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Hey Sharp Knife Nerds--What About Flatware?

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.

Aloha,
Kaleo

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  1. 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

      (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.

    2. 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

        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.

        Aloha,
        Kaleo

        1. re: kaleokahu

          kaleo,

          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:

          http://www.purposelaunch.com/wp-conte...

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

          http://th02.deviantart.net/fs71/300W/...

          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

            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

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

          2. re: kaleokahu

            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.

          1. 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

              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...

              Aloha,
              Kaleo

              1. re: kaleokahu

                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

                  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...

                  Kaleo

                  1. re: kaleokahu

                    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

                      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.

                      Cheers,
                      Kaleo

                    2. re: kaleokahu

                      "...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

                        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.

                        Best,
                        Kaleo

                  2. re: kaleokahu

                    "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. 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.
                  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c4oHzF...