Basic Knife Components

Most knife blades are made of steel. (There’re a few specialty knives made with ceramic blades — zirconium carbide and zirconium oxide.) The steel blades can in turn be divided into three broad groups: carbon steel, stainless steel, and high carbon stainless steel.

0080_250x167_SHADHigher end production, bench-made, and custom knives generally use higher grade steel. D2 and ATS-34 are two of the most popular. BG-42 was "the" premium stainless steel for a while recently, but now the choices are 154 CM and CPM S30V, the latter being the hottest and best performing stainless steel currently available. However, there is a plethora of others used, all with their champions. Some makers use exotic alloys of titanium or laminated steel in an effort to give them an "edge," but there are very few truly unique steels available.

Knives with carbon steel blades have a number of advantages and a couple of disadvantages that have been their downfall. Blades made from carbon steel, sometimes referred to as high carbon steel, can be sharpened to a very keen edge. Carbon steel blades are not quite as hard as high carbon stainless steel so they 0082_250x167px_SHADmust be sharpened more often. The blades are also more flexible than those made of high carbon stainless steel. Chefs who use knives with carbon steel blades swear by them, but they also know how to take care of them. Carbon steel will oxidize — in other words, tarnish or rust. These knives must be cleaned and dried immediately after use. If not used daily, they should be given a light coating of vegetable oil to prevent oxidation.

Finding a knife with a carbon steel blade has become very difficult in most areas. We have found some high-quality knives with carbon steel blades in France, but even there they are becoming less common.

High carbon stainless steel blades are more common and dominate the market nowadays. Besides carbon, the steel is usually alloyed with trace amounts of chrome, vanadium, and molybdenum to increase its hardness. Since these blades are slightly harder than carbon steel knife blades, they hold an edge better, although one that isn’t quite as sharp. The edge is a bit more brittle, too. This means that more care has to be taken to avoid bones and other hard materials when using these knives. But these blades won’t oxidize — a major selling point.

Knives with plain stainless steel blades are usually inexpensive — which is good because they usually are dull when purchased and never get any sharper. Food-service grade stainless steel is too soft to make an effective blade because it cannot hold an edge. These knives were very common a few years back, but are available less and less (except in the local supermarket or hardware store).

0042_250x167_SHADWe believe that the choice of handle material is largely a personal one. The knife must feel good in the user’s hand. Formerly, handles were made of wood or bone. Today, most commercial knives are made of moldable materials. Sometimes the handle material is attached to the knife with rivets in the old-fashioned manner, but often the handle is now molded in place. There are still knives sold with wooden handles, but these are becoming less and less common in the commercial kitchen. Also, some of the high-end knives are now being manufactured with hollow metal handles that are welded to the blade and finished to give the knife a one-piece appearance.

Contact us if you have any questions about knife materials and we will be happy to consult with you.

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