When it comes to knives, it’s important to know that “tang” does not describe a taste, and “butt” is not a rude word. Instead, they’re terms for some of the various parts of a kitchen knife. Here’s a quick rundown of the key knife terms you’re likely to run across when you’re researching online or even in your favorite cookbook.
A knife consists of two main parts—the blade and the handle.
The point, as you might expect, is the very thin, sharp end of the knife opposite the handle. It’s used for piercing, for example, when cutting a slit in a chicken breast to create an opening for stuffing.
The tip is the first third of the blade. It is extremely sharp and thin. In a western-style chef’s knife, this part of the knife will have a belly or curve. The tip is used for cutting smaller foods into thin strips and this part of the blade will be “rocked” through herbs to mince them. Some knives, such as many bread knives, do not have a tip as the spine rounds down to meet the cutting edge.
The heel is on the opposite end of the blade from the tip. A skilled chef might use the heel of a chef’s knife to cut the “eyes” out of a potato (although that job’s much easier for most of us with a paring knife).
The cutting edge is the sharpened edge of the blade and runs from tip to heel. This is the business part of the knife that does all the slicing, dicing, chopping, and mincing.
The spine is opposite the cutting edge. Thicker than the cutting edge, the spine gives the blade strength. Usually it is smooth enough to be comfortable when using a pinch grip. Shun’s premium lines, such as Shun Reserve, feature fully rounded spines. This high-end knife finishing technique is called “crowning.”
Some knives have a hollow-ground or granton edge. These are small, smooth indentations ground into the blade’s surface. They create small air pockets between the food being cut and the blade, making it easier for food to release from the blade.
The bolster is the transition between the blade and the handle. Most Shun knives have a welded stainless-steel bolster that is hand-ground and polished so that it the blade flows seamlessly into the handle. Shun Ken Onion knives feature an ergonomically contoured bolster designed to effortlessly guide the hand to the correct pinch grip.
The tang is the part of the blade metal that extends into the handle. You’ve probably heard the term “full tang.” It means that the blade metal extends all the way to the butt of the knife. Yet a full tang isn’t the only measure of quality. For example, some of the finest samurai swords in the world are partial tang. Shun knives feature both full tang and full composite-tang construction. In full composite-tang, the tang is fully enclosed by the handle and a steel rod, welded to the blade tang, runs the entire length of the handle. Both constructions are extremely strong and balanced.
The butt is the end of the handle. Shun knives often have an endcap of stainless steel that adds beauty and balance to the knife.