Seido's Pro Guide: Understanding Japanese Knife Handles

Wa handles are a key feature of traditional Japanese knives. When you look at Western-style handles, you’ll see they are attached using a bolster and rivets. However, Japanese handles for knives are known for their cylindrical shape, simplicity, and lack of a bolster. The two qualities that are predominant in Japanese handles are precision and balance. These knives are designed to give superior control and a comfortable grip, allowing you to easily perform intricate cutting tasks.

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Japanese handles for knives come in different sizes and shapes. The knives are made from various materials selected for their durability and beauty. The most common shapes for Japanese knives, like those found in the Kanpeki Damascus Knife Set, are round, oval, octagonal, shield, and D-shaped.


Symmetrical round handles for knives accommodate both right-handed and left-handed users. The traditional “wa” handle shape is embodied in the round handle, primarily observed in Japan. It is very common to find this shape in knives exported from Japan.

Japanese Gyuto with round knife handle


The oval handle orients the knife on its vertical plane, providing exceptional control. Its ergonomic design makes it easy to use for extended periods. The symmetrical nature of the oval shape works for both right- and left-handed users. Cooks from beginners to professional chefs use this all-purpose kitchen knife shape.


The octagonal shape is prevalent in Japanese knives exported worldwide, exemplified in the Hageshi AUS10 Japanese Knife Set. These knives boast excellent blade control, a firm grip, and symmetry suitable for both right- and left-handed users. Crafted to minimize slipping, particularly when working with raw meats like fish, some octagonal knife handles have slightly flattened sides, enhancing alignment to the cutting board. More challenging and expensive to produce, this style is a key feature of high-quality Japanese knives.

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The shield-shaped handles for knives are ambidextrous and ideal for individuals with smaller hands. Designed to orient the knife on the vertical plane, it offers extreme control and can have a flat or rounded bottom. Combining features of octagonal and overall handles, it has eight sides with the top slightly wider than the bottom.


The D-shaped Japanese knife blade provides excellent control and feedback. Unlike other knives discussed here, it is not ambidextrous, requiring users to choose either the right- or left-handed style. Known for its precision, this design is considered a distinctive aspect of the Japanese handle styles.


Japanese handles for knives are primarily made of wood. Owing to the lack of raw materials needed, in recent years, some blacksmiths have opted to use composite materials. For example, the Executive Japanese Damascus Steel Knife Set has a beautiful combination of wood and blue resin in the handle.

Commonly used woods include ebony, magnolia, walnut, cherry, cedar, and oak. Previously, wood was soaked in a mineral solution or water to prevent mold growth on the handles. Advanced methods such as oil, varnish, and other protective measures are now employed to safeguard the wood. Careful consideration is given to the selection of wood, emphasizing the importance of straight grain in preserving the appearance and durability of the finished handle.

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Western handles feature a three-rivet style that has been in use for centuries in Europe. These handles are precision-engineered and designed for optimal functionality. They prioritize ergonomics, with contoured shapes that naturally fit the hand.

In contrast, Japanese handles are designed for simplicity, functionality, and aesthetic appeal. Unlike Western knives, Japanese knives lack the thick-riveted tang. Despite the absence of rivets, Japanese handles are remarkably sturdy. The lack of rivets also simplifies replacement if issues arise with the knife or handle. Japanese handles are notably lighter, allowing the blade’s center to be closer to the blade itself rather than the handle.


At the end of the day, the choice should boil down to what feels good in your hand and works best for you. Explore each variety of knife handles, as this will make it much easier to find the elegant, lightweight Japanese knife that matches your cooking style.

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