With knives, like any other tool, it is always best to buy the best quality you can afford. Whatever the purpose you have for the knife - from cooking to whittling - the pleasure to be obtained from using a well-made tool enhances the entire process.
On the other hand, the frustration of using a poorly-made tool takes away from the pleasure in the job, and therefore the end result of your effort is often inferior to your intentions.
To select the best quality knife, it is helpful first to identify the main uses to which the knife will be put. A kitchen knife that is used primarily for chopping vegetables will have a very different blade and heft than a knife that is used for gutting fish.
With respect to cooking, the most versatile is the chef's knife; the workhorse of the kitchen. If you could only have one knife, this would be the one to choose. If you are investing in a knife set, make sure the set includes at least the chef's knife, a paring knife, and a serrated knife.
To choose a good quality knife, it is helpful to know the parts of a knife and what to look for in making your selection.
1. The Point is the part of the blade for piercing.
2. The Tip includes the point, and is the upper quarter of the blade. It is used for the cutting and separating of smaller items.
3. The Center is where most of the knife's work happens, using long slicing motions. Since it receives the most use, it dulls the quickest.
4. The Edge is the entire sharp part of the blade.
5. The Spine is the opposite part of the blade, or the un- sharpened top.
6. The Heel is the lower part of the blade, and is used to cut through tough items that involve using weight or force.
7. The Bolster is a thicker strip of steel between the blade and the handle. The bolster has two functions: balance and protection. The band of steel helps prevent the hand from accidentally slipping forward and across the blade. Bolsters are found only on forged knives, and not on stamped knives. It is one of the elements to look at carefully when selecting a knife.
8. The Handle or Scales can be made of wood, metal, or synthetic material. Some synthetic materials are a better choice than wood or metal because they can withstand high temperatures or can provide better friction for grip. Consider these factors as you make your decisions.
9. The Tang is the part of the blade that extends into the handle. In cheap knives, this part of the knife is often a cost short-cut because it isn't always visible. But the Tang is an important part of the knife, not only for balance, but also for durability. In good knives, the Tang usually extends all the way to the butt of the handle.
A final suggestion. Keep your knives sharp. Not only is it more elegant to use a properly maintained tool, but sharp knives are safer than dull knives (which are dangerous); with a dull knife, you must apply more pressure, and your hand is more likely to slip.
Daniel Lebarge, journalist and internet publisher, is a contributing writer for Knife Line , offering valuable free information about the care and selection of knives. Articles by Daniel are also found at All Boots and FMP Tools .