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Starting Your New Knives Off On The Right Foot

Updated on March 31, 2016

New Knives

All new knives, stamped and forged, are born in a fiery tempest and that's a good thing because all good cutlery steels are first heat treated and then tempered to impart a blend of hardness for edge retention and flexibility so edges don't chip easily. By the way, would you like to learn a very easy way to tell the difference between stamped and forged knives? Forged knives have bolsters and stamped knives don't. Here's a picture of two knives, one stamped and one forged.

Two Henckels made two different ways. Notice how the steel of the top knife just disappears directly into the handle? Its a less expensive way to make a knife. The blade steel is just stamped out of a flat sheet of steel and then shaped into the required blade geometry..The bottom knife has a bolster because its a forged knife. The steel of the blade swells up to form the bolster before mating with the handle. Some manufacturers, mostly low end, attach fake bolsters to the blade in an attempt to make it look forged. I think that people have pretty much settled into the idea that one manufacturing technique, forged or stamped, is as good as the other with regard to how the blades perform. I'm a forged man myself because I like the added heft of the knife in my hand. Other people prefer stamped for exactly the opposite reason. I just thought I'd throw this little tidbit in because a number of people don't know how to differentiate between the two manufacturing methods so now we can get back to work here.

No matter what manufacturing process is used, there's a lot of heat and pressure applied to blade steel during the knife making process. All this pressure is required because the steel is being induced to go places and assume shapes that are foreign to it's natural state. But as you can see when you first unwrap your new knife, man has prevailed... but not totally. That's because the steel hasn't forgotten what's it's original form used to be. It has memory. Now I'm certain that this isn't the first time you've heard about or encountered "memory" in materials. You've seen lot's of things with memory, a foam cushion for example. But you may have also encountered other things though that are more subtle. Like something that once was straight and then was severely bent. You straightened it back out, perfectly, only to return a few hours later and find it bent again. Not as bad as the original bend but still, not straight anymore. That's called material memory. All those little molecules got realigned when the object was first bent and now that you've straightened them out they want to go back to where they were. But they're sneaky about it. They don't go all at once. They take their time.

When your new knife left the factory the edge was probably straight but by the time it gets to you it's rolled to the side. You have to straighten this roll or it will worsen with each use until you have an unusable knife. There's another good reason to condition the edge of new knives. High end manufacturers do a pretty good job of de-burring knives but not a perfect job. The tiny bit of burr that's left on a new knife's edge will flatten out along the edge with use and dull the edge. You can remove the burr and straighten the edges of your knives very quickly if you have the right tools. Your new knives will be 30-40% sharper than they were straight out of the box. You can use these same tools then to keep the edges of your new knives straight and sharp indefinitely.

So once you've straighten the edges on your new knives will all those little molecules try to find their way back to where they were before you straightened the edge. Oh yes, they will. Our sharpness testers prove that. But you will have gained some ground. After a short period of simple edge maintenance those molecules gradually forget where they used to be and start staying where you put them. Come to think about it, I guess it's a whole lot like raising kids. Somehow, someway you prevail.


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