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Knife Anatomy and Terminology

I thought it would be good to lay out in a little detail the parts of a knife, some basic knife construction styles, as well as just some of the terminology we commonly use when talking about knives. There often may be more than one name for a particular part of a knife, and I may mention some of the various terms that I know of, but I will generally use the terms that I prefer.

Also, when it comes to blade shapes and construction styles, I will pretty much try to limit my discussion to the kinds of knives that we make here in our shop. My intent is to help you to understand a little more about our knives and how we construct them.

Before getting any deeper into the parts of a knife, I will begin by saying that in our shop, we build only fixed blade knives - we make no folding knives, and we specialize in making working knives, i.e., knives that are intended to be used.

So, with this in mind, I will state something really obvious - there are two very basic parts of a knife: the blade, and the handle. The blade is (for our discussion here) made from some grade of steel, and the steel from which the blade is made extends into the handle portion of the knife. This allows the handle to be firmly attached to the blade.

The part of the blade steel that extends into the handle is called the tang. This is a very important part of a knife, because the tang is what holds the handle onto the blade. It is also a key term when discussing knives, as the style of tang is one of several important, basic design features that might be mentioned when describing any particular knife. Some other basic design features might be blade style and blade grind.

In my shop - most of the knives made are either

  • full tang
  • 3/4 tang
  • narrow tang

Full Tang Knives

In a full tang knife, the tang extends completely through the knife’s handle, and the edge of the tang is completely visible around the perimeter of the handle. The handle material itself consists of two scales (or slabs), with the full tang sandwiched between them. These scales may be made from a wide variety of materials, including wood, antler, or some synthetic material such as micarta or Dymondwood, and are generally held in place by epoxy and/or pins, rivets, or screws

The full tang knife would generally be considered to be the very strongest construction style, largely due to the fact that it incorporates the most steel into the handle. In my shop, I shape most of my full tang handles individually  by hand, using a belt grinder, flap sander, and buffer, as well as doing quite a bit of hand sanding. You can see this work being done in my time-lapse video at the bottom of the Home page of this site.

Image 1 is a photo of a large full tang knife with a number of standard knife parts or terms labeled. Many of these terms would be the same for the other knife construction styles as well, but every single knife may not have all of these features in its design.

A few notes:

  • Many makers place their maker’s mark somewhere on the blade - and often on the ricasso area. On my full tang knives, I place my maker’s mark (BB) on the ricasso on the left hand side of the blade.
  • The thumb ramp in Image 1 has small notches cut into it, that I simply call thumb notches (or jimping). Thumb notches may be placed on the spine of pretty much any blade, whether it actually has a thumb ramp or not.
  • For most of my full tang knives, I prefer to attach the handle scales using both epoxy and pins (either solid brass or mosaic pins). I also offer some full tang styles with handle scales fastened with stainless steel screws (with or without epoxy).
  • In my earlier days of knife making, I would often build a finger guard (or hilt) for my hunters from brass, soldered in place. My preference now for most of my full tang hunters and fillets is to simply design the guard into the profile shape of the blade steel itself - as is shown in Image 1 below. I feel that this produces a lighter, simpler knife overall.
Full Tang Knife

3/4 Tang Knives

In my 3/4 tang knives, the handle itself is shaped from a single piece of material - either wood or Dymondwood - and this material has a deep slot milled into it to receive the handle tang. The tang extends only partway through the handle (hence 3/4 tang), and the tang is visible only along the top of the handle. The handle material is attached to the tang using both epoxy and cutlery rivets.

Now, besides being designed differently than the full tang knives, another point that distinguishes our 3/4 tang from our full tang knives is this: we build the handles for the 3/4 tang knives in quantities, finishing them separately from the blades. Using a system of jigs and fixtures with a milling machine and router (as well as some hand sanding and finishing) we produce finished handles, and then when we have the blades finished, we assemble them together into a finished knife.

This reduces the overall time required to complete a knife - but also necessarily places some limits on the knife design, since we make all the handles for our 3/4 tang knifes in large batches. To view some of our process for building a 3/4 tang knife, visit my Tour My Shop page.

Now, I will grant you that the full tang design is still the very strongest design for a knife. But I am convinced that for many purposes, our 3/4 tang construction still far exceeds the strength requirements and allows us to offer some really great handmade knives at very reasonable cost. Image 2 shows the basic construction of our 3/4 tang knives.

A few notes:

  • In our 3/4 tang hunters and fillets, the finger guard is incorporated into the profile shape of the handle itself.
  • While the handle design for our 3/4 tang knives is somewhat different from that of our full tang knives, we offer the same choice of the best knife steels for our 3/4 tang knife blades as with our full tang knives. I hand grind and heat treat in shop all my blades.
  • For our 3/4 tang knives, instead of stamping my maker’s mark on the ricasso of the blade, I use a mylar logo set into the right side of the handle, as shown in Image 2.
3/4 Tang Knives

Narrow Tang Knives

Although most of my current production (other than woodcarvers) is in the full tang or 3/4 tang line, I still occasionally will make a narrow tang knife.

Similar to the 3/4 tang knife, the handle of a narrow tang knife is made from one piece (or several pieces stacked together) of solid material such as wood, antler, etc. The knife’s tang is made narrow enough that it may fit into a hole drilled through the length of this handle material. The tang is, therefore, not visible around the perimeter of the handle.  See Image 3 for an example of one style of narrow tang knife.

As with any knife style, there may be a number of ways to design and build a narrow tang knife, and I choose from a few different variations. With larger knives such as hunters or bowies, there will usually be a finger guard or hilt (usually made of brass or some other metal) at the junction between blade and handle. If this piece of metal does not protrude out to form an actual finger guard, it would simply be called a bolster.

The strongest narrow tang designs usually have the tang extending all the way through the handle, or nearly so, with some kind of threaded fastener on the butt end of the handle. These styles would be called through narrow tang knives. All components would be joined with epoxy as well as the threaded fastener.

Another variation which I sometimes use would be the stick tang knife. In this construction style, the hole drilled into the handle material only extends partway through the handle (preferably as deep as possible) but this is a blind hole - it doesn’t come out the butt end of the handle. Usually, all components are held in place using only epoxy. This method works best if all components fit well together.

As you might think, this is not necessarily the strongest construction method for a working knife, but it has its place. If I am to make a knife with a crown stag handle (crown stag is the part of the antler taken from the very base, where it swells to join to the head of the animal) I usually choose to do a stick tang style knife. This is because it can be nearly impossible to drill a hole right through that piece of antler due to its curvature.

Also, my woodcarving knives would fit into the stick tang category - we epoxy the round shank (tang) of each knife into a blind hole in the handle. For these small carving knives, this is a very simple, yet quite strong design, and this design is perfect for them.

Narrow Tang Knife

Blade Styles

As you will see in Image 4, blade styles are often named referring to the placement of the point in relation to the rest of the blade, and the general shape that the blade takes because of this. Of course, there may be any number of variations of these styles.

I have found over the years that certain blade styles perform best for specific uses, and I generally will design a blade primarily with the intended function in mind.

Blade Styles

Image 4

Blade Grinds

In Image 5 you will see cross sections typical of blades, showing the differences between the blade bevel grinds that I offer. By far, the bulk of the knives that I make feature either the sabre hollow grind or the full flat grind. I rarely produce a convex ground blade. Of our standard models, only our 6” kitchen cleaver has this blade grind.  Please note that I do not offer any blades with a sabre flat grind, or with a “scandi” grind.

Given my experience in earlier years in trapping (and therefore having done a lot of skinning), I have come to favor hollow grinds in many cases, particularly where blade steel may be on the thicker side, but one needs a good thin edge for slicing. I commonly use a sabre hollow grind for many of my hunters, as well as for all my 3/4 tang fillets (even though I am using very thin stock for these blades).

If you consider the hollow ground cross sections in Figure 5, another important point to bear in mind is that blade thickness as well as bevel grind radius will both help determine the maximum width of the hollow ground blade bevel. So, particularly if one is wanting a blade with full hollow grind, blade thickness and blade width are important considerations. I do all my hollow grinding on an 8” diameter contact wheel.

And, as you might realize from looking at these cross sections, as a hollow ground knife is used over a period of time, the edge will tend to retain its thin cross section, even as it is sharpened back. But, when compared with a flat ground knife, the hollow grind would not be as strong. In my opinion, for many applications (and when using the better steels) this may not really be an issue.

I have come to prefer the full flat grind particularly for almost all of my kitchen knife designs. This grind style may be used with any blade width or thickness, and is an excellent choice for producing wider, medium thickness or thin blades such as chef knives and the like. I also full flat grind all our full tang fillets, and offer this grind as a standard feature on a few of our hunters, and as an option on other hunters.

Blade Bevel Grinds

Image 5

Generally speaking, a properly ground full flat or full hollow ground blade will exhibit two kinds of blade taper: profile taper and distal taper (as shown in Image 6).

Profile taper is the natural tapering of the blade width from handle to point, and varies according to the style of blade. Distal taper is directly related to profile taper and is the result of a properly executed full bevel grind. A well executed blade grind of this type helps to distribute the weight in such a way as to produce a well balanced knife overall.

In a fillet knife or other narrow-bladed knife, a proper distal taper also helps provide and control blade flex.

Distal Taper and Profile Taper

Image 6

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