How to choose the right Japanese knife

A Japanese knife is an investment so at Cutting Edge Knives we do all we can to help you choose one that you'll love using for many years to come and join the thousands of happy customers we've served since 2011. You can read some of our customer reviews here.

When you buy a Japanese knife, you're buying something you will be able to use for the rest of your life if you look after it and everything we sell is beautifully made and of a quality we love so you can be assured that any knife you like the look is of an exceptional quality. Everything we sell is backed by our no-quibble 30 day money back promise so you don't have to worry.

What style of kitchen knife do I need?

Start with a "Gyuto", "Santoku" or "Bunka" as a first purchase if you're looking for an all rounder.

A gyuto, santoku or bunka is a great starting point because these are a multi-purpose chef knife. A santoku and bunka is often around 160-180mm and a gyuto typically ranges from around 180-300mm long with a sweet spot around 210mm that's both efficient on larger pieces of meat or vegetables but nimble enough for more intricate work. It's not too big or small and so is usually the knife you'll use daily and will do 99% of most jobs.

Once you've got a good all rounder, then look to expand your collection with a smaller petty (sometimes called a paring knife in the West) and if you're cooking a lot of vegetables, a nakiri is something to consider as it's specifically designed for veg prep despite it looking a bit like a cleaver. 

For most people a general use chef knife, petty and nakiri will be plenty. The Japanese have other different styles of knife for more specific jobs of course and if you need to work with meat and bones or want a carving knife then we have you covered and you can find out more about the other types of knife here.

The longer answer is "It depends".

It depends on lots of things like your budget, what sort of cooking you do, if you have a preference for steel types, blacksmith and blade size. View all our knives here and you can filter by blacksmith, knife type price and more. If you have more questions, please get in touch any time and we're here to help.

Carbon vs Stainless steel

Once you know which type of knife you need, one of the main decisions is carbon vs stainless. Typically carbon steel offers a harder edge and so stays sharper for longer but it's not always quite as clear cut as that and you'll find some stainless steels have similar edge retention properties as carbon steel and it does depend quite a bit on the heat treatment applied by the blacksmith. 

Carbon steel is a reactive steel and so as soon as you start using it, it will react with the moisture and acids in your ingredients and begin to develop a patina. It's also possible for carbon steel to rust if not dried properly after use but it's quite normal and not something to panic about but if you're only used to stainless steel knives, the sight of a carbon steel knife changing colour, developing a patina or potentially rusting can be quite a shock if you're not expecting it! 

If you would like to learn more about carbon steel, check out our carbon steel care page here.

Stainless steel on the other hand is exactly as you'd expect. It doesn't change appearance, it's easy to care for and with many of the steels used in Japanese knives the heat treatment and geometry of the blades mean they're often just as performant as carbon steels.

Ease of care and protection

Let us make this easy. No kitchen knife should be put in the dish washer. Wipe them clean, dry and store them after each use. Simple.

When it comes to storing and protecting your knife, we suggest a magnetic wooden knife rack. We have a growing selection of handcrafted knife racks which are a perfect compliment to the knives in your kitchen. If you're travelling or want to store your knife in a drawer - we have a selection of guards, saya and knife rolls perfect for keeping your blade safe which you can browse here.

For long term care, depending on the steel (carbon or stainless) we would recommend one of either of our care kits - The Japanese knife care kit or the carbon steel care kit to keep your knives in their best condition.

Learn more about ease of care

Fancy looks or subtle finishes?

How a knife looks should be the last thing you buy a knife for, but that being said, a good looking knife is a real treat. As we've picked only awesome knives feel free to pick a pretty one and buy it safe in the knowledge it will be a great performer.

There are many different finishes blacksmiths apply to their knives and they range from simple kurouchi "blacksmith finish" to some of the most intricate damascus and hammer patterns and polishes and ultimately each finish represents a choice by the blacksmith as to what they feel best suits their work or a way to show their skill and sometimes if you're not sure which knife to choose - those finishing touches on the excellent blades help make the final decision for you depending on your own tastes.

Handles & Grip

There are two main styles to choose from. The "Yo" shape is what we sometimes refer to as a "Western" handle because of its familiar shape or the traditional Japanese "wa" handle.

The wa handle is light weight and typically an octagonal or oval shape for comfort. This is a centuries old design and combined with a half tang makes the knife feel significantly lighter and more nimble in your hand and has the benefit of being easy to replace whether you just fancy a change or it's worn with use over the years.

Yo handles are the style most of us will be familiar with, full tang (where the blade goes all the way through the handle), often riveted and pretty damn sturdy but often handle shape and style is purely a personal preference.

How sharp is Japanese knife steel?

Japanese knives are famed for their sharpness and edge retention thanks to the harder steels used and the smaller sharpening angle of around 15-16% which creates an incredible cutting edge. Most Japanese knives are also finished by hand on increasingly smooth whetstones to create an edge that's of a consistency and standard that is astonishing. If you want to see just how good an edge is possible, we compared a Japanese knife with a Global and Sheffield Steel knife underneath a microscope and the results are remarkable.

For a more in depth look at the differences between the steels used you can read our steel types guide.

Can your current knife do this?

Here's a couple of fun little "tests" you can do with the knife in your kitchen drawer right now - if your knife can't do these, it might be time to treat yourself something new 👍