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The Parts of a Knife

The Parts of a Knife

The Culinary Institute of America

To select a knife of good quality that fits your hand well and is suitable for the intended task, you need a basic knowledge of the various parts of a knife.

Blades

Currently, the most frequently used material for blades is high-carbon stainless steel. Other materials, such as stainless steel and carbon steel, are also available.

Although carbon-steel blades take a better edge than either regular or high-carbon stainless steel, they tend to lose their sharpness quickly. Also, carbon-steel blades will discolor when they come into contact with acidic foods. The metal is brittle and can break easily under stress.

Stainless steel is much stronger than carbon steel and will not discolor or rust. It is difficult to get a good edge on a stainless-steel blade, although once an edge is established, it tends to last longer than the edge on a carbon-steel blade.

High-carbon stainless steel is a relatively recent development that combines the advantages of carbon steel and stainless steel. The higher percentage of carbon allows the blade to take and keep a keener edge.

The most desirable type of blade for general use is taper-ground, meaning that the blade has been forged out of a single sheet of metal and has been ground so that it tapers smoothly from the spine to the cutting edge, with no apparent beveling.

Hollow-ground blades are made by combining two sheets of metal. The edges are then beveled or fluted.

Tangs

The tang is a continuation of the blade that extends into the knife’s handle. Knives used for heavy work, such as chef’s knives or cleavers, should have a full tang; that is, the tang is almost as long as the entire handle. Although blades with partial tangs are not as durable, they are acceptable on knives that will be used less frequently. Rat-tail tangs are much narrower than the spine of the blade and are encased in the handle.

Handles

A preferred material for knife handles is rosewood, because it is extremely hard and has a very tight or fine grain, which helps to prevent splitting and cracking. Impregnating wood with plastic protects the handle from damage caused by continued exposure to water and detergents. The handle should fit your hand comfortably. A comfortable fit will reduce fatigue.

Rivets

Metal rivets are usually used to secure the tang to the handle. The rivets should be completely smooth and lie flush with the surface of the handle.

Bolsters

In some knives, there is a collar or shank, known as a bolster, at the point where the blade meets the handle. This is a sign of a well-made knife. The bolster helps to balance the knife and protect the hand from accidental slips. Some knives may have a collar that looks like a bolster but is actually a separate piece attached to the handle. These knives tend to come apart easily and should be avoided.

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Reprinted by permission from The Culinary Institute of America, The Professional Chef, 8th Edition (John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2006).