The Parts of a Kitchen Knife – And Why It’s Important
When it comes to cooking like the pros, it’s important to understand all aspects of your most important tools, from the different parts of a knife to the materials used to create it. This F.N. Sharp guide is full of the information needed to get to know your knives and how to use them to their fullest potential.
The Anatomy of a Kitchen Knife
A kitchen knife is generally made up of two parts, the blade and the handle, which are further broken down into different parts. The different parts of the blade can also be used for different things, so becoming familiar with how to use each is the first step to cooking like a pro.
The Parts of a Kitchen Knife Blade
From the tip to the heel to the cutting edge, the different parts of a kitchen knife can be used for different things, and becoming familiar with each is the first step to cooking like a pro.
The blade of a knife consists of four parts: the tip, the heel, the edge and the spine. The tip is where the blade comes to a point and can be used for fine, detailed work and very delicate cutting, depending on the knife and task at hand. For example, the tip of a chef’s knife can be used to create guide cuts in tough ingredients like melons, squash, and other dense fall vegetables. It can also be used for piercing and separating sinew from meat, while the tip of a boning knife can be used to break away the cartilage from joints in bigger hunks of meat. The tip of a paring knife is handy for coring tomatoes, hulling strawberries, segmenting citrus, and even deveining shrimp.
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The heel is the rear part of the cutting edge of the blade (opposite the tip) that meets the bolster. The heel of a chef’s knife is ideal for chopping tough ingredients like nuts, carrots, and even bones. The cutting edge is the sharp edge of the blade that extends from the tip to the heel. This is where all of the magic happens.
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The spine is the blunt edge of the blade, opposite to the cutting edge, and can be used for tasks like scraping ingredients from a cutting board to help maintain the sharpness of the cutting edge, and for other tasks like scaling fish. Although it might seem like the perfect place to rest your finger and apply pressure while cutting, this can actually lessen your ability to control your knife – not to mention, a sharp knife should cut right through your ingredients without adding extra force.
The flat of the blade is, as the term suggests, the flat part of the blade located on either side. This part can be used for tasks that involve crushing ingredients, like garlic and cucumbers.
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The Materials Used to Create Kitchen Knife Blades
Several different types of materials are used to create kitchen knife blades, from budget and premium steels to titanium and even ceramic. Knowing the materials used to create your knives is essential for maintenance and care.
When it comes to steel blades, there are two main types to choose from: high carbon and stainless steel. High Carbon Steel is made of carbon and iron. It is a less expensive option that holds an edge very well and is easier to sharpen, however, it’s also prone to rust and stains, as well as oxidation. Stainless Steel is made of iron, chromium, some carbon and other alloys, and is well known for resisting corrosion; however, they must be sharpened often depending on the types of stainless steel used.
Then there’s Damascus steel, which actually isn’t a type of steel per say, but is also a popular option for kitchen knives. The art of forging Damascus steel dates as far back as 300 B.C. when it was used to create superior swords, and the same goes for modern-day Damascus blades as they’re known for yielding a superior sharp edge. These blades can be crafted from both high carbon and stainless steel, and are made by “folding” layers of metal to reveal unique patterns. For example, F.N. Sharp uses a combination of VG10 and VG2 stainless steels which are folded into 67 layers to reveal a feathered Damascus pattern.
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Titanium is typically lighter and more flexible than steel, however, it is not the strongest or hardest metal in the world and does not hold an edge as well as steel.
Ceramic knives became very popular a few years ago. They are extremely hard and can hold an edge longer than steel. They are made of zirconium dioxide, so they are light in weight but are difficult to sharpen and can be quite brittle, making them more prone to chips and cracks. Another downside to ceramic blades is they’re too brittle to cut through tough ingredients like frozen meat and bones, and they’re only ideal for slicing, so you’d have to reach for a different knife for recipes that call for chopping.
The Parts of a Kitchen Knife Handle
The handle of a knife is also made up of four parts: the bolster, the tang, the rivets and the butt.
The bolster is the band that meets the blade of the knife to its handle and is designed to keep your hand away from the cutting edge of the blade, but not all knives feature a bolster.
The tang is the attachment of the handle to the blade which can be done in a couple of different ways. A full tang runs through the entire handle and is usually secured with rivets, while a partial tang does not run through the entire handle and is usually pushed in and secured with adhesive.
Rivets are the metal pins used to join the handle of the knife around the tang. Not all kitchen knives have rivets. The butt, also known as the pommel, is the very end of the handle and is usually made of metal. Some cooks may use this part for tenderizing meat, but it’s much safer and better for your knife to use tools intended for that purpose, instead.
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The Materials Used to Create Kitchen Knife HandlesHandles also play an important role in the performance of your kitchen knives, from how they’re designed to the materials used to create them. As a matter of fact, the design and materials used to create a knife handle can determine several factors when it comes to the knife's overall performance in the kitchen, including durability and reliability, water and temperature resistance, cut performance and appeal, grip and hand control, and your level of fatigue based on each task.
Wood is one of the most popular materials for kitchen knife handles due to its elegance and comfort as it’s very soft and easy on the hands. However, wood knife handles can also be very expensive and delicate, depending on the type of wood used. They’re also harder to maintain as they can be difficult to clean and are easily damaged, which can also lead to bacteria harboring. Some types of wood commonly used for knife handles are ebony, rosewood and cocobolo.
G10 is a fiberglass-based laminate created by soaking layers of fiberglass cloth in resin to be compressed and baked, G10 knife handles are lightweight and extremely durable with a surface texture added in the form of checkering.
Micarta is similar in construction to G10 and is created by soaking layers of linen cloth in a phenolic resin. The end result is a lightweight, strong material that does not have a surface texture and is extremely smooth to the touch.
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Carbon Fiber is another labor-intensive material that results in a pricey knife and is composed of thin strands of carbon that are tightly woven into a weave pattern set in resin. When compared to the other lightweight synthetic handle materials, carbon fiber is one of the strongest and its main visual attraction is the way the carbon strands reflect light, making the weave pattern highly visible.
ZYTEL®, developed by Du Pont, is a thermoplastic synthetic material known for being the least expensive to produce, therefore it is quite common for kitchen knife handles. ZYTEL® has a slight surface texture and is known to not only be unbreakable, but also resists impact and abrasions.
Titanium is a lightweight metal alloy that offers unsurpassed corrosion resistance compared to any other metal. It has a warm, comfortable grip and can be finished by either bead blasting or by anodization, which is an electrochemical process that adds color to the metal.
Aluminum, another nonferrous metal, gives the knife a solid feel without the extra weight. A heat treatable grade known as T6-6061 is the most common form of aluminum used for knife handles with anodizing as the most common finishing process.
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The Kitchen Knife Essentials
Now that you know all about the anatomy of a kitchen knife and the materials used to create its different parts, you may be wondering what types of knives you really need in the kitchen.
When it comes to buying new kitchen knives, you’ll find a ton of options – from smaller 3-knife and 6-knife sets all the way up to 24-knife sets – and they all almost always include a chef’s knife and/or Santoku, along with other essentials such as a paring knife, utility knife, boning knife and bread knife.
Another kitchen essential is a good cutting board, and you’ll also find a plethora of options for those, from wood and stone to plastic and glass. But, not all cutting boards are created equally in terms of how well they play with your knives. Check out our guide to choosing the best cutting board for a deeper dive into the different materials used and which one is best for keeping your kitchen knives sharp (like this F.N. Sharp cutting board made of Acacia wood).
And if you’re wondering about the best way to store your knives, then check out our guide for the best knife storage options – or just grab a magnetic knife block from F.N. Sharp so you have plenty of space to both showcase and store your knives and other favorite cooking utensils!