Ever wondered about how knives are made? Find an in-depth guide to a knife’s anatomy.
Kitchen knives are a must-have for home cooks. A quality knife can make food prep faster, easier, and more sanitary. However, not all kitchen knives are created equally. Different knives are suited for different tasks. Understanding how knives are constructed helps you choose the right one.
In this article, you’ll read about the main parts of a knife. I’ll also highlight the differences between traditional Japanese and Western-style knife designs. You’ll have a better understanding of how knives are made and how that can help you in the kitchen.
Ready to hone your knowledge of kitchen knives? Let’s get started!
Types of Knives
Before diving into the parts of a knife, it’s important to understand the different types of knives. A knife’s construction is heavily influenced by its design. There are two major umbrellas for kitchen knives: traditional Japanese-style knives and Western-style knives.
Japanese-style knives are known for their excellent cutting performance and precision, while Western knives are known for their versatility and durability. Japanese blades are typically sharpened to a razor-sharp angle of 15 degrees, whereas most Western knives have an edge angle of 20 degrees on each side.
Anatomy of a Knife
The blade is actually comprised of many smaller knife parts and runs from the bolster to the tip. This is the business end of a kitchen knife. Knife blades are usually made of steel, either stainless or high carbon stainless steel. Some Japanese knives feature the legendary Damascus steel for extra toughness. (Learn more about Damascus steel.)
The material affects the sharpness of the knife edge. The harder the steel, the sharper the knife. Unfortunately, that also makes the knife more brittle and susceptible to chipping. Softer steel loses sharpness but is more flexible. It’s a trade-off.
In addition to the material, the blade shape also influences the knife’s use. There are several types to be familiar with:
Straight Edge/Flat Ground
A straight-edge blade is what you’ll find on most kitchen knives. It’s a simple blade with a sharp edge that’s used for straight, clean cuts. It’s important to keep this type of blade sharp.
Serrated blades have a toothlike edge with visible serrations that may be scalloped. The serrations give the blade’s cutting edge less contact area than a smooth blade, which increases the applied pressure of each point of contact. Serrated blades are designed for a sawing motion. They’re ideal for trimming meat, cutting tomatoes, and slicing bread.
Cuts made with a serrated blade are typically less smooth and precise than cuts made with a smooth blade. Serrated edges can be difficult to sharpen using a whetstone. The flip side is that serrated knives stay sharper longer than similar straight-edged knives. Most steak knives feature serrated edges.
I like to have at least one serrated bread knife and one serrated utility knife in my kitchen.
A Granton blade has a row of identical dimples (or scallops) on both sides of the blade. Unlike a serrated or scalloped blade, a Granton blade only has scallops on the sides, with a straight edge.
A Granton-edged blade enhances a knife’s cutting performance by creating tiny air pockets between the food and the blade. This creates better food release and keeps the food as intact as possible. A Granton blade is particularly helpful when cutting food that clings to the blade, such as salmon, cheese, cucumbers, and more.
The knife edge is the part of the knife blade that does the cutting. It’s the long, sharpened part that runs the full length of the blade. It’s used for slicing, dicing, mincing, chopping, and other cutting tasks. It’s important to keep the blade edge sharp.
There are five common types:
This is the edge found on most knives in the kitchen. The “V” refers to the shape the two sides of the blade make in a cross-section view. The sides are ground flat to a point. This type is relatively easy to create when sharpening a knife and tends to last longer than other types.
The angled part of the blade is called the bevel. A standard V-edged knife has a double bevel since it’s angled on both sides.
In a convex blade, the two sides of the blade arc toward the center and meet at a sharp point. It’s similar to the V-edge but with curved sides.
The opposite of the convex edge, the sides with this type of edge are slightly hollowed out. The resultant blade is thin and extremely sharp, but it’s also more susceptible to damage. Hollow-edge blades are common for outdoor and hunting knives. This type of edge is also called concave.
The chisel edge is what you find in traditional Japanese-style knives. A chisel edge has one side of the blade at an angle, while the other side is flat. This type of edge is also referred to as a single-bevel knife since it’s angled on only one side.
Single-bevel knives are primarily used for preparing sushi and sashimi. Knives like the Yanagiba knife, Nakiri knife, or Santoku knife might feature a chisel edge. The angle is generally 20-25 degrees, and the other side is unsharpened with no angle at all.
These knives are the only ones where it matters whether you’re left or right-handed, so it’s important to get the right one. As a leftie, I can assure you the struggle is real.
The point is at the furthest point of the blade and is used for piercing and scoring. It’s where the sharp edge and the spine meet. It’s an important feature of a boning knife, which is used in a dagger-like fashion to remove bones from fish or meat.
There are different kinds of point, each with a distinctive shape. The average kitchen knife will sport a drop point, but other knives might have a trailing point, clip point, spear point, needle point, or spey point.
The tip is the first third of the blade and includes the point. The tip is used for fine slicing and delicate work.
The heel is the part of the blade that’s closest to your hand when you hold it. Generally, the heel is the widest part of the blade, and it’s where you have more control and leverage. You’ve probably leaned on the heel if you’ve ever had to cut through something hard, like a spaghetti squash.
The heel marks the end of the blade and makes the knife move upwards from the handle. The heel is blunt and unsharpened at the back end, which helps protect your hand from cuts and accidents.
Not all knives have a heel. Some slimmer knives have blades that are swallowed up into the handle.
The unsharpened portion of the knife blade is called the spine. It’s located away from the edge and is the thickest part of a knife. The spine provides a strengthening element when cutting. The thicker the spine, the more heavy-duty the knife is. A thin spine is less equipped to handle pressure.
A good example of this is a cleaver, which has an ultra-thick spine that can handle a lot more pressure than, say, a paring knife.
The bolster is the strengthening element of the knife. It’s located where the blade and the handle meet. Most Western-style knife designs feature a bolster. Traditionally, Japanese knives don’t feature a bolster, but many modern designs are including one.
If a knife has a heel, the bolster is often opposite the heel directly in front of the handle. The bolster is part of the blade but is thicker. A bolster protects fingers from slipping when chopping meat or vegetables. It promotes proper grip by providing a natural resting place for fingers where the blade meets the handle.
The bolster adds strength to the blade when it’s in use. A well-crafted knife will also have excellent balance, and the bolster helps provide that balance.
Many knives with a sloped bolster, which extends through the bottom of the blade. It can prevent contact with the blade as you use it. A functional shape bolster will allow you to use the full cutting power when chopping and allows you to maintain a more effective grip.
The tang is an unsharpened part of the blade, an extension that anchors it to the handle. A knife can either have full tang or partial tang. A full tang extends the entire length of the handle, whereas a partial tang only extends a part of the way into the handle. A full tang knife is stronger and sturdier than a partial tang knife.
For smaller knives, like a paring knife, the tang might not make a big difference. However, when it comes to larger knives, like a chef’s knife, a full tang construction is the better choice.
Also known as a pommel, the butt is the very back end of the knife handle. If it’s a full tang knife, you’ll see the end of the tang exposed in the pommel. The butt often features a bit of a downward slope to help position and stabilize your grip on the knife handle.
Some cooks use the butt or pommel as a pounding instrument, but I recommend against doing that. Repeated blows to the pommel could loosen the tang and damage the butt of the knife.
The handle is the part of the knife you grip when cutting. Handles come in a variety of materials, including plastic, wood, steel, rubber, and composite materials. The handle should provide a safe, comfortable grip. Some handles are ergonomic, making the knife feel like an extension of your hand.
Some handles are made from a single, molded piece of metal, wood, or plastic. The blade end is then inserted into the handle. However, other handles are actually made of two separate pieces that clamp around the blade. These pieces are called scales.
Many full tang knives have scales that are fastened to the blade using rivets (more on that below). The scales are made of plastic, wood, metal, or a composite material.
A knife can get wet, especially when chopping fruits and vegetables. The scales should have texture or be made of a non-slip material to provide extra grip when wet.
Some knife collectors will look for knives with decorative bone handles, but those are impractical for kitchen knives.
On knives with scales, the handle pieces are secured to the blade and to each other using rivets. Rivets comes in different styles, but they function in the same way. The rivets hold together the blade and the handle. You’ll find two or three rivets on a knife, depending on the length of the tang.
Rivets seem like an insignificant part, but rivets have an important job. They should be made of tough materials, preferably stainless steel or another type of metal that won’t wear down or loosen. They should also be flush with the handle.
Fixed Blade vs. Folding Knives
Some knives fold, like pocket knives. These are convenient for easy storage and for travel. As many dads all over the world can attest, it’s great to have a folding knife for opening gifts during the holidays.
Folding knives are multipurpose and better suited for camping, whittling, or just general use. Kitchen knives almost always have a fixed blade.
Parts of a Knife: Wrap-Up
Now that you have a grip on the parts of a knife, you’ll be better prepared to slice and dice in the kitchen! Read more about the different knives you need in your kitchen, or find the best German kitchen knives to get you started.