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Cutlery Tips

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General Knife Tips
How Knives Dull
Choosing the Best Kitchen Knife

General Knife Tips

  • Invest in a high quality basic set (don't buy a cheap set because it includes more knives — none of them will work very well).
  • A basic knife set includes: chef's, paring, boning or utility, slicer, bread

Chef's Knife

(Sometimes called a Cook's Knife or French Knife)

  • Used to chop, slice and dice food on a cutting board
  • Buy the biggest chef's knife you're comfortable with. A small knife is inefficient because it cuts less. An 8-inch length is most popular for home use.
  • Choose a forged chef's knife with a tapered bolster (the portion of the knife between the blade and the handle). A thick bolster prevents sharpening of the entire blade edge. Eventually after repeated sharpenings the edge develops an indentation (a swale) near the bolster so that a large portion of the cutting edge doesn't touch the cutting board. You get bits of celery held together by strings!
  • Balance should be at bolster

Paring Knife

  • Used to peel, trim and cut
  • Because this knife is used closest to the hand, the best kitchen knife is one that's comfortable length for your size hand

How Knives Dull

Knives get dull because the edge folds, not, as popularly believed, because the edge wears away and gets blunt.

  • There's no such thing as a "never-needs-sharpening" knife. So-called "never-need sharpening" knives are serrated. Serrated knives DO get dull. The tips of the serrations fold.

To delay dulling a sharp edge must have two main characteristics:

  • SYMMETRICAL: A perfectly straight, symmetrical edge does not tend to lean in one direction or the other and thus does not fold as easily.
  • ARCH-SHAPED: An edge with more metal behind it resists folding longer than a thin, weak "V"-shaped or hollow-ground edge.

Sharpening Options

  • Sharpening steels (and other devices which include rods) straightens the edge vs. actually resharpening it (creating a fresh, new edge). They take skill and effort to use. The unfolded edge is still weak and will immediately start to fold again. Eventually the edge is too weak to strengthen and the knife must be completely resharpened.
  • Manual sharpeners with washers/discs lack reliable angle control and sharpen by skiving off pieces of the edge.
  • Sharpening stones resharpen the edge. They take uncommon skill to hold the correct sharpening angles. It takes time and effort to use a stone.
  • Sharpening services resharpen the edge. Many use inexpensive grinding wheels that overheat (detemper) knife edges and take off too much metal. Excess heat weakens the blade so it does not sharpen as well or stay sharp as long. Some professional services are more skilled than others.
  • Electric sharpeners resharpen the edge. But there is only one that sharpens safely and effectively and puts a stronger, longer-lasting arch-shaped edge on the knife: the Chef'sChoice Diamond Hone Knife Sharpener.
    • The Chef'sChoice Sharpener has magnetic or plastic spring guides that control angles precisely and create a symmetrical, ultra-sharp edge that resists folding. It uses 100% diamond abrasives that never detemper knives or remove more than metal dust. It's fast and easy to use and safe for quality knives. Their multistage design creates strong gothic-arch shaped edges that are sharper and stay sharp longer.
  • Never use the sharpener on the back of your can opener! This uses an aggressive grinding wheel that takes off too much metal and overheats the knife (detempers it). If you see sparks, your knife is being damaged!

How to Choose the Best Kitchen Knife

Select the best quality you can afford. Knives are a high-use kitchen tool. Better knives are easier to use and will last longer.
Forged knives sharpen better and stay sharp longer than stamped knives

  • Knives consist of three main parts:
    • Blade: The cutting edge. A higher-carbon stainless alloy sharpens well and holds an edge longer
    • Bolster: The portion of the knife between the blade and the handle. Usually thicker than the blade to prevent fingers from slipping onto the blade. An exception is the chef's knife bolster. This should be tapered to allow sharpening of the entire blade edge.
    • Tang/ Handle: The tang is the metal extension of the blade enclosed by the handle. A full tang means the tang extends to the end of the handle. A full tang is best because it reduces the chance that the handle will break off and it gives the knife good balance.
  • Molded-on plastic handles don't have cracks that could harbor bacteria and they last longer than pre-molded or riveted handles.
  • A good knife is balanced over the working fingers. Thus a chef's knife is balanced toward the blade to allow gravity to help with the chopping. A boning knife and paring knife are balanced toward the handle to provide best control.

See all cutlery at Pleasant Hill Grain
Read the Kitchen Cutlery Primer for details of superior construction and a selection guide.

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