Chipped Knives: How they happen, how to avoid them and how we repair them.
November 26, 20194 min read
Perhaps the worst day for a knife-owner is when you accidentally damage your precious blade. I have done this more than a few times, and you may have already done it once or twice as well. Just the other day, I broke the tip off of my knife when I dinged it lightly against the faucet while washing it. You’re probably wondering the same thing I did when I first damaged a knife, “why do these knives chip?”
Japanese knives are made with much harder steel and are much thinner than other knives, which makes them more sensitive. This hard steel allows Japanese knives to have far longer edge retention and get a much sharper edge than the average blade. But why does this make them delicate? The harder the material is, the more brittle it becomes. Think of a ceramic plate. Ceramics are a much harder material than any steel, ceramic does not bend. When you drop your ceramic plate on the tile floor it snaps or sometimes shatters. Most Japanese knives are made with a core of hard steel which is clad with a layer of soft steel. This prevents the hard steel from breaking. Just like a pencil. The fragile graphite core is protected by wood to protect it from breaking.
Like a pencil, the core steel is exposed at the edge, so if it gets mistreated it can chip. Here are some examples of how this can happen.
Case 1. Shota butchered a chicken for yakitori.
Shota loves yakitori, and it was his first time butchering a chicken to make it. He used a Santoku to cut up the chicken, and when he attempted to remove bones from the thigh, he twisted the knife against the bone and chipped it.
Solution: The santoku is a very versatile knife but it is not designed to debone chickens. The blade is too thin, making it prone to chipping on hard bones. Shota should use a honesuki which has a much thicker blade and never use twisting motions when cutting. When the blade says it does not want to go further, don’t force it. Find the soft cartilage and cut confidently. Or even better, consider taking our honesuki class and get some hands-on experience!
Case 2. Tadashi works at a restaurant and chops up olives for tapenade.
Tadashi is working in a kitchen and preparing tapenade. His colleague told him that all of the olives were pitted, so he could go ahead and start chopping. He grabbed a handful of olives and began chopping. After awhile, Tadashi noticed that his knife has a half moon shaped chip on the edge. There was one sneaky olive with a pit left in it….
Solution: It may seem obvious, but taking care of your knives means thoroughly checking to make sure what you are cutting does not have any seeds or pits in them. If it’s harder than you can bite through, it’s going to chip your knife.
Case 3. Mayumi wanted to make sukiyaki, a dish made from thinly sliced partially-frozen beef.
Mayumi wants to have people over for sukiyaki, one of her favourite Japanese dishes, but she could not find the thinly sliced beef it requires. She decided to slice the beef with her super-sharp Japanese knife. It is difficult to slice proper sukiyaki-thin slices when the meat is soft, so it is often half-frozen when it’s sliced. She started slicing and it went well at first, until she got to the middle, heard a clunk, and her knife chipped.
Solution: Cold temperatures make the steel more fragile and brittle. On top of this, frozen foods are very hard. Always avoid using Japanese knives on frozen food or even half-frozen food. Fridge or room temperature is always best.
Case 4. Sayaka bought some Parmigiano Reggiano imported from Italy.
Sayaka decided to make a cheese board to pair with some wine and wanted to include her new Parmigiano. When Sayaka tried to cut the thick, hard rind, the blade didn’t go through easily. She pushed hard and heard a nasty ‘clink’ from her knife.
Solution: Older, hard cheese can be sometimes too hard for Japanese knives. Use the proper cheese knife or a western chef’s knife.
Case 5. Akira wanted to have fresh coconut water.
I hope I don’t have to explain this one...
Solution: Do not ever attempt to cut coconuts with Japanese (or even western) chef knives. You will need a super thick cleaver, hatchet, or saw for it. We find the Spanish cleaver from Arcos quite effective for coconut, bones, and frozen foods.
The above cases can happen to anyone. Care and proper use go a long way to prevent them, but sometimes desperation takes over, or your in-laws get ahold of your precious knife. When your knife gets damaged, it can be very sad. You’ll likely feel disappointed, even angry. Don’t worry. Many others have been there before, practically every Knifewear employee has made the same mistake (yes, even Kevin). Your knife is not ruined. It can most likely be saved! Almost all damages can be fixed and repaired by us. Below are some examples of repairs that we’ve done. We remove the chips, thin the blade out and polish them so they work like they did when you got them. Don’t hesitate to come to see us, Knifewear is a judgement-free zone. Chances are we’ve seen worse. If the knife is from us and its your first sharpening, it’ll even be free! You can scroll down to see some photos of repairs that our knife-sharpening wizards have performed recently.