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A Bowie knife of pattern-welded steel Damascus Bowie.jpg
A Bowie knife of pattern-welded steel

A knife (pl.: knives; from Old Norse knifr 'knife, dirk' [1] ) is a tool or weapon with a cutting edge or blade, usually attached to a handle or hilt. One of the earliest tools used by humanity, knives appeared at least 2.5 million years ago, as evidenced by the Oldowan tools. [2] [3] Originally made of wood, bone, and stone (such as flint and obsidian), over the centuries, in step with improvements in both metallurgy and manufacturing, knife blades have been made from copper, bronze, iron, steel, ceramic, and titanium. Most modern knives have either fixed or folding blades; blade patterns and styles vary by maker and country of origin.


Knives can serve various purposes. Hunters use a hunting knife, soldiers use the combat knife, scouts, campers, and hikers carry a pocketknife; there are kitchen knives for preparing foods (the chef's knife, the paring knife, bread knife, cleaver), table knife (butter knives and steak knives), weapons (daggers or switchblades), knives for throwing or juggling, and knives for religious ceremony or display (the kirpan). [4]


Characteristic parts of a knife Knife parts.jpg
Characteristic parts of a knife

A modern knife consists of:

  1. the blade
  2. the handle
  3. the point – the end of the knife used for piercing
  4. the edge – the cutting surface of the knife extending from the point to the heel
  5. the grind – the cross section shape of the blade
  6. the spine – the thickest section of the blade; on a single-edged knife, the side opposite the edge; on a two-edged knife, more toward the middle
  7. the fuller – a groove added to make the blade lighter (optional)
  8. the ricasso – the flat section of the blade located at the junction of the blade and the knife's bolster or guard (optional)
  9. the guard – the barrier between the blade and the handle which prevents the hand from slipping forward onto the blade and protects the hand from the external forces that are usually applied to the blade during use (optional)
  10. the hilt or butt – the end of the handle used for blunt force
  11. the lanyard – a strap used to secure the knife to the wrist (optional)

The blade edge can be plain or serrated, or a combination of both. Single-edged knives may have a reverse edge or false edge occupying a section of the spine. These edges are usually serrated and are used to further enhance function.

The handle, used to grip and manipulate the blade safely, may include a tang , a portion of the blade that extends into the handle. Knives are made with partial tangs (extending part way into the handle, known as "stick tangs") or full tangs (extending the full length of the handle, often visible on top and bottom). There is also the enterçado construction method present in antique knives from Brazil, such as the Sorocaban Knife, which consists in riveting a repurposed blade to the ricasso of a bladeless handle. The handle may include a bolster, a piece of heavy material (usually metal) situated at the front or rear of the handle. The bolster, as its name suggests, is used to mechanically strengthen the knife.

A Gerber-made full-tang survival knife. The metal from the blade extends into the handle. Fixed Blade Full Tang Survival Knife.png
A Gerber-made full-tang survival knife. The metal from the blade extends into the handle.


Morakniv carbon steel knife Morakniv Basic 511 Carbon Steel 5.jpg
Morakniv carbon steel knife
Knife blade mass production Chinese knife factory.jpg
Knife blade mass production

Knife blades can be manufactured from a variety of materials, each of which has advantages and disadvantages. Carbon steel, an alloy of iron and carbon, can be very sharp. It holds its edge well, and remains easy to sharpen, but is vulnerable to rust and stains. Stainless steel is an alloy of iron, chromium, possibly nickel, and molybdenum, with only a small amount of carbon. It is not able to take quite as sharp an edge as carbon steel, but is highly resistant to corrosion. High carbon stainless steel is stainless steel with a higher amount of carbon, intended to incorporate the better attributes of carbon steel and stainless steel. High carbon stainless steel blades do not discolor or stain, and maintain a sharp edge. Laminated blades use multiple metals to create a layered structure, combining the attributes of both. For example, a harder, more brittle steel may be pressed between an outer layer of softer, tougher, stainless steel to reduce vulnerability to corrosion. In this case, however, the part most affected by corrosion, the edge, is still vulnerable. Damascus steel is a form of pattern welding with similarities to laminate construction. Layers of different steel types are welded together, but then the stock is manipulated to create patterns in the steel. [5]

Titanium is a metal that has a better strength-to-weight ratio, is more wear resistant, and more flexible than steel. Although less hard and unable to take as sharp an edge, carbides in the titanium alloy allow them to be heat-treated to a sufficient hardness. Ceramic blades are hard, brittle, and lightweight: they may maintain a sharp edge for years with no maintenance at all, but are as fragile as glass and will break if dropped on a hard surface. They are immune to common corrosion, and can only be sharpened on silicon carbide sandpaper and some grinding wheels. Plastic blades are not especially sharp and are typically serrated. They are often disposable.

Knife blades have different profiles Microtome-knife-profile.svg
Knife blades have different profiles

Steel blades are commonly shaped by forging or stock removal. Forged blades are made by heating a single piece of steel, then shaping the metal while hot using a hammer or press. Stock removal blades are shaped by grinding and removing metal. With both methods, after shaping, the steel must be heat treated. This involves heating the steel above its critical point, then quenching the blade to harden it. After hardening, the blade is tempered to remove stresses and make the blade tougher. Mass manufactured kitchen cutlery uses both the forging and stock removal processes. [6] Forging tends to be reserved for manufacturers' more expensive product lines, and can often be distinguished from stock removal product lines by the presence of an integral bolster, though integral bolsters can be crafted through either shaping method.

Knives are sharpened in various ways. Flat ground blades have a profile that tapers from the thick spine to the sharp edge in a straight or convex line. Seen in cross section, the blade would form a long, thin triangle, or where the taper does not extend to the back of the blade, a long thin rectangle with one peaked side. Hollow ground blades have concave, beveled edges. The resulting blade has a thinner edge, so it may have better cutting ability for shallow cuts, but it is lighter and less durable than flat ground blades and will tend to bind in deep cuts.[ citation needed ] Serrated blade knives have a wavy, scalloped or saw-like blade. Serrated blades are more well suited for tasks that require aggressive 'sawing' motions, whereas plain edge blades are better suited for tasks that require push-through cuts (e.g., shaving, chopping, slicing).

Many knives have holes in the blade for various uses. Holes are commonly drilled in blades to reduce friction while cutting, increase single-handed usability of pocket knives, and, for butchers' knives, allow hanging out of the way when not in use.

Fixed-blade features

cKc pen knife CKc Pen Knife.jpg
cKc pen knife

A fixed blade knife, sometimes called a sheath knife, does not fold or slide, and is typically stronger due to the tang, the extension of the blade into the handle, and lack of moving parts.

Folding blade features

A Swiss Army knife Swiss army knife open 20050612 (cropped).jpg
A Swiss Army knife

A folding knife connects the blade to the handle through a pivot, allowing the blade to fold into the handle. To prevent injury to the knife user through the blade accidentally closing on the user's hand, folding knives typically have a locking mechanism. Different locking mechanisms are favored by various individuals for reasons such as perceived strength (lock safety), legality, and ease of use. Popular locking mechanisms include:

  • Slip joint – Found most commonly on traditional pocket knives, the opened blade does not lock, but is held in place by a spring device that allows the blade to fold if a certain amount of pressure is applied. [7]
  • Lockback – Also known as the spine lock, the lockback includes a pivoted latch affixed to a spring, and can be disengaged only by pressing the latch down to release the blade.
  • Linerlock – Invented by Michael Walker, a Linerlock is a folding knife with a side-spring lock that can be opened and closed with one hand without repositioning the knife in the hand. The lock is self-adjusting for wear. [8]
  • Compression Lock – A variant of the Liner Lock, it uses a small piece of metal at the tip of the lock to lock into a small corresponding impression in the blade. This creates a lock that does not disengage when the blade is torqued, instead of becoming more tightly locked. It is released by pressing the tab of metal to the side, to allow the blade to be placed into its groove set into the handle. [8]
  • Frame Lock – Also known as the integral lock or monolock, this locking mechanism was invented by a custom knifemaker Chris Reeve for the Sebenza as an update to the liner lock. The frame lock works in a manner similar to the liner lock but uses a partial cutout of the actual knife handle, rather than a separate liner inside the handle to hold the blade in place. [9] [10]
  • Collar lock – found on Opinel knives. [11]
  • Button Lock – Found mainly on automatic knives, this type of lock uses a small push-button to open and release the knife.
    The Benchmade Axis Lock mechanism BM-AxisLock.jpg
    The Benchmade Axis Lock mechanism
  • Axis Lock – A locking mechanism patented by Benchmade Knife Company until 2020. [12] A cylindrical bearing is tensioned such that it will jump between the knife blade and some feature of the handle to lock the blade open. [13]
  • Arc Lock – A locking mechanism exclusively licensed to SOG Specialty Knives. It differs from an axis lock in that the cylindrical bearing is tensioned by a rotary spring rather than an axial spring. [14]
  • Ball Bearing Lock – A locking mechanism exclusively licensed to Spyderco. This lock is conceptually similar to the axis and arc locks but the bearing is instead a ball bearing. [15]
  • Tri-Ad Lock – A locking mechanism exclusively licensed to Cold Steel. It is a form of lockback which incorporates a thick steel stop pin between the front of the latch and the back of the tang to transfer force from the blade into the handle. [16]
  • PickLock – A round post on the back base of the blade locks into a hole in a spring tab in the handle. To close, manually lift (pick) the spring tab (lock) off the blade post with your fingers, or in "Italian Style Stilettos" swivel the bolster (hand guard) clockwise to lift the spring tab off the blade post.

Another prominent feature of many folding knives is the opening mechanism. Traditional pocket knives and Swiss Army knives commonly employ the nail nick, while modern folding knives more often use a stud, hole, disk, or flipper located on the blade, all of which have the benefit of allowing the user to open the knife with one hand.

The "wave" feature is another prominent design, which uses a part of the blade that protrudes outward to catch on one's pocket as it is drawn, thus opening the blade; this was patented by Ernest Emerson and is not only used on many of the Emerson knives, but also on knives produced by several other manufacturers, notably Spyderco and Cold Steel. [17]

Automatic or switchblade knives open using the stored energy from a spring that is released when the user presses a button or lever or other actuator built into the handle of the knife. Automatic knives are severely restricted by law in the UK and most American states. [18]

Increasingly common are assisted opening knives which use springs to propel the blade once the user has moved it past a certain angle. These differ from automatic or switchblade knives in that the blade is not released by means of a button or catch on the handle; rather, the blade itself is the actuator. Most assisted openers use flippers as their opening mechanism. Assisted opening knives can be as fast or faster than automatic knives to deploy. [19]

Common locking mechanisms
Folding knife locking mechanisms.svg

In the lock back, as in many folding knives, a stop pin acting on the top (or behind) the blade prevents it from rotating clockwise. A hook on the tang of the blade engages with a hook on the rocker bar which prevents the blade from rotating counter-clockwise. The rocker bar is held in position by a torsion bar. To release the knife the rocker bar is pushed downwards as indicated and pivots around the rocker pin, lifting the hook and freeing the blade.

When negative pressure (pushing down on the spine) is applied to the blade all the stress is transferred from the hook on the blade's tang to the hook on the rocker bar and thence to the small rocker pin. Excessive stress can shear one or both of these hooks rendering the knife effectively useless. Knife company Cold Steel uses a variant of the lock back called the Tri-Ad Lock which introduces a pin in front of the rocker bar to relieve stress on the rocker pin, has an elongated hole around the rocker pin to allow the mechanism to wear over time without losing strength and angles the hooks so that the faces no longer meet vertically.

The bolt in the bolt lock is a rectangle of metal that is constrained to slide only back and forward. When the knife is open a spring biases the bolt to the forward position where it rests above the tang of the blade preventing the blade from closing. Small knobs extend through the handle of the knife on both sides allowing the user to slide the bolt backward freeing the knife to close. The Axis Lock used by knife maker Benchmade is functionally identical to the bolt lock except that it uses a cylinder rather than a rectangle to trap the blade. [13] The Arc Lock by knife maker SOG is similar to the Axis Lock except the cylinder follows a curved path rather than a straight path. [14]

In the liner lock, an L-shaped split in the liner allows part of the liner to move sideways from its resting position against the handle to the centre of the knife where it rests against the flat end of the tang. To disengage, this leaf spring is pushed so it again rests flush against the handle allowing the knife to rotate. [8] A frame lock is functionally identical but instead of using a thin liner inside the handle material uses a thicker piece of metal as the handle and the same split in it allows a section of the frame to press against the tang. [8]

Sliding blade features

An OTF knife, showing the sliding blade being extended from the handle OTF knife GM08.jpg
An OTF knife, showing the sliding blade being extended from the handle

A sliding knife is a knife that can be opened by sliding the knife blade out the front of the handle. One method of opening is where the blade exits out the front of the handle point-first and then is locked into place (an example of this is the gravity knife). Another form is an OTF (out-the-front) switchblade, which only requires the push of a button or spring to cause the blade to slide out of the handle and lock into place. To retract the blade back into the handle, a release lever or button, usually the same control as to open, is pressed. A very common form of sliding knife is the sliding utility knife (commonly known as a stanley knife or boxcutter).


Minsk folding knife with articulated frame grip Skladnoi nozh Minsk tsena 85 kop 1980-e gody f5.JPG
Minsk folding knife with articulated frame grip

The handles of knives can be made from a number of different materials, each of which has advantages and disadvantages. Handles are produced in a wide variety of shapes and styles. Handles are often textured to enhance grip.

A traditional knife handle made from buffalo horn (Tasikmalaya, Indonesia) Knife handle made of buffalo horn.jpg
A traditional knife handle made from buffalo horn (Tasikmalaya, Indonesia)

More exotic materials usually only seen on art or ceremonial knives include: Stone, bone, mammoth tooth, mammoth ivory, oosik (walrus penis bone), walrus tusk, antler (often called stag in a knife context), sheep horn, buffalo horn, teeth, and mop (mother of pearl or "pearl"). Many materials have been employed in knife handles.

Handles may be adapted to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities. For example, knife handles may be made thicker or with more cushioning for people with arthritis in their hands. A non-slip handle accommodates people with palmar hyperhidrosis.

Birchbark knife handle Birchbark handle.jpg
Birchbark knife handle



A large traditional Tuareg knife Tuarknife.jpg
A large traditional Tuareg knife
Knife from the stone age, Nok, Nigeria Stone Knife, Nok Museum.jpg
Knife from the stone age, Nok, Nigeria

As a weapon, the knife is universally adopted as an essential tool. It is the essential element of a knife fight. For example:

Sports equipment


Table knives Old Swiss table knives.JPG
Table knives

A primary aspect of the knife as a tool includes dining, used either in food preparation or as cutlery. Examples of this include:


Diver's knife from Three bolt equipment Diving knife.JPG
Diver's knife from Three bolt equipment
Knives for cutting cheese Knives in a cheese shop.jpg
Knives for cutting cheese

As a utility tool the knife can take many forms, including:

A Head knife (Round knife). Arbelos Shoemakers Knife.jpg
A Head knife (Round knife).
A simple letter opener, or paper knife Japanese-Letter-Opener.jpg
A simple letter opener, or paper knife

Traditional and religious implements

Rituals and superstitions

The Sacrifice of Isaac by Caravaggio, (1590-1610; Oil on canvas; Uffizi). Abraham is holding the sacrificial knife. The Sacrifice of Isaac by Caravaggio.jpg
The Sacrifice of Isaac by Caravaggio, (1590–1610; Oil on canvas; Uffizi). Abraham is holding the sacrificial knife.

The knife plays a significant role in some cultures through ritual and superstition, as the knife was an essential tool for survival since early man. [3] Knife symbols can be found in various cultures to symbolize all stages of life; for example, a knife placed under the bed while giving birth is said to ease the pain, or, stuck into the headboard of a cradle, to protect the baby;[ citation needed ] knives were included in some Anglo-Saxon burial rites, so the dead would not be defenseless in the next world. [21] [22] The knife plays an important role in some initiation rites, and many cultures perform rituals with a variety of knives, including the ceremonial sacrifices of animals. [23] Samurai warriors, as part of bushido, could perform ritual suicide, or seppuku, with a tantō, a common Japanese knife. [24] An athame, a ceremonial knife, is used in Wicca and derived forms of neopagan witchcraft. [25] [26]

In Greece, a black-handled knife placed under the pillow is used to keep away nightmares.[ citation needed ] As early as 1646 reference is made to a superstition of laying a knife across another piece of cutlery being a sign of witchcraft. [27] A common belief is that if a knife is given as a gift, the relationship of the giver and recipient will be severed. Something such as a small coin, dove or a valuable item is exchanged for the gift, rendering "payment."[ citation needed ]


Some types of knives are restricted by law, and carrying of knives may be regulated, because they are often used in crime, although restrictions vary greatly by jurisdiction and type of knife. For example, some laws prohibit carrying knives in public while other laws prohibit possession of certain knives, such as switchblades. [28] [29]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Utility knife</span> Knife used for general or utility purposes

A utility knife is any type of knife used for general manual work purposes. Such knives were originally fixed-blade knives with durable cutting edges suitable for rough work such as cutting cordage, cutting/scraping hides, butchering animals, cleaning fish scales, reshaping timber, and other tasks. Craft knives are small utility knives used as precision-oriented tools for finer, more delicate tasks such as carving and papercutting.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Swiss Army knife</span> Multi-tool pocketknife manufactured by Victorinox

The Swiss Army knife is a pocketknife, generally multi-tooled, now manufactured by Victorinox. The term "Swiss Army knife" was coined by American soldiers after World War II after they had trouble pronouncing the German word "Offiziersmesser", meaning "officer’s knife".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Blade</span> Sharp cutting part of a weapon or tool

A blade is the portion of a tool, weapon, or machine with an edge that is designed to puncture, chop, slice or scrape surfaces or materials. Blades are typically made from materials that are harder than those they are to be used on. Historically, humans have made blades from flaking stones such as flint or obsidian, and from various metal such as copper, bronze, and iron. Modern blades are often made of steel or ceramic. Blades are one of humanity's oldest tools, and continue to be used for combat, food preparation, and other purposes.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Switchblade</span> Type of knife

A switchblade is a pocketknife with a sliding or pivoting blade contained in the handle which is extended automatically by a spring when a button, lever, or switch on the handle or bolster is activated. Virtually all switchblades incorporate a locking blade, where the blade is locked against accidental closure when the blade is in the open position. It is unlocked by a mechanism that allows the blade to be folded and locked in the closed position.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Butterfly knife</span> Type of folding knife

A balisong, also known as a butterfly knife, fan knife or Batangas knife, is a type of folding pocketknife that originated in the Philippines. Its distinct features are two handles counter-rotating around the tang such that, when closed, the blade is concealed within grooves in the handles. A latch sometimes holds the handles together; typically mounted on the one facing the cutting edge.

A stiletto is a specialized dagger with a long slender blade and needle-like point, primarily intended as a thrusting and stabbing weapon.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pocketknife</span> Knife that can be carried in a pocket

A pocketknife is a knife with one or more blades that fold into the handle. They are also known as jackknives (jack-knife), folding knives, EDC knife, or may be referred to as a penknife, though a penknife may also be a specific kind of pocketknife. A typical blade length is 5 to 15 centimetres.

A gravity knife is a knife with a blade contained in its handle, and that opens its blade through the force of gravity. This mechanism of opening is fundamentally different from the switchblade, which extends its spring-propelled blade automatically upon the push of a button, switch, or fulcrum lever. The main purpose of gravity opening is that it allows opening and closing to be done one handed, in situations where the other hand is occupied. Hence, historically they have been issued to parachutists to cut off caught lines, such as lines tangled in trees, a major potential use of the gravity knife.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Opinel</span> Brand of pocket knife

The Opinel company has manufactured and marketed a line of eponymous wooden-handled knives since 1890 from its headquarters in Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, Savoie, France where the family-run company also operates a museum dedicated to its knives. The company sells approximately 15 million knives annually. Opinel knives are made of both high carbon and stainless steel, the latter being Sandvik steel from Sweden.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Buck Knives</span> American knife manufacturer

Buck Knives is an American knife manufacturer founded in Mountain Home, Idaho and now located in Post Falls, Idaho. The company has a long history through five generations of the Buck family from 1902 to the present day. Buck Knives primarily manufactures sport and field knives and is credited with inventing the "folding hunting knife" and popularizing it to such a degree that the term "buck knife" has become synonymous with folding lockback knives, including those made by other manufacturers.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kitchen knife</span> Knives intended for use in the process of preparing food

A kitchen knife is any knife that is intended to be used in food preparation. While much of this work can be accomplished with a few general-purpose knives – notably a large chef's knife, a tough cleaver, a small paring knife and some sort of serrated blade – there are also many specialized knives that are designed for specific tasks. Kitchen knives can be made from several different materials.

In cooking, a chef's knife, also known as a cook's knife, is a cutting tool used in food preparation. The chef's knife was originally designed primarily to slice and disjoint large cuts of beef. Today it is the primary general-utility knife for most Western cooks.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Survival knife</span> Knife designed for wilderness survival use

Survival knives are knives intended for survival purposes in a wilderness environment, often in an emergency when the user has lost most of their main equipment. Most military aviation units issue some kind of survival knife to their pilots in case their aircraft are shot down behind enemy lines and the crew needs tools to facilitate their survival, escape, and rescue. Survival knives can be used for trapping, skinning, wood cutting, wood carving, and other uses. Hunters, hikers, and outdoor sport enthusiasts use survival knives. Some survival knives are heavy-bladed and thick. Other survival knives are lightweight or fold in order to save weight and bulk as part of a larger survival kit. Their functions often include serving as a hunting knife. Features, such as hollow handles, that could be used as storage space for matches or similar small items, began gaining popularity in the 1980s. Custom or semi-custom makers such as Americans Jimmy Lile, Bo Randall, and Chris Reeve are often credited with inventing those features.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Knife making</span> Process of manufacturing a knife

Knife making is the process of manufacturing a knife by any one or a combination of processes: stock removal, forging to shape, welded lamination or investment cast. Typical metals used come from the carbon steel, tool, or stainless steel families. Primitive knives have been made from bronze, copper, brass, iron, obsidian, and flint.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Chris Reeve</span> South African-American knife maker (born 1953)

Christopher Stanley Reeve is a South African-American knife maker, recognized as one of the most influential people in knife making history. Reeve founded Chris Reeve Knives (CRK) in 1984. In 2014, Reeve retired and was inducted into the Blade Magazine Hall of Fame in 2015.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Navaja</span> Spanish folding-blade fighting and utility knife

The navaja is a traditional Spanish folding-blade fighting and utility knife.

Knife legislation is defined as the body of statutory law or case law promulgated or enacted by a government or other governing jurisdiction that prohibits, criminalizes, or restricts the otherwise legal manufacture, importation, sale, transfer, possession, transport, or use of knives.

Chris Reeve Knives is an American knife manufacturing corporation with international sales and distribution headquartered in Boise, Idaho, that designs, develops, and sells folding pocket knives and fixed-blade knives. Its products include the Sebenza, Inkosi, Umnumzaan, TiLock, Mnandi folding knives, Impinda slip joint, and the Green Beret, Pacific, Professional Soldier, Nyala, and Sikayo fixed blade knives. Chris Reeve Knives' industry contributions include the Integral Lock, contributions to the blade steels CPM-S30V and CPM-S35VN, and has won Blade Magazine's Blade Show Manufacturing Quality Award 15 times. Their motto is Think Twice, Cut Once.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Columbia River Knife & Tool</span> American knife company

Columbia River Knife & Tool, Inc. (CRKT) is an American knife company established in 1994, and currently based in Tualatin, Oregon, United States. The company's president and sales executive is Rod Bremer and the finance executive is Peggy Bremer.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Commander (knife)</span> Folding Knife

The Commander (knife) is a large recurve folding knife made by Emerson Knives, Inc. that was based on a custom design, the ES1-M, by Ernest Emerson that he originally built for a West Coast Navy SEAL Team. It was winner of the Blade Magazine Overall Knife of the Year Award for 1999.


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