Choosing Between Japanese Knives and Western Knives

Posted by Ramon Elzinga on

Choosing between Japanese knives & Western Knives is a bit like choosing between a Porsche or a Land Rover.... they are different - they both have their strengths and weaknesses...

All knives are typically used for slicing and some often think that all kitchen knives serve the same purpose. That is not exactly the case. In this blog, we'll talk about two types of kitchen knives typically used by many: Japanese and Western. We will explain the differences between these two and which one you should choose for your purpose.

What Makes Japanese Knives Unique?

The distinct feature of Japanese knives is its single bevel (made on classic Japanese knives like Deba knives, Usuba knives or Yanagiba knives) — meaning that it is sharpened on one side only. This trait gives Japanese knives the advantage of having a sharper edge as they can have a bevel angle of as low as five degrees.

This single-bevel form will require you to use a knife sharpener that lets you choose the side to sharpen. That said, a sharpener that sharpens both sides of the blade might damage your Japanese knife.

Another thing that Japanese knives are known for is that they are made of harder steel with higher carbon content compared to Western knives. Japanese knives require less material upon manufacture and are much lighter. However, the hard material makes them more brittle than Western-made knives. The high carbon content also means they are not stainless so you will need to take more actions to preserve their quality such as wiping them with cooking oil to avoid rusting.

How About Western Knives?

In contrast to Japanese knives, Western Knives are sharpened on both sides of the blade and thus have two bevels. Furthermore, they typically are curved along the edge of the blade.

This curve is the most challenging part of the sharpening process. If you are planning to buy a knife sharpener for this purpose, make sure that it can accommodate the blade's entire length, including the curved edge.

Western knives use soft steel, which means that they will require more material in their production to achieve ideal quality. The result is a blade that is denser, thicker, and more robust than Japanese knives. However, the delicate metal means the edge will dull faster, which will require more actions to preserve its quality. Fortunately, sharpening this type of knife is not that difficult thanks to its soft edge.

So which should you choose?

Ask the following questions when choosing between Japanese knives and Western knives:

  • For what task are you going to use your knife?

For chopping and more frequent cutting, you will want to use the more durable Western knife. If you want to slice smoothly through meat, fruits, and vegetables, the sharper and lighter Japanese knife is your go-to tool.

  • How frequently are you going to use it?

If you cook regularly at home or work as a chef at a restaurant, you will need a more durable knife that can accommodate a heavy workload, Western knives work best in this regard.

  • How often are you able to maintain your knife?

Japanese knives have a more durable edge and will not quickly dull, so you will not need to sharpen them often. Meanwhile, Western knives have softer edges that dull much more easily, so you will have to sharpen them more frequently.

Choosing between Japanese knives and Western knives involves several factors. You always have to consider sharpness, durability, purpose, and the required maintenance to make the most out of the kitchen knife set you're buying.


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