Chopsticks come in a wide variety of lengths, shapes and styles. Let's take a look at the details that make up a chopstick's design.
Length varies depending on culture. In China chopsticks are long, frequently between 10 to 10-1/2 inches. In Japan the length is dependent on the user's hand size, and chopsticks are sized for larger adults, smaller adults, youths and children. A typical standard adult chopstick is around 23 cm or 9 inches long.
[photo of Chinese and sizes of Japanese chopsticks]
The Japanese sizing method is to measure the length from your thumb to forefinger when held at a 90 degree angle. Multiple the length by 1.5. This is the approximate length that is considered best for your hand.
[photo of hand and overlay graphic calculating size]
For people with very large hands, sometimes special chopsticks are made, such as these chopsticks for a sumo wrestler!
[photo of sumo chopsticks shown next to normal 9 inch chopsticks]
The handle shape or profile affects both the comfort and grip. Profiles range from perfectly round to multi-sided such as square, triangular, pentagon and more. Edges can be rounded for comfort, and notches are sometimes a feature for design or to aid in holding the sticks.
[photo of several chopstick profiles]
The most common handle shape is the "blended profile," a cross between square and round, meaning the corners of the square shape are rounded for comfort, while the somewhat flat faces provide good grip. Test various shapes to find your preferred style.
Tip Shape and Texture
Rarely is the tip the same shape as the handle. Typically chopstick tips are round, but it is increasingly popular to have square or carved tips to improve grip. A texture coating, grooves or ribs are sometimes added to increase holding ability. Some chopsticks have a texture applied throughout the entire length to aid in holding the sticks securely.
[photo of a few chopstick tip shapes and textures]
Disposable chopsticks have no protective coating. Reusable chopsticks made of wood or bamboo have a protective finish to insulate the underlying color and material from heat, liquid and staining food.
Most chopsticks, especially lower and middle value chopsticks have a finish of polyurethane or acrylic. These finishes form a durable protective layer that lasts for many years. If this type of finish begins to exhibit chips or cracks, it is time to stop using the chopsticks as an eating utensil.
Sometimes natural finishes such as beeswax are used. Natural finishes usually have a short lifespan and need to be reapplied.
Finer chopsticks may use a durable natural finish derived from the sap of Sumac trees. In Japan this is called Urushi. Urushi is sometimes referred to as Japanese Lacquer, however it is not actually a lacquer. Urushi is a hard, gloss finish that must be cured rather than dried. Several layers are typically applied resulting in very long production times of several weeks to a year.
There are chopsticks that appear to be double-ended or the shape of tips at both ends. The Tensoge style chopstick has a bevel cut between 1 cm to 4 cm at the end of the handle. Both of these styles have a religious meaning. One end is for you, the other is an offering to God. Some consider the double-ended chopstick to allow serving food from one end and eating at the other, but this is not their intended purpose.
[photo of double-ended and tensoge shapes]
A Tip For Reusing Disposable Chopsticks
If you like your disposable chopsticks and wish to reuse them, but don't want food and grease stains, simply soak the tips of the chopsticks in a glass of water for about 30 seconds. The water that soaks into the wood or bamboo will for the most part keep out unsightly stains. After using at the restaurant, simply wipe them off with a napkin and take them home to use again.
[photo of disposable chopsticks in a glass of water]