You’ve probably heard of knives before, maybe even seen them, I’d even say that you might have even (if I may be so bold) held one before?! You’ve also probably noticed all the shapes and sizes knives come in (both inside the kitchen and out) but you probably didn’t realize (or bother to wonder) that all knives are basically all the same parts just tweaked from knife to knife to give each a unique purpose. Today we’re going to talk about all the parts that make up the anatomy of a knife. I’ll focus a bit on the most popular kitchen cutlery tool of all: the chef’s knife. It’s perfectly designed for your kitchen slicing and dicing and we’ll use it as a bit of an example for the knife’s various components. That said, you really can use this as your general purpose knife anatomy guide!
So let’s get started!
To begin, there are actually a lot of parts to be named on a knife, the chef’s knife and about every other knife have similar parts. You have the butt, heel, bolster, handle, tang, blade, edge, tip, point and spine. Some diagrams show a few more parts, other’s show less, but these are the main components. Check out the diagram below here for a rundown of all the parts.
Let’s start with the tip of the blade. What you have with a chef’s knife is a rounded tip that comes to a point. This rounded tip is what gives chef’s knife the ability to rock back and forth making quick work of slicing potatoes, carrots, celery, green onions and whatever else. You probably see how quickly fancy TV chefs can go through these veggies, well it’s really not possible without a chef knife’s rounded tip (speaking of, if you would like to learn on how to slice like the pros, check out my post on how to properly handle a kitchen knife). Other knife tips are made more for piercing, poking or peeling and don’t have a rounded tip.
Moving on to the point (no pun intended). The point is where the spine of the knife and the blade’s edge meet. You use the point to pivot the knife in order to get the rocking motion to start chopping/slicing. Other knives use the point to pierce and poke or some don’t use it much at all.
Next up is the edge. Now, generally the edge on a knife straight out of the factory will have a simple V shaped edge. This is where both sides of the edge come together evenly to make a point in a V shape. In most cases you’ll keep the V style edge as that’s what you’ll make with a sharpening stone. This type of edge is both easy to make and it holds itself well enough (there are certainly better edges but they require special sharpeners). Most of you’re typical sharpening stones will give you a good enough v-edge to keep things going.
The spine is just the top of the knife, generally it’s squared and it supports the thin brittle edge. One thing I see all the time is how lots of people like to place their index finger on the spine while cutting. It’s actually the wrong way to go about it and fatigues your hand faster. Like I mentioned above, I go over in another post about how to properly handle a knife.
The heel of the blade acts as a barrier between your fingers and the sharp edge, it prevents slipping and as long as you are holding the knife properly, you can zoom through your soon-to-be-cut ingredients without worry.
Onto the blade itself, this includes the edge, spine, heel, tip and point (and kind of bolster). The blade in a chef’s knife is generally wide, sometimes it’s ribbed to prevent potatoes and the like from sticking (which kind of works). Your average chef’s knife is around eight inches long (which I prefer, you can get bigger ones but they just feel to awkward for me in most cases). I could spend a while talking about the differences in blades between the types of steel used and how each is different, but really what you get with a better knife is a longer lasting edge. Now, maybe a better (read: more expensive) knife can get marginally sharper, but really it’s more about keeping the edge than it is having one. So, if you don’t cook all the time or don’t mind sharpening often, a cheap chef’s knife will do you just fine.
Transitioning between the blade and the handle is the bolster. Really this could go on other the blade or the handle side. This part part often fits the handle and blade together snugly to ensure there is no weeble-wobbles going on. Ensuring your knife and handle share a strong bond and makes the overall knife, nice and sturdy!
The handle, it truly can be the deciding factor between a crappy and fantastic knife. Simply put, better knives will have better handles. Nice knives will probably have a good, high quality ergonomic handle that holds up very well and shouldn’t be some cheap plastic. That said, you really don’t need to invest in an expensive knife for a nice handle unless you’re holding it all day.
The butt of a knife is another part of the handle. The butt often flares up/down or both, this helps prevent slipping and sliding while cutting. It’s a useful feature and practically all knives, but the paring knife have a flared heel.
Lastly, the tang. The tang is the part of the blade that goes into the handle. The tang is often considered as a defining point of quality in a knife. You see, a full tang that goes all the way through to the handle is often seen as a higher quality of knife. Full tang knives are less likely to fall apart and signify a manufacturer not cutting corners. Honestly, I don’t buy it (completely). Sure the manufacturer splurged on more material but that doesn’t make the material itself better. I’ve had partial tang knives that can handle a beating pretty well as well as full tang knives that fall apart because the rivets or other holding material was cheap. Now, most good knives have a full tang, but not all full tang knives are good. My advice: use it as an indicator of quality, not the deciding factor.
So that’s pretty much the anatomy of knives! All of these come together to create all the wonderful different shapes and sizes of knives. Try checking out any and all the knives you can get a hold of and see how each is different, you’ll probably learn a lot! Knowing your knife is half the battle, handling it is the next, so check out my other post of how to properly handle a knife to make your kitchen, cutlery creations as efficient as possible!