Knitting needles are most commonly made of two materials - metal or wood (including bamboo).
Less commonly, they are also available in plastic. Although plastic needles tend to be cheap, I would avoid these as they are generally lesser quality, with blunter tips, and break easily. (Also, save the turtles.) And very rarely, vintage needles can be made of ivory or tortoiseshell.
Which you choose is completely a matter of personal preference, and can be intimidating for beginners. Below, I've summarised some of the pros and cons of the different types of needles, as well as Yours Yarnfully's recommendations for different types of projects.
Pros of Metal Needles
They're very sturdy. Even thin metal needles will rarely break or snap.
This might be a negative depending on your personality, but I really love the satisfying "click-clack" of metal needles!
For smaller, more fiddly items (like tiny baby bootees or doll clothes) metal needles knit nice and tightly, meaning no gaps between stitches. Arne & Carlos recommend metal double-pointed needles (DPNs) for their dolls for this reason.
Yarn slides up and down metal needles easier than on wood, and speeds up the process. Some very quick and talented knitters swear by it, but as a generally slow knitter, this hasn't made much of a difference for me!
Cons of Metal Needles
To me, they are a little "colder" to knit with.
Yarn slips down and off metal needles easier than wooden, so it's easier to drop stitches.
It is much more difficult to take metal needles on planes!
Sometimes they bend over time, which doesn't have any noticeable difference on the final knitted product, but the needles themselves just look a bit wonky.
Pros of Wooden Needles
They're nice and quiet - drawing much less attention when knitting in public!
Depending on the country and airline laws, you can, in fact, take wooden needles on planes. My top tip for this is to use a wooden circular needle instead of two straight needles, and don't take a project you would be devastated to lose!
Wooden needles hold yarn more securely than metal needles, which makes it harder to drop stitches.
Wooden needles are softer on the skin and hands.
Cons of Wooden Needles
They do break more easily. RIP the many wooden needles I have accidentally sat on and snapped in half.
Low-quality wooden needles can sometimes split towards the tip, potentially causing teeny tiny splinters in your fingers and thumbs. To avoid this, be sure to use high-quality wooden needles, such as the sets below.
Here at Yours Yarnfully, we've made some recommendations for straight needles from our curated selection of top-quality equipment.
Winner: KnitPro Symfonie
I have had so many compliments when knitting with these needles due to their gorgeous, unique colour scheme. They're lovely and sturdy wood, and are my go-tos for most projects.
The Takumi range is made of bamboo. Due to its fast growing nature, bamboo is an eco-friendly and sustainable choice, so you can knit assured you're doing the best for the planet. Clover are meticulous at growing and harvesting the finest quality bamboo for their needles.
The Zing range are made of aluminium, so they're both sturdy, sharp and a bit pliable. This makes them ideal for small projects, like baby socks or small toys. As usual with KnitPro, the quality is excellent, and as an added bonus they are colour-coded based on size. No more getting mixed up with your needles!
LARGE PROJECTS Winner: SmartStix
SmartStix are a new addition to KnitPro's collection for 2020 and oh my goodness what a genius idea. The needles have a scale imprinted on them in increments of 2cm, to allow for very quick and easy gauge measurements. This is so useful for clothing - of course to make exact measurements a ruler or tape measure is still required, but the SmartStix allow for a quick and accurate estimate without having to dig around for other equipment.
(I'm pretty sure all knitters do the thing where you have a huge amount left to knit, knit exactly 2 rows, and then measure again just in case somehow you've magically knitted more than you thought!)
What's your favourite type of needle? Do you have a brand you're loyal to? Let me know in the comments below!