What’s the Difference Between German and Japanese Kitchen Knives?
The difference between the two lies primarily in steel hardness and edge angle, which, in turn, ladder up to distinctions in durability and intended function.
Steel: Steel is an alloy composed of iron and carbon. The amount of carbon in a piece of steel directly correlates to hardness and inversely correlates to durability. Due to a difference in forging techniques, Japanese steel blades contain much more carbon than German blades, making them harder, but also more brittle. Because Western-style steel is relatively softer, it’s capable of holding an edge longer and doesn’t need to be sharpened quite as often as Japanese blades do.
Edge: Japanese knife blades are thinner than their German counterparts, allowing for a sharper edge — typically in the range of 15–16 degrees, compared to 20 degrees in Western-style knives. While German blades are typically finished with a machine, Japanese blades are almost always hand-honed and hand-refined. The edge of most Western-style blades is curved to allow for rocking cuts, while Japanese blades are straighter in order to facilitate clean, precise slices.
Function: Japanese kitchen knives are precision cutting tools, designed to slice first and foremost. German blades are more versatile, used for chopping, cutting and slicing; their multi-purpose nature and increased durability go hand-in-hand.