Whether you already have a brand preference or not, knife selection often means interpreting a wide variety of differences.
We’ve already discussed choosing the right knife types, but what about materials?
Blades and handles are commonly made from a range or materials- so which is best for you?*
The most common material used in the production of knife blades is high carbon stainless steel, which is seen as a compromise between full carbon steel and stainless steel.
High carbon stainless steel provides strength without adding unnecessary weight, and has the capacity to hold a sharp edge. It also does not easily discolour. In short, high carbon stainless steel is easy to maintain and sharpen.
When selecting one of these knives, the manufacturer will quote an HRC figure which indicates the ‘strength’ of the steel after it has undergone a Rockwell Hardness test. The higher the rating, the harder the steel and the longer the blade will maintain it’s edge.
Laminated blades use a combination of hardened and softer steels, layered in a way that provides the benefits of both. For instance, a knife maker may surround a layer of brittle but hard steel in layers of more durable steel, leaving only the blade of the central layer exposed.
Titanium offers a lighter and more flexible option, but is generally more expensive and thus available in only a limited range of styles. Critics of titanium blades suggest the pliability of the metal restricts the potential sharpness of the blade, but they are still a popular choice for chefs.
Ceramic blades are a popular alternative to metal blades. They maintain their edge for a very long time and are incredibly hard. They are difficult to sharpen, however, and are easy to damage or will break if dropped.
Steel knives can be either forged or stamped. Stamped knives are cut or punched from a sheet of steel, the edge then ground and sharpened. Stamped knives lack the hardness associated with forged steel but are no longer considered to be inferior.
Forging a blade allows the manufacturer to heat and cool the steel to increase its hardness and add layering.
While not the focus of as much attention, handles are an integral part of the knife and are essential to their efficiency. The handle should sit comfortably in the palm of the hand, as though it were an extension of your arm.
Wooden handles have been the traditional material as they are easy to shape and attach to the knife. The feel and look of wood appeals to most people, but because of their porosity they must be correctly dried and maintained to prevent shrinking and cracking.
Stainless steel handles are also popular as the knife is made in one piece, which makes it stronger and resilient to wear and contamination. To prevent the steel becoming too slippery when wet, ridges or grips are added. The distribution of the steel in the handle can ensure a well-balanced knife.
Composite materials are now being utilised for handles, which offer the appearance of wood but with the hygienic qualities of plastic, excellent grip and with no warping issues.
While each material used in the composition of a knife blade and handle has beneficial purposes, the most important factor is finding the right knife for your needs.
At The Essential Ingredient, we’re passionate about pairing each chef- no matter their level- with the right knife for them.
Come in to your nearest The Essential Ingredient store, speak to our experts and try holding each knife; you’ll soon find your perfect fit.