May 20, 2024

Understanding Kitchen Knife Materials: A Beginner’s Guide

How well do you know the materials used in kitchen knife construction? It’s a no-brainer for a novice to say it’s divided into two parts; blade and handle.

While the blade of a knife is often seen as the star of the show, we must not fail to always acknowledge the role of the handle when it comes to finding handling balance and proper weight distribution.

Some experts even argue that the handles of knives are entirely responsible for balance that makes precision cuts possible – not necessarily the blade’s pattern alone.

This article will be a deep dive into these two materials, their types, and how they can vary depending on knife types. Continue reading, you might just find a new type of blade you’d want to add to your collection.

Materials Used in Kitchen Knife Blade Construction

There are broadly three types of knife blades that you’ll see being regularly used by cooks:

  • Stainless steel
  • Carbon steel, and
  • Damascus

While that’s the case, blades from other materials like titanium nitride, and ceramic exist, but it’s quite difficult to see them in commercial quantity in your regular cutlery store.

1. Stainless Steel Knives

Kitchen Knife Material – Stainless Steel

Generally, any knife comprising at least 11% chromium and no more than 1.2% carbon can be categorized as stainless steel. If we dare to cut through this general information, we’ll find that there are at least eleven popular grades or types of stainless steel blades:

  • Blue paper steel
  • AUS-10
  • X50CrMoV15
  • 1.4116
  • VG10
  • Cromova 18
  • Friodur, 440A
  • 440C
  • Sandvik 12C27, and
  • Sandvik 14C28N

These different grades of stainless steel have one or two compositional differences in their alloy that make them a little different from each other.

Of all these, you’re only likely to see the VG10, Sandvik 12C27, Friodur, Cromova 18, X50CrMoV15, AUS-10, and blue paper steel in commercial quantity. Others are often made on demand or aren’t used for kitchen knives at all.

That being said, the general rule of thumb that you should pay attention to as you’re not a blacksmith is that stainless steel knives are easier to maintain than carbon steel. But they do not have as good edge retention as carbon steel knives. Hence you will need to sharpen them more often.

2. Carbon Steel Knives

Kitchen Knife Materials – Carbon Steel

Although by chemical definition, the carbon content in these knives can range anywhere from 0.05% to 2.1%, anything that’s not stainless steel is often regarded as carbon steel.

The carbon element is responsible for the hardening of the knife blade, and the function of any other additive like cobalt, molybdenum, or vanadium, is to increase its toughness, and resistance to corrosion.

At the same time, the presence of these additives reduces its hardness. The perfect carbon steel blade is a perfect blend of high carbon content and minimal addition of these secondary additives.

Japanese knives are one of the classes of knives that are made from carbon steel. These knives are renowned not only for the high level of craftsmanship involved, but also for their ruthless sharpness, excellent edge retention, and precision.

Some of the Japanese carbon steels include:

  • Aogami super
  • Aogami #1
  • Aogami #2
  • Shirogami #1
  • Shirogami #2

While they make very sharp knives and have all the good qualities mentioned above, carbon steel knives rust easily if not properly maintained. They are also brittle compared to their stainless counterpart.

3. Damascus Steel

Kitchen Knife Material – Damascus Steel

In the real sense, this is not a type of steel, but its popularity among kitchen knives has grown enough to earn it its column among other steel types. Damascus knives combine several sheets of steel with varying carbon content, forged together and etched to reveal a striking contrast of dark and light layers.

This process results in rigid, shatter-resistant blades that can be honed to a sharp edge, making them practical and resilient tools.

As their popularity grows, Damascus steel increasingly graces kitchen knives, elevating culinary experiences with functional artistry; a unique fusion of history, craftsmanship, and beauty in each blade.

Materials Used in Kitchen Knife Handle Construction

If we want to be critical about it, a blade is only as good as its handler, and blade handlers will always make picks based on how well they’re feeling the handling while making cut moves.

More so, if you want to be able to handle a knife for an extended period or in tricky conditions, you want to make sure you’re picking a knife with a handle that gives you the best grip.

1. Wooden Knife Handles

Knife Wooden Handle

Wooden knife handles are the oldest handle materials for kitchen knives. Aside from its attractiveness the natural non-slip feature helps create the perfect balance you need in a knife.

They’re more practical for a professional chef who’s most likely going to be chopping ingredients the whole day. For a regular day-to-day user, it’s a way to express your classy taste to anyone who visits your kitchen.

The only downside to picking knives with wooden handles is that they’re often quite expensive and relatively harder to maintain. If you’re running your kitchen on a tight budget, knives with such handles are probably not what you want to have included in your budget.

2. Composite Knife Handles

Pakkawood Knife Handle

Sometimes referred to as Pakkawood, it’s a type of engineered combination of natural wood with resin laminate. They have wooden cores and are surrounded by layers of laminated hardwood. This offers the same non-slip and good looks that we often appreciate from wooden handles.

Despite all the upside as regards costs, when it comes to picking this over wooden handles, cooks, especially professionals often criticize that it’s only able to mimic the appearance of wooden handles, but not the same balance or even durability.

3. Plastic Knife Handles

Kitchen Knife Materials

Knives with plastic handles are the cheapest you can get. Made entirely from plastic, they’re the most non-slip knife handles and require little to no maintenance. The tricky thing, however, is that they offer nowhere close to the balance that’s available on composite knife handles, not to mention their wooden counterparts.

Nevertheless, they’re a top choice for commercial kitchens because these kitchens prioritize cost-effectiveness over comfort and good looks. More so, these pro chefs are assumed to be experienced enough to find a workaround for the balancing issue.

4. Metal Knife Handles

Metal Handle – Kitchen Knife Materials

Stainless steel, carbon steel, titanium, and aluminum knife handles are the most popular types you’ll find in this category. They’re quite uncommon and are rarely used for commercial purposes.

The majority of the kitchens where you’ll find it only use it for special occasions and are too expensive to be a practical day-to-day knife in a home setting.

Even though its durability qualifies it for being used as a family heirloom, its slippery grip is a real deal breaker for any level of practical use.

What is the best kitchen knife material?

For most home cooks, a high-quality stainless steel knife can form a good balance of performance and ease of maintenance. But some professional chefs and cooking enthusiasts might prefer knives from high-end steels like traditional carbon steels.

In the end, it all boils down to how you plan to use the knife, your sharpening and maintenance preferences, and your budget. As a simple rule of thumb, an ideal kitchen knife is sharp, well-balanced, durable, and has decent edge retention. So choose what best fits your goals.

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