From Concept to the First Chefs Knife: a Story about Product Development

When we founded Cerberus Cutlery, we had nothing else in mind that we wanted to make knives and maybe make some money out of it. The story turned serious when Peter introduced his idea about high-end chef’s knives with limited production batches and some room for customization.

It seemed like a good idea that can be worked into a business model. From that point, we left the concept of “I think it looks good” and started a series of meticulous tests, or in other words, started our development work.

Designing a knife model is just like any other product development activity: you have to do something people like, which is simple enough. Telling how and why they will like it – that’s the hard part.

So, first we wrote a form and distributed it to as much chefs and hobbyist cooks as we could. Second, we made four prototypes that we thought chefs would like and put them to field test. This was also an excellent occasion to actually talk to chefs face-to-face and ask them about their preferences. We learned a lot from that only.

By the time we finished the above, we had a lot of numbers from the forms, and enough experience from the conversations to be able to actually interpret the numbers. The results showed us the direction we needed to take, and from that on, it was our knowledge as knifemakers that made it possible to realize the concept that seemed optimal.

And here came the first interesting result: the answers to our questions were very diverse in some ways, which lead to the conclusion that customization is more important than we initially thought – but more about that later.

Materials

Our conclusions influenced everything down to material orders. We chose K110 and N690 for the blades. K110 is a fairly standard stainless steel from the well know tool steel supplier Boehler. We chose it because it resembles 440C (the material of about 90 per cent of the production knives), but on steroids. N690 on the other hand is a better version of VG10, the material of high-end production chefs knives. We chose these materials because edge holding capacity is appreciated above all else by chefs that we asked, so we did our best to choose the most suitable materials.

 

Steel for chef knives

 

While choosing the right steel for the blades was done within a week, we were in trouble with the handles. If you want good looks and feel, the obvious choice is wood. But if you want something that lasts, you must go for plastic (that’s why your 500 dollars Wüsthof has plastic handle). We eventually found a way to combine the two and made our very own wood stabilizing method. This preserves the natural beauty of the wood and makes it insensitive to water, acids, bases, oils, or… anything. Like, we’re pretty sure at this point that our handles will outlive any of us.

 

Knife handle materials
A selection of knife handle materials

 

Now that we had our materials on hand, the real work began.

Design and customization

There were two cornerstones of our initial design: the knuckles of the user must never touch the cutting board when using the knife, and the edge must run on the entire length of the blade. Although these two were the most common requests from our interviewees, not many kitchen knives are designed this way. Another interesting experience was the real need for customization from everyone we asked.

 

Chef knife blade with mapa burl
Our chefs knife blade along with some mapa burl. Mapa burl will be one of the options for handle materials for chefs knives

 

So, the design work was trusted to Peter, ho came up with a simple enough santoku-chefs knife hybrid. This design fused the beneficial features of the two traditional designs, while integrating as many variable features into the knife as possible. The result was a prestigious sized blade with the following optional features:

  • Satin, bead blasted or highly polished finish
  • Three options of handle thickness
  • More than four options of handle material
  • Optional laser engraving in the blade

This is a lot of room for customization, while keeping the costs below the the same quality custom chefs knives. With the design set, we had only one more thing to do.

Execution

Although it sounds simple enough, the execution of our design held a lot of surprises. Finding suitable suppliers, overcoming all the hidden obstacles, and following our original vision of how our product should look and feel would fill an entire article on its own. George was the one who did the majority of the support, while Peter took his place at the belt grinder. Finishing the first batch was not easy, and it took a lot of perseverance, but in the end, it was worth the effort.

 

Knife blade grinding

 

The result

This is the short story of how Cerberus Cutlery’s new line of chefs knife, the Cuvac was born. As always, we have some ideas where we can improve our design, but we are very happy with the overall result. The Cuvac chefs knife accomplishes the quality standard that we set for ourselves, which means that we would have a hard time finding a production blade that outperforms it. Next time, we introduce the Cuvac in details, so check back soon.

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