Knives Buying Guide

Types of Commercial Knives

Your guide to learning about different types of commercial cutlery, including the construction, care and maintenance of your knives

As a chef, purchasing your knives is reminiscent of Harry Potter choosing his wand--the knife chooses you. Like Harry's wand, the choices between forged or stamped knives, wood or plastic handles is entirely up to the wizard chef. You may even want to bring some vegetables to the store with you to try it out in action.

Though there are several types of knives designed to tackle a variety of tasks, the chef's knife (also called a French Knife) might be one of the most prized and personal possessions a chef can have in the kitchen. Known as the ultimate multi-purpose knife, a chef's knife may as well be an extension of the chef's hand. Whether mincing garlic, slicing tomatoes or cutting meat, expert chefs wield these knives with such dexterity that many of their movements resemble that of a trained surgeon.

In this buying guide, we'll walk you through knife construction including the anatomy of a knife, commonly used materials found in commercial knives, knife types and much more.

Knife Construction

Before purchasing the right knife for you, it helps to have a basic understanding of its construction. All knives fall into two categories: stamped and forged, with the only primary difference being that forged knives feature a bolster. Don't know what a bolster is? Read on!

Parts of the Knife

Learning about the anatomy of a knife is key to understanding how to use it properly and finding the best make and model for you.

Found only on forged knives, the bolster is the center part of the steel between the blade and the handle.
The end of the knife handle.
The part of the blade that is sharpened and honed.
The part of the knife you grip while cutting. The handle should fit comfortably in your palm. Asian-style knives often have a unique shape of a 'D' or 'Teardrop' to better fit in your palm.
The thickest point of the blade commonly used for cutting thick or hard products (think squash). Some knives even have a 'closed' heel, which acts as a safety precaution.
The spine is the top (non-sharp) edge of the blade.
Describes the steel that extends within the handle to help provide balance and support. Most stamped knives feature a half-tang where forged knives feature a full tang, where the single piece of steel may be seen from tip to butt.
Point and tip
The point of the knife is the very top tip, which is ideal for piercing. The tip describes the top part of the blade used for cutting and separating. While pointed tips work well for piercing, rounded tips are best for cutting and slicing bread with hard crusts or slicing fruits and vegetables with skins that may easily bruise. You'll find several varieties of paring knives which all feature different tips designed for different uses (e.g., oyster knife, cutting citrus and more).

Which is Better: Forged or Stamped Knives?

When it comes to knives, everything is about personal preference. You'll find no difference in performance when it comes to forged or stamped knives, but rather, a difference in weight. Some chefs swear by a stamped or forged knife, which is greatly determined by the way the knife feels in one's hand. Read on to learn more about forged and stamped knives:

Forged Knives

Forged knives are typically hand-forged from a single piece of steel and are often heavier and thicker because they are made by folding layers of steel hundreds of times. Less flexible than stamped blades, forged blades will keep an edge longer. Not to mention the full tang on these knives help provide an even balance and are quite durable. Though forged knives aren't cheap, they're worth the investment because they can last a lifetime.

Stamped Knives

Unlike forged knives, stamped knives are literally "stamped" from a single piece of steel. Thinner and lighter than its forged counterpart, stamped blades feature no bolster and a half tang, which runs through the handle. Due to their flexibility, stamped knives do not keep an edge as long as their forged counterparts. Stamped knives are also at a more affordable price point since they can easily be mass produced, making it ideal for those who need an arsenal of kitchen knives for several different uses.

Types of Steel

Kitchen knives are made from a variety of steels, which vary in durability and performance. Iron and carbon are the main components that make up steel, but it's the addition of chromium, which increases hardening ability and stain resistance (and it should comprise 13% of the total steel in order to meet the industry's standard of "stainless steel"). Other elements like vanadium, molybdenum and manganese increase hardness, durability, and reduce brittleness of the steel.

In a commercial setting, however, you'll find that most knives are made from the following types of steel:

This high-end, high-carbon stainless steel is rust-resistant, strong and holds an edge well. Due to its durability and sharpness many commercial knives feature this grade of steel in the restaurant.
Not to be confused with 420 stainless steel, 420HC steel is a higher carbon version that provides good abrasion resistance, rust resistance and has good edge retention.

Knife Edges

There are three main types of edges found on knives, but typically these edges are specific to the type of knife itself. For example, a chef's knife will feature a straight edge while a bread knife will have a serrated edge. Learn more about straight, serrated, and hollow/Granton edge knives below:

Straight Edge
The straight edge of a knife gives you a smooth, clean cut, making it the best option for carving meat to avoid tearing fibers.
Serrated Edge
Serrated edges are sharp, wavy edges that easily cut through crusty breads and fruits and vegetables that may be easily bruised (like tomatoes). You can also try using a knife with a serrated edge on cake (to prevent shredding of the tender cake layer).
Hollow/Granton Edge
The hollow/Granton edge features small "wells" on the side of the blade to create pockets of air that prevents food from sticking to the blade, also allowing for thinner slices. Knives with a Granton edge are ideal for starchy foods like potatoes.

Types of Knife Handles

Knives come in a variety of styles and weights. While the blades of knives are almost always made of stainless steel, the knife handle material may vary greatly. There's no right or wrong answer when it comes to knife handles—it's a matter of preference. You want a handle that feels comfortable in your hand, in both shape and weight. The handle should also never feel slippery when wet, and it should give your knuckles enough clearance on its underside as you chop.

Read on to learn more about popular knife handle materials:

Beautiful and common, wood-handled knives vary greatly in price. Hardwoods like oak or maple make excellent wood handles based on their resistance to moisture or water. Conversely, softer or fine woods like black walnut would not be as practical. Exotic woods are popular with collectors, but you may find the durability lacking if you want something with a longer lifespan.
Stainless Steel
Durable and resistant against moisture, the biggest drawback to stainless steel is the additional weight. You'll also find many stainless steel handles adorned with plastic or rubber to enhance the grip.
Cost-effective and durable, you'll find a lot of plastic-handled knives on the line. You may come across different plastic materials such as:
  • Polypropylene – features a textured grip to prevent slipping
  • Nylon – easy-to-clean, durable and good value.
  • Fibrox® – slip-resistant when wet, NSF-listed and dishwasher-safe.
Santoprene is a blend of rubber and polypropylene, these types of handles provide added grip when wet.

Types of Knives

You might think that a chef's knife is all you need in the kitchen, and in some ways you're right. But there's no denying that some knives are better suited to the task at hand than others. When specialty and precision goes hand-in-hand, consider adding more specialized knives to your library for consistent, perfect cuts each and every time.

Chef's Knife

If you only have one knife in your kitchen, make it a chef's knife. Chef's knives are ubiquitous, mostly due to its versatility. Ranging anywhere from 6 inches to 12 inches in length, the chef's knife is suited to a variety of tasks like chopping herbs, crushing garlic, slicing meats and more. Because this knife will most likely be the one you use most, it's important to get some hands on time before purchasing. There's no "right answer" when it comes to choosing your chef's knife; these knives vary greatly in weight and shape to suit a variety of personal preferences.

Santoku Knife

Commonly known as the "Japanese Chef's Knife," the Santoku knife is typically shorter and features a thinner blade than a traditional chef's knife. Also, unlike its western counterpart, Santoku knives traditionally feature a straighter blade that curves in an angle approaching 60 degrees at the point. That means that this type of knife is ideal for slicing, dicing and mincing in an up and down chopping motion, versus a sliding or rocking motion.

Bread Knife

The notable feature of the bread knife is the shape of the blade, which curves downward. The blade of the bread knife enables you to slice through items like tomatoes or crusty bread without crushing the delicate interiors.

Chinese Cleaver

Intimidating due to its very large and wide blade, the Chinese cleaver (also known as the Chinese chef's knife) may be used for everything from mincing shallots to hacking away bone. Don't be put off by its size—the broad blade is thin and delicate, which enables you to easily cut, mince, and scoop. It's a chef favorite for prepping vegetables!

Boning Knife

Featuring a long, narrow "S" shaped blade with a pointed tip, the boning knife is perfect for carving meat. The blade itself is flexible and thin, making it easier to slice flesh around bone or filet a fish. Some boning knives, however, are made with a stiff blade that is easier to use with proteins like poultry.

Paring Knife

Known by its short blade and pointed tip, the paring knife is ideal for small tasks, which require precision. Great for seeding jalapenos, trimming beans, slicing peaches, coring tomatoes and more, the paring knife is a small and powerful tool!

Oyster Knife

Shorter than a paring knife and featuring a wider, stout blade, oyster knives feature thick, dull blades to act as levers to pry open stubborn shells.

Slicing/Carving Knife

These knives feature a long, narrow blade designed to slice meat without tearing at its delicate fibers. Perfect for catered carving stations, you'll get a thin, clean slice every time.

Cheese Knife

These often stout-blade knives make it easier to slice through a variety of cheese textures. Look for a heavy, sturdy blade for hard cheeses, and serrated blades on softer cheese to help prevent sticking.


Meaning "half moon" in Italian, the mezzaluna features a curved body with handles on either side. One of the oldest forms of cutlery around, the mezzaluna is ideal for chopping herbs with a rocking back and forth motion. Also try using a mezzaluna next time you want to slice a large pizza!

Knife Maintenance, Storage & Care

Like all large investments, your knife will have a longer life if you properly care for it. It should go without saying that your knife should be washed and dried after each use. In addition to keeping your knife clean, you also have to keep it sharp. Knife blades will naturally lose their sharpness and edge with each use—however, how quickly you need to sharpen and hone your knife is dependent on the quality of the knife itself.

Honing Your Knife

Contrary to popular belief, a honing rod doesn't sharpen your knife—it hones it.

So what is honing?

Honing describes the process of bringing the blade edge of your knife back to center. Over time, the edge of your blade will naturally become misaligned. A honing rod (also known as a sharpening steel) is used to correct the edge without shaving much of the actual steel off. Because you're bringing the blade back to center, your knife may appear to be sharper even though you didn't sharpen it—the blade is just better aligned to cut through food properly. Many chefs hone their knives frequently, often before each use.

Before honing your knife, it's important to know whether your blade is made in the German/western style of knife or if it is an Asian style of knife. Most western knives typically feature about 22 degrees on either side, making the knife very strong. Asian knives, however, feature a blade edge around 16 degrees on both sides; that's why many Asian style of knives utilize a stronger quality of steel to increase its durability.

Sharpening Your Knife

When it comes to knives, the sharper the blade, the safer the knife. Why? Sharp blades easily cut through your protein and produce, whereas dull blades require more force to make the cut, increasing your chance of a knife slip and a cut finger. The process of sharpening includes shaving off thin layers of steel to produce a sharp edge. Unlike a honing rod, which helps to bring the edge of a knife's blade back to center, chefs use either manual or electric knife sharpeners, or sharpening stones (also known as whetstones) to keep their blades sharp. One should only sharpen his or her knives a few times a year, however low-quality knives may dull more quickly and require sharpening more often. More sharpening = a shorter lifespan for your knife, so keep that in mind when the higher initial cost of a knife makes you wary.

Storing Your Knife

In a busy kitchen, few things are more dangerous than having knives scattered across the counter—that, and taking care of, and being respectful of, one's knives properly is inherently important to a chef. There are a few knife storage options available to you. For more permanent storage solutions, knife blocks, and magnetic knife holders (which hang on the wall) are a great way to keep your knives clean, organized and safe. Other chefs who travel a lot or regularly do events may consider investing in a knife bag, which includes all of the special compartments, secured buckles and zippers to keep knives safe during transport. Blade guards and other pouches are also sold separately to give the blade of your knife added protection.

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