When compared to shopping for other home goods, shopping for and trying out some new kitchen knives tends to be relatively fun. Something about a good chef’s knife feels good in the hand, and different blades can be gorgeous to look at.

As enjoyable as the process may be, it can also cause a little bit of anxiety if you do not know what you are looking for. This guide will help you to better understand what makes a kitchen knife high quality, and what to keep in mind while you search for one.

Man cutting vegetables with kitchen knife

What is it Made of?

Not all chef’s knives are made of the same materials, and you could spend an eternity arguing over which is the best. The truth is that each blade material has different positive and negative qualities to it, and you should definitely consider carefully before committing.

Stainless Steel

An old standard, stainless steel kitchen knives are about the most common that you can find. Stainless steel is a relatively affordable metal with rust resistant qualities that have made it a classic for chefs and home cooks of all levels.

Blades made from this metal are certainly worth considering, they are standard for a reason. With that in mind, stainless steel is a softer metal than some of the alternatives. These knives might need to be sharpened more often and can be more prone to bending and losing their edge.

Carbon Steel

Quickly becoming more common and revered by home cooks, carbon steel knives are another great option for quality kitchen knives, and professional cooks swear by them. By combining steel with carbon, the blade that comes out will be much stronger and maintain a sharper edge for longer.

The extra strength afforded by the added carbon does come with a slight downside, however, which is that the blade will be less protected against rust than a stainless steel knife. This can be avoided with conscientious care and maintenance, but it certainly is not a knife you can afford to leave in the sink.

Damascus Steel

A sort of happy medium between stainless steel and carbon steel kitchen knives is the Damascus steel blade. Real Damascus steel knives are hand forged with a carbon core that provide additional strength, covered in the signature wave pattern that Damascus steel is known for.

These knives maintain their sharpness incredibly well and are still somewhat flexible and rust resistant. There is little in the way of downside for true Damascus blades, with the exception being that they tend to be on the far more expensive side.


Another option becoming more and more common is ceramic. Ceramic blades are often very affordable, light, and strong. Since they are not metal, there is no fear of rust and corrosion, and they do not need to be sharpened nearly as often due to their reduced flexibility. That said, being made of ceramic comes with a greater risk of chipping and breaking.

3 different sized carbon kitchen knives

Forged and Stamped Knives

There are generally two ways that a knife is made, at least for metal blades, and those are either forging or stamping. For the layman, forged knives are made by taking a red hot piece of metal and hammering it until it has formed in the desired shape. Stamped blades usually have their shape cut out of a larger sheet of metal before being inserted into a separate handle.

More often than not, forged knives are stronger, more durable, and heavier. They do also land on the more expensive end of the range. Stamped blades can also be very high quality, but due to the way forged knives are heat-treated, stamped options usually do not match up in terms of strength.

Handling and Comfort

The material you decide to go with for your new kitchen knives is a matter of personal preference, and the feel of a knife is no different. There are a couple things that contribute to how a knife handles, and while you can make do with just about anything, finding the knife that perfectly fits you is worth the effort.

As simple as it may sound, the most important thing to focus on when shopping for knives is the comfort you feel while holding them. It can be very easy to fall into the trap of buying knives based on the cost, whether it be the least expensive option, or splurging because you assume the quality is higher. Attractive and well-crafted knives will have you daydreaming about how they will look in a block on your counter.

While these are things that should factor into your decision, they are meaningless if you do not like the way the knife feels in your hand.

Weight and Balance

The first is the weight. While there is no set metric for how heavy a knife should be, you want something that you can easily control and use with precision. If you buy a knife that is too light or heavy for you, it is something you will have to put up with every single day. Pick up a few options and really try to get a feel for them.

In addition to the overall weight of the knife, the weight of the handle and blade should be balanced as well. If your grip is too heavy, your cuts will be far less effective and you will probably have to work a lot harder to get through every slice. If the blade is too heavy, it will be not only uncomfortable, but far more dangerous as you will have less control in starting and stopping.


Another factor to consider regarding the comfort is the feel of the handle. You want a handle that is more ergonomic and fits easily in your hand. Some knives that may be very nice to look at will have small metal handles that can often feel incredibly rigid and cold in the hand. It is important to find what works best for you.

Types of Knives

Chef cutting red pepper with kitchen knife

Also important to keep in mind is the kind of knife you actually intend to use day-to-day. There are as many kinds of knives as there are things to do with them, so it comes down to your own habits and preferences. With that in mind, there are a few standard knives that every home cook should have on hand.

Chef’s Knife

The most common and classic of all kitchen knives is the chef’s knife, which is on the larger end and has a curved blade that is excellent for working with meats and chopping vegetables. If you could only have one knife in your kitchen, this would be the best option for you.

The standard chef’s knife is also known as a German chef’s knife, which is known for its strength and thicker blade. An alternative that is becoming more common in the states is the Japanese chef’s knife.  A Japanese-style chef’s knife is usually lighter than the German version, with a thinner blade as well. This makes it better for fine slicing, but also more susceptible to bending and isn’t as good for heavy duty cutting.

Paring Knife

The sidekick to a chef’s knife is the paring knife. These are much smaller knives that usually max out at around 4 inches in length. While these are not a great choice for chopping and slicing meats and vegetables, they are fantastic for precision work. Where a larger knife might have trouble, the paring knife is perfect for cutting away fat, slicing and coring fruits, and deveining shrimp.

Serrated Knives

Another must have for every home cook is a serrated knife. These are far more effective at working with soft foods that would be crushed by the force of a chef’s knife. Knives with serrated blades are perfect for slicing bread, cutting tomatoes, and anything else with a soft inside but harder outside.

Quality, Not Quantity

As with most consumer products, the cost of your knife does roughly translate to quality. Kitchen knife qualities such as Damascus steel and hard wood carved handles require artisan crafting skills, and those do not come cheap. The least expensive knives you can find might do the job, but you will find yourself constantly sharpening or even replacing your knives.

This is not to say that you have to break the bank when you want to buy knives, just that a high-quality knife is an investment, and it is definitely worth it. Bear in mind that you do not need to buy a complete set of quality knives at once.

If you cannot afford to purchase a complete set, the best practice would be to buy only the particular knives you will need to get started. The best to have on hand would be a chef’s knife and paring knife to give you a solid way to work with most foods. As time goes on, your collection will grow, with the knives you have already bought actually living to see that day.

William Henry has a stunning selection of professional kitchen knife sets made from hand-forged Damascus steel and rare wood and mineral handles. Look through the knife selection today to find the last set of kitchen knives you would ever need.