Knives and Steel

02012-03-28 | Uncategorized | 6 comments

While I was in Germany at the beginning of this month, I decided to purchase a kitchen knife at Manufactum. Manufactum is an amazing store, a chain actually, that sells quality goods. The website says “Es gibt sie noch, die guten Dinge”, which means “They still exist, the good things”. Handmade, made in relatively small batches, made using a traditional process, and so on. This is the knife I saw and purchased in München, at a Manufactum store in this square.

I learned something about knives this month. The Herder knife is made with carbon steel, not stainless steel. Carbon steel is a lot harder than stainless steel and therefore holds an edge much better. The knife is hellishly sharp and a total delight to use.

There is a larger lesson that one might learn from this. Commercial mainstream items are not created to be excellent, but to be convenient. Stainless steel can be air-dried after washing, but carbon steel has to be towel-dried right away or it will rust. Watch a sushi chef… they towel-dry their knives after every single cut, because their knives have even more carbon in them, making them sharper, but also more prone to rusting. Carbon steel is so much better for knives that I will never buy another stainless steel knife. Drying the knife right away is no big inconvenience in my opinion.

This reminds me of my search for a Japanese iron water kettle… You see, all of the Japanese water kettles made for export have enamel on the inside. Only water kettles made for the Japanese market are bare iron. Why? Because it is the manufacturers’ experience that Westerners can’t properly handle a real Japanese iron water kettle, which needs to be emptied and dried after every use. Of course, when the inside of the kettle is enameled the water will taste different and will not contain that healthy trace of iron. In other words, tea DOES taste different in Japan – not because the leaves are different, but because the water that is poured from the kettle is different.

Two tips for kitchen knives:

Use soft wood for your cutting board. If you can’t see a mark on the board from your cut, the board is too hard! I use this cutting board made from cork. I love cork, a truly sustainable resource that also creates a habitat for the Spanish wolf – because cork is only harvested every seven years.

Don’t slide the chopped or cut items from the cutting board with the blade down… turn the knife upside down so that the back of the blade slides across the cutting board. This will prevent the blade from getting dulled.


  1. Matt Callahan

    The Google translation of the page is funny as usual. It looks like a great tool. If you don’t have a dedicated blade oil, mineral oil works great. A little coating before you leave town will keep the micro edge free of any corrosion.

  2. Ottmar

    Thanks for the tip. I think a drop of olive oil will work just fine. Mineral oil is a distillate of petroleum and I try to stay away from that where I can. Once I have lived with this blade for a while, maybe I can upgrade to a katana!

  3. yumi

    I want to see the upgrade if you get to a tachi.

  4. Stephen Duros

    Cool, thanks for the tips!


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