There is a lot of confusion around the world as to what makes a knife left-handed, especially the serrated knives. Even the knife manufacturers can't agree! To ease the confusion, we have done extensive research in order to better understand the issue.
While reading this segment, please remember that using a kitchen knife generally requires movement only at the shoulder (back and forth) and a little at the elbow (up and down): the wrist and hand should remain still and straight! At the dinner table, we might use a little more hand movement in order to be kind to those seated beside us.
Diagram of a centre-bevelled
blade as seen from the tip.
Almost all straight-edged knives are bevelled (angled) toward the centre of the blade. Both sides are shaped the same and the blade is symmetrical if viewed from the point. All of these knives will perform the same way in either the left hand or the right hand. If you get poor results using these knives, you have either selected the wrong knife for the job or your technique needs adjustment.
Other straight-edged blades can be bevelled off-centre, so that they have a twisting action similar to the serrated knives (see below).
Another exception to this rule is the sashimi knife. It is bevelled on one side only to assist the chef to make very thin slices. Many actually have a concave 'flat' side to create an air pocket to prevent the moist meat from sticking to the blade creating a tear in the meat. There is a left-handed version and a right-handed version of the sashimi knife, the bevel being on the opposite side.
Diagram showing the twisting
action of a serrated knife when
viewed from the tip.
Serrated knives are generally bevelled and scalloped on one side of the blade only. Very few are centrally bevelled. The most commonly used serrated knives are bread knives and small vegetable knives, however, there are full knife sets available with serrated edges. The general rule is that the bevelled edge should lie on the outside of the bodyline the cutting side) while the flat edge is toward the centre of the body (the holding side).
Most serrated knives are designed to help stop the cut slices from sticking to the blade and tearing. The one-sided bevel helps the cut slice to peel away from the knife. If the bevel is on the wrong side, the slice doesn't fall away but sticks to the back of the blade. There is also a natural twisting action created by the serrated knife as it cuts: the flat edge tries to go straight down while the bevelled edge causes it to curl under toward the holding side.
This natural action is counteracted by the chef's grip on the handle: the bottom of the handle pushes against the ends of the fingers and the top pushes against the butt of the hand, giving the greatest level of comfort and control. Using a knife with the opposite bevel requires the chef to grip the knife more firmly than would otherwise be required as the handle pushes against two natural spaces in the grip. For this reason, a right-handed knife is bevelled on the right side of the blade and a left-handed knife is bevelled on the left side of the blade.
The only exception to this rule is for the tomato slicers as the user cuts horizontally whilst holding the tomato in the hand: the flat edge needs to still be on the holding side, hence a right-sided bevel for a left-handed slicer. Also, when lifting a slice off a plate, the flat edge rests against the plate while the serrated edge slides more easily under the piece of tomato.
Our research has shown that cutlery manufacturers follow tradition rather than a scientific reasoning for the way that the table knives are serrated. Formal place settings are laid out with the knives on the right side of the plate, with the sharp edge pointing out. This is why almost all cutlery sets have knives with the small serrations on the right side of the blade for presentation purposes. The small serrations make little or no difference in how these knives perform in the left hand. The only real difference is that such knives used for buttering bread will show stripes and not a smooth butter pattern! (We are assured that this does not alter the taste of the bread either!)
Steak knives are generally bevelled on the left side of the blade in order to create a distinct difference from the regular table knives. But we are still unsure why a sharper knife edge would want to be pointing toward and not away from the person sitting at the table! Again, there is little difference in performance, however, many people like to purchase left-handed steak knives for presentation purposes.