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Knife Parts

by Michael Chu
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Understanding the parts of a knife is important to selecting a knife. Most knifes have the same essential parts and are simply shaped differently for best use in certain applications. Examining the parts of a chef's knife will provide a fairly comprehensive look at how these parts are used and what to look for when selecting a knife.

The parts of a knife can be divided into two major parts: the blade and the handle. Each of the common component parts of the blade and the handle are described below.

The blade of a knife is constructed by either forging or cut from stamped steel.
Forged knives are made by heating a bar of steel until softened and dropping the steel into a mold. The steel is then hammered into the correct shape and excess steel is trimmed. The forged blade is then tempered by a sequence of heating and cooling of the steel in order to improve its durability and hardness. The blade is finally sharpened, fitted with a handle, and finished (which may involved polishing to remove any unwanted edges or burrs).
Stamped knives have their blades cut from large flattened sheets of steel. The steel may then be ground down to provide a taper from the spine to the edge as well has from the heel to the tip. Finally, the edge is sharpened, and the blade fitted with a handle. Both forged and stamped blades are made with a protrusion called the tang. The tang is where the handle will be attached through riveting, bonding, or another means.

In the past, forged steel was always deemed to be stronger and more durable than the steel used in stamped knives, but this is no longer necessarily true. The quality of steel used in some stamped knives can exceed the quality of steel in many forged knives. Also, stamped blades can be affixed with parts that are normally only present on forged knives such as a bolster or finger guard. As such, these features can no longer be used to determine accurately if a knife is forged or stamped -- but because a stamped blade is not necessarily a knife of poorer quality, one should not use the fact that a knife is stamped or not to determine if the knife is of higher or lower quality. Instead, the performance of the knife, how well balanced it is, feel, and finish should be much more important to the selection of the knife than whether or not the metal is stamped or forged.

Point - The point is the part of the knife at where the edge and the spine meet. The point is generally used for piercing.

Tip - The tip of the knife is usually considered the first third of the cutting edge including the point. This region is usually used for fine work or delicate cuts. The tip is also used as an anchor during mincing.

Edge - The cutting edge of the blade extends from the point to the heel. Virtually all cutting actions of the knife will use this region. Most cutting motions are performed by utilizing a slicing motion (drawing the knife horizontally while pressure is applied downward through force or gravity). In general, the main type of edges are taper ground edge (where the edge is formed by two straight bevels), hollow ground edge (where convex curves are carved out of the edge to form a sharper, thinner, more delicate edge), serrated edge (where the edge is shaped in a series of teeth), scalloped edge (where the edge is shaped in a series of small sharp arcs or bumps), or single edge (where only one side of the knife is beveled - like a chisel's edge). Some knives are labeled granton edge, but typically these knives have a taper ground edge and the blade has shallow divots cut out of it to reduce drag on the knife. These knives are also labeled scalloped, hollow ground, or dimpled by some vendors.

Heel - The heel is the part of the cutting edge farthest away from the point. Usually used when more weight and force are required to cut through (such as hard squashes or thin chicken bones).

Return - The return of the blade is the termination point of the heel. If the return is curved just right, then it allows a gentle rocking motion when preparing to make another stroke or slice with the knife. A well designed return can reduce fatigue and make repeated slicing a smooth cyclical motion instead of a staccato, paper cutter motion. If a finger guard is present on the knife, the return is often unable to be sharpened properly.

Spine - The spine is the top of the knife blade opposite of the cutting edge. A thick spine improves stability of the blade but may also make some cuts feel like you are driving a wedge instead of slicing with an efficient kitchen knife.

Bolster - The bolster is a collar that joins the blade of the knife to the handle. It's function is not to attach the blade to the handle, but to provide additional mass just forward of where the chef's hand is. This improves the stability, balance, and strength of the knife. Some bolsters are constructed with the blade (as in forged knives), while others are attached after the blade is constructed. In the past, it was easy to say that all such bolsters should be avoided because they were of poor quality, however many knife manufacturers have found ways of attaching bolsters to their blades with the same effectiveness as if they were constructed from the same piece of metal. Two notable examples of this are Zwilling J.A. Henckels (who manufacturers their forged blades with different metals for blade, bolster, and tang in a process they call Sintermetal Component Technology) and MAC Knife (who uses stamped steel for their blades). In general, knives which incorporate bolsters in their design are of higher quality than those which do not.

Bolster lip - The bolster lip is where the bolster tapers down to the blade. The lip can be steep, resulting in a sharp angle where the lip meets the blade or the lip can be gently sloped so it blends into the blade. Sharp angles can be a problem when washing the knife because small food particles may lodge in the corner and not be properly washed off. This may result in rusting, metal discoloration, or even bacterial growth if the material persists over time or water is trapped along with it. For this reason, preference should be given to knives with bolster lips that blend into the blade.

Finger guard - Often considered part of the bolster, the finger guard is designed to strengthen the heel of the knife, provide additional weight forward of the handle, and help a little to protect the finger from accidental slipping across the blade. The presence of the finger guard may make use of the heel easier by providing greater mass and stability, but at the same time may make it difficult to use the heel because it is physically larger and does not carry an edge. The use of the finger guard to strengthen the heel of the knife is generally unnecessary with modern steel formulations. A finger guard can be added to a stamped blade.

Tang - The tang is the part of the blade that actually extends into the handle of the knife. The handle is affixed to the blade through the tang. A full tang is a design where the tang is cut to the same size and shape as the handle and handle scales are affixed to both sides. Generally, a full tang is considered to be the most secure method of attaching a handle to a knife and is recommended for knives that will be seeing heavy duty action - like cleavers. Also common are encapsulated tangs which have handles molded onto a tang. Rat tail tangs are also enclosed within the handle and are generally affixed through the use of a bolt or pommel at the handle head. Half tang knives have a tang that only extends about halfway down the handle. These tangs are generally too short for knives that are used constantly or with a decent amount of force. Some half tang knives simply take the tangs and push them into the handle. These knives should be avoided. I recommend knives that have tangs of 3/4 length or full tang as these knifes will last the longest. The long tang gives the handle a better connection to the blade and whole knife will feel a little easier to control because of this connection and the extra weight it will provide to the back of the knife.

Scales - On knifes with riveted handles, the pieces of material (generally a type of wood) which are attached to the tang to form a handle are called the handle scales. The shape and material of the scales determines how the knife handle feels in the hand, if it will be comfortable after a long period or use, and whether or not it becomes slippery when wet or covered in fat. Scales should fit neatly behind the bolster and on both sides of the tang without slits or cracks (to ensure easy cleaning to avoid bacterial growth). The junction where the bolster and tang meet the scales should also be smooth (otherwise, the chef may develop blisters or rub their skin raw during use).

Rivets - Rivets are metal pins used to mechanically join the handle scales to the tang to form the handle. If the rivets are visible, they should be flush to the scales and no cracks should be present along the circle where the rivet meets the scale. Rivets are generally constructed with metal alloys that do not expand or contract much due to heat change to ensure a solid fit throughout the lifetime of the knife.

Handle guard - Many knives have a curvature that the end of the handle that is called a handle guard.

Butt or handle head - Butt is the terminal end of the handle of the knife. Handle head is another name for this part of the knife but is generally used when specifically discussing the handle of the knife.

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Written by Michael Chu
Published on November 07, 2005 at 01:42 AM
32 comments on Knife Parts:(Post a comment)

On November 11, 2005 at 11:10 PM, SUNGODDESS444 (guest) said...
Subject: KNOWING YOUR KNIVES
THANK YOU FOR THE INFORMATION ON KNIVES. MAYBE YOU SHOULD OF ADDED HOW TO TAKE CARE AND SHARPEN THEM.
B)


On November 12, 2005 at 03:47 PM, TIANTED (guest) said...
Subject: sharp knives
Yes, as a serious cook, I have always had good and interesting knives. And, mine are always a bit dull. Partly from neglect, sloth and over use... partly because the full and perfect sharpening regimen has never been part of my world. I just [u:d546e7ad4c]want[/u:d546e7ad4c] to have sharp knives and don't know what to do next..... Where is that perfect solution? There must be a shamen of steel out there....


On November 14, 2005 at 11:50 AM, Maxlor (guest) said...
Subject: Re: sharp knives
Maybe ceramic knifes are an option? They are advertized to stay sharp no matter what you do with them. We had one once, and the claim seemed to be true. Unfortunately, they don't seem to be as stable when sideways force is applied - With ours the tip broke off. But if you're careful, that shouldn't be that much of a problem?

What's the professional opinion on those knifes?


On November 14, 2005 at 01:31 PM, an anonymous reader said...
Subject: Sharpening of knives
I think the most important thing about knives is keeping them sharp. The only times I cut myself while cooking is when I have a blunt knife.

The best method I have found for keeping my knives sharp is using a proper ceramic knife sharpener like this: http://www.surfasonline.com/products/21705.cfm

It sharpens the knife perfectly every time and is very easy to use. Certainly a good investment for anyone who wants to look after their knives properly.


On November 14, 2005 at 10:47 PM, Michael Chu said...
This article only covers parts of a knife because there are more knife articles in the works. Next up is a comparison of eleven chef's knives. Sharpening is something I've been working on, but I'm not any further on that article than a series of notes and lots of practice with whetstones, but that will be coming up much later. I know everyone needs the answers now, but hopefully most people will be patient with me as I juggle work, writing, researching, and fact checking. :)


On November 15, 2005 at 01:53 AM, jagstyle said...
Michael Chu wrote:
Sharpening is something I've been working on, but I'm not any further on that article than a series of notes and lots of practice with whetstones, but that will be coming up much later.


Sweet! Which stones do you have?


On November 15, 2005 at 05:47 AM, Michael Chu said...
jagstyle wrote:
Sweet! Which stones do you have?

I ended up getting the Norton stones you recommended: 220, 1000, 4000/8000 plus a flattening stone.

The 8000 puts a beautiful shine on the bevel. I've been practicing on old hand me down knives and bringing each one up to a pretty good level - but none have yet reached the keenness of my Japanese knives. I'm still working on my technique - I'm not perfectly consistent with my angle while drawing the blade across... practice practice practice.


On November 18, 2005 at 10:32 PM, june (guest) said...
Subject: knives
Anyone know anything about a Santoki knife? Im considering returning it since I can't seem to get the "rocking" motion I usually use when slicing.
Also, for the person interested in the ceramic knives...think twice before you buy, you them and they BREAK! Both friends who owned them(past tense) chipped and/or scattered them.


On November 19, 2005 at 06:40 PM, Michael Chu said...
Subject: Re: knives
june wrote:
Anyone know anything about a Santoki knife? Im considering returning it since I can't seem to get the "rocking" motion I usually use when slicing.
Also, for the person interested in the ceramic knives...think twice before you buy, you them and they BREAK! Both friends who owned them(past tense) chipped and/or scattered them.

When buying a santoku for it's rocking motion, be sure to actually try the knife on a cutting board before committing to buying one. Some santokus just don't rock because of the curvature of the final few inches of the blade. If I remember correctly, the Wustof Grand Prix II and Henckels santokus have and abrupt stop while the Global and Wustof Le Corden Bleu santokus have an excellent return for that rocking motion you're looking for. My recommendation? Go to a store like Sur La Table where they have an area set up for you to try the knives on a butcher block. (Most stores will let you hold the knife but not actually slide the knife around on a cutting board to feel how it moves.)


On December 05, 2005 at 09:06 PM, W Stockwell (guest) said...
Subject: Sharpening
There shouldn't be any mystery to sharpening. Take a look at http://razoredgesystems.com/ . His book explains exactly what you're trying to do when you sharpen a knife. Once you understand his method, you can sharpen most anything pretty easily and get it shaving sharp every time. I don't like his stones, but they do work . . .

BTW, since this is cooking for engineers, you should do a little research into hardening and tempering steels. :) Knives need both as part of their heat treat, both forged and stamped.

Good description of the function of each part of the knife from a cooking point of view.


On December 14, 2005 at 06:34 PM, Dave D (guest) said...
Subject: Knife Sharpening, etc.
Here is some of my experience with kitchen knives and sharpening...

As I understand it, the NSF requires stainless steel blades for restaurant use. Since these are also mass-produced by stamping and stock removal, the steel tends to be a little soft. A hard, forged, tool steel kitchen blade is rare any more, since it can't be used commercially and because folks have forgotten how to care for carbon steel.

On the other hand, I own a couple expensive hand-forged steel knives and one maker recommended the Lansky system for maintaining a constant grind angle. That's what I've used on my hunting knives.

For kitchen use, I use the Spyderco Tri-Angle Sharpmaker to sharpen plain and serrated blades. Since most kitchen blades are relatively soft for the reasons mentioned earlier, I sharpen frequently.

IMHO, unless you have spent $200-300 for a knife, there really isn't much reason to become a sharpening wizard. I expect my knives to slice tomatos, not a silk scarf falling through the air. <grin>

Cheers!
Dave


On March 14, 2006 at 01:18 AM, Willyvrod (guest) said...
Subject: cooking knifes
I have read all the post here, trying to get an idea about buying some cooking knifes for my wife. She is a GREAT COOK. Me not so good.
This is what I have done. I bought some cheap knifes. So, I can learn to keep them sharp. I got a 20 dollar kitchenAid chef knife. The box says it is some kind of 420 ja stainless steel forged. Also, I got a Chicago Cutlery Santoku knife and a paring knife, Also stainless steel forged.
Once I feel I can keep these sharp. I plan on getting some Wusthof. I think the Japanesse knifes are great , from all that I have read here. But the sharping thing seems to be a bit more involved than I am will to do.
However, For the price , the knifes I got do Alot better than What I have being using.
Thanks to everyones post. I now have a game plan
Thanks William!


On April 14, 2006 at 05:13 PM, unknown (guest) said...
Subject: reply to Tianted
There is an entry on Egullet titled "Knife Maintenance and Sharpening" which has excellent information on sharpening and maintaining knives.


On October 10, 2006 at 11:54 PM, guest (guest) said...
Subject: Whetstone versus Electric Knive Sharpeners
Which do you prefer when sharpening your best knives? A whetstone or an electric knife sharpener?


On October 11, 2006 at 02:46 AM, GaryProtein said...
Your best knives should only require a few strokes over a steel before each use to stay razor sharp forever. Electric sharpeners ruin knives, and if you allow your best knives to get so bad that you need major sharpening, at the risk of sounding condescending, you shouldn't own them.


On January 29, 2007 at 01:59 AM, steamingbiscuit (guest) said...
Subject: Ginsu knives
Not an engineer - but - How would you imagine that the serration would be different betwixt a cheap Ginsu knife/ForeverSharp type and a better quality serrated knife __________________?


On January 29, 2007 at 05:25 AM, GaryProtein said...
Serrated knives will cut (I didn't say stay sharp) until the concave areas of the scallops or points on the serrations wear down. A serrated knife is good for general use on glass plates, such as when eating dinner, but will never be a pleasure to use as they tend to tear food, rather than smoothly cut through it. On a serrated or scalloped knife, the part of the blade that actually cuts, never touches the plate. I have about 25 Henckels 4 Star and Professional and Wusthoff Classic knives in my collection, but NONE of their steak knives because I just don't want to sharpen them after each steak dinner. To me, there is no place in this world for fine, smooth bladed $60 steak knives that will be used on glass plates. Glass plates ruin knives, and even if I were to set a table with very fine steak knives, I know I would be the only one at the table using them like the fine instruments that they are. For steaks and the like, I use good quality scalloped, not serrated "steakhouse" knives ($15-30 for a set of eight knives available at Costco or BJ's) and throw them away when they no longer work to my satisfaction.

I wouldn't imagine much of a difference between the serrations on a Ginsu and a Forever Sharp knife despite the fact that each manufacturer seems to have created their own pattern in the serrations.


On April 15, 2007 at 03:57 AM, John (guest) said...
Subject: Knife part and purpose
On some knives along the spline the blade has a beveled notch aproximately 3" in length. This is usually in the front half of the spline. What is the name of this notch and more importantly, what is the purpose?


On November 06, 2007 at 03:31 PM, NCohen (guest) said...
Subject: Hammerstahl Knives
I cannot find any reviews on the Hammerstahl brand of knives. I recently saw them at a charity auction and they seemed to be an excellent knive. They are available on the www.hammerstahl.com site, but no place else. Is anyone familiar with them?


On November 12, 2007 at 03:54 PM, Matt Ollila (guest) said...
Subject: finding that ideal knife
For any of you looking for a knife made to be the best possible in every way, I beg you to check out CUTCO Cutlery. Contact me at ollila@wisc.edu, go to cutco.com to get a representative or more information, or get the show from the History channel: Modern Marvels-the world's sharpest.


On October 08, 2008 at 07:25 PM, FoxholeAtheist (guest) said...
Subject: Sharpening Knives
There are many different mechanisms for sharpening knives, but one of the easiest to use for maintaining an edge is the SharpMaker by Spyderco. All you have to do is to hold the knife blade vertical while running it on the pre-set 30 or 40 angled stones. It can be purchased for around $50-$60 from many online retailers.

If you want to remove more material (for example, if you want to make the edge angle more acute for better cutting), you need something coarser than the stones that the SharpMaker comes with. I use an EdgePro Apex for this task, which is an excellent system, but more spendy that many people want to go at around $250. You can, of course, use a variety of coarse sharpening stones (diamond stones, water stones, oil stones, etc) if you have the skill, but the Edge Pro takes much of that need out.

If you want to go for REALLY fast material removing, you can pick up a cheap 1x30 stationary belt sander from Harbor Freight for about $40 and get a selection of sharpening belts from Lee Valley. This will also give you a quick entry into the world of convex sharpening if you want to go that direction.

I would stay away from any of the dedicated electric "knife sharpening" devices as some of them use very rough carbide bits that tear the hell out of your edge.

Similarly, I would stay away from Cutco.. they are WAY overpriced for what you get, which is a cheap steel (440A, IIRC) coupled with an edge you can't sharpen yourself. For a European style knife, try Wusthof or Messermeister. I'm not familiar enough with the Japanese knives to recommend a brand, but for a nice fusion of Eastern and Western styles, I really like the Shun Classic series. If you want to go WAY fancy, check out the kitchen knives made by Bark River Knife and Tool, available from www.knivesshipfree.com, DLT Trading, or a few other stocking distributors.

Finally, for a great community with in-depth discussion of all aspects of knives, from manufacture to selection to use, visit www.bladeforums.com and/or www.knifeforums.com

Enjoy!
Fox


On November 04, 2008 at 04:19 PM, finder (guest) said...
Subject: knife
Physics Question:

Why does a Knife cut


On November 04, 2008 at 09:39 PM, Dilbert said...
becuz the cuttee does not resist


On February 28, 2009 at 07:34 AM, enginerd (guest) said...
Subject: RE: why does a knife cut (for finder)
The knife-blade edge has a very small cross-sectional area, which amplifies the amount of pressure felt by the material the knife is cutting.

The principle that is responsible for the amplification is essentially a force balance on the knife in the vertical direction:

Pressure*Area of knife edge on material = total vertical force pressed downward by user

As you can see, the knife edge with a small area results in a larger pressure transferred to the material and correspondingly, results in the fracture or splitting of the material.

There are also important considerations of the horizontal forces that occur from the tapered edges of the knife that push away the cut material so that the knife can continue cutting (dependent on angle of the blade edge).

Hope this helps.


On December 23, 2009 at 02:20 PM, bill roberts (guest) said...
Subject: rack
i am very satisfied with the knives, with one exception ; i need a rack or stand to keep them upright. i do not want knives this sharp laying loose in a drawer. can you please help me with location(s) , i may purchase one. thank you :( :unsure:


On August 19, 2011 at 06:02 AM, an anonymous reader said...
Subject: I.C.W MEISTERBACH KNIFE SET
can anyone help me on info about a knife set i have been offered its a 9 piece set with a swiss mark on it the bag says i.c .w on it,the make of knife i think is meisterbach can find no info on them ,any help would be off great help.many thanks 8|


On August 19, 2011 at 12:52 PM, Dilbert said...
www.meisterbach.com

here's a 24 pc set priced at 85 Euros (123 USD)
http://www.internet-webshop.com/webshop/huis-en-inrichting/detail/79/zwitserse-meisterbach-messenset-24-delig-in-luxe-koffer.html

never heard of the brand / name -


On August 29, 2011 at 06:23 AM, nooniec (guest) said...
Subject: which knife???
I'm just really confused when it comes down to knives my question is which knives would be. Appropriate. For an novice chef would start out with ..???


On August 29, 2011 at 05:19 PM, Dilbert said...
if your question is about the style / size of knife - as a 'starter' bunch I would recommend
8 inch chef
7 inch santuko
10 inch slicer
4 inch paring
if you're into artisan bread - 10 inch serrated bread knife

as for brand name - all of the 'top names' are good stuff - but they do have different handle styles and it is very important the knife "fit" your hand. if possible get to a kitchen store and pick them up, handle them, see how they fit. if it is not comfortable in your hand, you likely will not "grow into it."

the Japanese style knives are typically thinner, lighter weight and are most appreciated by folks who like to spend a lot of time sharpening and honing their knives to razor blade edges. this is impractical for the average home cook. they can also get quite pricey.

get a "storage device" - block, tray, whatever - a $20 or a $400 knife that is just tossed in the junk drawer is not going to be worth a hoot in terms of staying sharp.


On August 29, 2011 at 07:48 PM, Jim Cooley said...
It's strange to find myself disagreeing with Dilbert, but I'd prefer a smallish (7"?) butcher's knife over a santuko, and question the need for a slicer at all. I think I'd rather have a cleaver.

I keep my knives in a drawer laid out next to each other, with a double layer of corrugated cardboard at the back so the tips don't get whacked.


On August 29, 2011 at 09:23 PM, Dilbert said...
disagree? why mah goodness - could not no never thank any two folk could want to do that . . . (g)

an awful lot of one's preference is what happens in _your_ kitchen?

butcher / chef style more or less fills the same role - a heavy duty get at 'em. rock&chop til you drop....

I managed for many years without the santuko style - but I find the flatter blade shape just the cat's meow for veggie prep - slice - dice. other than "mass and bone smashing" methinks it does a good imitation of the Chinese cleaver! the 7" santuko "blade flat" is about the same as my 10" chef's - but it's a whole lot 'handier' to work with.

the slicer is good for roasts, melons - big soft things.... one can hack away at a pork roast with a mini-Swiss Army knife - but a 10" blade slicing a 4" roast makes for more pretty.

same with the bread knife - if one only ever has to address a baguette, those cute 8" bread knives are fine. pick up a 8 inch round Bauerbrot, ya' need something bigger than the fingernail Swiss Army size....

but it all comes down to how much of what one is doing. I rarely buy anything but a whole chicken - and I'm fond of bone in (other) meats - so I'm very partial to my boning knife. not everyone buys half a cow, so . . .


On August 30, 2011 at 04:47 PM, Jim Cooley said...
I meant boning knife when I said butcher's -- don't know what I was thinking. Glad we can agree on that! I'd hate to bone a chicken with a chef's knife (though once you know how it's not that hard).

Still think a cleaver is a better choice than a slicer. Has multiple uses, so in my kitchen it gets used far more often. How are you giong to cut an acorn squash in half if you don't have a cleaver? It's also far more effective at scaring children out of the way than a slicer...

Joan
Christina, bring me the cleaver!

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