As you look for a knife to buy, one of the features that manufacturers advertise is “Knife Tang.” You might not think much of this, and there are some who skip over this detail.
You should never do this.
Knowing the tang of your knife is super important. Why? Because the tang makes a huge impact on the strength and functionality of your knife.
That’s why you shouldn’t ignore these details. It’s so important to know what you are getting from your knife.
Now the question arises, what exactly is a tang?
What is the difference between a full tang and a partial tang?
What are the advantages and disadvantages of both of these?
Fear not, because today, we’re going to take an in-depth look at knife tangs. This will be the complete guide to tangs, both full and partial. By the end of the article, you’ll be a tang guru yourself.
So buckle up and let’s get started!
What is a Knife Tang?
The tang is one of the most important parts of a knife. It’s up there with the blade and handles it in importance. Despite this, you may have never heard of tangs before. Why is this you may wonder?
It’s because tangs are hidden. We can’t see tangs because they are under the handle of our knives. That’s why a lot of people today are unaware of what tangs are.
We can’t see it, but without a tang, your blades will fall apart. The tang is what holds the blade and the handle together.
But wait! Before we get ahead of ourselves. What exactly is a tang again?
Culinarylore.com describes it as “the metal part of the knife extending from the blade to the butt.” It’s the part of the blade that goes inside the handle.
Handles aren’t “stuck” to blades. Instead, they wrap around the steel. The part that the handle wraps around is known as the tang.
Tangs are so important. Without it, your knife will not have any strength at all. There’s no better way to connect both handle and blade together than a tang.
Without a tang, you’d have to use something like glue. You don’t have to be a genius to figure out why this wouldn’t work. If you use glue, you’ll have a knife that is so weak, it will be worthless.
There is also the option of not having a handle, and that is fine. Several types of knives, such as throwing knives, work better without handles. But most of the time, you’ll find using a knife without a handle is very uncomfortable.
Not only is it uncomfortable, but it can also be painful as well. Before long, you’ll find your hand no longer has grip strength. You’ll also find a lot of calluses there as well.
That’s why to bring it all together and to create the best knives, a tang is needed. Glue won’t suffice, neither can a handle-less knife do much good. The best knives have a blade, a handle, and a tang that goes deep into the handle.
This provides firmness, strength, and durability. With a good tang, it doesn’t matter how tough you are with your knife, it will stand up to this.
But not all tangs are created equal. As you check out knives in the market, you’ll encounter a bunch of tangs to choose from. There are full tangs, partial tangs, rat-tail tangs, push tangs, and more. What are all of these types?
All of these describe what type of tang is underneath the handle. Each type has its own uses, it’s advantages and disadvantages.
Despite all the differences, all tangs fall under two categories: full tang or partial tang. To understand tangs, it’s important to have a fundamental understanding of these two categories. It’s very important to know how they differ.
When I was new to knives, I had no idea about the differences. But the more I collected knives, I realized that knowing the difference makes a big effect. So let me share my knowledge with you right now.
What is Full Tang?
Full tang is when the tang goes all the way from the blade to the bottom of the handle. It is a full, uncut tang.
This means that there is steel underneath the entire handle. If you were to remove the handle, the knife will be exactly the same length.
That is a full tang knife. Not all full tang knives have solid steel extending all the way to the butt of the knife. There are several variations of these, which we will have a look at soon.
Full tang is generally considered to be better than partial tangs. The reason for this is because there are a lot of advantages that they have. This is why manufacturers are quick to advertise their knives as having full tangs.
That said, it doesn’t mean full-tang knives are perfect. All knives have their pros and cons. And though they are very good, full tangs also have their disadvantages.
Advantages of Full Tang Knives
The best thing about full tang knives is how strong they are. Think of full tang as having the full strength of a knife. The longer the tang is, the more support the blade will have when you use it.
That’s why all heavy-duty knives have a full tang. These can resist whatever you throw at it. The support is going to allow the knife to withstand rough treatment.
The extra steel in the handle will also help prevent bending. It’s one thing to snap a knife, it’s another to bend it. With a full tang though, you won’t have to worry about either.
All knives are made to be strong, that’s for sure. Even partial tang knives hold up well. But if we’re talking about extreme conditions, only one type can survive. That is, you guessed it, full tang knives.
Full tang knives also last much longer. Not only are they stronger, but they’re also more durable. Because of their durability, you can expect your full tang knife to be around for years to come.
But the advantages of having full tang are more than just strength and durability. It’s also in their balance.
The more you use knives, the more you will learn that balance is important. Using an imbalanced knife isn’t ideal. It’ll tire your hand faster, and make slicing more difficult.
With a full tang though, you’ll find that your knife is perfectly balanced. It won’t be blade-heavy or handle-heavy since the steel goes all the way through. This will give you a great experience no matter what you cut or slice.
Disadvantages of Full Tang knives
So far full tang sounds great, and it is! But there is no perfect knife. Even this feature, which is great in a lot of ways, has some flaws.
For one, full-tang knives are heavy. The extra steel inside the handle will add a lot of weight to the knife. That’s why if you carry this around for a long time, you will start to feel your arms.
This shouldn’t be too much of a problem. If you have a sheath for your knife, this won’t bother you at all. But if you are cutting precise shapes, a full tang knife may be quite heavy for you.
Another downside of full-tang knives is that they can’t fold. They aren’t the most portable knives around because of this. Because their tang goes all the way to the end, you have one solid piece of steel.
Again, this is more of an inconvenience than a real problem. That’s why having a full tang knife is great. The advantages easily outweigh the disadvantages.
The only reason you shouldn’t get a full tang knife is if you have a specific need in mind, such as the need for a folding knife. Or perhaps you want to get the lightest knife possible.
Types of Full Tang Knives
Now that you know what full-tang knives are, and why we look for them, let’s take a look at the different types of full tang knives.
Not every full tang knife is a solid steel slab. Some have rather interesting shapes. These shapes all affect the knife in some way, so knowing their differences is good.
So, let’s get started.
1. Full Tang
The most basic type is the “full” full tang knife. It is the solid slab of steel that runs all the way from the blade to the butt. There are no holes or no bends at all in this type of tang.
This is the most solid type of full tang there is. It is also the heaviest type around. That’s why you get the full advantages and disadvantages of a full tang knife with this type.
2. Hidden Tang
Hidden tangs are a variation of the full tang. It still goes all the way from the blade to the butt. But instead of being one thick slab of steel, it is a lot thinner.
Unlike full tangs, hidden tangs are not as wide as the blade. When the steel reaches the handle, it becomes a lot thinner.
This makes it lighter, but also less strong. That said, the difference is quite small. It is still a solid piece of steel running through the entire handle. So you can still rely on your hidden tang knife to be super strong.
3. Skeletonized Tang
Like the hidden tang, skeletonized tangs also cut out some steel. Instead of removing steel from the sides, skeletonized tangs remove steel from the center.
Skeletonized tangs are as wide as the blade, however, there are large holes in the center. This makes them a lot lighter than full tangs, lighter than hidden tangs as well.
Again, it is not as strong as a full tang. But it is designed in such a good way that it is still very strong as well.
4. Encapsulated Tang
At first glance, you may think that a knife with an encapsulated tang is a partial tang knife. This is because you won’t see any signs of the tang.
Encapsulated tangs are almost exactly the same as full tangs. The only difference is that in full tang knives, you can see the tang, but not in this one. This is because the handle completely encapsulates the tang.
Some people prefer encapsulated over full tang for aesthetic reasons. Other than that, there is no difference between the two.
5. Extended Tang
While most tangs stop at the butt, extended tangs go even further. When your tang peeps out from the handle, this is known as an extended tang.
Aside from being strong, extended tangs also give you another feature. You can use the protruding steel as a pommel. You will have an extra tool, or an extra piece of self-defense, with extended tangs.
What is Partial Tang?
By now, you’ve probably guessed what partial tang means. If you guessed that it is one where the tang doesn’t go all the way to the butt of the knife, you would be right.
Instead of going all the way down, partial tang knives stop somewhere in the middle. Some types are longer than others, but they never reach the tip.
At first glance, it would appear that partial tang knives are plain inferior to full tang ones. However, that is not always the case. There are some advantages you can get with a partial tang blade.
Advantages of Partial Tang
When I first learned about tangs, I had a simple equation. This equation was that full tang equals good while partial tang equals bad.
As I learned more, however, I realized that things are not black and white like this. There are some people who seek out partial tang knives for specific reasons.
One of the biggest advantages of partial tang is its weight. Without the steel inside the handle, you’ll get much lighter knives.
There are a lot of situations where you may want a light knife. Anytime you are doing intricate cuts, you don’t want your hand to tire. That’s why using a partial tang may be the better option.
Another time you’ll want a light knife is when you have a lot of things to cut. Using a full tang knife in these situations may be more tiring than it should be. That’s why the lightweight of partial tang is very useful.
Partial tang knives also have the ability to fold. If you have a folding knife, that is a partial tang. No full tang knife is capable of folding.
Their foldability makes them very portable. Keep in mind that not every partial tang knife is foldable. But the ones that can fold are very convenient to bring wherever you go.
Finally, partial tang knives are cheaper. They are a lot easier to manufacture than full-tang knives are. And they use less steel.
When you compare the prices of full tang and partial tang, you’ll understand. You can save quite a lot of money by choosing to go for partial tang. And despite being weaker, partial tang knives still have a tang, therefore they can still withstand quite a lot.
Disadvantages of Partial Tang
The obvious disadvantage of partial tang knives is their strength. Since their steel doesn’t go all the way through the handle, they aren’t as strong as the full tang.
This is why whenever you need a knife for heavy use, don’t get a partial tang. These knives can withstand casual use, but not rough ones. Before you know it, you’ll have a destroyed knife.
Partial tang knives are also not as stable. Their folding abilities are certainly great for portability. But when it comes to strength, this makes it quite weak.
Sure, good folding knives will have a strong lock. This lock will keep the blade in place even when you stab something. However, this is never going to be as strong as having a full tang.
You have to be careful when using a folding knife for heavy-duty tasks. If it is too much for the lock, it will snap and you could hurt yourself.
Another disadvantage of partial tang blades is that they upset the balance. Partial tang knives tend to be blade heavy. With little steel on the handle, it’s no surprise that the blade is the heavier part of the knife.
This isn’t a very bad thing, but it isn’t optimal either. Most people won’t notice the difference. But for knife enthusiasts like us, you will feel this.
Types of Partial Tang Knives
Like full tangs, there are also a bunch of different types of partial tang knives. The differences between these are often quite small, but they make an impact.
That’s why, once again, it is good to know what you are getting. Not only will you understand your knife better, but you will also learn to appreciate it more.
1. Partial Tang
At its base form, a partial tang is any tang that doesn’t extend the full length of the knife. The tang may go as far as half-way or may stop right where the blade ends.
This is the opposite of a full tang knife. Where full tangs are strong and heavy, partial tangs are weaker but lightweight.
That said, the basic variation of partial tangs isn’t too weak. When you compare this with other types, you’ll understand what I mean.
2. Rat-Tail Tung
Rat-tail knives are considered to be one of the worst types around. They’re one of the weakest partial tangs you can get your hands on.
Surprisingly, rat-tail tangs extend almost all the way to the butt of the knife. The reason why rat-tails are so weak is that they are super thin. The tang isn’t as wide as the blade. No, it is way thinner, only like a rat-tail.
The rat-tail gets its name from its looks. The blade, which is wide, is the body of the rat, while the tang is the tail. That’s how thin it is.
Because of this skinny tang, rat-tails are very weak. The only good thing about these knives is that they are super cheap and easy to make. They are also super lightweight.
That’s why despite their reputation, people still buy them for their price.
3. Push Tang
Earlier I said that glue wouldn’t suffice to hold a knife together. That is, without a tang.
Push tangs are simple, it is a partial tang that is pushed into the handle and glued there. This makes push tangs very easy to manufacture. That’s why they’re quite cheap to buy.
On the other side, this is yet another weak knife. Again, if you need to do some heavy work with your knife, this isn’t for you.
Over time, the “glue” that holds push tangs in their place has become stronger. That’s why today, push tangs aren’t as bad as they used to be.
4. Tapered Tang
Last but not least, the tapered tang. What is a tapered tang?
A tapered tang is a tang that starts as thick as the blade and then narrows towards its end. Tapered tangs are usually partial, but they can also reach the tip.
Of all the partial tangs, this one is the strongest. It isn’t as durable as a full tang, but it stands up very well. To make things better, it is also lighter than a lot of full tang knives.
Bug again, no tang is perfect. Tapered tangs are a complicated design. Only skilled forgers can create a good tapered blade.
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It’s amazing how many things go into making a knife. For tangs, you may not have even known they existed before. Yet now you see how many types of tangs there are, and how they affect your knife.
There really is no perfect tang. All of them fit different situations. But now you know that full tangs are for strength, while partial tangs are for their weight. With this knowledge, you should get the perfect tang for yourself.
So pat yourself in the back. You’ve gone from not knowing what tangs are, to know all there is to know about it.