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Chef’s Knife Handles

Wednesday, 28 January 2009 | Tags: ,

The chef's knife is the workhorse of the kitchen tools. Knife handles are designed with safety and comfort in mind, so we decided to test drive some of the many new handle designs and materials that are now available on the market.

The Basics

  • There are two styles of knife handles:

    • German (or classic) style handles are thicker and heavier, with the blade riveted to the handle, separated by a thick “bolster”. The “butt” of the handle (the end) swoops downward for a sculpted look and firmer grip. The blades on German-style knives are also thicker and heavier, with a taper at the tip to allow for a rocking motion while chopping.

    • Japanese (or modern) style handles are designed so that the blade flows directly into the handle. They are not sculpted for the hand and so encourage more fluid movement and precise, forward-motion cutting. However, the design lacks power for heavy-duty cutting tasks.

  • Handles can be made of many different materials:

    • The classic wood handle provides good grip and feels warm and natural to the touch. It can be made of a variety of exotic hard woods. Water resistance and bacteria are concerns, but many new models add laminate, plastic, or resin coatings to counteract.

    • Plastic handles are low maintenance and easy to clean. Often considered the least expensive options, quality of the knife as a whole may be a concern, however there are some good mid-quality models available. Plastic may crack or split over time.

    • Rubber handles are similar to plastic, but provide better grip and a more cushioned feel.

    • Micarta handles (a fibre-resin blend) are the preferred handle material of many modern knife-makers. Micarta is noted for its toughness and stability, water-resistance, and firm grip when wet, and can withstand extreme heat and cold.

    • Stainless Steel handles are strong and very sanitary, and are commonly seen on many Japanese-style moulded handles. However, they are cold to the touch, and slippery, so knife-makers often add bumps or ridges for better grip.

    • Other, less common handle materials include: stone, bone, ivory, tusk, antler, horn, carbon fibre, acrylic, corian, cast polyester, precious metals, and gemstones.

  • On a well-balanced knife, the handle should fee substantial in relation to the overall weight of the knife and blade. It should not wobble from side to side.

  • Hold the knife toward the back of the handle. It should feel balanced, not heavy.

  • The handle should not feel slippery when wet. Look for handles that have rubberized or textured grips, or indentations for your fingers.

Other Considerations

  • German-style knives are better suited to kitchen tasks that require more size and power (e.g. cutting up a whole raw chicken), while Japanese-style knives perform better for precision tasks (e.g. julienning carrots).

Be Aware

  • In both inexpensive German-style and Japanese-style knives, handles connected to the blade using a simple socket joint and glue with internal screws are considered lower quality and will not wear as well over time. The knives are typically not well-balanced, and blades can become loose and wobbly.

TEST CRITERIA

We tried these chef knives, which each had knife handles made from a variety of materials and in different styles:

  • J.A. Henckels Twin Pro S (German-style, resin-based): $155
. . Amazon.ca Amazon.com
  • Furi Rachael Ray Gusto-Grip Anti-microbial (synthetic rubber and polypropylene): $79.99
. . Amazon.ca Amazon.com
  • Chroma by F.A. Porsche Type 301 (ergonomically-designed stainless steel): $112
. . Amazon.com
  • Ken Onion by Shun (ergonomically-designed Pakkawood): $239.95
. . Amazon.ca Amazon.com

(Note: prices listed above are approximate and in Canadian dollars)

 

Usage Test

We tested our knives in extreme situations like knife-throwing and wood whittling, but we really felt the true test would be to use them for their intended purpose: chopping food.

  • The Furi with its rubber handle felt really strange. It was sticky, which made you think you’d put it down in something and we wanted to wash it off all the time. It wasn’t very comfortable to use, and was just weird all around.

  • The Ken Onion by Shun looked very space-age and felt good to use. However, it was a bit large and slightly heavy. We would probably have given it top spot if it came in a smaller grip size. It would be a good choice for someone with larger hands.

  • The J.A. Henckels knife felt the most natural, though we realize this is the type of grip we’re already used to. It was well-balanced and comfortable.

  • The Chroma stainless steel handle was cold, and felt a bit foreign, though we warmed up to it after a while.

OUR TOP PICK

The classic German-style of the J.A. Henckels knife handle was the favourite in our tests. The newer knife designs were interesting to use, and we did feel the Shun came close, but we’re sticking with tradition for now.

 

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