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When we set out to buy a knife, we want to know that we are getting a good quality product for the money we spend. How do you know if a knife is of good quality, and what indicators should you look for to let you know that the knife is worth the money?
Determining a knife’s quality requires checking the quality of the material and craftsmanship that have gone into the blade, tang, handle, balance, and overall finish of the knife. Price is not always a reliable indicator of the quality of a knife. Many reasonably priced knives are quality knives.
In my experience over the years with various knives, I have learned what to look for in a knife that will indicate the longevity and performance you can expect from the knife. I will pass this knowledge on to you so you can look out for these factors the next time you look to buy a knife.
If you are interested in checking out the best Japanese knives (made by Hayate Yoshihiro) we recommend and use, you can find them by clicking here (Amazon link).
How To Tell If a Knife Is a Good Quality
A good quality knife is essential, whether for use in the kitchen, as a survival knife, or as an EDC knife, such as a pocket knife.
A poorly made knife can be dangerous, especially if it fails while you are using it. A failure of this sort can leave you stranded without a knife, and it can cause an injury to the user.
With so many different types of knives on the market, knowing what aspects and characteristics to look for in a knife to determine quality can be challenging.
One of the best strategies to use is to examine the knife from tip to hilt and look for signs that speak to the quality of the knife.
How To Check The Knife Blade For Quality
The blade is the working part of a knife, as it determines the cutting ability, performance, and durability of the knife.
Examining certain key aspects of a knife’s blade will indicate the knife’s quality and what you can expect from the knife.
The Knife Blade Material
The material of the blade plays a crucial role in determining the quality of the knife. Stainless steel is a common choice for knife blades because it is durable, rust-resistant, and easy to maintain.
However, some knives are made of high-carbon steel, known for its ability to hold a sharp edge for a longer time. Ceramic blades are also becoming popular due to their sharpness, durability, and lightweight nature.
The purpose you need the knife for will be a deciding factor in which blade material will be best for your purposes.
However, poor-quality knives are made from these same materials, so how do you know if the steel or material used in the knife blade is good quality?
Many reputable knife makers will advertise the type of steel or other material used to make their blades. The type of steel used is often stamped or etched into the blade itself, which is a good reference point to establish the knife blade’s quality.
If the type of steel is indicated on the blade or the packaging, you can research the steel to establish whether it is worth the price asked for the knife.
TIP: Stainless steel and high-carbon steel have very different properties, creating knife blades with unique characteristics. Which steel should you choose for your knife?
Stainless Vs. Carbon Steel Knives: 12 Differences & Best One
The Hardness Of The Steel Can Indicate Quality
The hardness level of steel is an indicator of the durability of the steel and its ability to hold an edge. Steel hardness is expressed as an HRC value on the Rockwell scale.
Generally, high-carbon steel can be hardened to a higher HRC value than stainless steel, making the edge more durable and giving better edge retention. However, high-carbon steels are more susceptible to rust and corrosion than stainless steel knives.
Ultra-hard carbon steel blades are sharper and hold an edge longer than stainless steel, but they are also more brittle and require more maintenance.
Japanese high-carbon stainless steel blades are a good balance of the two characteristics of these two steel types.
Good quality western knives made from stainless steel generally have a hardness of 58 or 59 HRC on the Rockwell scale. Lower-quality knives are generally below this HRC level, indicating lower durability and edge retention capability.
Western high-carbon steel blades generally have a hardness level between 60 and 62 HRC. Carbon steel knives with an HRC value below this should be considered cautiously.
Japanese high-carbon steel and stainless steel knives can have a hardness level from 64 to 68 HRC, making them top-quality blade that retains sharpness and provides excellent durability.
TIP: If you are interested in buying a Japanese knife, we recommend these knives (Amazon links):
- Santoku: Yoshihiro NSW Hammered Damascus Santoku
- Gyuto: Yoshihiro VG-10 Hammered Damascus Gyuto
- Nakiri: Yoshihiro Hammered Damascus Nakiri
Check The Quality Of The Steel Surface
If you have the opportunity to hold the knife in your hands, run your fingers across the flat of the blade and feel for imperfections in the steel, rough spots, or pitting in the surface. The knife is probably not a high-quality blade if you find any imperfections in the steel.
If the seller claims the knife is stainless steel, scan the blade surface to check for signs of rust or stains on the surface of the steel. Visual indicators such as these can help you to avoid a poor-quality knife.
Check The Thickness Of The Blade
The thickness of the blade should be determined by the purpose for which you need the knife. Generally, thinner blades are required for kitchen knives because they can be sharpened to a higher degree of sharpness.
Thicker blades are required for heavy-duty knives such as bushcraft and general EDC knives. The thicker steel gives the knife a less sharp but more robust edge and lends weight to the heavy-duty tasks for which the knife will be used.
So, for example, if you a buying a bushcraft knife and the blade is made from thin steel, it is unlikely to perform well for the tasks required of a bushcraft knife.
Check The Knife’s Handle For Quality
The handle is another important factor to consider when evaluating the quality of a knife. The handle should be comfortable and provide a secure grip for safe and efficient cutting.
You should inspect several factors of the knife’s handle to determine the quality.
The Knife Handle Material
The material of the handle can affect its durability and grip. Common materials used in knife handles include wood, plastic, and metal. Wood handles are popular for their natural feel, while plastic and metal handles are known for their durability.
With wood handles, look for fine-grained wood, which will be more durable, and reduce the risk of bacteria and liquids penetrating the wood grain.
The material should provide durability to withstand repeated use and exposure to water and other elements. Micarta and hardwood handles are examples of good quality handles on a knife.
The Shape And Size Of The Knife Handle
The shape and size of the handle should fit comfortably in your hand and allow for a secure grip. Some handles are designed with ergonomic features that conform to the shape of your hand, reducing the risk of hand fatigue and strain.
The Grip Of The Knife Handle Material
The grip of the handle is crucial for safety and control. The handle should provide a non-slip grip, even when wet. Some handles have textured surfaces or rubber inserts to enhance grip.
How Well Is The Handle Secured To The Knife Tang?
Inspect the handle on the knife to see how it is secured to the tang. Handle scales that are only glued to the steel will not last, particularly when the knife is used for heavy-duty tasks or in high heat and damp conditions.
The handles should be secured to the knife with pins or rivets and glue to provide a durable, robust, and secure fit on the knife.
Some knives, such as Japanese kitchen knives with traditional Wa-handles, may only have press-fit handles. This is an intentional fitment method because the handles are intended to be easily replaceable on the knives.
TIP: Did you know you can replace a broken handle on a traditional Japanese kitchen knife? Learn how to do it here!
7 Simple Steps: How To Replace A Japanese Knife Handle
Check The Knife’s Tang for Quality
The steel tang is the portion of the blade that extends into the knife’s handle. It is an important factor of consideration when assessing the knife’s quality.
Different types of tangs include a full tang, partial tang, and hidden tang knives. Full tangs are considered to be the strongest and most durable, while partial tangs can be weaker and less stable.
The tang is important for the stability and strength of the knife. A good quality knife should have a strong and durable tang to ensure the blade is secure and stable in the handle.
A full tang is generally preferable on a knife intended for rough or heavy-duty work, such as a bushcraft knife. The weak point of a narrow tang typical of a hidden or partial tang knife will not hold up as well as a full tang to the rigors of bushcraft or survival tasks.
Kitchen knives can be manufactured with any of the tang types, but the tang type should always be appropriate to the knife’s function. For example, a partial tang may be sufficient on a paring knife, but it is generally not a good idea for a larger chef’s knife.
The tang is an important factor to consider when evaluating the quality of a knife that many people overlook.
A strong and durable tang is crucial for the stability and strength of the knife. When assessing the tang, look for a secure attachment to the handle and a tang type appropriate for the knife’s intended use.
Check The Weight And Balance Of The Knife
The knife’s weight and balance are aspects of quality you can only check if you can hold the knife in your hand. It is, however, an important indicator of the knife’s quality since the weight and balance can affect its useability and overall performance.
Lighter knives are preferable for agile, accurate cuts and to limit fatigue if the knife will be used for long periods.
Heavier knives are the better choice for tasks that require more force to be applied to the knife, typical of heavy-duty tasks.
The knife’s balance can affect its performance and ease of use of the knife. Generally, higher-quality knives have been produced to provide the user with a quality, comfortable experience. Mass-produced knives generally pay less attention to this detail in the knife’s design.
Other Factors To Consider For Knife Quality
In addition to the blade, handle, and tang, there are several contributing factors to consider when evaluating the quality of a knife.
Here are some other factors to keep in mind:
- Brand reputation. The reputation of the knife brand can be an indicator of the quality of the knife. Research the knife brand and read reviews from other customers to better understand their products.
- The price of the knife. The price of a knife can be an indication of its quality. High-quality knives are typically more expensive due to premium materials and manufacturing processes. However, a high price does not always guarantee a high-quality knife.
- Knife manufacturing process. The manufacturing process can affect the quality of the knife. Knives made with precision and attention to detail are generally of higher quality than knives that are mass-produced.
- The intended purpose of the knife. Consider the intended use of the knife when evaluating its quality. A knife designed for a specific purpose, such as a fillet knife for fish or a bread knife for bread, will likely perform better than a generic knife.
A good quality knife should be well-made, durable, and perform well for its intended use. Do your research and choose a knife that is right for you and your needs.
Can Cheap Knives Be Good Quality?
While the price tag on a knife can be an indicator of quality, this is not always the case. Expensive knives are often made with premium materials and precision manufacturing processes, but many affordable knives can offer good quality and performance.
A knife’s quality is not solely determined by its price tag. Many affordable knives are made with high-quality carbon or stainless steel materials. While these materials may not be as expensive as premium materials like Japanese VG10 or Damascus steel, they can still offer good durability and sharpness.
Some cheaper knives are still made with precision and attention to detail. Manufacturers can achieve cost savings by using more efficient production methods or by producing knives in larger quantities. This does not necessarily mean that the knives are of lower quality.
A prime example of this is the Opinel pocket knives which are purposefully kept to a simple, robust design to provide a quality knife while keeping the cost to the consumer lower than similar knives.
The intended use of the knife can also affect the price. A knife designed for a specific purpose, such as a chef’s knife, is typically more expensive than a generic kitchen knife. However, a good quality generic kitchen knife can still perform well for everyday use.
That being said, it is important to remember that not all cheap knives are of good quality. Some cheap knives may be poorly made and made with low-quality materials. It is important to do your research and read reviews before purchasing a cheap knife.
When selecting a knife, consider your budget, intended use, and the quality of the materials and manufacturing process.
My strategy is always to buy the best knife my budget will allow, ensuring I get a knife that does what I expect and will give me long service. This is not always the most expensive knife of its kind, but a knife of a reasonable price without compromising on quality.
TIP: If you are interested in checking out the best Japanese knives (made by Hayate Yoshihiro) we recommend and use, you can find them by clicking here (Amazon link).
Evaluating the quality of a knife involves considering several factors, including the blade, handle, tang, brand reputation, price, manufacturing process, purpose, and maintenance. A good quality knife should be well-made, durable, and perform well for its intended use.
Consider the reputation of the brand and the price of the knife, as these can be quality indicators. Look for knives made with precision and attention to detail, and choose a knife designed for your intended use. These tips will help you select a quality knife that will give you good service and longevity!
TIP: Some knives can be valuable collectors items, but how well do most knives hold their value? Find out the value of your knives in our article on the topic!
Do Knives Hold Their Value? Main Factors & Knife Examples