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Hey Sharp Knife Nerds--What About Flatware?

kaleokahu Jul 12, 2011 10:39 AM

With all the knife knowledge and esoterica on perpetual parade here at CH, I've never seen a post devoted to the humble table- or butter-knife. Yet, if you think about it, unless you're a butcher or restaurant galley slave, most people hold and use this kind of "knife" a *lot* more than any other.

So, nerds.... (1) Do you "sharpen" them? Please, no lectures on the steels typically not being toolsteel, being used on very hard plates, platters, etc. And none about ridiculous degrees of x-fine grit sharpness, stropping, etc., either. I'm asking about a *decent* edge that makes for an easier, more pleasant dining experience.

(2) If not, why not? If the reason is you only eat soup, mashed potatoes and filet mignon and therefore use a tableknife only to fill out the placesetting, skip to #4. Likewise if your tableknives are silver or silver-plate. Or if you're concerned about your dinner guests having sharp things in close proximity to your fleshy things.

(3) If so, what do you do to "sharpen" and how often?

Finally, (4) Have you looked to see if there *are* any flatware patterns that *do* feature table cutlery that sports hardened toolsteel blades?

When this thought struck me this morning, I gave my tableknives just a quick little kiss with the Hook-Eye--burr removed and a little tooth left behind. I'll let you know how it turns out.


  1. s
    seattle_lee May 5, 2013 01:30 AM

    I have 3 categories of knives: sharp knives, semi-sharp knives, and butter knives. So the sharp knives never touch a plate. The semi-sharp knives are mostly steak knives (wusthof trident classic), and I have no issue with using them on a lamb chop on the plate. The totally dull knives (aka butter knives) are never used to cut anything more demanding than butter.

    If the steak knives aren't sharp enough to cut it, it gets cut on a real cutting board before it gets plated. That solves all the problems.

    4 Replies
    1. re: seattle_lee
      c oliver May 5, 2013 08:10 AM

      I assume the "semi-sharp knives" include the ones with your flatware?

      I had this convo with some CH-friends a while back. I have five sets of flatware, one sterling and four stainless, and all the knives have a little serration on them. If THAT won't cut any meat, then like you, it's cut in the kitchen before serving. I think "steak knives" are one of the most useless things in a kitchen. My opinion only, of course.

      1. re: c oliver
        seattle_lee May 5, 2013 01:40 PM

        Actually, my semi-sharp knives are steak knives. Maybe the flatware knives are sharp enough to do the job -- don't know, haven't tried it before.

        And I will often cut meat at the table on a cutting board. That way I can cut the first portions, keep the remained warm and in one piece, then cut seconds as desired.

        1. re: seattle_lee
          c oliver May 5, 2013 01:56 PM

          But don't the knives that come with your flatware have the serration that I described? If anything I serve can't be cut with that, then it gets carved in the kitchen. I can't quite imagine a cutting board on the dining table but to each his own.

      2. re: seattle_lee
        paulj May 5, 2013 08:13 AM

        You have a good point about sharp knives and plates. If I need a sharp knife at the dining table, say to cut a cucumber, I use a cutting board (even a small one that fish cakes come on) or a melamine plate, not a hard plate.

      3. Candy May 4, 2013 12:20 PM

        Many sterling silver producers also make steak knives and carving sets in their patterns.

        1. s
          sueatmo May 3, 2013 08:16 PM

          I don't sharpen my table knives. If we have steak or a chop, I bring out some sharp steak knives.

          1. paulj May 3, 2013 01:30 PM

            If I need a sharper knife at the table, I get a paring knife. One of my favorites is a K&R sandwich knife, serrated with a rounded tip. Sometimes I even keep a paring knife with sheath at the dining table.

            1 Reply
            1. re: paulj
              kattyeyes May 4, 2013 06:02 PM

              "Sometimes I even keep a paring knife with sheath at the dining table..." just in case someone gets outta line! ;P

            2. j
              John Francis May 3, 2013 08:15 AM

              I don't own a butter knife and it's been a long time since I saw one in a place setting, at a restaurant or in a home. But my family had them when we were growing up in the '50s.

              A butter knife is for spreading, and cuts nothing more resistant than butter or jam. It's not designed to be sharpened, which would be (you would excuse the word) pointless. :-) I never heard of such a thing.

              The one piece of tableware that is sharp - by definition - is the steak knife. It's sharpened the same way as a kitchen paring knife or chef's knife.

              1. paulj May 2, 2013 09:14 PM

                Sharp table knifes were outlawed by Louis XIV


                1. c
                  carolinenye May 2, 2013 09:05 PM

                  I have the same question as you Kaleo. And if you're like me Kaleo, you're probably 100 % dissatisfied by these responses.

                  I have a set of knives with bakelite handles with stainless steel (?) blades. They are absolutely lovely but can't cut s**t. No luck cutting through the chicken or lasagna on my plate -- they work only as decoration. The blades are very flimsy -- I'm a bit nervous to try them out on a sharpener.

                  Anyhow -- I don't think the question here is really about butter knives. We have all kinds of foods on our plates that don't demand steak knives, but a sharp-ER table knife is still needed.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: carolinenye
                    kaleokahu May 3, 2013 08:47 AM

                    Hi, Caroline:

                    Yeah, I was mostly dissatisfied by the responses based on history, etiquette, etc. So I ignored them and sharpened all my table knives except the butter-servers.

                    I have a butcher's electric belt sharpener you can pull the knives through, and I just put a very light bevel on each one. They're not hardened toolsteel, so you need a light touch--almost no pressure. Took about 15 minutes to do the whole set,

                    But I'm very happy with the results, and not even the most couth guest has chastened me for having too sharp a knife at table.

                    Louis XIV better watch out if he comes to Chez Kaleo!


                    1. re: kaleokahu
                      John Francis May 3, 2013 12:12 PM

                      On the other hand, I'm told that the reason the Chinese and Japanese use chopsticks is that it's forbidden to have a deadly weapon in your hand while eating.

                  2. applehome Jul 12, 2011 05:52 PM

                    If you're going to discuss sharpening butter knives, why stop there? Why not sharpen the tines on your forks so that they poke better?

                    12 Replies
                    1. re: applehome
                      cowboyardee Jul 12, 2011 05:56 PM

                      Tried that. Wound up needing a tetanus booster.

                      1. re: cowboyardee
                        Chemicalkinetics Jul 12, 2011 06:03 PM

                        "Wound up needing a tetanus booster."

                        Yes, but now if a ninja breaks into your house, you can throw the fork at him. Think of the possibility.

                      2. re: applehome
                        kattyeyes Jul 12, 2011 06:14 PM

                        Gives new meaning to "Fork you!" doesn't it? Or maybe a new weapon for Clue: It was Miss Scarlet in the conservatory with a fork!

                        1. re: applehome
                          kaleokahu Jul 12, 2011 06:28 PM

                          Hi, applehome:

                          Actually, what you suggest is not as silly as you intended it to be. A fork with one *slightly* sharpened outer tine *edge* would be quite useful--think of a nice, thick hamsteak, tender enough for even E_M's knife, but so much easier just to roll a bite off with the fork.


                          1. re: kaleokahu
                            applehome Jul 13, 2011 08:43 AM

                            Right up to the point where you find your tongue bleeding...

                            1. re: applehome
                              kaleokahu Jul 13, 2011 09:16 AM

                              Hi, applehome:

                              Good point, but I'm thinking not quite that sharp.


                            2. re: kaleokahu
                              bobcam90 Jul 13, 2011 08:53 AM

                              I see far too many people using their forks for cutting instead of their knives. Think eggs, pancakes, sausages, etc. Please don't encourage them any more :)

                              1. re: bobcam90
                                kaleokahu Jul 13, 2011 09:14 AM

                                Hi, bobcam90:

                                Damn fork cutters! Write your legislators. We need a law against cutting with forks. If this domino falls, people will soon be eating peas on the TOPS of their forks with impugnity! Casually cutting fish with tableknives! Serving devilled eggs by [gasp!] SPOON rather than tongs! It will be the end of Western civilization! To the barricades before they deploy the sporks!


                                Kaleo (Your Tableware Anarchist)

                                1. re: kaleokahu
                                  mikie Jul 13, 2011 09:21 AM

                                  Why all this angst over tableware? You can eat pancakes with your hands, I watch the grandkids do it all the time ;) You can also eat peas that way!

                                  1. re: mikie
                                    Chemicalkinetics Jul 13, 2011 09:30 AM

                                    I am an expert in eating with my hands.

                                  2. re: kaleokahu
                                    ferret Jul 13, 2011 10:39 AM


                                    1. re: ferret
                                      kaleokahu Jul 13, 2011 11:40 AM

                                      Hi, ferret:


                                      For my next invention, I will create... AN INTERNAL COMBUSTION ENGINE!!!


                            3. e
                              E_M Jul 12, 2011 03:03 PM

                              Butter knives have no place at a formal table.

                              Sharp knives have no place at a formal dinner table; if the meat cannot be cut with the ease of a "hot knife through butter" the meat (or fish, poultry, or fowl) is too well-done.

                              Kaleo, stay far, far away from my silverware.

                              25 Replies
                              1. re: E_M
                                bobcam90 Jul 12, 2011 03:20 PM

                                And eat asparagus by picking up the whole spear and taking a bite.

                                1. re: E_M
                                  cowboyardee Jul 12, 2011 04:03 PM

                                  "Sharp knives have no place at a formal dinner table; if the meat cannot be cut with the ease of a "hot knife through butter" the meat (or fish, poultry, or fowl) is too well-done"
                                  No offense, but I'm always a little baffled by this comment - even med rare filet mignon bleeds less from a sharp knife, and would be difficult to portion with just a butter knife. Of course you don't need a 'sharp' knife in the sense that we knife nerds talk about 'sharp' but it seems to me there are plenty of cuts of meat and such that are perfectly edible and suitable for whatever table, but not fork tender.

                                  Beyond that, some people do enjoy meat with a little more gristle and such than you do - one of the best thing about certain preparations of short ribs, or maybe chicken feet. Doesn't necessarily have anything to do with being too well-done. That said, If I'm serving meat that's deliberately a bit chewy and gnarly, it's usually already bite sized. And though I love chewing on a bone now and then, I probably wouldn't do so at a formal table.

                                  1. re: cowboyardee
                                    petek Jul 12, 2011 04:17 PM

                                    Ok,I know you're all gonna laugh at me for asking this,but has anyone tried to sharpen a fork?

                                    1. re: petek
                                      cowboyardee Jul 12, 2011 05:50 PM

                                      It would be one way to make just about any food 'fork tender'

                                      1. re: cowboyardee
                                        petek Jul 12, 2011 05:57 PM

                                        Ha! good one.but seriously most of my forks are so dull and squared off at the tips they hardly work anymore especially on raw veggies and salads.So instead of tossing them out,why not try to sharpen them?

                                        1. re: petek
                                          cowboyardee Jul 12, 2011 06:01 PM

                                          I'm sure you could do it. Might be a lot of work, given the difficulty of using power tools on tines that are close together.

                                          1. re: cowboyardee
                                            petek Jul 12, 2011 06:04 PM

                                            Actually I was thinking taking one to a xx coarse diamond stone and see what happens.what do you think cowboy?

                                          2. re: petek
                                            bobcam90 Jul 12, 2011 06:10 PM

                                            Actually, I think one is supposed to slide the fork under the food, not 'stab' it. So dull forks are no problem :)

                                            1. re: bobcam90
                                              petek Jul 12, 2011 06:21 PM

                                              Says who?? :D I'm a stabber especially when it comes to hard/raw foods.Sometimes the fork slide just doesn't cut it... :)

                                              1. re: petek
                                                Chemicalkinetics Jul 12, 2011 06:23 PM

                                                Stabbing is much more manly, I tell you.

                                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                                                  petek Jul 12, 2011 06:25 PM

                                                  exactly..a fork is for stabbing a spoon is to slide under food..

                                                  1. re: petek
                                                    bobcam90 Jul 12, 2011 06:36 PM

                                                    Hey, just how *I* was raised :)

                                                    1. re: bobcam90
                                                      petek Jul 12, 2011 06:49 PM

                                                      Don't worry bob *I* won't hold it against you..:D

                                    2. re: E_M
                                      kaleokahu Jul 12, 2011 04:24 PM

                                      Hi, E-M:

                                      No worries about me breaking in to sharpen your knives. I can't keep up with my own.

                                      I'm fascinated by your global statement about "no place" for sharp knives at a formal dinner table. I *think* I understand how that may have become a rule of etiquette (nervous heads of state and jealous princes, etc., etc.); I think this is the also origin of placing the (even the dull) edge of the setting's blades facing the *user* and not the host/king. But aren't we off in petticoat-on-pianolegs or salad-after-entree lala land here?

                                      From a culinary standpoint, I don't find that such a rule makes a lot of sense. There are plainly many things on modern formal tables that require cutting, and a large subset of those things are not easily cut with the ease of "a hot knife through butter". In fact many of those foods are not easily cut to that standard when completely *uncooked*.

                                      You sound well-informed on the etiquette, and I know that I am not. What is the well-mannered formal diner to do if his/her table cutlery is unable to cut a serving of meat? Dueling pistols? The Great Schism? Ruination of the chef?


                                      1. re: kaleokahu
                                        E_M Jul 12, 2011 04:50 PM

                                        Well, of COURSE the salad comes after the main dish. Not the entree. An entree means entrance, so it roughly means "first course." Next comes the main dish, then the salad. :)

                                        The best filet mignon I have ever had in a restaurant was so tender it didn't need a sharp knife. I have managed to somewhat replicate this (alas, not the sauce) and mine doesn't need a steak knife, either.

                                        Formal dinners--consisting of multiple courses--don't have a huge hunk of steak on a plate. After the soup and fish courses and between the fruit & cheese and desert courses, the main dish is generally an extremely tender, moderately sized piece of something. After all, nothing ruins a dinner party more than the guests having to fight with their meal. Certainly nothing that requires a blade to cut.

                                        Butter knives are a silly term. Most are really butter spreaders. One takes a pat of butter--that's been pre-cut or molded--and, tearing the bread, spreads the butter piece by piece. But bread-and-butter isn't seen at formal dinners, anyway. At breakfast, lunch, tea, or supper, yes. But not at dinner.

                                        The maid/footman/teenage kid helping out should notice whether anyone is struggling with the meal and provide them with a sharper knife, if necessary, if only to avoid the mess that will likely occur if they don't. But a formal dinner should not be planned that way, and the hostess should not be serving a piece of meat that tough.

                                        Now, for casual meals steak knives are certainly useful. I guess they serve a double purpose--cutting steak and the freshly-killed grizzly bear. The gamekeeper can probably maintain those knives.

                                        1. re: E_M
                                          kaleokahu Jul 12, 2011 07:59 PM

                                          Hi, E_M:

                                          Where to start? As you know, for better or for worse, the common American usage of "entree" *is* as the main course. And even by the original French meaning, the salad would come after the entree. But again, that's not how most Americans cook, eat or entertain, is it? But perhaps you also insist that sauces are only done en casserole rather than in a saucepan.

                                          Do none of your servants carve at table? Pshaw, wherefore art that staghorn carving set? And that illictly sharper blade needed to cut what the regulation tableknife won't (when shamefully presented by the vigilant maidservant), what place at table does it have when set down, left-to-right? Is there a special place for used-only-to-avoid-messes utensils?

                                          You must hold exciting formal dinners, if your filets mignon are served no larger than the span of the dinner fork. Do you dice your Spencers as finely? Might the guests still be "fighting their [somewhat replicated] food" a little less with an more edged tableknife?

                                          Do you *plan* to have dull knives at table? Do well-heeled guests surrepticiously feel up their hostess' tableknives, the better to ascertain if they are too sharp for the table? Is there a Scrivener of the Boor to whom to report oversharpness? Do scrupulous hostesses regularly send their tableknives to the cutler for further dulling?

                                          One does not cut one's pat or mold of butter into the pieces for the spreading, piece by piece?

                                          I want to learn more of the etiquette to which you subscribe. Would you be so kind as to point me to a published authority on the subject of formal dinners? I would particularly appreciate a citation to approved sources that would specify the minimum and maximum degrees of sharpness permissible at table, dress, etc. (You may omit the DAR/Magnolias).

                                          Finally, you seem to believe that one cannot steak out a Grizz. Having only killed and eaten smaller bears, I miss your meaning. Would you or your gamekeeper please explain?


                                          1. re: kaleokahu
                                            E_M Jul 12, 2011 09:03 PM

                                            My long-winded post was designed to point out that if a table knife needs sharpening you're doing something wrong, either in cooking or serving.

                                            The Moderators here have always been lenient in opening this board to china, flatware, and glassware, in addition to cookware. In that spirit, just as the majority of the posts deal with the proper use of quality saute pans, I am trying to point out the proper use of quality knives. Steak knives have their place, but in general, the heavy carving of meat is best done before being put on the platter. The resulting individual portions can be easily cut with a knife, and is actually much softer than a raw carrot, ergo the knife will not need to be sharpened for years and years.

                                            While it is true that most people here will never host a multi-course meal or serve the salad last, there is nevertheless a joy and merit to pondering these situations. On this board, most posters are concerned with the fine points of preparing the meal. Surely then the fine points of serving and consuming a meal has equal merit.

                                            1. re: E_M
                                              kaleokahu Jul 13, 2011 08:25 AM

                                              Hi, E_M:

                                              I do not disagree that "the fine points of serving and consuming a meal" has merit for discussion equal to the fine points of preparation. Thanks for your opinions in this regard, but I am still hung up on the so-called propriety being pronounced upon..

                                              Where/what is the rulebook for the "fine points of serving and consuming a meal"? Whenever I hear some global pronouncement along the lines of: 'X is simply not done!' I must wonder whether that is within the opiner's immediate social circle, their city, state, region, country, continent or solar system. And I have to wonder--especially where a "rule" makes no practical sense--whether it is invoked for reasons completely dehors the preparation and presentation, e.g., to judge the judge's social superiority over the errant host/ess. Are we waiting for the Dauphin or a Getty to do something different that will bring it over the line into the approved column?

                                              The specific pronouncement against serving any dishes firmer than those which can easily be cut "like a hot knife through butter" also seems limiting/truncating in the extreme from a culinary evolution/fashion perspective. For example, if it ever became popular/fashionable to cut paper-thin slices of a particular food immediately before eating (the Dauphin may love this!), such a dish would fall to the disapproved list, at least for the rustics/provincials who are as-yet-in-the-dark. Ironically, if the standard really is "like a hot knife through butter", a sharper knife is going to better meet that standard than a dull one. Or is this all about meeting some lowest possible denominator?

                                              And where, perchance, is the dividing line between approvedly tender and "fighting with the food"? The reductio ad absurdum of this leads inexorably to servant "feeders" holding nursing botlles of liquid food preparations to the expectant lips of each guest, so that diners may savor and take sustenance while remaining with hands primly and appropriately folded (One might also posit delivery of bulky foods via feeding tube, with only the foamed *essence* of dishes being delivered by mouth.) My point here has always been that, if a sharpER tableknife makes eating easier, or more pleasurable, or more easily digested, or less problematic, or more inclusive of firmer foods, or more conducive to social intercourse, then why not?


                                              1. re: kaleokahu
                                                E_M Jul 13, 2011 09:44 AM

                                                A sharp knife is wonderful. My point is merely that if your table knives require sharpening on a regular basis, or at least on the frequency that I inferred from your original post, then you are either abusing your silverware or your food.

                                                Except for the butter "knife." No butter knife needs sharpening, and if it does, then there is something wrong with your butter.

                                                1. re: E_M
                                                  kaleokahu Jul 13, 2011 10:11 AM

                                                  Hi, E_M:

                                                  Sorry, I thought you had many other points.

                                                  But your inference [that table knives require sharpening on a regular basis] from my OP is incorrect. I was merely pondering why the sharpists here on Cookware can ignore the edges of their tableknives. As I pointed out somewhere in this thread, tableknives do not dull quickly. Considering that most if not all are not made from hardened toolsteel, touching up their edges should be a very infrequent requirement.

                                                  I have now (yesterday) "sharpened" my tableknives once after 15 years. I shan't make the mistake of touching the butter spreaders.

                                                  Thanks for the etiquette lessons.


                                                  1. re: kaleokahu
                                                    E_M Jul 13, 2011 10:25 AM

                                                    The point (not the knife point!) about what is done for a formal dinner is etiquette passed down...well, I've seen it in Amy Vanderbilt's books and other places. And my grandmother. And about town (Washington DC). This is not to say, nor does it mean, that a formal dinner is needed for a fantastic dining experience.

                                                    The thing about etiquette is that, at it's heart, it is supposed to be used to make life easier. So, at a formal dinner when spills can be disastrous to one's evening dress or the host's tablecloth, in order to keep the meal moving smoothly, the food should be very easy to cut and eat.

                                                    1. re: E_M
                                                      kaleokahu Jul 13, 2011 11:36 AM

                                                      Hi, E_M:

                                                      We've come full circle now. Doesn't a sharp knife at table make life easier?

                                                      You get the last word.


                                        2. re: kaleokahu
                                          bobcam90 Jul 12, 2011 04:52 PM

                                          I think there continues to be confusion here.

                                          This is a butter knife:


                                          This is a table knife:


                                          You wouldn't/couldn't use a butter knife to cut anything. That's what the table knife is for and I've never seen one that wasn't sharp enough to cut any meat. I do, as has been mentioned, and if it's a tougher cut, then I pre-carve before serving and all the diner has to do is cut off pieces. I didn't realize til this thread (and I checked) that, in fact, bread and butter aren't properly served at true formal dinners. I rarely have those. When I use a bread plate and butter knife, it's placed at the top left of the dinner plate with the knife lying horizontally on the top of the plate.

                                          1. re: bobcam90
                                            E_M Jul 12, 2011 05:00 PM

                                            "You wouldn't/couldn't use a butter knife to cut anything."

                                            This is true! That's why I often refer to it as a butter spreader. Many manufacturers use the terms interchangeably, I think.

                                            The other gripe I have with bread-and-butter plates is...come on, now! While it's true they belong to the top and left of the dinner place, how many diners often get confused and use the wrong one?

                                            Bob, I like that you pre-carve your food for your guests so they don't have to fight with their meal. Good job! I'm still trying to get my parents to do that.

                                            1. re: E_M
                                              bobcam90 Jul 12, 2011 05:04 PM

                                              Spreader is better :)

                                              Re positioning, same thing with water glasses. I try to get the water glass close enough to the wine glass that there shouldn't be an issue. But that doesn't always work.

                                      2. i
                                        iliria Jul 12, 2011 01:45 PM

                                        I don't understand why table and butter knives need to be sharpened? If you keep the butter in the fridge and it is too hard simply get it out 10 min before use. If you like sharp knives then simply get rid of the table knives and use steak knives instead. As far as tableknives go the nearest you will get to sharpness is a serrated blade.

                                        1. b
                                          bobcam90 Jul 12, 2011 01:28 PM

                                          My stainless table knives are a very fine serration towards the tip. My sterling ones (and btw the blades on sterling knives aren't made of silver) don't have that serration but are much thinner and finer and I imagine cut better for that reason. My butter knives are neither sharp nor serrated but room temp butter doesn't need that for cutting. I don't use butter knives for anything other than butter.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: bobcam90
                                            kaleokahu Jul 12, 2011 01:58 PM

                                            Hi, bobcam:

                                            "I don't use butter knives for anything other than butter." And so you win today's etiquette award. In my OP, I tried to entice responses from those who consider the tableknife and butterknife to be the same thing. Apologies for my having created a confusing distinction. I see no need to sharpen a knife used solely to serve butter.


                                          2. s
                                            smkit Jul 12, 2011 12:59 PM

                                            Interesting subject. A couple months ago I talked with Devin Thomas about custom making a set of four butter knives for me. I'd like to have four different stainless damascus patterns with possibly wa handles of the same wood -- or if that is too expensive, four knives with the same damascus and four different wooden handles.

                                            I haven't send on measurements, but I did order some older style butter knives off of etsy to get a feel of the dimensions I want and in the process I put an edge on a couple that could cleanly cut newspaper.

                                            I like the older style of butter knives that have the rounded tip, are very flat and have an edge on one side that is not serrated. My custom butters are going to be larger than today's butter knife by a bit and can also be used as a pastry spreader, soft cheese knife, and regular table knife.

                                            Other than my vintage butter knives, I don't sharpen them though.

                                            I do have a nice set of laguiole steak knives though that I use for meats that might need some extra edge to cut.

                                            1. cowboyardee Jul 12, 2011 12:21 PM

                                              1, 2, &3) I use a butter knife exclusively for butter, and don't usually put one out with place settings when I have people over. As such I have never sharpened one, though now I'm considering giving one a few passes with a coarse stone just to see what would happen next time I have to bust out a coarse stone for another sharpening job. I know you banned any technical talk, but for reasons that are fairly obvious, I wouldn't expect it to take or hold much of an edge.

                                              4) I do have some crappy serrated steak knives I put out with place settings if the meal warrants. And I have a couple nice, well sharpened hankotsus I use as steak knives for special situations.

                                              And heck - lets not even limit ourselves to table knives. Murray Carter shaves himself with a spoon.

                                              1. scubadoo97 Jul 12, 2011 12:18 PM

                                                Well I sharpened an old butter knife just to say I did it. No reason to do more than one. If we are serving something that needs to be cut with more than a butter knife we use a serrated steak knife.

                                                8 Replies
                                                1. re: scubadoo97
                                                  kaleokahu Jul 12, 2011 12:51 PM

                                                  Hi, scubadoo:

                                                  You use a serrated steak knife at table (as virtually everyone does). Yet I bet you, as one of the more learned here, would recoil in horror at the prospect of using a kitchen knife with the same serrations to prepare meat for cooking. Why?

                                                  I'm not picking on anyone here. I do this, too. As a knifemaker, I have the utmost respect for the CH Knife Mafia and its devotion to sharp. But the dichotomy of a dull tableknife in the same happy home as one with 8000 grit stones and $$$$ in kitchen knives is just too tempting not to explore.

                                                  I like my asparagus and other veggies done al dente. I occasionally have guests who will not eat bone-in chicken with the help of fingers. I prepare a lot of steak, much of it from lesser cuts. I serve sausages in natural casings. I prepare crusted fish dishes. All (and many more) could benefit from tableknives with *some* greater degree of sharp--although my cat is happy when morsels go "spoinging" off the plate when the dull knife finally tears through under full bodyweight.

                                                  Heck, now I'm even looking at the left-most tine of my table forks and wondering if they could use a little bevel...


                                                  1. re: kaleokahu
                                                    cowboyardee Jul 12, 2011 12:58 PM

                                                    The problem, as I see it anyway, is ceramic plates. Even the sharpeniest out of us sharpeners (and I'm up there) don't want to spend that much time sharpening table knives. Of course, there are wooden plates out there, but my wife won that argument years ago.

                                                    1. re: cowboyardee
                                                      kaleokahu Jul 12, 2011 01:34 PM

                                                      Hi, cowboy:

                                                      Let's make sure we're talking in the same terms. For the true sharpies here, a single cut on a ceramic plate with their well-honed babies would be a divorceable catastrophe. I'm not talking about that degree of sharpness, nothing close to it.

                                                      Just so no one thinks I'm picking on them, I'll confine this to me. The everyday table knives I ground this morning have been in constant use on ceramic plates for over 15 years. Not toolsteel, not much harder than what they've been cutting. They still cut most foods sufficiently well to keep the cat hungry. Cut, cut, cut, the years go by... They may even be nearly as sharp as when they were new. But they do *not* cut through my steaks or fibrous veggies half as well as their kitchen cousins do when the food is *raw* (And you all know that I'm not sharpening MY kitchen blades to Mafia tolerances!).

                                                      Another thing that strikes me about the plate-dulls-knife standoff is... well... a quite literal standoff: Have you ever wondered *why* your tableknife cuts as well as it does for years and years? The length of a tableknife's edge that *actually* contacts the plate's surface when you cut your food is very small in relation to the length that is actually drawn through your food. This *may* be one of the reasons that tableknives have traditionally had rounded tips, no offset, and straight edges--if you hold such a table (or steak) knife the same way when you eat, there will be one relatively small, dull, wearspot near the tip (who cares if it's dull?), and essentially a food-only edge behind it. What happens to a tableknife, wear-wise, is the same as a kitchen knife ,X-acto, or leatherman's roundknife that is used only for drawcuts standing on/near its tip. Or the way you *want* a skinner, i.e., with a dull, rounded tip.

                                                      So, why *shouldn't* this food-only portion of the tableknife's edge be kept sharp enough to make it cut as easily as one wishes? I mean, really, try dulling a straightedge knife or X-acto on the bottom of a plate or platter!

                                                      Just more food for thought...


                                                      1. re: kaleokahu
                                                        cowboyardee Jul 12, 2011 02:05 PM

                                                        I think we probably are talking in different terms. We also probably have different serving strategies when guests are over. For example, when I cook say, a steak or a chicken breast, 4 times out of 5 I rest it and slice it restaurant style before serving. I've also been on a big kick cooking Japanese and Thai and Korean and Vietnamese food for the last few years, so a lot of my meats (and vegetables) are cut to bite size even before cooking. Guests at my place usually find they don't need a knife at all.

                                                        I get what you're saying about using a table knife like you would an X-acto knife. And it makes sense. I don't have any of those types of table knives. Here is my question for you - do you find that guests to your home actually use a table knife in this manner? From very offhand observations, I'd say fewer than 1 in 10 people are any good with a chefs knife - should I expect less or more from the average person using a table knife? Do your guests ever stick it in their mouths to lick a bit of tasty sauce off? ;)

                                                        Finally, we probably would do well to define what type of sharpness we're talking about. I gather we're not talking face-shaving, hair splitting, fall-through-food-like-it-was-water sharpness. But the 'nothing close to it' thing is a bit vague - I'm of the opinion that if your straight edge knife isn't sharp enough to cut a tomato without massacring it, you're better off with a serrated knife. There are probably some exceptions, but they aren't really coming to me right now.

                                                        1. re: cowboyardee
                                                          kaleokahu Jul 12, 2011 02:53 PM

                                                          Hi, cowboy:

                                                          Yes, my family and guests use tableknives all the time for cutting down their foods. I have a daft uncle who chews each bite of food *exactly* 98 times before swallowing (I know, I've counted), so he takes smaller bites. Others are OCD about eating a bite of X with equal bites of Y and Z all on one fork, so want smaller pieces. Personally, I like my steak cut by me at the table in larger pieces. It would drive my family and friends nuts to chop/dice their dishes--especially meat--to the extent that a knife is unnecessary. But, being the cruel SOB that I am, maybe I'll try it, thanks.

                                                          No, my sauces are not so good that folks are licking their knives. I wish!

                                                          Technique with a tableknife? Never considered that before. I always thought if the knife was sharp enough, a simple, single drawcut with the dominant hand was all anyone used. If not sharp enough (a) pull-push; (b) saw; (c) foot on blade's spine while sawing; and (d) 2-handed over-the-shoulder axe swing/chainsaw.

                                                          I like your tomato test. That's what I'm talking about--sharp enough to draw through an edibly ripe raw tomato.


                                                        2. re: kaleokahu
                                                          mikie Jul 12, 2011 03:15 PM

                                                          "...if you hold such a table (or steak) knife the same way when you eat, there will be one relatively small, dull, wearspot near the tip (who cares if it's dull?), and essentially a food-only edge behind it. What happens to a tableknife, wear-wise, is the same as a kitchen knife ,X-acto, or leatherman's roundknife that is used only for drawcuts standing on/near its tip. Or the way you *want* a skinner, i.e., with a dull, rounded tip."

                                                          Actually if you have a knife with a dull tip and sharp edge, it will not cut all the way through your steak or your al dente vegies. To make that cut you would need a knife that was sharp all the way to the tip where the food and plate intersect. Or you would have to change the angle of attack as the knife was drawn through the food to make a complete cut, thus wearing more of the knife edge.

                                                          I haven't sharpened a table knife, I just serve a better quality of meat ;) However I just sharpened my 15" long BBQ knife, no reason other than I thought I could use the practice.

                                                          Take care,

                                                          1. re: mikie
                                                            kaleokahu Jul 13, 2011 10:16 AM

                                                            Hi, mikie:

                                                            "[I]f you have a knife with a dull tip and sharp edge, it will not cut all the way through your steak or your al dente vegies."

                                                            Yes, you're right. The bottom 0.001 inch will tear.


                                                      2. re: kaleokahu
                                                        scubadoo97 Jul 12, 2011 03:23 PM

                                                        "You use a serrated steak knife at table (as virtually everyone does). Yet I bet you, as one of the more learned here, would recoil in horror at the prospect of using a kitchen knife with the same serrations to prepare meat for cooking. Why?"

                                                        My wife bought them.

                                                        I will say they work well for cutting steak or other meats while eating at the table but there is a big difference when breaking down a roast, slicing chicken breasts into paillards or slicing raw fish for sashimi. There I don't want a serrated knife and want a long razor shape edge.

                                                    2. f
                                                      ferret Jul 12, 2011 11:28 AM

                                                      You can always sharpen your knork:


                                                      1. Chemicalkinetics Jul 12, 2011 11:17 AM

                                                        I don't have a butter knife now, but I had one and I doubt I will sharpen one. I only use it to spread, not to cut. My butter knife was round and smooth.

                                                        My table knives have inner serrated edge, so again I don't sharpen, but for a different reason.

                                                        I sharpen my scissors, and peeler even my stupid steak knives, but not my dining knives.

                                                        5 Replies
                                                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                                                          kaleokahu Jul 12, 2011 12:06 PM

                                                          Hi, Chem:

                                                          I get it about not sharpening serrated and mini-tooth edge tableknives. But the serrations/teeth are put there to make the knife "cut" better/longer, right? And you used your butter/cheese knife to both cut and spread, right?

                                                          What I'm musing about is that there may well be a mental/conceptual "blindspot" here, insofar as folks can worship at the altar of sharp when it comes to kitchen knives, but give not a hoot when it comes to the knives that actually portion their cooked and uncooked food for final delivery to mouth. I find that fascinating, in a like way to the mental wall oftentimes erected between "outdoor" and "indoor" knives.

                                                          Is dead dull *sharp enough* even for the cognoscenti when it comes to tableknives? Maybe so. I have a set of mini-tooth tableknives that are a crossover between a conventional tableknife and a steak knife (clip point, rather than rounded). They *will* saw through a tougher piece of cooked meat, but not all that easily. Same experience with all serrated "steak knives" I've tried.

                                                          Anyway, just curious about sharp-in-kitchen vs. dull-at-table and wondering how folks can like both.


                                                          1. re: kaleokahu
                                                            Chemicalkinetics Jul 12, 2011 12:19 PM


                                                            I don't have a butter knife anymore, but the one I used to have when I was young was a very smooth knife. It is so smooth and round that you can put it next to a baby. Let's just say it is definitely safer than a table fork. It look like this:


                                                            Unfortunately, my dining knives have some teeth in them. Not always the outward serrated teeth, but often the indentation teeth like this picture:


                                                            I think you bought up some interesting points. I thnk I may want to buy a small set of flatware where I can sharpen the edge of a knives.

                                                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                                                              knet Jul 12, 2011 03:58 PM

                                                              uh oh CK it's that obsessive compulsive knife sharpening disorder again. Now you KNOW you just want a reason to sharpen something else!!

                                                              1. re: knet
                                                                Chemicalkinetics Jul 12, 2011 04:00 PM

                                                                I know. My disorder will never be cured with people like Kaleokahu tempting me to sharpen everything. :)

                                                            2. re: kaleokahu
                                                              Dave5440 Jul 12, 2011 05:14 PM

                                                              Anyway, just curious about sharp-in-kitchen vs. dull-at-table and wondering how folks can like both.

                                                              The food I cook is so tender a dull knife can cut it, when my wife cooks , I bring a ceramic paring knife to the table to cut with.

                                                          2. BiscuitBoy Jul 12, 2011 11:11 AM

                                                            Nope, never have sharpened a butter knife, or felt the need
                                                            (1) the butter knives I have known all had a partial length of mini serrated teeth
                                                            (2) the mayo or peanut butter succumbs just fine with the factory provided edge
                                                            (3) any 'knife nerd' has a proper keen edged blade close at hand anyway, and will use every opportunity to wield it
                                                            (4)never looked

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: BiscuitBoy
                                                              kattyeyes Jul 12, 2011 11:42 AM

                                                              (1) Same here.
                                                              (2) HA HA--yes, and the jelly never puts up a fight, either.
                                                              (3) So true. Sometimes they even get confiscated!

                                                              Kaleo, if you need an edge, wouldn't you really just rather grab a steak knife?
                                                              ferret, that knork is amusing. Looks like something they'd spoof on SNL.

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