Whether for kitchen prep, bushcraft, survival or combat, knives are the most widely used tool and one we often take for granted.
We rely on them to perform efficiently and effectively, but seldom give any more thought to our knives than that.
If we want to get the most out of our knives, we must first understand them.
To understand your knife, you need to learn about its construction, be able to identify the different knife parts and how they function.
- Why is it important to know your knife?
- How are knives constructed?
- What are the parts of a knife?
- How do knife parts affect its performance?
- And much more!
Why Is It Important To Know Your Knife?
Being able to recognize a knife’s parts and know how they function is essential to using a knife correctly and safely as well as its proper care and maintenance.
Since there are so many different types of knives available today, choosing a knife is overwhelming, especially if you don’t know what type you’ll need. There are certain knives that are more ideally suited for a task than others, which will provide a better end result.
For instance, if you are batoning wood, you are not going to use a pocket knife. It’s dangerous, impossible and unrealistic. Your knife must have the wherewithal to tackle the job.
Understanding your knife will also help to hone your knife skills. Knowing how to properly hold and correctly use your knife will not only help you work more safely but also at a much faster pace.
Clearly, knowing the dynamics of your knife is important if you want it to perform to its full potential.
How Is A Knife Constructed?
Everybody knows what a knife looks like. However, not everyone knows the parts that make up this versatile tool.
We all know a knife has a blade and a handle. But there’s more that goes into constructing a knife.
Is it a fixed blade or a folding blade? What type of tang does it have? Is the edge shape straight, serrated or both? Do I have a false edge? What kind of point does it have?
All of these questions are important since the answers will give you an indication on the type of knife you have.
Although each type of knife is unique, they share certain similar features and their terminology used in knife-making is generally universal.
So let's dive in and examine the anatomy of a knife!
What Are The Parts Of A Knife?
Knife terminology is complicated, but with the help of a 'standard fixed blade”' illustration, its associated parts and descriptions, it will help you understand the components that make up your knife.
We can begin by dividing the knife into two main parts, the blade and handle. Each of these parts will be further subdivided into their own individual parts.
The blade is the main body of the knife and is the part that does all the hard work. It is the metal part of the knife, including the exposed metal that comes out from the handle.
Although the blade is the overall term that embodies this entire part of the knife, the blade itself has its own individual parts which we will get into below.
There are two common types of knives - fixed (as illustrated above) and folders.
Fixed blade knives are made up of one solid piece of steel that is fixed to its handle, hence the name, "fixed blade".
Due to their straight, simple structure, they are incredibly durable and can withstand the elements very well. So if you want a blade that you can rely on for your tougher tasks, a fixed blade is the way to go.
Conversely, folding blades are generally not quite as durable as fixed blades. This is because the blade is attached to its handle by a pivot mechanism allowing the blade to fold into the handle.
Although folding blades lack durability, they do offer protection and its compact size makes it more convenient to carry.
The handle of a knife is just as indispensable as its blade. One of the most important aspects of a knife's handle is its attachment to its blade. This particular feature is known as a "tang". And no, I'm not talking about the orange powdered drink astronauts drank in space.
Simply put, a knife "tang" is the bottom portion of the unsharpened part of the blade that extends down into the knife handle. It is essentially the foundation of a knife since it holds it all together.
Without a tang, a fixed blade would yield when any force or pressure is applied since there wouldn't be anything connecting the blade to the handle.
There are several types of knife tangs, but they can be grouped into two main categories: “full tang” and “partial tang”.
A "full tang" is part of the blade that extends the entire length of the handle. Most people consider a full tang as one that extends the entire length and width of the handle. However, the technical definition states that it may or may not be as wide as the handle itself. Conversely, a "partial tang" does not extend through the entire length of the handle.
Full tangs tend to be much stronger than their counterparts with partial tangs since the blades run all the way through to the butt of the handle.
A “full tang” can be seen in most survival knives, including the KA-BAR Becker BK-2 Campanion Fixed Blade.
A tang may also be present in folding knives, but is usually very short.
Now let’s take a sharper look at the other parts.
It is the pointy end of the blade. No mystery there! Literally, the “point” is the point where the spine and its edge meet. It comes in a variety of shapes and is usually sharp in survival knives.
Part of the edge that is closest to the point. It tends to have a convex shape and is more curved than the rest of the edge.
False Edge and Swedge
A "false edge" is the sharpened secondary edge on the spine of the blade near the point. It's false because it does not run the entire length of the blade. If it did, it would make the blade "double-edged".
Conversely, a "swedge" is not sharpened but instead gives the illusion of an edge on the spine of a blade. Both a swedge and a false edge are generally added to blades to improve their stabbing performance.
The sharp, cutting part of the blade. Since it is the most essential feature of a knife, the edge should remain consistently sharp as most of the knife’s functions depend on it.
Top of the blade opposite the blade edge which is known to be the dull, unsharpened edge. However, if the spine is sharpened but does not run the full length of the blade, you have a false edge. If the entire spine is sharpened, then you have a double-edged blade, such as some combat knives and daggers.
Cheek (not delineated in illustration)
Each side of the blade. It typically slopes down towards the edge of the blade.
Bevel and Grind
The bevel is an angle that has been ground to form the shape of the cutting edge whereas the grind is the cross-sectional shape of the blade. To learn more about knife blade grinds, check out our article on the 6 common types.
Fuller (also referred to as cannelure or blood groove)
It is a groove that is cut into the flat side of a blade (typically on double-edged knives and swords).
There seems to be some debate as to whether this feature provides any function on a knife.
Some say it helps to release body suction after stabbing a living thing. It's believed that when blood channels through the groove, it helps to withdraw a blade easier. Others say it provides no functionality at all; that it's purely decorative. On short knives, it's most likely just that.
However, the true function of a fuller (the term "blood groove" is a misnomer) is to reduce the weight of the blade without reducing structural strength and durability. All other theories are nothing more than urban myths.
Nowadays, you won’t find too many smaller knives that possess a fuller. If it bears one, it's most likely ornamental.
Heel (not delineated in illustration)
Rear part of the edge, opposite the point.
Basically a small cut-away area (or as some refer to as a notch) to allow the full length of the cutting edge to be sharpened properly.
A larger choil refers to a larger curved space allowing a user’s index finger to grip the blade in that area.
Keep in mind that not all knives are outfitted with a choil.
Plunge Line (not delineated in illustration)
It’s where the grind stops and meets the edge, often at a right angle to the grind.
The thick, unsharpened part of the edge closest to the handle.
Bolster (not delineated in illustration)
The thicker part of the blade that joins the blade of the knife to its handle. Not only does it provide balance to the knife but also protects the hand from the knife's edge.
This helps protect the hand from slipping off the handle and perhaps onto the blade or being struck by something else like an opponent's blade.
Scales (not delineated in illustration)
These are pieces of material that is part of the handle such as wood, bone, horn or polymer. The material is then fastened to the tang by pins, rivets or some other metal hardware.
These are metal pins that fasten the scales to the tang to form the handle.
A small hole at the very end of the handle which can be threaded with rope, cord or some other type of string for easy carry.
The Butt and Pommel may be described as being the same. However, the Butt is a generic term for the end of the handle while the Pommel is a more specific piece.
A Pommel may be a part of the tang or end cap that strengthens the Butt which in turn can be used for striking or hammering.
Pommels are commonly found in survival knives since it provides the hammering function, even if it is minimal.
How Do Knife Parts Affect Its Performance?
You may not believe this but knowing the parts of your knife and how they work together contributes to its overall performance.
It goes without saying that the most important part of a knife affecting its performance is the blade.
Blades come in a variety of shapes, sizes, materials, and even grinds. To learn more about the different types of blade shapes, check out our article on knife blade profiles.
Although some people may not even give this knife part a second thought, the handle is an essential part of the knife and while blades get all the attention, handles should also share in the spotlight.
The handle is where you grip the knife in order to operate it and the type of material plays an important role. Both the handle and its material will provide comfort, safety and the knife's overall durability. Remember, a knife's handle is equally important as the blade. Want to learn more about knife handle materials, check out our in-depth guide for beginners.
Another knife part that is especially important is knowing if your knife has a full or partial tang.
Knives with full tangs are known for their strength and durability which is why they are found in most survival knives. They are also better used for taking on much tougher jobs like chopping wood. Full tang knives not only give extra leverage for the user but also provide better balance.
Before using a knife, get to know its parts and how they work together. Since knives can be dangerous, a basic understanding of your knife can help minimize the risk of injury.
Knives are also prone to corrosion, wear and tear, and even damage if not properly maintained. By learning the parts of your knife, you will be able to take preventative measures to help slow this process down.
Understanding your knife will not only help you choose the right knife for the right job, but how to properly use and maintain it, thus improving its performance and extending its lifespan.
The knife is an amazing tool. Take the time to learn and understand everything about it and give it the respect it deserves.
Whether you're a novice or seasoned pro, we hope this article provided a bit more knowledge on the parts of a knife and how they work together. We look forward to any questions, comments or suggestions you may have!
Remember, "Always stay sharp!"