What’s stainless steel, again?

Knives have been in circulation since the time of Oldawan stone technology.  From flint and obsidian to iron and titanium, knives have featured a variety of blade materials, regardless of their intended use.  Today, high-carbon stainless steel is the material of choice for blade-crafting (for kitchen knives, that is).  High-carbon stainless steel, in essence, synthesizes the benefits of both regular carbon-steel, which, despite being able to create a sharper edge, is noticeably more brittle and prone to discolouration, and plain stainless steel, which is more difficult to shape.

A Henckles high-carbon stainless steel knife set.

A Henckles high-carbon stainless steel knife set.

Lately, a new type of knife material is receiving quite the buzz: zirconia, or a more developed version of ceramic.  Ceramic knives are a result of intense pressure and heat, much like the process of metamorphic rock formation.  Hundreds of tons of pressure are applied to compact the ceramic into brittle blade blanks; these are then subjected to extreme heat for approximately five to twelve hours to achieve maximum density and strength.  Finally, special diamond coated grinders are used to form edges on the blanks, and chemical stabilizers are added, resulting in the commercial ceramic knife we see today.

Ceramic knife.

Ceramic knife.

Kyocera is today’s leading ceramic knife manufacturer.  Originally founded in Kyoto, Japan (Kyocera is actually a contraption of the company’s old name, Kyoto Ceramics Co., Ltd.), the Kyocera corporation is now a multinational organization operating offices worldwide.  Amongst other things, Kyocera is best known for its advanced ceramic products and solar cells.  The typical household ceramic knife Kyocera sells is white, but an even sturdier black version, because of an additional heat treatment in the manufacturing process, is also commercially available.

A sampling of Kyocera ceramic knife products.

A sampling of Kyocera ceramic knife products.

The ceramic knife can be arguably more fitting as an industrial product than a household kitchen knife.  While its strong, hard blade makes it an excellent slicer, it is known to chip and snap off the handle if used for prying, chopping, or in other unconventional ways that we all have for our steel kitchen knife.  Its outstanding durability and superior cutting edge may be made balanced by its diminished versatility.  Also, it is apparently not recommended for the dishwasher.   That said, there are interesting consequences (for lack of a better word) in having a knife not made of steel.  For one, it will not rust.  It is not detectable by metal sensors.  It does not conduct electricity.  It is unaffected by magnets.  It retains its edge well in the face of chemicals.  How these translate into everyday household use, or in different markets entirely is all up to creativity.

Ceramic peelers.

Ceramic peelers.

Regardless of their setbacks, ceramic knives are said to be excellent at what they can do.  And besides, I do think they are relatively cooler to look at.



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5 responses to “What’s stainless steel, again?

  1. izakaya411

    have you ever used a ceramic knife before? do they have to be sharpened ever?

    • the blogger

      I don’t own a ceramic knife, but I have tried using one before. Ceramic knives will dull over time, but they do tend to last longer than their stainless steel counterparts. However, because zirconia is that much harder than steel, you apparently have to send the knife in to get sharpened by industrial grade machinery.

      Thanks for commenting!

  2. Thanks for making the effort to describe the terminlogy to the beginners!

  3. Love their knives

    Thanks for the links and the write up!

  4. Thanks for sharing that information.

    I own some ceramic knives but I haven’t try it yet, I love collecting knives. With knives, I feel my kitchen is perfect. For me, knife is the heart of my kitchen. 🙂

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