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Let’s start with the unmistakably clichéd statement that a knife is an extension of your hand. But what does that really mean?
When we look at the anatomy of a chef’s knife, each part of the knife is designed for a specific role. Whether that is to provide balance, a smooth gliding motion for cutting, or a longer length for tackling hefty vegetables, a well-designed knife makes it look and feel incredibly easy to make quick work of all chopping, dicing, and slicing jobs. The knife that has the potential to become your favorite invariably is the one that makes you feel so confident that it becomes second nature to just pick up and start prepping food.
In short, it all comes down to design, efficiency, the material used, and the process of making the blade. Knives are either forged or stamped: the former being an art form refined over centuries and the latter a modern method to manufacture knives.
Forged knives are made from a single bar of molten steel. The knife manufacturer chooses high-carbon steel, stainless steel, or powdered super steel as the base of their knife. When the steel is red-hot, it is stretched, hammered, and brought to a rough shape, after which it is ready for heat treatment and refining its shape. This process of treating the steel with fire and heat changes from one blade maker to another and from one type of alloy to the other. The traditional art form combined with modern metallurgy produces some of the finest forged knives that truly become an extension of your hand.
To help you narrow down the search, here are a few of the best forged knives.
Best Overall: Shun Classic Chef's 8-Inch
Proprietary core is extremely durable
Not designed for left-handed people
The Shun Classic 8-Inch Chef’s Knife is yet another exceptional quality knife from Shun. The ergonomic ebony pakkawood handle with the D-shape provides a comfortable grip, offers a lot of control, and has a water-resistant finish. Since it was designed to fit the palm of right-handed users, sometimes it doesn’t work as well for left-handed people. The proprietary VG-MAX cutting core has more chromium and vanadium that provides better edge retention and corrosion resistance and a very sharp edge. To take advantage of the blade’s shape, it is best to push the knife forward and down while cutting through food and then pull it up and back.
Best Budget: Dalstrong 8-Inch Gladiator Series Chef's Knife
14 to 16 degrees hand sharpened
Blade can discolor
Might feel too hefty to some
Compared to other brands, Dalstrong is a newcomer and offers a range of affordable forged knives with different materials and textures. The Dalstrong 8-inch Gladiator Series is made from high-carbon stain-resistant steel and is also NSF certified. The blade material is rated at 56+ on the HRC scale, which means you will likely need to sharpen the edge more frequently. The fact that it's sharpened on both sides to 14 to 16 degrees, though, means it's razor-sharp (the smaller the angle, the sharper the blade). This makes for a comfortable, functional chef’s knife that won't break the bank.
The Rockwell scale is a measure to rate the hardness of a material. The HRC scale is most commonly used for rating harder steels. An HRC rating of 52-54 is soft, but it can make a reasonably good everyday kitchen knife. Experienced cooks should look for an HRC rating of 55 and above in the knife, and most premium knives hover between 59-64.
Best Chef's Knife: Misono UX10 8.2-Inch Gyutou
Takes time getting used to
Prone to chipping
If you like speed and precision in your knife cuts, then the Misono UX10 is the knife made for you. Its edge is 70:30, meaning it has a steeper angle on one side of the blade, which enhances its sharpness. Because it's light and fast, this blade can handle long hours of chopping and slicing. The knives are forged from Swedish carbon steel with a water-resistant black pakkawood handle. It's a versatile and multipurpose knife that can handle everything from meat and fish to vegetables and fruits.
Best 6-Inch: Wüsthof Classic Ikon 6-Inch Cook’s Knife
Easy to maintain
May need to be sharpened often
There is really no reason a 6-inch knife can't be your go-to knife. Chop, slice, mince, and dice with this Wüsthof Classic Ikon Cook’s Knife. It may not be able to tackle a large pumpkin, but it will efficiently top and tail green beans and cut through broccoli florets. This knife is extremely balanced due to its size and the half bolster allows for it to be honed and sharpened the entire length of the blade. The handle is made of Polyoxymethylene, which can resist fading and staining, and the blade can be used with a rocking motion because of its curved shape.
Best Splurge: Miyabi Birchwood SG2 8-Inch Chef's Knife
Handle is high maintenance
Takes time getting used to
When you look for top-quality knives, German knives and Japanese knives are at the forefront of your available options. The Miyabi knives have combined heritage as it is a brand owned by a German company (Zwilling, which also owns the popular Henckels brand), while the knives are manufactured in Seki, Japan. The Miyabi Birchwood Chef’s Knife combines advanced metallurgy in its blade with artistry in its handle. The blade is forged from micro-carbide powder steel with Miyabi’s proprietary process that provides a hardened blade with long-lasting sharpness. The handle is made from Karelian birch, which is the same wood used to make one of the famous Fabergé eggs. The end result is an exquisite and performant knife.
Best NSF-Certified: Mercer Culinary Renaissance 8-Inch Forged Chef's Knife
Can be used in professional kitchens
Easy to sharpen
Can get stained
Needs sharpening often
One of the reasons Mercer is a popular knife in professional kitchens is that it is NSF certified. This certification simply means that the product meets public health standards in materials, construction techniques, and requirements for cleaning. The knife has a one-piece injection-molded Delrin handle with a traditional look. (Delrin is a thermoplastic that reduces friction, is water-resistant, and can withstand high temperatures.) The knife is balanced, and its rounded spine provides a comfortable grip. The knife is made from carbon steel and is prone to staining if proper care is not taken. The taper-ground blade slowly decreases from handle to tip for easy honing.
Best Santoku: Enso SG2 6.5-Inch Santoku Knife
Made for both right- and left-hand use
Retains edge longer
Slight curve allows for some rocking motion
Enso is a well-regarded brand of Japanese knives and has a long-standing tradition of making quality knives. Its SG2 series, which stands for Super Gold 2, is a popular high-end powdered steel material that is rust- and chip-resistant and extremely hard (rated at 63 on the HRC scale). Even more, the material can be sharpened to a 12-degree angle for an extremely sharp and thin blade—which shows its benefits in the SG2 Santoku knife—that is ideal for mincing, dicing, and slicing.
Best Set: Wüsthof Classic 9-Piece Block Set
Knife block and honing steel included
Handles have a flat hold
Bread knife isn't very flexible
The Wüsthof Classic 9-Piece Block Set is the one that gets the job done. It comes with all the basic and essential knives that you need to get food prepared in your kitchen. The knives are forged from high carbon stainless steel and the handles are polyoxymethylene to prevent fading and discoloration. The knives are a 58 on the Rockwell hardness scale, which means they will need to be sharpened more often than harder knives, but if you hone your blades regularly, the knives stay sharp for a longer time.
The chef’s knife and the utility knife, also known as a Kiritsuke (and listed as a 6-inch utility knife on Amazon), have straight cutting edges for chopping. The Kiritsuke was our tester's favorite, as it sliced through tomatoes and grilled meat with ease and also was handy when it came to chopping herbs or dicing onions. She found the included shears to be sharp and great for breaking down poultry. The included honing steel performed well, too.
While this set isn't cheap, after thorough testing of all the knives, our tester deemed it "a worthy kitchen investment."
"The assortment of knives in the set got me through most kitchen tasks with ease. Chopping and slicing tomatoes were a breeze, and so were dicing and slicing onions." — Renu Dhar, Product Tester
If you are looking for a quality kitchen workhorse—a go-to knife that will last for years—we recommend the Shun Classic 8-Inch Chef’s Knife (view at Amazon). For those who want to invest in a comprehensive set that includes a honing steel and knife block, the Wüsthof Classic 9-Piece Block Set performed exceptionally in our tests.
What to Look for in a Forged Knife
An intrinsic quality in a great knife is balance. When the knife is perfectly balanced, it is effortless to use and you have more control. You may like a knife that has its center of mass in the front to let the blade do the work. Alternatively, you may like a heavier handle in order to have more control of the knife. The balance point in the knife is usually determined by the length and thickness of the blade, the size of the handle, the mass of the handle, and its material. Forged knives have a full tang that helps with the balance. The best way to judge the balance of the knife is to grip it and see if it feels comfortable.
Good quality forged knives are usually more expensive, but having a budget helps you narrow down the choices. In the case of forged knives, the most expensive is not always better. Some forged knives like the Honyaki knives are made by extremely skilled knifemakers, claiming steeper price tags. While these knives are excellent, they are not for everyone.
Having a fair idea about what you will use the blade for will help in making a better size selection. The most popular size for a home kitchen is an 8-inch chef’s knife and it’s quite versatile. A 6-inch chef’s knife gives more dexterity; it works on smaller things but may not work for heftier projects. A 10- or 12-inch knife can handle volume but requires more space to store.
Forged knives can be hefty or they can be light. One is not better than the other. It is all about what feels best to you. Do you like a knife that appears to fall with force on food, making it easier on your hands, or a knife that flows freely thus giving you greater maneuverability?
The bevel of the knife refers to the shape and angle that is ground to form the edge of the knife (the sharpest part). While this is more about the style of knives, it helps to know if the knife is a single bevel or a double bevel. Western-style knives are beveled on both sides and the edges meet in the center forming a V. In Japanese-style knives, the bevel can be single or double. The advantage of a single bevel knife is the precision cuts in vegetables and fish. However, if you are left-handed, you will specifically have to look for a single bevel knife designed for left-handed people.
Right from the design to the material from which it's made, the handle can make or break your connection to the knife. Knife handle materials range from laminated composite wood and acrylic to woods like ebony, ironwood, and even metals like steel. The best knife handles feel comfortable and don’t slip from your hands even when wet.
Forged knives are made from different types of steel, and steel makers follow specifications to make the alloy with correct properties. Knives are made with high-carbon steel to provide hardness, stainless steel for rust resistance, and newer materials like powdered super steel that provides both hardness and rust resistance. For lower maintenance, a stainless steel knife is a good option, whereas if you prefer better edge retention and sharpness and don’t mind the upkeep, carbon steel knives are the way to go.
What is the difference between forged and stamped knives?
Forging a knife is the process of heating a single piece of steel, and after it is red-hot, it is stretched, hammered, and brought to a rough shape. It is further heat-treated and refined by way of normalizing (repeated heated and cooling of temperature) and annealing (to improve flexibility and reduce stress). The knives are then further refined by undergoing various stages of sharpening. The forged knife-making process is labor-intensive, even when it is made using machinery, and hence costs more. Some of the hand-forged and hand-sharpened knives can cost thousands of dollars depending on the bladesmith and the techniques they use.
Stamped knives are manufactured by a process of pressing and cutting flat sheet metal into a stamping press to form the metal into the desired shape. Modern stamping techniques have evolved quite a bit. Some of the manufacturers process the knives by heating the metal to high enough temperatures to realign the molecules, and then temper and harden the knives just like the forged knives. Not all stamped knife manufacturers harden their knives this way, so not all stamped knives have the same sharpness and blade quality as forged knives.
What are the benefits of forged knives?
The main benefit of forged knives is that forging orients the grain flow to provide better strength in the direction of the greatest stress. In other words, a forged blade is stronger. Because of this, forged blades are easier to sharpen, and they retain their sharp edge longer. Forged knives have a full tang, which provides a great balance to the knives, and most have a bolster (either full or half), which supports the fingers. Also, forged knives are artistic and showcase the craftsmanship of the blade maker.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
This article was written by Renu Dhar, who is a chef instructor and personal chef. Renu has taught knife skills to many students and clients, and the question about which knives to buy is one she frequently answers. She sincerely believes there is no such thing as too many knives and recommends trying out various options to feel your connection to the knife. Renu’s current favorite knife is the Wüsthof Classic Kiritsuke Knife, which is included in the Wüsthof Classic 9-Piece Block Set that she tested and reviewed for The Spruce Eats.