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Kitchen knives: Varied material options sharpen product edge

Knife blades utilize multilayer metal with high chromium and carbon contents, and titanium.

Kitchen knife enhancement initiatives among China's suppliers emphasize broader material options. Makers adopt various types, each providing a unique set of advantages.

Kitchen knife set
This kitchen knife set from Cleverest Son’s Wife incorporates ceramic blades.

In addition to the standard stainless steel, alternatives such as metal with higher chromium and carbon contents are increasingly used for blades. These components may also employ forged MoV and come in a one-piece full tang construction.

Utilization of titanium is on the rise as well. This material is lighter and more flexible than steel, and does not impart any flavor to food. The hardness and wear-resistance, however, are not exceptional, and titanium is unable to take a very good edge.

For better control over performance and durability, a growing number of suppliers offer multilayer blades that incorporate various metal types, including high-carbon steel and anti-bacterial brass alloy.

Further, many companies are now fitting laminate blades in their kitchen knives. These components combine the advantages of a hard and brittle steel, which holds a good edge but is easily chipped, with a tougher metal less susceptible to damage and incapable of sufficient sharpness. The weaker material is protected by being sandwiched between layers of the latter.

Ceramic and Damascus steel blade models continue to dominate the midrange and high-end segments. The former can also contain zirconia, which increases durability and chip-resistance significantly. The combination results in light kitchen knives that stay sharp for several years and do not corrode.

Material variations encompass handles as well. The POM, ASA, TPR and TPE plastic types are now augmenting conventional alternatives such as ABS, PP and Bakelite. In addition, makers are employing ceramic, Micarta, PMMA and pakka wood for upscale releases.

These materials enable performance and aesthetic improvements. For example, kitchen knife grips utilizing Micarta fabric laminate from Spain and mirror-polished 18/0 cast-steel handles can withstand 280 C, and are odorless and slip-resistant.

Manufacturers are also widening material options in knife blocks. The popular materials include TPR, bamboo, rubberwood, transparent and colored acrylic, and stainless steel. Even construction is being eyed, as some companies are now developing human-shaped pieces.

Humidifying functionality already mainstream, suppliers are further incorporating double motors, 15hr timers and 360-degree oscillation capability in new designs.

Guangdong province-based Foshan Shunde Jiling Electrical Co. Ltd has recently launched misting box fans with a capacity of 200mL/h. These also boast mosquito repellent features, and utilize photocatalytic filters and negative ion generators to cleanse the air. Units bear the CB and CE marks.

As regards aesthetics, in-mold decoration or IMD is gaining prominence. In this process, design application is incorporated in the molding stage, allowing the creation of colorful patterns in varying textures. Models are then covered with a layer of transparent resin or plastic to protect details from scratches and fading.

Currently, silver, red and black are the popular shades in the market. Different hues and motifs, however, can be made available on request.

Kitchen knife range
Product gallery

Kitchen knife set
Yangjiang Nanfang Brothers offers chef’s, carving, bread, boning, utility and paring knives in a set.
Kitchen knife range

Typical kitchen knives from China come in sets consisting of four to eight pieces with chef's, bread, utility and paring knives, and a cleaver. Some also have sharpening tools and scissors.

Other popular inclusions are bone, steak, slicing, cheese and vegetable knives. Specialty models such as santoku, tomato and deveining knives are available as well, and are generally offered by established makers.

For an eight-piece set, most low-end versions have domestically sourced 420 or 18/0 stainless steel blades, and ABS, PP or Bakelite handles. These boast a hardness level of 52 to 56HRC and come with plastic knife blocks. Stamping is the typical production process. Designs are rust-resistant.

At this price point, the knives and blocks are in simple constructions and lack embellishments. Prices start at $8.50 and top $13.

Midrange releases usually go for $14 to $18. Blades are often in 3Cr13 or 3Cr15 stainless steel, although zirconium dioxide is an option. Forging is the popular manufacturing method, and corrosion resistance is common. HRC readings are 56 to 62.

For this segment, coated POM, ASA, TPR and TPE handles are available, as are wooden and acrylic blocks.

In the high end, eight-piece knife sets come with blades in titanium, zirconium dioxide, or imported stainless steel in the 3Cr15 and superior variants. Handles can be in pure stainless steel, or coated TPE or TPR. Wood, leather and stainless steel are typical options for blocks.

Upscale knives have a blade hardness of 62HRC and above or 87HRA. These are rust-resistant models made through forging.

In this segment, select individual pieces are in Damascus or high-carbon stainless steel from abroad. Prices start at $18.

Blade, handle and block materials, knife size and production procedures all affect prices.

Despite the host of alternatives, stainless steel remains the most used blade material. The 3Cr13 variant is typical for some small manufacturers, although 2Cr13 and 3Cr14 are popular as well. Upscale models utilize options with carbon and chromium content of 4 to 9 and 13 to 18, respectively.

The majority of stainless steel knives from China are made of 420 stainless steel, which has a large amount of chromium. Regular consumer-grade low-carbon stainless steel is considerably softer than carbon steel and more costly grades of stainless steel must be frequently sharpened although the corrosion resistance is high.

The carbon steel usually seen in knives has a carbon content of about 1 percent. The metal is inexpensive, holds its edge well and is normally easier to sharpen than most stainless steel types, but is vulnerable to rust and stains.

The use of high-carbon steel is also rising in the upscale segment. Blades in this metal do not discolor or stain and retain edge sharpness for a reasonable duration. The majority utilizes alloys that often include vanadium, cobalt, molybdenum and other elements intended to increase strength, sharpness and cutting ability.

The production procedures play a significant role in determining prices. Forging and stamping are the typical methods. Adopted mainly for expensive models, the former entails relatively complex steps and results in thicker and heavier blades than stamping.

As for handles, wood affords a good grip. Most types in this material, especially the ordinary varnished hardwood variant, do not resist water well and crack or warp when exposed to moisture for a certain duration. As the top layer wears off with time, microorganisms may begin to gather, necessitating resealing or an additional coat of varnish.

In comparison, plastic handles do not harbor bacteria or require as much care. The UV resistance, however, is less, and parts can become brittle and crack eventually. The material is typically not as heavy as alternatives and often causes the knife to be unbalanced or too light.

Handles are also made of plastic resin-impregnated laminated wood composites. These enjoy significant popularity and combine the low-maintenance and sanitary characteristics of plastic with the appearance, weight and grip of hardwood. The durability is higher than either material type.

Composite handles often have a laminated or polished appearance, and intense hues or multiple colors.

Stainless steel grips boast the best durability and bacterial resistance. To avoid slippage, many upscale knives incorporate ridges, bumps or indentations.

As the weight of all-metal handles may adversely affect product balance, and cause hand and wrist fatigue, a growing number of kitchen knife suppliers now offer hollow versions.

Among the significant challenges faced by China's makers of the line are the appreciation of the yuan, and swelling material and labor costs.

Even packaging expenditure is on the rise, climbing by 5 percent in 2010. It is expected to continue the upward trend throughout this year.

To avoid losing orders, companies are absorbing the higher production outlay to keep prices stable. Many suppliers are also exploring new strategies, including targeting new destinations such as South Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

Consequently, export forecasts, are generally positive. In 2010, outbound shipments rose by about 20 percent. Orders for 1H11 have been booked.

3-piece knife set
Product gallery

Cleverest Son's Wife Kitchen Enterprise Co. Ltd

Model: CK-06 3-Piece Ceramic Knife Set
Description: 3-piece knife set consists of chef's, utility and paring knives; ceramic blades, 87HRC; ABS handles with TPR coating; FDA, LFGB

Kitchen knife set

Yangdong Longfeng Ind. Co. Ltd

Model: KZP-9542
MOQ: 1,000 sets
Delivery: 30 days
Description: Set includes 8in chef's and bread, 6in boning, 5in utility and 3.5in paring knives; stainless steel blades, soft ABS handles

Kitchen knife set

Yangdong Longfeng Ind. Co. Ltd

Model: KZS-90216
MOQ: 1,000 sets
Delivery: 30 days
Description: Set includes 8in chef's and bread, 6in boning and cooking, 5in utility and 3.5in paring knives; carbon steel blades, sandwich handles

6-piece knife set

Yangjiang Keli-No.2 Light Industry Ltd

Model: KL001SPA
MOQ: 1,000 sets
Delivery: 30 days
Description: 6-piece knife set; stainless steel blades, POM handles

7-piece knife set

Yangjiang Nanfang Brothers Industrial & Trading Co. Ltd

Model: NB-P1124
MOQ: 1,000 sets
Delivery: 40 days
Description: 7-piece knife set includes 200x45x3mm chef's, 200x28x3mm carving and bread, 152x20x3mm boning, 125x20x2.5mm utility and 88x20x2.5mm paring knives; 3Cr15 steel blades; black handles; LFGB; colored box packaging

Kitchen knife set

Yangjiang YAL Shenda industrial Co. Ltd

Model: SDPA-04
MOQ: 1,000 sets
Delivery: 30 days
Description: Set includes 8in chef's, bread and chopping, 5in utility and 3.5in paring knives; 3Cr13 stainless steel blades, 2, 2.5, 3mm thickness; pakka wood handles; acrylglas knife stand

Note:This article was originally published by Global Sources, a leading business-to-business media company and a primary facilitator of trade with China manufacturers and India suppliers, providing essential sourcing information to volume buyers through our e-magazines, trade shows and industry research.

All price quotes in this report are in US dollars unless otherwise specified. FOB prices were provided by the companies interviewed only as reference prices at the time of interview and may have changed.

Disclaimer: All product images are provided by the companies interviewed and are for reference purposes only. Those product images featuring products with trademarks, brand names or logos are not intended for sale. We, our affiliates, and our affiliates' respective directors, officers, employees, representatives, agents or contractors, do not accept and will not have any responsibility or liability for product images (or any part thereof) which infringe on any intellectual property or other rights of a third party.

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