One can find a lot of information on how to choose a knife. But it is either aimed at beginners – “buy this knife made by XXX, and you will have no problems”, or for experienced users. Similarly, there are knife blogs, where instead of being given an answer to your question, you will be sent to search further, or advised to purchase an expensive knife.
However, in order to make the right choice, all you need is common sense and personal experience with knives, and everybody has those. The first thing to do is to understand why you need a knife. It's easy, as you can look at the type of the knife and determine what it is for. Kitchen knives are for cooking, hunting ones for hunting, pocket knives for everyday usage.
Each category contains further knife types
The next step is not the choice of steel, as you might think, but the selection of the handle. If the handle is inconvenient, it isn’t comfortable to work with the knife. Especially if you expect to work with the knife a lot, or aim to carry out a difficult task.
In the case of kitchen knives, it’s best if the handles are convenient for all the family members, as all of them will be using the knife.
Therefore, it’s very important to hold the knife in your hand before you buy it. If you don’t want to let go of it- it’s the right handle for you. But if you feel the slightest discomfort, if you think “don’t worry, you will get used to it”, do not buy the knife with that handle.
Now, we have to determine the size of the blade.
The main criterion here is your personal preference, but it does not hurt to take into account the experience of others. For example, it’s more convenient to peel vegetables with a knife which is 8 - 10 cm long, and to cut with one that is longer.
The best blade length for a hunting or tourist knife is 12 to 15 cm. It is easy to decide on the width of the blade: it shouldn’t be too narrow. If the knife isn’t specialized, 20 mm is the minimum width for a multi-purpose knife. And the thicker the blade is, the greater the width must be. Otherwise, the knife will not cut well. Too much width is not good either, it will only add weight to the blade.
We have already started talking about the thickness of the blade. Thickness of 3-3.5 mm is sufficient for most tasks involving knives. Thickness of specialized blades can be larger or smaller, but again – within the reasonable limit.
And now, we can talk about steel.
Many different varieties and types of steel are used in knife manufacturing, but if you're not an enthusiast or a high-tech fan, you don't have to rack your brain. If you don’t want your knives to get rusty and have a bad odor, then you should choose stainless steel knives.
The hardness of the knife shouldn’t be lower than 56 or higher than 60 HRC* (the Rockwell international unit of hardness). If it is lower, the knife will quickly become dull. If it is higher, you will either have to buy special whetstones for sharpening and master this art, or to spend money on professional sharpening services. The best level is 58-60 HRC.
All these conditions are met by the knives made of AUS -8 or VG -10 steel, and these knives can have just about any application. This is the best choice for an ordinary user. But different knives are differently priced by different stores and different manufacturers. Here you must use your common sense and life experience to find the perfect balance of price and quality. As you can see, no special knowledge is required.
*HRC – The Rockwell international unit of hardness. Specified by each manufacturer and seller in good faith.