Dec 9, 2017114 views

Form or function?

I can make the perfect knife.
Well, not right now but if I put my mind to it (and enough coin) I can succeed. It may take a while starting from square one but given enough time and perseverance I really can make the perfect knife. Perfect for me at least.
But it won't be pretty. What do I mean by pretty? Have a look at one of my favorite knives, the Sakai Takayuki Syousin Sakura from KnivesAndStones:
This knife is good looking, if I do say so myself. On top of that it's an excellent performer. The knife is balanced well and has a powerful heft to it without being so heavy regular use gets unreasonably fatiguing. Not visible in the picture is a hollow grind starting at the shinogi (line straight down the middle of the blade) and terminating at a small microbevel along the edge. The core steel is Blue #2 which is clad in reactive mild steel. This knife's handle is made of Ebony and black buffalo horn with a nickle-silver spacer.
No matter how much time I spend making my "perfect" knife, I can't make something like this. This is art, and art can cost a lot. This is also just a tool and so from a distance it might seem foolish spending so much on something that is meant to be used and abused. After all, you wouldn't spend more than few bucks on a screwdriver, would you? Certainly a $100 screwdriver isn't going to dramatically outclass a $5 screwdriver, is it? What about knives? I know for sure that a $100 knife is definitely superior to a $50 knife, maybe twice as good, but a $200 knife is not often twice as good as a $100 knife. Diminishing returns and all that jazz.
So at what point do you stop and think, "am I buying a tool or am I buying a piece of art"? The turning point is going to be different for everyone and there's no right or wrong answer. Just know that at some point you're paying more for form than for function.
I'm all about practicality, but if we always gave up on form in favor of function the world would be a very dull place.

Product page for the Syousin Sakura:
Duncan, ltopper, and 2 others

Agreed, after you hit a certain performance / price ratio the rest is what specifically you are looking for from the "tool". I think if it is an item of function and beauty then it will inspire you and make the experience of using it more special. In this particular case most of us could use "an excuse" to cook more and I see that as a good thing. :)
Functional art.
Is a Bugatti or Ferrari a car or art? After, it's not like we are talking about oil paintings hanging in a museum. Is a $100K+ Porsche three or four times better than a Mazda Miata?
Given the same blade geometry, a pretty knife and a plain one will cut the same. Better materials will allow it to cut longer before dulling. Fancy fittings and embellishment can bring joy to the heart of the user.
If you feel no passion, buy the functional piece. If you have the passion, buy the one that backs up the performance with superior aesthetics.
This comparison doesn't exactly work as an expensive car will be able to do things a cheap one can't. Luxury and high performance cars typically come with embellishments and amenities because only a millionaire can afford one anyways, so you might as well go all out.
For knives this isn't always true. Sure, higher end knives are usually made to look nicer, but more often than not that $3000 offers no performance improvements over a $300 knife.
The purpose of my post is not to state that aesthetically pleasing expensive knives are not worth getting, but rather to address the common misconception that more expensive knives are always better simply because they are more expensive.
It depends on whether you are looking at the utility and function or, the total capability possible and the extra expense associated with those rarely used 'features or capabilities'.
Both cars will get you to your destination, assuming normal driving circumstances. Do I need lane keep assist or an extra 300+ HP to get there? Sure heated seats are nice in the winter but, again do I need them to get there? In traffic, the extra HP and fancy transmission in your supercar won't get you to your destination any faster than an entry level sedan from any of the major automakers. If you need lane keep assist and automatic braking, that is a different issue altogether.
Japanese powdered 'super' steels offer superior performance in most areas (not all) over lesser grades of stainless. Both will work effectively for so long in a normal household kitchen, how many would actually see the differences beyond something simple like sheen of the steel itself? Unless you are talking about something specialized (cut sashimi for a living?), the differences in performance between your standard big box store Wusthof and Henckels and a custom knife of similar profile are not going to noticed by most home cooks.
So again, Form or Function? Form adds embellishment for embellishments sake for the majority of the additions. Sure, you also get really expensive 'super' steels, handmade Damascus, etc. but, the knife generally will not perform any better, however to many it will be significantly prettier and significantly more expensive.
A similar analogy can be made of cars. A good used car will get to and from work reliably. An expensive new one like a Tesla may do it without stopping at the gas station (assuming I charge at home) or, the new BMW or Mercedes or Porsche or ... may have more comfy seats with heating and air conditioning, a better stereo system, etc. but, also at a significantly higher price point. The function is the same but, the form is significantly different.
Dat price though. Going to have to say it again. I may not be chef school taught, and my Dragon Fusion is my only real knife, but I can't imagine a better knife for it's function through my form, especially at the price I paid including the quality of steel it's from. :D Nice post and logical conclusion. ;)