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How to choose a knife

When we talk to people about the right knife for them, we tend to ask a few key questions to choose the right shape, maintenance profile and feel of the knife. These are they key areas to think about:

  • What are you going to use it for and how many knives is right for you?
  • How do you want it to feel in the hand (handle shape, weight etc)?
  • Do you want a knife you don't need to worry about, or are you OK with a little extra maintenance for extra performance?

So let's look at each of these a little more.

What are you going to use if for and how many knives is right for you?

There is generally little benefit in a big set of 6 or more knives as there will be some you use alot, and some you only use because they are there. It's always best to pick the knives you will use, and spread the money across those allowing for a smaller number of better quality knives.

The most versatile knife shape is the Gyuto. It's a superb all-rounder and closely twinned with what we may know as the common 'chef's knife'. If you are getting one knife to use every day, this could be a great place to focus.

You should then carefully select the knives that best support your main one. If you like chopping veg in an up and down motion, check out a Nakiri. If you like smaller knives for smaller tasks, check out a petty. If you like a long slicing or carving knife, checkout a Sujihiki. 

We have a guide that explains the uses of each knife shape which you can find here. Take a look at this if you are after something specific or want to know more about the different uses.

How do you want it to feel in the hand?

Japanese knives can feel quite different from Western knives, such as heavier German knives, both in terms of weight, balance and handle shape. 

Japanese knives are typically made thinner so are lighter overall. This helps achieve a much sharper edge as they are sharpened at around 12 to 16 degrees rather then around 20 for a thicker wester knife. Aside from the performance, you may wish to look at the blade width to get an idea of how the weight of the blade will feel

Handles come in 2 key categories, the western style shaped handle we'll all know, or a more traditional Japanese 'Wa' handle. A Japanese handle is lighter than a western handle as it has less metal inside, so the blade can feel heavier on balance and move the balance point of the knife slightly further down the blade. If you like a heavy handle, go western.

Do you want a knife you don't need to worry about, or are you OK with a little extra maintenance for extra performance?

It's a good idea to consider the type of steel when you buy a knife, as the level of maintenance to keep your knife in top order can differ. Check out our 'Steel Types' guide for more information, but in short;

 

You have carbon and stainless steels which differ as follows:

Stainless; these steels are easy to maintain as they will not rust. They are typically great at getting and staying sharp, but don't retain their sharpness as long as a comparative carbon steel will, so you'll need to sharpen them a little more often. 

Carbon; these steels offer slightly better edge retention, so they will stay sharper for longer than stainless, and will be easier to sharpen when you do. On balance carbon steels are reactive to moisture so you should keep them clean and dry straight after use to avoid any surface corrosion. This can usually be cleaned up if it does occur, but can be alarming if you weren't expecting it.

If you don't like the idea of cleaning and drying your knife when you finish food prep but prefer to clean up after eating, maybe stick with stainless, but if you're OK with a quick wipe down before you sit down, then consider the benefits of carbon.