The Ins and Outs of Knife Tangs
As we all know, there's a lot more to a good knife than just its handle and blade. In fact, kitchen knives are made up of several different parts, each of which contributes to the knife's specific purpose, whether it's a heavy-duty carving knife or a small and precise paring knife. And today, we're here to talk all about knife tangs. But what is tang on a knife?
Put simply, the tang is the part of the knife blade that extends into the handle – but it’s far more complicated than that! Knife tangs differ based on the specific type of knife in question, and they come in a variety of styles.
We're going to give you the low-down on the specific function and purpose of knife tangs, the differences between a full tang knife and a partial tang knife, and all of the variations of knife tangs in between. That way, you can make an educated decision based on all the different parts of a knife based on exactly what you need in your kitchen. Because at the end of the day, having a different style of tang in the same type of knife can make a significant difference in its utility – and sometimes, it just comes down to preference!
So, let’s have a look at all the ins and outs of knife tangs.
The Different Parts of a Knife: What is Tang?
As we said above, tang on a knife is essentially the part of the blade that extends into the handle, the degree to which may differ depending on the style of the construction of the specific kind of knife itself.
But if you're looking for a specific tang definition, it goes a little something like this – the tang on a knife is the back portion of the blade that extends into the handle, influencing the knife’s strength, durability, weight, and cost, among other things.
Let's delve a little deeper into the purpose of the tang on a knife and why it’s such an important component to consider.
Why is the Tang Important?
As we briefly mentioned, the tang of a knife influences many things, including what the knife ought to be used for as well as its overall quality and durability. Here are some of the main ways in which tang affects a knife:
- Handle strength and quality
- Ease of construction
No single construction or type/style of tang is automatically superior to others – it’s more about what you’re looking for and what your priorities are. Ideally, anybody who loves to cook – be it a professional chef or an amateur cook – ought to have a range of different types of knives featuring a variety of tang styles.
But what exactly are the different types of tang?
Full Tang vs Partial Tang
The starting point for differentiating between different types of tang is to consider full tang as opposed to partial tang.
So, what does full tang mean? Put simply, a knife with a blade that extends the full length of the handle is considered full tang, meaning that a partial tang knife is one whose blade extends into only part of the handle.
Now that we've got the basics cleared up, let's get into the nitty-gritty.
As we said, a full tang knife features a tang that extends the entire length of the handle. However, note that the differentiation between full and partial tang is all about the length of tang, rather than the width. That is, a knife with a tang that extends from the butt to the bolster but isn't nearly as wide as the rest of the handle is still considered a full tang.
However, width does play a role in the uses and effectiveness of tang, so, what are the different types of full tang knives? Well, there are four main types - hidden, skeletonized, encapsulated, and extended.
Hidden tangs extend the full length of the handle (since they're considered part of the full tang family), but they tend to be significantly less wide than the handle. Not only that, but the tang is also thinner than the rest of the blade of the knife, and the tang is fastened within the handle, so that neither the tang nor the fastening mechanism is visible - hence, the title of hidden tang.
Knives with a hidden tang tend to provide good control and are favored for aesthetic purposes, but when it comes to the practical side of things, they’re not quite as strong as some other full tang alternatives and the manufacturing process is rather tedious.
When it comes to skeletonized tangs, we're pretty much looking at an inversion of the design of the hidden tang when it comes to tang width. That is, while knives with hidden tangs have the outside part of the blade narrowed down, skeletonized tangs hollow out the center of the width of the blade. Thus, allowing the tang to extend the full length of the knife, and out to each side of the width, but without the middle bit, kind of like a skeleton.
The upside of a skeletonized full tang knife is that it's likely to be lighter, have better balance, and be stronger, since removing the central part of the tang preserves the strongest part of the blade. However, the quality of a skeletonized full tang knife is entirely reliant on the quality of its construction.
An encapsulated tang knife is made by molding the handle material around the tang itself after which it is fastened in place. It's very similar to a hidden tang knife, but the difference is the fastening mechanism.
Knives with an encapsulated tang tend to be quite strong and are aesthetically pleasing (since the tang isn't visible), but only specific materials can be used to construct the handles due to the molding and fastening process.
A knife with an extended tang is one whose tang extends a little bit beyond the butt of the handle. The end bit of the tang tends to be curved or shaped in such a way that it can be used as a hammer pommel.
Overall, extended full tang knives are pretty great, providing excellent strengths and few drawbacks. The only thing that may be an issue is that you may be limited to fewer handle materials due to the tang extension, but that’s about it.
If a knife has only a partial tang, it means that the blade doesn't extend the full length of the handle. The reason for this is normally to save on materials and overall costs, but it does mean that partial tang knives tend to be less balanced, are harder to use, and are not particularly durable. However, they’re often cheaper and lighter than full tang alternatives.
There are three main types of partial tang knives - rat-tail tang, push tang, and tapered tang.
Technically, the tang of a rat-tail tang knife does extend the full length of the blade, but the part that makes up the majority of the tang is so thin that it barely counts.
Essentially, the first inch or so (depending on the size of the knife) of the tang is fairly wide (in a rectangular shape), but after that, it abruptly squares off into a long, thin piece of metal.
This means that the tang isn’t strong, and overall, the knife lacks strength, balance, and durability, although rat-tail tang knives are generally quite cheap.
A knife with a push tang is made by slotting the blade directly into a pre-manufactured handle and fixing it using epoxy. The bit that is fastened within the handle - the actual tang – tends to make up less than half the length of the handle.
The short length of the tang, as well as how it's fitted into the handle, results in fairly poor strength, balance, and durability. However, because the blades can fit into generic handles, they can be rather inexpensive to produce.
A tapered tang is arguably the strongest type of partial tang knife you can get. As the name suggests, the tang starts fairly wide at the bolster and gently tapers off towards the butt of the handle.
Thus, it saves on material (making it cheaper and lighter than full tang knives) while still maintaining far more strength and integrity of composition than most partial tang alternatives. However, note that tapered tang knives still don’t tend to have excellent balance.
Pros of Full Tang:
- Well balanced
- Solid construction
- Easy maintenance
Cons of Full Tang:
- Difficult to construct
Pros of Partial Tang:
Cons of Partial Tang:
- Less durable
- Limited material options (particularly with handles)
- Poor balance
How to Know Which Kind of Knife Tang is Best for You
At the end of the day, selecting the knife that's best for you is all going to come down to your needs and preferences, and the style of the construction of the knife ought to be a significant part of your consideration.
Generally speaking, if you're looking for a knife that is going to be very strong and durable and will provide good balance, you’re probably better off with a full tang knife - but it’s going to cost you.
If you're looking for something light and cost effective, a partial tang knife is probably the way to go. Of course, there are variations of both types of tangs that fall somewhere closer to being in between full and partial, namely tapered partial tang knives or skeletonized tang knives.
But whatever it is you choose, now you know exactly how tang influences the strength, durability, aesthetic, and balance (among other things) of a knife, so you can make a properly informed decision about what you need and want.