Pack River chef's knife

I've been a big fan of Steve Mullin's Pack River line. Pics of the line
are available here:
A couple years ago I reviewed the Pack River folder, and found it
to be one of best folders I've ever reviewed, for its niche. It
was built very well, it was very beautiful, and only my hand-tuned
Calypso jr. could keep up with it for cutting performance, and only
then when the work was light enough -- when it got heavier, the Pack
River pulled away.

For this review, Steve sent me two of the 8" chefs knives. You can
seen the knife on the web page above. On the web page the price is
listed as $125, and I think the price is still that, or maybe slightly

The pattern is a santoku. The first knife sent was ATS-34, with the
entire package being a bit thicker (3/32"). This knife was a freebie
Steve made for a friend, and was thus ground quickly, and ended up
surprisingly thick at the edge. I say "surprisingly" because I've
examined many Pack River knives, and Steve usually does edges the way
I like. The 2nd knife was a bit thinner at the spine (1/16"), and
also at the edge. This is the knife I test drove for a few weeks.
That 2nd knife is Steve's personal kitchen knife, made from AEBL
rather than the usual ATS-34. After we talked, Steve seemed to lean
towards making 1/16" the standard thickness for the chef's knife.

Aesthetics: You can check the aesthetics easily enough yourself.
I find this line of knives absolutely beautiful. The wood is as
nice as in the picture. The bolsters are very well done, they look
almost like the knife was an integral. The blade finish is kind of
a speed-satin finish. It's not smooth, there is a noticeable scratch
pattern, though the overall effect looks nice -- for $125, you don't
get a perfect satin finish. Most people liked the final blade finish,
there was one person who didn't.

Performance: Since I had an AEBL blade and not Steve's usual ATS-34, I
did not test edge holding, since it wouldn't be indicative of what most
users could expect.

Moving on to the edge, the knife I received had an edge thickness
right between a standard Henckel's grind, and the ultra-thin (and
somewhat fragile) Hattori santoku grind. Performance was predictable:
the knife cut better than the Henckel's but not as good as the Hattori.
The small amount of testing I did on the ATS-34 edge didn't show any
problems with either toughness or hardness -- I didn't see any dings
or chips after working it.

The format is a bolster-less design, which I've really come to favor,
since the edge stays thin through the entire blade, instead of
thickening drastically near the bolster, which is my favorite place to

An interesting feature of the Pack River Santoku is that the blade is a
full 2" wide, versus most other santokus at 1 3/4". The extra 1/4"
doesn't sound like it would affect handling much, but it does. For
chopping, your knuckles seem very far from the cutting board, and I
found my arm in a position that made chopping very comfortable. In
addition, having a big wall of blade for things to pile up against was
something I came to enjoy. But having your hand farther back from the
edge has its drawbacks when you're trying to do more precise work. Even
with my favorite hand position, which increases precision (thumb and
finger on blade, middle, ring, and pinky fingers on handle), it won't
feel quite as precise as a chef's knife with a smaller blade. So
the price for slightly more comfortable chopping and coarse slicing,
is that you'll be reaching for your smaller blades blades slightly
more often. It's a tradeoff worth considering, though; I came to
really enjoy doing the bigger jobs with this knife.

One other note, in my wife's smaller hands, she found the larger
blade a bit more unwieldy. The 2nd, thinner santoku Steve sent
was better for her, but still a bit much. Keep in mind that she's
settled on the Hattori boning knife for 90% of her kitchen work,
including work you'd think of as chef's knife work, so she's a bit
uncomfortable in general with bigger blades.

In Summary: For $125, a very beautiful knife that handles very
nicely. A very nice deal. If you like heavier knives, go with the 3/32" spine; if you like lighter-weight, top performance cutting, go with the 1/16".

[This message has been edited by Joe Talmadge (edited 09-06-2000).]
Mar 17, 2000
Joe: Thanks for the review. Will I be able to see any Pack River kitchen knives at Blade Show West? Jerry
Steve is out of town and I haven't gotten an answer on that. My guess would be that Steve would definitely be there, because he usually makes it to the BACKA show in south city.

Joe, have you tried using one of the tougher nonstainless steels as a kitchen knife so you can get a near optimal edge geometry.

Cliff, unfortunately I haven't. So far, I've just been trying out whatever is easy to get, and most stuff seems to be stainless these days. The rumored stainless version of 3V would be a hell of a steel to try out.

BTW, Just heard from Steve Mullins yesterday, he won't be doing any more shows until Solvang.