A knife serves as an extended part of the cook’s arm in the kitchen. Except that this extension has a full body. This may come as a surprise to some (who, like me before getting into serious cooking, think it’s all a handle and a blade), but there are no less than a dozen parts of a knife. Among others, it has its own belly, a spine, and even a butt!
It’s not unusual that once you’ve spent enough time with a knife, you will feel like it has its own “soul”, and understands you and cooperates with you in ways no other does. That is why a majority of experienced cooks keep using one or two particular knives sometimes for their entire lives, and treat the knives like their beloved partners.
Regardless of whether you’re a hardcore blade lover or not, reality is you will always need a knife as long as you are to cook. And it can only help to understand a bit about your (hopefully long term) companion in the kitchen.
Here we will explore the most frequently used parts – the parts that decide the quality of a knife, and should be paid the most attention to when you’re considering a purchase. Most of these parts can be found on almost every type of kitchen knives, but here we will take a chef knife for illustration purpose, as it’s the most common of all knives.
Parts of a Knife: The Blade
The blade is the part of the knife used for cutting, mincing, chopping, and other dividing tasks.
Modern kitchen blades are typically made of carbon steel or stainless steel, and are hardened using various techniques so that they become more durable, resistant to scratches and chipping, and at the same time, easy to sharpen. While kitchen knives with plastic and ceramic blades are also on the rise thanks to their affordability, immunity to rust, and the marketed no-sharpening-needed characteristic, metal knives are still dominant for obvious benefits.
Economic reasons aside, it depends on their intended use that the blades of different types of knives can differ vastly in length, thickness, shape and size of their specific parts.
The tip: The front part of the blade with a point where the spine and the edge meet. It is used mainly for scoring and piercing, and is an exceptionally important feature on a paring or a boning knife. On a chef or a santoku knife, the tip serves as an anchor during mincing.
The belly: The part of the blade right after the tip. Knives with “curvy” bellies and small tips are usually better for slicing or chopping vegetables, as they allow quick, smooth rocking motions on the cutting board.
The cutting edge: The sharp part of the blade that is used for chopping and slicing. The edge can be smooth, as on a chef knife, or serrated, as on a bread knife. Whatever style it is in, one thing is for sure: you want the edge sharp, and made of materials that are resistant against chipping or breaking.
The bolster: The thick metal part in the middle of the knife, where the blade meets the handle. The bolster adds weight and balance to a knife, and is seen more often on forged knives than stamped ones. At the same time, the existence of one may also make honing the knife a bit more difficult, as it stops the blade from running all the way through a sharpener. Whether a knife should have a bolster or not is more of a matter of preference.
The heel: The rear end of the blade, close to where it meets the handle. This is the part that you can transfer the most force to. A sharp and strong heel can be very useful, especially on a boning knife or a chef knife, as you may need it to cut through tough skin or some fibrous veggie at times.
Parts of a Knife: The Handle
The handle is where you’re supposed to hold the knife. Usually, it consists of 2 scales covering the tang, and may be fastened with rivets for extra security.
The handle can be made of wood, plastic, ivory; or sometimes, it can come in one solid metal piece. The most popular material on modern kitchen knives is plastic, as the synthetic substance tends to be lighter than metal, more durable than wood, and above all, easier to mold, bend and shape for an ergonomic design.
You want a handle that feels solid, is easy to grip, and fits well in your hand. It should also have a weight that evens out that of the blade to some extent, so as to save your energy when applying a cut.
The tang: The part that extends from the blade to run into the handle of the knife. The tang may run through the whole handle (full tang), or only part of it (partial tang). Knives with full, thick tangs are more well-balanced, and are less likely to break at the handle.
If you have plans to use your knives to cut anything harder than tofu, always go for full tangs.
The rivet: The metal pin used to fasten the scales and the tang. A good full tang knife usually comes with 3 rivets.
The butt: The part at the end of the handle. On bigger knives, the butt is usually covered with metal to increase balance, durability, and stability of the whole item. A large metal butt, however, may also add a bit of weight. That is why not every knife comes with one.
More on Knife Tangs
While choosing a knife, most of us think about the blade. We tend to care a lot about how sharp/thick/strong the blade is, and whether it is straight or serrated.
But the tang deserves a lot a attention too!
There are a lot of different kinds of tangs, categorized mainly according to their shape. Let me introduce to you the two most popular types of tang in kitchen knives.
A full tang is a tang that extends to the entire handle both in terms of length and width.
A partial tang is one that does not fully extend to the knife handle. There are various types of partial tang: the half tang which extends to half the length of the handle, the stick tang which runs all the way to the butt but is narrow, or the narrowing tang whose width reduces as it runs to the butt.
Partial tangs are usually seen on casual budget knives, as they’re smaller and require less material to made. Knives with these tangs are usually less durable – they tend to break where the tang and the blade meet. Very often, the tang and the handle fall apart after a couple years of casual use.
Full tang, meanwhile, are one of the must-have’s on brand knives. They’re more solid, heavy-weighted, and can endure more heavy-duty use. A full tang can offer better leverage and balance to the knife, thus contributing to a better cutting experience. As they require more material to make, knives with full tangs are usually more expensive.
Which kind of tang is better?
Apparently, full tangs are the way to go. They are a must if you want your knives to last for more than a few years with frequent use.
The only occasion when partial tang knives are prefered is when you just want to occasionally cut and chop tender leafy herbs or something as soft as tofu. Other than that, full tangs are always a better choice.