Lee Zierten's Knife Skills Workshop - Part One

Local knifemaker Lee Zierten has made a name for himself among home cooks who appreciate that his lovely, decorative blades are quite functional in the kitchen. Zierten also does knife sharpening on request through Practical Art in Phoenix, the lone store which carries his handmade knives.

Knifemaker Lee Zierten's a real sharp guy.
Knifemaker Lee Zierten's a real sharp guy.

A chef is only as good as his tools, right? We popped by Lee Zierten's Knife Skills Workshop at Practical Art this past Sunday and jotted down a few of his tips to help you keep your own tools in shape. Pay attention now, Chow Bella class, since Zierten says he's unlikely to do another seminar anytime soon.  

The great Debate: Stainless vs. Carbon Steel

"Most of us are familiar with the old knives that have been used in our families in the past, where the blades are kind of dark grey looking. They always worked well and they were always easy to sharpen," Zierten said. But that doesn't mean carbon steel is preferable. The downside is that it pits easily and tends to discolor.

Zierten brought several of his own kitchen knives to the demo, all of which were stainless steel. "I've had them in the kitchen for 2-3 years now and they've held up beautifully," he explained as he passed the knives around. "Today's stainless is just about as good as carbon steel. There's really no advantage to go back to carbon."

Lee Zierten's Knife Skills Workshop - Part One

Can You Handle It?

The handle is as important as the blade. For his pieces, Zierten uses several different handle materials including natural hardwoods, resin and composites of natural and man-made materials.

More important is way the material is bonded to the tang of the blade. Zierten glues the handle to the metal tang on the knife, rather than relying on rivets alone to keep the handle in place. This prevents the materials from loosening over time, creating gaps that attract bacteria.

Zierten uses a sharpening steel to hone a guest's knife.
Zierten uses a sharpening steel to hone a guest's knife.

Care and Feeding of Your Knives

Knives are like pets -- treat 'em well and they'll live a long time. Neglect them and you'll be buying a replacement in no time.

According to Zierten, knife care isn't difficult. A sharpening steel, often provided with high-quality knife blocks, should be used regularly. "If you use the steel religiously, you can go through a year or more or not having to sharpen a knife," Zierten told the crowd.

Look for Part Two of Zierten's tips later this week, including a warning on the "Dishwasher of Death." In the meantime, check out his work at Practical Art


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