The Four Types of Paring Knives

If you are like most people, you were probably unaware that four different types of paring knives exist. You may have noticed that some of these short-bladed knives look different from others but never really paid much attention to their differences or questioned why they existed. For those of you who are not familiar with the different kinds of paring knives and would like more information about their uses, I have written this article. If you are familiar with different types of paring knives and are in search of information regarding how to select the best paring knife, I would like to direct you to our Paring Knife Buying Guide.

In this article I will explain what the different types of paring knives are called, describe their typical physical appearances, and give you examples of how they can be used. It is my hope that this will help you in your search for a new paring knife, since I believe that it is very important to purchase the right type of knife for your needs.


Spear Tip

Probably the most commonly known and the most commonly used type of paring knife, the spear tip paring knife features a short blade with a sweeping outward curve. This blade is often referred to as a “straight edged blade” or a “curved blade”, which means that it is smooth (it does not feature any serrations) with a slight outward curve. The blade of this knife flows from its handle to its pointed tip.

This type of paring knife is most commonly used for peeling thin-skinned fruits and vegetables. For example, this is usually the first knife most people turn to when wanting to peel an apple. Its short blade and small handle make it easy to hold and control. The thin cutting edge of its straight edged blade allows it to easily slide beneath the skin of a fruit, taking off only a very thin layer.

This type of paring knife is also commonly used to slice fruits and vegetables. In fact, it is somewhat of a multipurpose knife in the sense that it is used for some of the same major purposes of the Bird’s Beak and the Sheep’s Foot.

The major purpose of the spear tip paring knife, however, is neither of the two uses listed above. The major purpose is coring. The strong tip and thick blade of the spear tip paring knife is made to cut into fruits and vegetables to remove their cores.


Bird’s Beak

If you have already seen all three types of paring knives it is quite easy to decipher which of the three would receive the name “Bird’s Beak”. In keeping with the tradition of paring knives, this one also features a short blade and a small, easily controllable handle. What is different about its blade and the blade of the more basic Spear Tip Paring Knife is its shape.

Whereas a spear tip paring knife features a sweeping outward curve, Bird’s Beak knives feature an inward curve or no curve at all for the length of its blade. Instead of a pointed tip, toward which both the back and front of the blade are curved, the Bird’s Beak knife features a very sharp tip which protrudes forward over the sharp side of the blade. The angle and appearance of this hooked tip is what earned it the name “Bird’s Beak”.

A Bird’s Beak paring knife is typically used to peel and carve intricate designs into fruits and vegetables. If you have ever wondered how master chefs turn strawberries into roses, you should know that the process likely involved a Bird’s Beak paring knife.

In fact, this type of knife can be quite useful in carving Jack-O-Lanterns, as well. The inward curve of the blade allows you to slice layers of the pumpkin’s outer skin in fewer swipes than a pointed tip paring knife would require, because the shape of the knife will hug the pumpkin’s curves. It’s hooked beak tip can then be used to carve more intricate designs.


Sheep’s Foot

It is rather amusing that these knives were named after animal body parts, isn’t it? This was apparently done because the shape of the knives’ tips were said to resemble these animals. Personally, although I can see a resemblance between the bird’s beak knife and an actual bird’s beak, I fail to see much of a resemblance between this knife and an actual sheep’s foot.

This type of paring knife features a smooth, straight edge, but instead of having some sort of curve like the other two types of knives, this one is completely flat. This flat blade is perfect for cutting through thin bricks of cheese and the like, but is best used for julienning.

The tip of this knife isn’t really a tip at all. The smooth, dull back side of the blade curves over toward the blade, much like the tip of the Bird’s Beak, but does not overhang; it stops at the flat part of the blade. This dull, rounded tip is very helpful and was designed with safety in mind. When cutting though something to julienne it, for example, cooks must often press down on the back side of the knife’s blade. The dull, curved tip of the Sheep’s Foot allows you to do so without worrying that you will slice your fingers open if they happen to slip.


Serrated Blades

I understand that this probably shouldn’t be designated as a type of its own, considering that all three types of paring knives listed above can come with serrated blades. Of course, the typical Spear Tip, Bird’s Beak or Sheep’s Foot features a straight edged blade, but serrated options are available.

Serrated versions of the above-mentioned paring knives are usually used for performing the same tasks as their straight edged counterparts, except that they can cut through thick-skinned fruits and vegetables much easier. For example, if you are trying to peel an orange with a paring knife, you are going to want to get your hands on a serrated spear tip or bird’s beak.

A serrated sheep’s foot, on the other hand, is most useful in cutting through small baguettes. Whereas large serrated blades may be a little more knife than is necessary and small, straight edged blades will struggle to cut through the crust of a baguette, a serrated sheep’s foots will make its way through without a problem.


What Does This All Mean?

The purpose of this article was to teach you a little more about the different types of paring knives so that you can be sure you purchase the right type of knife to fit your needs. Before you even begin looking for a new paring knife, ask yourself what you plan to use it for. If you plan to use it for all of the above-mentioned tasks, you may actually want to consider purchasing multiple paring knives of different types.