Unlike most of our reviews, instead of going to the woods to try out a new tool, we stayed at home in the kitchen for this one. The new Sikayo chef’s knife from Chris Reeve Knives is one of the latest of his knife designs and it presented some new challenges to our normal test regime!
I don’t claim to be an outdoors expert, at least I think I don’t. I’ve just spent a lot of time outdoors camping and even more time around some of my favorite toys, guns and knives. When we review knives here on Woods Monkey, we’ve got the usual tests we can run that tell us how well knives are going to perform in the kinds of tasks we do in the great outdoors. Batoning? Check. Feather Sticks? Check. Wood Carving? Check. General Camp Chores? Check. We’ve fallen into a nice little rhythm with most of our reviews, so you can now imagine the slight curve that was thrown at me when asked to do a review on the new Sikayo. It’s a chef’s knife! Now, I know my way around the kitchen, but the path most often taken is the one from my freezer to the microwave. I had just stepped into a whole new world of cutlery utilization that I knew nothing about.
Simply put, Sikayo means "sharp" in Zulu. And, there is no question about the edge on the Sikayo Chef’s knife. Out of the box, it was razor sharp. But, more importantly, it was just as sharp even after having cut and chopped up multiple items during the various tests. After running through various cutting "media" (food), I tried to slip some hair off the arm, and that was absolutely no problem. In fact, I actually nicked my arm with the Sikayo during this little exercise. Giving no more pressure than enough to simply move the edge over my arm, the hair came off, but the Sikayo wanted blood! This was the first time I’ve nicked myself with a knife during the "hair popping" test. This must be what folks are talking about when they say "scary sharp". This keen edge is surely attributed to the somewhat different blade design. Blade lengths are currently offered in either a 6.5 inch or 9 inch configuration.
Composition of the blade steel is S35VN which was designed as a collaboration between Chris Reeve and Crucible Steel. We talk more about the properties of this particular steel in this review article on the Nyala. The Sikayo’s blade is just a hair over 1/8 inch thick and it is ground on only one side. That one sided grind is what helps bring that exceptional edge to life on the Sikayo. It is also because of this style grind that the user must choose either a Right Hand model or a Left Hand model. I took the Left Hand model to try during this review. Another interesting design point that has to do with what hand you are using are the grib slabs. Made of Ultem 1000, which is durable and resistant to high temperatures, the grib slab that rests against the palm of the hand is actually thicker than the opposite side. This helps provide a more comfortable, palm-filling grip on the handle.
I was continually surprised by how easily the Sikayo sliced through different items with no effort whatsoever. This probably where I should point out how dedicated I am to doing reviews for Woods Monkey. Usually, I can find whatever I need to cut or chop out in the woods, but this time I actually had to go some place and cough up some cash. More specifically, I went to the store and picked out a variety of items I though this knife might be used for, and I even bought a cutting board as well! Until recently, I thought a cutting board was what the executioner’s axe hit when he was done with his swing, and now I actually own one. Tell me that isn’t dedication! The first item I tried out was a nice loaf of bread. I chose this because I wanted to run the test while it was still very soft and pliable.
Not being a chef, I can only draw on my own past experiences, and usually I see folks using a serrated knife to cut bread. Otherwise, you sometimes end up squashing the bread a bit during the slicing ritual. Now, maybe we didn’t have the right knife in the past or didn’t use the right technique, but that was just my experience. The Sikayo breezed through this little exercise. I didn’t have to use any downward pressure. The weight of the knife itself was enough while sawing slices off the loaf. I don’t know about you, but that really impressed me. As I was making my way through the loaf, I kept trying to see how thin I could make the slices. By the end, I was getting slices that I’ll call paper thin. While they weren’t actually "paper thin", considering I was slicing bread, it was close enough for government work.
Next up was a nice sized piece of meat from the deli. It was at this point that my dog Jethro started getting interested in my tests and how well the Sikayo was doing the job. Once more, the effort during slicing was minmal and I was able to work my way through the entire hunk of meat in rapid fashion. Once done, I then proceeded to cut crossways against the slices to make smaller pieces. And, after completing this round, I finished off the test by dicing everything on the board by placing my free hand on the spine and rocking through everything on the board. The edge on the Sikyao really shined here. There were no pieces left that were stuck together or incompletely cut. Each cut was done once and I moved on to the next spot. In fact, I didn’t even conciously try to make sure every piece was cut completely. I didn’t need to do that. The edge made up for my lack of skill in this area. Yeah, that sounds a little "zen-like", but the Sikayo did make the job easier for me and much quicker than what I’ve experienced in the past.
Another item that I picked up was a big slab of hoop cheese and this brought out something that I hadn’t really noticed before. Because of its density and thickness, the cheese offered up more resistance than anything else I had tried. It was at this point that I really started to take notice of the relief cut in the in last third of the Sikayo’s handle. If you’ll look at the picture to the right, you’ll see that there’s a substantial notch cut into the handle. The rear portion of the handle are where the ring finger and the pinky and the front portion is for the middle finger and the forefinger. This causes the first two fingers to be slightly separated from the last two fingers, and it also results in two fingers feeling like they sit higher than the other two. So, while cutting through the more slice-resistant hoop cheese, I didn’t feel like I had a really strong purchase on the handle. It felt a bit awkward to me to hold the handle this way when I felt like I needed a stronger grip.
I’ll admit that when I was finished and thinking about the impression I had, several questions came to mind. First, do Chefs cut into things like hoop cheese with a knife like this? Or, do they use something else that’s better for the job? Second, is my technique not right? Maybe there’s some special technique taught at culinary schools that I am completely unaware of right now. I can’t really answer either of those questions. All I can do is report my impressions. To be fair, I didn’t notice it during the first cut or two. But after I had cut several slices working my way up to thirty pieces of cheese, that’s when I began to notice this particular issue. That said, the Sikayo did an excellent job of producing slices in the cheese, and I kept working to once again see how thin I could make the slices. As you can see in the picture, the slices on the right hand side of the blade near the point are extremely thin. I also noticed during all of these tests, the more I practiced, the better I got at procuring the thinner slices of food. Once I had the thicker slices done, cubing them was no problem at all. Using the same technique as the meat, I was done in no time.
So, now that I had some of the more substantial items dealt with, it was time to move on to some vegetables. During my shopping excursion, I picked up some lettuce, a couple of tomatoes, portabello mushroom caps, and a couple of cucumbers. This is really where the Sikayo shined and started to pick up some speed. The Sikayo felt light and nimble in the hand and it was very easy to want to make quicker and quicker cuts and chops during the tests. But, I really had to make myself slow down. Not having the practiced skills one gains using a knife like this, I was extremely wary of that keen edge. Even so, the Sikayo made quick and effortless work of these items. The tomatoes gave little resistance to the Sikayo, and I was again able to make some cuts that were impressively thin. The cucumbers and Portabello caps were also dealt with in rapid fashion. It was during some of these trials, especially the lettuce where I thought the 9 inch blade would have come in handy. The slicing wasn’t an issue per se, but some of the items were large enough that the longer blade would have made the work a little quicker.
I did like the curved edge of the blade. It did a nice job allowing me to rock the knife through some of the cuts and allowed me to build somewhat of a rhythm. Even though I don’t have a lot of practice in this area, I was already beginning to feel more comfortable with these kinds of cuts and experimenting with different techniques as I was trying out the different food stuffs. Onions and green peppers were a breeze, and by the time I was done with the tests not only did I have the makings for a great salad, I had a strong appreciation for what a strong performer the Sikayo is in the kitchen.
This review took quite a while to get done. Mostly, it was due to my inexperience and not knowing what to look for in a Chef’s knife. I made a few calls around to people who are very experienced in the field to get some input from them. Their input wasn’t so much on the knife, but the different things to consider while using it. There’s no question the Sikayo is a unique blade. With the one-side grind, the left or right hand choice to make, the relief cut in the handle, and the differential in grip slab thickness, the formula quickly adds up "nothing else like it." Chris Reeve is the first to say that because of its unique features, the Sikayo might be one of those knives that you either love or hate. After checking around with others in the field, I’d say Chris is about right on that call. Just one of those unique features is enough to tweak someone, but put all of those features in the same knife and you’re bound to have some polarized opinions.
Personally, I’m in the "Love The Sikayo" camp. Maybe part of that comes from the fact that I have no experience with kitchen knives, so I didn’t have any hard and fast rules about what works or doesn’t work. I was a clean slate when this review started. And, in case I didn’t mention it, I am absolutely enamored with the edge on this blade–even though I’m a bit afraid of it. The only other knife I’ve tried out of the box with an edge close to this sharp is a Mora Triflex, and even still, I think the Sikayo has it beat. For me, the Sikayo is very comfortable to hold and use in most instances. I’m sure the hand-specific design has a large part to play in that usability. And, finally, I really like the aesthetics. Everything from the lustrous finish of the S35VN steel to the modern styling of the handle and grip slabs really appeal to my eye. It was some of these factors that allowed the Sikayo to win the 2009 award for Best Kitchen Knife Of The Year at the Blade Knife Show.
I’ll admit that some perverse part of me wants to "age" the Sikayo a bit and distress it with some duct tape or other material for the handle, and then wear it on my hip ala Bill "The Butcher" Cutting from Gangs Of New York. Something in me eschews the thought that a knife that looks this good and cuts so aggressively is just for kitchen use. I’ll probably get a sheath for it anyway so I can use it in the camp kitchen at the very least. All in all, it’s a great knife and it simply comes down to whether or not it feels right in the user’s hand. But, if you do fall into that "Love The Sikayo" camp like me, I think it will be true love and it will last a lifetime!