Posted by: Part-Time Audiophile | March 2, 2009

Your chef’s knife 4: hard or soft?

So there’s steel and there’s steel. Some manufacturers use “tool” steel, some use specialty steels like a weird alchemical concoction called “powdered” steel. Who cares? The point of all that some steels are harder than others.

There’s a scale that measures that, called Rockwell. You might see it as HRC, for short. Typically, cheap knives use softer steel, expensive knives use harder.

My Wusthof Classic has an HRC of about 56. That’s pretty soft, which means that the edge will wear faster and it will need sharpening sooner – the upside is that that sharpening it will be pretty quick.

My Bob Kramer Shun has an HRC of 64. This is crazy-hard. I’ve had it over a year and I have no plans to sharpen it in the near future. However, hard knives tend to be more brittle – and since the edge is so very, very thin, I take great pains to not use this knife when I’m worried about chipping it.

My carbon steel knife, made by a Japanese company called Kumagoro, has an HRC of 61. Pretty high for a quality knife, but not so hard that it’s difficult to maintain it. Hard, yet soft. Great combo.

Kyocera makes a knife called “Kyotop”, which is their top of the line knife. This knife isn’t actually metal at all, but ceramic. It’s HRC score? 66. That’s pretty much unbelievable, and four times harder than “regular” steel. With proper care, you may never need to sharpen that knife. Which is good, because it’s really brittle. Regular use may chip this knife into unusability. I recommend staying away from ceramic knives anyway, but since no one makes a ceramic knife long enough, this is pretty much a moot point.

Recommendations? None. “Soft” knives have their adherents as do “hard” knives. Personally, I’d split the difference. MAC, Global and Shun are all brands that fit right into this middle category.


  1. […] a significant improvement over your typical Wusthof, whose Rockwell rating is in the mid 50s. (See here for a fuller discussion). The Tungsten Carbide bearing has a Rockwell rating of about 90. Why […]

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