Santoku Knife

Discover the Knife of Three Virtues – and What Makes it a Kitchen Must Have

What is a santoku knife

Santoku knives are the most commonly used knives in Japanese home kitchens and have conquered the rest of the world and made their way into professional kitchens in recent years too. That is not a coincidence though, as they are great all-rounders which can be used for many different tasks by many different hands. With their size sitting comfortably between smaller petty knives and larger chef's knives and slicers, the santoku knives bridge the gap and offer the best of both worlds—an enticing gateway into the realm of Japanese kitchen knives.

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multi-purpose kitchen knife


The santoku kitchen knife has a very approachable length, which usually ranges from 150mm (5.9 inches) to 180mm (around 7 inches). With this, it bridges the gap between smaller paring knives and bigger chef's knives and slicers.

Compared to the average Western Chef's knife, the Santoku boasts a flatter belly and a wider profile. In practice, this translates to an advantage in preparing vegetables, which usually employs a forward-and-down chopping technique on the cutting board. Its wide profile curves gently toward the tip, resulting in the signature "sheep's foot" shape—a round, less pronounced tip of the blade, perfect for intricate work and precise cuts.

The Three Distinct Parts of the Santoku Knife

Divided into three distinct parts, the Santoku knife showcases its versatility in every cut.

➝ The TIP, designed for intricate work, allows for precision and finesse in slicing, dicing, and mincing.

➝ The fine cutting EDGE accommodates a wide range of tasks, effortlessly gliding through various ingredients.

➝ And at the base, the robust HEEL of the knife takes center stage in tackling heavy-duty chopping.

knife of three virtues

What does santoku mean?

Did you know that the word santoku 三徳包丁means »knife of three virtues« in Japanese? There isn't a clear consensus as to what those virtues are, though.

The word san translates to »number three« and some believe the virtues lie in the knife's ability to tackle three types of produce: vegetables, fish and meat. Another explanation is that the number »three« is referring to the knife's tip, cutting edge, and heel, each suited for diverse tasks. According to the third theory, the three virtues of the santoku are slicing, mincing and chopping.

While vegetables may take center stage, the Santoku's versatility extends to other ingredients as well. Meat lovers will appreciate the santoku's precision and agility when preparing cuts of meat. Though it might lack the extra length of larger knives, the Santoku compensates with its nimble handling, allowing for clean and accurate cuts on smaller pieces of meat.

Santoku: San means “three”, hence the “knife of three virtues”

→ 3 ingredients: meat, fish, veggies

→ 3 tasks: slicing, chopping, mincing

→ 3 different parts of the knife: tip, blade, heel

The Difference Between Wa and Yo Handles


When it comes to handles, you have two types to choose from, each catering to different preferences

Traditionally, a santoku is fitted with an oval Japanese (Wa) wood handle, traditionally crafted from magnolia, but other wood types such as rosewood, walnut, wenge, cherry or pakka are also common. Japanese handles are lighter and ensure a very firm grip. Another plus is that they're very easy to replace. So in case you wear it out or you're just looking to refresh your knife's image, replacing it is a breeze!

For those looking for a more familiar feel in hand, the Western (Yo) style handles are a popular variation, frequently paired with the santoku shape. These handles offer a sturdier build, being a bit heavier and well-balanced, but they can be harder to replace.

The Making of Santoku Knives: A Closer Look into the Process

How are santoku knives made?

To make their knives more durable, Japanese blacksmiths use various lamination techniques. Lamination is the process of »sandwiching« the core layer of high-carbon steel between at least one layer of a softer, and very often also more corrosion resistant steel. This is used to reinforce the blade's structure and improve its resistance to impacts and other external factors, such as rusting.

Santoku knives are normally laminated using the san-mai method (meaning »three layers«), where two layers of softer steel are forge-welded onto the core steel of the knife. This is also the part where blacksmiths get creative and add their personal touch to the final look of the knives.

They use complicated finishing techniques to create intricate damascus finishes or give the knives a sleek polished (migaki) look, while some may be left untreated, resulting in a raw, rustic looking kuro-uchi finish. Usually, this is just a cosmetic feature to enhance the knife's appeal, though some also have a functional use.

Western-made knives often feature dimples, which allow for easier food separation from the blade. Japanese blacksmiths achieve a similar effect with a handmade tsuchime finish, which is made by striking the blade with a hammer repeatedly, creating small indentations in the blade.

Santoku knives feature a double bevel cutting edge, with a flat profile (also called a v-edge) which can be sharpened to a very thin sharpness, and ensures an excellent balance between ease of cutting and robustness. Some higher-end santoku knives can also have a concave profile (or hollow grind), which can be sharpened to an even thinner and extremely sharp point.

read more about the knife making process


What do we use a santoku knife for?

➝ versatile slicing
➝ chopping
➝ dicing vegetables
➝ cutting fish and meat

Santoku is a multi-purpose kitchen knife, which means we can use it for the majority of the cutting tasks we might encounter in the kitchen, with a slight emphasis on vegetable preparation, due to its wide and flat blade. It's a great all-rounder knife that will shine with all kinds of chopping and cutting on the kitchen board. Meat lovers will only miss a little bit of length with larger pieces of meat. But to suit those slicing needs, though not very typical, some larger santoku variations also exist, with blade lengths reaching up to 240mm (9.4")!

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What are the advantages of santoku knives?

The advantages of santoku knives lie in their versatility, efficiency, and precision. Its size and shape allow it to be utilized for a number of different tasks, meaning it can be used as a primary knife that can by itself fulfill the majority of your cutting needs.

knife care

How to take care of a santoku knife?

High-quality santoku knives are usually made with high-carbon steels, which are very hard, but therefore more brittle. This means that they are less resistant to impact and can chip when not used with proper care and technique. To avoid this, the blade shouldn't be used for scraping freshly cut ingredients and especially not for cutting through any bones and joints. This is the job for specialized, heavy-duty knives such as a deba or a cleaver.

Explore Our Maintenance Guide

santoku knife sharpening

As with any knife, even the highest quality santoku will eventually get dull. This is nothing to be afraid of, though, as the flat blade shape of the santoku makes sharpening a breeze. Grab a fine grit whetstone, roll up your sleeves, and with a little practice, you'll have it back to its original glory in minutes.

Now, if you're not keen on honing your sharpening skills, no worries! Professionals can do the job for you. We recommend taking your knife to a local sharpener or using our mail-in sharpening service called KnifeSOS.

learn more about knife sharpening

Who mainly uses a santoku knife?

The Santoku knife's user-friendly design and exceptional versatility make it an excellent choice for both professional chefs and home cooks alike. Its popularity is particularly evident among those who embrace Asian-inspired culinary techniques and meals. However, the shape's widespread adoption in Western kitchens is a testament to its practicality and efficiency.

The Santoku's length, which falls on the shorter side makes it an ideal choice for a smaller modern kitchen surface, which cannot accommodate large cutting boards needed for wielding longer knives. The lightweight nature of the santoku caters perfectly to those with smaller hands, as well as novice cooks who may not feel entirely confident using a larger knife straight away. Its manageable length instills comfort and control and provides excellent balance between the blade and the handle. As a result, you won't feel strained or tired after using it for extended periods.

It is the ideal choice for a household with a more vegetable-based diet, as its shape makes it the perfect tool for the up-and-down motions usually employed for chopping heaps of vegetables. This doesn't mean, though, that you cannot cut a nice piece of meat or slice some tuna for sushi night.

However, if you find yourself frequently dealing with larger cuts of meat, you might be better off with a longer blade shape like a gyuto or a sujihiki, as they excel in long, pulling motions that result in cleaner cuts that damage less of the food's tissue.


To find the best santoku knife for you, take a look at our santoku collection or complete a quick quiz to see which knife fits your use best.


knife sets

Do I need any other knives with a Santoku knife?

A santoku knife truly reaches its full potential when paired with a petty knife. While the santoku excels in handling a wide range of cutting tasks, the petty knife steps in when more delicate and precise work is required. These smaller knives, also known as paring knives, effortlessly tackle intricate tasks, such as peeling and preparing fruits, that might prove a bit too tricky for their larger counterparts.

Whether you're a seasoned culinary enthusiast or just starting your journey into the world of cooking, this power duo is a must-have for any well-equipped kitchen.

Explore some of our two-piece santoku knife sets, that offer the pairing of a santoku knife and a petty knife, ensuring you have the right tools at your fingertips for any culinary challenge coming your way.

Shop Santoku Knife sets

Discover our Japanese Santoku knife collection

If you're on the hunt for a reliable, all-purpose knife that seamlessly handles a variety of cutting tasks, the Santoku is the perfect investment. It stands as an embodiment of artistry and precision—a true testament to the enduring traditions of Japanese craftsmanship. It's particularly beloved by beginners, who quickly appreciate its balanced feel and comfortable grip, allowing them to swiftly adapt to this essential culinary tool, but also utilized by professional chefs who have it at the ready whenever any ingredient on hand needs a quick and precise chop.

santoku collection

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