Short introduction to cutlery

This article will certainly no be complete. It simply aims to give you useful information about knives in order to allow you to read my texts with ease and pleasure.

 

Ok, first of all some vocabulary:

knife terminology
Nothing too complicated

The knives I talk about are made of steel. It is a mixture of iron and carbon. In the western world, the manufacturing and use of steel in known since the Roman period. Compared to iron, steel is harder, so it can keep its cutting capability for a much longer time. But the harder the steel, the more brittle it becomes. Those who make and work this material (steelmakers and knife makers in our case) must play with sometimes conflicting variables in order to make good tools.

Before the development of stainless steel, around 1913, all steels were prone to rusting. Nowadays non stainless steels are still widely used for knife making because they have numerous qualities compared to stainless. We tend to designate them as "carbon steel" even if all steels contain carbon. However, in your kitchen, it is very likely, that you only have stainless steel knives. They have widely prevailed in the food processing field. Know however that "carbon steel" is still kicking.

Ok that’s it for the technical and historical sides.

 

Let’s see now some practical details that should help you when buying knives.

What makes a good quality knife?

There are so many different types of knives, so many manufacturers, and the price range is so wide (from 1£ to 500 and more) that it can be quite confusing to the uninformed buyer.

Yet it is very important to have some knowledge of the subject before buying a knife, because all knives are not equal. Some are just a useless piece of junk, when others are marvels of design, quality and efficiency.

This is a broad topic and there is no way I can cover it all in this website. However my mission here is to give you the essential information to allow you to make your purchase knowingly and to avoid the most important traps.

As far as I am concerned a good knife should have at least three qualities:
– a good design
– a good manufacturing
– a good price.


The design :

Even though the knife is an apparently simple object, it should be well designed and well suited for its intended need. Its ergonomics (grip and feel, safety, weight), balance and the blade geometry are essential.

The manufacturing:

The materials used (especially the steel) must be of good quality. But that’s not enough ; the heat treatments of the steel must be well executed by the knife maker. As a matter of fact, it is very easy to make a very bad knife, with excellent quality steel, if the heat treatments are not well handled. Likewise it is possible to make very good blades with an average steel if normalizing, hardening and tempering are well conducted. It goes without saying (but it’s better to say it 😉 ) that fit and finish must also be properly done.

The price:

I have learned from my experience a very simple rule I advise you to follow: not more than 100 £ in a knife. Some might choke, because they think that 5 £ in a knife is enough already, when others will consider that a hundred pounds  is nothing if you want to get the super duper damascus steel blade that have been quenched under a full moon in the blood of an anaemic vampire.

The thing is that on Retex.org, utility always comes first. For any object to be useful, it is of course important that its quality is satisfying, but it also should not be too precious price wise, in order not to discourage its usage. For example, I would not use a 200 £ blade to cut a hard boned rabbit, or I would not take a 400 £ knife at a bushcraft outing (I’d be too afraid to break it or loose it). So, using a knife bought at a reasonable price will give you a good satisfying feeling compared to either a mediocre cheap one or a very good but too expensive one.

Ok, there are still thousands of things that could be said about knives, but I think that in this article, you have enough information to allow you to have a better understanding of this subject.