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Guest post by Ben Borchardt
Those who are learning to handle a knife in the kitchen, especially culinary students, will come across several common terms related to the different parts of a knife. Although you do not need to know every single part of a knife in order to use one, being familiar with the parts can help you decipher various instructions (and opinions) on knife use. Here are described all the parts of a knife, together with a labeled illustration of a chef’s knife.
The edge or “cutting edge” is the sharpened part of the blade which does the actual cutting and slicing. It is generally divided into three sections for different uses, including the tip, belly, and heel.
The tip is the end of the blade. Notice in the illustration above that the sharp “point” of the blade is labeled separately from the tip, although the point is, of course, part of the tip. This is because, if you were instructed to cut with the tip of the blade it would not refer to the point. And, yes, sometimes this area of the blade is useful for fast chopping of easy to cut items, such as mushrooms or for slicing of larger items. The tip also serves to create a pivot point used in several different cutting methods.
The belly is the portion between the tip and heel. Western chef’s knives, such as the Fibrox Pro 8-Inch Chef’s Knife, tend to have a more pronounced curve at this part of the blade. However, some knives, such as the Japanese Santoku, can be nearly flat in profile.
The heel of the blade is the end of the blade just before the handle, opposite the tip. Some blades have the heel blended into an extended bolster for more protection at the cost of versatility. The heel allows for high leverage providing strength for heavy cutting chores.
The bolsters’ primary function is to actually add strength where the handle joins the blade. In hidden tang knives, it is especially important and protects the blade from high shearing forces that may cause failure. As well, the bolster often formed into a guard in order to help keep the hand from slipping forward. It provides more comfort and adds weight to the back of the blade to create more balance. Bolsters can make sharpening the entire blade more difficult.
The spine is the back of the blade opposite the cutting edge. The blades of higher quality kitchen knives, such as chef’s knives and utility knives, become thicker as they approach the spine. This is called a full flat grind and produces less resistance when cutting, along with better balance. Some lower end knives, however, maintain essentially the same thickness throughout, except, of course, for the beveled edge of the blade. This is called a saber grind and is less expensive to produce.
The Tang, Handle Scales, and Pins
Although some knife handles are made of one piece of injection molded plastic or are of solid metal, most kitchen knives have two piece handles of stabilized wood, plastic, or other materials. Each piece of the handle is called a scale. The tang is the metal part of the knife extending from the blade to the butt. The tang is sandwiched between the two scales, forming the handle, and in the best knives, this tang runs the full length of the handle. Holes are then drilled through the scales and tang. Through these holes are inserted metal rods called pins, to reinforce the handle from lateral pressure, and then everything is epoxied together so that the scales and tang never separate. The glue also aids in keeping moisture and debris from slowly working its way under the scales.
Some knives have hidden tangs. This means that instead of two scales, the handle is a solid piece with a hole drilled through the center. The tang is inserted into the hole so that no portion of the tang can be seen. This is commonly seen in Japanese kitchen knives like the Imarku Pro Kitchen 8-inch Chef’s Knife.
Finally, the butt or pommel is there to serve as a reference point for the hand. It is commonly seen indexed to aid in grip and so the user can identify the blade orientation by feel.
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