Think about what you’ll be using the knife/knives for. Do you want one that will handle a range of tasks or would you prefer a specialist knife for each role?
Read our Type of Knife guide to find out more about different types of knives and what they’re for.
Once you know what knife you want, you might want to consider other factors such as what it’s made from. Use the menu below to help you find the perfect knife that will become a staple in your kitchen for years to come…
- What material?
- Forged or stamped?
- Does hardness matter?
- What’s the best type of handle?
Carbon steel is excellent for making knives – it’s tough, can be given a very sharp edge and is easier to re-sharpen than most other knife metals. However, it does have one major flaw – it’s not stain resistant, so your bran-new shiny knife will quickly become discoloured! In time, it’ll actually turn black. This won’t affect the performance of the knife, so if looks aren’t important to you, carbon steel could be the way to go. It’s also important to note that carbon steel is susceptible to rust, so you need to take care of your blade by cleaning, drying and lubricating it after each use.
Pros: very sharp easy to re-sharpen Strong
Cons: Not stain resistant, doesn’t stay sharp for as long as high carbon stainless steel, needs a lot of care
High Carbon stainless steel aims to get the best of both worlds – its high carbon content means it’s strong, while the stainless steel part means it will stay untarnished. Knives made from high carbon stainless steel can be given a very sharp edge that lasts longer than one on a carbon knife, though they can be a little more difficult to re-sharpen. It’s the most common type of material used in high quality knives.
Pros: Stainless. Keeps a sharp edge. Strong.
Cons: Could be harder to sharpen when compared to a carbon knife.
Stainless steel is usually used for low-cost cutlery. Although it won’t stain or rust, it’s not really suitable for quality knives as it’s too soft to keep a sharp edge and would need frequent sharpening.
Pros: Cheap. Won’t stain or rust.
Cons: Won’t stay sharp for long.
A titanium knife is more wear-resistant than steel so it will keep its sharp edge for longer. It’s lighter and more flexible, which can work quite well for certain knives, but it’s not hard enough to do the job where a hard blade is needed.
Pros: Keeps it’s sharpness well. Won’t rust.
Cons: Expensive. Not as hard as steel.
Ceramic knives are extremely hard, yet surprisingly lightweight, and can retain a sharp edge for months or years without sharpening. They should only be used on chopping boards (or surfaces you’re not too precious about) as they are hard enough to cut through the glaze on your dinner plates! With this amazing hardness, though, comes brittleness, so you need to take care to use them properly; hard objects such as bone are a no-no, and dropping or knocking your ceramic knife could chip or snap it. Ceramic isn’t a metal, so it won’t corrode.
Ceramic knives are maintained using special diamond sharpening tools, so you need to factor this in if you’re considering buying a ceramic knife.
Pros: Extremely hard. Lightweight. Minimum maintenance required.
Cons: Brittle and prone to chipping or snapping if used incorrectly. Specialist sharpening tools required.
Laminated blades are made up of different types of steel layered on top of each other in order to get the advantages of all of them in one knife.
A hard steel can be made sharp and hold a good edge, but it is also brittle and prone to chipping. A softer steel is less susceptible to damage but can’t be given a good edge. In laminated blades, the hard steel is usually sandwiched between the softer steel, so the hard steel can be given a super-sharp edge, while being protected from damage by the softer steel encasing it.
In more expensive laminated knives, a carbon steel core is sandwiched by layers of alternating hard and soft stainless alloys. The result is a hard, sharp edge combined with a strong, flexible knife that’s resistant to discolouration and rust.
Pros: Super-sharp blade. Strong and flexible. Resistant to corrosion.
Cons: More expensive.
You’re bound to have come across these terms if you’ve been looking into buying a knife, but if you’re unsure what they mean or whether they should affect your choice of knife, here’s a little explanation:
Forged knives are made from a single rod of steel: The steel is heated to a high temperature and pounded with a hammer to form the shape of the knife. To really harden the knife, the blade is heated to a critical temperature then rapidly cooled, making it extremely strong. The blade is then ground to get a sharp edge and polished to make it look good.
It’s a pretty intricate, expensive process, but the result is thicker, heavier blades that are (usually) full tang, meaning the metal runs all the way down the handle for a stronger, heavier knife.
Stamped knives are cut out of sheets of metal using a template, heat-treated to strengthen them, and then sharpened and polished. The process is quicker and cheaper than forging and the more common manufacturing process used today.
Stamped knives are generally flatter, thinner and lighter than forged ones.
It’s generally trusted that forged knives will be of an excellent quality because of the skill and expense that goes into making them, but both processes can produce excellent, top quality knives, and, at the high end of the market, a stamped knife can outshine a forged knife.
It really is down to personal preference – if you like the feel of a heavy knife, one that has been forged would be more apt; if you prefer a lightweight knife, a stamped knife may suit you best.
Should I add a bit about knives that are neither forged nor stamped, such as ceramic or Damascus?
A knife’s hardness can be measured using the Rockwell Hardness Scale. Generally, good quality knives will have a hardness score of 56 and upwards (Japanese knives are usually higher because of the type of tasks they are used for).
The harder a knife is, the longer it will retain its sharp edge. However, it will also be more brittle and prone to chipping if used for too heavy a task.
A softer knife will lose its sharp edge more quickly (though they’re easier to re-sharpen than harder blades) but will be better suited to talking heavier tasks, such as cutting through bone.
Think about what you need the knife for – if you’re going to be chopping through tough veg, you wouldn’t want to use a ceramic knife because it has an extremely high score on the Hardness Scale of over 80! It would sharp or chip easily. If you want to slice super-thin slices of raw fish for Japanese-style cuisine, a harder knife would be excellent for the job.