I'm pretty good with a knife. I have no problem with slicing things by hand. But if you want extreme precision, or just have a heck of a lot of things to slice, gotta get your hands on one of these low-budget slicers. Sure, you can go to Williams-Sonoma and drop upwards of $200 on a highfalutin' mandoline. Or, you could spend a mere $45 or so and get this cheap -- but effective -- Japanese alternative.
I first learned of the Benriner well over a decade ago, watching the original Iron Chef (back in the day when we had subtitles). Back then, you had to go to specialty restaurant supply stores or kitchenware stores in Japantown or the Richmond to find one, but nowadays you can pick these puppies up all over, even at Target.
So for gratins, tarts and fancy salads, the Benriner is my best friend. You can slice your way through mountains of potatoes, apples and onions in mere seconds, and with amazing precision. (Oh, but do yourself a favor and use the hand guard! I've shaved off the façades of my knuckles more times than I can reckon.)