Kitchen knives are essential tools for any home or pro chef, but all knives are not equal. Different styles from around the world offer different advantages and disadvantages in terms of their shape, design, material and more. In this page, we will explore different styles of kitchen knives and look at the anatomy of western-style kitchen knives as compared to those found in Japan. We will compare designs, materials used and other elements so cooks can make an informed choice on which style of knife they should use. So whether you're just starting out or have been cooking for years, read on to learn what makes each knife unique.
German Double-Bevel With Full-Bolster
German Double-Bevel With Half-Bolster
German Double-Bevel With No Bolster
Unibody Hollow Handle
Some kitchen knife designs are integral, meaning the whole shape of the knife is made of the same piece of metal. Unibody designs do not have a tang at all, and feature a hollow handle.
Japanese Double Bevel With Western Handle (Only Bolster)
Japanese Double Bevel With Wa Handle
Japanese Single Bevel With Wa Handle
Knife designs vary within brand, maker, or country of origin. Western handles customarily include a Bolster, and their design will change with the maker’s prerogative or cultural predispositions. Traditional Japanese Wa-Handles (Hidden Tang) do not include a bolster; they typically have a Ferrule (Collar) commonly made from wood or bone. Bolsters are steel and can be integral or forge-welded. They have a taper towards the blade, which can be blunt or gradual. They are located where the handle meets the blade, helping serve as a connecting point. Generally, their purpose is to add weight and balance at the fulcrum point. Some Bolsters will drop down from the handle towards the heel of the blade, becoming a finger guard. They can simply follow the profile of the handle, offering balance to the knife. It’s a matter of preference for the user on what type of handle is best for their work.
A full-Bolster is integral, meaning it is forged from the same piece of steel that the knife is made of. Its design drops from the handle to the heel, creating a finger guard. The Full-Bolster also offers strength which is beneficial when the knife may be used with a heavy hand or used on hard food products. This extra strength comes at a cost since the finger- guard is thicker than the blade and cutting edge. It inhibits the ability to sharpen the cutting edge at the heel properly. It’s recommended to carefully remove a micro amount of steel from the bottom of the guard to match the amount of steel removed when sharpening. Otherwise, the blade will form a dip in the cutting edge, and the knife will not perform as intended.
Half-Bolster, Semi-Bolster, Demi-Bolster
A Half-Bolster is also integral, meaning it is forged from the same piece of steel that the knife is made of. Its design drops down from the handle only halfway and allows for strength in the blade but enables full access to the corner of the heel when sharpening and cutting.
A knife with a bolster that does not drop down keeps the profile or silhouette of the handle. It can be either forgewelded onto the blade from separate pieces or integral. This design offers moderate weight and enables full access to the corner of the heel when sharpening.
A common design for western handles is to exclude a Bolster altogether. In the past, knives without a bolster were considered to be ‘cheap.’ But, with innovations and the progression of materials and manufacturing processes, high-quality knives are often produced without a bolster, especially among small independent knife-makers who often use exotic woods, which are commonly a heavier material, not requiring the added weight. A knife without a bolster also enables full access to the corner of the heel when sharpening & cutting.
A knife’s tang is the portion of the blade that extends into the handle. There are different types of tangs. Different cultures have produced different styles. Tangs can be important in production costs, balance, weight, and feel.
Full Tang designs are classically found in German and Western knives. Although today you will see Western handles on Japanese knives. The tang extends fully to the butt of the knife and matches the silhouette of the handle. You can see the tang in between the handle materials. Metal pins help affix the handle material to the tang. More metal means more weight, especially if the design includes a metal bolster.
Half Tang designs will also be found in Western handle designs. The tang stops at the halfway point, not fully to the butt, and should be affixed with metal pins. You will find this design feature in lower-priced knives. Ultimately, its construction is not as strong as that of a full tang.
Hidden Tang designs are common in traditional Japanese designs. The tang is tapered and extends into the handle, stopping shy of the butt. It’s in the name; the tang is fully hidden from view. A hidden tang handle overall makes the knife lighter weight.
No Tang Unibody - Hollow Handle
A Hollow Handle does not have a tang. It is formed from steel then welded to the blade. Hollow Handles can incorporate a bolster which is typically hollow as well. Higher quality designs such as Global, produced by Yoshikin, have sand inside the handle to achieve good balance.
Handles - An Overview
A knife’s handle is just as important as the blade. It’s what connects the user to the tool. Without a handle, a knife would be useless. A well- crafted, comfortable, and thoughtful design matters as much as the blade itself. Handles are attached to the blade’s tang in different fashions. Either a hidden tang, full tang, or half tang. A wide variety of materials for the handle can be used, ranging from natural wood, stabilized wood, micarta, resin, bone & antler, and metal.
Once again, there are variables or trade-offs. Certain materials may be visually appealing but may require some amount of maintenance. Trust your gut and intuition with how the handle feels in your hand. Get a feel for the overall balance and character of the knife when choosing it. Understand that you may change your grip depending on what you are cutting. Avoid ergonomic handles that are exaggerated, as they tend to force you to hold the knife in one particular manner, not allowing for versatility. This purchase will be a tool that you will want to love holding, using, and admiring for years to come.
Handle materials will play a part in grip, comfort, balance, and appearance. Wood just might be the oldest material used for knife handles. Nowadays, wood can be polymer or resin-stabilized, offering good wear resistance and durability. Other natural products are used, such as bone and horn. Natural woods and materials can be damaged more easily or are prone to cracking in arid climates if not occasionally treated with mineral oil. Synthetic materials such as plastic, micarta, and G-10 are commonplace. Metals like aluminum, titanium, and stainless are used as well.
Common or exotic hardwoods
Common or exotic hardwoods that derive from deciduous trees are also used, such as walnut, rosewood, magnolia, mahogany, cocobolo, and ebony. Make sure to treat the wood with a food-safe oil (mineral oil or cutting board conditioner) from time to time. This will help keep the wood supple and not crack in arid conditions or overexposure to water. Avoid oils that are not food safe or that can turn rancid, like vegetable oils.
Pakkawood is made of quality hardwood laminates. These laminates are layers of resin- impregnated veneers. Pakkawood is durable and heat resistant. A natural look can be achieved, or the resin can be colored.
Stabilized wood uses a pressure or vacuum process to impregnate the wood’s structure at the cellular level with certain acrylics or resins to improve structural stability, offering more durability. It’s common to see burled wood and bright colors used in this method.
Plastic handles such as polypropylene, PP, and POM (polyoxymethylene) are common. These offer an affordable, durable option. Another cost-friendly option is TPE (thermoplastic elastomers). This is a rubberized plastic that is durable and creates a good grip when the handle is wet.
Micarta is a resin-based material made from layers of canvas, linen, or other cloth. These layers are coated in resin and then compressed with heat. Micarta is lightweight and durable. Often micarta has a texture added which offers great grip.
Another resin-based material is G-10. Composed of a resin-based fiberglass laminate. Texture is often added as well. This material is very resistant to heat and water but tends to be a little heavy.
Learning Center Sections
Dive deep into the fascinating world of knives, exploring their history, varieties, and the essentials everyone should know.Learn More
Uncover the intricacies of a knife's structure from tip to handle, enhancing your knowledge and appreciation for this indispensable culinary tool.Learn More
A comprehensive guide to distinguishing between German and Japanese cutlery, highlighting their unique characteristics, strengths, and uses.Learn More
Learn about the different bevels and grinds that give a knife its cutting edge, understanding their impact on your culinary adventures.Learn More
Delve into the art of knife-making with an overview of various forging techniques and finishes that contribute to a knife's performance and aesthetic.Learn More
Acquaint yourself with the fascinating science behind knife metallurgy, exploring various steel types and what makes a truly great blade.Learn More
Your guide to knife maintenance, ensuring the longevity and sharpness of your blades with proper care and handling.Learn More
Navigate the factors that influence the cost of a knife, assisting you in making informed decisions when adding to your collection.Learn More