Knife Education Center
Knives are simple, right? You cut things and use the sharp part to do so. And, that's pretty much it. That might be true if this were the Bronze Age. But choices for knife styles, composition, edges, and uses can get a bit confusing.
It's worth the time to learn about the knives you need or the ones you already have. In no time you'll be talking like a real KnifePro.
Styles and Uses
If there were a film about knives the star would be the chef knife. It's possibly the most versatile in the kitchen; if you have one knife this is the one to have.
Most chef knives are between 8 and 12 inches in blade length. Their blades are averagely 2-3 inches wide at the heel and taper to a point. Some may prefer heavier German style blades and others may look to the light-weight Japanese styles. In a typical kitchen, the chef knife will have the most heft, making repetitive chopping easier through its ability to create a “rocking” motion.
They can be used for slicing raw meats, slicing and chopping vegetables and herbs and even doing some delicate work if you're skilled. However, they should only be used for cutting through the thinnest of bones. Even the best knife can break when used improperly.
Also known as carving knives, slicing knives are generally the longest blades of all kitchen knives. The blades are generally a uniform, narrow width from heel to tip. They can have flexible blades or granton edges, adding nuanced carving advantages. Granton edges, provide "channels" or vertical indentations on the blade that allow the juices to lubricate the knives for smoother cutting.
You can use long carving strokes with a slicing knife to cut an assortement of cooked meats, such as roasts, turkeys, chickens and more. What would Thanksgiving be without a good slicing knife? Hacking apart a turkey with a cleaver just isn't the same.
Serrated or scalloped edges are generally used for breads and soft flesh fruit. Serrated edges are also found on table style steak knives. You can find a variety of blade lengths to accommodate cutting baguettes into perfect pieces for bruschetta or slicing a tomato without crushing it. These blades operate on the same principal as a saw.
Boning knives have thin blades that generally curve upwards towards the tip. Thicker bladed boning knives are best for meats like beef and pork. While thinner, more flexible blades are best for chicken and fish.
These are not used for cutting through bones but rather for taking the bones out of meats. Boning knives aren't generally used with vegetables. Veggies don't have bones.
Fillet Knives are the grown up cousins of boning knives. They, too have long, tapered blades anywhere from 7" to 9" which lend themselves to filleting large or small fish.
Cleavers are the heaviest, thickest, and widest blades of the knife world. Western cleavers have very thick spines, range about 6 to 8 inches in length and about 4 or more inches in width.
Primarily, cleavers are used to chop things. Their weight and density are perfect for butchering meats such as beef, pork or maybe lamb.
Most average home kitchens don't need a cleaver. But, anyone who needs to save their other knives from going through thick bones should use one.
If the chef knife's the star of the knife story then the paring knife is the sidekick. The smallest of the general utility knives, it's a very thin-bladed knife usually only 2 to 4 1/2 inches in length with a width of 1/2 an inch or so.
The Paring Knife is used for the most delicate work such as peeling fruits and vegetables, removing seeds and creating garnishes.
Sharpening Steel is a little bit of a misnomer. It is really a "honing rod" and used for maintenance of knife edges, Using a steel will keep your knives "true" or in perfect alignment. The cutting edge of a knife is actually made of microscopic teeth. A steel restores the alignment of these teeth on the edge, and should be used before each session.
Steels are available in a variety of grits from rough to smooth, including the use of diamonds. But, regardless of proper steel use, all knives will need to be re-sharpened at some point.
Blade Shapes & Materials
Different blade shapes are easily noticed in chef knives. The most common Western shape is the German blade. The edge of German blades curves up towards the tip. The curve makes using a rocking motion to chop foods much easier. The blade can stay in constant contact with the cutting surface give most users steady control.
French blades a basically triangular. The cutting edge is much straighter from the heel to tip. French cutting techniques generally employ more slicing motions rather than the rocking motions. Naturally, the French think it is the best way to go, but it's really a matter of preference. Neither is necessarily superior; but German blades are popular in most places other than France.
The Japanese blade design has become much more popular with Western users in recent years. The most popular Japanese chef knife is the Santoku. It is best recognized by it's sheepsfoot shape. The edge is straight and level with the spine of the knife curving down to meet the edge. It has a bit of a "claw" or "talon" shape.
Mainly a combination of iron with about 1% carbon added. But, that figure can vary slightly. The addition of carbon to the alloy makes the blade very hard so it holds an edge fairly well. Though this hardness can also make it more easily breakable. Plus, it can be vulnerable to rust and stains. True carbon steel knives are not in wide use today.
HIGH CARBON Stainless steel is the industry standard when describing high quality cutlery. Modern technology has brought a variety of formulas for development and production of stainless steel that includes adding enough carbon along with other alloys including, chromium, vanadium, nickel, etc that give knives their strong edge. The high carbon content will increase performance of knives and makes it easier to re-sharpen as needed. High Carbon Stainless Steel knives are resistant to corrosion and staining.
These blades are made from different types of metals sandwiched together. Many feel this method is the best of both worlds allowing the blade to have the rigidity needed for strength but retain enough flexibility to resist chipping or breaking. The edges can also be harder and ground to a more defined edge.
Our superior performance KnifePro® knives are stamped blades made from a special formula of HIGH CARBON NO STAIN 420J Japanese steel. With a hardness rating of 52-54 Rockwell, they're strong enough to hold an edge and cut with ease. They're also flexible enough to resist chipping or breaking with heavy use.
Titanium has become more common in recent years as it is very light and hard. It's more brittle than steel, though. Ceramic knives are also brittle when bent in comparison to steel but are extremely hard. Many will hold an edge many times longer than a metal blade but must be sharpened with special equipment. Plastic is used for few specialty knife blades; usually they are for cutting vegetables like lettuce since metal blades can cause discoloration. However, most plastic blades aren't very sharp and are relegated to cafeterias and picnics.
When it comes to metal materials, there are two main ways to make a knife blade: Forged and Stamped.
The basics of the forging method hasn't changed in thousands of years. It always involves metal being heated to a high or "critical" temperature and then pounded into the desired shape. The metal is also cooled quickly; this rapid cooling causes the metal to become very hard. Think of blacksmiths pounding out swords. Modern technology allows much of the forging process to be done by machines now but the process is still the same.
Stamped blades are a recent addition in the history of knife making, only introduced with modern manufacturing. These blades are cut in their final shape right out of sheets of cold rolled steel. These blades are then ground to and edge and sharpened. Generally, they are a uniform thickness and thinner than most forged blades. In the past, forged blades were considered superior by professional chefs but modern stamping and sharpening methods have made the equal in quality. Many professional restaurants now prefer stamped blades. In fact, our KnifePro line of stamped blade knives are preferred by commercial kitchens throughout the country.
It's the edge that turns a knife from a sheet of metal into a useful tool. While there are many types of edges there are four main types that are important to be familiar with.
The out-of-the-box edge. All knives are created with an edge but a factory edge is generally not designed for best performance. It usually has a steeper angle than recommended and makes negotiating skilled cuts difficult. Plus, they don't wear as well as a professionally created edge.
A hand tapering process provides relief "behind the edge." Rolled edges are recommended for high-end, forged cutlery. The blade won't look much different but it will cut better that before. View Illustration
One of the most popular edges, a beveled edge created by combining hand and machine processes. The bevel is more pronounced and is noticeable when looking at the knife. The resulting edge is a bit thinner but easier to maintain by steeling. Many chefs enjoy the ease of hollow edge cutting. View Illustration
Also known as a tapered edge it has a smaller beveled edge. Completely created by hand, it's a stronger edge than the Hollow Ground but also includes the relief "behind the edge." Popular for home cutlery, it changes the aesthetic a bit by adding the small bevel but greatly improves the cutting ability. View Illustration
Facts About Knife Sharpening
There's a bunch of misinformation out there about knife sharpening. You may have heard that grinding knives removes too much of the metal. Or, you may be told that hollow ground edges are weaker. You may have even heard that stamped blades are inferior to forged blades. Well, forget everything you think you know.
Skilled grinders remove very little metal. It's true that some gets removed but it's minute; just enough to reestablish the edge. A great knife can withstand years and years of personal use and lose very little mass. You could choose to never sharpen a knife, but you'd eventually end up with a blade as sharp as a nickel.
Knife grinding is best done by professionals. You could sharpen knives yourself; you could pull your own teeth too. We don't recommend either. Sharpening your own blades can be dangerous and takes a considerable amount of skill to do it right. Plus, we work in a large shop because that's how much room we need for our machines and our multi-step process.
Hollow ground edges cut like a dream. When we talk about "sharpening behind the blade" we are referring to hollow ground edges. The bevels that we create in the blade allow the blade angle and cutting action to be far easier than before.
Stamped blades and Forged blades are both winners. With modern manufacturing techniques choosing between stamped and forged blades is really a matter of preference. Commonly, most professional kitchens use stamped blade and most forged knifes show up in home kitchens. We sharpen both styles.
Steels don't actually sharpen blades; they hone them. Learning how to use a steel is a valuable skill and keeps you blades cutting well in between sharpening sessions. All well sharpened edges tend to "roll" or create a slight burr with continued use. Just a few strokes on a good steel will realign the cutting edge. Good steel usage works for both professional chefs and weekend bar-b-ques.