There was a time when I saw a knife simply as a sharp piece of metal used to cut some vegetables from time to time. Not anymore. In addition to knives specifically designed for very demanding tasks (eg tomato knives), there are other important differences. Is it a European style knife or a Japanese style knife? What kind of edge does the knife have? What style of handle does the knife have?
In this article, we will look at the various surfaces that a knife can have. That standard surface, the most common texture for the flat face of a blade. On more elaborate knives, however, there may be different textures. To improve their performance, knives can also be dimpled, hammered, or use a textured steel such as Damascus.
Standard plain steel on the flat side of the sheet is the easiest for most fabricators to produce. A natural product of the grinding process, it is easiest to simply machine grind a flat surface and make it the flat of the blade.
One problem with the perfectly smooth surface is that food sticks more easily, especially wet food, which most food will be. Anyone who has cooked before knows how annoying it is to have to scrape fine garlic cloves or tomato slices off the side of a knife. This is why textured surfaces were developed.
These knives are often incorrectly labeled as “hollow ground” knives. This is an inaccuracy as hollow ground actually refers to the shape of a knife edge, not the smoothness of the hollows in the blade.
Dimpled knives are becoming more common. These knives have small hollow dimples carved into the blade, usually quite close to the edge. The idea behind these little holes is that they trap air inside, preventing food from sticking to the blade. The resulting cuts are smoother, easier and it is much easier to pick up the food after cutting.
An old-school version of dimples, a hammered blade has been deliberately dented and textured during manufacture. The resulting uneven surface has a dimple-like effect, trapping air and preventing food from sticking to the flat of the blade. This feature is most commonly seen on Japanese-style knives, especially high-end traditional Japanese knives.
Damascus steel is a softer layer of steel found in various knife styles, although it is more common among Japanese knives. As a softer steel, Damascus is typically used to clad harder, brittle steel used for the core and edge of a knife. Since it is made up of multiple layers of folded steel, Damascus steel does not usually have a smooth finish. Instead, it has a rough, textured surface that acts much like the hammered or dimpled steels above. Air is trapped in the small valleys in the steel, preventing food from sticking to the blade during cutting.
Textured Blades vs. Flat Blades
Textured blades are best used for slicing and chopping tasks that do not produce very small pieces. Chopping and very fine chopping is best left with a flat blade. This is because small bits of food can get stuck in the dimples or blemishes in the blade, making it even more difficult to remove. The same bits can stick to a flat sheet, but they’re pretty easy to remove.
Textured metals also need a little more attention when cleaning. Not only do bits of food get stuck in them, but they can be harder to spot when cleaning the knife. Water can also get trapped in the small deposits, increasing the chance of rust or discoloration.
However, these blades are great for any slicing job and are worth having just for making fine cuts that other knives may not handle as well. If you keep a slicing knife and a slicing knife, be sure to sharpen the slicing knife only with a ceramic or glass sharpening rod. A steel sharpening rod could change the qualities of the edge.