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Western handles have a bolster and a full or partial tang. These handles are often heavier, but are smaller in volume and surface area than most Japanese handles. The scale materials are often synthetic or resin cured wood and are non-porous. Chefs who prefer the feel of a Western handle enjoy a more handle-heavy balance and grip the handle closer to the blade. This allows for more weight in the cut.

Japanese handles, on the other hand are often made of ho wood which is burned in, and friction fitted to a hidden tang. A buffalo horn bolster caps the handle-blade junction and prevents any splitting.[2] This allows easy installation and replacement. The wood is porous, and fine-grained, which makes it less likely to split and retain its grip. More decorative woods, such as ebony, yew, cherry, or chestnut, are made into handles, though they are heavier and often charred on the outside to improve grip and water resistance. If they are not cured well, or properly cared for, these decorative woods will crack more easily when exposed to moisture. Pak, or Pakka wood is a synthetic and laminate also used on less expensive knives commonly replacing either the buffalo horn bolster or both the bolster and the handle. As it is held in a synthetic resin it is not porous and is waterproof. The most common wood variant is chestnut, and the most common shape is an octagon which is made with a slight taper towards the blade. Another common shape is the d shape,handle which is an oval handle with a ridge running along the same side as the edge bevel (right side of handle for a right handed knife). Sometimes, to celebrate the completion of a Japanese chef's apprenticeship, a silver-colored, metal spacer is attached to the ebony handle of their chef's knife.

A chef that prefers a knife with more weight in the blade, their knife to be lighter overall, to have a larger handle, or one who wants to replace their knife handle more easily, will often turn to a Japanese handle.