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Chef's Knives for Kids

Published July 2018

How we tested

Standard 8-inch chef's knives are too big for most kids, so we were pleased when we discovered kid-size versions a few years ago. These knives have handles designed for smaller hands, shorter 2- to 4-inch metal or plastic blades, and built-in safety features such as blunt cutting edges or finger guards. With more on the market and a team of test cooks busy at work on our upcoming series of children's cookbooks, we wondered if our old favorite from Opinel ($45.00) was still the best. To find out, we tested it alongside five other knives ranging in price from $7.36 to $58.50: four kids' chef's knives as well as the 6-inch version of our winning 8-inch chef's knife. Our lineup included a mix of serrated and straight-edged knives with blades made from either plastic or metal.

Cutting Down the Lineup

Before we gave the knives to kids to test, we wanted to make sure they were safe to use. We put them through a round of basic tasks: slicing ripe tomatoes and blocks of cheddar cheese; dicing carrots, celery, and onion; and mincing parsley. Two knives performed so poorly that we eliminated them from the running. Both were serrated and incredibly dull (see “Even For Kids, Sharper Knives Are Safer Knives”). We had to use a labored sawing motion to hack through food, and even then the knives sometimes failed to pierce the skin of produce and skipped off, landing on the cutting board with a thud. One was also too thick, and the other was much too small. The bulky one, the only all-plastic knife in our lineup, was nearly ¼ inch thick at its spine—about five times thicker than the other knives. We knew from our previous standard chef's knife testings that the thickness of the spine affects how easily the blade cuts through food. Sure enough, using this wide blade was like driving a wedge into produce; we had to push hard on it, and the blade often drifted off-center. The small model, meanwhile, was more like a pumpkin-carving tool than a true knife. It had a tiny handle and a dinky metal blade that was less than ½ inch tall and only 3½ inches long—½ inch shorter than any other model in our lineup. These knives' dull serrations damaged food; everything we cut looked ragged and bruised, and puddles of juice accumulated on the cutting board. The other knives were sharp and comfortable. With four strong contenders—three straight and one serrated—we recruited a panel of young cooks to test the knives.

What Did the Kids Think?

Our panel of testers included 12 boys and girls aged 8 to 13, with a mix of righties and lefties. Some had cooking experience, and others had never held a knife before. The kids approved of all four knives, but they liked some better than others. The serrated knife, though sharper than the ones we had eliminated, wasn't always easy to use. Testers said that they felt some resistance and that the cutting motion “wasn't as smooth” as that of straight-edged blades. A Japanese knife with a round nose and straight edge reminiscent of a santoku knife had a strong showing across all ages, but when it came to picking a favorite, the kids were divided.

The 8- and 9-year-olds all preferred our old winner, the Opinel Le Petit Chef Cutlery Set (2 Pieces) ($45.00). It has a comfortable wooden handle with a finger hole to encourage a safe grip. (It also comes with a small, shield-shaped plastic finger guard that kids can use on the hand holding the food.) The 4-inch blade was sharp enough to be effective, with a rounded nose that prevented accidental nicks. The 12- and 13-year-olds rated the Victorinox Swiss Army Fibrox Pro 6” Chef's Knife ($20.99) highest; it's the small version of our winning chef's knife and has all the same qualities we like in the larger version: Its blade is sharpened to 15 degrees on either side, so it's nimble and effective, and it's lightweight. The kids reported that it was “comfy” and “cut the best.” Although the pointed tip necessitates extra caution, our testers said they felt safe, and adults felt comfortable watching them use it. As for the kids in the middle of the pack, the 10- and 11-year-olds, their preference between the Opinel and the Victorinox came down to their hand size and level of experience in the kitchen. We think that either of these knives is an excellent addition to a young cook's toolkit.

Methodology

We tested six knives: five marketed specifically for children and the 6-inch version of our favorite chef's knife, the Victorinox Swiss Army Fibrox Pro 8” Chef's Knife. Before giving the knives to kids, we tested the blades' sharpness and evaluated their performance with six different slicing, chopping, and mincing tests. We eliminated two knives that we deemed unsafe and ineffective. Next, 12 children, aged 8 to 13, used the remaining four knives to chop celery. We asked the kids to rank the knives and averaged the scores across all tests, giving extra weight to the kids' opinions. Products appear below in order of preference. We measured the blade length and thickness (at the top of the spine and just above the cutting edge) as well as the handle length. Information on blade material was obtained from manufacturers. Prices were paid online.

Performance: We evaluated the knives on their out-of-the-box sharpness and ability to dice vegetables, mince herbs, and slice cheese and tomatoes. Knives fared best if they had sharp, thin blades that sliced smoothly and didn't require lots of force.

Ease of Use: Users rated the knives on how comfortable they were to hold and use, considering the weight, balance of blade and handle, and handle shape. We preferred knives that were comfortable in a variety of grips and easy to use.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little.

$248.64*
Recommended

Schmidt Brothers Downtown Block

This roomy block completely sheathed our entire winning knife set using just one of its two sides—and quite securely, thanks to long, medium-strength magnet bars. Heavy, with a grippy base, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard made this model extra-safe but also made it a little trickier to insert knives and to clean; the wood block itself showed some minor cosmetic scratching during use.

$141.90*

Schmidt Brothers Midtown Block

This smaller version of the Downtown Block secured all our knives nicely, though the blade of the slicing knife stuck out a bit. With a base lined with grippy material, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard afforded extra protection against contact with blades but made it a little harder to insert knives and to clean; the wood itself got a little scratched during use.

$67.99*
Recommended with Reservations

Swissmar Bamboo Magnetic Knife Block

This small, scratch-resistant model had a stable, rubber-lined base and could hold all our knives, though the blade of the 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a bit. But inch-long gaps between its small magnets made coverage uneven and forced us to find the magnetic hot spots in order to secure the knives. Its acrylic guard made it safer to use but harder to insert knives and to clean.

$49.93*
Not Recommended

Messermeister Walnut Magnet Block

This handsome block was done in by its shape—a tippy, top-heavy quarter-circle that wasn’t tall or broad enough to keep the blades of three knives from poking out. It lacked a nonslip base, and its extra-strong magnets made it unnerving to attach or remove our heavy cleaver. Finally, it got a bit scratched after extensive use.

$129.95*

Epicurean Standing Knife Rack 12"

This magnetic block sheathed all our knives completely, though with a bit of crowding. But it was hard to insert each knife without hitting the block’s decorative slats on way down, and because the block was light and narrow, it wobbled when bumped. Worse, we couldn’t take it apart, so splatters that hit the interior were there to stay. Additionally, the outside stained easily, and when we wiped it down, the unit smelled like wet dog.

$99.95*

Kapoosh Rondelle Knife Block

This model stabilized knives with a mass of stiff, spaghetti-like bristles that shed and nicked easily after extensive use, covering our knives with plastic debris. While all our knives fit securely, several of the blades stuck out, making this unit feel less safe overall. Finally, though the bristles could be removed and cleaned in the dishwasher, their nooks and crannies made this block hard to wash by hand.

$24.99*

Kuhn Rikon Vision Knife Block, Clear

This plastic block required us to aim each knife into the folds of an accordion-pleated insert that was removable for easy cleaning but got nicked easily with repeated use. Because we could only insert the knives vertically, longer knife blades stuck out; a cleaver was too wide to fit. The lightest model in our lineup, this block was dangerously top-heavy when loaded with knives.

$35.88*