Looking to learn the proper names for everything that makes up a knife?
Like sailors, stagehands, and sommeliers, knifemakers have some very particular terms for the tools of their trade. It helps to know the lingo if you’re getting into knives, or just want to know what the hell “jimping” is when you read it in a product description.
Most of us use knives regularly, and some of us may even be sharpening pros, but there’s still a lot of knife terminology out there that doesn’t come up that often and some of it can be confusing.
Today, we’re going to clear all that up with a primer on all the major parts of modern knives. This is Knife Anatomy 101.
We’re not going to cover everything because you probably don’t need to know the exact name for the type of guard commonly found on a 14th-century German langmesser, but for those of you shopping for a new kitchen or pocket knife, this should cover everything you need to know.
The spine of the blade is the part furthest from the edge or edges. On a single-edged knife, this would be the side of the blade opposite the edge, and on a double-edged knife or dagger, this is the middle of the blade between the edges.
The spine on a good knife will typically be heat-treated differently than the edge. The goal is usually to make the spine of the knife softer, and therefore allow it to flex and absorb energy while keeping the edge harder and more resistant to wear so it stays sharper longer.
This is called a differential heat treat and is especially important on larger, hard-use knives or other blades that might have to take impact forces.
You probably know this one, I won’t lie, but technically the point is the place where the edge and the spine or opposing edge meet, typically at a very sharp (pun intended) angle. This is what you use for piercing, and most knives have one.
Technically different than the point, the tip of the blade is the forwardmost section of the blade, usually considered to be the last 20% or so of its length.
This section may be sharpened differently, have an unsharpened false edge along the spine, or be heat-treated differently to achieve different results. It includes the point of the blade.
The edge of the knife is the (usually) sharpened portion furthest from the spine. It includes everything from the point to the heel, which we’ll get to later. Basically, this is the part you cut with, and on most knives, the whole thing will be sharpened the same.
There are some knives that have serrations for part of the blade, or certain fighting knives that leave sections unsharpened for the user to grip, though this fell out of fashion around the time the pilgrims landed in America. Today, most fighting or tactical knives are sharp from handle to tip.
One related term you will see is “edge geometry” or “edge angle” which refers to the angle at which the knife is ground or sharpened. Typically, this will be 20 degrees for something like a pocket knife or Western-style chef’s knife, or around 17 degrees for Japanese knives.
If you aren’t sure, a simple bevel gauge will tell you what the original edge is that you should be sharpening towards.
The grind of a blade, also called the geometry of a blade, refers to its cross-section and how the blade was ground by the maker. There are many different ways to grind a blade, with the most common being some form of hollow or flat grind, with convex grinds being a fairly distant third.
Every grind is a balance between strength and sharpness and is used for different things depending on the type of blade.
Some grinds lend themselves to a more robust edge that is less sharp, and some grinds, like the hollow grind you’ll find on most kitchen knives, give us an edge that is more susceptible to damage if misused, but better at slicing.
Various common grinds you’ll see frequently are hollow, flat, sabre (or saber), chisel, convex, and Scandi. All have their uses and are worth looking into further if you really want to dive into blade geometry and have the very best knife for the job.
A fuller is a rounded or beveled section of the blade that is either added as part of the forging process or ground in before the blade is heat treated. The purpose is to reduce weight and if forged, to strengthen or widen the blade as needed.
The bolster of a knife, usually found on a kitchen knife or other fixed blade, is a thickened section of the blade that flows smoothly into the handle. This adds strength to one of the weakest areas of any knife (the junction between blade and handle) and helps with ergonomics by providing a smooth transition.
Not all knives have a heel, but if your knife has an edge that extends down and away from the handle, then you can think of the “bottom” of the blade furthest from the tip as the heel.
This is most common on kitchen knives and is typically rounded over or left rather wide to keep your middle finger comfortable when using a pinch grip. Japanese blades are notorious for having a prominent heel.
The tang of a knife or sword is the portion that extends into the handle. This can be the back of a folding knife blade that is drilled for a pivot, or the longer unsharpened rectangular section of a fixed-blade knife that the handle is attached to.
A “full tang” is when the tang extends all or most of the way through the handle, and adds a great deal of strength, making it the preferred style for hard-use or high-end fixed-blade knives.
The choil of a knife is the space at the bottom of the edge, furthest from the tip and nearest the handle, and is left unsharpened and hollowed out. On some knives, it’s large enough to accommodate your index finger when using the knife in order to give you a bit more control.
However, the main purpose of the choil is so that the whole length of the edge can be sharpened without any issues.
Jimping is the name of the grooves or notches added to the spine of a knife in order to increase grip. The most common places you’ll see this are on pocketknives and hard-use fixed blades, on the spine right where the blade meets the handle.
By having a grippier, high-friction surface there, you can better manipulate the knife, especially with wet or dirty hands
As you probably know, the handle of a knife is the part you hold. On a sword, or longer martial weapon, you will typically see the handle referred to as the hilt, but there’s not really much of a technical difference here.
It includes the guard, the grip, and the pommel if present.
The guard of a knife is the bit that stops your hand from sliding forward and generally keeps you from hurting yourself with the knife. Many kitchen knives forgo a guard because you aren’t really supposed to stab them into things while fighting knives…well let’s just say swords had crossguards for a reason.
Historically, the pommel of a knife refers to a weighted cap or round at the end of a handle that was meant to balance out the weight of a knife or sword blade. These days, few knives have one, but you may still see the bottom of a knife’s handle furthest from the tip be referred to as a pommel.
More commonly (and correctly) you’ll see this referred to as the butt of the knife.
On a sword or knife, the quillons are part of the guard that extends outwards at a right angle to the blade to keep the user’s hand from sliding up the blade when using it. These would often be very ornate on a more elaborate piece but would often be very simple.
And that does it for this one folks, thanks for stopping by. You should now know everything you need to know about the different (common) parts of knives.
There’s some other stuff out there that might come up if you start getting beyond Western-style knives or branching out from kitchen and pocketknives, but this is definitely 99 percent of what you’ll ever need to know when it comes to knife anatomy.
Also, the very distinctive nail-like guard that protrudes out on a messer is called a nagel and it is designed to stop parried enemy blades from sliding down and cutting your hand. In case you were wondering.
More Knive 101:
- What Is Stropping And How Do You Do It?
- Tools Knifemaking Pros Use
- Learning How To Make A Knife
- Best Knife Handle-To-Blade Ratio
Knife Guide Issue features the newest knives and sharpeners, plus knife and axe reviews, knife sheaths, kit knives and a Knife Industry Directory.
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