Liberty Tabletop Review: We bought cutlery

Review is not paid, we get no bonuses, Liberty Tabletop doesn’t know we exist.

As we noted before, we had been using the same set of cheap silverware since we were in graduate school.  One day while having my spoon bend eating ice cream out of a pint, I decided I had had enough.  I am middle-aged, I told myself.  We are professionals with a healthy retirement account, I said.  Even if DH is going to be taking some time off, we can still afford to get grown-up silverware.  (And to be perfectly honest, getting grown-up silverware has been in the back of my mind since we visited the in-laws last Christmas and I marveled at the heft of their cutlery.)

It turns out that buying fancy new cutlery has become more difficult in the past few years.  Oneida and Lenox have moved their operations overseas and it is clear from looking at reviews (even on Oneida’s own webpage) that quality control has slipped considerably in the past few years.  Old sets are still going strong, but new sets are not always what they claim to be– complaints about rusting and magnetism show up with unnerving frequency on recent reviews for pretty much all silverware manufactured in Vietnam, Indonesia, or China.  Mind you, not all modern sets are bad– it seems to be a problem with quality control, not average quality.  Basically, manufacturers are not paying attention so you might get a dud set made with worse quality steel than advertised.  Or, according to one complaint, slightly different patterns across the set when half the set is made in Vietnam and the other half in Indonesia.  Prices for 18/10 silverware are a lot lower now than I remember them being as well, so it seems like in equilibrium the market is now willing to take its chances.  We live in a disposable culture.

What makes quality in stainless steel silverware?  Basically you want steel that is 18/10.  Our original set was 18/0.  18/10 steel won’t rust and it isn’t magnetic (maybe… see below).  And you want a pattern you like and a nice heft.  Serrated knives will be an exception– the blades cannot be 18/10 and still do a decent job of cutting, but the handles should still be 18/10 if they’re made in two pieces.

So what are your options?  Ikea seemed to have pretty reasonable reviews but we weren’t that crazy about their limited style choices when we bought a basic set for four for use last year in Paradise (we left them in Paradise).  Henkels also seemed to be getting pretty consistently good reviews, though people complained about the cutlery being too big which is our main problem with Ikea flatware.  So… we kept looking and noticed that the old Oneida plant in the US now houses the US’s only manufacturer of flatware, Liberty Tabletop.  They seemed to have good reviews and they let you pay $8 to test out 3 different designs (or $16 for 6 different) before you commit, and they also had one of my favorite designs (the Martha Washington with the little flowers– my other favorite is the Japanese star design which seems to only be available used on ebay) so we thought we’d give it a whirl.

We tried out 3 of their designs, the Martha Washington, the Champlin, and the Sheffield.  They sent a full-sized Martha Washington and salad forks for the other two designs.  We thought the Sheffield was a bit gaudy, liked the Champlin more than we’d thought and the Martha Washington not quite as much– the design is not quite as crisp as in their picture.  But after some discussion, we decided this was our best bet and ordered a 65 piece set for $359 (and a 10% discount because they frequently run 10% discounts if you look for a code… right now it is EASTER10) as well as four long-necked iced tea spoons (~$35).

The flower on the base is not completely consistent across all pieces– some are more well-defined than others, I assume because that part is hardest to stamp.  But that’s only something a person notices if they’re specifically looking for it.  The rest of each piece seems perfect.  They’ve got a nice heft, ice cream no longer requires straightening out a spoon after, they stack nicely in the drawer which my OCD loves, and they have yet to rust in the dishwasher.

Look, spoons!

We were pretty happy with our purchase.  Then we decided to do the “magnet test” that liberty tabletop (and many other pages not trying to sell things recommend) on their website.

All the forks passed with flying colors (unlike our old forks which would fly to the magnet).  As would be predicted, the knife blades were magnetic but the handles were not.  The slotted spoon that came with the set also had no magnetic draw.  But all of the other spoons were magnetic, although less so than our original set, with the bowls more attracted than the handles.  But the spoon handles could still be lifted with a magnet.

That there is the magnet lifting the handle.

The power of magnetism!

So we wrote to the company.

DH wrote:

I received the order and am very pleased about the design, appearance, and heft of the flatware.

Unfortunately, the teaspoons (12), iced tea spoons (4), sugar spoon (1), and serving spoon (1) are all significantly magnetic.

According to your website: “If you can lift the spoon or fork with a magnet then it is likely 18-0 or some lower grade of stainless steel.”  http://libertytabletop.com/18-10-stainless-steel/

Using a magnet, I can lift all of the items that I listed above.

The response:

Thank you for your purchase of our Made in the USA flatware.

All of our flatware is made from 18/10 stainless steel, with the exception of the knife blades.

When you cold work stainless steel, such as we do to raise the bowl of the spoons, it will become slightly magnetic.  Of course “slightly” would depend on the power of the magnet that you are using.  If you use the magnet on the rest of the flatware, or the handles of the spoons, you should find them to be non-magnetic.  Please let me know if this is not the case.

But the magnet does work on the handles of the spoons (DH sent the pictures you see above as proof):

Previously I had been testing out the bowls on the spoons, so I went back and tested their handles instead.  I can lift them with a rare earth magnet to an angle of about 45 degrees before they fall.

A standard fridge magnet will not lift them, but is attracted to them from handle to bowl.

In comparison, the slotted serving spoon does not attract the rare earth magnet.

Another response:

The more work hardening, the more magnetic.  Therefore, the lowest part in the spoon bowl will be magnetic. With slotted spoons, that  portion of the bowl is cut out, so you won’t see the same reaction to a magnet

To sum:

So based on the manufacturing/shaping process, spots of 18/10 can become magnetic.

The bowls of the spoons in my set are the most magnetic, but other areas are also magnetic.

Is it typical that a standard fridge magnet is attracted to the handles of the spoons in my set?…as long as the attraction is not strong enough to lift the spoon up by the handle?

and Fin:

That is not atypical for work hardened 18/10.

DH’s brother, who is a mechanical engineer who works on engines says that work hardening does cause magnetism (which is a problem for them– they have to demagnetize things in order to get rid of scrapes and fillings of metal when they clean a newly manufactured engine), and it seems more reasonable that the magnetism from work hardening the bowls has made the handles magnetic too than that Liberty Tabletop only used impure steel for their spoons and not their other cutlery.

So should you trust Liberty Tabletop?  I don’t know.  If we hadn’t done this check on our spoon handles, I’d be feeling perfectly happy.  But on their website they have scary blurbs about how magnetic handles can mean dangerous impurities introduced from using recycled steel (which they say they don’t use)… if I hadn’t read those blurbs, I would also be feeling more sanguine about having magnetic handles on my spoons.  If the company itself is the main cause of the paranoia, it seems like something’s a bit off.  And without that worry, our new silverware does “spark joy” during regular use or all neatly stacked in our silverware drawer.

What do you think?

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18 Responses to “Liberty Tabletop Review: We bought cutlery”

  1. becca Says:

    Reminds me of some of the advertising I’ve seen to sell filters or water softeners.
    The vast majority of people will not check.
    If silverware were silver, I might care if it were silver, though mostly if I thought silver would be valuable during the zombie apocalypse. Full disclosure- I have never bought jewelry that was valuable due to the rareness of its contents. I appreciate other people make purchases where the authenticity of metals actually matters.

    I view flatware as a functional item, and cannot wrap my brain around caring here. Even if you’d paid three times as much as you did, and even if it lasts only 10 years instead of 30 from optimal quality, the per use cost of these items is low. If they are pleasant to use instead of annoying, it is money well spent. Unless you care a whole lot about flatware, even if The Worst should befall you and you are forced to change flatware in 10 years when your resources feel more pinched and you are consuming at a lower level and have to get Really Cheap Flatware, the memory of your inlaws Ideal Flatware will have faded and you may, perhaps, adjust within 6 months and wonder why you Ever Cared.

    Having the Life Experience of cleaning a lifetime accumulation’s of baby boomers, I would say almost nothing that can last over 30 years matters anyway. Sentimental things, like old Bibles with handwritten notes in them, aside.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Well, the worst that could happen is that we’re poisoning our children with say dangerous impurities from recycled steel.

    • Rosa Says:

      I really hate when spoons bend in ice cream. And I like smaller-bowled spoons & short, wide forks. So I generally pick up silver plate spoons & forks when I see them and like them – I often sort through the bin of silverware at the thrift store. But I don’t care at ALL about matching, so that’s fine for me. If I cared about matching (or if I cared $300 worth for neat stacking – I have to admit that selling point is REALLY alluring) I’d totally go looking for high-quality flatware. As it is I’m pretty sure all our “good” spoons – the ones I enjoy using – are well over 30 years old.

  2. Debbie M Says:

    Nice review. I love your writing.

    Best of luck on the impure steel. I wonder if there’s a way for you to check for the scary impurities directly. Or somehow neutralize them chemically. I wonder if all the spoons in your pattern are like that or if you could still negotiate for an exchange for better ones. They sound kind of shifty, like all the spoons are probably the same.

    Too bad it’s the spoons–the best silverware for kids! Do you think your old silverware also had impurities?

    About 20 years ago I switched from my cheap (and pretty and slightly rusty) set of silverware to a hand-me-down set from my sister that was more plain and boring but that stacks (except for the knives). I was shocked at how neat you could keep a silverware drawer. And now I don’t even remember what a normal silverware drawer looks like. So I am also a fan of stackability.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      It’s *probably* not impure. It’s probably just that they hard worked the bowls and the magnetic properties spread to the stems.

      Who knows about our old silverware. We did get it several years before the “everything from China has lead” scandals. So that’s hopeful?

  3. chacha1 Says:

    Hmm that was all very interesting. I personally would have less concern over trace amounts of lead or mercury in recycled stainless steel than over the 10% of nickel – given that I am subject to contact dermatitis from nickel. BUT in 51 years of eating with stainless-steel flatware, I have never had a dermatitis reaction from it. In fact, I’ve only had reactions where nickel was combined with e.g. sweat (the back of a watch face) or in earring posts (main reason why I stopped wearing pierced earrings after about a year). My understanding, which may be faulty because I am not a toxins scientist, is that lead and mercury have to be ingested or breathed-in to be toxic. If they are bound in heavily-processed alloys of other metals … ? So in view of all that, this is not something I would lose sleep over. Magnetism doesn’t worry me at all, I get so much radiation on a daily basis that *I* am probably magnetic.

    And I must say, I LOVE their “Calavera” pattern. Our vintage Japanese flatware may not be with us much longer. :-)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      It’s not the magnetism that’s problematic so much of the idea that it signals that all is not necessarily right with the cutlery. So magnetism should be expected in 18/0, but when it’s in 18/10, one wonders why.

      The Calavera pattern is pretty cool, and about half the price of what we paid for ours. My worry with the more interesting patterns is that they will be harder to replace 10-30 years down the line if we start missing pieces (a perpetual problem with kids).

      • chacha1 Says:

        LOL yeah we don’t have that problem. Our vintage flatware came with more than a dozen (each) extra forks and spoons, so somebody else had that thought somewhere along the way!

      • Rosa Says:

        the interesting patterns are easier to retrieve from potlucks & stuff, though. Just not from the yard/sandbox.

  4. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    Lovely spoons!

    I don’t love that they didn’t share ALL the relevant possibilities and details in their first email upfront but instead unfolded it across multiple exchanges. It may simply be normal but that usually makes me wonder if they’re prevaricating a bit and / or don’t know what they’re talking about just enough so that they’re misinforming you on the salient points which is – do you need to worry about impurity (and therefore poisoning the kids) or not? But maybe I’m just reading that all wrong because I’m tired. Either way I hope the magnetism is entirely due to the process and not the materials.

  5. gasstationwithoutpumps Says:

    I did a little on-line research and found that it is quite common for 304 or 316 steel (the nomenclature more commonly used for 18/10 steel in the discussions I looked at, being the SAE grades) to become somewhat magnetic when cold-worked, due to changes in the crystal structure, with 304 steel somewhat more likely to become magnetic than 316 steel (316 adds molybdenum to the alloy, which increases corrosion resistance). The partial change in crystal structure does not affect the steel’s corrosion resistance.

    Magnetic testing is not recommended for determining the corrosion resistance of stainless steels, as it can be highly misleading. I think that the level of magnetism you are seeing is consistent with cold working an 18/10 steel.

    It is likely that you have slightly different grades of steel in the spoons than in the other pieces, as the amount of cold working should be similar in all the pieces. Whether this will affect corrosion may not be known for a decade or so, unless you sacrifice some pieces to do somewhat destructive testing.

  6. Debbie M Says:

    In other news, y’all will be so proud of me. I have made six political calls this week, five of which went through.

    And for one of the calls, I made up my own issue instead of borrowing someone else’s–I asked my Senators not to go nuclear if Gorsuch was filibustered because something that drastic is appropriate only for a truly excellent candidate and if the filibuster is unreasonable, neither of which would be the case, so they should get Trump to choose a person who could get approved the regular way.

    On one of the calls, I actually brought up two issues. Efficiency! And at any given time, there are usually plenty of issues, so I may use this strategy again.

    For two of the calls, I had to leave messages, and for the other three, the person just listened and said they would pass on the message. I didn’t get any hassle for bringing up two issues in one call by the live person who answered. So it was all relatively painless.

    I’m pretty sure I would not be doing this without the constant support of you, #2, and your readers. So thank you, and please pat yourselves on the back!

    Disclaimer: all three of my Congress people are extremist right-wing people who are not generally undecided on contentious issues. But I am still making them add tally marks where they don’t want them.

  7. Funny about Money Says:

    Now THIS is an interesting post. Thank you.

    I also found, when I wanted to buy some better (I imagined) stainless flatware, that there is no “better” anymore. To shorten a long story, the best I was able to find surfaced at Williams-Sonoma(!) — this was after trips to Macy’s and Nieman’s and Sur la Table and Pottery Barn and Crate & Barrel and many other waypoints. The design was nice, exactly what I wanted. The heft was nice, too. There was just one problem: the fork tines are so dull you can NOT spear a piece of lettuce. To eat a salad, you either have to scoop up a bite with the fork, using it like a spoon, or you have to eat the d**n salad with your fingers.

    After my house guest left, I went back to using the Christofle knock-off I’d bought years before from Chef’s Catalogue. It seemed like junk then; today, it seems pretty nice.

    P.S. WHY WILL YOUR WEBSITE NOT LET ME POST a comment unless I use defunct WordPress site? Try to enter a current address and website and you get a message saying “Comment could not be posted.” Plain & Simple Press is no longer hosted on WordPress.com. It does exist. If I’m going to be forced to post as something other than Funny about Money (which hasn’t been hosted on WP.com for a good ten years), I think I should be allowed to post at a site that does exist. Will you please ask WP.com’s customer disservice why this is?


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