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What is a Petty (Paring/Utility) Knife?

The Petty knife, also known as the Japanese paring knife or the Japanese utility knife, is a versatile multi-purpose knife that is typically larger than a western paring knife, but smaller than a western chef’s knife or the Japanese chef’s knife, the Gyuto.

Petty knives are considered to be a smaller version of the Gyuto chef’s knife and are similarly used as an all-rounder knife to peel, slice, dice, mince, peel and trim a variety of smaller fruits, vegetables, herbs, garnishes and proteins.

Particularly loved by line cooks in professional kitchens for its compact size and versatility, the Petty knife is also highly recommended for those who:

  • have a smaller workspace
  • want a smaller knife for quick use when a full-sized Gyuto or chef’s knife would be unwieldy (to cut a lime, for example), or
  • have smaller hands and want a lighter alternative to the Gyuto

What does Petty mean?

The name of the Petty knife is said to be derived from the word ‘petit’, meaning ‘small’ or ‘little’ in French. The Petty knife is seen as a smaller version of the Gyuto, the Japanese chef’s knife. The Petty knife is also sometimes referred to as a Japanese paring knife or a Japanese utility knife.

What is a Petty knife best for?

The Petty knife is best for smaller tasks such as slicing or dicing vegetables, fruits and herbs; light butchery work; and for delicate tasks such as making precision cuts.

In particular, smaller petty knives with blades of 80-90mm are useful for off-board cutting or peeling (‘paring’) fruits and vegetables in the hand, or for fine precise work on a chopping board such as brunoise cuts and slicing herbs and garnishes.
The larger sized Petty knives with blades of 120mm to 150mm are considered to be a smaller alternative of the Gyuto chef’s knife, and are similarly used for a wide variety of tasks including slicing and dicing vegetables or fruits, trimming meat, filleting small fish, and other light butchery work. Petty knives of this size are often used by chefs and line cooks during service as the compact size takes up minimal space on the board but functions as a versatile workhorse.

Petty knife characteristics

Size

The Petty knife is generally larger than a western paring knife but smaller than a western chef’s knife or the Japanese chef’s knife, the Gyuto. Petty knives are available in a wide variety of blade lengths ranging from 80mm to 180mm.

The most common blade lengths for a Petty knife are between 80-90mm, or 120-150mm. A 80-90mm Petty knife is ideal for peeling smaller fruits and vegetables in the hand or for fine and delicate tip work on the chopping board. A 120mm or 150mm Petty knife is best recommended as an alternative option to the Gyuto for those with small hands, or for those who have limited workspace in their kitchen.

Shape

The Petty knife shares a similar profile to the Gyuto Japanese chef’s knife and is typically tall and flat at the heel with a slight curve in the front edge of the blade, leading to its pointed tip. The relatively flat heel of the blade makes it well-suited for a variety of chopping styles such as thrust-cutting, while the slight belly towards the tip of the blade allows for easy rock-cutting. The pointed tip of the Petty knife also helps to achieve clean precision cuts.

Edge

The Petty knife typically features a double bevel blade with a razor-sharp edge, as Japanese double bevel knives are ground at a much more acute angle of 10-15 degrees than those of a western paring knife or a western chef’s knife.

Handle

Petty knife handles can be categorized into two categories: the traditional Japanese ‘Wa-Handle’, or a Western-style handle.

The most common wa-handle shapes are the D-shape, oval, or octagonal. While some prefer the ergonomic grip of a D-shaped or octagonal handle, the choice of the handle comes down to personal preference.

How are Petty knives made?

The history of the Japanese Petty knife dates back to the post-Meiji era after Japan opened its borders and began to trade with other countries. The western world started to influence everyday life in Japan including the Japanese diet, and eventually also influenced Japanese kitchens and their utensils. It is said that the Japanese adapted the Petty from the western utility knife, which originally evolved from the French office knife ‘couteau d’office’. This may be the reason that the Petty knife got its name, as the word ‘Petty’ comes from the French word ‘petite’, meaning ‘little’ or ‘small’.

To this day, traditional blacksmiths in Japan still forge Petty knives manually by hand, although many Japanese and Western knife manufacturers now offer their own versions of the Petty knife as well. The most famous cities in Japan for their knives include Sakai (in Osaka), Seki (in Gifu), and Echizen (in Fukui).

To understand how Petty knives are made and to decode the common phrases that are found in knife descriptions, it’s best to look at traditional Japanese knife forging methods and the materials used.

There are two basic categories of Japanese knives - honyaki and kasumi - which are defined by the materials and methods used in their forging.

honyaki (“true-forged”) knives are manually forged by hand following traditional Japanese blacksmithing techniques, and are created entirely out of one single material: high-carbon steel (hagane). The hagane is typically a type of White Steel (Shirogami) or Blue Steel (Aogami), and this style of knife blade is also called a mono steel blade.

The method of creating a honyaki knife is similar to how Katanas (Japanese traditional swords) were made in the past. Forging a Petty knife is a lengthy and difficult manual process that begins with a single high-carbon steel blank, and involves multiple rounds of heat treatment, steel hammering, kilning, polishing and sharpening. This is done manually in the hands of skilled blacksmiths in Japanese cities famous for their knife production, such as Sakai (in Osaka), Seki (in Gifu), and Echizen (in Fukui).

Because honyaki knives are forged from high-carbon steel, its blade is extremely hard and can be sharpened to incredibly thin and sharp edges that will remain sharp for a long time. However, they are challenging to resharpen and prone to chipping, cracking, or breaking if used improperly. Due to the small-scale production and the highly-skilled artisan nature of the blacksmiths, honyaki knives are more expensive, and recommended for experienced and professional chefs who can maintain them.

On the other hand, kasumi (“mist”) knives are made by joining together a piece of soft iron (jigane) with a piece of high-carbon steel (hagane) to create a laminated blade. After forging, hammering and shaping, the carbon steel (hagane) forms the core and cutting edge, while the soft iron (jigane) clads the body and spine of the blade. The hazy appearance of the soft iron in contrast with the glossy carbon steel gives kasumi its signature ‘mist’ appearance, as referenced by its name. Thanks to the added soft iron, kasumi blades have reduced brittleness overall, and are cheaper and easier to sharpen than honyaki knives.

In relation to kasumi knives, Hon Kasumi or Hongasumi knives are also commonly found, and refers to a higher grade of kasumi knives. Although Hongasumi knives are made in the same way as kasumi knives, they are often made from higher quality materials and involve extra attention and steps in its forging, tempering, polishing and finishing processes.

For more information on how Japanese knives are made and the types of steels used, check out our blog on how Japanese knives are made. (link coming soon)

What are popular Petty knife brands?

Petty knives first appeared in the post-Meiji era as a Japanese adaptation of the western paring knife, and eventually gained popularity in Japan and beyond as a nimble general-purpose knife that can be used for quick and smaller tasks in the kitchen.

Petty brands are now made by a variety of Japanese and western manufacturers, including:

  • Yoshihiro
  • Tojiro
  • Gesshin Uraku
  • Masamoto
  • Mercer Culinary
  • Shun
  • Wusthof
  • Zwilling J.A. Henckels
  • Victorinox
  • Global
  • Suisin

How to choose a Petty knife

If you’re in the market for a Petty knife, it can seem difficult to figure out which particular one will be perfect for you, especially if you haven’t had the chance to try out a few models in person to get a feel for what size and style of the Petty feels the most balanced and stable in your hand.

You can see our best recommendations here, but here are some factors to first consider that will help you to choose your Petty knife:

  • Types of steel
  • Handle styles
  • Ideal size
  • Your budget

Which steel should I choose for my Petty knife?

Generally speaking, you have a choice between carbon steel and stainless steel when buying a Petty knife. The type of steel you choose will determine the knife’s edge retention, how easy it is to sharpen, level of resistance to corrosion and rusting, and its overall durability. You can first evaluate which of these factors are the most important to you, and narrow it down from there.

Carbon-steel blades are easier to sharpen and maintain their sharp edges for longer, but require more maintenance as it is prone to rust and corrosion. Over time, a dark patina will form on a carbon-steel knife. Popular high-carbon steel options include White Steel (Shirogami) and Blue Steel (Aogami).

stainless steel blades are generally less expensive, tougher, less likely to chip and more corrosion-resistant, however are harder to sharpen and tend to dull quicker. Popular stainless steel options include VG-10, SG-2, AUS-10, Gingami #3 and Swedish stainless steel.

What size Petty knife should I buy?

We recommend the popular 120mm or 150mm blade lengths as the best size to get the most versatile usage out of your Petty knife. If you’re looking for a true paring knife to peel and slice vegetables and fruits or to do smaller delicate work, a Petty knife with 80-90mm blade length is recommended.

To help make your decision, you should consider factors such as the size of your workspace, the size of your hand, and the size of the produce that you will most commonly work with.

What is the best handle for a Petty knife?

The handle of your Petty knife will determine where the balance point is in your knife and how comfortable it feels to use in your hand.

Consider your usual grip on a knife. If you mostly hold the knife by the handle, a shaped or tapered Western-style handle will feel most comfortable and familiar to you. The balance point of a Petty knife with a western handle tends to be near the center of the blade.

If you hold the knife using a pinch grip, a Petty knife with a traditional Japanese-style handle (‘wa-handle’) will feel great in your hand. The most common wa-handle shapes are the D-shape, oval, or octagonal, and while some prefer the ergonomic grip of a D-shaped or octagonal handle, it all comes down to personal preference. The balance point of a Petty knife with a wa-handle knife is a little further forward towards the tip.

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How do I take care of a Petty knife?

When purchasing a Petty knife, it’s important to think about how you will care for and maintain your Petty knife. Petty knives should be sharpened with water whetstones, and always hand washed and dried after use to prevent rusting and corrosion.

There are lots of detailed videos on YouTube that show you step-by-step how to sharpen your Petty knife. Otherwise, some Petty knife sellers offer a paid sharpening service by trained Japanese knife sharpeners, which can be an easier option.

How much should I spend on a Petty knife?

There are countless options for a Petty knife, starting with budget-friendly Petty knives to traditionally hand-forged honyaki Petty knives that will set you back a few hundred dollars. Setting your own spending limit will help narrow down your hunt for the best value Petty knife.

If you’re looking for some tried and tested Petty knife recommendations, the Kai Wasabi Black Paring Knife, 4-inch (100mm) and the Tojiro DP Petty/Utility Knife (150mm) are both great entry-level choices for under $65. If you’re able to invest a little more, our favorites include the Shun Classic 3.5” Paring Knife (90mm), Sakai Takayuki 15 cm. Petty Knife VG10 Hammered Damascus (150mm) and the Misono UX10 Petty 4.7" (12cm) - Right (120mm).

See why they’re our Petty knives of choice here.

Frequently asked questions

Should I buy a Petty knife?

A Petty knife is one of the most useful and versatile Japanese knives that you can add to your kitchen and your knife collection. If you’ve already got a solid multi-purpose knife such as a Gyuto, Santoku or a Bunka, the smaller Petty knife will help fill the gap for a practical, light and versatile knife that can be easily used for smaller ingredients and in-hand cutting or peeling of fruits and vegetables

It is also well suited for line cooks or those who have limited working space in the kitchen, as the Petty knife will not take up much room on your chopping board but offer immense versatility. If a regular sized Gyuto feels too big or unwieldy in your hand, the Petty knife is also an excellent alternative.

How do you sharpen a Petty knife?

As a rule, the Petty knife should only be sharpened using a whetstone when necessary. Here’s an easy to follow video on how to sharpen a Petty knife:

For more tips, insights and tricks, visit our page on how to sharpen Japanese knives. (link coming soon)

Who makes the best Petty knife?

At Japanese Knives Guide, we believe that the best Petty knife is one that fits your budget, grip style, expected steel type and your chosen size of the blade. Of course, everybody will have different resources and requirements, so our ‘best’ recommendations are always those which present great value for money.

If you’re new to the world of Japanese knives, our foolproof recommendation is this: before jumping at the first chance to own an expensive, high-end Petty knife, why not try your hand at a budget-friendly Petty knife to see if it’s the right fit for you?

Traditionally hand-forged and high-carbon steel Petty knives can easily cost a fortune, and although beautiful, they require some training to get used to the high-maintenance care routine that’s required to keep them in their pristine original condition. It’s always better to first get a feel for the specific qualities of a specialized knife before committing to invest more. That way, you can spend some time mastering different chopping and handling techniques without the fear of damaging your expensive investment piece.

Amazon is an accessible and reputable retailer with plenty of Petty knife options, a transparent customer review section and an incredibly generous returns policy, which makes it the perfect hassle-free and worry-free option for your first Petty purchase. There are many specialized smaller retailers out there, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find one that can provide as much peace of mind with the same level of service and returns policy as Amazon.

With that said, our favorite entry-level Petty knives are the Kai Wasabi Black Paring Knife, 4-inch (100mm) and the Tojiro DP Petty/Utility Knife (150mm). Both of these Petty knives are hand-forged in Japan, and are a great choice to get to know the Petty knife profile.

If you’re looking to invest a little more, the Shun Classic 3.5” Paring Knife (90mm), the Sakai Takayuki 15 cm. Petty Knife VG10 Hammered Damascus (150mm) and the Misono UX10 Petty 4.7" (12cm) - Right (120mm) are all great stain-resistant options for easy maintenance. Shun, Sakai Takayuki and Misono are all Japanese knife manufacturers renowned for their intricate knives offer great value for the level of detail and the performance of their knives over time.

Where to buy a Petty knife


Amazon is an accessible and reputable retailer with many Petty knives on offer. They also have a very generous returns policy for extra peace of mind.

For shorter Petty knives with 80mm-100mm blade length, the Kai Wasabi Black Paring Knife, 4-inch is a great entry-level pick at just under $25. The Kai brand has been forging Japanese knives in Seki city for over 111 years, and the high-carbon stainless steel ensures superior edge retention.

If you’re able to spend a little more, the Shun Classic 3.5” Paring Knife is our 90mm choice. The Shun brand’s renowned precision-forging techniques that are used by the blacksmiths in Japan and the beautiful pakkawood wa-handle makes this Petty knife a crowd favorite.

For longer Petty knives with 120mm-150mm blade length, our favorite choice for beginners is the 150mm Tojiro DP Petty/Utility Knife. The Tojiro brand and the DP model line is particularly famous for their strong VG-10 core and extremely hard stainless steel that is forged in Japan, which has reviewer after reviewer talking about how well this knife holds its edge.

If you’re looking to invest a little further, the Sakai Takayuki 15 cm. Petty Knife VG10 Hammered Damascus is a sight to behold with its beautiful damascus steel, with a corrosion-resistant VG-10 core and a traditional D-shaped red sandalwood wa-handle. If you’re intrigued by the idea of a single bevel blade on a Petty knife, the Misono UX10 Petty 4.7" (12cm) - Right is a solid choice from a reputable Japanese knife manufacturer. The Misono UX10 Petty knife has a 70:30 asymmetrical bevel blade, which will cut as sharp as a single bevel blade. It’s also made from stain-resistant Swedish stainless steel, so this knife will stick around for a long time if you take good care of it.

Petty (Paring/Utility) Knife

Name: 
ぺティ (ぺてぃ)
Rōmaji:
Petti Naifu
Sizing:
80-180mm
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