Hey there! And welcome back to my little corner of cyberspace. I hope you're having a great week so far, I know I am.
My ramble today is a bit different from what I normally do, but I hope you'll find it useful any way. As many of you know, my mother has developed dementia and so I've had to hire companions to help us keep her safe and sound. Over all, I've had pretty decent luck. Two of the ladies have almost become part of the family in many ways, and they are as devoted to mom as I could wish. Yet one and all of them, for what ever reason, seem to have never been taught how to properly care for good kitchen knives! Needless to say, this came as a rather large shock to me; and it leaves me wondering just how many others out there were never taught how to take care of their knives as well.
The first thing to understand is that a good kitchen knife is more like a hunting knife, or even a good pocket knife than a table knife that comes as part of a table setting. Unless you have a set of "Ginsu" type knives from Walmart or Target, or any other thrifty store, a good kitchen knife is a finely crafted tool designed to cut with little or no force needed. This means a good, high quality steel that's been properly heat treated and fitted with a handle or grip that fits the hand smoothly allowing for a firm, comfortable grip. And as such, it needs to be cared for in certain ways; especially since it probably se you back a pretty penny!
The first, and perhaps most important rule of taking care of any good knife is never, ever wash it in the dishwasher! Always hand wash your knife in warm, soapy water and immediately hand dry it and put it away. Why? Three reasons really.
First there's the handle. Even today with man made materials becoming ever more prevalent, many good knives have wood handles; and a dishwasher is entirely too harsh an environment for any fine wood implement. I mean, you wouldn't wash your $1000.00 dining room table with 140 degree water and allow it to air dry, or bow dry it with hot air! Before long you'd end up with a table that was dry, cracking, and probably warping into a hunk of junk you'd expect to find in the landfill. So why do that to the finely crafted wood handles on your knife? Before long, maybe even after the second wash, you'll notice that the handles don't feel as smooth as they used to in your hand. Then, as the wood continues to dry out after repeated washings, they'll start to crack; and sooner or later they'll get to the point where they actually won't be safe to use any more. By hand washing them, they'll last much longer. You'll still want to oil them with a good, food safe oil like Linseed oil or maybe Grapeseed oil now and them, but at least by hand washing your knife handles have a chance to last long enough to pass them on to your grandkids. If you continue to wash them in the dishwasher I can almost guarantee they won't last 5 years even if you're lucky.
The second thing to keep in mind is that in a dishwasher, items are not secured firmly. As a result there is always some movement of the items that will allow one item to bang into another. And when the item being banged into is a knife, you're going to end up with nicks, scratches, and rolled edges. Granted a good sharpening can take care of these little problems, but still. Allow enough nicks to form, and your prized $200.00 Shun Classic will cut no better than a $20.00 Walmart special; and maybe not as well. By hand washing with a soft cloth, all of that can be avoided.
The final reason has to do with the way a knife blade is made. Forging and grinding may be the methods used to shape a blade, but unless the blade has been properly tempered and heat treated it will never hold an edge. The blade needs to be tempered so that it reaches a hardness that will allow it to stand up everyday use, and then it needs to be heat treated so that it isn't too brittle. I know, I know. That sounds like a contradiction doesn't it. But consider a diamond. A diamond is the hardest substance known to man, which is why diamond edge saws are used to cut extremely tough metal and other hard things. But hit a diamond with a hammer and you'll find out that it's as brittle as glass. And so your knife needs to be heat treated so that it isn't brittle, which involves heating the blade up and then cooling it down under controlled conditions. But what happens if it is then heated up again, and this time isn't allowed to cool down under those controlled conditions? If it's only done once, probably nothing. But if it happens time and time again, especially if it's heated up to the hotter settings of a dishwasher using a Sani-rinse setting, then the blade will slowly loose it's tempering and start to degrade. After a while, your knife will no longer hold an edge the way it should and once again your prized blade will be no better than a flea market bargain basement knife.
So you hand wash your knives. But what then? Why you dry them of course, and you dry them carefully and immediately. Letting them air dry is almost as big a no-no as putting them in the dishwasher. Why? Simple. Any knife, given enough time, will start to rust. True, stainless steel will resist visible rust for many, many years. But even stainless steel will eventually rust, and if your knife is high carbon it'll rust almost just from looking at it cross-eyed! And there's nothing in the world that will cause rust to appear faster than water. So dry them immediately with a soft towel and put them away as soon as you're done drying them.
But now we have to consider where you keep your knives. I've been in more than a few homes where knives are carefully put in a drawer, but there's nothing in that drawer to keep them from banging up against each other as the drawer is opened and close; see reason number two for why knives should not be washed in a dishwasher. Why in the world would you hand wash your knives, and then allow one of the main reason for doing so to happen during storage? The least you can do is place each knife blade in a protective cover! Better yet, buy yourself a good knife block or a magnetic strip designed for storing knives. I've seen the magnetic strips sold at Ace Hardware for as little as $20.00 and on Amazon.com for as little as $15.00. Cheap indeed when you're talking about caring for a set of knives that could easily run you $300.00 or more.
Finally, you need to keep your knives sharp. Contrary to what I overheard one man telling his son at a recent gun and knife show; the sharper you keep your knives, the safer they are. And the reason is just plain common sense. The sharper your knife, the easier it is to cut; so you don't end up putting a ton of pressure behind the act. The more force you need to use to cut anything, the more likely it is that you won't be able to stop the cutting motion once you're through what ever it is you're trying to cut; and that will almost inevitably lead to cutting yourself. But to paraphrase Alton Brown, that's another ramble.
So there you have it. The proper way to care for your kitchen knives. If you need advice on buying them, well I've already done rambles on knife steel, blade shapes, knife grinds, and handle materials; and those rambles apply to kitchen knives just as much as they do the hunting and tactical knives I more commonly write about. However my wife has talked me into writing a self published e-book on knives that I will be offering through this site once I've had it edited, sort of a Knives for Dummies type thing (though of course copyright laws mean I couldn't call it that unless the company who publishes the For Dummies line of books decides they want my little book as one of their own). In the mean time, I hope the rest of your week goes as well as it has so far if not even better and I look forwards to seeing you here again. And as always; remember, if it's worth doing, it's worth doing with attitude!