Nothing will kill your love of craft faster than using subpar tools. Your needles are going to spend countless hours in your hands--how do you know you're picking the pair that's right for you?
Straights vs circulars
The thing about straight needles is that they're unitaskers. They're the strawberry corers of the knitting world. There isn't a thing you can do on straight needles that you can't do on circulars, and there's a LOT you can do on circulars that you can't do on straights. Plus we find straight needles to be a little physically awkward and tiring, which is the last thing you want when you're just settling in with Knitflix.
(We'll talk about DPNs vs magic loop in a future post.)
Fixed circulars vs. interchangeables
There's nothing wrong with fixed circulars, but we'd rather have one tip of each size than have to collect complete sets of all the sizes AND all the cord lengths.
Wood vs. metal
"Do you prefer wood or metal?"
That's usually where we start with customers. The differences are largely aesthetic: wood feels warmer, metal can be pointier. (and smaller--our wooden needles by Knitters Pride only go down to a US 2.5, because they just don't work smaller than that, whereas our stainless steel tips from Chiaogoo go down to a US 000.) Wood has more grab to it, so metal can feel faster.
Faster knitting? Sign me up!
We all want our knitting to be faster, but be mindful of your materials as well. Metal needles aren't necessarily the best choice for your cotton baby blanket, unless you like watching your stitches slide off your needles all the time.
The Knitters Pride Karbonz provide a sort of happy medium--the carbon needle feels warm like wood, but the coated tip gives some of the pointy speed of metal.
If you have arthritis or neuropathy--or even just a tendency to strangle your needles--check out the Cubics. They're wood, so they feel warm, and the squared-off edges keep your hands comfortable (and prevent you from pulling your stitches quite so tight!).
Long vs. short tips
Tip length is often a matter of preference. If you're knitting a small-diameter project such as a hat or a sleeve and you aren't using magic loop, you're probably going to want 4" tips.
Other than that, it's mostly about what feels best in your hands. If you have particularly large or small hands, that might inform your choice--some broad-palmed knitters say the 4" tips feel too small, while other folks report that they feel just right but the standard 6" length feels too big.
What about cords?
We absolutely adore the Chiaogoo cords, which helps bias us a little toward metal tips--they're SO flexible and hold no memory, no matter how long they spend in a UFO. Knitters Pride cords have the benefit of being very uncomplicated--the same cords fit all needle sizes (and are cross-compatible with several other brands).
The one thing to watch out for with the Chiaogoo cords is that they come in three different diameters, depending on the size needle you're using. You can use a smaller-diameter cord with a larger needle by using an adaptor, but because of the way the mechanism fits together it can't work the other way.
(I personally like to use a mini cord with an adaptor for magic loop--the mini cord is the most flexible option out there, and it makes the whole thing much easier.)
Ultimately, part of the fun of knitting is learning what you like and figuring out how to make it, so experiment! And when you find something you like, pick up a needle set so you'll be ready for whatever project inspires you!