Learn to sharpen your own knives and that will solve 95% of your problems. Blade steel and manufacturing techniques are overrated. A crappy $15 Chicago Cutlery chef knife will work just fine if you sharpen it and touch it up periodically. I have Shun paring and utility knives, a Henckles santoku, an Al Mar japanese 8" chef knife, a Chicago Cutlery bread knife and a couple of steak knives that I use as utility knives. They're all great and work very well. The most important thing is just to keep them sharp.
You should buy a good V-shaped crock stick sharpener and learn to use it properly. Once you get a feel for the angles you will be able to sharpen free-hand. I do 90% of my sharpening on the bottom of a coffee cup. I only bust out my real sharpeners if I need to re-profile an edge or grind out a chip or something serious. People don't believe it when I can bring their dull crappy knives and scissors back to life with a coffee cup - but it works.
Last edited by brew; 01-19-2011 at 03:36 PM.