One error many cutlery enthusiasts make
in discussing knife quality is overemphasizing the
blade's hardness. Perhaps it is reducing decisions
to simple comparisons of numbers.
Hardness can be measured by the Rockwell
hardness test using a piece of industrial equipment
that looks like a drill press. A diamond-tipped instrument
is lowered onto samples of the materials being tested
under uniform pressure and the results read from a
dial. The less penetration, the harder the steel.
But if you conclude the harder the steel, the better
the quality, you are wrong.
Two different steels with identical hardness ratings
can have different edge holding properties (wear resistance)
because they are composed of different alloys. And
knives are used for cutting, not for deflecting diamonds.
Besides, a knife may need to be flexible or rigid
(tough) or not rust (corrosion resistant) based on
To make matters more confusing, two
factories can order the same steel from the same supplier
and turn out products with different characteristics.
This is because no two shipments of steel come from
the mill with exactly the same chemical properties.
And the quality of the tempering and finishing process,
as well as the design of the product, can affect the
performance of the blade.
For example, polishing a blade, blasting its surface
with glass pellets, or other techniques can improve
corrosion resistance by encouraging moisture to bead
and roll off.
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