Wednesday February 21, 2007

Melody asked a good question about knives in the comments of  the travel tissue post, and a further comment she made about buying her knives at yard sales got me thinking….. I decided that a follow up post on knives would be a good idea.

The knives that I own and love, that I know are good quality, are all three brands.  I would recommend all three brands to you:  R.H. Forschner, F. Dick (a German company), and Chicago Cutlery.  Again, these are good quality knives and they are a bit pricey.  However, the knives, if properly cared for, will last a lifetime!  (As I was doing some last minute research for this post, I did discover a couple of things.  The F. Dick knives are very expensive, the Forschner’s somewhat less expensive, and the Chicago Cutlery were fairly reasonably priced.)

Even though buying a good-quality knife is a great, long-term investment, there are seasons when we just cannot swing a purchase like this.  I know that it is possible to find good-quality knives at yard sales, thrift stores and estate sales.  But how do you know a good-quality knife?  First of all, do some research on line, or in a good department store, and familiarize yourself with the look and markings of good-quality knives.  Knowing the various markings and logos will help you recognize a good buy at the thrift store when you see it.  Here is a look at a few knives to get you started:
Chicago Cutlery Walnut Chef’s Knife
Forschner 10″ Chef/Slicer Knife
F. Dick 8″ Slicing Knife

Some of my knives still have the brand names showing on their blades. I know that my boning knife is a Forschner because the name and logo are still visible on the blade. However, I can only make out just a portion of the logo on my Forschner carving knife.  My F. Dick knives use the same labeling on the blade that Forschner uses, but simply state F. Dick (Germany).  Chicago Cutlery burns their name, and the knife model number, into the wooden handle, but even that begins to be lost with use and age. (See picture below.)

If you stumble across some nice-looking knives while out thrifting, but there are no markings visible, what should you look for?  Here are some ideas on how to distinguish a good-quality knife.

My good knives are made from high-carbon steel.  My favorite knife, the 50+ year old one, is made from  carbon steel.  Carbon steel is great, but it will rust, so you need to be sure to keep it perfectly dry at all times when not in use.  The high carbon steel knives will give you the same quality, but without rusting!  This little snippet of information will not likely help you if you haven’t familiarized yourself with what this looks like ahead of time. Venture into your local Linens N Things or Bed, Bath and Beyond  or department store and take some time checking out their knives.  There should be enough information in the display to let you know what materials the knives are made from.  (This picture shows my favorite carbon steel knife.  You will notice that it’s blade has grown very dark, while the high carbon steel knives above will maintain their “silver” metal look.)

Avoid stainless steel knife blades, which are usually a low-carbon stainless steel.  They are very hard and very sharp when they are new.  However, they will, eventually, grow dull with use.  I have been told that a knife shop will not sharpen a stainless steel knife because it is just too hard to do.  That would mean that a stainless steel knife would have to be thrown away once it has become dull.  Not a wise investment.

You would also want to avoid those great-sounding knives that advertise themselves as “never need sharpening”.  Baloney!!  These knives will dull more slowly than a high carbon steel knife, but they will dull and they cannot be sharpened.  You will end up tossing these knives in the trash.  I see these quite often still new in their boxes at the thrift stores.  Do yourself a favor and leave these at the thrift store.

You do want to look for a knife that is made with the blade all in one piece, from the tip of the cutting surface, all the way to the back end of the handle.  This is referred to as a full tang.  I prefer the feel of wood handles on my  knives, but many good-quality knives now are being made with high quality plastic handles.  I think this might be a matter of personal preference for most of us.  Just be sure that all plastic handles feel very hard and sturdy, and are free of any cracks, which would shorten their life.

Another very important consideration is to look for knives whose handles are riveted on and NOT glued.  The rivets will hold for decades, but the glue will not.  (This picture is a good example of a full tang and riveted wood handles, as well as the Chicago Cutlery marking.)

Serrated knives are very good for some purposes (slicing bread, cake, etc.), but since they cannot be sharpened, look for regular knife blades for all purpose use.  Even though a serrated knife blade cannot be sharpened, you can un-roll the cutting edge with your sharpening steel.

Here are a few more considerations when looking at used knives.  There should be no divets or chips at all on the blade of the knife.  There should be no pitting in the metal.  The knife blade should not be at all loose in the handle.  All handles should be inspected to look for cracks.  Do not be overly concerned if the blade is not sharp, you can always sharpen the knife at home if it is of good quality.  If there are rust spots on the knife, I would avoid it.  However, if you are otherwise certain that the knife is good quality, and if the rust appears to just be very superficial, you might give it a go.  You might find out that it’s a really good quality carbon steel that will serve you well for 50 or more years!

If you missed the first post on caring for your knives, you can find it here

Okay!  Now go out there and find some really good knives for a song and then be sure and let me know what you found!

God bless you as you look well to the ways of your households!
Proverbs 31:27

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7 comments to Wednesday February 21, 2007

  • Number one thing to remember about knives…don’t cut yourself (as I did which I mention on my blog today).

    My kids tease me about my knife fetish, having only the best. However, when Stephanie got married, her father-in-law couldn’t believe it when all she asked for was a great set of knives for Christmas that first year (and she got them). 🙂

  • One thing about carbon steel blades (from someone who worked in the metal industry). If carbon steel touches stainless steel, especially if hot or wet, it can contaminate the stainless steel and the stainless will no longer be rust proof. Also it can make a stainless steel sink have rust rings, esp. in the cracks around the drain.
    So, store the knives separately, in their own silverware compartment and away from your other flatware (which, if not silver, is almost always stainless steel). Don’t wash them in the dishwasher. And don’t leave them sitting in the bottom of your sink waiting to be washed.
    Carbon steel from the mill is often “pickled and oiled” – if you are going to store your knives for a long time (maybe you have a carving set used on at Thanksgiving, for example) rub some cooking oil on the blade before wrapping in flannel to keep the rust down.
    Mama Says

  • Thanks, Milehimama, for the reminders.  It is NEVER safe to leave knives lying anywhere, either for the knife or for unsuspecting fingers!!!  It’s a good practice to wash and dry a knife immediately after using it.  And knives never go into the dishwasher (which I mentioned in the original post.)

    I have a question for you though.  The problems you mention with carbon steel, does all of that apply to the high carbon steel that most knives are made from now?  Just wondering….Thanks!!

  • Thanks for the added info! Sorry I got the comment on the wrong post though. I didn’t realize it until after I had done it. (oops) :rolleyes: Just put it down to “medicine head” from the sinus meds I took this morning. 🙂

    Thanks again


  • Melody, No big deal!!  I didn’t even notice it until I was writing the second knife post and couldn’t find your comment!!  heeheehee….And I don’t even have drugs to blame it on! 😆

  • About the carbon steel – yes. It’s an inherent property of carbon and stainless steel (unless you get a very expensive and rare stainless alloy that contains titanium!). Stainless steel is carbon steel with nickel and chromium added (differing amounts give you different alloys) and is then heat treated to make it corrosion resistant. It’s actually a delicate molecular balance – much like magnetism lines up the molecules and you can demagnetize something. Contact with regular steel kind of scrambles the molecules (without getting to scientific!)

    BTW, cast iron will do the same thing to stainless steel.

    In fact, it is standard industry practice (required by the ISO 9000 which is a quality standard) that carbon and stainless are NEVER stored together and that stainless never touches carbon steel.

    Wow. Never knew any of that stuff would come in handy! 🙂

    Mama Says

  • Wow!!  You know your metalurgy!  Thanks for the info…..My knives are all individually housed in a wooden block, so I’m safe.  I’ll be sure to remember this for future use, though.