What follows are some commonly used knife terms that you may find referenced in reviews and in knife discussions. You are welcome to suggest terms to be added to this dictionary by sending me an email or leaving a comment below.
Bolsters can be decorative and functional, depending on the context and application.
In the context of a fixed blade knife, the bolster refers to a band of metal between the blade and handle used to support (or “bolster”) the transition between blade and handle. Bolsters can aid in the balance of a fixed blade.
However, we often see bolsters on folding knives. These are typically decorative pieces used to embellish the handle and give the knife a certain look. You see this often on traditional knives. The Buck 110 is a classic example of a bolstered folding knife.
There are a couple definitions for a “choil”.
The first is what we sometimes refer to as a “finger choil”. A finger choil is a large un-sharpened part of the knife blade that is located at the ricasso: where the blade becomes part of the handle. Usually, this section is curved to accept the index finger. The Spyderco Lava below is an excellent example of a knife with a large finger choil.
There is also something referred to as a “sharpening choil”. A sharpening choil is a small notch or relief at the end of the edge right next to the ricasso. This allows the user to sharpen the knife all the way to the heel of the blade. The Spyderco Lava also features a small sharpening choil right next to the finger choil.
EDC is an acronym for “Every Day Carry” and refers to an item that you carry with you every day for common tasks. An “EDC knife” refers to a knife you would carry every day. Here is a link to all of our reviews of EDC knives.
A fuller is a rounded or beveled groove or slot milled into the flat side of a blade. Sometimes these are referred to as “blood grooves”, but that term more of an embellishment then anything. Typically fullers are for decorative purposes, but in some cases they are used to lighten or balance a knife. A good example of a fuller would be the Spydero Tuff:
Another more traditional example of a fuller is with the Ka-Bar USMC knife:
Small notches or filework cut into the back of a blade or put on the choil or other portions of the knife. Jimping is used to prevent your fingers from sliding when using the knife.
A quillion refers to the cross guard of a sword or knife. This is a protrusion from the handle designed to protect the hand of the user from sliding up the handle onto the edge of a knife, or to prevent another knife (or sword) from sliding down your blade onto your hand. Quillions are mostly found in self defense knives. A good example of a quillion can be found on the ROSarm’s Kisten:
A recurve isn’t used to describe a specific blade shape. Instead, it is a feature on a blade, and many blade shapes can feature a recurve. A recurve generally refers to a blade with a sweeping, “S” shaped, edge. Recurves can be used to help balance a large chopping blade, provide better slicing ability to a blade, or simply enhance the look of a knife. This Smith and Wesson survival knife with a drop point blade is an excellent example of a knife with a recurve:
An unsharpened length of blade just above the handle or guard of a knife. Here is an example of a ricasso on a Buck 505:
A term used to describe an un-sharpened bevel on the back of the blade. Sometimes referred to as a “false edge”. Swedges are largely decorative, but can be used to enhance the penetrating ability of a blade or lighten a blade slightly.
Tang / Full Tang
A tang is the protrusion of the blade steel into the handle of the knife. Below is a picture of the handle of 2 kitchen knives. The one on the right has a full tang while the one on the left has a partial tang. Generally speaking, a full tang knife will be stronger than a partial tang knife.
This section will cover basic blade shapes. I’ll add more and update this section as I have time.
The drop point is the most common blade shape, and for good reason. The good ole drop point is simple, visually pleasing, and practical. You will be hard pressed to find a more useful all round blade shape, and it’s a more “socially acceptable” blade shape ideally suited for EDC knives.
A drop point blade features a spine that slopes from the handle of the knife to the tip of the blade. It drops down from the handle to the point, or tip of the blade, hence “drop point”. There are many variations on the drop point.
The G-10 Benchmade Griptilian is a popular knife with a classic drop point blade:
Here is a link to an in-depth article I wrote on drop point knives.
The clip point is probably the second most popular blade shape. It’s popularly referred to as a “bowie knife” and the names are more or less interchangable for this style of blade. A clip point blade has the appearance of the forward part of the blade being “clipped” off. This clip can be straight or curved. The end result is a knife with a distinct look.
The potential advantage to a clip point blade over a drop point is that it can have a finer tip for penetrating cuts, and in some cases it can offer more belly then a drop point.
One of my favorite clip point blades is the Cold Steel Voyager. Cold Steel offers a lot of clip point blades, as the founder is a fan of the design and they are a practical shape for tactical / defensive use if you know what you are doing. This goes back to the days of the wild west and Jim Bowie, who is credited for popularizing this style of blade.
The spear point blade is a perfectly symmetrical profile designed to mimic the head of a spear. These are actually kind of tough to find in the production world, as technically a lot of them are actually drop points. They can be sharpened on both sides, but you won’t find many of those on the conventional knife market for obvious reasons (dangerous, impractical for utility work, and illegal in many jurisdictions).
The Ka-Bar Dozier Folding Hunter is a good example of a spear point. It may not be technically a spear point blade, I haven’t taken a micrometer to mine, but if it isn’t then it’s pretty darn close. You can see that the tip of the blade is about dead center, and the blade shape is pretty much symmetrical. Sort of like what you might find on a spear.
The wharncliffe blade features a perfectly flat edge. One way to think of it is a wharncliffe is like a box cutter. For those new to the hobby, it may take a while to warm up to the unique look of the wharncliffe, but it’s a highly functional blade shape that has a loyal following.
The Wharncliffe Delica 4 is good example of the style:
The Kizer Rogue is another more traditional example of a wharncliffe blade:
The sheepsfoot blade is a variation on the wharncliffe. It often has a straight edge (or a slight belly in some cases), but rather than having the fine tip of a wharncliffe, the tip is blunted. Historically, this blade shape was used to castrate sheep. You don’t want a sharp tip when you are trying to cut the balls off of a wriggling sheep. Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything.
I haven’t reviewed a lot of knives with sheepsfoot blades. They are relatively rare. But Grayson reviewed the Victorinox Electrician, and it’s a great example of a sheepsfoot blade. Here is a photo:
The tanto blade shape is a Japanese inspired knife pattern that reminds you of a traditional katana. Tanto blades have strong tips, which makes them great for piercing cuts, but they don’t have much belly so you may find them less practical for utility tasks like food prep.
I have always admired the beautiful tanto blade on the Spyderco Lum Tanto:
The Cold Steel Recon 1 is another example. This is a little less stylized then the Lum Tanto, and a better example of what to typically expect:
I wrote a more in-depth article about tanto blades if you want a deeper dive on the subject matter.
The reverse tanto is a blade shape popularized by Warren Osborn. He is probably best known for his Benchmade 940, which is the quintessential reverse tanto. Here is a picture of my 940-1, the upgraded version of the 940 with carbon fiber handles and a S90V blade:
Essentially, the reverse tanto is a standard tanto flipped on its head, so the angled tanto tip is on the top side (the spine) of the knife. The edge is a traditional curved edge with some belly. It looks unique, may offer a stronger tip than a drop point, but still gives you some belly.
Knife Dictionary – Final Thoughts
This article continues to be a work in progress, thanks in part to some “encouragement” from the comments section. Honestly, I appreciate the tough love. It makes for a more thorough dictionary. Let me know if there is anything else you have a question about or want to see. I just may update this further!