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Kitchen Knife Safety

Updated on June 9, 2013
Knives will last a long time if stored properly
Knives will last a long time if stored properly

Finger stew doesn’t go real far!

Surprisingly, most people are just not very familiar with the simple steps that lead to utilizing those important culinary utensils that reside in that strange looking angular block of wood or composite material. The first thing is that just about everyone uses the block as it comes from the manufacturer. Everyone needs to be reminded that the knife manufacturers of this world want to sell you more knives and are not that concerned about what you do with your existing arsenal of blades. Think about this concept; why are knives resting on their sharpened edges instead of on their spines?

Storing Knives Properly

So your first step is to turn all the knives over so the spine is in contact with the slot edge in the block and yes the handle will be “upside down” but your knives will stay sharper longer.Now you may have one of the newer versions where the block has slots that face left-right instead of up-down. Well, the knife manufacturers may have won here if you bought a new set with block, especially if you had the older standard configuration. There was nothing wrong with the old system; it just wasn’t being used efficiently (by design or otherwise).

Sharpening Knives

You also should learn how to sharpen your knives properly. It isn’t particularly difficult and requires just a little practice and a good stone, ceramic or diamond grit slab and a little water (under the kitchen tap is fine). Most kitchen knives sharpen with an angle of about 15 degrees which is not that far from being dead flat to the sharpening surface. Some sharpening kits come with the angle set up in some of the jigs. The key is the stone with a little water and clean the knife after sharpening. A paper towel works just fine. A sharp knife is much safer than a dull one. It won’t jam up as easily on more difficult projects like a rutabaga (big turnip) and will also slice tomatoes paper thin.

A lot of people will say that they cut themselves easily with a sharp knife. In fact, I remember clearly a discussion on one of those cooking shows where the one guy was telling the other guy that he doesn’t use the knife as a temporary transferring tool for the freshly cut material. It is obvious that the simple geometry of the kitchen knife is not understood by this “professional”. If the knife is sharpened at a 15 degree angle then you should place the knife edge on the cutting surface at around 30-45 degrees and push the cut ingredients onto the knife with the heel of your other hand as close as possible to the handle since the blade is usually completely in contact with the cutting surface there. Stay away from the knife point at all times and it won’t poke you.

Cutting with a Kitchen Knife Safely

When cutting, always angle the blade slightly away from your other hand and make it sort of like a loose fist so the fingers are slightly curled inwards (Remember the line about finger stew—not very appetizing and certainly painful). Also cut as close to the handle as possible since the knife blade is not as “whippy” back there and has less spring in the blade that could result in an accidental cut of your hand. Keep the handle dry as well as the hand that holds the knife handle to avoid it slipping.

Also, you are not in any great hurry and you are not trying to impress a television audience or members of your fellow culinary arts classes. Make slow and deliberate precise cuts and avoid the staccato-like motion that you see on television from those guys with the big white hats and arty accents. That is an accident waiting to happen in your kitchen. Think of it like being a race car driver. If you don’t do it every day then speeding is a dangerous activity on the track and in the kitchen.

Cleaning Kitchen Kniives

When done rinse the knife under hot water with some of that overpriced antibacterial liquid soap and wipe dry. If you insist on “sterilizing” your knives in the dishwasher, ensure that each knife is not going to be in contact with anything else in the washing cycle since the blade will dull quickly due to rapid contact with something else. If you put the knife in the cutlery basket please be careful when you put your hand into the dishwasher. That knife point and edge is just waiting to make contact with your outstretched hand. Patience is in order and any sharp knives are your first targets for removal. Besides the dishwasher will deteriorate the finish on knives with wood handles and the knife manufacturers will gladly provide you with another expensive knife to replace it.

Which Kitchen Knives Should You Coose

Personally, I could get by with only one or two knives, maybe three. The major one is an inexpensive Peasants Chef Knife (shown in the picture at the top), as it is referred to by the supplier, and is made of carbon steel with a composite handle that is actually too smooth for my liking so I may have to alter it to provide safer contact. It is a bit slippery. A bread knife with serrated edges is hard to replace when cutting fresh bread and a small sharp utility knife with about a 5 inch blade is all you really need. Maybe a thin-bladed carving knife for freshly cooked meats but it requires patience since the blade is so flexible. The Peasant Chef Knife works almost as well on items fresh from the grill.

Selecting Cutting Boards

Cutting boards made from glass or marble will dull knives very quickly. These are best for pastry preparation. Wood is good for the knife edge but is harder to clean so the composite materials seem to be the best compromise and a few of those paper size flexible sheets are good for cutting things like chicken so you can rinse the sheet immediately in warm soapy water.

Where to Keep First Aid Kits in the Home

Keep it sharp, keep it slow and you will keep it safe and you won’t be hunting for the first aid kit that you can’t remember where you last hid it. Simple, keep at least two in the house—one in the kitchen cupboard over to the right of the sink and the other in the bathroom right near the sink. You will want to be placing your hand in a sink with running water if you do accidentally cut yourself so the first aid should be right there. Makes pretty good sense don’t you think?


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