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The Different Parts of a Knife and All Their Different Functions

The Different Parts of a Knife and All Their Different Functions

Knives are an essential tool in the kitchen, varying in size, style, purpose, and so much more. There truly is a knife for every occasion – whether you're cutting boards, carving meat, or slicing vegetables – and if you want to take things to the next level in the kitchen, being equipped with appropriate weaponry is the best way to get started.

Knives are an essential tool in the kitchen, varying in size, style, purpose, and so much more. There truly is a knife for every occasion – whether you're cutting bread, carving meat, or slicing vegetables – and if you want to take things to the next level in the kitchen, being equipped with appropriate weaponry is the best way to get started.

But much like there are many different types of knives to choose from, all knives are made up of several different components. Ranging from the obvious bits like the handle and the blade to the lesser-known parts, such as the heel and the tang, knives are complex tools.

To make proper use of them and keep them in tip-top shape, it's essential that you know all the different parts of a knife and understand how they work together. That way, when you're cooking up a storm in the kitchen, you'll be able to fully appreciate the ingenuity of these modern pieces of metalwork that allow you to get things done quickly and efficiently.

And personally, I always like to understand the tools that I'm using so that I can make sure I'm getting the very best out of them.

Of course, as we’ve already mentioned, there is no one type of knife – over many years of perfecting the art of blade smithing, a plethora of different types have been designed for a variety of purposes. If, like most people, your knowledge of knives is limited to the basics, do not fear – I'm going to tell you all about the many different knives you may come across in a big kitchen so that you no longer have to wonder what certain blades are for.

But, since we're not all professional chefs with massive kitchens and oodles of tools at our disposal, I'm also going to give you a quick rundown of the most important knives to have in your collection, so that if you have to choose, you know where to start.

Now, another important reason to know the different parts of a knife is for the sake of looking after it. The more you understand how the tool is assembled and why it's made in the way that it is, the more you'll appreciate the importance of cleaning and maintaining it.

There are lots of dos and don'ts when it comes to looking after knives, so we'll have a quick look at the most important things to know about taking good care of your knives – including the best ways for sharpening and honing high-quality blades.

So, let's begin your journey of learning all about the anatomy of the knife!

The Different Parts of a Knife

If you're a novice and think that knives are simply made up of the blade and the handle, I can't blame you – technically, you're not wrong, but there's just so much more to it. These are just two of a plethora of different components of knives, ranging from the sharpest, pointiest bit at the end to the little rivets (or fasteners) that keep the handle in place.

At a glance, here is a list of the different components of a knife that we're going to expand on shortly:

  • Blade
  • Edge
  • Heel
  • Bolster
  • Handle/Scales
  • Tang
  • Rivets/Handle Fasteners
  • Point
  • Tip/Belly
  • Spine
  • Butt

Knowing about all the different parts of a knife is the best way to have a good understanding of how to use and clean it. Also, by being able to differentiate between the parts of knives, you'll be able to properly understand exactly how various types of knives differ based on differences in specific parts.

For instance, the blade is just one component of a knife (made up of many smaller parts), but there are also several different types – including straight-edge, scalloped, hollow-ground, serrated, and a Granton edge. But we'll get into all these details a little further down!

When you're equipped with this knowledge, you'll know exactly what type of knife to buy for different purposes, based on the specific function for which it's been made as well as the variations in different parts.

So, let's get straight into breaking down the different parts of a knife.

Blade

Starting with the most obvious is the blade – that's the business end of the knife that you use for the actual cutting. So, if you had to divide the whole knife into the part you hold and the part that does the cutting, the blade is the part that does the cutting (to put it crudely). It's made up of lots of other components – there are many parts of a knife blade – but we’ll get to those a little later.

Knife blades tend to be made of steel, of which there are many types – our favorite, of course, is Damascus steel – but that's a tale for another time!

Blades come in different shapes and the type of edge can also vary - at the end of the day, these are the two most important factors that influence the knife's overall purpose and functionality.

So, what are the different shapes that are available? Well, you get straight blades, serrated blades, hollow-ground blades, scalloped blades, and Granton edge blades.

Straight Edge/Flat Ground

A straight/flat blade is, well, straight – there isn't really any other way to describe it! A straight-edge blade has the potential to be incredibly sharp, but it needs to be well looked after (sharpened and cleaned) to stay that way.

Hollow Ground

Hollow ground blades have concave sides, and the edge of the blade is incredibly thin and fragile. The thin edge is produced by grinding the blade very deep.

Hollow ground knife blades are ideal for delicate work, such as thinly slicing sashimi or carpaccio.

Serrated

Serrated knife blades are known for their characteristic jagged edge that can be seen clearly with the naked eye.

Jagged to the touch, serrated knives are designed to be able to easily rip through tough fibers, including both meat and vegetables. The perfect example of a serrated knife would be a steak knife.

Scalloped

A scalloped knife, on the other hand, takes things one step further. Much like a serrated blade, it has many widely separated points, but these points are connected by arches in the blade.

The scalloping creates a greater propensity for gripping the surface in question. You'll find that most bread knives are scalloped – not merely serrated – and these types of blades may also be effective for cutting something tough like brisket.

Granton Edge

The lesser-known Granton edge knife blade is known for its characteristic divots that can be seen along the length of the blade.

The purpose of divots is to enable smoother cutting – that is, slicing with less resistance – so Granton edge knives are perfect for cleanly slicing meat.

Edge

Now, the edge is the sharp part of the blade – where the two sides meet at a sharp point, running from the bolster (the end of the handle) to the tip. It is, quite literally, the edge of the blade.

The edge is the sharp part of the knife, and, unsurprisingly, it does all the hard work.

Now, you get different styles of edges – a V-edge, a compound bevel, a convex edge, a hollow edge, and a chiseled edge.

V-Edge

A V-edge blade is one where the two sides of the knife are ground together to form the shape of a V if you were to look at a cross-section.

It's the most common style of blade edge that you'll find on kitchen knives.

Compound Bevel

A compound bevel, on the other hand, may not seem particularly different to a V-edge to the naked eye, but essentially, the V that you would see at the bottom edge in a cross-section is just far more extreme.

Convex Edge

A convex edge, true to its name, is one where you can clearly see that the two sides of the blade have arched inwards towards the center and have come together to form a sharp point.

Hollow Edge

Pretty much the opposite of a concave edge knife, the two sides of the blade have arced in the opposite way (in a concave shape rather than convex).

Chisel Edge

A chisel edge knife is renowned for being exceptionally sharp, but it requires constant maintenance and sharpening. The edge kind of looks like half a V.

Heel

The heel is the part of the metal blade closest to the start of the handle. It's the widest and strongest part of the blade, thus, this is where you get your leverage from while cutting and slicing. For instance, if you're trying to cut through something particularly tough, putting extra pressure on the heel will help your cause significantly.

Note that some types of knives don't have a heel at all – the blade simply runs directly into the handle. This is most common in slimmer types of knives.

Bolster

Not all knives have a bolster, but for those that do, this is the metal part that connects the blade and the handle. Essentially, it's part of the blade, but it's far thicker – almost the same as the handle.

The purpose of the bolster is twofold - first, it creates a separation between the heel and the handle to protect the hands of whoever's using the knife. Second, it increases the strength and balance of the knife, making it more capable of withstanding heavy pressure.

Handle/Scales

The handle is, obviously, the part of the knife that you hold while you're using it. Good knives tend to be designed with ergonomics in mind, meaning that it's comfortable to use and doesn't hurt you.

Now, some handles are made with two separate pieces – they clamp around the blade and come together so that you can hold it - these are called scales. But most commonly, knife handles are made from a single piece into which the back end of the blade is inserted.

Knife handles can be made from a broad variety of different materials, including wood, rubber, plastic, bone, and wood/plastic composites. Some handles are actually made from metal.

Tang

The tang of a knife is the part of the metal blade that runs through into the handle. If you turn your knife so that the sharp edge of the blade is facing you, the tang will look like a line of metal that continues from the blade and runs the length of the handle. Although it doesn't always go the whole way!
The purpose of the tang is to act as an anchor for the blade in the handle – it’s a means of securing the two pieces together.

Rivets/Handle Fasteners

Not all knives have rivets – only ones whose handles are made with scales (two separate parts that come together). The rivets, also known as handle fasteners, secure the two sides of the handle together and hold the blade in place at the tang.

When you look at your knife from the side on, the rivets just look like little round bits of metal on the handle.

Point

As you may have guessed, the point of the blade is the sharp bit furthest away from the handle – where the top and bottom edges of the blade come together. The point isn't really used for cutting or doing anything particularly useful, but if you ever needed to, it would probably be pretty good at poking holes.

Now, one thing you may not have known is that not all knife points are the same. In fact, they come in different shapes – namely spey points, spear points, clip points, trailing points, needle points, and drop points. Drop points tend to be the most common shape used on most kitchen knives.

Tip/Belly

Now, the tip – the part that is often confused with the point – is the end bit of the blade that actually includes the point. Because of this confusion, I think it's probably more accurate to call it the belly, as many people do. Essentially, the belly is the end part of the blade (the last few centimeters), including the point.

Since the belly is far from the handle, it isn't really the part of the knife that's used for most of the cutting you'll do, since you can't really apply a lot of pressure at this point. However, it does tend to be pretty sharp, so it can be used for precise cutting and chopping.

Spine

The spine is the top part of the blade – the opposite side of the sharp edge – that runs from the point to the handle/bolster. It's not sharpened and it's not used for actual cutting or chopping, but it's important nonetheless – in fact, its thickness dictates how heavy-duty the knife is.

For instance, a knife that is used for something delicate like filleting will probably have a reasonably thin spine. While a knife that's used for hardcore chopping is likely to have a thick spine to make it stronger, heavier, and more durable.

Butt

Last but not least is the butt. The butt, as you may have guessed, once again, is the end bit of the handle. In some cases, you may be able to see the tang at the butt of your knife.

The butt doesn't have much function other than in terms of its shape – they tend to be ergonomically designed into a bit of a downward hook so that it fits comfortably in your hand.

Types of Kitchen Knives

If you didn’t already realize, it's probably pretty clear now that kitchen knives aren't nearly as simple as just having one that lives in your drawer and comes out when you need to chop things up. Not only are they made up of lots of different components - all of which affect the overall effectiveness of the knife - but there are many different types of knives too, each with their own purpose. 

So, why is it important to have a variety of different types of kitchen knives? Well, let me tell you. And then, I'll give you a quick rundown of what they are. 

Why It's Important to Have Different Types of Kitchen Knives

Ranging from the way they affect your cooking to preserving their quality, here are the most important reasons why you should have a variety of different knives in your kitchen.

  1. Task-Specific Functionality: Knives are designed for particular purposes. For instance, bread knives have scalloped edges to allow you to cut through bread easily and without slipping, while filleting knives are incredibly sharp and smooth-edged to help you cut finely and precisely. These two knives shouldn't be used for the same purpose! For the sake of efficiency as well as safety and the preservation of the knives.
  2. Precision: Knives are designed specifically to make it easier for you to perform certain tasks – it's all in the handle, the blade, and all the details. If you use the right knife for the right task, you’ll have more control.
  3. Safety: Precision also leads directly to safety. You're less likely to cut yourself if you're using your knife for its intended purpose. 
  4. Preservation of the knife: Using your knives for their intended purpose will help keep the blades in good condition. If you use them in the wrong way, however, you risk making the edge blunt, putting undue pressure on it, or even breaking it completely. 
  5. Versatility: With a choice of different knives, there's just so much more you can do in the kitchen. It’s sure to make cooking so much more fun. 
  6. For the sake of your cooking: We're not all professional chefs, but if you want to do things properly in the kitchen, you’re better off using the right knives. It'll make it easier and far more effective!

Now that we've covered why it’s important to have a variety of different knives in your kitchen, let’s have a look at what these different types of knives are.

Chef's Knife

Let's start with the Chef's knife, because it's an excellent all-rounder, multi-purpose knife. It can pretty much be used for anything – slicing, dicing, chopping, or mincing. It's also appropriate to use with just about any kind of food, whether it's meat, fruit, vegetables, or herbs.

Chef's knives tend to have blades that are wide and curved, and the blades are about six to ten inches long.

Paring Knife

A paring knife is your small little knife – with a blade that's about three or four inches long - that can be used for precision and intricate tasks. It's great for cutting things precisely, manual peeling, creating cute little garnishes, and even de-veining shrimp!

Utility Knife

A utility knife is a great tool to have in the kitchen for general tasks. They tend to be between four and six inches long, and their edges are either straight or ever-so-slightly serrated. They're super versatile and are great for tasks that require something a little smaller than a Chef's knife but a bit bigger than a paring knife.

Santoku Knife

A Santoku knife is a versatile knife with a wide, short blade and a flat edge. The word "Santoku" is Japanese and it translates to "three virtues" which is a direct reference to the knife's versatility in being able to work with meat, vegetables, and fish.

A Santoku knife is ideal if you're wanting to do a lot of chopping of raw fish or meat and vegetables for a meal.

Carving Knife

Carving knives are long (8" up to 12+ inches) and thin - they also have a fairly small blade and are particularly sharp. It's probably the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a delicious roast dinner - well, after the roast potatoes and gravy, that is!

The purpose of the blade being long and thin is to allow you to easily and precisely cut meat into thin slices.

Bread Knife

Bread knives have blades that boast scalloped edges and are roughly eight to 10 inches long. The purpose of the serration is to be able to grip the crust of bread and cut through while keeping everything intact.

The Most Important Kitchen Knives to Have in Your Collection

Now that you know all the parts of a chef's knife and the different types of knives there are, I want to share with you my advice on which knives you should have in your kitchen.

In a perfect world, we'd all have an extensive collection of knives in our kitchens. But, due to financial restraints and pure practicality, that's simply not a possibility for everyone. So, for those of you who need to choose, we've split our list of different knives into three categories: must-have, should-have, and nice-to-have.

Must-Have Knives

The first must-have knife absolutely has to be the good old utility knife – it's small (easy to store), simple to look after, and you can use it for just about anything. In my opinion, a utility knife is one you simply can't live without.

Second on our list is the Chef's knife. The Chef's knife is wonderfully versatile in that it can cut, chop, and slice just about anything.

The combination of a utility knife and a Chef's knife means that you can do pretty much anything you like in the kitchen.

Should-Have Knives

Two knives have made it onto our should-have list - the paring knife and a bread knife.

The paring knife is perfect for small, delicate operations, allowing you to do fun and interesting things that you may not otherwise have been able to do.

Meanwhile, the bread knife is great to have if you enjoy artisanal breads in particular - it'll make the cutting process safer, more efficient, and your slices will be neat. Thus, this is one you really should have if you eat a decent amount of bread at home.

Nice-to-Have Knives

Finally, we have the knives that we'd love to have but may not be a priority if the budget is tight – that is, the Santoku knife, carving knife and Cleavers and Choppers.

The carving knife is a bit of a specialty knife – although it's perfect for slicing meat, it's not necessarily something you're likely to need on an everyday basis. The Santoku knife, on the other hand, is far more versatile, but there are still other knives that you can use to do the same jobs.

So, while it would be an awesome knife to have, it's not the most essential. Cleavers A cleaver can take on heavy vegetables like different varieties of squash and root vegetables with more force than a chef's knife or santoku knife. Aside from breaking down tendons and bones (saved for the Choppers), cleavers can also be used for pounding, mincing, dicing, and slicing of a variety of other foods.

How to Look After and Care for Your Knives

Now that you know about the different parts of a knife and all the different types, it's time to give you a crash course on looking after them.

Just like anything else in your kitchen (or just anything else, period), looking after your knives properly will lengthen their lifespan and keep them new for longer.

There are some things that are probably fairly obvious, but others are less obvious. We're going to go through the most important things to know when it comes to looking after your kitchen knives.

Handwashing

Knives are delicate, so if you want to look after them properly, make sure you handwash them rather than tossing them in the dishwasher along with everything else.

When you do put them in the dishwasher, you risk them bumping other things and getting knocked around, which can lead to the blades becoming dull or even chipping! Of course, the risk is far lower if you're able to lay the knives flat rather than sticking them in the utensil compartment, but it's still not ideal.

Rather, handwash them in the sink with warm water, mild dishwashing liquid, and a gentle sponge.

Drying

It's always best to dry your knives thoroughly immediately after washing them to avoid them rusting or ending up with a build-up of moisture. Just use a soft cloth and gently wipe the knife (the blade and the handle) until it's dry. The most important thing to note here is that you should never put a wet or damp knife into a cupboard!

Storage

Storing cutlery in drawers is fairly common, but it's something you should avoid doing with your nice knives for much the same reason you shouldn't put them in the dishwasher. If you store them all in a drawer together, you run the risk of them knocking together and becoming dull or chipping.

Better alternatives include knife blocks or magnetic strips. But if space is your issue and you need them to go in a drawer, consider using knife guards or a drawer insert to separate them.

Cutting Technique

Whatever you're cutting, do it properly – don’t put unnecessary pressure on the knife or do any weird twisting or prying. Use a slicing or rocking motion with the knife and never use it for anything it’s not intended to be used for!

Cutting Surfaces

Cutting on hard surfaces can be incredibly abrasive to your knives – things like glass, ceramic plates, or even granite countertops. Rather, stick to The Best Cutting Boards To Use With Quality knives made from things like wood or rubber– they're far more soft on the blades and they’re less likely to dull or chip your knives.

Honing and Sharpening Your Knives

There are many advantages to keeping your knives sharp. First, sharp knives are safer to use than dull knives. Second, it's far easier and more efficient to use knives that have been sharp – naturally, they do a far better job. Finally, it's the best thing for your knives. Keeping them sharp keeps them in tip-top condition for longer, and it’s also easier to sharpen a knife that’s not completely dull.

Knife Sharpening Methods

Essentially what happens when you sharpen a knife is you're shaving off part of the blade, producing a sharp edge.

There are several different methods by which you can sharpen your knives:

Whetstone: A whetstone is a rectangular block that functions pretty much the same as sandpaper. Normally, they need to be soaked in water before use (but check the manual of the specific product). Then, hold your knife at a 20-degree angle against the stone and run the blade against it. The stone will have a coarse side and a fine side - start with the former and end with the latter.

Manual Knife Sharpener: A knife sharpener will also have a slot that is coarse and a slot that is fine. Put the blade into the sharpener (again, starting on the coarse side) and gently run it back and forth, then repeat the process on the fine side.

Electric Sharpener: An electric sharpener is even easier to use – you just put it in and push a button.

Honing

And what about honing? Well, honing is the process whereby the edge is straightened after having become bent. It's a good idea to hone your knives regularly to maintain the integrity of their edges.

It's essential to bear in mind that honing ought to come after sharpening. This is because once you've sharpened it, the blade will need to be smoothened.

Final Thoughts on the Different Parts of a Knife

That rounds up just about everything you need to know about knives - the different parts of a chef knife, as well as different types of knives, which knives to have in your kitchen, how to look after your knives, and how to hone and sharpen your kitchen knives. 

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