Whether you are a professional chef or a home cook, your kitchen knives are probably the most used and most important tools in your kitchen.
With so many different types of knives out there this ultimate kitchen knife guide will provide you with all the insights, tips and tricks and advice on how to put together, use and care for your knife collection to bring your favourite recipes to life.
When it comes to choosing kitchen knives, most kitchen knives fall into two categories: Japanese or Western kitchen knives. As each type of knife serves different needs there is not one fits all answer to the question which knives you need. This is because each cook has different needs, preferences and habits which also translate into different knife needs. With this guide you will learn everything from the different types of knives which exist, how to sharpen and care for your knives, to different cutting techniques and much more.
Table of Content
- The difference between Japanese knives & Western knives
- How are Japanese knives made
- How to sharpen your knife using a whetstone
- Sharpening whetstone grits explained
- How to use a Pull Through Sharpener
- Different types of kitchen knives
- Different types of Japanese Kitchen Knives
- Different steel types used for Japanese knives
- Single Vs Double bevel knives
- The Rockwell hardness
- The Anatomy of a kitchen knife
- Different materials used for kitchen knife handles
- How to hold a knife & cutting techniques
- How to clean and store your knives
1. THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN JAPANESE AND WESTERN KNIVES
Japanese and Western style kitchen knives have distinct differences in terms of design, material, and usage. Japanese knives are known for their sharpness and precision, while Western knives are known for their robustness. As Western knives are made to cut through bones they usually use softer steel to prevent the blade from chipping. Japanese knives are made of harder steel, so they stay sharp longer. While both types of knives can be used for a variety of tasks, they are best suited for different types of foods and cutting styles. It's all about personal preference, and what is comfortable for the user. Read a detailed explanation of the difference between Japanese and Western knives here.
2. HOW ARE JAPANESE KNIVES MADE
The roots of Japanese craftsmanship and the art of Japanese knife making originates from the techniques used to craft Samurai swords Kata-na in Japanese dating back to the 14th century.
The first step in the process of making a Japanese knife is selecting the right materials. Once the materials have been selected, the blades are forged. After the blades have been forged, they are ground and polished. Once the blade has been ground and polished, it is time for the hardening process. After the hardening process, the blade is tempered. The final step in the process is sharpening and honing the blade.
The process of making a Japanese knife is a complex and time-consuming process that requires skill, precision, and attention to detail. Read a full explanation of each of these steps in our detailed article on how Japanese knives are made here.
3. HOW TO SHARPEN YOUR KNIFE USING A WHETSTONE
Sharpening a kitchen knife can seem intimidating at first, but it's actually a simple process that anyone can learn with a little practice.
Before you begin sharpening, you'll need to soak your whetstone in water for at least 10 minutes. For Japanese knives the correct sharpening angle is 10 - 15 degrees on one single side. Western style knives should be sharpened with a 17 - 20 degree angle. To achieve this angle, hold the knife with the blade facing down, and rest the spine (the top of the blade) on the whetstone. The blade should be resting on the stone at a 10-15 or 17-20-degree angle for Japanese and for Western style knives respectively. Sharpen the blade. Using a back and forth motion, sharpen the blade by moving it across the whetstone. Flip the knife and repeat. Once you've sharpened one side of the blade, flip the knife over and repeat the process on the other side. After you have finished sharpening your knife make sure to completely dry off the blade to prevent rust from occurring. These are the basic steps of sharpening a kitchen knife using a whetstone. For a more detailed and thorough explanation read our full post on how to sharpen your kitchen knife using a whetstone here.
4. SHARPENING WHETSTONE GRITS EXPLAINED
The grit of a whetstone determines how aggressively it will sharpen the blade, with higher grit stones being less abrasive and lower grit stones being more abrasive.
- Coarse grit stones, typically in the range of 80-200 grit, are used for heavily damaged or very dull blades.
- Medium grit stones, typically in the range of 400-800 grit, are used for general sharpening and refining the edge of a blade.
- Fine grit stones, typically in the range of 1000-3000 grit, are used for polishing and refining the edge of a blade.
- Ultra-fine grit stones, typically in the range of 8000-12000 grit, are used for polishing and finishing the edge of a blade.
These are the different grits which exist. For a more detailed explanation on each of these grits and how to best use them read our full post on sharpening whetstone grits here.
5. HOW TO USE A PULL THROUGH SHARPENER
Select the appropriate sharpening slot. A slot labeled "fine" is typically used for sharpening kitchen knives without removing much of the blade, while a slot labeled "coarse" is used for serrated or heavily damaged blades. Pull the knife through the sharpener, using a back and forth motion. Make sure to apply even pressure as you go, and pay attention to the blade's edge. You should aim to sharpen the entire length of the blade, including the tip.
These are the basic steps for using a pull through sharpener. For a detailed and more thorough explanation read our full post on how to use a pull through sharpener to sharpen your kitchen knives here.
6. DIFFERENT TYPES OF KITCHEN KNIVES
Here's a rundown of some of the most common types of kitchen knives:
- Chef’s Knife
- Paring Knife
- Utility Knife
- Santoku Knife
- Bread Knife
- Fillet Knife
- Boning knife
- Steak knife
By understanding the different types of kitchen knives and how they're used, you'll be better equipped to tackle any cooking task. Read a detailed description of each of these knives and their usage in our full post on different types of kitchen knives here.
7. DIFFERENT TYPES OF JAPANESE KITCHEN KNIVES
Here are some of the most common types of Japanese kitchen knives:
- Gyuto Knife
- Santoku Knife
- Nakiri Knife
- Usaba Knife
- Deba Knife
- Yanagiba Knife
- Petty Knife
Each knife has its own specific use case. Read a detailed description of each of these knives and their usage in our full post on different types of Japanese kitchen knives here.
8. DIFFERENT STEEL TYPES USED FOR JAPANESE KNIVES
Japanese kitchen knives are known for their sharpness and durability, and a big part of this is due to the types of steel used to make the blades. On a basic level knife blades are made of of the elements carbon and iron. The more carbon the harder the blade. Next to carbon and iron there are other elements which are added to improve the performance of the knife. Below are some elements which are frequently added to Japanese knives.
- Cobalt (Co)
- Molybdenum (Mo)
- Nickel (Ni)
- Vanadium (V)
Here are some of the most common types of steel used in Japanese kitchen knives:
- Carbon steel
- Stainless Steel
- High carbon stainless steel
Each type of steel has its own unique properties and characteristics, and the best one for you will depend on your needs and preferences. Read a detailed explanation of each of the different types of steel and their benefits in our full post on different steel types used for Japanese knives.
9. SINGLE VS DOUBLE BEVEL KNIVES
Japanese kitchen knives are known for their sharp edges, high-quality steel, and unique designs. These knives are often divided into two categories: single bevel and double bevel. Here is a brief overview of the differences between the two types of Japanese kitchen knives:
Single bevel knives: Single bevel knives, also known as "chisel edge" or "asymmetrical" knives, have a sharp edge on only one side of the blade. These knives are typically used for precise, detailed cutting and slicing tasks, such as filleting fish or cutting raw ingredients into thin slices. Single bevel knives are also popular for their ability to produce clean, straight cuts.
Double bevel knives: Double bevel knives, also known as "symmetrical" or "Western-style" knives, have a sharp edge on both sides of the blade. These knives are more versatile and can be used for a wide range of cutting tasks, including chopping, slicing, and dicing. Double bevel knives are also easier to sharpen and maintain than single bevel knives, as they have a more traditional edge geometry.
Whether you choose a single bevel or double bevel Japanese kitchen knife, it's important to select a blade that meets your specific needs and is comfortable for you to use. With proper care and maintenance, these knives can be a valuable addition to any home kitchen.
10. THE ROCKWELL HARDNESS
The Rockwell hardness scale is a standardized scale used to measure the hardness of materials. A higher Rockwell number indicates a harder blade that will hold its edge longer. However, a harder blade may also be more brittle and prone to chipping or breaking. On the other hand, a softer blade may be more flexible and resistant to chipping, but it will need to be sharpened more frequently.
- RHC 52 - 56: soft blade, good for cutting through harder materials such as bones
- RHC 57 - 62: medium hard blade, good for wide range of tasks
- RHC 63 - 66: Hard blade, good for tasks that require a sharp edge, such as filleting fish or slicing raw meats.
For a detailed explanation on the Rockwell hardness and things to consider when choosing your knife read our full post on the Rockwell Hardness here.
11. THE ANATOMY OF A KITCHEN KNIFE
A kitchen knife is a versatile tool that consists of several different parts, each with its own specific function. Here's a breakdown of the different parts of a kitchen knife:
Blade: The blade is the main cutting edge of the knife. It's typically made of steel and can be sharpened to a fine edge.
Point: The point is the sharp tip of the blade. It's used for piercing and making precise cuts.
Edge: The edge is the sharpened part of the blade that does the cutting. It's typically beveled on both sides to create a V-shaped cross-section.
Spine: The spine is the top of the blade. It's the part of the knife that's opposite the edge.
Heel: The heel is the back of the blade near the handle. It's used for chopping and cutting through tough ingredients.
Bolster: The bolster is the thick part of the blade near the handle. It's used to balance the knife and protect the user's hand from the edge.
Tang: The tang is the part of the blade that extends into the handle. It provides balance and stability to the knife.
Handle: The handle is the part of the knife that's used to grip and control the blade. It can be made of a variety of materials, including wood, plastic, and metal.
12. DIFFERENT MATERIALS USED FOR KITCHEN KNIFE HANDLESThe handle of a kitchen knife is an important part of the tool, as it provides a comfortable and secure grip while you're using it. Here are some of the most common types of kitchen knife handles:
- Wooden handles
- Metal handles
- Composite handles
- Plastic handles
Ultimately, the type of kitchen knife handle you choose will depend on your personal preferences and the needs of your kitchen. For a detailed guide on each of the handle materials and their benefits read our full post on different materials used for kitchen knife handles here.
13. HOW TO HOLD A KNIFE & CUTTING TECHNIQUES
Holding a kitchen knife properly and using the right cutting techniques can greatly improve your efficiency and safety in the kitchen. The most common and effective way to hold a kitchen knife is the "pinch grip."
Different cutting techniques:
For a more detailed explanation of the pinch grip and the cutting techniques mentioned above read our full post on how to hold a knife and cutting techniques here.
14. HOW TO CLEAN AND STORE YOUR KNIVES
Proper cleaning and storage of your kitchen knives is essential to keep them in good condition and to ensure your safety in the kitchen. Here are some tips on how to clean and store your kitchen knives:
- Use hot water and soap
- Dry your knives thoroughly
- Use a knife block or magnetic strip
- Store your knives in a drawer
- Avoid storing your knives in the sink
Read a more detailed guide on how to clean and store your knives in our full post here.