What is a Petty Knife Used for

Discover the traditional Japanese petty knife and what makes it a must-have in the kitchen.

What is a Petty Knife?

When you need to do a small cutting task, you need a small blade.

A petty knife is a multi-purpose double-bevel knife that is smaller in size than other Japanese knives, so it also allows for in-hand work such as coring and peeling, as well as other smaller tasks for which larger knives are deemed unwieldy.

It is seen as one of the most important knives to have in the kitchen, coming second only to gyuto (the Japanese version of the Western chef’s knife).

In basic terms, a petty knife is a preparation knife that gets the ingredients ready for the use of a larger knife such as a santoku, bunka, gyuto, or sujihiki. It is used as a primary knife that complements a larger secondary all-rounder, and together they can handle the vast majority of food prep work. 

The reason for its popularity lies in its small size and sturdy spine—it can handle most small and intricate tasks that other knives are too big or fragile for, including in-hand work such as peeling, or cutting meat at the tendons. Its smallness is also the source of its name petty, which comes from the French word “petit”.

The history of the Petty knife

The petty is a Japanese adaptation of the Western utility knife, created in the Meiji period in the late 19th century when Western food and utensils were introduced to Japan.

Due to this influence from the West, the Japanese developed additional knives that imitated their Western counterparts—most notably the gyuto (Japanese chef’s knife) and petty (Japanese utility knife).

They merged this newfound inspiration with the best qualities of traditional Japanese knives, such as the harder Japanese steel and hand forging, which allowed for better sharpness.

How to use a petty knife

The petty is a small version of an all-round knife, with its distinct advantages.

It’s thin but has a thick sturdy spine. It’s light, flexible, and is useful for various purposes, from peeling vegetables to mincing herbs. Although the blade of a petty knife has a distinct heel, the knife is too small for a regular hammer grip, so it is usually held in a pinch grip.

It is often the first knife to make contact with the food in its initial stages of preparation, whether it’s gathering, peeling, coring, mincing, tearing, or tendon cutting. If push comes to shove, it can handle the vast majority of cutting work, however, more specialized and larger knives are recommended in later stages of food preparation.

When it comes to small and intricate tasks, especially those done in-hand, the small petty has a distinct advantage over other Japanese knives, as it offers better control and safety.

For example, when removing the core of the apple, the gyuto would of course be able to pierce the surface with its sharp and pointy end. However, its large size would put your hand at a distance that would not allow for precise control needed for intricate cuts, which could put you at risk of injury.

Using a petty knife does not necessarily require the use of a cutting board. To ensure safe use, it is important not to rush and that you don’t direct the knife towards yourself. 

Most often the petty is held securely and comfortably in the knife hand, while the ingredient being cut is turned with the guide hand. The thumb of the knife hand is resting on the ingredient held in the guide hand, which adds extra control and stability. 

When handling a petty knife, rather than the method used, the most important thing to focus on is to do the task slowly, with control and have a comfortable but firm grip.

The petty’s size also makes it more wieldy and portable than other knives—it is often used in the garden, where it cuts and cleans the ingredients as a first step in food preparation.

What can you cut with a Petty Knife?

A petty knife can be used in a variety of ways and tends to be the favorite choice for smaller and in-hand tasks.

It is most often used for:

- peeling apples, potatoes, oranges, zucchinis, etc.;

- hulling, i.e. removing the covering or stem and leaves from fruits and vegetables;

- coring, i.e. removing the tough central part from fruit, onions, tomatoes, etc.;

- decorative cuts, removing eyes from potatoes, etc.;

- slicing salami, smaller vegetables, etc.;

- mincing garlic and herbs.

Due to its typically thicker spine, the petty knife is very sturdy and can handle harder ingredients, too, including tendons and even small bones. It is often used as a precursor for a larger knife such as a gyuto (for large meat cuts) or a deba (for fish preparation).

What is the best size for a Petty Knife?

The shape of the petty knife resembles a gyuto but in a smaller version.

Blade lengths of petty knives typically range from 90mm (3.5”) to 150mm (5.9”), with the majority measuring between 120mm (4.7”) and 150mm (5.9”).

There are some rare exceptions where petty knives can measure as much as 180mm (7”) in length.

For the average user, the size between 120mm (4.7”) and 150mm (5.9”) is best, as it will cover the majority of tasks, so you don’t need to purchase a second petty knife.

Aside from being the best choice for in-hand work (such as peeling and coring) or delicate tasks (such as mincing and trimming), petty knives are also a great choice for anyone who:

- needs a practical, wieldy knife for quick, smaller tasks (such as cutting lemons in half for lemonade or removing the green tops from strawberries), 

- has a very limited workspace, or 

- finds a gyuto knife too large, intimidating, or heavy, but still wants a good all-rounder.

Although the petty knife is a great all-rounder, we recommend a gyuto—a Japanese version of the Western chef’s knife—if you’re planning on also cutting large cuts of meat, fish, or larger vegetables, because the petty is too small for such tasks.

- 90mm (3.5”) to 120mm (4.7”)

This size of a petty knife is ideal for in-hand tasks, such as peeling, segmenting, or decorating.

- 120mm (4.7”) to 150mm (5.9”)

The best choice for those who want to have just one petty in their collection and still want maximum functionality.

- 150mm (5.9”) or more

The petty knives of this size are often called utility knives—useful for most utility jobs in the kitchen, these are mostly used in combination with a cutting board.


With years of use and regular sharpening, Japanese knives reduce in size.

Some professional chefs find a new use for such “reduced” gyuto knives and other once-regular-sized knives by utilising them as petty knives.

What is the difference between a utility and a petty knife?

Petty is the Japanese version of the Western paring and utility knives and the names are often interchangeable when referring to small, double-ground utility knives. They are very similar both in size and in function.

As already mentioned in the history section above, the petty is a Japanese adaptation of the Western utility knife, created in the Meiji period in the 19th century after the influence stemming from the West. The utility knife itself evolved from the French office knife.

The definition of the word paring is “to trim (something) by cutting away its outer edges or skin”.

As such, the name of the Western paring knife suggests it is a vegetable peeler, but it’s far more than that, as it is also used for hulling, coring, slicing, mincing, and a variety of other cutting tasks.

The Western utility knife is used less often than the paring knife and plays the role of the “middleman” for general utility tasks. It handles tasks that are too small for a Western chef’s knife and too big for the Western paring knife, such as removing the core of a cauliflower, cutting off onion ends or carving a roasted turkey.

PETTY vs UTILITY - A Comparison:

Although the Japanese petty was based on the Western utility knife, there are some key differences between them, such as the petty being more triangular, thinner, harder, and having a straight edge as opposed to a curved one—although utility knives made by Japanese smithies have blurred these lines somewhat. 

It is important to note that the following differences are very general statements, as individual models can vary significantly depending on the maker and brand of the knife.

Blade length:

The Japanese petty is the same size as the Western utility knife, which ranges from 90mm (3.5”) to 150mm (5.9”).

Blade shape:

The Japanese petty blade shape tends to be more triangular in profile, and the cutting edge is straighter. The blade is thinner, more nimble, and usually lighter than in the case of the utility knife.

Blade material:

Japanese petty knives are often made from high-carbon steel or a combination of high-carbon and stainless steel, whereas Western utility knives tend to be made out of stainless steel. Petty knives have a hard core and a more acute, sharp edge, which usually requires more care and maintenance, whereas utility knives are generally very easy to maintain and are more forgiving if handled roughly.

Handle design:

Petty knives come with a Western or Japanese handle, the latter of which is lighter, places the center of gravity of the knife towards the front of the knife, and is designed for the pinch grip. It has a stick tang that is not visible, and the handle itself can be easily replaced. Western utility knives have Western handles that are ergonomic and have a full, visible tang, that in most cases extends along the entire length of the handle. The handles are more robust and designed for a full hammer grip, and they are difficult to replace if damaged.


The uses of petty and utility knives are very similar. They can both handle a range of different tasks, spanning from thin and precise cutting to thicker and tougher cuts, such as poultry and boneless meat.

The Western utility knife is also suitable for slicing sandwiches. When it comes to slicing bread, though, the Japanese petty is not the best choice.


Japanese knives should never be used to cut bread.

The thin, sharp edges of Japanese knives are not suitable for slicing through crust—it can put stress on the fine edge of the knife, causing it to chip. Non-serrated blades are not suited for sawing through the softer inside of the bread, either, because they will squish it. 

The only exception to this rule is the Japanese bread knife pankiri, designed specifically for cutting bread. These knives have a serrated edge, which makes them better suited for slicing through crusty bread without taking damage.

What kind of blade finish design should I get on my petty knife?

If you’re a visual person, the design and overall decorative look of the knife might play a significant role in your user experience. While there are as many different designs of blade finish as there are blacksmiths, here are the most typical and popular ones:

Kuro-uchi finish

A practical choice with a hint of rusticality. A part of the black oxide surface formed by the quenching during forging is left on the blade. The unpolished black surface gives the knife a rustic look and helps to protect the blade against rust.

Tsuchime finish

The surface of the blade that extends between the shinogi line and the spine of the blade, also known as the hira, is hammered to leave unique indentations on the surface of the blade. Aside from the stunning visual effect, this also creates air pockets that trap air between the blade and the cut ingredient, decreasing the sticking of the ingredient to the blade.

Damascus finish

One of the most popular and more expensive blade finishes. It is famous for its wave- or wood-grain-like pattern in which layers of softer steel surrounding the harder steel core can typically be seen. Originally, Damascus was a type of steel produced in ancient India—today’s blade finish, known as the Damascus pattern, imitates its look. 

Kasumi finish

This is the most popular blade finish found on traditional Japanese knives. Its signature look is a hazy kireha line, which is created using different polishing material that varies from bladesmith to bladesmith. If the surface is made shiny instead of hazy, this is called mirror finish, also known as kyomen finish. It tends to be more expensive, as its creation requires more steps and time.

Nashiji finish

Nashiji in Japanese means “pear skin pattern” because it imitates the skin of the Asian pear. The top of the blade has a gently textured surface that is lightly dappled and slightly coarse. This doesn’t only give it striking looks but also has a practical function because it helps prevent food sticking to the blade. It also allows for a steady pinch grip.

The nashiji look is achieved with textured rollers. This look can be beautifully subtle and designed to look like winter snow, like in Yuki knives from Kato smithy, or it can be combined with more pronounced dimples, like in the Ginsanko series from Hokiyama smithy.

Migaki finish

Migaki is the polished finish on Japanese knives that gives them a minimalist and elegant look. The surface is thinned and polished to bring out the reflective and shiny nature of the blade. A polished finish causes the least damage to food cells during cutting and is best for the most delicate of tasks.

When the blade is forged in san-mai style, a silver hair line finish is also created during the polishing process. It runs along the length of the blade just above its edge and marks the separation between the softer and the harder, core steel. 

Some manufacturers opt for a cloudy polished finish, while others achieve an almost mirror-like polish (kyomen) which requires a little more maintenance.


Petty knives come in a variety of steel types, and the final choice boils down to individual preference (and how diligent you are in maintaining your blades).  There are three main categories of steel used in the manufacture of Japanese kitchen knives: carbon steel, stainless steel, and powder steel. Each has its own advantages.


Carbon steel petty knives are a popular choice of Japanese chefs, because the high carbon content ensures a high hardness level, yet makes the blades easy to resharpen and maintain sharp long-term.

Knives made of high-carbon steel might not be the best choice if you are not willing to take very good care of them by wiping them during and after use, as they are quick to rust if left in an acidic or wet environment. As such, they are not recommended as a first Japanese knife or a gift.

If cared for properly, with use these knives develop a patina—a natural protective layer on carbon steel that protects the blade from further oxidation, which makes them easier to maintain in the long run.

stainless steel

If you are buying your first petty knife, your best option is to choose stainless steel, as it has excellent corrosion resistance. The knife will not rust easily even if you forget to wipe it or leave it in the sink.

When it comes to stainless steel, the most popular choice is VG-10 steel, which boasts great abrasion resistance and thus long-lasting, smooth sharpness.

The high chromium content of the steel creates a protective film on the surface of the blade, which makes stainless steel knives especially popular in the high-paced environment of professional kitchens.

powder steel

If you’re not on a budget, powder steel is an even better choice, even if you are buying your first Japanese knife.

Knives made from powder steel are rare because they are difficult and expensive to produce. Only the best blacksmiths can make them.

Knives made from this type of steel have good corrosion resistance and are incredibly hard (up to 68 HRC!) and tough, so their ability to stay sharp long-term is unmatched.

Do keep in mind that even corrosion-resistant steel needs to be wiped and dried after use.

For more information on different types of steel used to manufacture Japanese knives, see our article Steel: The Heart of Japanese Knives.

How do I sharpen a petty knife?

When sharpening a petty knife, do not raise the bevel line too much, because the petty is very narrow and this could ruin the blade’s aesthetic and potentially even its usability.

The best way to sharpen a petty knife is to have it sharpened by a professional. If, however, you feel up to the task, do not use a pull-through sharpener or electric sharpener, as they would damage the blade permanently. 

You should invest in quality sharpening whetstones with the right grit. The grit number of the sharpening stone is determined by the number of particles located on a 2.5 square centimeter surface.

For a basic sharpening of a petty knife, we recommend having at least 2 grit sizes—a medium stone for removing material and a fine stone for creating a smooth, polished surface, of which a combination whetstone with the grits 1000 and 3000 is your best bet. If, however, you are repairing a chipped or broken petty knife, you will also need a very coarse whetstone of approximately 220-400 grit

To avoid cross-contamination between the grits, which can negatively impact the sharpening of the blade, always use water to rinse the blade and the whetstones thoroughly.

For more information on sharpening and the different sharpening equipment available check out our  Sharpening stones and other accessories article.

Frequently Asked Questions

The petty knife is deemed one of the most vital knives to have in your arsenal, coming second only to gyuto (Japanese chef’s knife). It covers all small and in-hand tasks such as peeling, coring, removing eyes from potatoes, mincing herbs, etc., while ensuring optimal control and safety. Even if you rarely cook, we would recommend having at least one.
The bird’s beak knife has a curved blade and is—like the petty— often used for peeling, garnishing, and other similar small tasks. Because the point of the knife is at a unique angle, the knife offers exceptional control without the need to angle your wrist during cutting.