You may come across advertisements that make it seem that specific cutlery can last you a lifetime. That's true to an extent. If you take care of all your inventory and don't expose it to harsh elements too much, you can make the same set last for decades, maybe even lifetimes.
However, that is not always possible due to the limitations of life and your weekly schedule. Unless you're vacuum sealing your knife after a thorough cleaning every time you cut vegetables, it will undergo some decay. You can try maintaining it with whetstones and sandpaper, but keeping the process flawless every time can be highly challenging.
With that context, here are the seven telltale signs that let you know it is time to replace your cutlery.
Rusty Or Discoloured Metal
Wood and plastic cutlery may not last for long, but metal items undergo chemical reactions that make them dangerous to use over time. Even with stainless and carbon steel, you can spot a few dark patches once you've used a knife long enough. They are usually dark brown in colour, which indicates an oxidation reaction of the metal. Although, there can be colouration from reaction with different elements, such as green for salt and yellow for chlorine.
You can use a vinegar solution with club soda and a polisher for small patches. Gently wipe it along the surface and treat the knife with some heat once it dries off. In the case of large spots, you are best off replacing the cutlery, as rust is highly toxic. A few flakes into your food can prove fatal.
The best defence of rust is a strong offence. Cleaning thoroughly and the first sight of rust can prevent the oxidation taking hold and ruining your cutlery. Using household acids and alkalines (vinegar and bicarb) can do the job well, or find diamond polishing compounds for more ingrained rust.
Need for Constant Resharpening
Even high-quality serrated knives need the grind to remain sharp. But if your knife goes dull too frequently, then maybe you have an issue. A knife remains sharp because the cutting edge is kept as thin as possible. Over time, it recedes into the thicker section, which requires shaping the blade back to an adequate edge.
It becomes impractical to sharpen the knife past a certain point as the thickness of the rest of the blade becomes too thin. It weakens the knife as it can now easily bend or break, causing a severe accident if not handled carefully. It is advised to retire it as a bread knife, so long as it doesn't have any other faults.
Broken Knife Tips
Your cutlery remains sharp if it is able to absorb the internal stresses that develop during cutting. That process gets interrupted if you break the knife tip against a hard surface. It creates a gap in the metal surface that redirects the internal stresses. Over time, it can cause the steel to lose its strength. The process becomes compounded when you sharpen the knife with a whetstone or an electrical sharpener.
Thus, replacing any cutlery with broken tips is a good idea. At the very least, you shouldn't use them regularly. You can stow them away for an emergency, but your daily use cutlery should be in appropriate shape.
Alternatively take them to a professional knife sharpener to restore the blade with new bevel and cutting edge.
Chips and Scratches
As you use the blade, you can spot small chips or scratches across the surface. Minor nicks and chips are common, and don't affect the knife's capabilities too much. You can fix them with a tempering treatment from your local blacksmith (although most won't worry with this).
Still, you should not ignore any large pieces that seem missing from the surface. It reduces the cutting power of the knife. Additionally, the food items you cut with it can be hazardous as they may contain small slithers of broken steel within them. Therefore, you should dispose of any significantly chipped and scratched blades immediately. This is more likely to occur with higher carbon knives, especially if they have not been cared for.
Loose or Broken Handles
Your knife functions only as good as you grip it. If you don't handle a knife well, it can result in a cut finger or an expensive trip to the ER. Handles play a critical role in that. So, it is not a great idea to work with knives that have loose or broken handles.
That doesn't mean that it's uncommon. Many people like to wrap the knife with duct tape or a tough cloth and carry on with their kitchen chores. Yet, you should remember that the back of the blade can still be sharp, and it can tear through the fabric with enough force. That is why it is best to replace knives with loose or broken handles, especially when they are beyond repair.
Rivets are used to hold the blade and handle together firmly. As reliable as they are, frequent impacts and high-amplitude vibrations can shake them loose. It can allow for moisture and other contaminants to make their way inside the blade and cause corrosion. If you ignore it long enough, they can come off altogether and separate the handle from the blade.
Rivets are not like screws, as they can't be secured back into place with a screwdriver. So, if you have unsecured rivets, you should immediately replace your knife. You don't want the rivets removed when you're cutting through tough meat or making the family dinner.
Curved or Bent Blades
No, it is not about knives that are curved by design. Blades can lose their strength if they bend the wrong way. If you have any doubts, even Gordon Ramsay broke a fillet knife while demonstrating how to check for resilience. Sure, steel is malleable, but bending it past a certain point can cause it to break.
The broken piece from the blade can be a hazard to everyone within the room as it can possess tremendous amounts of energy. To avoid it, you should check your knife every few months for signs of bending. A good practice is to place the knife flat with the cutting edge parallel to the surface. If there is a gap between the surface and the blade, it is high time you get it replaced.
Knives are just like any other tool. They can become faulty for any number of reasons, prompting you to replace them as required. We hope this guide helps keep your kitchen safe and maintain your cutlery collection. Still, we would love to curb your curiosity if you have any questions regarding knife safety. Share your thoughts in the comments below.