to left, a Victorinox EVOGrip, Spyderco Dragonfly and Spyderco Cricket—for everyday tasks, sometimes including food preparation.

“Can I Bring My Knife to Europe?”

Since I write about travel, and about knives, I receive many emails from readers asking this question. I understand. You always have a knife handy. It’s your basic tool. How do you open packages, or cut anything? How can you get through your day without a knife? What if you need your knife to punch out the window of an overturned bus, or escape from a burning building?

What about that picnic next to the Canal du Midi, or on the train? You don’t want to be reduced to ripping and tearing at salami, cheese and baguettes with teeth and nails. You need your knife. But you don’t know laws and regulations in Europe and you’re a law-abiding person. So can you take your knife with you?

Yes, you can. But there are some things you need to know. In the United States, laws and regulations concerning knives are a confusing patchwork that varies from state to state, town to town, and which sometimes make no sense whatsoever. It is not possible to travel from California to New York with any kind of knife without violating a law or regulation in some place along the way.

Few of those laws and regulations are actually enforced. Enforcement is up to decisions made by an individual police officer. Those decisions will vary from officer to officer, and most importantly, according to his perception of you and the situation.

European Knife Regulations: A Primer

Folding knives legal in Europe
Nonlocking folders such as the Spyderco C94PBK3 “UK Penknife” (left) and C154PPN “Squeak” (right) are acceptable to carry in most European locales.

It is similar in Europe. The European Union is made up of almost 30 countries, each with its own laws, customs and regulations, which like in the United States, can seem confusing and senseless. As in the Unites States, enforcement of those laws and regulations is dependent upon the decisions of the individual police officer or security person.

I’ve worked and traveled in Europe for decades, and lived there for the past 10 years. I’ve written for BLADE Magazine and for the KNIVES annual book for almost 20 years, and have written two books on knives: The Tactical Knife and Survival Knives. As a result, I’ve met many folks in the European knife community—knifemakers, bushcraft enthusiasts, and so on.

I know many people who work in the security services and police departments in many European countries, and have talked with them about travelers carrying knives. What follows are my personal experiences and opinions based on traveling and living in almost every country in the European Union, and some that are not members of the Union. I am not a lawyer. I offer no legal advice.

German Knife Laws

Some examples of regulations concerning knives in Europe: In Germany a person may not carry on his person any folding knife with a locking blade. He can, however, carry a fixed blade up to 3½ inches long.

French Knife Laws

Legal knives in France
In France, a person may not carry any object that can be used as a weapon. That includes France’s famous Opinel (shown here amidst a picnic lunch) or Laguiole knives, which are national icons and are in the pockets of every third Frenchman.

In France a person may not carry on his person any object that can be, or is, used as a weapon. That includes France’s famous Opinel or Laguiole knives, which are national icons and are in the pockets of every third Frenchman.

Spanish Knife Laws

What knives are legal in Spain?
The author uses a CRKT M-16 to deconstruct
part of an abandoned house in Huescar, Spain.

Spain has considerable history as a knife culture and has knives of all kinds available for purchase pretty much everywhere – including village bars, and a confusing morass of regulations that my friends, who are Spanish police officers, cannot understand or explain.

UK Knife Laws

What knives are legal to carry in the UK?
U.K. laws dictate that a person must have a reason to have a knife, such as being a carpenter. Locking folders are not allowed. Bushcrafters carrying fixed blades while on the way to do some bushcraft seem to get a pass. From top to bottom are the Spyderco Bushcraft, Condor Tool & Knife Bushcraft, Morakniv Garberg, Fällkniven F1, a Bud Nealy Cave Bear and an ESEE DPX H.E.S.T. knife.

In the United Kingdom, there was a recent attempt to prohibit chef’s knives from having a point. That regulation did not pass.

My understanding of the current UK laws is that you must have a reason to have a knife, such as being a carpenter. Locking folders are not allowed. Bushcrafters carrying fixed blades while on the way to do some bushcraft seem to get a pass.

Danish Knife Laws

In Denmark a person may not have any folding knife with a blade lock, or that opens with one hand. Wait! That regulation was just changed. Locking folders are OK now, for today.

European Knife Laws by Region

Attitudes about knives also vary by region. Eastern Europe, the Balkans and Turkey are much more liberal about knives than in Western Europe. I’ll delve more into that later.

European Knife Law Tips

Legal European knives
Ideal travel knife attributes include minimum size and maximum strength, like these bulldogs, from left to right: the Zero Tolerance Les George 0900, DPX H.E.A.T and Spyderco Li’l Lion.

What’s a European traveler to do? How could anyone know or conform to all of the different laws and regulations while traveling through four or five countries? You cannot. So, you have two choices:

  1. Choose not to carry a knife.
  2. Use some common sense.

You can stop reading now if you select choice number one.

ML (my wife and companion of many adventures) and I always travel in Europe (and every place else) with knives, carrying at least two each, and often more. We frequently rent holiday apartments and live for a month or so in various places where we shop, cook and settle in to experience local life. The kitchens in those apartments never have usable knives.

Common Sense and European Knife Laws

We also teach survival and bushcraft classes during which we make shelters, primitive tools and so on. During the past year I’ve been attacked twice by feral dog packs in the Balkans. On one occasion I had no stick and my knife was my only defense. Often I’m toting a half-dozen or so knives that I’m reviewing for various publications. We need our knives.

Many Americans we meet traveling in Europe also need their knives, the ones who have knives. In addition to the practical everyday uses of a knife and its indispensable use in disasters, a blade can provide steely comfort in a dark and lonely place, and not only from dog packs.

A young American woman, a solo world traveler I wrote about in my recent book, Essential Survival Gear, used her J.A. Henckels paring knife for daily camp chores while hiking in coastal mountains in Turkey, and was glad to have her little blade one night when a crowd of drunken men made her very uncomfortable.

A retired American who I met in Romania used his Benchmade 710 to cut the fuel line on his BMW motorcycle while doing some repairs, and for frequent picnics, and one dark night to confront two muggers, who then decided to find easier prey. Potentially violent incidents like this are rare. Europe in general is safe for travelers, arguably more so than in the United States. But hey, you never know.

So how do I and other folks travel in and through European countries with knives and not run afoul of the law? We do so by using common sense and being sensible in our selection of knives, and by not doing stupid things such as going to a sketchy bar, getting drunk, hitting on a local girl, and when her boyfriend, also drunk, forcefully objects, waving a knife around and threatening him.

In Spain I saw three guys passing a bottle of wine and a folding knife around, cutting bread and cheese while picnicking at the beach. It was all good, except they were talking loudly, arguing with each other and annoying the folks around them. When one fellow politely objected to their behavior, one of the idiots grabbed the knife, shook it at the follow and yelled, “Allahu Akbar!” Then he collapsed laughing, as did his friends.

This incident didn’t end well. Personal demeanor, behavior and appearance affect how a person is perceived and treated by security people, and everyone else.

Choosing Knives to Bring to Western Europe

As to knife selection, attitudes in Western Europe regarding knives and security have changed considerably in recent years due to many terrorist attacks, some of which have been carried out with knives. As a consequence, although not yet common, there are security checks in some Western European train and bus stations, and of course in all airports.

We’ve never encountered a security check at an Eastern European train or bus station. If you encounter one of these security checks and have a black, 10-inch blade with “Zombie Killer” etched in steel and stuffed into your waistband, it will not endear you to the security people.

When ML and I travel, in Western Europe or elsewhere, we each always have a tiny folder with a locking blade of about 2 inches on our persons and a small fixed blade in our bags. These knives look inoffensive and have caused no alarms with security people, or anyone else. Probably folders with blades a bit larger, single blade or multi-bladed, such as small Swiss Army Knives, would also be seen as inoffensive.

Most regulations address carrying a knife on the person, with knives in bags being considered differently. Security people also seem to see a difference between carrying on your person and in a bag. Maybe not in all instances, but this has been our experience. I’ve never seen a knife in a day bag with bread and cheese and other picnic things, whether my knife or someone else’s, cause scrutiny.

Our tiny folders are for everyday tasks, sometimes including food preparation when we don’t care to get out our fixed blades. ML can girdle a baguette and reduce it to slices in less than a minute with her Spyderco Cricket. My Spyderco Dragonfly will slice salami, cheese, tomatoes and so on about as well as my fixed blade. They will also serve in an emergency, if you know what you’re doing.

These little folders and others in the same size range or a bit larger are convenient everyday carry knives. We use the fixed blades in our kitchens, for field work and in emergency situations. I also carry a small red-handle Swiss Army Knife (SAK) with a locking main blade and the all-important corkscrew. We add to this selection if needed, say, a machete in the tropics.

Our day bags are also our ready bags, or bug-out bags, and are always with us. Our fixed blades have much daily utility and will serve in an emergency, such as having to cut through a locked steel fire door to escape a high-rise fire, serve as a climbing aid to escape freezing water, or fend off a pack of feral dogs.

I’ve done all of these things and know that, if needed, our fixed blades will provide us with a measure of protection.

Western European Security Checks, Police Searches and Knives

We’ve only ever been questioned about our knives during a few security checks. Before boarding a high-speed train in Barcelona, we put our bags through the X-ray machine and walked through the metal detector. One of the security officers asked if I had a knife. I said I did. He asked to see it. I first took out my Spyderco Dragonfly, intending to next get my Fallkniven F1 out of my bag. The security guy looked at the little Dragonfly, smiled, and said, “Oh never mind. It’s so little. Just put it back in your pocket.” He waved us through and said nothing about my F1, or ML’s Sypderco Cricket and Fred Perrin Street Beat.

Knives Legal in Western Europe
The author’s picnic basket was filled with goodies, including a plastic fork and spoon banded to the sheath of a Fred Perrin Street Beat, the latter for cutting cheese and sausage.

Clearly, he made his evaluation based on our appearance and behavior, as well as our choice of knives. On another occasion, while disembarking from a bus in Lyon, France, we encountered an intensive security check due to an alert that a terrorist suspect might be on our bus. Results were the same as in Barcelona, as they have been on other occasions. European police, like American police, evaluate the person and the situation when making a decision. We do not appear to be a threat, nor do our knives. When asked, we give a straightforward explanation of why we have knives, and have had no problems.

Carrying Knives in Eastern Europe, the Balkans and Turkey

In Eastern Europe, the Balkans and Turkey, attitudes concerning knives are very different. Full-size tactical folders are popular for everyday carry, and no one seems alarmed by them. Fixed blades that are 6 to 10 inches long are preferred for field activities, hunting, backpacking and so on, and for use in villages to do everyday village things, such as killing pigs and goats.

Traveling with knives in Eastern Europe
Some full-size tactical folders often seen in Eastern Europe include, from top to bottom, the Spyderco Military model, Benchmade 710 and ZT Knives 350.

I asked a friend, who is a Bulgarian undercover cop, what the laws were governing carrying knives in Bulgaria, and what the police attitude was. I also explained the regulations in Western Europe. He said, “We don’t concern ourselves with such silly things as that. We don’t care what kind of knife you have. But, if someone attacks and harms another person with a knife, or any weapon, then we do care.”

A former Czech special forces officer now in a civilian security service said much the same thing.

Tactical folders in Europe
In Eastern Europe, the Balkans and Turkey, full-size tactical folders such as the ZT Knives 0452CF Sinkevich are popular for everyday carry and no one seems alarmed by them.

We’ve only been questioned about knives in the East once, at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul. Going through first layer security at the entrance to the airport, I tossed a bag on the counter containing a kindjal, a yatagan, a 10-inch bowie, and a half-dozen or so tactical folders and fixed-blade survival knives, all for field work and photography for articles and books.

The security guy said, “You have quite a few knives in your bag.”

“Yes,” I replied, “I do.”

“You’re going to check them, not carry them on, right?”

“Of course.”

“Have a nice day.”

Obviously we check all knives before boarding a commercial aircraft.

Trust Your Internal Compass

If you like to drink and hang out in sketchy bars and clubs, leave your knife in your room. Don’t try to use your knife as a weapon, except in extreme circumstances when your own life is actually at stake. Doing so is considered lethal force everywhere, and you will have to defend your actions. Again, use common sense. You have an internal compass that points in the right direction. Pay attention to it. This approach has worked for us. Your results may vary. No guarantee is offered or implied.

Get the Most Out of Your European Trip

Before your trip, use the Internet to locate knife shows. There are many all over Europe. Attend one.

Perhaps visit one of the famous knife-producing towns: Thiers, France; Solingen, Germany; and Maniago, Italy. You’ll meet friendly people with a common interest. Do go. You’ll have a great time. Bon voyage.

Keep Learning About Knife Laws — in the United States

Read more:

Knife Laws of the United States

EDC Knife Review: Kershaw Knockout

EDC knife review
The Kershaw Knockout offers a bigger design than most EDC, but it’s still lightweight enough to stick in a pocket. (Kershaw photo)

An Eye-Catching EDC Knife

EDC knife reviewTo my eye the Kershaw Knockout is in fact a knockout. The design is sleek, flowing and graceful, with all details blending into the whole—clearly a 21st century EDC folder.

The deep-bellied drop point blade emerges from the smoothly contoured handle easily and strongly but doesn’t threaten to jump from your hand.

The thin handle makes for a comfortable waistband carry. Though thin, the chamfered edges of the aluminum handle made for a surprisingly comfortable grip, even after extended cutting of rope and rubber tubing. It also balances right where it should at the index finger.

The deep belly sliced everything well. The frame lock was as solid as the proverbial bank vault door. The thumb stud is machined and polished and has no rough edges. In fact there are no rough edges anyplace on this little gem.

The clip is strong but not long enough or strong enough to prevent the knife from moving in the waistband of athletic pants, which I happen to wear a lot. Like most tip-down models, the positioning of the knife when carried requires a grip shift to get to a proper cutting position.

Kershaw Knockout EDC knife review
The deep belly of the Kershaw Knockout sliced everything well, including quarter-inch hemp.

The Verdict

This is such a handsome piece of work I’m almost tempted to put aside my preference and EDC this one.

EDC Knife Review: Browning Black Label Decoded

EDC knife review
The Browning Black Label Decoded assisted opening knife sits somewhere between an EDC and a tactical. (Browning photo)

A Workhorse EDC Knife

EDC knife reviewGenerally speaking I am not a fan of tanto blades. In the case of the Browning Black Label Decoded Assisted Open, however, I like the blade design quite well.

Its squared-off tip made for a perfect cutting edge on rope and rubber tubing, and made my work easier. If I had to cut rope or tubing all day, this would be my knife of choice. The modified tanto blade worked equally well on other materials.

The handle is contoured and reasonably comfortable, though the edges could do with some rounding. The grip is a tad heavy but nothing most folks would notice. The clip was very strong and positioned the tip-down blade for an easy, natural grip.

EDC knife review
Testing the Browning Black Label Decoded.

The Verdict

It’s a handy-sized assisted opening knife that does pretty much everything I would need it to do.

EDC Knife Review: Boker Plus Gemini NGA Coyote

EDC Knife Review
The Boker Plus Gemini NGA Coyote offers extra heft as an EDC knife. (Boker image)

Tough Like a Gorilla

EDC knife reviewThe Boker Plus Gemini NGA Coyote carries tip down, which I prefer because it places your thumb on the blade opener without requiring a shift of grip. The clip was strong and secure, even in athletic pants, and positioned just enough of the handle to protrude above the belt line to allow a secure grip with no fumbling or shifting required. The handle has a slightly tacky feel with checkering on the sides of the scales.

The assisted opener flings the blade strongly from the handle with a slight touch on the opening stud. Make sure you have a firm grasp on this one before pushing the stud. The linerlock was solid.

The knife balances perfectly right at the index finger, which makes it seem light in hand and makes for ease of use.

EDC knife review
If you like your EDC knives to pack bite, the Boker Plus Gemini NGA Coyote is a great choice. (Mary Lou Ayres photo)

The Verdict

The Gemini is a well-made knife and the one I would choose if I had to cut up a garage full of cardboard.

EDC Knife Review: Buck Inertia

EDC knife review
BLADE magazine review: For an MSRP of $60, it’s tough to beat the Buck Inertia as an EDC knife. The locking blade keeps accidental opens at a minimum. (Mary Lou Ayres photo)

Why the Buck Inertia is a Great EDC Knife

EDC knife reviewThe Buck 293 Inertia Assisted Folding Knife stands out with a mechanism to lock the blade closed. An open blade in a waistband or pocket could be a painful, bloody mess.

With the lock disengaged, pushing the hole in the blade opened the knife smoothly and strongly without it threatening to jump from my hand. The liner locked the blade open securely.

On all cutting materials the drop-point blade performed with predictable results—well. I mean, come on, it’s a Buck!

The skeletonized scales lightened the knife and gave it a nice balance right at the index finger. The clip was strong but a little too short to prevent the knife from moving when worn with elastic-waisted athletic pants. The tip-up position required a shift of grip to get to a cutting hold after withdrawing the knife.

EDC knife review
Cutting strips of dried palm fronds with the Buck Inertia. (Mary Lou Ayres photo)

The Verdict

All in all, the Inertia is a good example of a contemporary assisted opener at a modest price from an old-line company known for decades of quality.

Thanksgiving Cutters, Japanese Style

Thanksgiving cutters times four
Thanksgiving cutters, Japanese style, from left: Victorinox SwissClassic Santoku, Case Santoku, Boker Forge Santoku Maple and Spyderco K08 Santoku.

Santokus are Thanksgiving cutters, Japanese style. A design that originated in the Land of the Rising Sun, the santoku is a specialized tool well suited to preparing holiday meals. From cutting meat to dicing veggies and cutting fruit for creative holiday salads and such, santokus are perfect for Gobbler Day.

Santokus have a wide blade sometimes with scallops, which are supposed to create less friction than a solid blade, a sheepfoot tip, and are lighter and thinner than a French or German chef’s knife. Their length runs between 5 and 8 inches. The Thanksgiving cutters do not have a bolster. They have a straight edge with no curve.

San-to-ku is Japanese for the three cutting tasks for which the knife is designed: slicing, dicing and mincing. It is a specialized knife that, in the Japanese view, is optimized for the three aforementioned tasks. The straight edge of a santoku does not allow for the rocking motion commonly used with a French or German chef’s knife.

Cuts are made straight down with little or no forward movement, almost a guillotine action, which, again in the Japanese view, allows slicing very thin pieces of whatever’s being cut with precision. The Thanksgiving cutters are not meant to be all-around kitchen knives. An all-around knife used to cut many things is not a Japanese concept. The Japanese chef will typically have a vast array of knives, each one designed for a specific function.

Japanese kitchen knives typically have a chisel grind, which also contributes to cutting very thin slices with precision, as you may have seen sushi chefs do. The chisel grind is optimal for slicing, say, very thin slices of turkey, with the caveat that there are left and right grinds. If you are right handed you’ll need a blade ground on the right side. The chisel grind doesn’t work well for cutting through thick media, such as roasts and ribs because the chisel grind—since the edge is off center—will cause the blade to cut off center, and to wander. Also, the thin edge of a Santoku should not be used to cut through joints or bones, or to disjoint, say, a chicken.


Thanksgiving cutters, Boker
One reason santokus make such good Thanksgiving cutters is their ability to cut small meat slivers. The Boker Forge Santoku Maple is a classic example.

With its hefty blade, full tang, nicely sculpted bolsters and maple scales, the Boker Forge Santoku Maple is a happy marriage of a classic santoku and a German or French chef’s knife. While it lacks the acute point of a chef’s knife, the slight point is usable. The edge does have somewhat of a curve, which allows the rocking motion Western-trained chefs, and many domestic home cooks, are accustomed to using. It is the only one of the four knives reviewed that I would use to cut through pork rib joints, chicken backs, etc. The Boker is almost a mini cleaver as well as being an excellent slicer. It is a handsome knife and comfortable for long periods of work.

Thanksgiving cutters, Boker
Thanksgiving cutters must be adept at slicing veggies, and the Boker Forge Santoku Maple is that and more.


With its walnut scales and full tang, the Case model is also a sturdy example of a Santoku. It has a barely perceptible curve to the edge and a scalloped blade. The Case looks more like a classic santoku than the Boker, but like the Boker has a thicker blade than a standard Japanese santoku. It felt solid in hand and while not as sculpted as the Boker, the traditional American handle was comfortable during extended use. The Case sliced, diced and minced as well as thin-bladed Santokus while giving the impression that it would be up for harder work if need be.

Thanksgiving cutters, Case
Thanksgiving cutters must be able to tackle meat slicing and the Case Santoku is a prime-cut cutter.


spyderco chef's knife
Spyderco image

With its wide blade, classic Santoku profile, comfortable, molded grip and graceful overall appearance, the Spyderco K08 looks like a 21st-century interpretation of a classic—which is pretty much what it is. It is a very lightweight knife with an extremely thin blade, which is optimal for doing what a santoku is supposed to do. The Spyderco does have a slight curve toward the tip, which I think adds to its smooth lines. Since I am accustomed to using a French or German chef’s knife, the curve also made it easier for me to work my way through piles of squash and mushrooms, especially mushrooms, which I find hard to slice. The blade also made it easy to slice salmon smoothly and evenly.


Victorinox chef's knife
Victorinox image

Victorinox makes the knives The American Culinary Institute gives to its students: chef’s knives, paring knives, bread knives and, yes, santokus. Pro chef Shawn Carlson’s first professional knife roll contained only Victorinox knives. So, he was familiar with the Victorinox characteristics: thin profile, very sharp, fairly soft steel that requires frequent steeling but which comes back to a fine edge quickly, and which does not chip if dropped on a kitchen floor. It has the standard santoku shape: flat edge and sheepfoot tip rather than a curved profile and pointy tip. I missed a curved edge and had trouble adjusting to the flat straight edge. Shawn did not—again, a pro is a pro. It is an entry-level professional knife.


If you enjoy cooking and take pleasure in using specialized tools, you’ll find a santoku a welcome addition to your quiver of Thanksgiving cutters—keeping in mind that a santoku is a specialized tool. If you like to keep things simple, an 8-inch chef’s knife and a 4-inch paring knife will do most any kitchen job—if not with the flair of a santoku.


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