Most of us use a knife on a daily basis, which helps us accomplish a variety of tasks. We usually take our knives for granted, simply expecting them to cut, slice, chop, or otherwise serve our needs. Only when the knife fails to meet our expectations do we notice its components and features.
Neglecting to understand the parts of a knife can lead to choosing the wrong knife for your needs and using it incorrectly, which in turn leads to unnecessary wear and corrosion. Each knife, no matter its purpose, can be divided into two parts: the handle and the blade. Each of these parts is further divided into various components and features.
This gives us 11 parts to learn and understand: the butt, rivets, and scales of the handle, and the tang, bolster, spine, heel, edge, belly, tip, and point of the blade. Understanding these parts allows you to get to know your knife better.
The handle of a knife can come in a variety of materials, including wood, bone, metal, plastic, and various synthetic options. Sometimes the handle is etched to provide grip, other times it’s smooth and slippery. Every handle includes three parts: a butt, rivets, and scales.
Put simply, the butt of the knife is the end of the handle. It is usually rounded, and sometimes includes a side that juts out, making it easy to grab and hold the handle. The butt is sometimes called the rear bolster. It provides strength and stability in an area of the knife that often needs reinforcement.
Rivets are metal pins that hold the knife together. They join the scales of the handle to the part of the blade called the ‘tang’. Without these rivets, the handle could never attach to the knife, leaving you with an uncomfortable and sharp metal knife to hold. The rivets allow the handle to provide an element of safety and ease of use.
The scales compose the handle of the knife. When we think of a handle, we are usually envisioning the scales. One scale forms one side of the handle. A scale is placed on each side of the tang, and attached with rivets.
The scales are usually made of natural materials, such as horn, bone, wood, or synthetic materials, such as plastic, carbon fiber, resin, and nylon. The durability and resilience of the knife can greatly depend on the material used to manufacture the scales of the handle.
The blade of the knife contains eight distinct parts: the tang, bolster, spine, heel, edge, belly, tip, and point. While the parts of the handle might be made from separate materials, such as wooden scales with brass rivets, the blade is usually created from one uniform metal. Some common metals used for knife blades are stainless steel, iron alloys, and Damascus steel.
The tang of the knife is a narrow strip of metal that fits inside the handle. It is attached to the scales with rivets. The best knives contain full tang construction, meaning the tang extends the full length of the handle, providing strength and stability.
A partial tang only extends partially inside the handle, and can come in half or three-quarter tangs. Small knives, such as folding pocket knives, typically have a small partial tang that extends to the pivot-point in the handle.
The tang may be as wide as the handle or it may be thinner. In most cases, the scales of the handle are cut to the size and shape of the tang, then fastened with rivets. The tang is left exposed in certain areas, including the butt, belly, and spine of the handle.
The bolster is a band that lies between the blade and handle. It joins the two parts together. It’s often made of the same metal that forms the blade.
Beyond joining the blade to the handle, the bolster provides several benefits to the knife. It balances the knife and strengthens the junction where the handle meets the blade.
It protects your hand from the sharp edge of the blade by keeping your hand from getting in the way during cutting. It also protects the handle.
The spine of the blade is its top side, opposite of the sharp edge. It is thick and heavy, supporting the blade’s cutting action and providing strength. Very thick and wide spines can withstand more downward force.
The shape of the spine is usually flat. On some knives, such as specific types of pocket and hunting knives, the spine may be sharpened as well to create a double-edged knife. In these cases, the spine may have a rounded shape.
The handle has a spine as well, opposite the side that is gripped by your hand. It features the exposed edge of the tang.
The heel of the knife is the rear part of the edge, located near the bolster. It’s the widest part of the blade and provides the most stability.
The edge is the sharp part of the knife, used for cutting, slicing, and chopping. It runs from the heel to the point of the knife. It is often rounded and includes a belly, though on small pocket knives the edge could be flat without a belly.
The belly is the rounded part of the edge. It is a curved arc that extends outward along the edge. On pocket knives with a flat edge, the belly is missing.
The belly is helpful for chopping, because it provides the rocking motion that is essential for chopping foods. Flat-edged knives without a belly cannot be used efficiently for chopping.
The tip of the knife is typically thought to be the sharp point at the end, but this is incorrect. The tip is actually part of the edge. It is the forward portion near the point. It is sometimes said to include the point. The tip can be used for detailed cutting, such as areas and situations where delicacy is required.
The point is the part of the knife where the edge and spine meet. It is sometimes called the tip, though incorrectly. The point is often used for piercing and stabbing.
In kitchen knives, the point is not utilized much. In hunting knives, a sharp point is essential for stabbing and skinning game. Pocket knives may also see some use of their points, for piercing tough materials. Often, the shape and cut of the point will determine the usage of the knife.
Understanding the Parts of a Knife Will Help You Choose and Maintain the Right Option for Your Needs
When you’re looking for a knife to suit a specific need, you will need to know the parts of the knife that will serve you best. For example, if you need a knife for self-defense, a smaller knife will be the best option. A large, clunky hunting knife will not cut it.
Certain types of materials will impact the knife’s durability. If you are looking for a knife you can use every day and not have to replace it frequently, don’t go for wooden or leather handles, since they absorb and retain water, which will rust the blade. Knowing these aspects of a knife will tell you whether it’s the best fit for you, and help you to maintain it over time.