Understanding Japanese Knife Wa Handle Shapes

Japanese "wa" handles are a defining feature of traditional Japanese knives. Unlike Western-style handles, which are typically attached with a bolster and rivets, Wa handles are characterized by their simple, cylindrical shape and lack of a bolster. Crafted for balance and precision, these handles are designed to provide a comfortable grip and superior control during intricate cutting tasks.

In this article, we focus mainly on the shapes of Japanese knife handles.

If you are interested in the materials that the handles come in, you can read an in-depth article, What are Japanese knife handles made of? on our blog. If you would like to learn more about the main differences between Japanese Wa handles and Western Yo handles, you can do that here.

Japanese handles come in many different shapes and sizes, as well as different materials. The most common material a Japanese Wa handle comes in is Magnolia wood, which is popular because of its odorless quality. This is especially important when preparing Japanese dishes, which are centered around fresh, delicate ingredients and their authentic smell and flavor that could otherwise be disturbed.

Other materials for making Wa handles are typically some type of natural wood, such as a type of hardwood (for example walnut, chestnut, and oak) or tropical wood (such as rosewood, African blackwood, wenge or ebony), or even composite materials such as pakka wood or stabilized wood, whereas micarta is more commonly found in western Yo handles.

Aside from being available in many different materials, Japanese wa handles also come in quite a few different shapes: D-shape, oval, round, shield, and octagonalThe preference for one shape over the other is highly individual, so our best advice is to read up on the matter (scroll on!) and try them out to see which shape best suits your hand!

Japanese Wa handle Oval Handle


-  ambidextrous (symmetrical and therefore for left- and right-handed people)

The round handle is the most traditional of the ‘wa’ handle shapes, but, interestingly, it is more or less only used in Japan. It is almost non-existent on knives made for export.

Japanese Wa Handle Oval


- ambidextrous (symmetrical)

The oval shape is probably the most common handle shape. Due to its simple and ergonomic form, it feels very comfortable even when cutting for long periods of time, and offers great control, so it is popular among professional chefs and beginners alike. It is the ideal all-purpose knife handle, common with gyuto and santoku knives.

Japanese Wa Handle D-Shape


- not ambidextrous (not symmetrical)

Their ergonomic shape makes D-shaped knife handles very popular as well. When buying a knife with a D-shaped handle, it is important to note that they differ for right- or left-handed users. This is because they have an ergonomic protrusion made on opposite sides. Handles shaped in this way are most often found on single-edged blades since they give us the most control over the knife when cutting. However, they can get uncomfortable after prolonged periods of use. The biggest benefit of this handle is that it doesn’t wobble during use, but stays fixed, enabling great precision. They are a good choice for people with large hands so that they can avoid overlapping fingers.

Japanese Wa Handle Octagon


-   ambidextrous (symmetrical)

The octagonal shape is a popular shape that can be used with the left or right hand. It offers a very firm grip and excellent blade control when slicing, which makes it a chef-favorite. Its compact and firm grip minimizes the possibility of slipping, which is essential when working with raw fish. The octagonal shape can be symmetrical on all sides but is often slightly flattened, with the sides taller than the top and bottom, resulting in alignment to the cutting board. It tends to be a bit more expensive and is most often fitted to high-quality blades.

Japanese Wa Handle Shield Shape


-   ambidextrous (symmetrical)

The shield handle shape is a mix of the octagonal and oval handle; it has eight sides, yet tapers off, making the top part of the handle wider than the bottom. It is a handle suitable for people with smaller hands and offers a fixed grip with good control.

Understanding Japanese Knife Wa Handle Shapes

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