A (probably old) kitchen knife design

Howard Wallace

Feb 23, 1999
I recently designed and commissioned a kitchen knife for my mother. Mel Sorg consulted me on material selection in order to achieve my goals, and built the knife.




Design Goals

Must be able to press directly down on blade to facilitate cutting hard objects like pizza crust.
Must be able to perform rocking cuts similar to those done with a French chef’s knife.
Must slice vegetables well, yet be strong enough for chopping or cutting chicken bones.
Must be able to transport chopped items on the flat of the blade.
Must keep hand out of food being chopped and away from the cutting board.
Must be stain and rust resistant.
Must hold a good edge, and be resistant to chipping and deformation.
Must be able to be maintained on crock sticks.


Blade: 1/8” 440 C, Rockwell 57-58
Handle: Cocobolo with mosaic pins
Grind: flat grind extending approximately 1” up blade, slight convex bevel at edge for strength
Dimensions: Will fit inside a 9 ½” x 4 ½” rectangle.
Blade edge profile: The shape of the cutting edge is similar to that of a French chef’s knife, to facilitate rocking cuts. Note that the blade is not symmetrical, as it is in the Ulu and the traditional choppers used in wooden bowls.
Finish: Rough finish on blade.
Stand: Walnut stand to hold knife upright when not in use.

Preliminary review

I used this knife for a week prior to giving it to my mother. She has been using the knife for 2 weeks now.

The knife performs rocking cuts well. Generally the same slicing, chopping, dicing, and mincing techniques familiar to users of chef’s knives can be used. This knife seems to be a little slower than the chef’s knife in executing most of these techniques. The design does allow considerable pressure to be put on the edge, enabling slow cutting of things that would normally require chopping, like bones. I found it easy this morning to execute rocking cuts to five large carrots in a row. I would find this difficult with a Chef’s knife because of the force needed to go through the carrots. Pizza crust is easily cut. If I have another one of these made, I will give thought to lengthening the knife and handle, in order to give the user a greater choice of hand positions along the top. This will enable the user to trade off between cutting force and speed by varying the position of the hands.

The edge can cut through chicken bones without deformation. It has not been necessary to sharpen the knife in its three weeks of use.

When I inspected the knife at my mother’s house, dried vegetable particulate matter was adhering to the blade, indicating that the knife had been “rode hard and put up wet.” Despite this (mis) treatment, and despite the rough finish on the blade that might serve to enhance corrosion, no rust or corrosion was evident on the blade.

Perhaps the most revealing fact is that this is now my mother’s favorite knife, and she uses it in preference to her other knives for most tasks. It does not have a point, so a boning knife handles the tasks that require a point.

Your thoughts on this design and its implementation are solicited. Any suggestions for modifications or improvements? It has been said that, “There is nothing new under the sun.” That is especially true in the design of an implement as ancient as a knife. Many of you may have experience with similar designs. If so, I would like to hear about them.

(edited 12 September 1999 to rehost pictures on a different server.)

[This message has been edited by Howard Wallace (edited 12 September 1999).]
Wish I thought of that. Looks like cleaver, kitchen knife and Ulu rooled into one. If your mother wants a smaller version she can get an Ulu knife.

"A knifeless man is a lifeless man"
-Nordic proverb
That chopper looks pretty good. If it's ok I may run one up for my self. I might give mine more of a radius though. Having you hand directly over the blade makes a lot of sense.

Go for it. I will be very interested in how your knives turn out.

One more question for everyone. If I put on a clip for tactical pocket carry, would a tip-up or tip-down configuration be better?


Hey, congratulations on your fine creation. Seems to combine design inputs from a mezzaluna,ulu,and pastry blade, among others. Should be handy turning over balls of pizza and pasta dough,etc.

And don't forget at least one more ancillary quality.........

Must dramatically enhance the effect of a right cross or similar punch. Said utility implement must maintain its innocuous appearance,not be flat black, or have any serrations whatsoever for cutting fibrous vegetables.
You and Mom can elaborate further in the tactical forums.

Thanks for sharing it with us.

Stay safe and all the best, Phil <-----<
Oh no! I sure hope mom doesn't see Phil's comments.

She already has a wicked right cross!
Nice job! About a decade ago I made something similar, but with a bit more arc on the edge. We still use it for dicing vegetables by sort of rocking it back and forth across the board. Very fast way to make an onion into tiny onion pieces.

I made it based on a recollection of a similar tool one grandmother had.

Desert Rat

I can also see if the handle was a bit larger and oval, maybe someone with arthritis could use this knife much easier than a conventional kitchen knife.

Great design.


Is that thing shar...OW!

That was a very perceptive comment. In fact, my mother does have some arthritis, and had wanted a knife she could push directly down on. I think this type of design works well for people with limited strength. Overall, I prefer a French chef’s knife for myself, mostly because of the speed advantages. This design runs a close second. I actually prefer this design for some things, like cutting pizza.

Your comment about a larger oval handle is interesting. I discussed handle size with my mother prior to finishing the design. Now that she’s been using it, I’ll have to quiz her again on comfort and possible modifications to the handle. Thank you for sharing your insight.

Desert Rat,

Was your knife blade symmetrical or asymmetrical? How is the edge shaped? Is it an arc of a circle, or does it straighten out after an initial arc? Do you always use a cutting board or have you tried a curved wooden bowl for chopping and dicing? Do you have any ideas for the optimal shape for the edge? Thanks for sharing your experiences.

Do you own or have used an ulu knife? You mentioned a curved wooden bowl to Dessert Rat. Some ulu knives sold here in Alaska (targeted towards tourists) have a matching wooden bowl. You have a list of design goals, did you leave the actual design up to Mel Sorg or did you give him a rough idea of what you wanted in appearance?

"A knifeless man is a lifeless man"
-Nordic proverb

I spent some time in Alaska in my youth. I am familiar with the Ulu. I used to own one, but I don’t now. It did have an influence on this design.

The handle material, blade material, heat treat, and grind were agreed upon after some discussions with Mel. Mel mentioned different options in each of these areas, with advantages and disadvantages for each. I relied heavily on his advice for material selection.

Mel built the knife from a full-scale drawing I sent him. The drawing was mine. Mel did an excellent job of bringing the ideas on the drawing into reality.

The arc of the edge is pretty much what occurred by happenstance at the time, but I just got it out to look at it (it was a forged piece) and the curve appears to be a true circle section, but of a circle approaching three feet in diameter.

The utensil is about 7 inches long and about three deep -- the actual blade of an inch depth and a space of a bit over that between the blade and the oak handle. I don't have a scanner or I'd save all this verbiage with a photo.

I made it on the soft side so I can keep in in good cutting order with a steel. I've never used anything but a cutting board but I like the bowl idea -- thanks. I may have to find one or make one that corresponds to the arc of the blade and try it out.

The edge is a simply a fairly acute flat grind -- did most of it with a hammer, not a grinder.

This one is symetrical, but I made one for daughter (she's a very small lady) that has a good deal of blade sticking out of a smaller version of what's described above -- looks like an oak handled set of "knucks" with about 4" of blade sticking out from the four that make up the part below the handle.

Desert Rat