Without a doubt, the most common knife in the world is a kitchen knife. Even the most basic kitchen will have at least a chef’s knife, four steak knives, and a few butter knives.

Watch a typical horror movie or thriller and when the ill-prepared homeowners or apartment dwellers hear a bump in the night, the first thing they run for is the chef’s knife on the knife block.

Many kitchen knives

Many kitchen knives have connections to traditional fighting designs, while many of today’s tactical and bushcraft blades also serve well for food prep.

As a knife collector or connoisseur, I’m hoping that your kitchen knives of choice aren’t those plastic handled set of Faberware blades you bought at Walmart when you got your first apartment or as a gift from a cheap uncle on your wedding day.

There is a plethora of knives that serve almost dual purposes when it comes to food prep and either self-defense or self-reliance.


While the knife may be mankind’s oldest tool, there is probably some debate as to whether the first stone blades were designed to skin animals and cut food or used as weapons against other humans or animals.

Regardless of which was the first intent, the second probably made itself very clear within a short matter of time.

So it goes today when we see a number of manufacturers offer kitchen knives influenced by the tactical side of the knife world as well as tactical knives influenced by what we see in the kitchen.


Based out of Idaho, TOPS Knives has been one of the leaders in designing performance-based blades with input from real world users, be they Marines, Army Rangers, police officers, survival experts, or other knife makers.

TOPS has been leading the charge with a number of its designs that double as fighting knives and food prep blades.

I’ve had a chance to use a few over the past several months in the kitchen, at a campsite, and in the field. Each and every one of them was well-suited for whatever I threw at it.

TOPS Nata ($230)

TOPS Knives Nata is part cleaver, part hatchet

TOPS Knives Nata is part cleaver, part hatchet and can be used in the kitchen, in the backyard, on the ranch, or on the street. It has a canted handle to allow more leverage when used as a chopper. Photo courtesy of TOPS.

TOPS Knives Nata with a thick and sturdy leather belt sheath.

TOPS Knives Nata comes with a thick and sturdy leather belt sheath. Photo courtesy of TOPS.

This may have been the knife that started me on this quest. It is based on a Japanese designed blade that was intended for cutting tree limbs and various other cutting and chopping tasks around the home and farm.

With a 0.25-inch thick blade that’s over 6 inches long, made of 1095 steel, and able to tip the scales at 26 ounces, the Nata is all business. I felt it had great potential as a cleaver in spite of the angle of the cant of the handle.

This was designed to give greater chopping power and, coupled with that broad rectangular blade, it is a clear winner in this regard. Handle scales are made from burlap Micarta and are very comfortable.

TOPS Tidal Force ($220)

If you prefer more of a straight as opposed to a canted handle on a cleaver, then the TOPS Tidal Force is tough to beat. Styled like a traditional cleaver, the Tidal Force incorporates a ring on the rear of the handle like a karambit.

This greatly aids in retention, especially if you’re processing a large animal like a hog, deer, cow, or sheep.

Yet it can easily be used to defend yourself should that situation arise. Like the Nata, the handle scales are burlap Micarta.

The TOPS Tidal Force is part karambit, part cleaver, but all business.

The TOPS Tidal Force is part karambit, part cleaver, but all business. The karambit ring goes back to when Karambits were designed as a working knife and the ring worked for retention. Photo courtesy of TOPS.

The sheath for the TOPS Knives Tidal Force

The sheath for the TOPS Knives Tidal Force is one of the more ingenious styles the author has used. Photo courtesy of TOPS.

Blade thickness is 0.19 inch, making it an effective slicer without the thickness and weight of the Nata. The sheath is Kydex attached to a steel ring, which can then be attached to your belt with a leather dangler. This makes for a very convenient and versatile mode of carry.

TOPS Frog Market Special ($150)

Based on the traditional designs of Southeast Asia with a wide heel, the Frog Market Special is the thinnest blade design that TOPS has ever offered at 1/16-inch.

More than just a slicer and dicer, the Frog Market Special excels as a filet or boning knife and has just enough flex without sacrificing strength.

“…a number of manufacturers offer kitchen knives influenced by the tactical side of the knife world as well as tactical knives influenced by what we see in the kitchen.”

TOPS Knives Frog Market Special slices, dices, cuts, and stabs. It is the thinnest blade that TOPS offers—but look at that belly! Photo courtesy of TOPS.

TOPS Knives Frog Market Special is a lightweight, easily carried kitchen knife suitable for a variety of tasks. It has a multi-position sheath for various modes of carry and is proudly made in the U.S.A. Photo courtesy of TOPS.

Handles are canvas Micarta and the sheath is Kydex. TOPS offers an XL version of this knife as well, but I found the standard version to excel at every task.

Gerber Tri-Tip ($36)

I first saw this as more of a novelty type of blade until I put it through its paces on the cutting board. It doesn’t have the size or weight of a typical cleaver, but its smaller size and dimensions make it indispensable for slicing and chopping as well as easy to carry.

Gerber's Tri-Tip is a mini cleaver

Gerber’s Tri-Tip is a mini cleaver with a lot of value packed inside.

A true utilitarian piece, the Tri-Tip can ride on the belt or in a pack for food prep on the go as well as for any other utilitarian tasks. The stainless-steel blade may not hold an edge as well as one of the TOPS knives made from 1095 carbon steel, but if you are just cutting meat and chopping vegetables, it will last a lot longer than you might think.

Gerber's Tri-Tip is a mini cleaver

Gerber’s Tri-Tip is a mini cleaver

Probably the only downside of the Tri-Tip is the aluminum handle may not be the most comfortable for long periods of sustained usage. For example, you won’t spend hours batoning firewood with this one.

Spyderco Wakiita  Funayuki ($215)

Translated as “ship going,” the versatile Funayuki pattern was extremely popular with fishermen. It excels at chopping, draw-cutting, and other general kitchen tasks.

Wakiita literally means “near the cutting board” and is a term used to refer to senior apprentices skilled enough to assist high-ranking chefs. Equivalent to sous chefs or journeyman chefs in Western kitchens, they are accomplished culinary professionals well on their way to becoming master chefs.

As the second tier of Spyderco’s Murray Carter Collection, the Wakiita Series captures the spirit of the journeyman chef by expressing Carter’s highly refined designs with solid stainless-steel blades.

Murray Carter's Japanese inspired designs for Spyderco, such as this Wakiita Funayuki

Murray Carter’s Japanese inspired designs for Spyderco, such as this Wakiita Funayuki, are some of the greatest kitchen knives the author has used. They bring out the Master Chef in anyone who uses them.






The blades of Wakiita Series knives are precision ground from CTS BD1N—a high-carbon, nitrogen-enriched stainless steel that provides a superior balance of hardness, edge holding, and corrosion resistance.

Like all knives in the Murray Carter Collection, they are ground exceptionally thin and straight for superior cutting performance and proudly feature the signature “Carter Elbow”—a distinctive taper from the spine to the point that reinforces the blade’s tip.

In classic style, the knives of the Wakiita Series showcase traditional “wa-style” (octagonal) handles. Painstakingly crafted from solid black G10, a durable fiberglass and epoxy laminate, the polished handles ensure both comfort and precise control.

I use this a lot for processing chicken, fish, and cutting filets of beef. If you find yourself as that lone survivor in a horror film and have to grab something from the knife block to fend off the villain, this should be your choice.


The previous knives may seem like beefed up or high-end kitchen knives with a twist that lets them double as fighting or tactical knives, but the next ones are tactical folding knives that found their way back to the kitchen.

Most important, they are folding knives. That is not an attribute one normally associates with a kitchen knife, but the concept is not new. Folding dirks were relatively common on ships in the 18th and 19th centuries where the blade partially folded into the handle and was worn in a sheath on a belt.

The sailor could cut his food with the 4-inch blade in the folded position. But if he had to respond to a close combat situation on board, he could open the dirk to its full 8-inch size and work on repelling boarders.

I encountered the use of a folding knife for kitchen work for the first time nearly 30 years ago when a steakhouse presented me with a knife that wouldn’t cut butter and I fell back to my Chris Reeve Sebenza to cut a rare New York Strip steak.

A number of manufacturers have followed suit and tailored their folding pocketknives to act more like folding steak or chef knives.

Emerson Folding Steak Knife ($324.95)

When most of us think of Emerson Knives, the last thing we think of is kitchen cutlery. However, Emerson is as much of an aficionado of a good steak as he is of the study of martial arts.

This is reflected in the Emerson Folding Steak Knife. It is built to the same exacting specifications as the company’s line of fighting and utility knives.

Emerson Folding Steak Knife

The Emerson Folding Steak Knife: a steak knife designed with the same materials and thought processes as Emerson’s combat folders.

A titanium liner lock sporting Richlite scales and a blade of 154 CM, this knife is more than just made for cutting steak.

In the few months that I have been carrying it, I can attest to its ability against cardboard boxes, nylon rope, sisal rope, as well as against a good cut of beef and fruits and vegetables.

The folding dirk

The folding dirk may have been one of the first knives designed with a true dual purpose for eating and fighting.

It carries tip up and has no traction grooves on the back of the blade. At first, I thought this might be a minus as most of Emerson’s knives are set up that way, but I found myself liking it after a few days.

The pocket clip is positioned in such a way that it is unobtrusive when cutting into a ribeye or Porterhouse.

Spyderco’s Spydiechef ($335)

If you told me a year ago that one of my favorite knives to use around the kitchen would be a titanium frame lock with a 3.3-inch blade made from LC200N steel, I would have laughed in your face.

Spyderco’s Spydiechef

The Spyderco Spydiechef

The Spyderco Spydiechef may be one of the best EDC knives in addition to being capable in the kitchen. In the bottom view, you can see that the wire clip on the Spydiechef keeps out of the way while cutting. Photos courtesy of Spyderco.

Yet somehow Spyderco made that a reality with the Spydiechef. Designed by Marcin Slysz, the Spydiechef is loaded with features in spite of its rather Spartan appearance. First of all is the angle of the handle.

It almost guarantees that the blade will hit the cutting board before your knuckles will. This feature in turn means that the knife carries further back in the pocket in an EDC role.

The author suggests using traditional knife sharpeners to maintain the edges on kitchen knives.  Photo courtesy of Spyderco.

Speaking of EDC, the wire clip may look plain and simple at first, but its position and contour means it will stay out of the way when you’re using this one extensively. The blade is a bit of an enigma.

The top is very similar to a Wharncliffe, yet the edge has a rotund belly meaning the strength is maximized and equal from front to rear. The deep belly or heel of the blade makes this a perfect portable carving knife.


If you’re hung up on whether you should put your knives in the dishwasher, it is not always a good idea. I always wash my knives by hand with hot soapy water and dry them down with a towel.

Some of the steels used here, like 1095 carbon, are not rust resistant. And although the blades receive a treatment from TOPS, the heat and vibration of the dishwasher will eventually break this down and make them vulnerable to corrosion.

Another thing to be careful of is the butcher’s steel. It comes with most sets of kitchen knives and is often sold individually. You may see butchers or chefs rubbing the blade of one of their knives against a steel and think they are sharpening or honing the blade. The steel is really used to smooth out dents in the edge and should only be done occasionally.

If you need to sharpen your blades in the kitchen, use a traditional knife sharpener. If you need to use a butcher’s steel to smooth an edge that has been dented or rolled, make sure it is the same steel as the blade, or you will eventually ruin your knife.

Editor’s Note:
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