Kitchen Knife Selection: Understanding Parts to a Knife

At a glance, a knife appears to be just two parts: the blade and the handle. Believe it or not, those two parts are made of even smaller, yet equally important portions that determine how effectively a knife chops, slices and dices. Once the anatomy of a knife makes sense, it is much easier to choose the perfect knife for your cooking needs.

Knife Blade and Blade Edge

The average chef’s knife can range from the standard eight inches to a mighty twelve inches long. Choose the blade that fits your hand and stroke, but keep in mind that bigger is not always better. For speedy choppers, a shorter blade provides increased precision and control. Besides size, the best kitchen knife blades are one piece of steel that extends all the way through the handle of the knife. This is called a full tang, which we’ll discuss some more below. A cutlery set’s origin will usually dictate the shape of the blade. Most German knives have a very defined curved edge, whereas French knives tend to be straighter with a slight curve at towards the tip. Japanese knives have a straight edge, and many–primarily Santoku knives–have hollow indents that run along the edge to prevent food from sticking to the blade.

Knife Heel

Moving down the blade, the widest part is towards the end is the heel. It pops up just above the handle. Here’s a little secret: The heel is where the real slicing happens. The knife makes full contact with food on a cutting board once the heel hits. The heel is also the strongest part of the blade and can cut through hard as bone foods much easier than the tip or middle of the blade. Different types of knives will vary in cutting force, especially at the heel of the knife. The longest and heaviest knives on the market will be heavy hitters in the heel.

Knife Handle and Tang

The handle is the sturdiest part of the knife that safely houses the blade. Unknown to most, there is a section of the blade that extends into the handle. This portion of the blade is called the tang. Rivets sit along the length of the handle, and in the case of a full tang knife, they keep the handle strongly attached to the blade. Half or partial tang knifes are easy to find, but they are prone to damage and do not have the same reliable balance as their full tang counterparts.

Consider it the protective part of the knife that allows the handler to work without worry. Choose a material for the handle that fits your unique style. They are typically made of plastic, rubber or coated wood that can range in a rainbow of colors or designs.

Knife Bolster

On the opposite side of the heel, you will find your knife’s bolster, the spot where the kitchen knife’s blade and handle meet. This juncture creates the knife’s balance and contributes to a comfortable hold in your hand. Knives with marked bolsters are fully forged, full tang knives made from one hefty piece of steel. Take a peek at any stamped knives, and the bolster is usually missing (manufacturers occasionally attach one onto its higher quality stamped knives).