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I'm not bad with knives if I should say so myself. My cutting speed is definitely above average, but I've have never been trained by professionals. Most of what I know, I have picked a long the way, trying out some different stuff, practice etc.

I would really like to improve my cutting speed, for when it's really needed to be able to cut fast, but I don't know how to go about it. I really don't want to risk my fingers. So is there some good rules, guides or techniques I can use or practice to become more proficient with knives without risking cutting my fingers?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 21 down vote accepted

All of the following play an important role in cutting technique/speed:

  • Practice! Probably the single most important.
  • A very sharp, clean knife. Always hone your knife before use, and have it sharpened regularly (6-18 months depending on use)
  • A fast and stable cutting surface. A solid end-grain cutting board is ideal.
  • The food should be stable. As Nick says, make a flat side to your food if it doesn't have one.
  • Proper off-hand placement. Your off-hand should be curled with your finger tips resting on the food. Your first knuckles should be against the side of the knife blade. Your fingertips should be tucked out of the way due to the curling. Your thumb pushes the food under the knife as you slice.
  • Proper knife-hand placement. This can vary based on your biomechanics, hand size, knife, etc. However, the gist is:
    • Don't hamfist it
    • Relax your hand and arm
    • Gripping high up on the bolster of the blade can help with control and speed. I pinch the blade itself between my thumb and forefinger.
  • Unless you're actually chopping (e.g. using the rocker technique to chop herbs quickly) you should actually be slicing your food. A slight forward movement of the knife blade as it passes downward through the food decreases resistance and speeds the cut. It also is gentler on your food.

To be completely safe you could use a finger guard. For example, Jamie Oliver Finger Guard. I've never used one of these, but it seems like it would significantly decrease the chances of a mishap. It also seems there are a few other brands out there to try.

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3  
I find that my biggest slowdown occurs when food slices stick to the back of the blade after cutting. Are there any particularly efficient ways to handle this situation? –  Sam Harwell Jul 16 '10 at 21:18
1  
I don't often have this as a problem. Food that does this tends to be either very wet, or very thinly sliced. For wet food, like say an apple or a thick cucumber slice, simply cutting each piece with the same part of the blade will cause each subsequent slice to force the previous off the blade. I think I do a subconscious slight tilt as well. For very thin slicing, I pull out my mandolin. –  hobodave Jul 17 '10 at 0:13
    
the only truly efficient way is to buy a knife with effective fullers, so there is less blade surface for things to stick to. –  daniel Jul 18 '10 at 8:53

My first cut of any vegetable/etc is always make a flat side. If you're trying to hit a moving target, you'll probably be slicing slower.

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If you're located in NYC there's a great knife skills class regularly offered by The Brooklyn Kitchen. See their current class schedule to see if it's on there (generally called "Knife Skills").

Also - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1PtCy_PQUCg is a short video with the guy from Brooklyn kitchen.

Like hobodave said - practice makes perfect!

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I went and bought a huge bag of onions to dice and a huge bag of carrots to julienne and cut until the loss of skin off my knuckles from the rubbing would become too painful.

Also pick a size and weight of knife that feels good--you'll know it straight away. My first quality chef's knife I bought on looks and only later realized larger models suited my largish hands.

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Practicing a bunch at once might give you a boost, but you'll learn better if it's something you do regularly. Practicing once your hand and arm are tired is also not so effective. –  Jefromi Jan 26 '12 at 19:55
    
These huge bags lasted many, many sessions--in fact the last couple of onions had started sprouting. :) –  jontyc Jan 29 '12 at 11:00

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