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Schneier on Security
A weblog covering security and security technology.
June 10, 2005
Risks of Pointy Knives
Of course it's ridiculous. (I wrote about this kind of thing two days ago, in the context of cell phones on airplanes. Banning something with good uses just because there are also bad uses is rarely a good security trade-off.)
But the researchers actually have a point -- so to speak -- when they say that there's no good reason for long knives to be pointy. From the BBC:
The researchers said there was no reason for long pointed knives to be publicly available at all.
They consulted 10 top chefs from around the UK, and found such knives have little practical value in the kitchen.
None of the chefs felt such knives were essential, since the point of a short blade was just as useful when a sharp end was needed.
I do a lot of cooking, and have all my life. I never use a long knife to stab. I never use the point of a chef's knife, or the point of any other long knife. I rarely stab at all, and when I do, I'm using a small utility knife or a petty knife.
Okay, then. Why are so many large knives pointy? Carving knives aren't pointy. Bread knives aren't pointy. I can rock my chef's knife just as easily on a rounded end.
Traditionally, the knife was used in addition to or in place of a fork, thus the sharp end was needed for stabbing food and lifting it to the mouth or moving it around, particularly meat. I'd say the design has persisted due to simple inertia.
Posted by: anonymous at June 10, 2005 01:33 PM
I was just about to say, "because it's always been that way."
Posted by: Mark J. at June 10, 2005 01:49 PM
There is only one thing I can think of as to why I use a long pointy cutting knife. And trust me you want a long one for this to keep you hands as far away as you can from the claws. BTW this method is used for Grilling not boiling. if you have never grilled one I highly recomend it.
Posted by: Jeff Parker at June 10, 2005 01:59 PM
It has been a while since I carved a turkey, but don't you use the point of the knife to slice into a joint and sever it?
Posted by: LeeAC at June 10, 2005 02:01 PM
Probably because they were easier to make back when they had to be forged by hand. I'd imagine it would be easier to finish off the knife in a point rather than trying to hammer the end into being rounded. Also, probably because back then people were smart enough not to stab eachother.
If you have a dozen knives, there's no reason for your main chef's knife to be pointy (my favorite large knife isn't). But if you can only afford one knife, a long pointy one is the way to go.
Don't make the mistake of substituting your experience into others' situations -- the first mistake of central planners everywhere. "Use a different knife for the pointy stuff" is simple let-them-eat-cakeism.
Posted by: Grant Gould at June 10, 2005 02:19 PM
It certainly makes carving up a bird easier, and also easier to pick bits of meat out of smaller places. Cutting dead spots out of fruit and vegetables is much easier than a pointed knife.
For non-kitchen knives, having a point makes it much easier to start a cut in a specific place. Let's say you want to cut a hole in the side of a cardboard box. Doing that without a point of any sort is going to be much more difficult than using a point.
But should we really ban anything that might be dangerous simply because nobody can think of a good use for it? Should we ban people from owning axes and hatchets unless they cut their own wood for fireplaces?
Actually, its considerably easier to forge a blunt pointed knife than a pointy one (as a hobby/part-time business I'm a blacksmith, specializing in cutlery).
And I think stabbing one another has been a popular tradition for quite a long time - even more-so in the old days.
Of course, long knives arent the problem... they are just the focus because they are scarier. Plus if they suggested banning paring knives everyone would throw a major coniption.
I think if one actually did the research they would find that the smaller, cheaper, more easily concealed paring knives are the more common sort used as weapons in attacks. I recall that being the case in the US according to some figures (dont remember which figures though, of course) a couple years back - dont expect the trend to have changed.
Posted by: M. Atwood at June 10, 2005 02:30 PM
You could flip the question around and ask why is most English table cutlerly already blunt and rounded on the end? I suspect a similar theory a couple centuries ago that led the British culture to suggest sharp knifes only be brought out for special occaisons.
I notice this odd ritual every time I go to an official "steak" house: soon after I order a juicy bit of meat, the staff delicately removes my sad little rounded knife and replaces it with something more symbolic of proper knives from long ago.
So perhaps the easy answer is similar to the one already adopted, that dangerous culinary implements should be locked away in a special place and only brought out when required.
The point certainly adds a number of options to what you can do with a knife, so the purpose seems somewhat obvious, even if undesireable or not always necessary.
Piercing the skin of a tomato for slicing.
Prising apart two pieces of meat that have frozen together.
Opening a pack of cheese by piercing the plastic covering.
Safety for anyone other than the operator isn't really a design criteria for a chef's knife, let alone its ancestors. Quite the opposite, in fact. The more dangerous it is to everything but you, the more effective you are with it.
While I don't often use the point on a long knife (harder to control, due to length), it is useful when you already have it in hand, and don't want to dirty a short knife just for the quick use of the point. I don't buy blunt-tipped scissors either though...
Posted by: David B at June 10, 2005 02:35 PM
Doesn't the article itself suggest a practical use for such knives?
'In contrast, a pointed long blade pierces the body like "cutting into a ripe melon".'
It's rather harder to cut into a watermelon, for instance, without the sharp point.
Posted by: Chung Leong at June 10, 2005 02:36 PM
Cutting a large watermelon in half? It is much easier to pierce in and rotate the watermelon than to slice down through from above.
Posted by: Mike Mangino at June 10, 2005 02:37 PM
There is, among a lot of cooks, a recent move to the Santoku Japanese-style chef's knife, which is not "pointy." I changed over and will never go back to the traditional French style. Perhaps the Japanese found their swords better for stabing each-other with and refined the kitchen knife for other purposes?
Fine sushi knives could be mistaken for an excellent example of weaponry.
Moreover, the heavy Japanese cleaver doesn't have a pointy tip but it also might be a first choice for someone intent on doing serious damage to an adversary (such as a well-frozen chicken). Note that the study might not have included regions where cleavers are commonplace.
M. Atwood - The long pointy knifes are more dangerous. The article tells how stabbing someone with a short pointy knife causes a "substantial but superficial" wound, while a long pointy one creates a wound that can penetrate to the inner organs, causing serious injury and death.
While I wouldn't go for banning, making both kinds of knives available and explaining why would be a good step.
I got one of the Santoku-style knives recently and am very impressed. It chops evenly and the food doesn't stick to it as much. The bottom corner can be used for pointy moves.
If all kitchen knives over 4" were Santoku style, I bet people would learn to adapt.
Posted by: Maureen Hay at June 10, 2005 02:53 PM
Actually Japanese katana swords as used by the samurai were used for cutting rather than stabbing (as far as I know from my Aikido sword work). They would cut with the whole length of the very sharp blade rather than just slashing.
Being a mechanic, pointy knives are occasionally useful, but BION, a boxcutter serves a higher utilty in my trade - we are sometimes surgeons with industrial-strength scalpels splitting wiring looms, etc.
As the blacksmith fellow said (members of my family are in the hobby) making a pointy knife is lots more work.
So now what do we do with icepicks? Sewing needles? .040 stainless steel wire? Let's not leave out a good wood drill bit, nice sharp point on the auger, oh my, and *2* cutting edges !
My favorite hack is Bruce's take on using 5-minute expoxy and stiff cardboard. A litte creativity here and you could fashion a sharp point that both pierces and bypasses metal detectors. Hmm, a bit of gelatin, we could eat the evidence ...
Posted by: Brad Mills at June 10, 2005 03:03 PM
I suspect the primary reason for the point on long knives is for butchering and otherwise dealing with large entities (like the forementioned watermellon).
That explains why a carving knife might be pointed, but not why a chef's knife is.
Posted by: Jon Solworth at June 10, 2005 03:05 PM
Did anyone study what kinds of knives were most commonly used in crimes? If I were to arm myself in preparation for a crime, I'd go for something more transportable than a butcher's knife, and stronger than a paring or steak knife.
This is a case where I think the utility of the point probably outweighs the potential dangers.
Posted by: Jarrod at June 10, 2005 03:19 PM
Many of these comments supply good uses for a pointy knife, but almost all of them require a SHORT pointy knife. As for the watermelon, someone please invent a special kitchen gadget of some sort to open the watermelon. What fun!?
- Precision Blogger
Obviously, a long pointy kitchen knife is more useful, and therefore appeals to a larger audience of buyers if it can *also* be used for domestic violence or general mayhem....
Posted by: quietpc3400 at June 10, 2005 03:29 PM
I routinely use the tip of my chefs knife to open and core sweet peppers, to slip under silverskins, to lift the skin off a tomato that's been blanched, or to start the paper off onion or garlic. (Yes, I use a chefs knife for that, because it's in hand.)
My understanding is that the santoku is a relatively recent style of blade. It's been popularized a great deal by Food Network chefs, Rachel Ray in particular, but I don't know that many professional chefs have switched to using it.
I don't know that a lot of Japanese chefs use the santoku, either--sushi chefs in particular use a very long, slender, pointy blade, the name of which escapes me at the moment.
Posted by: Anonymous at June 10, 2005 03:45 PM
"My favorite hack is Bruce's take on using 5-minute expoxy and stiff cardboard. A litte creativity here and you could fashion a sharp point that both pierces and bypasses metal detectors. Hmm, a bit of gelatin, we could eat the evidence ..."
You are suggesting eating gelatin that was touching epoxy and steel dust?
Mac knives are among the finest of kitchen knives. They have a whole line with rounded tips:
I'm not an expert on wound forensics, but I have a hard time seeing how this would be any less fatal than a pointy knife if you jabbed it into someone really hard.
"Why are so many large knives pointy?"
In addition to the uses mentioned above, because they are better weapons that way. The difference between me and the British government is that I think that's a good thing.
"Keep and bear arms" doesn't just refer to firearms, as I believe the case law will bear out. It's too bad that the amorphous British "constitution" doesn't protect the British people from the British government even as well as what remains of our constitution protects us.
Posted by: Doug Sundseth at June 10, 2005 04:00 PM
Who defines *long* in this context? My high school principal as killed with a "short" knife used for cleaning fish.
Posted by: Clay Webster at June 10, 2005 04:01 PM
"It has been a while since I carved a turkey, but don't you use the point of the knife to slice into a joint and sever it?"
I use a petty knife for that. More control with the smaller blade.
Posted by: Guillaume at June 10, 2005 04:19 PM
Butchering/hunting/fishing requires the use of longish pointy knives and of course, a pointy knife looks nice. Things sell bettter if they look nice.
Posted by: Herman at June 10, 2005 04:49 PM
Does it really matter? It seems like you could kill someone just as dead with a short pointy knife. Or just use a razor for that matter, which is square on the end.
That said, my two favorite large kitchen knives have blunted ends (though they're still quite thin at the ends so I don't think that would stop someone determined to shove it into someone else's body).
Posted by: Byron at June 10, 2005 05:04 PM
"Why are so many large knives pointy?"
On second thought, perhaps just to give the savory illusion of a well-prepared chef, even as we normally just re-heat the previous night's take-out in the Microwave. After all, why do people have all the pointy knives conspicuously placed on their counter-top in an easy-to-draw sheath? Surely it is more for decorative purposes and could just as easily be stored in a locked drawer, no?
"I use a petty knife for [turkey]. More control with the smaller blade."
Turkey carving does not bring images of "control" to mind. Sushi, on the other hand, seems to be all about very fine control, and yet the sashimi knives are quite long. The pointy tip certainly has a purpose, as seen in two prominent styles of Sashimi knives:
Takobiki (blunt tipped)
I really wonder what taking culture into effect would do to the study.
Brad Mills hit the nail on the head:
"So now what do we do with icepicks? Sewing needles? .040 stainless steel wire? Let's not leave out a good wood drill bit, nice sharp point on the auger, oh my, and *2* cutting edges !"
There are a million things that are pointy enough to be dangerous or offensive in the wrong hands, yet the relentless march of Authorities trying to protect us from the real world continues almost as if it will one day be possible to live 'risk free' - all the while, we pay for it ...
This is as moronic as the cops who once confiscated a club from my back seat, after pulling me over. I replaced it with a little league baseball bat--which was even better than the club! Nowadays, I just have a 2-foot-long aluminum night light, full of D-cell batteries.
Spare me the anti-blunt-instrument lecture; I'm making a point here.
Posted by: x at June 10, 2005 06:25 PM
""Keep and bear arms" doesn't just refer to firearms, as I believe the case law will bear out. It's too bad that the amorphous British "constitution" doesn't protect the British people from the British government even as well as what remains of our constitution protects us."
Oh, please. The US right to bear arms leads directly to _vastly_ more American gun deaths per year than there are in the whole of europe combined, which has over double the population. When's the last time you used a firearm to defend yourself against the government, anyway?
And in Finland, a significantly-higher proportion of households have guns. Yet the gun-related death rate is about half that of the United States. Methinks there is more going on than the mere presence of guns.
Posted by: x at June 10, 2005 06:39 PM
I think the American statistics on violent crime might better be attributed to media than weapon control. A suggestion, mind, not an argument; still, people who are afraid are much more likely to want a weapon and acquire one (illegally, even) than those who aren't afraid, and panic-prone people are much more likely to kill someone in a tight spot.
In my estimation, a well-placed blow with a paring knife (which is very easy to control) can sometimes be more lethal than a blow with a pointy, unwieldy carving knife. Size is more of an intimidation factor, unless you're going to pierce and then cut, like the melon example.
From the article: 'Dr Hern says: "We came up with the idea and tossed it into the pot to get people talking about crime reduction." She adds: "Whether it's a sensible solution to this problem or not, I'm not sure." '
Posted by: Chris at June 10, 2005 07:30 PM
...and the Colonel said "let there be spork!"
To which the Tick replied, "SPOON!"
Posted by: Anonymous at June 10, 2005 07:36 PM
"The researchers said there was no reason for long pointed knives to be publicly available at all."
And then they went home, put their ingredients in the blender and had a fine liquid dinner.
Posted by: Anonymous at June 10, 2005 07:45 PM
Considering that the pen is mightier than the sword, oughtn't the British be banning words?
@ Rob Mayfield
First, kitchen knives are far more common than any of the items Brad Mills mentions. That gives the report a broader audience (no pun intended). Second, I think the researchers were pointing out (pun intended) that they could not find any real "need" for a pointy knife in the hands of a non-professional chef. Bruce seems say the same, that he rarely needs to have a point (when he cooks). On the other hand, I think you'd have a hard time saying ice-picks should be rounded, drill-bits should be dull, knitting needles should be short, etc.
No, that's the French...
"Turkey carving does not bring images of 'control' to mind."
From the inside of the carcas, use a small knife to separate the legs and wing joints -- but not the meat or skin -- before cooking. Makes carving WAY easier.
I believe I first read this trick in a Julia Child book, but I may be misremembering.
Please do not turn this thread into a gun discussion.
And just a little reality check: we're discussing common cooking implements and rounded knives being confiscated on airlines (http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2005/06/tsa_abuse_of_po.html) when the news reports a guy walks straight through US customs carrying "a homemade sword, a hatchet, a knife, brass knuckles and a chain saw stained with what appeared to be blood. U.S. customs agents confiscated the weapons and fingerprinted Despres. Then they let him into the United States."
"Nobody asked us to detain him," [US Customs and Border Protection] said. "Being bizarre is not a reason to keep somebody out of this country or lock them up. ... We are governed by laws and regulations, and he did not violate any regulations."
Right. Perhaps if he had been a teacher from Iowa on a fieldtrip with children...
Anyway, it turns out he was on his way into the US after apparently brutally murdering his neighbors.
"Of course it's ridiculous"
Why? This is an assertion with no foundation. There are plenty of reasons why it is NOT ridiculous. Let's start with the security measures adopted over 2 centuries ago resulting in common table knives having rounded ends. This was mentioned in the British Medical Journal report that Bruce points to: "French laws in the 17th century decreed that the tips of table and street knives be ground smooth.
A century later, forks and blunt-ended table knives were introduced in the UK in an effort to reduce injuries during arguments in public eating houses."
I can't remember ever having accidentally stabbed myself with a table knife. But d'oh! That's because they are all blunt.
For the same reasons, protruding metal objects were removed from automobile dashboards. Fewer people get injured that way, and if there is no good reason for it to be done the more dangerous way, then change it.
What's ridiculous about that?
Posted by: grahamc at June 10, 2005 08:24 PM
One reason for a point on long knives is that it saves washing dishes and time changing knives. For example, I have frequently used chopping knives with roughly a ten inch blade as if they were paring knives. You simply wrap your hand around the back of the blade an inch or so from the point and you can easily cut eyes out of potatoes, for example. The point can be used to pierce the skin of a tomato so it can then be sliced with a non-serated edge.
Also, the fewer knives you have in play the less the possibility of accidents.
Others have already pointed out that the point is needed for difficult things like melons.
Besides, if you ban one weapon, people will simply switch to another one. Guns are banned in England so the number one murder weapon, I have heard, is the bear mug. Frying pans, baseball bats,
aluminum flashlights, etc. can all be effective weapons. Ban those, and you will have to find something to make houses out of besides 2x4s and nails.
Ban the material to make houses, and thus houses, and we will find ourselves living outdoors and using rocks and tree branches to kill each other. There are more rocks than people so it would be more efficient to just kill all the people than get rid of all the rocks.
The war on drugs, the exploitation of the poor, and fundamentalism have a lot more to do with the murder rate in the US. Besides, the person most likely to kill you is you.
So now what do we do with icepicks? Sewing needles? etc.
Let's not forget wood chisels and lathe tools like gouges. A 1/4" chisel or gouge doesn't have a pointy tip, but they'd still make great stabbing weapons. Screwdrivers and chisels are banned as airline carry-on, too.
Some slicing knives have a bifurcated fork-like tip: TWO pointy tips on a single blade: the horror.
If a mugger with a 14" bread-slicer (rounded tip) came at you in a dark alley, would you feel any safer because there wasn't a pointy tip on the knife? I know I wouldn't.
Posted by: Random Chance at June 10, 2005 09:18 PM
This is akin to the Golden Gate suicide problem. Lots of people commit suicide there. Many of them are determined to do it when they arrive at the bridge, so raising the railings there won't help them. But many others come there to stare at the ocean and meditate (about suicide, among other things), and then the low railing and the long way down make it easy for them to make a permanent decision that could be averted if they were presented with a little more frustration. Raising the railings at the bridge won't save those determined to shuffle off, but it would save those who make an impulsive decision there. Same thing with these knives. Kitchen knives are used in situations where a confrontation escalates to violence, in the heat of the moment, rather than for premeditated assaults. In an environment where the available weapons are less lethal, situations like that will not result in death as frequently.
Posted by: Omri at June 10, 2005 09:25 PM
You may find this chef's comments enlightening:
"The pointed tip on a chef's knife is not there as an arbitrary feature because historically people speared their meat and ate it off the points of dirks. It is there to make the knife more versatile than a blunted tipped knife would be. Furthermore, the sharp tip is absolutely essentially on two other long-bladed kitchen knives--the boning knife and the filet knife, both of which come equipped with extremely sharp, long, slender, flexible blades, the tips of which come to a very fine, definite point.
It is true that the sharp tips on chef's knives are not used in every cutting technique that a chef might use in his or her daily routine--the chef's knife is primarily used to cut with the long edge of the blade. One does very little cutting on vegetables using the tip, though, I do find it useful in mincing garlic and finely dicing onions. However, when trimming or boning some meats, I find the sharp tip to be not only useful in expanding the agility of the knife, but it can keep me from having to reach out for the boning knife, especially if I am working on a chicken breast. For me, that means one less knife to wash in the middle of preparing dinner.
But even if we were to decide collectively that the pointy tip is not necessary on a chef's knife, there is still the issue of a boning knives and filet knives to consider.
The doctors who wrote the article would probably be appalled to see a good chef or butcher at work with a boning knife; there are techniques where one holds the knife like a dagger, with the edge of the knife perpendicular to the wrist. One leads with the tip of the knife, and makes cutting motions which are dependant upon the long, pointed, flexible tip, drawing it along the meat in order to separate it from the bone. At times, the angle of the knife blade is very close to the chef's wrist--in fact, the motion for this sort of cutting is all in the wrist and the shoulder, and nimble manipulation is quite possible, in large part because of the design of the boning knife's blade."
Posted by: Ladi at June 10, 2005 10:26 PM
The point is useful. I have several knives of moderate lenghth with points.
When making long cuts the wrist motion draws the blade to the point, and the finishing cut may actually be made with the point.
For things like celery, I use the point to slice the length before I cut across.
It's also aesthetically pleasant, in terms of how the even reduction in weight adjusts the balance.
Steve, by the way, is right, the katana, and its kin, are primarily slicing weapons, though the use of the point was not shunned (as it was in Occidental swordplay until the rise of the sword).
Bruce, thanks for the carving tips. Let us know when you launch your show:
"Cooking Safe, the Schneier way"
"This Safe House"
Most German and French style knives are pointy because they need to be able to cut large items, such as a watermelon or a huge chunk of raw meat. These cuts require you to insert the blade in the middle and cut outwards.
I picked up a Japanese usuba knife (made by Masamoto, similar to this one: [web.archive.org] for a friend while in Tokyo a few weeks ago. It's predominantly a vegatable knife used for slicing, and oh-my-god is it sharp. It's squared off at the end and looks kinda cool. But it can still be just as deadly as a pointy knife... just because you can't be stabbed in the heart doesn't mean you can't lose your head.
If you can't see any reason why not to ban it, why is it ridiculous?
Erik: the idea is to stop people using the knife to stab people in a fit of rage in household abuse. The logic is that, although a mad slash with a blunt ended knife can cause serious damage, it's far easier to cause a lot more damage when there's a point on the end of the knife.
Cutting pineapple and stabbing the pieces with your knife to bring them to your mouth.
Holding bananas and marshmallows over the fire.
Checking whether a cake is done by stabbing it to see whether the consistency is right, without taking it out of the oven or getting your hand inside.
Not having to clean two knives.
Precisely targeting the centre of the pie.
Nice threadjack. If you want to argue, get your own blog. It's impolite to do it in someone else's entry.
I don't know of a use for long pointy knives in the kitchen. But they certainly work well for self-defense against another human.
If that human have a gun and is with 2 feet of you anyhow.
Just because you don't use it, doesn't mean it's not there for a reason. I use the pointy end of my 10" chef for stabbing vent holes in olive oil cans, making holes in steaks for insertion of seasoning agents, and coring tomatoes.
as an aside, it's probably statistically more dangerous to cycle through putting down a knife and picking up another to accomplish a task than using the same knife for both.
Posted by: mml at June 11, 2005 12:47 PM
I think most folks have already mentioned most of the uses for pointy blades, but as someone who cooks and freezes a lot, I'd just reiterate, "frozen food".
As an IT guy, I'd also note "delicate poking at components". I use a pointy knife (my Leatherman-alike) to do all sorts of things with hardware.
Never mind that it is entirely consistent, from this mind frame, to restrict ownership of bricks to those who build, or pipes to those who demonstrate "legitimate need", or some such.
Posted by: Snark at June 11, 2005 01:27 PM
Cool! I've always though that statistically, kitchen utensils are far more dangerous than firearms. And that's just like the fact that your home is most likely the most dangerous place you'll ever visit, and your family members the most dangerous persons.
And finally somebody agrees! Good luck Osama and the boys haven't yet figured this out, otherwise instead of WMD the Americans would have to look for kitchen knives, and there are a lot more of those, even in countries like Iran!
This is just silly. Why don't we ban every dangerous item in existance? We should ban pianos because they can be hoisted up and dropped on people, just like in cartoons and Jackie Chan movies!
We should ban phones because asshole movie stars can chuck them at helpless hotel clerks!
We should ban chainsaws because the poorly designed handles can chafe your skin and give you blisters and calluses with extensive use!
We should ban books because their pages are highly flammable when ripped out and crumpled up - one book can start a fire large enough to consume an average home!
We should ban hairspray because you can light a match in front of it and use it as a flamethrower, much more dangerous than any knife!
If we go around banning long pointy knives, than how the heck are we supposed to stab the jackasses that come up with these stupid ideas?!?? (just kidding!)
Cutting a lobster is definitely much easier with a long, pointy knife. You put the point in the lobster's mouth, and pivot it down to cut open the main body cavity.
Also, having worked in a kitchen, it's a high pressure job in which you need general purpose tools because you don't have time to keep track of, or switch between, 10 different specialty tools. What other single tool can you use to separate foods that are frozen together, de-stem a tomato (you need the point for that), cut strawberries, butterfly steaks, and cut open steaming hot packets of alfredo sauce (you need the point for that too)? The loss of a few seconds to pick up some specialized, safe tool may not seem like a big deal if you've never done that sort of work (in a high-volume kitchen), but believe me, it is. Experts at "top" kitchens probably wouldn't know about that because they cook dinner for 20 people a night, not 170 people an hour, as I did.
For normal people cooking at home, I can't think of a good reason to have pointy chef's knives, and I'll think getting something else next time I have to buy one (which will probably be never because I have a set of Henkel's knives...)
Posted by: rps at June 11, 2005 10:07 PM
Let's assume we ban pointy knives, and we're in a kitchen and I'm so mad at you that in a fit of rage, I'm going to... slash you with a square knife!
No? Hmm... how about...
Grab a BBQ fork (or normal meat fork) and stab you!
How about... grab a cast-iron skillet and bash your brains in!
Toss that pot of coffee at your face! Hot liquid! and broken glass! (if I still have those glass carafes)
The point is, removing pointy knives won't really prolong your life.
The knives sold by "Chef Tony" would appear to have a lot of pointy bits. (Some have two points!) And if I google "bread knife" I get a lot of pictures of knives with a pointy end.
Personally, I'll use a knife point to pick up some food item off of a cutting board which I don't want to handle by hand, when the knife at hand isn't broad enough to use as a spatula. It may not be necessary in the finest restaurants in Britain, but it's convenient enough in my kitchen.
Even if there were evidence that rounding the ends would reduce the incidence of spontaneous stabbings (and I'm not sure there is such evidence), why would we believe this wouldn't simply change the nature of the assault to one equally nefarious?
Posted by: Paul at June 11, 2005 11:43 PM
Maybe I'm dumb, but what good would it do to make great big knives have rounded tips? Would this prevent their use as a weapon? Are we assuming that people would never figure out how to slash instead of stab?
For whatever reason, I'm reminded of that "All in the Family episode where Gloria complains about murders using guns and Archie asks "Would it make you feel better if they were pushed out of windows?" Would we all be happier if we could trade stabbings for throat slittings?
As for the watermelon, I've recently switched to using a surplus USMC machete (e.g. [web.archive.org] for that purpose. Put a plastic cutting board underneath to protect the blade, then whack the watermelon in half, whack the halves in half again, and slice/rotate, slice/rotate until you have a tiny pyramidal piece left. The dog gets that one.
Melon to party tray in about 3 minutes. The best part is that the machete blade has so much slicing area and is so thick on the back compared with a kitchen knife it doesn't hurt your hand to push it down through the rind and you can slice while you push down. It's the perfectly-scaled knife for watermelon slicing and since it's built to hack through vegetation it's the right kind of steel for the job. I've used this one for over 15 years and it's like new.
Oh, and there's not much of a useful point on a machete since the back is straight. Somehow I don't think having everyone trading in their pointy paring knives for machetes would comfort the lunatics proposing this ban.
Re this: "French laws in the 17th century decreed that the tips of table and street knives be ground smooth," you might want to read up a little further. A quick Google search turns up the following history:
The French Cardinal de Richelieu introduced rounded knives in 1699 and mandated their use in the Court because he couldn't stand the sight of nobility picking their teeth with the point of their knife at the end of the meal. Thus, rounded knives became a symbol of status and privilege. As usual with the French, manners and etiquette, not security, were the driving factor.
Posted by: Mike Schiraldi at June 12, 2005 07:48 PM
"The US right to bear arms leads directly to _vastly_ more American gun deaths per year than there are in the whole of europe combined, which has over double the population."
Get real. Are you seriously suggesting that more Americans died from guns in the 20th Century than did Europeans? Given the gun slaughter of both world wars, Europe is ahead in gun-death statistics by a factor of several magnitudes.
Posted by: Jack Black at June 13, 2005 01:15 AM
Ah, but by your standards, the population of the US is only 164 million, because that's the average over the last century. So the gun deaths per head of population in the US is almost twice as high as those commie traitor gun control lobbyists claim.
Posted by: Anonymous at June 13, 2005 05:15 AM
Slighty off topic:
6 inches is all that is required to puncture the heart. Being from South Africa and having (some) experience with violent crime, I've found that the most deadly and innociously looking device is a sharpened bicycle spoke.
I haven't read the linked article, but I know from talking with trauma surgeons that the majority of knife wounds that result in death are from multiple knive stabbings resulting in vast amounts of blood loss. Slashing and one stab, generally doesn't result in death (in the majority). So saying, the street gangs in South Africa are known to keep the tip sharp to stab, but make the edge jagged and barbed to create tearing wounds when slashing and stabbing. This makes it much more difficult for someone to patch up and heal.
A small tip: If you get stabbed and the knife is not removed. Leave it in, it might hurt, but will reduce your chances of bleeding to death.
Posted by: Andrew at June 13, 2005 07:11 AM
Because it sometimes saves me the 30 seconds it would take to walk across the kitchen and grab the small pointy knife to nick something.
For example, I use a chef's knife to cut tomatoes and I use the tip to puncture the skin. A smaller knife would be easier, but switching knifes isn't worth it.
Posted by: Michael Chermside at June 13, 2005 07:43 AM
OK, I've actually had somebody try to stab me with a kitchen knife. This is how I know that I can take a knife away from a determined attacker with moderate skills and another entry in the list of Facts I Wish I Didn't Know(tm).
But it wasn't a 10" french chef's knife. Nor a boning knife, or even the wicked professional butcher's knife, blackened with use. The knife I took away was a 5" utility knife. I'd guess that most stabbing deaths would occur with knives in the 5-7" range unless the deaths are premeditated, in which case you killers would seek out something more theatrical.
That aside, I cook probably 2-3 meals a day (I cook breakfast while I prepare lunch, and I cook dinner). I use the pointed end of my french chef's knife for all kinds of different meat-related tasks and I use my granton-edge santoku for slicing vegetables. In my experience, the french chef's knife is better for cutting raw meat because the point can be used to remove tendons and gristle much more easily. Plus, the length and weight helps with meat. I don't think I'd want a 10- or 12-inch santoku.
Posted by: Adam at June 13, 2005 12:34 PM
"The long pointy knifes are more dangerous. The article tells how stabbing someone with a short pointy knife causes a "substantial but superficial" wound, while a long pointy one creates a wound that can penetrate to the inner organs, causing serious injury and death."
The article is simply wrong then.
Of course a long penetrating object has the capability to reach deeper, but that doesnt mean smaller knives dont.
"Substantial but superficial" is a crock. When something strikes tissue, the tissue compresses, its called flesh compression, this is true of both blunt force and penetrating injuries.
For a penetrating injury what happens is what was once six inches of meat, suddenly compresses under force to between three and four inches of meat. So, the proverbial "six inches of depth" to stab someone in the heart, can suddenly be accomplished with a great many paring knives.
Although exsanguination is probably the slowest route to death, compared to distrupting the CNS or destroying a vital component there-of, lets also not forget that the carotid arteries are not that deep in the neck, nor is the femoral that deep in the thigh, and either can be easily accessed with a wound of minimal depth.
Long pointy knives are a silly thing to make an issue out of, really... long, short, pointy, not pointy - doesnt matter in the end.
People are good at killing one another, and we're masters of improvisation and adaptation, if we dont have X, we'll find another way to get it done. We need to find ways to demotivate people from killing one another - taking away tools is a hardware solution to a software problem.
Posted by: M. Atwood at June 13, 2005 01:03 PM
I'm surprised that so few people have noted that removing the point doesn't make a knife any less of a weapon; it simply blunts an obvious attack. The edge of a knife is plenty capable of doing very nasty damage - and the longer pointy knives are unavailable, the more obvious it will be to the average person how to effectively attack with a blunted knife - so the measure is based on the assumption that people will not change their behavior in response to it - nearly always false.
As for usefulness in the kitchen, I got by for years with two knives - a good 8" knife and a good paring knife. It would be awkward and stupid to need to switch knives all the time when I can cook an entire meal with one knife.
Finally, the shorter knife is more difficult to wrest away from me - less leverage for the other guy, and no wide blade to catch hold of - so I'd rather use the paring knife for attacking. I'd prefer the large one only in cases where it might intimidate someone into leaving me alone .
Has anyone yet done anything about ceramic knives? As far as I know one could still get one of those through airport security without difficulty. You'd use the slashing, not stabbing, type of attack with those, because they are brittle.
Interesting theory, but what's the source?
I suppose that nobility still needed to pick their teeth, even if a pointy knife became unfashionable, and so they either reverted to a pointy stick or evolved to some other form of dental hygene, no? So I still find the story about the need for "safer" cutlerly more compelling, and somewhat in line with today's impression of what life was like centuries ago (when people were more adept with daggers, etc. as regular weapons)
In any case, thanks for adding a clue about how culture really determines the cutlerly shape/form, which is why I would argue that most people have large chef's knives in the kitchen simply due to their participation in the culture of modern home cooking, even if they always eat out or only make frozen food.
I think nobody mentioned the danger of accidentally hurting yourself with a pointy knife. This may not frequently result in deadly injuries but it is clearly not negligible. Of course it can happen with small knives too. In any case, it certainly makes sense to make knives by default non-pointy.
Posted by: piglet at June 14, 2005 01:11 PM
This stuff is insane. I can walk down the road with a steel pen, or walk onto an aircraft with a steel pen.
I have two black belts, and I can do damage with my bare hands. So I'm guessing that any 'bad' person with intent, or terrorist, will be able to inflict damage if not kill.
I think we should ban all pointy things ;)
Posted by: Anonymous at June 14, 2005 02:00 PM
For pointing at things!
Posted by: bub at June 14, 2005 06:53 PM
Totally off topic, but:
"... when the news reports a guy walks straight through US customs carrying "a homemade sword, a hatchet, a knife, brass knuckles and a chain saw stained with what appeared to be blood. U.S. customs agents confiscated the weapons and fingerprinted Despres. Then they let him into the United States."
After getting over the "how dumb can these people be" shock, I noticed something about Despres' photo: bulging eyes, emotional disorders, hmm... take another look at his neck. Isn't that a slight goitre?! This guy has a thyroid problem! I couldn't remember which way around it went (hyper or hypo?) so I asked Google, and it turns out that this guy is an absolute classic for Grave's disease (autoimmune hyperthyroidism):
"Patients with Graves' disease often have a goiter (visible enlargement of the thyroid gland), although as many as 10% do not. These patients may also have bulging eyes. Thyroid storm, a serious form of hyperthyroidism, may show up as sudden and acute symptoms, some of which mimic typical hyperthyroidism, as well as the addition of fever, substantial weakness, extreme restlessness, confusion, emotional swings or psychosis, and perhaps even coma."
From another site, another common symptom is sudden thinning of the hair. Hence the dopey coif. Oh, and it's relatively common in Canada.
So, not guilty by reason of temporary insanity, completely treatable. But sue his physician. And get a competent physician to him before he dies in his cell.
Posted by: Roger at June 14, 2005 07:34 PM
The self-satisfaction of resisting the latest nanny-state attempt to reduce me to infant status is reason enough to own long, pointy knives. I hardly ever cook at all, but I think I'll run out and buy a big pointy kitchen knife today, both to support the things-that-make-busybodies-nervous industry and also to have it handy if one of these losers shows up at my door.
Posted by: John at June 15, 2005 05:43 AM
"Oh, please. The US right to bear arms leads directly to _vastly_ more American gun deaths per year than there are in the whole of europe combined, which has over double the population."
I'm not sure. We in Switzerland normally have an aussult gun in every household, but homicide rates are ten times lower than in the USA.
Posted by: Seegras at June 15, 2005 08:28 AM
I heard a doctor on the radio speaking in support of the BMJ report, and his main concern seemed to be the frequency with which pointy kitchen knives are used as weapons of opportunity in domestic violence.
It didn't seem to have occurred to him that removing the weapon of choice might simply result in the same crime being committed with the weapon of second-choice.
Posted by: Andy at June 15, 2005 08:56 AM
I've cut myself accidentally with the sharp edge of a knife at least an order of magnitude more times than I've stabbed myself with the pointy end. So perhaps knives should be made without sharp edges. (Hmmm. . . there's something wrong with this reasoning somewhere.)
Posted by: Seth Breidbart at June 15, 2005 11:28 AM
I believe the original question has been reasonably answered but I wanted to try to offers a concise statement. As has been pointed out with larger items such a watermelon it is useful to first penetrate the item then use the blade to cut.
The essence of the issue is that a knife properly used cuts on a draw, not on direct pressure as a is used with a clever or other chopping instrument. The more length a knife has longer draw can be made, hence the length of carving knives.
A boning knife for instance is a pointy knife with a reasonably long blade. The intent here is to penetrate a cut of meat and then allow the knife to be used in a slicing (draw) motion to cut around a bone.
With a knife such as a bread knife, you are not expected to penetrate the bread with the knife before starting the draw cut.
So in short, the point allows penetration and the length allows drawing cuts. A general-purpose knife therefore has both qualities. In the article they asked several chefs (who typically use a wide collection of specialty knives) how often do they use a general-purpose knife. The sample set queried was biased against general-purpose knives.
Posted by: Will Coleman at June 15, 2005 11:36 AM
A British friend of mine used to be a policeman in Hong Kong. He told me that the most popular stabbing impliment there is the three sided file. It leaves a nasty (usually fatal) wound and is quite legal to carry.
Maybe the Gov. should just wrap us all in cotton wool and bubble wrap then seal us in separate containers and then we might live forever!
Posted by: P Massa at June 15, 2005 10:15 PM
A pointy knife is useful for traditional jack-o-lantern carving. I'm not sure if carving a pumpkin can be done with a blunt-ended knife.
Posted by: Mark Nockleby at June 17, 2005 05:00 PM
I'll bet a long pointy knife would be perfect for slicing into an icecream container protected by one of those Ben & Jerry's pint locks.
Posted by: G. Grant at June 18, 2005 04:25 PM
Buy Body Piercing Jewelry at [web.archive.org]
Tons of Options to Choose from!
all shapes of knife exsist because all manner of tasks do. i have handled and worked with knives for 35 years and i see a reason for every feature to every knife i have ever seen(bar art type fantasy crap). the point is (excuse the pun) no knife should be banned. knives don't people, people kill people. we should be looking at ourselves and the society we have created that makes us kill. if you take away the knive and leave the problem people will kill with the next best thing.
Posted by: reason at November 26, 2006 04:33 AM
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