Everyone has a favorite knife to use in the kitchen. Even though you likely have dozens of knives, there’s always one that you reach for over and over again.
And sure, maybe the blade makes for a smooth, easy cut. But there’s a good chance that you love a particular knife due to its handle.
The knife handle material makes a big difference in comfortable a knife feels in your hand, how easy it is to hold, and how effective it is to cut with. Have you ever considered different types of knife handles and why each knife feels different?
If not, it’s time to discover what the best knife handle material is, and how to choose a knife handle when shopping for your next piece of kitchen gear.
Why Knife Handle Material Matters
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The most common use for knives is in the kitchen. Professional cooks use knives all day, every day. It’s part of their job.
But even those who don’t work in a restaurant but love to cook often use their knives on a daily basis. Sometimes, multiple times per day, depending on how often they get to cook.
The problem is that knives result in a large number of injuries in both household and commercial kitchens each year. Yes, much of it can be prevented with proper knife safety training.
But the actual knives that you use also play a large role in how safe a knife is to use. A dull blade, for example, makes it more likely for a knife to slip and potentially cut the user.
But an ineffective knife handle could also lead to injury. Using handles made of grippy, comfortable materials could make it easier to use knives and less likely to cause harm.
Plus, your comfort matters. If you have to cut ingredients a lot, you want a handle that is enjoyable to hold, otherwise, your hand can get clammy or crampy.
And lastly, a knife handle personifies its user. If you are passionate about cooking, then having a knife that resembles your personality will make cooking that much more special.
If you don’t yet have that special knife, here’s what you need to know about the different materials you can choose from.
The Best Knife Handle Materials
So what are the best knife handle materials? It all comes down to personal preference. It helps to be able to hold knives in your hand before purchasing, kind of like test driving a car before signing the paperwork.
1. Natural, Metal, or Synthetic?
Your first decision to make when selecting a material is natural, metal, or synthetic. Natural materials include wood, as well as less common materials such as bone, horn, or mother of pearl.
There are many types of metal handles, ranging from steel and aluminum to titanium and more. Synthetic knife handle materials abound, including plastic, carbon fiber, G10, and others. Here’s what you need to know about each material before deciding which one is best for you.
Wood is one of the most common knife handle choices, especially in the kitchen. A wooden knife handle can offer a beautiful appearance.
Wood handles can be made from different types of wood, such as birch or black walnut, and many others. Each type of wood will offer its own unique grain and design, as well as functional pros and cons.
The benefits of a wooden knife handle include durability and ease of use. And for the unique design, they are priced quite affordably.
The only drawback of wooden handles is that wood is porous, allowing water to get in if exposed over a long period of time. Of course, wooden knives are sealed to prevent excess moisture absorption.
The porous drawback generally applies to outdoors enthusiasts, who often take their knives into extreme conditions for long periods of time. In a kitchen, wooden knives will do well.
Just make sure to check the recommended washing procedures to properly care for your new wooden handle chef knife.
3. Stainless Steel
Steel is a man-made metal that combines naturally occurring iron and carbon. It’s one of the most common materials found in any modern kitchen, as stainless steel is considered food safe.
They are super durable and can last a very long time since they are corrosion resistant. They fit wonderfully in modern kitchens due to their sleek appearance that matches much of the other stainless steel found in most kitchens.
Stainless steel is also very easy to care for. While many people claim that you should hand wash and dry your stainless steel utensils, they are perfectly fine to go in the dishwasher as well.
The main drawback of stainless steel is that it can be slippery when wet. If you are considering a steel handle knife, find one that offers some type of grip, whether that be notches or ridges in the handle.
Steel is also very heavy. They work well when used as smaller knives. But larger knives may be better suited to a lighter material that is easy to maneuver.
While not especially classy, plastic has its place. For one, it’s super affordable. Plastic is also very easy to clean and care for, requiring little extra precautions.
Plus, plastic can be designed in a variety of different ways. So your sure to find a design that catches your eye. Plastic can easily come in a variety of different colors. This can make it easy to keep your knives organized and prevent cross-contamination.
Plastic can also be molded and shaped in many different ways. Some plastic knife handles will also include strips of rubber along the handle to add increased grip.
While it might not be the most unique knife handle available, plastic handles certainly serve their purpose.
5. Carbon Fiber
Carbon fiber is widely praised due to its strength as a super lightweight material. For example, many bicycle racers pay upwards of $10,000 for a carbon fiber bike, as opposed to a metal one, because it’s much lighter. It makes it easier to pedal, allowing racers to shave seconds or minutes off their time.
Carbon fiber also has a place in the kitchen. Lightweight knife handles are a joy, especially when compared to the old stainless steel handles you’ve been using for years.
You’ll find it much easier to cut and angle your knife. They’ll make you feel like a master chef.
But as with racing bikes, carbon fiber knife handles are more expensive than many other options. And they aren’t indestructible, either.
You’ll want to take care when using carbon fiber, as it can be prone to chipping or breaking.
G-10 knife handles offer much of the benefits that carbon fiber does, but are much more affordable. It’s a resin-based laminate that uses layers of fiberglass cloth.
The production process compresses and heats the materials to produce a tough, strong, and lightweight knife handle. They are fun and easy to use, and they resist moisture as a non-porous material.
But like carbon fiber, they can be damaged from impacts, so be sure to care for these handles if you choose to invest in them.
7. Mother of Pearl
Looking for a piece of knife-wielding luxury? You can get knife handles made of mother-of-pearl. Yes, the materials found inside oysters.
As a result, these knives are very expensive. And since they aren’t very common, you’ll feel very unique when you pull these knives out in the kitchen.
They are natural, gorgeous, and easy to clean and maintain. The only downside is that they are slippery when wet. You also may use these less often, considering they are an elegant piece of equipment and not an everyday tool.
Can’t quite afford the true mother-of-pearl? There are other variations that are more affordable, such as black-mother-of-pearl as well as abalone, which is the shell of mollusks, such as oysters.
Bone handles offer another unique and natural knife handle material. And don’t worry, animals weren’t harmed in the manufacturing of these handles.
Bone is typically used from animals that died naturally. So you can feel good about ensuring they were put to good use even after they passed.
These are a very traditional material for knives and aren’t seen as commonly in the kitchen. They are primarily found in outdoor and hunting knives.
But if you want a one-of-a-kind knife, bone offers many types of designs, as they can be dyed and colored in many ways.
When bringing a bone handle into your kitchen, you’ll want to take care. They aren’t as durable as many synthetic materials and can be slippery if not properly texturized. And they need to be kept dry and away from humid conditions.
Horn is very similar in form and function to bone handles. But it comes from the horns of deceased animals, such as cows or buffalo.
The main benefit is the appearance and the fact that horn knives are very traditional. Using them every day will require extra care to ensure their longevity.
Finding the Perfect Knife
Choosing a knife handle material can be difficult if you are a passionate chef, be it professional or as a home-enthusiast. Your knives say a lot about who you are and what you value.
Whatever you choose, take your time. Quality knives aren’t cheap. But when you find the right ones, you’ll be in love and you’ll love cooking even more.
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