Types of Metals used in Chef Knives

types of metals used in chef knives

A significant number of a chefs knife characteristics come from the materials they are made of and makers cautiously select the materials that will best suit the sort of blades they need to create. Since practically all knives are produced using engineered alloys (metals joined with different substances to make them more stronger, harder, lighter, or better in some other way), you can be sure that every quality of a knife is by thoughtful design whether the intended emphasis is on performance, ease of ownership, low cost or a combination of desirable traits. Seeing as we like to CUT (pun intended) to the chase, here are the most common knife materials used in high quality chef knives and how they are best used and maintained.

stainless steel

Stainless steel has typically been defined as any steel alloy which has a minimum of 10.5% Chromium content by mass. One key benefit of Stainless Steels is their high corrosion resistance, which makes them easy to maintain when compared to Carbon Steel knives, which rust fairly easily if not properly cared for. Stainless Steel knives are particularly useful for users who often work with moist or wet foods, salty foods, or acidic foods such as fruit. A further benefit of Stainless Steel knives, as long as they do not contain a significant volume of other alloying elements, is that the Chromium forms bonds with some of the Carbon and produces Chromium Carbide, a very hard ceramic compound that increases the edge retention of knives.

Cutting tools made from early Stainless Steels had a reputation for being relatively difficult to sharpen and also poor edge sharpness, but since the latter part of the 20th Century this has no longer been the case. Due to years of research and development the Stainless Steels that are available today offer excellent performance in terms of corrosion resistance, edge sharpness, edge retention and ease of sharpening. Sometimes you may hear or see some modern Stainless Steels being referred to as “High Carbon Stainless Steels”, this is because they have a relatively high carbon content and also compare favorably with ‘ regular' High Carbon Steels in terms of edge sharpness, edge retention, and ease of sharpening.

An Important Note About Stainless Steel Knives

Whilst Stainless Steel knives have very good corrosion resistance, it is important to remember that they are not totally 'stain-proof’ or 'rust-proof'. They will discolor if you leave them in contact with water for a prolonged period of time and they can also rust, particularly if they are left in contact with salty ingredients or salty liquids.

high carbon stainless steel

These "designer" steels offer a very good balance of sharpness, edge retention, easy resharpening and corrosion resistance. This material is the type most sold by Wusthof, Zwilling J.A. Henckels, Global, Victorinox and many other manufacturers. Some manufacturers boast their own proprietary "alloy cocktail" for the alloy used to make their cutlery, with some differences in hardness and strength, but all are easy to own and use.

Some knives are made with highly engineered versions that can actually get sharper than carbon steel, and hold an edge for even longer. High carbon stainless steel knives can be made by stamped or forged process, don't rust easily, they re-sharpen well and they hold an edge for a very good amount of time. It also doesn’t hurt that they have an undeniable aesthetic beauty. Most professionally-owned knives are made from some type of high carbon stainless steel. The only maintenance requirement is to hand wash and dry them (mainly to preserve the handle), and make sure to store them properly. If there is a standard for kitchen knives, it is probably high-carbon stainless steel.

A very robust High - Carbon Steel is VG10. VG10 is a stainless steel type with a high carbon percentage (for stainless steel that is), i.e. 1%. This makes VG10 harder than most stainless steel types. The cutting characteristics are very good and VG10 is easy to sharpen razor sharp.

Damascus steel

This is not a material, but a complex and labor-intensive forging process (also called laminated steel or pattern welded steel). It's a method of layering at least two different types of steel by heat and force to shape the layers into repeated folds. A typical combination of metals would use a softer-but-tough steel as the supporting or protective outer layers, and a sharper/harder but more brittle steel as the core and edge material. Because different combinations of metals and alloys are used, it is impossible to give any single rule on how to maintain Damascus type blades. Currently, this process is most prevalent with high quality manufacturers, who produce lines with carbon steel cores enveloped in layers of stainless steel alloy.

carbon steel

Carbon steel is typically defined as an alloy of Iron and Carbon in which the main interstitial alloying constituent is Carbon (Ranging between 0.12–2.0%). Unlike Stainless Steel, Carbon Steel contains either little or no elements that reduce corrosion, which means that it can discolor and rust relatively easily. Consequently, it requires more care and maintenance than Stainless Steels. When carbon is added to steel, it becomes harder and easier to sharpen than ordinary steel, and it also holds an edge longer. Carbon steel can also be forged into a thinner blade, which in turn, allows for a steeper and sharper edge geometry. Some professional cooks swear by knives of carbon steel because of their sharpness and feel they are worth the extra maintenance and care. Over time, a carbon-steel knife will normally acquire a dark patina, though it does not affect the performance. But they can also rust or corrode if not properly cleaned and lubricated soon after use..

ceramic

A super-hard material that is lightweight, ultra-sharp and will hold an edge the longest of all. Of course, because it's ceramic, it can shatter if dropped and may also chip or break if used improperly. Because ceramic is so hard, it can't be sharpened on a home sharpener, and likely will need to be sent back to the manufacturer or to a specialist to resharpen. Ceramic blades are also chemically nonreactive, so will not discolor or change the taste of food. Especially if accustomed to a western style knife, a ceramic blade will take some getting used to because of their considerably lighter weight. Knives made from ceramic have no special maintenance requirements, other than to take care not to drop them or bend them and to protect their edges when not in use.

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