Why Some Knives Have Serrated Blades

August 6, 2010 at 5:00 am 7 comments

By Chad Upton | Editor

Good knives are expensive, but they’re money well spent when you consider they may outlive you.

There aren’t many purchases you can say that about and like anything that lasts, they need care and attention.

In fact, Japanese samurai swords endured hundreds of years of use, when properly cared for by a Togi professional — a sword polisher whose apprenticeship lasts ten years.

You’re probably aware that knives need sharpening, but do you know why they get dull in the first place?

It’s not just from repeated use, but from repeated misuse. Some misuse is expected, especially with serrated knives.

When you cut on a surface that is harder than the knife blade, that surface dulls the blade by creating a microscopic flat surface on the bottom of the blade. The flat surface is too small to see, but it makes a big difference in the cutting ability of the blade. In knife manufacturing, electron microscopes are used in quality control to inspect the sharpness of the blade.

To keep your knives sharp, it is best to cut on cutting boards made from soft materials such as various types of wood or plastic. While it’s convenient to cut directly on solid surface counter-tops such as granite and quartz, it’s not good for your knives and neither are glass cutting boards.

Plates are a common surface to cut on, but they’re bad for knives. Serrated blades help solve this dilemma; the points touch the plate but the raised edges above the points do not. Therefore, the points are dulled, but the other edges stay sharp.

Serrated blades also work well for cutting through hard rinds of some produce, and crunchy bread crusts too. The sharp points add more localized pressure, allowing better cutting penetration on the foods and act like a saw when the knife is moved back and forth.

There are other practices that can dull your knives too. Letting the cutting edge bang into other utensils in a drawer or the dishwasher can cause nicks and scratches, which adversely affect the knives’ sharpness.

To keep your knives in good repair, you should use a honing steel on the blade for about 30 seconds before each use. It helps remove scratches and bends in the blade, but it does not sharpen it.

For sharpening, a good manual or automatic sharpener should be used every few months. Professional sharpening should be done every few years. Many serrated blades cannot be sharpened, but a honing steel can be used on some.

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Sources: Cutco, Electric Knife Sharpeners Blog, Sword Forum Mag, Wikipedia (Serrated Blade)

Entry filed under: Around The House, Food and Drink. Tags: , , , , , , .

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7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. thebackroadslesstraveled  |  August 6, 2010 at 10:45 am

    Great advice. I live in a small town where I cannot get my knives sharpened. Any advice?

    • 2. Chad Upton  |  August 6, 2010 at 10:49 am

      If you’ve got a butcher nearby, check with them. They need sharp knives and even if they haven’t found a professional, they’ve probably got a professional sharpener they may let you use or offer to sharpen them for you.

  • 3. Derek  |  August 6, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    Thanks for sharing this article. One place in the Sacramento region that provides professional knife sharpening are the butchers at Raley’s Supermarkets. They give you a little cardboard sleeve that you put your name and phone number on and then you leave it with them for a day and voila, nice and sharp!

  • 4. Azalea  |  August 9, 2010 at 1:57 am

    A honing steel can damage your knife if you use it too long because heat is generated through friction.
    And good cooking knifes are often not stainless steel so treat them with oil (olive oil i.e.) after use.

    • 5. chriscp  |  September 24, 2013 at 12:52 pm

      You cannot generate enough heat while using a steel to damage the heat treat of a knife, if that’s what you’re suggesting.

  • 6. chriscp  |  September 24, 2013 at 12:55 pm

    You can sometimes see the dulled portions of a blade if you hold it edge up under a good light source. The dulled and damaged areas will reflect light and look shiny. It requires finding the right angle, but once you know how to do it, it’s easy to see.

  • 7. Mark Morphew (@MarkMorphew)  |  January 7, 2014 at 12:05 am

    What I love about serrated kitchen knives is that fact that they can be used for so much more that crusty bread, I love to use my serrated kitchen knife to finely slice tomatoes and also prepping certain fruits like mango’s and even lemons. http://bestchefkitchenknives.com/blog/ways-use-serrated-knife-just-bread/


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