The Surprising Ways You Are and Aren't Ruining Your Knives
Does this scene sound familiar? Your Amazon Prime package comes and somebody at your house grabs a knife to start hacking away at the packaging. These packages come more often than our UPS driver would like, and if I don't beat my husband to it, that's him with our good chef's knife.
It's been one of our longest-running debates; every time he saws through the packing tape I cringe and tell him he's ruining our knives. (The knives, by the way, were the first nice things we bought when we got into food and cooking. They're Wüsthof knives that we've had for ages.) As he tears open the box he says the same thing every time: "It's fine, I'm not hurting anything."
I decided to take the case to an expert. Luckily we have a true expert in our city of Louisville. The Heimerdinger family has been in the cutlery business here for 157 years. (That is not a typo!) And Carl Heimerdinger, who was kind enough to let me drill him with knife questions, has been at it himself for 43 years full-time, plus summers and weekends since he was a kid.
Is it OK to use kitchen knives to open packages?
Turns out, we're both right. My husband is not ruining our knives per se, Carl says. However, he's not exactly helping them, either. Here's the deal: "Things like boxes and paper will dull the blade faster, so you will have to get it sharpened sooner," he says. Plus, you're cutting through tape, which can leave adhesive all over the blade and be annoying to clean. And you will have to clean the knife because boxes are dirty!
What should we be using instead? "It would be better to have a knife specifically for [opening packages] that maybe isn't the best knife," he says. That way, you won't care as much if it gets a little dull or grimy.
What are the worst things we can do to our knives?
It's the little things most of are doing day to day that are slowly degrading our knives over time. Rather than a big dramatic sabotage, it's death by a thousand cuts (sorry, can't resist!). Here are some of the many ways you may be eventually ruining your knives.
1. Dropping them too many times.
Dropping knives was the first hazard Carl mentioned. Whenever you drop one, he says, it "invariably lands point first and either goes into the hardwood or cracks tile." That's bad for the point of the knife — and for you. "Hopefully you jump out of the way. It's easier to reshape a knife than go to the emergency room." he says. "If the tip is bent or breaks, we can re-shape and make it look like new." Obviously, its best if this doesn't happen again and again.
2. Letting them sit in the sink.
Don't leave your knife in soapy water in the sink, Carl warns. For starters, it's dangerous when you reach your hand in there. And, "if you leave it long enough, although the knives are stain-resistant, they can get spots on them or rust if you leave them in there all day." Even if your sink is full of water, it's not ideal to leave knives (especially carbon steel knives) sitting with any moisture on them. Wash them right away or set them next to your sink so they stay dry until you're ready to clean them.
3. Throwing them in the dishwasher.
I'm totally guilty of this with our stainless steel knives (and this is the thing my husband bugs me about!). "We don't recommend putting knives in the dishwasher because the detergents are very caustic and can put spots or even rust spots on the blades," Carl says. "Plus, things in the dishwasher tend to bang around against each other, so fine edges get nicked up." And something I'd never thought of: "The rivets in the knife handle are often aluminum," he says. "Aluminum and detergent don't get along. I see knives where rivets are half eaten out of the handle and handles can eventually fall off."
4. Tossing them in a drawer.
Okay, this is just obviously dangerous. It's also not good for the knives to be clanking around with other utensils. Carl urges people to store knives securely, "either in a wooden block or on a magnet on a wall."
5. Neglecting your duties.
"The longer it goes without maintenance or sharpening, the knife isn't going to last as long," Carl says. He recommends professional sharpening every year to two years. But number one, he says, "If you maintain your daily knife with a butcher steel every other week, the edge doesn't degrade as much and we don't have to grind off as much to get a sharp edge." Note: This is assuming you're working on a wooden or other softer surface, but if you're on something hard, you're going to have to use the steel every day. Which brings us to our next point.
Related: How To Sharpen a Knife: The Video
6. Using a less-than-ideal cutting board.
For some reason, glass cutting boards exist. They should not — as they're bad for the edge of your blade. Oh, and skipping the cutting board entirely is bad for your knife and your countertop. We suggest a wood or plastic board, both of which will be forgiving on your knives.
Taking care of your knives can be the difference between passing them down to the next generation, Carl says, or only lasting 20 or 30 years. When so few things last that long, it seems worth it to me to make the fairly minor extra effort to preserve them.
How do you keep your knives in tip-top shape? Tell us in the comments below!