Tools – Part 1 – Knives

A motley crew

A motley crew

How does one pick a quality knife that will last? What kinds of knives are most useful? How many knives do you need?  How do you care for knives? What is the best way to store knives? How do you maintain a sharp edge?

I have to admit to owning what seems to be a drawerful of knives. I have them for three reasons, one is that knife sets were a popular gift when Mr. Lane and I were married, so we received a couple of them. The other is laziness, I despise needing a knife when all variations are in the sink, with raw chicken on them, when I need to cut the next thing. I know, mis-en-place, start with vegetables, etc. first, but I rarely do. The third thing is a bit of OCD, pack-ratism. My parents were depression era, never wanting to be faced with having to do without, they hung on to things when a replacement was bought. When I went on the prowl for the knives I have, not all of those knives are in one drawer, I found something of a surprise. I had removed 3 older knives to a drawer in the pantry, thinking to send them off to charity if found that I genuinely did not need them. Truly, I don’t 5 chef’s knives, this is not the surprise. First let’s start with what makes a good, no a great knife.

High-carbon no-stain vs. Stainless Steel
Knives are made of steel. Carbon steel is easy to sharpen, but, corrodes and stains and pits. Agents are added to prevent corrosion, thus creating an alloy. To make  stainless steel, chromium must be added. Other metals may be added, most commonly nickel. Because of the addition of chromium, stainless steel knives are difficult to sharpen. To avoid corrosion and for ease of sharpening, good quality knives are usually made of high-carbon no-stain steel. 
Forging vs. Stamping
The blade of a knife may be either forged or stamped. Forging is done either by hand or by machine, using an air hammer. Forging work-hardens the steel, making it tougher and less brittle. Blades that are stamped are just that, there is no hardening, the blade is just cut out with a stamp. Stamped knives are thin and don’t hold sharpening for long.
Knives should be balanced and neither blade nor handle heavy. That is, if you place your finger at the hilt, the knife should just sit on your finger, tipping neither toward the blade nor toward the handle. Forged knives are balanced, stamped knives are usually not.
The tang is the part of the knife that you grip. It is enclosed in the handle. A full tang is as long as the handle, which is held on by three rivets. If you see the metal stopping before the end of the handle, that is a partial tang, which is more likely to break.

That, in a nutshell, is what makes a high quality knife: hand or machine forged high-carbon no-stain steel and a knife constructed so that it is balanced with a handle that won’t break apart while being used and an edge that doesn’t need constant sharpening.

Now, for the surprise. In amongst my knives was an old steak knife my mother gave me when I had my first apartment; it was made in Sheffield, England. Another surprise is that one of the knives set aside to go to charity apparently is collectible, having been made by the Russell knife company. Lastly, one of the “charity” knives will go there. It is stainless steel and will be difficult to sharpen. The vote is still out on the final potential charity knife, which is apparently also fast on it’s way to becoming vintage. As for all those recent purchases, well they may move to the top of the replacement list. I am going to consider buying this sharpener. Though my V sharpener is quite fine, especially for the sharpening challenged.


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