Anatomy of the Knife: Fixed Blade Knives - Part 2: The Guard, Handle and Tang
February 19, 2013
Alright knife fans, now that you've committed the anatomy of the knife blade to your memory, let’s move on to the rest of the knife. I know I've said it before and I’ll say it again; the blade’s edge is the true technology that we are concerned with. That’s not to say the other parts of the knife aren't as important, but I like to look at the rest of a knife as a way to compliment the edge I am using. Apart from just the aesthetic design of a knife; the guard, handle and how all the pieces are attached is an important factor when deciding what knife is the best for your purposes. So let’s take the plunge one more time with fixed blade anatomy focusing on the guard, handle, tang(s and beyond!
FIXED BLADE ANATOMY
The Guard on a knife is located between the handle and the blade, sandwiched between the ricasso and the handle. The guard’s purpose is to literally guard your hand from slipping up the handle and onto the blade. Just like anything else knife related, guards come in different shapes and styles. Some are purely decorative, they line up perfectly with the handle and offering no protection and some guards are meant purely for balance. Guards that are intended to protect your hand will often have Quillions; a section of the guard that extends past the handle to protect the knife users hand from slipping onto the blade. Commonly, quillions found on outdoor style knives will extend out to the front of the knife but quillions found on more aggressive fighting or multipurpose blade will extend out from both the front and back of the blade.
If a knife lacks a guard it may have a Bolster (not shown); a bolster is usually found between the blade and the handle (although bolsters can be found on different sections of the handle) and is often sandwiching the blade’s tang. The Bolster can provide balance to a blade and is more commonly found on full tang knives. Bolsters can also be used to “bolster” or strengthen the weak points on a knife, such as where the blade ends and the tang and handle begins. Bolster may also be shaped like a guard (with quillions) to offer protection.
Next, we have the Handle. The handle of a knife is the portion you grip. Handles come in all shapes and sizes and can be made from countless materials and combinations. Handles are a very important aspect of a blade, I’ve heard it said “The blade is what makes a knife; the handle is what sells it”. How the handle is attached to a blade plays a large role in the actual strength and durability of a knife.
The Handle of a knife can be attached in several ways. This is done through the Tang of a knife blade. The Tang is the stock material portion of the blade steel that extends from the blade for the purpose of attaching the handle and hardware. Tangs are an important factor when constructing a blade; they will help determine overall weight, balance and usage of the knife. There are several types of knife tangs, but they can be broken down simply into two categories Full Tang and Partial Tang.
Full Tang (displayed above) - refers to a knife tang that extends the full length and width of the handle and is often visible. Full tang constructed knives generally form the handle by the use of Scale material. Scales refer to two pieces of handle material that sandwich the tang between them and are attached to the tang by adhesive and/or rivets /pins. Full Tang knife construction is generally considered the most durable and solid knife construction available and is intended for hard working knives that can take a solid beating.
A tang that has portions of material removed from the tang stock. Often found on knives with full tang construction but without handle material. Skeletonized tang construction is popular on bare bones survival blades and neck knives. May feature a cord wrapped handle.
Partial Tang refers to a knife tang that doesn’t fully extend and/or match the width of the blade and handle material. Generally considered weaker than Full Tangs, Partial Tangs have their place in the knife world and generally produce much lighter knives. Partial Tangs can be broken down further in sub categories.
A shortened tang that tapers after the blade portion of a knife. Partial Tangs don’t generally run the full length of the handle and are pushed or forced into the handle material and secured with adhesive.
Very similar to a Push Tang, the Hidden Tang tapers after the blade portion and is attached to the handle with adhesive and generally has no outside evidence of its attachment. Hidden Tangs can also run longer than the full length of the handle and can be secured by a pommel/butcap through threading and screwing like a nut and bolt or by peening the end.
Rat Tail and Stick Tangs
Also known as a “false tang” is the weakest of knife tangs. Rat tail tangs are generally reserved for cheap or display knives. Either a piece of steel welded to the blade or a significant and abrupt taper from the blade, rat tail tangs are to be avoided.
The final piece of anatomy for a fixed blade knife is the Pommel (or Butt Cap) (not shown). Not every knife features a pommel, they are most often found on hidden tang knives. A Pommel can serve multiple purposes aside from a method to attach and secure a handle and guard, a pommel can be used to add balance to a knife or it can even be used a striking surface.
Well that’s it for our series on Fixed Blade Knife Anatomy. I know we didn’t cover every single variation found on fixed blade knives but by now the essential parts of a knife should be pretty clear. Make sure to keep an eye out for next week blog post as we continue to explore knives and sharpening. Stay and Edge above the Rest!
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