The Anatomy of a Knife

I want to thank everyone who offered their perspective on the recent Justify your knife post. There was plenty of great information in that post. Two things jumped out at me.

First, those who have a passion for their knives really have a passion for them. It was clear, at least to me, that much thought went into everyone’s choice of a blade, even when they ran contrary to other commenter’s opinions.

Second, it became very apparent that many people did a fair amount of research in order to come to their final personal choice of a knife. So, if I’m going to make an educated decision in regards to my own knife, then the first step is to become educated.

Which leads us to this post.

It has become clear that I have to know comprises a knife. I mean, we all know what a knife, is, as it’s quite iconic. Say the word “Knife”, and an image immediately appears. But we’ve taken this for granted, and many people can point out a knife, without knowing it’s various parts.

Not that it’s a difficult undertaking. For example, most people will recognize the following numbers corresponding to the picture:

One: The blade of the knife. The big metal part that rarely gets held.

Two: The handle of the knife, the part that almost always gets held.

I’m willing to bet that everyone could point those two items out on the knife. But it does get a little trickier after that. Let’s focus on the blade.

Three: This is the spine, or back of the knife. It can add to the balance of the knife, as well as comfort. Most spines are flat.

Four: The edge of the knife, which most people call the blade. In fact, the blade is all of the metal part of the knife, the sharp bit is called the edge. The edge can be beveled into several different configurations, which I will talk about at a later date. The point of the blade where the two beveled sides meet is called a burr. This burr is the primary aspect that determines how sharp the knife may or may not be.

UPDATE: Apparently I got the above wrong…either I misinterpreted the book that I got that from, or the book was wrong. I’ll have to check when I get home. Meanwhile, Tom wrote in the comments:

the edge is NOT the “burr”. A burr occurs along the edge during the sharpening process, it is a curl of metal pushed up when you have ground away enough metal for your two desired angles to meet.

As soon as the burr occurs, you cease to sharpen that side. The burr is then removed (through abrasion on the stone, stropping or cutting into a hard felt pad or pine board).

A burr MUST be removed to get a strong edge. A burr is a very thin piece of unsupported metal and blocks access to the true edge

The knife’s edge has several other components, including…

Five: The heel, which is essentially the back third or quarter of the knife (which I’ve traced in green in the pic above).

Six: The tip, which is the part of the knife’s edge furthest away from the handle, meeting up with the spine to form…

Seven: The point. I’ve read several books which calls this the tip. I’m not saying they’re wrong, but I’ve also seen several other books explain it the way I am. As the Tip of the knife (in the way that I’m defining it) has it’s own set of skills associated with it, I thought it best to refer to it this way.

Eight: The bolster is not technically part of the blade, nor is it part of the handle. Consider it the neutral zone between the two parts. It’s purpose to provide weight and balance to the knife.

Nine: The finger guard, which is fairly self explanatory. It’s often built into the negative space of the bolster.

Then there are two major components of the handle:

Ten: Within the handle is the tang, the extension of the metal component of the blade which connects the handle to the blade. Or, more simply put, the tang is the part of the blade that actually extends into the handle of the knife. There are several different types of tangs, some better than others. I will discuss this at a later date.

Eleven:Last, but certainly not least, is the butt, or the end of the knife.

Each of these aspects can have varying levels of quality associated with it, but that’s not the goal of this post. It does give me a good basis in what I should be looking at when determining what’s important for me when I buy the knife.