Pizza Cutter's Aluminum Handle Corrodes

DN Staff

September 4, 2009

3 Min Read
Pizza Cutter's Aluminum Handle Corrodes

Engineer Chuck Martin  ruins his $20 pizza cutter. Is this a case of Made by Monkeys or Used by Monkeys?

Martin’s story:

“Several years back, I purchased an expensive pizza cutter made by Dexter Russell from Williams Sonoma. Though I don’t recall the exact price, I know it was in excess of $20. I remember the cashier making some comment that it was the most expensive pizza cutter she’d ever seen.

What possessed me to buy such a ridiculously pricey item?  Well, it has heft in the hand for one thing,  and I guess that particular quality in a product suggests to me that it is made right.  I also liked the fact that the stainless steel cutting blade (the wheel) is fastened to the cast aluminum handle with real hardware. The screw and Nylock nut combination is so much nicer than those cheesy pizza cutters out there that have a shoddy rivet or the like holding the blade to the handle. With this design, I told myself, I easily could replace the wheel if need be. Or, if it got too sloppy feeling, I could conceivably tighten it up a bit.

Though I don’t recall what was claimed on the package regarding dishwasher suitability, I have certainly found out in a messy way that it is not dishwasher friendly. After a few cycles, it took on this nasty oxidized finish. Anytime I use it, my hands are turned instantly black from the oxidation. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t even touch the handle with bare hands. I wrap a dishtowel around it when I am holding it to cut a pizza.

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Simmering with frustration each time I use it,  I recently took the unit back to a W-S store in the local mall, thinking they’d give me back my money back as a point of service. I was wrong. In fact, I had a not very pleasant customer service experience. When I pointed out that another one of their cutters clearly stated “dishwasher safe” on the label, the sales clerk got huffy with me, saying “You should NEVER put anything like this in the dishwasher.”

So who is at fault, really? Chuck (who is his defense, works in the plastics industry), or the maker of the pizza cutter? MIT Professor Ken Russell, Professor Emeritus of Metallurgy, weighs in:

“In days of yore when high schools still taught chemistry, students learned about the classes of metals. The noble metals, such as gold do not react with much of anything. The base metals like copper react with acids, notably hydrochloric. But there is a subset of base metals, including aluminum that are called amphoteric. They react with acids and alkalis. Dishwasher detergent is very alkaline so that it cuts grease. I suspect that it is more alkaline than my dear mother’s lye soap, which was pretty rough stuff. She mostly used it for machine-washing my father’s incredibly greasy denim overalls.

Anyone with a bit of sense should know better than to put aluminum articles into a dishwasher. But, what about the people who manufactured the aluminum-handled cutter? They had to know that Americans throw everything into the dishwasher.

The corroded handle is clearly a case of foreseeable misuse, as it would have been impractical to print a legible warning on the pizza cutter. [Editor’s note: The manufacturer’s name is clearly stamped on the handle.] If I were attributing the blame in this case, I would make it about 90-10 with the user on the small end.”

What do you think? Operator error or bad design??

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