Metallurgically speaking, silver is not a good choice of metal to make a knife. This is the main reason why we don’t see very many sterling silver knife handles AND blades. I can hear you thinking “Well then, why on Earth is she showing me a photo of 3 all sterling knifes and 1 composite stainless/sterling one. Obviously there are lots of knives made completely from sterling!”
The best way to explain is in terms of function. From left to right in the photo above we have:
- a flat handle butter spreader
- a flat handle master butter knife
- the familiar round-ish sterling silver knife handles with stainless steel blade
- a flat handle cake knife
Knives 1 and 2 are strictly meant to function as spreaders of quite soft substances i.e. butter or jam. Cutting with a flat handle knife is not a very good idea, because if it is anything that resists cutting even slightly the handle becomes difficult to hold and you run a real risk of deforming the knife by putting too much pressure on it. Forcing your way through something by brute strength will damage you knives.
Knife 3 has been engineered to withstand the pressures of cutting despite it’s sterling silver knife handles (more on this next week).
Knife 4 is the exception to the no-cutting-knife-should-be-made-of-sterling rule. It is a cake cutting knife. Although I have to say, cakes are so soft to cut that they offer virtually the same resistance as butter (or at least they should be!) And as you can see on this knife, if indeed you have a denser spot to go through, like Royal icing on an English wedding cake or a Marzipan layer on an American one, you can switch to using the serrated side to get you through that layer. These all sterling versions are quite rare though. More frequently found are this type of composite wedding cake knives.
Why using sterling silver knife handles and blades is technically a poor choice
- First, silver is not going to hold a sharp edge for any length of time. Sharpening the bade after every cut is going to get old very quickly.
- Second, think about the mechanics of cutting something with a knife. You exert a great deal of downward pressure on the blade as it slices through the food and then comes into contact with the plate/platter/or cutting board underneath. The amount of pressure varies depending on
- the sharpness of your knife (sharper = easier to cut= less pressure) and also
- the angle at which you cut.
Watch someone cut into a steak. Some people saw across it almost horizontally exerting a minimum of pressure. Others hold the knife at a sharp angle and use the tip to cut, creating more pressure.
Either way, a knife made entirely of sterling is not going to be able to maintain its structural integrity for long under those circumstances. Silver is too soft.
In Part 3 we’ll finally examine the ‘modern’ knife handle to understand how silver-makers have engineered an elegant compromise of form and function thus appeasing fashionable society’s desire to possess matching sets!