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Knife Points

March 22nd, 2010

Let’s all Take a Deep Breath

Yesterday I wrote an entry about working in the kitchen at my church, and I pointed out that I had to be careful where I left a sharp Chinese cleaver, because the women who worked there were liable to injure themselves with it. I mentioned a lady who cut herself with it because she used it as a spatula. And I noted that women don’t seem to do very well with sharp knives.

People seem to think I was expressing contempt for the people in the kitchen, particularly the lady who cut herself. Sorry if I gave you that impression, but that wasn’t the point. As a matter of fact, the lady who cut herself is an unusually sharp and classy person. Speaks three languages fluently. The fact that she doesn’t know what to do with a Chinese cleaver does not make her stupid.

As for the generalization about women and knives, I’ve found it to be true. Most men are bad about sharpening their kitchen knives, but I’ve only seen women complain about knives being too sharp. Men tend to like sharp tools.

The safety concern is very real. When you work in an institutional kitchen, everybody shares equipment, and if the workers are volunteers, they often don’t know what they’re doing. No one who goes into a church kitchen is going to expect to pick up a knife that will pop the tiniest hairs off an arm and leave nothing behind it. They’ll assume it’s dull like all the other knives. One of the most likely ways to learn differently is to carve up a hand.

I can’t go to church and line everyone up and ask who is going to defy my expectations. I can’t hold a knife safety class. That means I have to make sure that if I have a sharp knife, nobody gets a chance to use it without asking me first. I should never have left my cleaver where other people could see it.

I ordered a cleaver for the church because I’m not willing going to suffer, using the church’s horrible knives to chop pizza toppings. I guess I’ll get a diamond hone, too. And I’m getting a Chinese Chan Chi Kee meat cleaver and a smaller Chinese vegetable cleaver for myself. I’m sold on the cheap Chinese stuff. You can put a fine edge on a Chinese carbon-steel cleaver in ten seconds, and my cleaver outperforms a Shun by a mile.

My Shun cleaver hasn’t been used since maybe a month after I bought it. That was years ago. There is a reason for that. Experience proved it wasn’t a very good cleaver. If it had worked well, I’d still be using it. Sometimes you have to admit the pretty toy you bought was a waste of money.

I guess I could donate the Shun to the church. But I don’t believe in giving God hand-me-downs I wouldn’t want for myself. There’s always the Salvation Army. They could sell it, along with the chipped Shun santoku I never use. And my Tojiro nakiri.

A commenter recommended Old Hickory carbon-steel knives. One of the few things I got from my grandmother’s house was her old rusty butcher knife. I don’t know if it’s an Old Hickory or not. I’m afraid to use it, because it’s kind of a museum piece. Fortunately I have a huge Forschner scimitar knife to fill the need.

9 Responses to “Knife Points”

  1. Gerry N Says:

    If your Grandmother’s knife is an Old Hickory or one like it, such as Ontario Forge, the chances are it’s still in production. I also find them in the crummy knife bin at Good Will fairly often. The wooden handles tend to put people off. We’ve been brainwashed to think plastic handles are better. I really like my Old Hickory knives because like your Chinese carbon steel cleaver, I can put a razor edge on ’em in short order and touch it up in seconds. They slice thinly because the blades are thin. I have a ceramic stone, it was cheap, it’s flat, and washes clean with dish detergent and a brush. They come in myriad fineness of grit from “sidewalk” to barely enough to polish an edge. I prefer a stone of about 380 grit. Coarse enough to cut steel, fine enough to cut hair.

    I have one knife that is an actual antique, marked Wilkerson, Sheffield Warranted Cast Steel, I had it identified and dated by an actual expert who dated it to 1836-1840 from the scale material (English Rock Elm) and number and material of pins (6, steel) holding the scales on and the shape of the blade and scales. I bought it for a quarter in an antique mall. It sharpens easily and stays that way. As a true Fur Trade Rendezvous era knife, of proven age, it is worth approximately $50. Millions were imported and hundreds of thousands survive, many in kitchen drawers.

    I contend the horse puckey about a steel realigning the the steel at the molecular level on a knife’s edge is just that, Horse Puckey. If the molecules are only realigned, what is that mark on my towel after wiping the knife’s edge and cleaning the steel, the Spirits of the molecules? It is steel shavings, small ones, but shavings none the less.

    Gerry N.

  2. Ruth H Says:

    Those old hickories polish up really well. They do have to be sharpened frequently. Mine are hanging on the wall in their original holder, museum pieces so to speak. I’ve been married for 52 years so younger folk might consider them antiques. I used most of them until I moved into this home 11 years ago. Great knives. I still have some of the extra paring knives in my knife drawer, I use them occasionally.

  3. Andrea Harris Says:

    I hope you don’t think I was one of the ones who was insulted. I was actually just wondering what happened to women’s ability to handle kitchen knives. I actually never heard of a woman afraid of her own sharp knives until I met a friend’s mother, who refused to sharpen her knives because of the “danger” — and she was always injuring herself on her dull knives. But we always attributed her attitude to her own dislike of cooking and her tendency to be a flake. Just as my own clumsiness I consider a fault, not a virtue around which everyone else must arrange their lives. I had no idea this was some sort of widespread problem.

  4. Tziporah Says:

    Could you make a wooden holder for the knives and place a sign on it that people have to talk to you first before using the knives?

  5. krm Says:

    Don’t like sharp knives? What are knives for? Amazing.
    I wouldn’t give the church ‘bad’ items, but for popular items that I just happen to decide that I am not pleased with (perhaps due to my own quirks)< I think it's fair – someone will be happy to use it or take.

  6. B....... Says:

    For those searching for the cleaver the correct spelling is Chan Chi Kee.

  7. Steve H. Says:

    Thank you for the correction. It’s funny; I used to think spoonerisms were fictional, but the older I get, the more I see that they’re for real. Even written ones.
    I made another mistake in this post. I’m not getting a CCK cleaver. I’m getting a cheaper Chinese job.

  8. pbird Says:

    Oh I’m with you about most women and their knives. I hate getting stuck in the kitchen at somebody’s house and trying to use their dull stinky stainless knives. I feel like carrying a knife around.

  9. ErikZ Says:

    I didn’t anyone would want a dull knife. It’s like saying “There’s way too much tread on these tires.”