Snapshot: The Chef’s Knife 5.2063.20 has a plastic handle, a 20cm blade and is made in Switzerland. But how does it handle and how sharp is it?
Snapshot: The Chef’s Knife FFCH210 has a micarta handle, a 21cm blade and is made in Japan. But how does it handle and how sharp is it?
Snapshot: The Classic Chef’s Knife DM-0706 has a pakkawood handle, a 20cm blade and is made in Japan. But how does it handle and how sharp is it?
Snapshot: The Classic Cook’s Knife has a plastic handle, a 20cm blade and is made in China. But how does it handle and how sharp is it?
Snapshot: The Classic Cook’s Knife 4582 has a plastic handle, a 20cm blade and is made in Germany. But how does it handle and how sharp is it?
Snapshot: The G-2 Cook’s Knife has a steel handle, a 20cm blade and is made in Japan. But how does it handle and how sharp is it?
Snapshot: The JA Henckels Four Star Chef’s Knife 31071-200 has a plastic handle, a 20cm blade and is made in Germany. But how does it handle and how sharp is it?
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Most home users want a knife to be sharp when it’s new – and they want it to be able to hold its edge for as long as possible before it needs steeling and ultimately resharpening. To test each knife identically we turned to the lab.
A knife-test machine gave us an initial sharpness result along the entire length of each blade. All except the Scanpan Spectrum Cook's Knife were acceptably sharp at this stage.
Then the torture began: we blunted each knife by running a weighted aluminium rod along the edge of its blade 50 times before putting the knife back in the test machine. We used the difference between the “before” and “after” sharpness to give a score for edge durability.
To get an idea of how each knife handled and how easy it was to use, we gave a second set of the knives to our testers in the kitchen. After much chopped parsley, carrots, cucumber and trimmed raw meat we had an idea of how well each knife cut, as well as its feel and balance and the comfort of its handle.
And it’s definitely safer than a blunt knife. But while the shape, feel and balance of a knife are a mix of ergonomics, personal preference and design, its sharpness and edge retention are down to metallurgy and sharpening skill.
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This is an old debate that doesn't really apply these days. Few modern knives are truly “forged” and the heat treatments that all good knifes go through towards the end of their production means that forging makes no practical difference. What really matters is the quality and grade of the steel being used and how well it’s heat treated.
Scalpels and razor blades are high on the sharpness ladder but there’s a reason they’re disposable – they lose their edge very quickly.
The edge that gets put on a knife at the factory can vary considerably, both between brands and between individual knives of the same make and model. Some are very sharp but won't stay that way for long whereas others are less sharp but have a sturdier edge … and occasionally you find a knife that was obviously sharpened at the factory late on a Friday afternoon.
To keep your knife slicing as it did when new, you should learn to steel it properly. And once you’ve learnt how, you should steel it regularly.
See our short video guide on how to steel a knife.
The point of steeling is to straighten and re-align the edge of the blade. There should be no metal removed and no "sharpening" happening.
The best steels are metal or ceramic, and have smooth surfaces. For some reason many steels have very rough grooved surfaces – these are likely to act like a file and damage your knife. Rough metal or diamond steels should be avoided.
Once steeling stops working, it's time for your knives to get a proper sharpen (see below).
If you want a knife that’s as sharp and durable as it can be, then it’s best to take it to a professional knife sharpener. A good sharpener should be able to put precise angles on your knives that are matched to how you’re going to use them and the type of steel in the blade.
Unless the sharpener’s very experienced, avoid any sharpening service that uses motorised sharpeners (grinding belts or wheels). It’s just too easy to ruin a knife on them.
What about serrations?
Any chef will tell you that serrated knives only have one use in the kitchen – and that's for slicing bread. Anyone who tries to tell you they’re perfect for slicing ripe tomatoes and other soft squishy produce doesn't keep their knives sharp and has to resort to sawing rather than slicing.
Check out more of our tests, articles, news and surveys in our Appliances section.
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