The Different Types of Kitchen Handles

You may not think that it is very important to consider the type of handle your new knife will have. You may think to yourself “Knives are for cutting and I am not cutting with the handle, so why does it matter?” You may also think “The comfort of the handles could be important if I spent all day cooking, but I don’t work at a restaurant, so why does it matter?”

I suppose that I could go on and on for a while with examples of all the reasons why you may think that this article isn’t very important, but I would like to point out one quick fact – you are reading this article. Somewhere, possibly very deep down, you know what I know – that this is important information.

In this article we will take a look at the different types of handles you may see as you begin looking around and thinking about purchasing a new kitchen knife or set of knives. We will look not only at the materials used to create those handles, but also the shape, length, and weight of the handles. Hopefully, by the end of this article, you will have learned a little bit about why this is an important topic and, most importantly, how to select a set of knives with the best handles for your needs.

Why Not Wood?

That is a great question. Personally, I am not a fan of wooden handles, mostly because I find that they are more trouble than they are worth. If you are a fan of wooden handles, chances are that you like how warm they are, their aesthetic appeal, the grip they offer or the fact that they are made from renewable resources. Wow, I just made quite the case for wooden handles. It must be difficult to believe that I am not a fan of them.

Despite the many wonderful qualities of wooden handles, I feel that it is important for me to caution against a few aspects of these handles. Don’t worry, though, I will play fair and point out the negatives and positives of each material as we make our way through this article.

The biggest reason I am not a fan of wooden handles is that you are not supposed to put them in water. Although some feature a water-resistant coating, that coating breaks down over time (especially as the result of exposure to hot and wet environments). Obviously, placing this type of handle in a dishwasher is out of the question. “No big deal,” you may think, “I prefer to buy high-carbon blades which aren’t dishwasher-friendly either.” While that may sound logical, I must point out that you should not even place a wooden handle in a sink full of water. Unlike a high-carbon blade which can be submerged for washing then promptly dried, a wooden handle will soak up the water and slowly begin to rot from the inside out, since you will be unable to dry it completely.

Wooden handles often offer extra grip because they are naturally textured. Most of the time, however, they are able to do this because they are made from raw wood (wood which has not been coated). Raw wood proposes two problems. First, it is not even remotely water resistant. Second, though the texture may add to your ability to grip the handle of these knives it also increases the chances of receiving some sort of splinter while you are working.

Are Steel Handles Good?

That question is very difficult to answer. As with most things, I believe that what is good or bad is all a matter of personal opinion and preference. Let me supply you with a few facts here, though, so that you can go ahead and decide for yourself.

Steel handles, when created as an all-in-one single piece knife with the steel blade and handle seamlessly attached, are extremely easy to clean. The lack of spaces where things attach mean that there is nowhere for bacteria to hide during the cleaning process. An unfortunate downside to steel handles, however, is the fact that these handles become slippery very easily.

These handles usually offer a good balance to the weight of the blade, especially if they are hollow. Hollow handles incorporate more steel than the blades, making them heavier than the blades, offering you more control in completing tasks. Something to consider, though, is that hollow handles may dent if dropped. The obvious solution may seem to purchase knives whose handles are solid steel, but then you may run into a problem with the handle being too heavy, which may lead to wrist fatigue.

Wood Handle

Coated Steel Handle

How About Plastic?

Plastic handles, much like steel handles, run the risk of being slippery. However, it is much easier, and much more likely, for manufacturers to texture plastic handles so that they are less slippery than their steel counterparts.

Also worth noting is that plastic handles are lighter than steel handles. If you are looking for a well-balanced knife with a plastic handle, you will want to be sure to find one which also features a steel bolster and/or end cap.

What With all This Rubber?

If steel and plastic run the risk of being too slippery, you had to have guessed that someone would come up with some sort of alternative to fix that problem. Rubber or silicone handles are handles which are constructed from steel or plastic and have been coated with rubber or silicone to allow you to get a fantastic grip when holding your knife. Of course, everything has its downsides. The biggest downside to this type of handle, in my opinion, is that it will probably break down over time.

Why Weight Matters

Though we have touched on this topic already in our discussions about each material type, I wanted to briefly touch on it again for those people who skipped over all of the information written above and moved straight to this section.

Weight matters because you want to ensure that your handle slightly outweighs your blade, so that you can maintain control over the knife as you complete tasks. Knives with heavy blades and light handles are difficult to control because the weight of the blade pulls the knife downward and to one side or another.

While it is most likely that you will find a knife whose handle is too light, you may also find yourself coming across knives whose handles are too heavy. Handles which are extremely heavy can lead to wrist fatigue and can also make it difficult to control your knife.

Construction Concerns

Most of the construction concerns about a knife’s handle are actually also related to its blade. The main concern is how the handle and the blade are attached to each other. I believe that this topic may have already been covered in our section about knife blades, but still feel it is rather relevant to this discussion, so I will include a little bit of this information here as well.

When searching for a knife, of any type, it is very important to find a knife which has been put together well. You do not want to purchase a knife whose blade will come apart from its handle, as such an incident could be dangerous and lead to injury. I suggest finding a one-piece steel knife or a knife which is full-tang and triple-riveted. By full tang and triple riveted, I mean a knife whose blade extends all the way up through its handle and has been held in place with three evenly-spaced rivets in the handle.

Bolsters and End Caps

Although bolsters serve multiple functions, I chose to include both bolsters and end caps here because they share one function – weight distribution. Steel bolsters and end caps are most important in lightweight plastic or wooden handles. Steel handles should not require a bolster or end cap for extra weight.

That being said, regardless of the type of handle you have, I suggest purchasing a knife whose handle features some sort of protective bolster. A protective bolster is a piece of the handle between the area you grip and the blade; this structure stops your fingers from sliding forward. In terms of protection, it does not matter if the bolster is made from steel, plastic, or wood, as long as it is present.

Handle Comfort Affects Grip

Many people are unaware of how important a comfortable grip is when working with a kitchen knife. They think, “I won’t be using it for very long; I doubt it will hurt my hand.” In a sense, they are correct. If you do not intend to spend hours julienning carrots you probably will not experience a sore palm from working with an oddly-shaped handle.

What you may not realize, however, is that most of us instinctively hold a comfortable handle with more force than we do an uncomfortable handle. This means that you are more likely to lose control of your knife when working with one which features an uncomfortable handle.

Many handles are uncomfortable because they are too slim. Slim handles can be dangerous, because they can easily flip over in your hand, causing you to lose control of your knife.

The Conclusion

First, I would like to thank you for reading this entire article. Secondly, I would like to remind you that these are merely suggestions. As you can see, I haven’t come right out and chosen a particular type of material as the “best” type of material, because each has its benefits and drawbacks. I cannot tell you that you must purchase knives with end caps and steel bolsters, because they may not be necessary for the type of knife you ultimately select.

I encourage you to continue your research and begin looking at specific knives to see what may suit your needs. This website is full of reviews for the best-selling kitchen knives on today’s market as well as buying guides and other informational articles which may be of interest to you. Good luck with your search.