Generally speaking, in the world of Japanese knives there are two kinds: double bevel and single bevel knives. Most knives you’ve ever seen are what we call double bevel knives. This means that the knife blade is ground and sharpened on both sides of the blade. This is the most common way to make a knife. You can see a cross section of a double bevel blade below, on the left.
In Japan there is a second style called single bevel knives. This blade is constructed differently, non-symmetrically. In fact it’s only sharpened on one side of the blade. The other side is flat (actually it is concave). A cross section of a single bevel blade is below, on the right.
DOUBLE BEVEL KNIVES
Double bevel knives, or as they say in Japan, “ryoba”, are the most commonly seen knives. This style of knife is sharpened evenly on both sides of the blade, meeting in the middle. This would be the style of knife you are most familiar with. Let’s look at some of the shapes made in this style.
The go-to knife in most kitchens around the globe, a gyuto can do everything. Known as a chef knife to westerners, the Japanese name gyuto translates to “cow’s sword,” this knife has a special place in its heart for cutting meat, but it can tackle virtually any task you throw its way. They range in length between 150mm all the way up to an impressive 360mm, with 240mm being the most common length. Most of the gyutos we sell have beautifully crafted wooden handles in the traditional Japanese style. These are sometimes called wa-gyuto.
A chef’s knife with a sloped down tip, a kiritsuke can come single or double beveled. They’re capable of handling any kitchen task, with a lust for meat butchering. Much like a bunka, the tip is perfect for scoring meat and vegetables, and the ideal tool for getting under the fat and sinew when cleaning meats.
Slicing, dicing and mincing. If you can master these cuts, you can pretty much attack any recipe launched at you. Santoku means “three virtues,” or “to solve three problems.” With this aptly named knife, these jobs will be that much easier. The santoku starts flat at the heel, exceptional for cutting vegetables, and eventually curves upwards towards the tip, giving it more versatility for slightly finer work.
A bunka is similar in size and shape to a santoku while being a little more badass looking. With a straight, sloping edge towards the tip, this design makes it excellent for scoring vegetables and has the added advantage at being highly effective at getting under the fat and sinew of meat when butchering.
The bunka’s younger sibling, these babies are making more appearances in kitchens as they’re perfect for small jobs like mincing garlic, shallots and herbs with insane precision. But don’t let its modest size mislead you, you can also use a ko-bunka to debone smaller meats, fish and birds, just be careful if your knife has harder, more brittle steel.
This is the Japanese word for a paring or utility knife, I’m told it comes from the French word “petite”. It’s perfect for hand peeling fruits and veggies, but also equally as handy for mincing on a cutting board. Pettys can be as small as 75mm, and as large as 180mm, so there’s something to fit any hand, big or small.
Nakiris aren’t the most well known shape in the Western kitchen, but they are hands-down the best tool for their job. With a long, flat blade, they are traditionally designed for chopping vegetables using a push/pull technique that greatly reduces those annoying accordion cuts. You know, the kind you get when your your onions are stuck together like a string of paper dolls? Do yourself a favour and Google a solid French onion soup recipe and go to town with your nakiri! More Info: Knifewear's Top 5 Nakiri and Knife vs Knife: Nakiri vs. Usuba
This odd shaped knife is essentially a thinned down version of a blade used traditionally for shoe cobbling. Like a nakiri, a kamagata has a flat edge making it perfect for chopping smaller vegetables like garlic, shallots, and herbs with lightning fast speed. For those with larger hands, its extended height keeps your knuckles from smacking against your cutting board. No more bruises!
Christmas, Thanksgiving, or just a casual Sunday dinner, this long, thin “flesh slicer,” is exactly the tool you want to carve those fine cuts of roast beef, turkey, fish and raw meats. If it’s fleshy, a “suji” will slice through it with buttery elegance. More Info: Knife vs Knife: Sujihiki vs. Yanigiba
Specifically designed for poultry butchering, the honesuki’s flat profile and dropped tip makes it perfect for navigating around the flesh and bones of chicken, pheasants, duck, turkey and any other foul you need to take apart. The spine of the blade is generally much thicker than its razor thin edge, allowing it to crack through soft joints and cartilidge when trying to extract every morsel of meat. More Info: Knifewear's Top 5 Honesuki
This style of boning knife is the kind you’ll traditionally see in the Western and European world when taking apart meats. Much like a honesuki, its excellent for taking apart birds and other jobs like Frenching lamb racks.
It speaks for itself! With a corrugated edge, bread knives offer exceptional toothiness for cutting through both the softest and crustiest loafs. Look for one made of super hard steel - they’ll keep their aggressive little teeth the longest!
SINGLE BEVEL KNIVES
A single bevel knife, called kataba in Japan, are a Japanese invention and are specialist knives used primarily by sushi chefs. Fileting and slicing raw fish is a tricky business and you need single bevel knives to achieve excellence. When used properly these knives can take a raw fish and turn it into perfect, beautiful, and delicate slices of sashimi, or in the case of an Usuba, you can turn a daikon into see-through, paper like sheets.
The secret to the these knives is that they are almost frictionless when they slice through food, oh, and they are sharper than double bevel knives. The concave back of the knife allows a pocket of air between the food and the knife to drastically reduce friction. The other side of the blade has very little surface area for food to stick. These are perfectly designed tools for their jobs.
Single bevel knives are most commonly made for right handed use but most manufacturers also make left handed models. I must apologise now, though because left handed knives are often sold by the maker at a 30%-100% premium.
Let’s look at some of the shapes made in this method.
Debas are an essential knife in a sushi chef’s kitchen. This “short fat tooth,” as deba translates to, is key for filleting and butchering fish and boneless meats. It’s a single-bevel knife meaning its ground and sharpened on only one side with a concave back, allowing it to make optimal contact with skin’s surface ensuring you get don’t waste any of that precious meat. But don’t let their heft fool you, in the right hands, debas are nimble and very precise.
Aptly translated to “thin blade,” an usuba (oo-soo-ba) is a single-bevel knife ground and sharpened on one side, making it perfect for slicing vegetables super thin. They’re also a favourite for “rotary peeling.” You know those gorgeous beds of daikon and carrot your sashimi is so comfortably resting on? Chances are an usuba sliced that. More Info: Knife vs Knife: Nakiri vs. Usuba
Yanagibas are long, thin, single-bevel knives ground and sharpened on one side. Translating to “willow’s leaf,” they’re graceful and elegant like their name suggests. Yanagibas are commonly used for slicing sashimi, but can also be used for carving other meats like roast beef and prime rib. More Info: Knife vs Knife: Sujihiki vs. Yanigiba
Like its double-beveled bro, this long blade is perfect for of everyday driving, but it also excels at most jobs that would normally be tackled by a Yanagiba - slicing and filleting fish and meats, for example. The added blade height means you won’t be bashing your knuckles into the board while cutting veggies, and the dropped tip offers some real finesse when executing precision tasks like removing fat and facia from proteins.
Got more questions? Is there a shape we didn't mention you'd like to know more about? Email us at email@example.com and we’ll sort you out!
Jeevin is our resident filmmaker. With years of experience behind the camera directing and producing in the film industry, Jeevin has found a more permanent home at Knifewear. He spent over a decade slaving away in the kitchen, too, so come chat with him about knives, exchange taco recipes, and discuss why Scarface is kinda stupid.