Last Updated Jan 2020 – It’s not easy to find surgical steel cutlery. If you go back a few years, surgical steel was all the rage — or at least it was possible to find. Nowadays, it’s tough to find newly made surgical steel knives online on sites like Amazon. You can still buy them, but you’ll often have to pay a premium for the discontinued products.
I’m not an expert historian, but I’ve got a few theories about why this happened. In order to better understand why surgical steel knives are dying out, let’s check out some of the top products you can find these days and see how they perform.
The Forever Sharp knife is a blend of two ideas: serration and surgical steel. This box contains four serrated blades that “never need sharpening.” The handles are made of an ergonomic composite, while the blades themselves are fairly short and thin. This particular knife set[/easyazon_link] comes with four steak knife-like knives, but you can also get a package with several longer knives instead.
I mentioned that Forever Sharp knives are a blend of serration and surgical steel. The first idea, serration, ensures that these knives are easy to maintain… to a point. It’s not impossible to sharpen a serrated knife, of course, but it is a colossal pain. You need a lot of patience and specialized tools. If you know you’re not going to sharpen a knife, however, serration helps the knife act like it’s sharper. By utilizing a sawing motion you can cut through food pretty easily with a serrated knife, even if it’s quite dull.
In other words, the fact that these blades are serrated means that they do a BAD job of staying sharp. The serration covers for the fact that the edge itself is dull. You’ll still be able to saw things, sure, but these knives are not going to be sharp in the same way that a Zhen knife is sharp.
The other key idea to understand when examining these knives is “surgical stainless steel.” Surgical steel is the hot dog of stainless steel. Most stainless steel alloys qualify as surgical steel, meaning that a manufacturer who advertises that their product contains surgical steel can use a pretty wide range of metals without falsifying their claims.
Most of the time, cutlery manufacturers with “surgical steel” products simply use the cheapest stainless steel they can find. This has two problems: first, cheap steel is hardly ever good, and second, it means that the quality of the products varies from month to month. As the steel market changes, a better or worse type of stainless steel might be easier for the manufacturer to acquire, meaning that each batch of knives might be quite a bit different from the others.
Now, you can get some very good stainless steel knives. They’re just never, ever marketed as being made from “stainless’ or “surgical” steel. Steels like VG-10 and 440B and C are excellent metals to use when making knives. When you get a knife (or knife set) that’s made from these metals, however, the manufacturer will tell you exactly what’s in the knife. They won’t hide it by using broad labels like “surgical steel” or “stainless steel.”
In other words, Forever Sharp knives are not good. They’re made from the cheapest metal possible and they don’t stay sharp better than any other knife. While the serration ensures that they’ll be usable for years, they’re not going to perform any better or worse than any other set of serrated knives. This means you can save a bit of money and just pick up a cheap set of Ginsu steak knives instead. As a plus side, you’ll also get some fairly nice stamped knives in a Ginsu set while saving a bit of money.
With this in mind, I cannot recommend Forever Sharp knives except as a novelty item. If you want cheap knives, pick Ginsu. If you want sharp knives, pick Dalstrong or Zhen or Cangshan or Victorinox. You’ll get much better quality for each dollar you spend.
The fact that these knives are not serrated is a pleasant sign, but these knives still suffer from the same issues as the Forever Sharp set above. They’re made from the cheapest steel of the season, meaning that the quality of each set is inconsistent at best. Worse, at the time of this writing, this set is far more expensive than a midrange high-quality chef’s knife from a brand like Dalstrong or Cangshan. This means that I can’t really recommend it in good faith.
“But what about the in-store demo?” you might ask. What about it? Knives are tested almost universally with a handful of standard-ish tests. If there’s a store near you that’s demonstrating these knives, I implore you to go back into that store and ask the demonstrator to hold a piece of paper in one hand and cut it with one of the knives. Better yet, get them to do so while you hold your ear close enough to listen. If the knives are truly high-quality, you’ll be able to hear how smoothly and easily they cut through the paper. If they’re not, you’ll instead hear it tearing.
The physical act of cutting wears down the blade of a knife. There’s simply no way around this. While there are knives that you don’t have to sharpen for many years, these knives are made out of ultra-hard ceramic and have special edge geometry that’s designed to last for much longer than your typical knife. Metal knives are softer, meaning that the edge will wear out over time, but they’re also much sharper when you get done honing them. In other words, needing to sharpen a knife is an advantage, not a disadvantage.
Now, you might have noticed that this set of surgical steel knives doesn’t look particularly unique. Several of the knives look very similar to the ones in the Forever Sharp set, and the whole set is basically identical to the Sharp Select set below. The reason for this is simple: all three brands are owned by the same Chinese company. Called Twin Towers Trading, the company continually makes new brands in order to offer a “new” line of knives every few years. This means that it’s impossible to ambush an in-store demonstrator and say that you’ve had the knife he’s showing off for several years. He’ll always be at least one brand ahead of you.
In other words, the Hessler Gourmet series (and all Hessler Worldwide knives as far as I can tell), the Forever Sharp line, and the Sharp Select line are all the same. All three knife sets are made by the same sketchy company.
If you’re not that interested in maintaining an expensive knife set (or even a single knife), that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that. You don’t have to spend this much money on a set of low-quality knives, however. Pick up a cheap set of Ginsus or a set of ceramic knives from Kyocera. Both options will be just as sharp (if not sharper) and much less expensive. The Kyoceras have the extra advantage of staying sharp for several years of casual kitchen use.
The Chinese company (Twin Towers Trading) responsible for the surgical steel knife sets on this page owns many brands, not just the ones above. This is another example of their knives. Just like the two options above, I would not advise you to pick up this set unless it’s on a very steep sale. Again, Ginsu knives are a wonderful option if you’re looking for a budget set that doesn’t need much maintenance, while Kyocera ceramic knives actually will stay sharp for years without any maintenance at all. Both options are usually cheaper than this Sharp Select set.
What About The Forever Sharp Knives Warranty?
It’s one thing to say you offer a warranty on a product. It’s another to follow through. Luckily, it seems like Twin Towers Trading does a pretty good job at honoring the warranties on their products. This means that you can actually expect a refund should you become dissatisfied with the knives.
Of course, this isn’t exactly a unique practice. Brands like Dalstrong also offer incredible (and arguably better) customer service when it comes to warranty claims. While it’s admirable that Twin Towers stands by their products, this doesn’t mean that their products are good.
What Kinds Of Stainless Steel Are Good For Knives?
I mentioned above that “surgical steel” and “stainless steel” are not good indicators of quality. If you’re after an easy-to-clean knife that holds an edge, here are some of the specific types of stainless steel you should look for:
This is arguably the best material to make a knife out of, period. It’s stain resistant, quite shiny, and can be heat-treated to 60 HRC, which is fairly hard as far as stainless steel goes. This means it’s excellent at holding a sharp edge for a long time.
440 stainless steel comes in three varieties: A, B, and C. 440C is the best in terms of hardness, sharpness, and edge retention, but it’s a bit more vulnerable to rust. 440A is a bit softer (56 HRC instead of 440C’s 60 HRC) but is still quite good at holding an edge.
The AUS series of steels (AUS-6, AUS-8, and AUS-10) are quite comparable to the 440 series. AUS-6 is slightly better than 440A, while AUS-10 is slightly better than 440C. While it’s pretty hard to find 440B knives, it’s a bit more common to find AUS-8 cutlery, which again is slightly better than 440B in terms of hardness, edge retention, and corrosion resistance.
This steel is on the softer end, but it’s pretty good for German style knives. You’ll usually see a HRC of 54 to 57.
Pretty similar to AUS6 stainless, this steel is excellent for knives. It’s not the hardest thing in the world but it’s quite good at holding a “normal” grind.
Roughly equivalent to AUS8, this steel is a bit better at holding an edge than the steel above. It’s a great choice for a midrange knife.
Surgical Stainless Steel: A Sign Of Inconsistent Quality
If I had to guess, I’d say that there are probably some very, very good knives out there from the Twin Towers Trading company. Lots of them, in fact. Because these knives are made with the cheapest steel at the time, there have probably been a few times when one of the high-quality steels above was “accidentally” used in the construction of these knives. The resulting blades wouldn’t be amazing, of course, but they’d be pretty good stamped knives that would fit well into any kitchen.
The problem here is the consistency. While some of the knives from Forever Sharp or Hessler might be quite good, there’s no reason to believe that the knives in the box you open will be good. Instead, there’s a pretty good chance they’ll be made with bad steel that can’t hold an edge.
Like I said above, I cannot recommend a surgical steel knife set in good conscience. If you hate sharpening knives, I would strongly advise you to check out other budget brands (Ginsu being one of my favorites) and getting a super cheap throwaway knife set. You can simply replace the set when it gets too dull to use.
If you want your knives to last a bit longer, consider ceramic. Kyocera makes a variety of great ceramic knives at a variety of price points. While the knives are a bit different from their steel counterparts, they have the advantage of actually staying sharp forever.
Finally, if it’s an option, consider sharpening your knives! It’s not too hard to strop a blade every once in a while or use a honing steel. With proper care, a set from Dalstrong will effortlessly cut through paper for many months without touching a whetstone.