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.