Consider any chef’s knife. It’s pretty easy to tell what it’s made of, how long the blade is, and how sharp it probably is. With some practice, you’ll be able to tell if the handle is comfortable for you or not.
But every kitchen knife has one thing that is “hidden”: its balance. What makes a knife work well? How do you know if a knife isn’t well-balanced for the way you cut?
That’s what I want to tell you about today. With ten years of experience using kitchen knives and a few years of experience making blades, I hope to help you understand this sometimes confusing subject.
We’ll talk about why knife balance is important, how to know if your knife is balanced, and what to look for in the way a knife is made. By the end of this article, you should have a better idea of what kind of knife balance works best for the way you cook.
Why Does Knife Balance Matter?
The balance of a knife is important for both comfort and skill.
If you have a well-balanced knife, you can cut for an hour without hurting your wrists or hands. You’ll also find it easier to hold the knife, which will make it easier to make clean cuts.
But if you use a knife that isn’t well-balanced, you’ll find the opposite. You’ll get sore spots on your hands or wrists that hurt more as you use them for longer. Also, it will be hard to make small or precise cuts.
Finding Your Knife’s Balance Point
But here’s the catch: there is no “gold standard” for how a knife should be balanced. The balance point of a knife will depend on what kind of knife you are using.
For this example, let’s use a chef’s knife, which is the most common type of kitchen knife. Then, in the next section, we’ll look at a few types of knives that might be better with a different balance.
Most high-quality chef’s knives are designed to be balanced around the blade’s tip. Both Western and Eastern styles of cutting use a pinch grip to give the user more control. So, it makes sense that you would want your knife to be balanced where you hold it.
You can see if your chef’s knife is balanced by extending your index finger and balancing the knife like a teeter-totter. If it’s balanced the way I just said, you should be able to find the point of balance right past the bolster at the tip of the blade.
Your knife is handle-heavy if it leans toward the handle. Some chefs like this type of knife balance when they are working with soft or fragile foods. Chopping shallots or scallions is a good example, since you don’t have to use much force to cut these vegetables.
Your knife is blade-heavy if it leans toward the blade. This type of chef knife may be preferred by cooks who work with large pieces of meat because the heavier blade gives them more leverage when cutting tougher foods.
Do Technique and Grip Change How A Knife Should Be Balanced?
Balance depends more on the knife than on how you hold it or how you use it. This assumes you know how to hold a knife safely, with your forefinger and thumb gripping just past the bolster to give you more control.
This is best shown with cleavers. You should never, ever balance a cleaver near the bolster. They should always be heavy on the blades to give them more cutting power and make them last longer.
Most of the time, a long, thin filet knife needs a heavy handle. Their flexible blades are made to be pulled through fish or meat, not chopped with. So, a long-cutting tool with a heavy handle gives you more control.
How Does Construction Affect Knife Balance?
The balance of a knife depends on the materials and methods used to make it.
The blade of a knife will be blade-heavy if it is thicker and heavier. But if the handle is made of thick hardwood, it might be able to get back to being balanced in the middle.
In the same way, a knife blade can be heavy if it has a light plastic handle. This is common on cheaper knives, where plastic handles are used because it’s the cheapest material.
Lastly, think about the bolster of your knife. Does it have a full bolster, half bolster, or no bolster at all? The way a knife feels in your hand depends on the bolster. Full bolsters will draw attention to a center balance, while designs with no bolsters will take attention away from a center balance.
What Is A Perfectly Balanced Knife?
To find the right knife balance, you have to try things out and see what works best. Because each chef has different hands, the perfect balance will also be a little different for each one.
Still, it’s usually a good idea to start from a point of center balance. Knives that are balanced right at the tip of the blade tend to work for the most chefs. And if that doesn’t work for you, you’ll be able to tell by how the knife feels.
Once you find the right balance for your knife, your time in the kitchen will be more productive and fun. If you’re having trouble finding a knife that’s well-balanced, feel free to send me an email. I’d be happy to show you some examples. Or, to get started, take a look at some of my favorite kitchen knives.