The Different Types of Kitchen Blades
When you combine all the different types of kitchen knives with all the different types of blades that exist, you end up with a staggering number of options. People not educated in the world of kitchen knives (which is, honestly, most of the population) may find this overwhelming when they look to purchase these knives.
I can tell you that before I became educated in kitchen knives I was overwhelmed. I would walk into the store, see an array of options, and have no idea of the difference between them all. Some people choose the least expensive, hoping to save money. Some people choose the most expensive, hoping that they are purchasing quality. My strategy was usually to run to the middle of the road and purchase something mid-priced. Rarely I would stumble across a good one. More often than not, however, I would purchase a knife which would barely last me a year before it broke or I realized it simply wasn’t accomplishing the task for which I believed it was designed.
I created this article for people who are looking for more information about the different types of kitchen knife blades so that they needn’t wander around purchasing sub-par knives that won’t meet their needs. In this article, we will explore four of the most common types of knife blades: high-carbon steel, stainless steel, high-carbon stainless steel, and ceramic. We will also briefly discuss the importance of the methods of creating steel blades, including punching/pressing, laser cutting, and forging.
I decided to begin our discussion of kitchen knife blade types with high-carbon steel, because it has long set the benchmark of quality in the world of kitchen knives. Before stainless steel and ceramic blades were introduced into the marketplace, high-carbon steel was one of very few options. Even with the inclusion of stainless steel and ceramic blades, high-carbon steel has maintained much of its popularity.
One of the major reasons for high-carbon steel’s popularity is its ability to maintain a sharp cutting edge. Obviously, with time, any blade will slowly grow dull – a high-carbon blade is no different. Still, it holds its edge better than most competitors. When stainless steel blades emerged onto the marketplace, people couldn’t resist their rust-resistant properties, only to find that their old high-carbon blades needed to be sharpened much less often. Also, despite its incredible strength and durability, high-carbon steel is much easier to sharpen than stainless steel.
Stainless steel gained popularity based mostly on its rust-resistant properties. As life becomes more and more hectic and fast-paced in many societies, people have turned to time-saving devices such as dishwashers. Thanks to its rust-resistant properties, stainless steel is completely dishwasher safe. This means that, unlike old high-carbon knives, new stainless steel knives can be used, thrown in a dishwasher, and worried about later. As with all things, though, this convenience comes with a price.
In the case of stainless steel, the price isn’t a monetary one. Instead, you pay in terms of sharpness. Stainless steel blades simply do not stay sharp for nearly as long as high-carbon blades. In fact, this realization had a lot of people changing their minds soon after stainless steel knives came into popularity – returning to the tried and true, high-carbon blade they were used to.
High-Carbon Stainless Steel
High-carbon stainless steel came about, I imagine, as a solution to the “high-carbon rusts but stainless steel doesn’t stay sharp” problem. This “best of both worlds” creation is a fusion of both high-carbon steel and stainless steel; it is much more rust-resistant than high-carbon steel and will stay sharper much longer than stainless steel.
Of course, as with many things, you must give something in order to receive something. Although high-carbon stainless steel keeps its edge longer than stainless steel, it doesn’t manage to keep it quite as long regular high-carbon steel. Similarly, although it is more rust-resistant than high-carbon steel, it fails to withstand the effects of water as well as stainless steel – I would not recommend leaving this in a damp location for too long.
Up until this point, most of what I have been discussing are differences between high-carbon steel and stainless steel. I realize that I have barely nodded in the direction of ceramic blades and I would like you to know that I have done this on purpose. Ceramic is a completely different material – it’s hard to compare it to the three types of steel I discussed above without making mention of its special properties. For that reason, I will devote this section to the exploration of the advantages and disadvantages of ceramic blades when compared with high-carbon steel, stainless steel, and high-carbon stainless steel blades.
Ceramic is slowly becoming a popular option in cookware. I believe it is most appealing because it creates a perfect non-stick surface without the chemicals you often see used in non-stick coatings. Additionally, whereas non-stick coatings can flake off, ceramic coatings are there to stay – so long as you do not drop them. Non-stick surfaces are what made the popularity of ceramic rise in the world of pots and pans. In the knife world, however, realizing the benefits of ceramic, has taken a little longer.
People who purchase low-quality knives usually do not own them long enough to need to sharpen them, because the knives break in some way before their blades grow dull. People who are used to working with quality knives, however, are used to having to sharpen their knives. High-carbon steel, stainless steel, and the new high-carbon stainless steel hybrid blades must all be sharpened from time to time. Ceramic blades, on the other hand, manage to stay sharp for an incredibly long time. Many of them match the amount of time or even last longer than high-carbon blades without needing to be sharpened.
It took a while for people to really notice and for this to catch on, but now that people are seeing how long these blades can keep a sharp edge, they are quickly beginning to contemplate purchasing this type of knife. Additional impressive features of ceramic blades are that they will not pit or stain as the result of contact with acidic or salt-based foods. They are also rust-resistant, like stainless steel, and can usually be placed in the dishwasher for a quick clean.
Pressed Versus Laser-Cut Versus Forged
I would like to begin by letting you know that this entire section will be a discussion about high-carbon steel, stainless steel, and high-carbon stainless steel. Ceramic, though important to most discussions about knife blades, is not created in the same way as these types of steel blades and therefore cannot be a part of this discussion.
Pressed steel blades are created from a sheet of steel. Usually, a machine rolls out a sheet of steel. That steel is then cut into shapes by sharp steel punches. Incredible weight is placed behind those punches to ensure that they make their way through the steel. Once the basic shape has been created, details are added, the blade is filed down and the knife is assembled.
Laser-cut steel blades are created in a very similar way to pressed steel blades. Like pressed steel blades, laser-cut blades begin as a sheet of metal. Instead of being cut from that metal with sharp punches, however, laser beams cut along guided pathways, burning through the metal and leaving behind precision-cut shapes. From there, the blades are filed down and the knife is assembled.
Forged blades are created using a much different technique. Forging requires extremely hot temperatures. The steel is heated until it turns red and is hammered into specific shapes and angles. This is sometimes completed with robot machines but is also often completed by hand. The process of forging metal has been around for centuries, as it was the first way people discovered to turn metal into a specific shape.
So which method is better? Honestly, I think there is no competition here. Forged metal is the way to go. The very process of heating and pounding the metal makes it stronger and more durable. This increased quality and the longer amount of time it takes to create forged knife blades, however, often causes this type of blade to be more expensive. Therefore, though I say there is really no competition between these three methods, I cannot speak for people who must maintain a low budget while purchasing knives.
A Final Word of Caution
If convenience is what you are looking for, a stainless steel, high-carbon stainless steel, or ceramic knife may be just the way to go. I caution you, however, to consider the handle of your knife as well. Though the blade of any of these knives is usually dishwasher-friendly, the same cannot be said for every handle. Many plastic and silicone handles are dishwasher-safe, but some others may not be able to withstand the heat and may dry out and crack over time. Wooden handles are of even more concern, as most are susceptible to rot if they are submerged in water. These handles will not be able to be placed in a dishwasher or even submerged in a sink full of water.