Everything you need to know about finding a Lefted hand knife
October 10, 20235 min read
What do Ned Flanders, Keanu Reeves, David Bowie — and most likely you — have in common? It may be the impressive confidence with which you wear questionable facial hair; but the safer bet is that you belong to the League of Left-Handed Culinarians like I do. Lefties often get the short end of the stick; we learn how to play guitar upside down, struggle with scissors in our “wrong” hand, and smear ink across every page we write. It’s natural to have some hesitations when looking to choose a knife for yourself when you’ve heard all your life that Japanese knives were only for the right-handed.
I have worked at Knifewear for eight years, worked in kitchens for 15 years before that, and have been left-handed the whole time — still am, actually. Southpaws often reach out with some questions about whether or not certain knives are going to be a good choice for them. Comfortable handles, the way a knife has been sharpened, and single bevel choices seem to be the biggest concerns coming from the Leftorium’s customer base.
Single Bevel Knives vs. Double Bevel Knives
Luckily, 90% of the knives out there are intended for people of either handedness to use. If you are shopping for a gyuto, santoku, nakiri, or petty, odds are you are going to be A-OK with whatever you fall in love with.
The only tricky bit is when we start talking about single-bevel knives — usuba, yanagiba, deba, and more traditionally-styled kiritsukes. These knives are notoriously only sharpened on one side which makes for a ridiculously sharp edge but hard to use in the wrong hand; not to say that you couldn't slice a tomato in a pinch but it would be annoying to use for any real length of time.
Single-bevel knives do exist for left-handed folks, but they aren’t as common. Like everywhere else, Japan is predominantly right-handed and knife makers don’t put a lot of stock into the lefty market, which means that the knives made for lefties tend to cost a few bucks more (20-30% more in most cases). A really great option is the Sakai Takayuki Suigyu Kasumitogi line; a very traditional look and good selection of the most common shapes.
My first deba —technically a yo-deba— was made by Moritaka-san in Kyushu. It is a chonky blade with that short fat tooth profile but sharpened equally on both sides. I’ve had it for years and use it like any other deba. It might not be quite as sharp as a traditional single-bevel knife but it still holds its edge for a really long time and I would argue that it is a helluva lot more durable. Unique blades like these usually make an appearance during the Garage Sale.
How Knives Are Sharpened
Most Japanese knives don’t belong in the single-bevel category and are sharpened equally on both sides, a double-beveled knife. All of the most commonly used shapes fall into this category with very few exceptions — honesuki knives from Tojiro tend to favour right-handed folks but that’s the only one I can think of.
Double-bevel knives are generally sharpened with a “50/50 grind”; sharpened as equally as possible on both sides. Some people like to dive deep into a sharpening rabbit hole and will customize the way they sharpen their knife. It’s not uncommon to have people ask about a “60/40 grind” or a “70/30 grind.” That means you are favouring one side of the knife more than the other in an attempt to get an edge that slightly mimics a single-bevel knife. Very rarely do knives come this way. Iit’s almost always something that someone has done themselves or asked for.
I’ve never found that it added anything to the performance of my knife, just slightly changed the way I use it. When you are chopping with the blade perpendicular to the cutting board in the usual “push-pull” or rocking motion, you shouldn’t really be able to tell the difference. It’s when you get into really delicate tasks—thinly slicing fish or mincing a shallot— where you might feel your knife pull in the wrong direction if someone has sharpened your knife for someone other than a southpaw. It reminds me of driving a car where the alignment is off a little and you have to adjust your steering a touch.
A lot of bread knives technically favour the right-handed but I’ve never really had a problem with grabbing whatever was closest and slicing my bagel. If you want to make sure you are getting something as neutral as possible, I really like to recommend the Ryusen Prever bread knife. Most of the blade is sharpened 50/50 like a sujihiki with a couple of inches of serration at the end — crack the crust with the saw-like teeth and let the sharp blade handle the rest.
Most knife handles are symmetrical and going to fit in a left hand as easily as a right one. That being said, you are still going to like what you like. The handle is your contact point with your knife and is the part that allows your blade to become an extension of your hand. Western versus Japanese style—octagonal, or oval in shape—doesn’t seem to matter too much for most.
There is one handle that we need to keep an eye on when shopping for a lefty more than the others, the mysterious D-shaped handle… These ones are designed so that a little ridge fits neatly into the fold of your right hand while it wraps around the knife. It feels out of place to most folks in the left hand but that same ridge provides a little landing pad for your fingertips. I’m a fan but recognize that I’m in the minority on this one — it’s not for everyone — but luckily, there aren’t too many knives aside from Shun Classics using this handle these days.
New Knife Day is supposed to be fun and exciting, not full of second-guessing and boring homework. Don’t get discouraged the next time you reach for a can-opener and have to swap hands, or struggle with scissors meant for the majority of the world — you can have your pick from the majority of knives out there and it isn’t a big deal. If you are ever doubting your southpaw ways just remember that Rocky was never going to beat Clubber Lang in Rocky III without becoming one of us by surprise.
Chris is a relocated Maritimer that can be found slinking in and out the back doors of Ottawa's restaurants, often with his daughter in tow. Chris has been a fixture in the Ottawa food scene for the past 10 years and has recently laid down his apron to learn the ways of Knifewear. Chris loves cooking big pieces of meat over a live fire and spends his summer feeding wood into his BBQ, Lemmy Smoke-mister.
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