Every good chef or home cook knows the absolute value of a quality kitchen knife. Knives make for a solid niche sales opportunity with a superb market demand. It is does not take much effort to find knives on Amazon or any number of self-designed e-commerce websites.
It is the goal of the knife seller and retailer to earn the best possible profit on their wares. However, many make a fundamental mistake with their knives – they overlook the Chinese kitchen knife industry and their steel manufacturing as a source for quality kitchen knives. Sourcing Nova has built a solid reputation with various knife manufacturers within the country, and these kitchen knife manufacturers produce blades that rival the best German-style manufacturers.
N.B. – Our focus in this piece is on German-style knives specifically and not the Japanese-style. The reasoning will be made evident in the blog.
There is always a demand for quality kitchenware and knives in particular. This blog will show you how easy it is to find the best manufacturer of kitchen knives in China and start a private label knife brand.
We have one added benefit as well, which we will cover close to the end of the blog – sub-zero treatment. Why does this make a difference in kitchen knives? The answer may very well surprise you.
Your customers and your knowledge
There are some complications you need to be aware of when it comes to Chinese knives. For example, there are plenty of websites available on line that evaluate knives, and many of your potential customers are wise enough to know the characteristics of the best knives.
This means you have to be on your A-game as you start importing knives and selling them. You have to know more than your customers and provide a level of customer service that is unmatched across the Internet. Most importantly, your knives must be of the best possible quality available. Consider: those who buy a knife are not as smart as those who would sell a knife. Those who would sell a knife is not as smart as those who would make a knife.
What does this mean for you? Simple. If you want to be smarter than your customers, you need to find quality manufacturers and have the capability to speak with their upper level management.
There is no one who uses quality knives that will deny the quality of German-made knives of Zwilling and WMF. Did you know the majority of these are made in Yangjiang, with a small number of Zwilling made in Shanghai? Did you also know that we at Sourcing Nova are partners with the OEM manufacturers of both companies?
You do now.
What are the characteristics of a quality knife?
Previously, we introduced you to Yangjiang and the Chinese blade industry. There are over 1,500 manufacturers of knives and blades in this area. Which of these are the best option for you and your knives?
Let’s start with what you need to forget. As a seller, forget about cosmetics – the design, brand, distributor and advertising. These have a point but only to attract customers to your brand. The sale is only the beginning of the customer experience. If you want to be a retailer of quality Chinese kitchen knives, you need to look at the characteristics of what makes a quality knife first and foremost.
What are these characteristics that are more important than the cosmetics? Keep reading; doing so may make the difference between your success and failure.
The sharpest of them all
The sharpest of all kitchen knives are available from Japan, and the ultra-high steel alloy, VG10, lands above HRC65, the measurement of hardness of the steel for the food service industry.
The Japanese seek a knife specifically for cutting fish for sushi. This means a blade of exceptional sharpness and durability of the edge. The purpose behind this necessity is maintaining the quality of the fish.
The Japanese have mastered the art of cutting. Their knives cleanly divide the cells within the flesh rather than squeezing cell membranes and walls. This means the moisture in the food is maximized for the flavor and feel for the customer.
If your target customer base is looking specifically for professional Japanese knives, it is virtually impossible to create a private brand. The Japanese blades are only made in Japan, and the steel used is produced in a single facility –the Takefu Special Steel Co. Ltd. Such knives require exceptional maintenance and are very expensive. Normally, only professional chefs with specific training in knives, maintenance and cutting will use Japanese blades. These blades command prices up to several hundred dollars per inch, meaning a customer seeking a Japanese style knife will look for a Japanese knife retailer or order directly from Japan.
The average home cook has no need for a knife of this quality or expense. However, they do want a quality knife that will meet their needs. This is why we source knives with 1.4116 or X50CRMOV1 steel – the same steel used in high-end German brands.
The importance of a sharp knife
Like we said above, dull knives are both useless and dangerous. Your customers will not spend hard earned money on a quality blade that will dull quickly and not have options for resharpening. They want a knife that has an exceptionally sharp edge and will maintain that edge for a long period.
The sharpening steel
Many knife owners use a steel to sharpen knives. The steel, the long thin rod often seen with a quality knife, is not a sharpening tool but returns a curled or deflected blade edge to a straight line. Steels are normally of a softer steel than the knife, and users will often nick the blade steel while trying to center the edge.
Steels are only appropriate for German blades and not a Japanese blade.
All knife blades are made in one of two ways: stamping or forging. It is important that you understand the difference – in particular if you want to carry the absolute best of the best in Chinese knives. The difference between these two methods is important and makes a significant difference in knife quality.
The stamping process takes a large piece of sheet metal, and, using a die, presses out the shape of the knife and knife blade. Stamping is low cost, low labor way to mass produce cheap knives. Those knife resellers who are looking for knives for bulk sales to sell at places like flea markets would find stamped knives ideal.
This does not mean a stamped blade does not have its use in a home kitchen. Stamped knives are normally flexible – ideal for thin blades like a boning or fillet knife. The blades are fairly easy to sharpen with an electric knife sharpener as well.
If you are considering carrying a variety of knives, a selection of stamped knives is acceptable for the knife types we mentioned.
Stamped blades are cheap and not appropriate for kitchen knives. You want to provide a quality knife with a sharpening promise to your customers. This means one option – forged blades.
A forge is a large oven used to heat metal, usually iron, and form that metal into different items. Mention a forge, and many envision a blacksmith, anvil and hammer working hot metal into various products for use – anything from a simple nail to heavy gate material. However, forges still have their place today in the quality knife making industry, although the technology for working with hot metal has improved significantly. Heavy, hydraulic presses have taken the place of physical hammering, and much of the process is automated.
Forging, like we said above, is the process of heating metal and shaping it. The forging process for knives starts with a block of steel alloy. The steel is heated to a red, almost white, hot temperature and rapidly moved to hydraulic forging hammer.
The forging hammer presses the steel alloy with a force of almost two tons, 5,000 joules, flattening the metal. The metal is heated again and folded again and again. This process is repeated as many times as necessary, with some knives featuring folds into the thousands.
The result is a flawless blade of high density, long-lasting and exceptional sharpness, strong rust resistance and virtually unbreakable. For the knife owner, the result is a knife that is tough with an unmatched cutting ability.
It should go without stating that we strongly recommend forged Chinese kitchen knives for your customers and retail store.
Steel hardness and the Rockwell scale
Stainless steel is actually an alloy of iron, chromium, nickel and perhaps a few other metals. All stainless steel is measured using the Rockwell hardness C scale. The higher the HRC, the harder the stainless steel. The higher HRC means the blade is more brittle. The trade off is a blade that sharpens exceptionally well and keeps that edge for a good long time depending on the use.
German brands like Zwilling, WMF and the like use a particular steel mentioned previously – 1.4116 or X50CRMOV1. This results in an HRC between 54 to 58. The Japanese blades use a VG-10 steel and have an HRC of 60+. Some stainless steels can reach up to a 62.
The better Chinese blades use the 3CR13 steel with a hardness between 52 and 56. The small difference between the Chinese and German hardness is negligible for the average knife owner. The price difference, on the other hand, will be noted by your potential customer.
Each blade is tested for hardness with a specialized tool that often marks the blade. The mark is often done on the tang, the part of the blade that is covered by the handle, so your customers will never know about the testing process.
The steel number
The specific steel label on each blade will tell and your customer the proportions of metals in the stainless steel and that steel’s exact HRC.
As an example, above we mention the Zwilling and WMF have two numbers: 1.4116 or X50CRMOV1. Both refer to the alloy in the blade and mean the same thing – the German standard DIN1 stainless steel. This is also the common stainless steel used in most European blades. The steel has a carbon content of 0.05 percent, a medium carbon alloy.
We have manufacturers who use 1.4116 stainless steel, and the steel is easily sourced within Yangjiang. However, if you are interested in getting your blades to HRC 58, sub-zero treatment is necessary and is readily available from Chinese kitchen knife manufacturers.
Sub-zero treatment has been in the knife making industry for some time, but it had limited research into its efficacy. Previously, researchers in metallurgical sciences saw sub-zero treatment as a bandaid over poor heat treatment with a large variance in the overall research into the process.
One researcher out of the U.S. has found proper sub-zero treatment affects the metal in three ways:
- Wear resistance
- Stability of the atoms
Of the three, the stability has little interest for a home chef. It is more practical in industrial applications. However, the hardened steel and wear resistance means sharper blades that keep an edge longer – something a person looking for a quality knife will gladly spend the money to have.
Sub-zero treatment is high technology, and many kitchen knife manufacturers lack the ability and finances to support this process. The necessity of transporting and storing liquid nitrogen at temperature plus the other necessary equipment for sub-zero treatment requires space and considerable investment. Smaller and medium sized knife factories cannot afford such technology.
The Chinese advantage
Sourcing Nova has access to the best kitchen knife manufacturers across China who have the technology, understanding and labor force to sub-zero treat kitchen knives. This means knives reaching HRC of 58 and above but also priced reasonably for you and for your customer base.
Raising metal to temperatures into the thousands and cooling into the hundreds within seconds requires specialized equipment and a well-trained labor pool. None of this is possible in smaller manufacturing facilities.
Sourcing Nova’s manufacturer of choice is in the top of the industry and is the same foundry for both Zwilling and WMF. There are differences in styles of knives and blades, but raw materials, production lines and quality inspection equipment are exactly the same. We can certainly help you find the absolute best in kitchen knives from world-class suppliers and at a price that will produce above average profit margins.
Sourcing Nova reminds you of an important fact: Our goal is to find the best manufacturer for your products, and high quality Chinese kitchen knives are no exception. This means best does not necessarily mean the cheapest. If you are serious about quality kitchen knives, cheap is not acceptable.
Do you have a kitchen knife concept based on market research and customer desires? Are you ready to make that concept into a business? We can take your prototype, have samples made and shipped back to you. You can then make decisions on what you see and can request changesbased on research and findings. Contact us. The sooner you do means the sooner we can get started with your private knife brand.