America’s Test Kitchen: Japanese- versus Western-Style Handles

When you’re looking for a knife, it’s easy to focus on the blade and how well it cuts. But the handle is just as important, considering you hold it every day.

There are two basic types of handles. Western-style handles—sometimes called yo-handles in Japanese markets—were historically found on knives made in Europe. They can be made from either wood or plastic and are shaped with gently curved undersides, in a way that seems molded to the user’s hand. They also have a specific type of tang, the back part of the blade that extends into the handle. Western-style handles often sport a full tang, meaning that the metal runs the entire length (and sometimes breadth) of the handle. You can see the metal spine of the tang running along the top of the handle; the tang itself is attached to the sides of the handle with metal rivets. Because there’s so much more metal in a Western-style handle, the knife is usually heavier overall but also balanced more evenly between blade and handle.

By contrast, Japanese knives were historically made with wa-, or traditional, handles that are oval, hexagonal, or even octagonal in profile. Traditional Japanese knives have partial or half tangs, which go only part of the way into the handle, and/or stick or “rat-tail” tangs, which are relatively thin and narrow. (These can either run the length of the handle or go part of the way, so you can have a partial rat-tail tang.) The tang itself is invisible, secured to the handle from within using glue. Because there’s less metal in a wa-handle, the knife is lighter overall, and the weight of the knife tilts slightly toward the blade. Japanese-style handles are usually made from wood.

Really good article from an unexpected source. FWIW, I love the octagonal handle on my Murray Carter.

Each facet seems to match up perfectly with the wrap of my fingers around the handle, and makes a pinch-grip very natural.

You can see quite clearly by the differential patina, that the knife is regularly held in a pinch-grip.

Read the whole thing at