Jay Fisher - Fine Custom Knives

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"Axia EL" fine handmade knife obverse side view  in T3 deep cryogenically treated CPM 154CM high mollybdenum powder metal technology martensitic stainless steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Linda Marie Moss Agate gemstone handle, hand-carved leather shoulder inlaid with green, black ray skin
"Axia" with Linda Marie Moss Agate Gemstone Handle

Knife Anatomy, Parts, Names, Components, Definitions, and Terms

Right now, you are reading the best singular knifemaker's website ever made on our planet. On this website, you will see many hundreds of defined knife terms, detailed descriptions and information on heat treating and cryogenic processing, on handles and blades, on stands and sheaths, and on knife types from hunting and utility to military, counterterrorism, and collection. You can learn about food contact safety and chef's knives, you can find out what bolster or fitting material is best for each application and why. You can lean about caring for a knife, you can see the very largest knife patterns page in history, with many hundreds of actual knife patterns and photos of completed works. You'll also be able to see thousands and thousands of photos of knives, knifemaking, processes, and creations, with many hundreds of pages of appropriate, meaningful text. You might want to know why a knife blade is springy, you might want to know why a hollow grind can last longer than a flat grind. You might want to learn about some pitfalls of the tradecraft, and you might even want to have a chuckle about funny and strange email requests.

You'll find all that here, on JayFisher.com, and you won't find it anywhere else!

"Argyre" Collector's Tactical Knife: 440C high chromium stainless tool steel blade, mirror polished, hollow ground, 304 high nickel-chromium stainless steel bolsters, Crazy Lace Agate Gemstone handle
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I am committed to making completely and clearly the best knives in the world.

--Jay Fisher


Warning: Copyright details at the bottom of every page

Don't worry about using the wrong word or phrase if you contact me about a knife project. I'm expected to know these terms, not you; I fly the plane, you just tell me your origin and destination.

Welcome to Knife Anatomy, Knife Parts, Knife Names, Knife Components and Definitions
Fine skinning, working, and investment grade custom knives
Learn more about Pherkad

Welcome! If you are coming from the many links to this page on the internet, or if you are arriving from this very site, you have reached one of the most popular pages on my web site. This is because there is a great interest in knife parts, designs, components, anatomy, and terms, and a lot of confusion, misinformation and mistakes in knife terminology exist on the web. In keeping with my commitment to service in my tradecraft and art, it is my goal to create the best single knife maker site on the internet, and it's all thanks to you: the public viewer, knife enthusiast, and aficionado.

You don't make several thousand knives in a career without a lot of experience, thought, and details. So I've created a series of pictures and drawings to illustrate knife components, parts, and anatomy. This will help with conversations and knowledge about knives in general, and educate about common current and historic knife components, leading to easier conversations about custom knives, their construction, shapes, features, and details. I've sprinkled in a few large pictures of some knives I've made with general details and descriptions so you can get a good idea of the modern handmade and custom knife and its description. Please enjoy my work!

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First let me start off by saying that this site is great. I love the "Knife Anatomy, Knife Parts, Knife Names, Knife Components". Who knew there were so many parts to a knife?

Modern Knife Terminology
"Golden Eagle" ATS-34 high molybdenum stainless steel blade, hand-engraved 304 stainless steel bolsters, Marcasite and Jasper gemstone handle, hand-carved leather sheath
Learn more about the Golden Eagle

Modern knife makers speak their own language, and if you hang around them long enough, you'll pick up the terminology and soon be able to distinguish an uneven grind radius from a non-parallel spine flat. It seems every knifemaker has his own terms for his knives, and if you make enough knives, you'll have to name those components somehow, just so you know what to call them! Most of these terms are pretty well established, but may not correlate with historical norms. For instance, the quillon (or quillion) of a guard are the horizontal bars that extend perpendicular to the axis of a sword or dagger, but nowadays the quillon also refers to the protuberances that stop your fingers from sliding forward onto the knife blade and cutting edge. The French word quillon is pronounced "key-own", but if you pronounce it "quill-yun", I'll understand. I'll detail these points as I go along, and I'll also continually add to this page with sword and dagger definitions and details, terms and descriptions common to tactical or combat knives, and maybe even sheath, stand, and case parts, if you're interested! I go into much greater description and detail in my upcoming book.

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Aloha, Jay:
I just want to thank you for writing an excellent treatise on knives. I mostly deal with Nihonto (Japanese swords) these days, but still have a great Damascus knife collection. I'll be looking into buying one from you sometime soon.
Mahalo! (Thanks!)

Ken Goldstein, Ph.D., P.E.
President, Japanese Sword Society of Hawaii
Kaneohe, Hawaii

Why is this important?
"Vespula" obverse side view: 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Australian Black Jade gemstone handle, Ostrich leg skin inlaid in hand-carved leather sheath
Learn more about Vespula

Sophistic linguistic vain superiority, doctrinarian, snobby verbal claptrap. A knife is just a piece of metal and a handle. Why bother? Who cares?

Evidently, someone cares, as this page is consistently one of my top three hitters on the website, averaging thousands of hits every day, month after month, year after year. One may ask the jeweler why there are so many terms for his tradecraft, definitions for components and objects and specified nomenclature for areas and locations of a simple ring, bracelet, or necklace. Add to the comparison that jewelry does not typically do anything but be worn and present, whereas the knife is a tool and must perform cutting tasks, and it can be bewildering the number of terms and descriptions available in either the jeweler's or knife maker's world.

I do not claim any elitist title, degree, or qualifications for naming and describing these terms, only my forty years of experience making knives, and over thirty years as a full-time professional custom knifemaker. In the profession that I have, a substantial amount of research, study, and historic perspective is necessary. These are the terms that I believe that are most often used, defined, and carried in this field, in contemporary times of the modern English language spoken in the United States of America. Even in our own country, there are dialectic variations of terminology that can confuse definitions, so this is by no means an exact science.

As expected, you can't make a serious business for decades and have a substantial internet presence without running into critics. The internet is rife with critics, people who have no training, no experience, and no measurable level of expertise apart from the ability to post (anonymously) their opinion. Since successful people are targets, even the most definitive, current, descriptive, and referenced knife anatomy and definitions web page in the world is criticized. The ignorant will often go onto any forum that will conceal their identity and make claims like "that website is just wrong." This is not accompanied with any logical, reasonable, or descriptive terms, words, or definitions, yet the ignorant will to on to claim that a ricasso is a choil and other such ridiculous nonsense.

By the way, welcome to the most definitive, current, descriptive, and referenced knife anatomy and definitions web page in the world. I'll do my best to keep this critical reference page up do date. Thanks for being here and sharing the voyage into monoglotistic indulgence!

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Enthusiasts soon understand each other.

Edward Irving
18th century Scottish preacher

Congratulations Jay.
It is rather refreshing to come across inspired and inspiring people like you. Many thanks for sharing your thoughts, knowledge, and expertise.

--J. G.

Knife Component Illustrations with Descriptions

A simple knife seems easy to describe. A blade and handle are the obvious terms that generalize the knife as a hand knife. A hand knife is one that is meant to be in the hand. You might be surprised how many knives are in the world; there are knives to plane wood, knives to shear steel, knives to separate particles in industrial process applications. In my upcoming book, I'll go into the bewildering classification of knives and blades, and our government's idea that they can classify, track, and identify them all!

"Izumi" Tanto blade knife: mirror polished 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Nightstorm jasper gemstone handle, lizard inlaid in leather sheath
Learn more about Izumi

The following dozen illustrations point out and describe various hand knife components and areas. It's easy enough to identify specific components and their location (like the point of the blade), other knife parts are more generalized to an area (like the grind). Items that accompany, are part of, or are attached to the knife blade (like the bolsters) can have widely varying shapes, arrangements, and purposes.

I use all my own knives and patterns for the illustrations on this page. Over 500 different patterns can be seen on my Patterns page, and the Featured Knife pages describe hundreds of individual knives. I'll continue to expand this page, the definitions, descriptions, illustrations, photographs, and terminology as time permits, adding new styles and arrangements.

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Knife Anatomy, Parts, Components: Bolsters, Point Shapes, Handles, Blade, Spine
Knife Anatomy 1

This picture starts what seems to be obvious. The knife has a handle and a blade. The blade has a point (or tip) and the point often determines the use, style, and connotation describing the knife blade shape. More on that later.

The spine (also sometimes called the back) is the thickest, heaviest length of the blade and supports the entire blade. The wider and thicker the spine, the stronger the blade along its length.

You might read elsewhere on the internet that it is debatable whether the full tang or the hidden tang is stronger. This is not even a close argument. The full tang has full thickness across the width of the blade at the most critical area, in front of and behind the front bolster location. On a hidden tang, this is where the blade is ground down and reduced in size and thickness to a shoulder (below). The hidden tang also only has a small width of tang running through the handle to the threaded portion where the pommel is screwed on. So there simply is no way that the hidden tang is even comparable in blade-to-handle strength to the full tang. The hidden tang simply has less metal in the entire handle. Detailed description and illustration of the hidden tang knife handle below.

The handle of this full tang knife is framed in by the front and rear bolster. The bolsters do exactly that, they bolster the blade's strength in the critical areas: the handle to blade junction, and the rear or butt of the knife where heavy blows or impact require reinforcement. The bolsters also help to protect and mechanically secure the handle.

The pattern used for illustration here is my Cygnus-Horrocks design.

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Knife Anatomy: Hollow Grinds, Handle Belly, Quillon, Quillions, Scales, Thumb Rise, Ricasso, Blade Flats
Knife Anatomy 2

A few more details here. The thickest part of the knife blade: the spine, is also the blade flat, the part of the blade that is flat ground and both sides are typically parallel. It extends up to the thumb rise on this example, where the thumb rests in a traditional grip style, and down to the ricasso, the heavy thick shank of the blade between the grind and the front bolster. It extends (in this illustration) toward the point. The grind or hollow grind in this case is the part of the knife where the blade is thinned along its length to yield a uniform, thin cutting edge. The grind is a very distinctive part of the knife, and fine workmanship is usually noticed here by how deep, matched, regular, and well-finished the grind is. Some older texts and beginners in knife chat sites and forums call the grind a bevel but this is technically incorrect, since there may be many actual geometric bevels on a knife, and a bevel is a slope or slant of a line, and therefore straight. On a flat ground knife, one might call it a bevel, but knives are ground in many ways: hollow, convex, tapered, flat, and even a combination of grind geometries. Since modern knives are nearly all abrasively ground, the area is called a grind.

The front quillon stops the hand from sliding forward on the blade, and in this knife pattern, the hand is locked between the front and rear quillons. The rear quillon also aids in removing the knife from the sheath. The handle belly makes many knives more comfortable to hold. The handle scales rest between the bolsters and should be pinned, riveted, screwed, or mounted with mechanical as well as adhesive means.

The pattern used for illustration here is my Cygnus-Horrocks design.

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Knife anatomy, parts, names, components: grind terms, blade, spear point, lead off, termination
Knife Anatomy 3

A spear point designation used to refer to a double edge, but nowadays it can refer to the almost uniform geometry of the point. If you were to bisect the profile of the point, you would see a nearly symmetrical profile on both sides of the center line, like a spear of old. In this drawing, you'll notice grind terminology. The grind termination is at the ricasso, plunges into the meaty part of the blade, has a radius that delineates the transition between the grind termination and and the grind line, and leads off the blade at the spine near the point. The grind termination radius is determined by the wheel size if hollow ground and other factors.

The choil is considered the start of the cutting edge. In days of old, the choil was perpendicular to the edge, and is often still described as the lower part of the ricasso, the part that is unsharpened and at the full thickness of the blade. In the modern knife, it can be carved, fluted, fileworked, and a separate feature of a fine knife. It's purpose is to have a definite location to start the sharpened edge of the knife.

It's interesting to note that for nearly all United States locations, laws state that blade length is not the length of the cutting edge, but the length of the blade from the tip to the front bolster face.

In this drawing you can see why this rear quillon is often called a hawk's bill.

The pattern used for illustration here is my Cygnus-Horrocks design.

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Knife Anatomy, Shape description and parts, details, components: serrations, swage, spine features, hollow ground, chisel edge, line cutter
Knife Anatomy 4

Here is a remarkably different knife. You'll notice the point is trailing, that is the point trails higher than the spine. It has a swage, which is a separate grind that can be sharpened or left unsharpened (sometimes called a false edge). The purpose of a swage is to reduce the cross sectional area of the point without sacrificing too much thickness at the point. Then, being more pointed, thrusting insertion is improved. Though the swage is technically not a separate cutting edge, it can be made vey sharp by creating it as a single tapered bevel.

This knife also has a blade with a deep belly (the curved arc of the main blade). Serrations are usually placed near the handle, for greater application of leverage. This knife also has a separate chisel edge for hammering through wire, and a canted (angled) line cutter. This knife is designed for both tactical combat and survival.

The handle has finger grooves, deep depressions that accommodate the fingers. Note that in this particular knife handle, there are two finger grooves for the index and middle finger, and a wider singular depression for the smaller fingers of the hand. This can help the handle accommodate a variety of hand sizes, as the two rear fingers float.

Judging from the size of the handle and blade, this is a large, heavy knife. one can see that the blade would have substantial mass, placing the center of balance forward into the blade.

The knife pattern used in this drawing is my "Flammarion." A similar model is the "Flamesteed."

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Knife anatomy and parts, descriptions: lanyards, edges, grinds, bolsters, spines, serrations, line cuttter
Knife Anatomy 5

This full tang knife is double edged, and the top edge has a great length of serrations. Though this is uncommon, the design is such that the knife can be drawn through rope or textiles by cutting upward. Not a feature for the casual user, as cutting toward oneself can be dangerous. This is clearly a knife for the professional.

Note the shape of the front bolster face. It is curved inward, concave, so that strength and coverage of the bolster to tang junction is increased. Note also the lanyard (or thong) hole is milled through the rear bolster and knife tang for great strength. A short lanyard (length of cord) is often used to assist locating the knife in the dark, or underwater, and to aid in pulling the knife from the sheath. It can also be used as a security measure wrapping around the wrist, or be tied to the belt.

This knife design has a long handle with a belly shape, minimizing the separate and distinct finger grooves. The heel or butt of the handle is curved downward to accommodate the heel of the hand. A thumb rise is even with a front bolster.

The double edged knife nowadays is sometimes called a dagger, but this is historically incorrect. A dagger is strictly classified as a short weapon used to stab. Since not all double edged knives are used to stab, this is technically incorrect. Typically, a dagger is nowadays referred to as a symmetrical knife with double edges.

The knife pattern used in this drawing is my "Oceana"

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Knife components, descriptions, details, parts: milling, finger holes, dropped point, choil, finger rings
Knife Anatomy 6

 Here's a full tang knife with a drop (or dropped) point. The point "drops" lower than the spine. It's a strong point whose curvature allows very easy insertion in the sheath. Trailing point knives have to be eased or carefully curved into the sheath to prevent the point from cutting the sheath welts, but drop points can be self-guiding and the knife just shoved in, often without looking.

You can see that the choil is very pronounced on this design, and that a greater measure of security for the forefinger than a quillon is the full finger ring. Preferences vary and opinions differ about the finger ring. Disadvantages: it can trap the hand, it takes longer to thread the finger through, it adds to the width of the stock and weight of the blade. Advantages: unsurpassed security between the knife and hand. A finger ring is a frequent request and feature on my tactical and combat knives.

Note the sculpted front bolster face, an advanced feature on a custom knife. Sculpting or shaping the bolster requires a group of additional steps, and the bolster face should be tapered away from the blade, not squared-off, as this may trap and hold debris and make the blade difficult to clean. Additional pins and mechanical arrangements to secure the bolster to the blade are well applied here.

The knife pattern used here for illustration is my "Diacria"

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Knife parts, anatomy, descriptive components, tanto, serrations, teeth, hooks finger grooves, handle
Knife Anatomy 7

Another trailing point with a swage. Previously, I described how a trailing point is harder to sheath and from this drawing, you can see that the aggressive point would rip right into the welts of a sheath if not carefully guided into the sheath. The advantage of a trailing point is the very fine, sharp point, the finest point of any blade style. It's, unfortunately, weaker than other tip shapes, as the cross-sectional geometry can be very thin.

This knife has a tanto style blade, very popular in recent years. One of the reasons is that where the "Tanto Blade" arrow points in this drawing is a secondary point, and the hand can bear down on that point by applying pressure on the spine back and apply tremendous pressure in cutting. The line prescribed by the union of the tip grind and the main blade grind is called the dividing line or yokote (definitions below).

Note the forefinger groove that is backed with a canted, deep back. This is to apply pulling pressure when the serrations are ripped through material. I often call them "rip teeth" because that is ultimately what they do.

This knife also has a rear hook, or persuader. These protrusions of the rear bolster or butt of the knife are used in tactical knives to "persuade" an enemy or opponent along after capture, and as it is not sharpened, will not usually cause an open wound. It can also be used as a glass breaker, a point to hammer through tempered safety glass in an emergency. Other names used for this device are skull crusher (self-explanatory), talon, and cat-scratcher. The reason for that name is that if the knife is handled frequently during tactical practice, the knife user's arms will often be marked with scratches from this protrusion resembling scratches from a cat.

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Knife anatomy, parts,  names, components; dagger, double hollow ground, tactical, fuller, quillons
Knife Anatomy 8

This is what is contemporarily known as a dagger, a double-edged knife that has symmetrical or double hollow grinds. The center axis of the blade has a milled fuller or cannelure. The fuller or cannelure allows a reduced central weight in the thickest area of the spine without sacrificing strength. In essence, it forms an "I" beam running down the center of the blade, and limits lateral flexion. You will see this feature more on longer, larger blades, like sword blades.

It is not a blood groove. The term blood groove is an American colloquialism and means nothing. We've all heard that the groove is made to allow blood to flow in a deep cut, but this is simply an uneducated attempt at describing the fuller. The fuller is named for the special hammer and anvil tool set (a fuller) used by a blacksmith to produce the groove that spreads hot iron. In my book I go into greater detail about this mysterious and misunderstood groove in a blade.

This particular dagger was designed for tactical and combat use. It is full tang, one solid piece of steel from tip to butt, and has wide quillons to guard the hand. Since it's full tang, the quillons are reinforced with a bolster pair over them, creating a very strong knife indeed.

The handle has some belly for improved grip.

The blade grinds in this case must be of a small wheel diameter, to preserve thickness at the central spine of the blade. Otherwise, the blade would be too thin and subsequently, weak.

The knife used here for illustration is my "Charax" pattern, a tactical combat dagger

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Knife anatomy, parts, names: heel drop, finger grooves, blade belly, spine
Knife Anatomy 9

You've seen my "Flammarion" pattern before. Nice knife! Here I have highlighted some more components. The spine is the thickest, heaviest, strongest part of the knife, and in modern hollow ground knives is usually left at full thickness. This knife has an upswept or trailing point, that is, the point trails higher than the spine of the blade. Notice the belly on the blade. It is the most convex part of the blade geometry, and in a hollow ground knife, can be devastatingly sharp. Due to the geometry, in tactical combat knives, creates a great slashing geometry rather than the cleaving geometry of straight blades. It's very hard to create a good, deep belly on a blade no matter how it is ground. Enough thickness should be left in the blade stock for strength, but enough thinness at the cutting edge for the geometry to be effective.

Notice also the highlighted heel drop. This is at the rear of the handle, and allows the heel of the palm more comfort. Humans have heavy, thick tissues at the base of their palms, and the heel drop on a well-designed handle can accommodate this human anatomy. Note also the finger grooves in the handle.

A similar knife I've made is my "Flamesteed."

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Knife anatomy, parts, components, names; tang, hidden threaded, blade, shoulder
Knife Anatomy 10

Hidden tang knives are constructed with a full blade and a handle that is supported between the threaded tang end and the shoulder. The tangs may be straight, which makes construction of the handle easier, or curved (as shown) which can create a more natural handle shape. In some colloquialisms, this is called a "rat tail" tang, but that is just wrong, and the tang may be shaped in dozens of ways. The tang may be a solid piece of the same steel as the blade, or a treaded tang or rod may be hard-soldered or welded onto the knife tang.

The reason for a hidden tang is a fuller, more rounded handle shape, conservation of expensive blade material, or design. Obviously, it is not as strong a knife as a full tang knife. The weak areas are at the shoulder and at the threaded tang end. For more details about strength, practicality, use, and limitations of the hidden tang vs. full tang knife design, link to my FAQ page at this section: Full Tang or Hidden Tang?

The knife shown in this pattern is my "Aunkst" trailing point hunting knife.

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Hidden tang knife construction with 3/8" threaded rod tang all in stainless steel Right: hidden tang heavy knife construction, with 3/8" threaded stainless steel rod welded and annealed to CPMS30V tang, all stainless steel fittings, pommel, and guard on this "Yarden."

Knife anatomy, parts, names, components of a hidden tang knife with handle material, guard and pommel, blade and construction
Knife Anatomy 11

Here's the same knife pattern as shown in Knife Anatomy 10 above, with the guard, handle material, and pommel shown transparent. The guard is usually milled through and can be soldered onto the blade at the tang shoulder, creating a tight, sealed fit between the guard and the blade. The handle material has a drilled and milled hole down the center, where the tang sits. The handle may be multiple pieces of materials, including spacers (see "stacked tang" definition below). The strength of the handle is complete when the pommel, which is drilled and tapped, is threaded onto the tang end, tightening the entire handle. This entire handle, guard, and pommel assembly may be filled with epoxy or bedding compound to solidify and seal the handle.

The knife shown in this pattern is my "Aunkst" trailing point hunting knife.

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Hidden tang knife construction, dry fit of hidden tang knife components Right: hidden tang knife construction dry fit, with all stainless steel components for high strength and durability, with Sambar stag horn handle on this "Yarden"

Knife anatomy, parts, components, names; handle material, pommel, quillon, belly, choil, blade, trailing point, thumb rise, guard, hidden tang knife construction
Knife Anatomy 12

Here's the hidden tang knife, completed. You can see how the handle does not show any tang metal for a natural appearance, and the shape of the handle does not depend on the shape, angle, size, or position of the tang, so a full sculpting of the handle shape can occur. Note how the quillons and handle belly make this an attractive and comfortable handle.

This is one of my most popular knife patterns, the "Aunkst."

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"Yarden" obverse side view in CPMS30V powder metal technology high vanadium tool steel blade, 304 stainless steel guard and pommel, Sambar Stag handle, hand-stamped heavy leather sheath Right: Completed hidden tang construction of this "Yarden" (see previous two hidden tang boxes above). Heavy stainless steel construction, stag horn filled with high strength epoxide compound for solid, permanent attachment.

Just found your website – New item on my bucket list – to one day have you create a knife for me!
Beautiful knives, website and very informative; I just spent the last couple of hours (maybe it was more like 4 hours) reading some of the most straight forward and insightful knowledge on knives. My head is spinning !
Wow and wow – thanks for all of the hard work on creating your website and one day . . . a knife of yours will be mine!

--Danny Schmider

Knife Blade Shape Photographs and Descriptions
Knife anatomy, parts, names, descriptions; collector's grade tactical combat knife with sweeping blade and swage, aggressive point for piercing
Learn more about this "Bulldog"

There are thousands of blade shapes, but most fall into several simple categories. Most modern descriptions for the shape of a blade start with the description of the point. Points may be at a very acute angle or they may be wide, even obtuse (over 90 degrees). The design of the point may support a very thin grind, or a very thick one, increasing point strength. The point may have a very thin cross-sectional thickness for better piercing, or may be clipped off for a thicker geometry. Typically, my combat knives have a swage at the top of the spine to decrease this point thickness for piercing. Knives used for caping or delicate piercing and cutting chores are thinner overall, as they are not expected to encounter aggressive piercing movements.

Below are a group of knife blade shapes, classified by the point and blade shape. Though there are many other descriptions, names, and classifications, these are the general styles I use today. Most contemporary knife makers, users, and collectors will recognize the styles.

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Knife Anatomy: the trailing point "trails" higher than the generalized axis of the spine of the knife.
Trailing Point

The trailing point is named for the point which trails higher than the generalized axis of the spine of the knife blade. It is the sharpest point for fine, delicate, and small work (such as skinning and caping game). The trailing point is the hardest to sheath, as the point has to be carefully guided and rolled into the sheath so the point does not poke and cut through the welts, stitches, or side wall of the sheath. The thin and high point is also the weakest structural area of the blade. The blade tip and sweeping belly are very useful in skinning game, as the blade is drawn toward the knife user in a sweeping motion, cleanly separating skin and fascia. This blade design is mostly seen on hunting or game field dressing knives.

This is my "Aunkst" full tang pattern. Note the tall thumb rise for control and rear hawk's bill quillon with large lanyard hole through tang and bolster. This elegant skinner was designed by a professional hunting outfitter. The chrysocolla gemstone is stunning in color, pattern, and texture.

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Knife Anatomy, parts, names: slight trailing point, point trails higher than the generalized axis of the blade spine.
Slight Trailing Point

This knife is a tactical model with a very slight trailing point. If sufficient thickness is left at the point, the slight trailing point can be devastatingly effective in combat use for piercing. Note the absence of a top spine swage, as the point is thin enough without the cross sectional-reducing properties of the swage. Even so, careful and skilled blade hollow grinding practice must be applied in order to leave enough metal at the point to preserve strength. The temper of the blade is also effective in controlling any possibility of a brittle blade, and the point and blade should be tempered back a bit if the point is thin, increasing overall toughness.

The curvature of the blade profile allows slashing defense, and the thumb rise on this particular pattern gives a great deal of control and considerable area for bearing down while cutting. This knife is easier to sheath than the radical curved full trailing point above, but care must still be taken to avoid piercing or damaging the sheath body or welts.

The knife shown is my "Zorya" pattern, in mirror finished stainless steel blade and fittings with an orbicular jasper gemstone handle. Note the filework which can reduce slippery blade spines and the notable quillons that lock the fingers into the handle. The blade has a sculpted choil for a defining termination of the cutting edge. See a fine "Zorya" here.

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Knife anatomy, parts, descriptions: tanto blade shape, hollow ground, secondary edges, straight profile, swage
Tanto Point

This blade shape is very popular with combat and rescue personnel, as the angle of the tip is less acute, and therefore has more cross-sectional area and more metal to support the point. This is one of the strongest points and can even reach a 90 degree profile. The knife has two separate grinds and edges, one of them along the tip, and one along the major length of the blade. Where the two grinds meet is a thin secondary point, and pressure can be brought down on this point by applying force with the heel of the hand at the spine, useful for flat cutting chores. The two edges in this particular knife are also straight, which can make the knife easier to sharpen.

This particular tanto has a half-length top swage, to create a more easy penetration without sacrificing too much strength of the tip. The serrations toward the hilt are individually hollow ground and can saw through hardwoods with ease. The thumb rise has good placement well forward of the front quillon, and the front quillon is reinforced with complete bolster coverage.

This is a version of the PJLT, my most popular combat tactical rescue knife, and is often made for United States Air Force Pararescue personnel, as well as rangers, SERE professionals, and tactical emergency response units.

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Knife Anatomy, parts, names: Clipped point, hollow ground, blade serrations
The Clipped Point

Here's a Clipped point (or Slant point) on a mariner's and sailor's knife. The point angle is increased, making the point stronger than a straight point or trailing point. The clip point can have a very thin and aggressive point with thin cross sectional area, yet be easy to sheath because it drops lower than the main blade spine axis. This particular blade is deeply hollow ground.

Note the small, regular serrations near the ricasso of the knife blade, the well-formed handle shape, and the marlinspike/shackle breaker. This is a sailor's knife, the "Mariner."

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Knife anatomy, parts, descriptions; swage, top taper ground, clipped, bowie style blade shape, slight recurve
The Swaged Clipped Point

Here's a good example of a clipped point with a swage. The point has been "clipped" off (common in Bowie style blades) at a fairly straight profile to increase the acuity of the point and is ground with a swage for a false or real edge. Though the edge may be left unsharpened, if the grinding and finishing on this type of knife is well-executed, it can result in a sharp, taper ground edge. The clip and swage creates a very aggressive point, and the knife is easier overall to sheath as the point is lower than the main spine of the knife.

This particular blade has a bit of recurve, and a deeply ground belly. Note the radically curvaceous handle, with a full forefinger groove supported on both sides by bolstered quillons. The rear quillon for the forefinger is also called a sub-hilt. This is my "Ladron," an artistic grade collector's knife in a modern Bowie style with blued blade, engraved steel fittings, and gemstone handle.

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The Spear Point

A spear point description was historically used to refer to a double edge, but nowadays it refers more to the almost uniform profile of the point, whether it has two edges or not. If you were to bisect the profile of the point, you would see a nearly symmetrical profile on both sides of the blade axis center line, like a spear of old. In this knife, the top of the spear is differentially hollow ground with a small contact wheel, creating a true double edge for half the length of the blade. A very effective and devastating grind for a combat or tactical knife blade.

This blade, like most double edged blades, should be left thick enough down the spine to support the thinness that will result when the blade is hollow ground from both sides. The knife blade should also be tempered properly to increase toughness.

The knives shown are my Prairie Falcon design.

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Knife anatomy, parts, namesl; hollow ground swage on tactical combat knife, Bulldog with finger ring
Hollow Ground Swage, Spear Point, Double Edge (Spear-Swage)

This knife's blade shape is not so easy to classify. It is definitely a spear point blade shape, but the swage is actually hollow ground and is honed to a cutting edge. So you might want to call this a dagger, even though it's not symmetrical. Another problem with that classification is that the swage/hollow grind extends only along half the length of the spine. This is considered a double-edged knife, thought the edges are not completely along the blade. Classifying knives by blade shape alone is not always a clear task.

The knife illustrated here is my "Bulldog" a tactical combat knife. It has a very strong, stout thrusting point for maximum penetration. Note the very wide and thick spine, and the strong choil and forefinger quillon. The rear finger ring is for the forefinger, as this knife is pulled out of the sheath and held in the tactical (reverse or defensive) grip.

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Knife anatomy, parts, names, descriptions; drop point blade style, utility knife, wood handle
The Drop Point

Here is a traditional drop point (or dropped point). The point is strong, convenient, and sheaths easily which is probably its best attribute. One of the most popular point styles, this makes a great utility knife. Note the lack of bolsters on this particular knife, and handle scales of stabilized wood, which makes this a very light weight knife to carry. The lanyard hole is lined with stainless steel or nickel silver, which strengthens it and prevents wear on the wood scales.

A great number of sheath knives are drop points, it's a very popular style, and the angle of the drop can vary greatly. From a slight drop to radical downward curves, the styles of blade shape are numerous in this point shape. Many modern hunting, field dressing, and skinning knives are drop points, and many utility knives benefit from this type of point. Since the point is the weakest part of any knife, the drop point blade shape is well-applied, as it does not have a thin, narrow point that can be snapped off if lateral forces are applied.

Mirach is a fine example of a small, utilitarian drop point blade style. I have hundreds of drop point styles on the patterns page.

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Knife anatomy, parts, names; trailing point with gut hook knife blade shape
Gut Hook on Trailing Point

The frontal gut hook is more of a feature than a description of a specific blade shape, and the gut hook may occupy several predominant positions on the blade. Its purpose is to split the skin of a game animal in gutting operations of field dressing by hooking over the skin and fascia, and being pulled along to sever it. This particular gut hook is unusual, because it's on a trailing point knife. The slight trailing point is not high enough to interfere with the gut hook's operation.

The knife is my "Cabresto" design, with a sweeping, deep-bellied blade for fleshing and a contoured and radiused finger grooved handle for control. The full tang knife has an extended tang with a lanyard hole for security. This is a very early knife of mine, made back in the 1980s.

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Drop Point Tanto

The tanto blade can have several variations, including in combination with a drop point. The drop point makes the knife easy to sheath, and the angle makes the point physically smaller, but oftentimes stronger if it is properly ground. For utility tantos, this is a great style, but it is beautiful enough for fine collector's pieces.

You might be wondering about the two edges by now. Sometimes, depending on the maker, his style and technique, these separate edges can be blended in the mirror finished form, with such close geometries that a clear grind line is not easily discerned between the two grinds at the cutting edge, but becomes more visible near the spine.

I believe that the tanto should never be ground without distinctive separate grinds, always perpendicular to the cutting edge. So a rounded tanto point should still have separate grinds, and if it doesn't, it's not technically a tanto.

The knife shown is my "Alegre," and this one has a bit of an extended length blade.

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Tanto with Swage

Like many knives, a tanto blade can sometimes benefit from the addition of a top spine swage. The swage reduces the cross sectional profile of the spine at the tip, by virtue of beveling both sides at a medium angle. I angle most of mine at about 45 degrees from the flat, which produces a 45 degree beveled edge at the spine top and tip. Though you might think that this is not very sharp, when smoothly ground and polished, it can produce a serious point and tip. This aids in piercing, thus the common use of swages on military, combat, and tactical knife blades.

This model is the Mercury Magnum, a derivative of a SWAT team design for professional tactical use. In the photo, you can just see the grind union of the two hollow grinds where they join the flat, but are blended near the cutting edge for smoothness. This is called the dividing line or yokote (definitions below)

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Trailing Point with Swage

In special circumstances, even a trailing point can have a swage. The reason this is rare is because the trailing point geometry is typically fairly thin, and the angle is usually sharp enough for piercing if necessary, but the trailing point is not usually considered strong enough at the tip for combat tactical use. Add the double beveling of the swage, and you have reduced the material at the tip considerably. This can only be justified on special purpose knives, like the one shown, that are ground from very thick stock, and are left thick at the spine. In a thick, heavy blade like this SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) tactical rescue and survival knife, the geometry is carefully controlled, and plenty of meat is left at the tip to support the bevels of the swage.

This is an unusual, unique knife that is tactical and defensive as well as survival-based. The belly is sweeping, deep, and clean, a bit of recurve exists near the choil, and the blade has a chisel cutter with flat spine impact area, and a line cutter at the ricasso. The finger grooves are deep for security, and the rear bolster is substantial and strong. This is my Flamesteed pattern.

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Upswept Drop Point (Nessmuk)

The upswept drop point looks just like the description sounds. the blade is generally upswept like a trailing point knife, which leads to a good belly shape in the blade which is great for skinning and field dressing chores. Instead of a fine point at the trailing tip, the point is dropped down, rounded over, or canted toward the axis of the blade. This creates a much stronger point than the trailing point, which is much easier to sheath.

There seems to be quite a bit of confusion about the origins, name, and description of this blade style, which is frequently called "Nessmuk." Nessmuk was the pen name of George Washington Sears, a sports writer for Forest and Stream magazine in the 1880s. He took the pen name from a Native American friend he knew as a young child. He wrote "Woodcraft and Camping" after canoeing and camping extensively in the Adirondacks in 1884. Mr. Sears had a lot of experience with knives, not only with camping, but three years on a whaling vessel. Mr. Sears preferred very thin knives, because these are useable knives. He carried an axe for chopping, and a small folding knife for lighter chores.

It's clear that Mr. Sears did not design or develop this style of blade. Knives found in the hands of the Plains Indians were made by Lamson and Goodnow (the oldest cutlery company in the United States) as butcher knives are remarkably similar to the Nessmuk style. If the blade was repeatedly sharpened, then broken at the tip and rounded a bit, it appears as Sears' Nessmuk. History aside, the knife shape was popularized by Sears, and the name is neat, so it stuck.

A great example of a Nessmuk style blade is my Pherkad in jade.

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Dagger blade styles are very, very old. One might say that the propensity for double edges originated in the stone age, and they would be correct. Today, daggers are simply double edged knives that are symmetrical. Historically, daggers were used only as weapons and not as tools, but I've made some daggers that double for tool use as well as combat and rescue.

Daggers are difficult and challenging to make, as four grinds must be uniform and equal. Fine daggers are therefore a serious investment, and often worthy of the best handle materials. Daggers may be full tang (like the "Classic" shown) or hidden tang. The blade should have substantial thickness in the spine, as grinding away much of the mass of the blade can lead to a very thin piece of steel indeed! Planning and execution of a fine dagger should be a carefully thought out affair. Grind terminations should be well radiused to prevent stresses from concentrating at the blade to handle junction, and axis lines should be well matched. See some fine examples on my Daggers page.

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Knife Anatomy, parts, names; Sheepfoot, Wharncliffe, or Beak shaped knife blade
Sheepfoot (Wharncliffe, Beak)

This style of blade point has had several different names throughout history, but they all mean the same general thing: the cutting edge is fairly straight, and the spine and point are rounded convexly downward to meet the point. This is a very strong point for bearing down and applying pressure from the spine of the knife for cutting tough textiles, carving wood, or any chore where a lot of pressure will be applied. Having a straight edge can also aid in sharpening, as flat stones may be easier to position and hold to the correct, uniform angle with this shape. It is generally accepted that the dropping geometry of the point is more abrupt in the Sheepsfoot style  than the Wharncliffe, but both are very similar, and these distinctions of name are entirely subjective. A maker or manufacturer may call his knife blade style by any name. It's interesting to note that in the photo at the left, the geometry is typically between the Sheepfoot and Wharncliffe styles.

Here is another historical curiosity about the name of this point. In current times, it is common to call this type of point a "Wharncliffe," a name originating from a claim that the Earl of Wharncliffe actually developed this point. . This is incorrect, as this point shape has been used since Roman times. I wonder what the ancient Romans called the point. "Wharncliffe" seems to be more linguistically appealing than "Sheepfoot" or "Beak" which are technically more descriptive and historically appropriate... such is the romance of knife making.

The pattern is my "Falcon" design.

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Knife anatomy, parts, names: Bowie style blade
Bowie Blade

Not specifically classified by the tip shape, the Bowie knife is an American standard, historically recognized, though not always clearly defined. Technically, most Bowie blade shapes are clip points, most with a concave clip that may or may not be swaged, sharpened, or ground. In reality, any large, heavy weapon-type knife that resembles period knives from the 19th century are called Bowie knives. There are volumes written on the subject of Bowie knives, and many conflicts in the description alone. I inserted this blade style in my shape classification simply because it deserves the historical respect.

In the top picture, the Bowie has a concave clip point with a swage.

The bottom picture is a Bowie with a straight clip point with a hollow grind.

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The Views, Sides, Names, and Locations of a Knife

One would think that detailing the position and view of a knife would be a simple thing, but a number of terms have developed in the English language for areas, locations, and views of a knife. Most of these have their roots in history and convention, and a few of them are contemporary. A knife is not a vague object; in our history and humanity, the knife is the oldest tool and deserves special consideration in high detail.

Below is a photo set of one of my knives detailing and describing those names and descriptions. I've included a few terms relative to the knife sheath also. The knife I chose for these descriptions is my "Alegre" pattern, a tough, working tanto style blade, mirror polished high chromium stainless tool steel, sculpted stainless steel bolsters, and Polvadera Jasper gemstone handle.

Knowing the location of a feature of a knife is important. Not only does it aid in describing, illustrating, or detailing the knife and its features, it builds a foundation for conversations about the knife. In the custom knife world, conversation is everything, and understanding the location and area will help in those conversations, enabling the description and creation of a fine knife.

If you might wonder why knowing these terms is important, at the bottom of this section is a testimonial describing the very knife I've detailed. Mr. Kramer, an artist and dedicated knife user, has designed this popular knife in conversation with me, and this would not be possible without knowing the terms and locations on the knife.

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Knife Anatomy, sides, names, locations, views: obverse side, front side, die side, display side, decorative side, left side
The Obverse Side

This is a view of the Obverse Side. There have been many names developed for this side of the knife, and in my upcoming book, I detail where those terms came from. It is an interesting history, with ties to other metalworking trades and industry.

This is the most commonly viewed (or observed) side of the knife nowadays, because it is the side that bears the maker's mark. So, it's also called the Mark Side. When the knife is held in the hand, with the blade pointed away and the edge down (always a good safety practice) this becomes the Left Side. Since it is mostly photographed, it's also the Display Side, and often the Decorative Side. It's also called the Front Side and Die Side. These terms may not be all this side is called, but they are the most common in our industry. This favored positioning is derived, I believe, from the majority of people being right handed, and I go into much more detail in my upcoming book.

At the very minimum, this should be the dominant and available photograph of the knife. This is because history and convention dictate that the maker's mark be visible in the primary photograph, and an unmarked knife is a valueless knife. More about knife maker's marks.

Here's another version of my Alegre knife pattern.

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Knife Anatomy, sides, locations, views: reverse side, pile side, right side, back side, undecorated side
The Reverse Side

This is a view of the Reverse Side. Just like the Obverse side, there have been many names developed for this side of the knife. This is not the most commonly viewed side of the knife nowadays, because it usually bears no marks or identifiers. It's also called the Pile side. I won't tell you here why that is, it is a neat curiosity that I detail in my book. When the knife is held in the hand, with the blade pointed away and the edge down (always a good safety practice) this becomes the Right side. Since it is the least photographed, it's also called the Back side, and also the Undecorated side.

This is the orientation that I photograph my patterns. The reason is since we read from left to right, I align the pattern handle butt with the scale, and measurement of the handle and blade is simple and up the ruler.

Just because this side of the knife is called undecorated and reverse, this is no reason to give it any less importance than the obverse side. Because the reverse side is usually bare on the blade, it becomes a significant area for etching, engraving, or personalization of the knife blade. If a knife is commemorative or marked on this side with name, campaign, or other personal significant text or graphics, it can be more important to the owner than the obverse side!

I always include the sheath in the photograph of this side if possible, as the back of the sheath is as important to the front in finish, style, decoration and embellishment. More important than that is construction, as the belt loop size, placement, and mounting method should be displayed.

Here's another nice "Alegre"

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Knife anatomy, sides, views: spine view, tapered tang, filework, edgework, dovetailed bolsters and handle scales
The Spine Profile

This is a view of the knife spine, so named since the strength of the blade is derived from it. It's actually the spine profile since looking down on the spine allows you to see its profile, thickness, grind geometry, tang shape and size, length, and finish. This side is also sometimes called the back, but this is an antiquated term that is best avoided, so as not to confuse it with the back side of the knife blade (the reverse side).

In modern knives, this is a very important view to illustrate, as it shows the relative thickness, cross-sectional geometry of the knife blade and point, the bolster or guard profile, the handle thickness, and the tang geometry. This photo is of a full tang knife (a solid piece of steel from tip to tip) and the tang is tapered for weight balance and high quality construction. Note the dovetailed bolsters, for a rigid and bedded fit between bolsters and handle material. This view is also important to identify the edgework and filework, which has developed into one of the key indicators of fine quality knives made in modern times. More details on filework on my Embellishment page.

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The Sheathed View

It's important in modern knives that have accessories (sheaths, stands, and cases) to include a view of those components too, and how they relate to the knife. For a sheathed knife, this view details the relationship in size between the knife and sheath, the position and extension of the protruding handle, and the handle components that will help a knife user extract (or pull) the knife from the sheath. Here you can clearly see that the rear quillon (or hawk's bill) aids in extraction. You can get an idea of how many fingers can be wrapped around the handle for the pull. This knife also has a lanyard hole through the bolster and tang, so by adding a short, stout lanyard, even greater ease of extraction and security can be gained.

The sheath is more important than just someplace to carry the knife. If the knife is carried, it will be the sheath that takes the brunt of wear and exposure, and it is the sheath that will have the highest visibility and dominance, not the knife. Since the sheath is part of the knife and part of this tradecraft, I believe it is essential to create custom sheaths that are commensurate with the value, theme, embellishment, and quality of the knife. I go into greater detail about knife sheaths on my Sheaths page.

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Knife anatomy, parts, names; the chef's knife is an old form, simple, thin and effective
More about Chef's knives
The Custom Knife Conversation

You might wonder why it's important to have a comfortable knowledge of knife parts, components, sides, views, features, and how they are named. The best reason is that if you ever want to own a fine custom knife, and have significant input on its design, materials, embellishment, and accessories, you'll have to know enough to be able to converse with the maker of the knife.

Below is the result of just such a conversation. Mr. Kramer is an artist and craftsman in Taos, New Mexico, and wished to have his own, custom made, unique and original knife to carry and use. The conversation started and points and features were detailed, and the knife construction began. Mr. Kramer offered various suggestions, preferences, and wishes, and I did my part trying to create his vision within the scope of the project. The Alegre is the result. The name means bright, cheerful, colorful, and light.

The design lives on, long after the first knife is made, and I've made more and different Alegre pattern knives and will continue to do so, as it is a great pattern. One of the finest aspects of the knife maker-to-client relationship is the passion demonstrated and continued long after the knife is sold. Below is a vignette into that experience:

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Well, Jay, now I’ve got a problem. I ordered the knife as a daily user, to carry with me always – my third hand. Now that I have it, I see it should be displayed on a shelf as a work of art!

When I saw your picture of the knife, my mouth dropped open. Now that I actually have it in my hands, the reality of it takes me to an even higher level. I am overwhelmed. What extraordinary quality and workmanship. And the balance... I don’t hold on to it, it clings to my hand, resting there as if it always belonged. You really put yourself into it. I’m speechless… but AWESOME (in a very loud voice) comes to mind. You truly are an artist and a knife your canvas. But, I am going to follow through and carry your artwork with me every day. A knife needs a hand to make it whole. It’ll be a good friend.

Let me give you some first impressions of specific aspects.
I read on your web about “balance”. Now I truly understand. Alegre is a knife with a little heft for its size, yet it’s so balanced in my hand. I also love how the handle belly, the upper arch on the top of the handle, the hawk bill quillon on the rear bolster and the quillon on the front bolster conform to the hand. The concave forward extension of the front bolster turned out well. Aesthetically it adds to the gentle forward sweep/curve of the knife. It also works well as the thumb rest. I wondered if the filing through the thumb rest would aggravate the thumb, but you don’t even notice it. I will be enable to place a lot of thumb pressure to the job.

The mirrored finish, what can I say -- thanks. It takes the knife up to a whole another level. I cannot imagine it without it now.

I’ll say it again; your signature in the blade is perfect. An artist signing his work.

The dovetailed gemstones and bolsters shout quality. The fit you are able to get throughout the knife is unbelievable.

The filing is awesome. (There is that word again.) I didn’t realty expect to get something that special. I love how it goes the total length of the spine to the grind termination. The thin triangular slice in the tip of the spine seems an extension of the filing; like the tip of an arrow. It is wonderful how the filing narrows down as it goes toward and through the rear bolster and yet you keep the pattern going. Then it slowly dissipates, as if through years of wear, at the front quillon.

Thanks for the filing in the choil. I didn’t expect that but I really wanted it. I think it adds so much to the style of the knife.

The sheath is amazing all in itself. The basket weave is perfect. It oozes quality but does not shout.

And then you threw in the extras. The museum display tag is a great idea. The CD of all your knives is appreciated. Thanks.

New Mexico…
You know when I found out I’d priced myself out of the original vision of the knife, I was a little depressed. But your insights were helpful and right on. I could not afford that much right now and I would have never used as a daily knife.
BUT... you still created a knife that reflects our wonderful state. Here is what I will see every time I look at it:

  • The gentle arching top/spine is a broad, expansive NM horizon. The forward sweeping concave front bolster, grind radius and tanto point further accent that.
  • The hawk bill rear quillon with its “eye” brings to mind NM wildlife.
  • The Polvadera jasper you chose is perfect, maybe even more than you realize. I love all the veins and various earth tones. The warm color of the nickel bolsters blend marvelously with the gems. There is a nice depth to the stones. You look into them. That adds a richness and mystery. They remind me of the geology in NM.
  • The left side gemstone, the one in your picture, has the red of a NM setting sun. When you turn it over there is the white of the NM snow topped mountain peaks. And then being an actual NM gemstone makes it really special. Here’s a toast to the Polvadera mountains.
  • And then, of course, the filling is the lightning (what a great name you chose) from our summer thunderstorms.

ALEGRE ! ! !

--Carveth Kramer
Taos, New Mexico

Viewing Positions of the Knife

Special thanks to J. S., forensic physician, and to all my forensic pathologists and researchers that are interested in knives!

Because knives are objects with many features, it's critical to present them, whether for purposes of record, illustration, description, or advertising, in various viewing positions. As described in the previous section, the predominant view in the United States culture is of the obverse side. This is largely because of the typical right-handed person's perception of the knife, and because in America, this is the location of the maker's mark. Because knives have many worked, figured, embellished, and interesting features, it's essential to photograph or view the knives from various perspectives to achieve a better understanding of the entire piece.

The cost of photographing a knife professionally is traditionally high. I'll go into this more in my book, but often knifemakers do not photograph their own work, leading them to seek out professional or at least skilled photographers to accomplish this for them. These photographers are usually commissioned for a singular work, that is a key shot that the maker can use to illustrate and often sell his work. Since it's only one photo, it is severely limited in what is illustrated. Photographers understand this and typically use a computer resident photo manipulation program (Photoshop, Photopaint, Adobe, or others) to join at least two different perspective photos of the knife into one photo. Typically, this is the obverse side and the spine, but may also be the obverse side and the pommel, or the guard, or a close up of the engraving, or whatever feature the knifemaker and/or photographer agree looks best for the piece. This practice has become the standard descriptive method for knives being recorded, at least by professional photographers.

It's important to understand the limitations of this method. Perspective is one, and simple lack of details is another. Another limitation, most critical, is that there are areas of the knife (and often sheath) that are not illustrated at all, therefore, the person viewing the knife simply does not know what the reverse side may look like, or the full handle periphery, or the engraving except in a general way, because the photo is not an enlargement. For advertising purposes, the knife photo involves a great deal of trust in the appearance of the rest of the knife, the parts one can't see from the provided photo.

Limiting the photography makes sense from an economical point of view, but the internet has changed all that. It is essentially inexpensive to offer, record, and maintain an archive on the active web of numerous perspectives and positions of the knife, and that is exactly what I try to do when I photograph my own work. This offers an unquestionable illustration of the knife for the person who is interested, or who may purchase the knife, and this includes sizable and detailed enlargements and magnifications of various parts and areas of the piece. Who wouldn't want to see a four or five power enlargement of the engraving?

The positions of knife views then become (in the knifemaker's world) important to the record, and there must be some simple and plain way to describe them, so that the person viewing the knife photos will know at what, exactly, he is looking. This is not a complicated method, though it could become quite confusing and overburdened with terminology, reference, components, elements, and details. All of this extra and elaborate language serves only to confuse what is, simply, a view position of a knife. For a ridiculous example of this overly descriptive and embellished text, see the term distal below.

The obvious and clear method to describe the viewing position of the knife is to name it for the predominant feature that the person seeing the photo will notice. For the obverse side view, the text labeling the photo should clearly state that it is the obverse side view. Same for the reverse side view. These are clear enough.

In viewing positions other than those, there are two possible choices. One is to describe the location seen as the viewing description, such as spine view, or inside handle tang view. This descriptor clearly associates the person viewing the photo with the predominant component. Other positional view descriptors would be pommel view, or sheathed view. These are simple descriptors that will familiarize the person investigating, describing, and presenting the knife with the components.

The second method of describing the view position is one of features. The person presenting the photo may use this to method to describe the predominant artistic or structural components of the knife (or sheath, or accessories) that he wishes the viewer to note. Often this is an enlargement of the actual area of the knife, so I typically accompany the descriptive text with the word detail. In practice, then, I'll refer the reader and observer to the filework detail or obverse side rear bolster engraving detail, or inside handle tang detail, or reverse side gemstone handle detail. Simply put, if the word detail is used in the descriptor, it means that the photo does not encompass the entire knife at full perspective, but a portion of the knife the presenter wants to illustrate.

These terms simply describe the locations, features, and details of the knife. The human mind then can fill in the rest, knowing what they are looking at from the description of the knife locations. See some examples below.

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Viewing Position Description and Illustrations of this "Thuban"
"Thuban" obverse side view in hot-blued 1095/nickel damascus blade, hand-engraved 304 stainless steel bolsters, Shattuckite gemstone handle, hand-carved, hand-dyed leather sheath
Obverse Side View
"Thuban" reverse side view. Note carving and hand-dying on sheath back and on belt loop, stitched with nylon
Reverse Side View
"Thuban" spine filework, edgework detail of graduated filework in nickel-carbon steel damascus blade, fully tapered tang.
Spine View
"Thuban" inside handle tang detail. Bright lighting shows highlights of polished and blued steel. Bolsters are dovetailed to lock and protect handle scales to the tang
Inside Handle Tang View
"Thuban" obverse side handle detail. high contrast throughout from gemstone to engraving to blade
Obverse Side Handle Detail
"Thuban" reverse side handle detail. This is a three power enlargement!
Reverse Side Handle Detail
"Thuban" Six power enlargement of obverse side front bolster engraving. Yo can see the reflection of the camera in this photo!
Obverse Side Front Bolster Detail
"Thuban" six power enlargement of obverse side rear bolster engraving. The interlocking grass blade pattern is backgrounded for high contrast.
Obverse Side Rear Bolster Detail
"Thuban" obverse side blade detail. This is a five power enlargement of th blade detail. The black is blued 1095 carbon steel, the bright lines are 200 series nickel
Obverse Side Blade Detail
"Thuban" blade point detail. The drop point is thin and super sharp at the tip, with good belly and blade strength. The sheath is thick and strong.
Point Detail
"Thuban" sheathed front view. This is a 2 power enlargement. Knife is well-protected in deep and thick sheath
Sheathed View
"Thuban" sheath front carving detail. This is a 3 power enlargement. Sheath carvig has natural finish in cuts for contrast between hand-dyed pattern and background.
Sheath Front Carving Detail

Another Nice Thuban:
"Thuban" obverse side view in CPM154CM powder metal technology high molybdenum stainless steel blade, hand-engraved 304 stainless steel bolsters, Brecciated Jasper gemstone handle, hand-carved leather sheath inlaid with rayskin
More about this Thuban

Knife Glossary, Anatomy Definitions, and Terms
Welcome to the best, most detailed, and largest knife definition terms list available in the world!
Current count: 331 terms!

Definitions and terms of knife parts and components have varied through time, and you may repeatedly see the same commonly copied lists of knife definitions that have been cut and pasted on many internet sites. My list is not one that will be easily adapted for everyone's use (and this site is copyright protected!), but I'll do my best to define some standard knife terms from the viewpoint of a current professional knife maker, and stay away from vague generalities you'll see all over the rest of the Internet. Some of the terms listed previously on this page may not be included here, as they are already defined in the above text.

Describing the knife is an overlooked facet of this trade and industry, yet it is probably one of the earliest conversations known to man. Definitive terms relating to hand knives (excluding specialized, industrial, agricultural, or manufacturing knives) have varied origins and history. Simple terms like blade come from European languages meaning leaf. Other terms like choil, have an unknown origin, yet apply widely to knives in many cultures.

Terms of identification and description change and evolve over time, depending on the language and the culture. If it's significant, I've tried to add a little history explaining that. New terms pop up too, and will continue to do so. I've also included some misnomers in the list, which are misleading and incorrect names for some of the knife components because it needs to be clear that these terms are not new terms, they are significant errors. You might be surprised at who is using these incorrect names, and this does our tradecraft no good.

It's important to note that my source for language originates in English, specifically the English language spoken in the United States of America. This is different, in many ways, than English spoken in the United Kingdom. Here, you are on a USA website, so I do not recite the UK-produced Oxford dictionary, but instead the Webster dictionary which originates in our language and is distinctly separate from British English. These definitions are in American English, not British English, so please don't write me and tell me my dictionary, definition, or terminology is wrong because it's not what they speak in the UK. Don't list or send me sources of the Oxford dictionary; my heart is with Noah Webster, an American revolutionary who labored tirelessly to better educate and improve the specific English language of America. So, in my own life, I embrace the liberty to use the American dictionary, Webster's dictionary, as my resource and reference. I prefer the color gray to grey, and in my shop, I prefer an American clamp to a British cramp. We also say that something could be ground down instead of grinded down.

"England and America are two countries separated by the same language."

--George Bernard Shaw

"Language as well as the faculty of speech, was the immediate gift of God."

--Noah Webster

You might wonder why go into such detail about words, after all, the knife conversation is fairly simple. Please indulge me while I illustrate: Three top search terms people use to find my website are design, pattern, and template, all preceded by the word knife. Nearly all of these people want the same thing, but these are not. A design is the concept that is formed in the mind, in our case about the entire process, project, materials, execution, and completion including record. The pattern is a guide to the idea with all its parts (there are many parts to the simplest of knives, including fittings, sheath, stand, and accessories). The template is the flat panel itself that is used to scribe out the profile of the knife on the billet. So, the design creates the pattern which is made solid in the template. The design is the idea, the pattern is usually drawn in two dimensions, and the template is the piece of plastic, metal, or wood actually used to lay out the knife profile. And you thought it was all so simple!

In the definition list, I've also started including some business terms that illustrate some of the practices, directions, and pitfalls of this tradecraft. Though I won't mention companies and interests by name, if you're reading this, you're intelligent enough to understand who and what I'm talking about.

Malapropisms: this is an important word, and it's not part of any knife! It is defined as incorrect usage of a word by substituting a similar-sounding word with different meaning. The reason I've included this is because it happens a lot. Knife makers, knife manufacturers, and knife enthusiasts will often make this error, and when it occurs, I'll do my best to point it out so that you will not be confused. I'm not trying to police other people's language, but in order to be crystal clear in my service to my tradecraft, industry, and art, I believe it is critical that the language of knife making be as direct, correct, and error free as possible to avoid confusion. Take a look at the definitions of the word pintle and pontil below to understand why.

Neologisms: these are new words, often combinations of existing words to describe a unique term. The word filework is a perfect example. File and work are two separate words but when they are combined and applied to the field of knifemaking, they become a new word that describes a very specific and unique feature of knives. By the way, the words knifemaker and knifemaking are also modern neologisms.

Colloquialisms: these are words or phrases that are not used in formal, written texts, and are conversational only. Why do I include these? Because this site is written as a definitive, specific, current, and accurate text in the handmade knife professional field, that's why. I don't want to encourage sloppy, local, descriptive, and lazy text or speaking when I teach knifemaking to others; this does our tradecraft no good. While I may use these myself from time to time, I'm always trying to police my language, and if you are reading this, chances you are too, which is a good thing!

Abbreviations and Acronyms and Initialisms: these are different, but I won't go into specifics here. They are composed of the leading or dominant letters of words or phrases to shorten their length, and the ones included have a relationship to our tradecraft and profession. Strings of letters like HRC (Hardness, Rockwell, C-scale) are actually initialisms, not abbreviations, since they are the initials of the words that make up the term.

Don't worry about using the wrong word or phrase if you contact me about a knife project. I'm expected to know these terms, not you; I fly the plane, you just tell me your origin and destination.

Please remember: all of the text and definitions you see are written by me, one keystroke at a time, using my own experience in this field. I'll amend this page and list continually, as nothing on the internet should remain static.

Page Topics

Warning: Copyright details at the bottom of every page
Definition List Alphabetic Links:
Page Topics
The Abrasive Engineering Society is the source for technical information on all types of abrasives, particularly grinding wheels and coated abrasives. Over its 60 years AES has been on the forefront of grinding technology building a vast library of literature on evolution of modern grinding technology and a knowledge base at core of modern day practices. It disseminates technological information, publications, and information about modern abrasives technology worldwide. Alphabet Links
The American Iron and Steel Institute. This society covers key public policy issues, manufacturing technologies, commercial research, market development, statistics, and communications for the iron and steel industries. AISI standards identify and develop steel information and specifics. They, along with SAE, are the source of steel designations. Alphabet Links
This is not the little girl in Wonderland! This is the acronym for All purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment, the Viet Nam era system for carrying and wearing small equipment on the body in the combat field. Though ALICE equipment is still around, it is being replaced by the more modern PALS webbing on MOLLE gear. Most of my tactical knife sheaths will fit the ALICE belt with the eyelets, by removing the aluminum belt loops and reattaching them over the belt. Alphabet Links
From allotropy, and the Greek words allos (other) and tropos (direction, way). So it's the other way. Allotropy is the phenomenon of materials with the same elements or compound to appear in different forms. A good example is carbon; it can be a piece of graphite (extremely soft) or a diamond (extremely hard): it's all still carbon. In the knifemaker's world allotropes are important variations of steel when heat treated. Allotropes are austenite, ferrite, martensite, and bainite, all existing (or not existing) because of proper (or improper) heat treating. Alphabet Links
alloy (steel)
A substance composed of two or more metals intimately mixed and united. Typically, in knife blades, these alloys are included to enhance mechanical properties, aid in fabrication characteristics, and add specific attributes to the steel. I use a dozen different alloys in my current work; all of them are hypereutectic and high alloy tool steels and stainless steels. Alphabet Links
Aerospace Material Specification. This is the SAE International, AISI standard designation and specification system used to identify specific compositions of steels, particularly used in aircraft, and aerospace industries. Many of these materials are high alloy, high quality steels that the modern knifemaker can choose to use in advanced blades. Alphabet Links
anneal (annealing)
A treatment of steel to convert austenite and martensite to pearlite, softening the steel, relieving stresses, and making the steel ductile and malleable for easy machining and working. With proper work method, this is rarely, if ever needed in the modern knife shop, and I can count on one hand the times I've done this in 35 years of knifemaking. Annealing is done by heating steel to a predetermined temperature, and cooling slowly over many hours to allow equilibrium phase transformation to take place. The exact time, temperatures, and rate depend on the steel alloy type. Alphabet Links
anodize (anodic interference coloring, anodization)
To anodize is to literally "make the object an anode." This is where the word is derived, but just what is an anode? When some metals are put in a chemical bath, and electricity is applied, unusual things happen. This process is mostly used in electroplating, and in some chemical cleaning and etching, and our term refers to what typically happens to titanium and aluminum. With the combination of current and chemistry, the surface of the material is changed. With titanium, a clear surface of titanium dioxide is created, which yields an unusual light property called optical interference. This gives the appearance of color, which is permanent and can be tightly controlled by the maker. The correct technical term for this is anodic interference coloring. More about this on my Embellishment page at this bookmark. With aluminum, anodizing creates a near-ceramic hard surface that, during the processing) is acceptable to dyes before being permanently sealed. This hard, durable surface can be permanently colored, it's tough and highly corrosion resistant. More about anodizing aluminum on my Tactical Knife Sheath Accessories page at this bookmark. Alphabet Links
The American National Standards Institute. Formerly the American Standards Association (ASA), this professional organization is the root of the of the United States standards and conformity assessment system and is the source of American National Standards. ANSI is the forum for the development of classifications and standards. Alphabet Links
This is ASM International, formerly known as the American Society for Metals, but now in international operation. It is the largest association of metals-centric materials engineers and scientists in the world. ASM provides information resources, including the ASM Handbooks, a series of reference books that provide data on various types of metals. These handbooks are recognized as a standard reference in the field of materials science. Alphabet Links
American Society of Mechanical Engineers. ASME promotes the art, science, and practice of mechanical and multidisciplinary engineering and allied sciences around the globe. This is a codes and standards professional organization that advances technological information worldwide. Alphabet Links
From the Latin asper meaning rough, this is the rough surface or edge of metal, particularly defined when surfaces are polished (or not!). Asperity is improved (reduced) in cryogenically treated steels, and these same steels can be made sharper due to the fineness of the carbide structure created when these steels are cryogenically treated. Alphabet Links
American Society for Testing and Materials. Though this society went international, they still held on to their "American" title. They develop and maintain standards globally on thousands of materials, promoting safety, reliability, guides, specifications, and process. Alphabet Links
austenite (gamma-ferrite)
A crystalline phase of non-magnetic steel created at high temperature conversion, necessary to form martensite, cementite, pearlite, or bainite, depending on the treatment process. More about austenite at this bookmark. Alphabet Links
This term is reserved for daggers and swords that have congruent sides, that is, are symmetrical. It is the center line that extends from the tip at the point to the center of the pommel. Good daggers are particularly hard to make, as the axis can reveal any variation or irregularity in blade grind and handle geometry. Depending on the geometry, I may have a single axis that is straight, or one that follows the contour of the blade edges, leaving a leaf-shaped center flat. Alphabet Links
This term is best avoided altogether. It used to mean the spine of the knife, but as you can see in the previous sections, it can also refer to the reverse side of the knife, or the back of the sheath. You could be taking about your back, which is where a trapesius harness could be mounted. In the past, the term back could refer to the flat edge of the knife that is not the cutting edge, but because it is such a vague term, it's best not used, unless you're referring to the knife sheath, which almost always has a pronounced front side and back side. Alphabet Links
backwork (or worked back)
This is a term describing filing (working) the spine of the knife blade. Some texts by experts on older knives use this term, but it is a poor description: vague and non-specific. Filework is a more accurate term, because the work is accomplished with a metal hand file, and can extend from the spine, around the handle tang, the butt, and the inside of the handle tang to the choil. Filework can also be accomplished on spacers, liners, and accessory features like sheaths. If the spine of the knife is engraved, the words worked back are non-specific, and it should simply be called an engraved spine. Since the term worked back or backwork lacks clarity, it should not be used when describing modern handmade knives. Alphabet Links
back, sheath
Specifically, the part of the knife sheath that faces or is mounted against the body. The sheath back is extremely important, as it has the fixtures and/or mounting hardware to allow the sheath to be securely worn. This is, unfortunately, the least photographed part of the knife/sheath combination, yet it is critical to actual knife wear. Also, many makers neglect to embellish or work this area, and I think that is a shame. More on my Sheaths page. Alphabet Links
Bainite is a combination of cementite and ferrite, stronger than pearlite. It's formed from austenite below the temperature that will form pearlite, and above the temperature than which will form martensite. More on bainite at this bookmark. Alphabet Links
I've seen this term used to describe a knife that does not have a rear bolster. This is ridiculous, obviously a shop term or colloquialism that means not a thing. Heck, it isn't even a word. Bareheaded is a word and it means someone's noodle without a covering. Yes, noodle is an actual defined slang version of noddle, which is defined as a blockhead's head, which is who probably made up the non-word barehead. Why this is so ridiculous to me is because the placement of a rear bolster of any knife is at the butt of the handle. So when did the butt become called the head? Hmmm? What is the right term for a knife handle without a rear bolster? A knife handle without a rear bolster, that's what. Gees, is everyone a blockhead these days? Yeah, that's a defined word, too; look it up! Alphabet Links
bargain, bargaining
In this field, the word is mostly used the same as the words haggling, bartering, and dickering. It means reaching an agreement, typically by a series of offers, counter offers, and counter counter offers; you get it. This is not the way fine handmade knives are commissioned or sold. This type of process is defined in many dictionaries as applied toward petty items, and a fine handmade knife that sells for thousands of dollars is not a petty item. More about this as it applies to my own work at this link on my FAQ page. Alphabet Links
bartering, to barter
There are two definitions for this word. In this field, the word is mostly used the same as the words haggling, bargain, bargaining, and dickering. It means reaching an agreement, typically by a series of offers, counter offers, and counter counter offers; you get it. This is not the way fine handmade knives are commissioned or sold. This type of process is defined in many dictionaries as applied toward petty items, and a fine handmade knife that sells for thousands of dollars is not a petty item. More about this as it applies to my own work at this link on my FAQ page.
The other definition for bartering is the trading aspect of the negotiation. Occasionally, items or services in like value are traded when agreement is reached, such as trading exotic hardwood used to make knife handles for a fine handmade custom knife. This is very infrequent, mainly because of the structure of our system, and the determined nature of the tax system to eradicate all barter. They do this because it's very hard for the government to get their cut of such transactions. One day, I suppose all bartering will be deemed illegal because it's too hard to regulate, track, and tax. Alphabet Links
bedding, handle
In most well-made firearms, the action is bedded to the stock. This means a very durable, long lasting, modern bedding compound is formed to the stock and barrel. This eliminates torque, stresses, and binding of attachment fittings and hardware that may effect the accuracy of the action. In knives, bedding the handle material to the knife tang reduces stress and mechanical strains on the handle material, eliminates voids and intrusion of fluids or possible corrosives, assuring a longer lasting handle to tang junction and greater longevity of the handle, and thus the knife. Many handle materials benefit from bedding, rather than simple mechanical attachment, but you won't see this topic discussed much by other makers or by factories. I have my own processes for bedding handle materials. Learn more on my Handles, Bolsters, and Guards page. Alphabet Links
belly, blade
This is the deeply convex-curved part of the knife bladed (described in Knife Anatomy 4), often seen on skinning knives where a large sweeping arc is necessary to separate the skin, fat, and fascia from the internal organs and body without presenting a sharp point that could pierce through into the organs, possibly contaminating the meat or ruining a hide. A large sweeping belly on the knife blade may be seen on any type of knife, including survival and even combat knives. In a tactical combat knife, the arc is advantageous in the same way that the sweep of a cavalry sword changes the angle of attack, leading to a slashing cut rather than a chopping or cleaving cut. I talk more about this geometry in my upcoming book. In other definitions here on the Internet, I've seen it stated that the blade belly contains serrations, but I've never seen a knife made this way and it is a poor idea, unless you are creating a saw. Even then, it's a ridiculous notion, because the human hand and arm utilize a back and forth linear sawing motion while using serrations, so having the serrations in a convex curve is not ergonomically viable. Typical internet hyperbole and misinformation. I've also seen it stated that the more curved the belly of the blade, the less sharp the point can be.... what? The point and the belly are different parts of the blade, if you want a more curved belly, and also a sharp point, the knife becomes a trailing point, with absolutely the sharpest point of any knife! It really depends on how the knife blade is profiled and shaped. Alphabet Links
belly, handle
The belly of the handle (illustrated in Knife Anatomy 2) is the shape that swells outward and downward from the centerline of the handle, and creates a stronger profile that allows the forefinger and the smaller fingers to have a deeper placement on the handle, improving grip strength. This is due to the human hand physiology. When you make a comfortable fist, the musculature tends to push the middle fingers of the hand outward away from the palm, so this shape in the knife or tool handle is often more comfortable than a straight handle. But it is more expensive to machine and create on a knife, so you don't often see handle belly well-executed on factory or mass-produced knives. Alphabet Links
The slant of a surface or a line. This is another general term that is best avoided unless used with a specific noun. This term is often used by factories to describe their grind, such as flat bevel or hollow ground bevel, or taper bevel. It's also used by countless hobbyists posting on online forums, and they repeat it over and over until it sounds like the right word. They probably do this because the majority of them flat grind a knife, since a hollow grinder is expensive, and most of them are using cheap 1" x 42" hardware store belt sanders made for wood to make their knives. So, they can't hollow grind, and they grind a flat bevel on the blade (which is a poor, cheap way to grind any knife). The word bevel was also used by late 20th century knifemakers who would describe a hollow grind as a bevel, even though the two are geometrically unrelated, as one is concave, and one is linear and flat! The truth is, anything can be beveled on a knife, from the grind, to the tang, to the handle, to the sheath thickness. In modern times, there are much more descriptive and accurate terms. Quite simply, a bevel is defined as the slant of a surface or line. It is also defined as the tool used to mark, measure of indicate a bevel. So, a bevel can help create a bevel- You can see how confusing, vague, and non-specific this term is. Try not to use it, unless you're talking about that specific angle, such as "the bevel of a bolster dovetail," or the "bevel of an edge relief face." And please, don't call the grind of the knife a bevel! It's a grind: a hollow grind or a flat grind or a convex grind, not a slant of a line! Alphabet Links
Billet is a Middle English word of Celtic origins, and is derived from the Old Irish bile which means a tree trunk or sacred tree. So the old meaning of the word is for a small section of tree trunk. In metals, billets are small sections of unfinished iron or gold, in our case, the unfinished or semi-finished bar of steel. This is how steel arrives to the knife maker from a supplier. Though today we call them stock, rod, or bar, the actual term billet is really more precise and direct. Billets are sold in lengths of 6 feet to 30 feet, and the typical knife maker receives tool steels in lengths of six feet. Some of the more exotic steels are sold in smaller sections, for which there is no descriptive term, but bar. Alphabet Links
From Old High German blanche, meaning shining and white, and without marks. In the making/manufacturing context, this is defined as a piece of material being prepared to be made into something, and more specifically, a piece punched, cut, or derived from a strip of material. In offhand machining or stock removal knifemaking, the blade blank is what is derived from a bar or billet of steel. The bar would not be called a blank, since it cannot be determined as being prepared to be made into something; it's still a bar. A blade cut from the bar could definitely be identified as being prepared to be a knife blade, so technically, a cut-out or profiled blade is a blank. After holes are drilled and grinds are initiated, it no longer becomes a blank, since it's not blank (without marks) anymore and becomes an unfinished blade. Alphabet Links
blood groove
There is, simply, no such thing. This is an American wives' tale, originated by the ignorant to describe a fuller or cannelure. There is no groove meant to drain blood from a stab wound, or decrease suction when the knife is pulled from the wound, or any other of the ridiculous notions that we might have used as children to describe what we did not understand. A fuller is used to reduce weight without sacrificing strength in the blade (see fuller below). Don't use the term blood groove unless you're a serologist talking about a microscope slide or a criminologist discussing the road stain of a hit and run. Alphabet Links
bob, thumb bob
An interesting word indeed: short, abrupt, and having many meanings in many languages throughout history, but incorrectly used in this application. You probably didn't want to hear that; it's so easy to remember, but really, it is the wrong word. This use is probably derived from the the definition referring to a knob, ball, or weight at the end of the line, or a pendulum in jewelry arrangement. This is why this is not the best word to describe this appendage on a folding knife. More correctly called a thumb stud, this is a small bar, rod, tube or fitting that attaches to the spine of a folding knife, enabling the thumb to engage it and rotate the knife open with one hand. To be correctly called a "bob," it would more appropriately be located at the tip of the point of the blade, and that would just look ridiculous! I've incorrectly used this word myself, but will give my self a severe dressing-down and try to prevent its use in the future! Alphabet Links
A bolster in a knife is designed to do just that: it bolsters (strengthens) a critical area of a knife. In the modern full-tang knife, bolsters usually strengthen the blade-handle junction, the butt of the handle, and quillons and hawk's bills as well as mid-quillons and sub-hilts. All of these areas can endure great stress, abrasion, or impact, and well-designed bolsters can help by supporting the blade tang and handle material. Though there are several ways to attach bolsters, I usually pin mine with zero-clearance pins of the same material as the bolster, heavily peened and spread through the knife tang. They can not, and will not loosen, move, or fall off, ever. When you mount them like I do, they can only be removed by grinding them away! You can read more about bolsters, their purposes, materials, and mounting arrangements on my Handles, Bolsters, and Guards page. Alphabet Links
boot knife
This is an older, non-specific term for a knife worn in a boot. As the knife world has evolved, it has come to mean any small, concealable knife, often with a narrow and sometimes double-edged blade. Sometimes listed as a combat knife, this is probably not a good description, because no modern combatant is going to wear a knife in his boot, having to hike up his pant leg and struggle to withdraw it in a hurry. Also, how would this work on boots that are typically laced up? This is a generalized term describing a narrow, and sometimes concealable knife. Alphabet Links
boutique shop
I've heard this term used by knife collectors and users, and I think it's a great term. It describes a small knife shop or business, usually started by an individual maker who has decided to go into volume production using his name only, even though the knives are created by several to several dozen other men, and often consist of parts that are farmed out to foreign companies. The knife bearing the maker's name is actually a knife produced in a small factory, and is subject to the factory or manufacturer's mindset. The business goal of any factory is to offer a product that is made as cheaply as possible, while charging as much as possible, paying as little as possible for labor, but charging less than a competitor. So the knife becomes a less than quality item, as features, materials, and workmanship are whittled away in the name of cost-based analysis. In this trade, I call this bean counter process lowballing. This means cutting labor and expenses while hyping styles, vague aspects of materials, or using heavy advertising promotions to push a product that is simple and cheap. These knives are frequently made to the same general standards of imported factory knives, but the maker's name on the knife is heavily hyped so that a greater price is usually asked. You can probably name several right off the top of your head, and then swear they're the best knives ever. Congratulations, if you can do this, you are a victim of advertising hyperbole! Alphabet Links
broken (back)
It's what happens eventually to old knifemakers, fussing over endless pieces of steel, day and night, for decades. Okay, this is a casual term to describe a long clipped point. I've seen it commonly used in describing medieval works like seaxes. This is probably because rather than just "clipping" off the point of the knife blade (see the clipped point above), the clip extends deep into the spine, more towards the handle, sometimes up to a third or even half of the length of the blade. There is a technical reason that you might see this on old, medieval knives, and I'll explain it in my book, but nowadays the phrase is used to describe the sharp downward angle of the spine that is longer and more than a clip, or clipped point. Alphabet Links
A general description of the rear area of the handle of any knife, sword, or dagger. You might read here on the internet that it refers to Bowie knives only, or that it's also the pommel, and both of these definitions are incorrect. Every knife handle has a butt, but the term is just the general location. On the butt, you might have a rear bolster, a skull crusher, a pommel, or a lanyard ring. A pommel is NOT the butt; it is simply located at the butt of the handle, and is a separate, identifiable component that deserves its own identity. An important thing to note is that if the knife falls from the hand, it is usually going to fall on the butt, so reinforcement here is key. Alphabet Links
butt cap
On hollow-handled hidden tang knives, this refers to the component that caps (covers, tops, or terminates) the opening. Though I've seen it defined in published knife making books as a pommel, it is not a pommel. The pommel is defined below. The butt cap is a simple and typically ornamental piece of metal that may be applied and mounted to the butt of a knife handle for strength, for a surface to apply pressure or light impact, for a surface to engrave or embellish, or to prevent wear and splitting of the handle material such as wood, horn, or bone. If this makes you suspect that some wood, horn, bone, or ivories are not very durable when left uncapped with metal, you are correct. A butt cap is not threaded on to the tang, because if it is, it then becomes a pommel. Alphabet Links
This is not the child's description of Marpat onesies the uber-tough infant wears. This is the older designation of the Coated Abrasives Manufacturer's Institute, now called the UAMA. See more about that below. Alphabet Links
In more recent times, the word cannelure is used to describe a groove around a cylinder, like the ring cut around a bullet that may hold lubricant or the ring around the cartridge case that the extractor engages to eject the case from the gun. But the very old version of the word is the French term for a fuller (see fuller below). A fuller is the groove that is milled, cut, or formed down the center of a blade's spine axis, usually seen on swords, daggers, or heavily-spined double edged knives. Cannelure simply means "to groove." Alphabet Links
cantle, cantled
I believe this is an inappropriate term and I've seen this term used by a big knife manufacturer (who should know better) to describe the flat geometry of a cutting edge relief face, comparing it to a convex edge face. They call a flat edge face cantled, and illustrate it as a flat angle. Cantled isn't even a word. Cantle means to cut off a segment or portion, like a piece of cheese or land sliced away from the main body and it originated to describe a corner cut off a shield in Medieval times. This is not a reasonable description for the cutting edge face. The face, if flat, is technically a flat bevel or chamfered edge face. Cantle is also the name for the back of a saddle. This probably comes from the Scottish and Irish use of the term which means the crown, rise, or top of a road. Alphabet Links
Here's another word that is probably best avoided, because it is vague and non-specific. You can wear a cap, cap a tooth, and on a knife, cap a screw head, cap a butt, or cap a sheath. Some guys use it to describe a butt cap (above). And then there's the whole "bust a cap in your *ss" thing. At the very least, the kind of cap should be identified, like butt cap, screw cap, etc. Alphabet Links
Extremely hard particles in knife blade steels. These carbides are sought-after in knife blade steels, they are beneficial to extremely high wear resistance. Some metallurgists believe that they play a more critical role in the durability and wear resistance of steel than martensite. There are many types of carbides, and all of them are formed with carbon and a less electronegative element. In these steels, some iron carbides are Fe3C, Fe7C3 and Fe2C. Some chromium carbides are Cr23C6, Cr3C, Cr7C3, Cr3C2. Other carbides are molybdenum carbides Mo3C2, vanadium carbides, niobium carbides, tungsten carbides and complex carbides that are combinations of other carbides! Some carbides have complicated crystalline structures, some form in interstitial locations of other crystalline lattice structures. With all carbides, their effectiveness depends on how fine they are, how well-dispersed, how high the volume overall that is precipitated. A critical point is that the three elements of chromium, molybdenum, and vanadium have the highest solubility in austenite, therefore they precipitate the highest volume of carbides. This is why these three are big players in high alloy steels. Alphabet Links
Iron and carbon with the chemical compound Fe3C. It is a brittle, extremely hard ceramic substance. More on cementite at this bookmark. Alphabet Links
center of balance
The center of balance can be exactly pinpointed; it is the place at which the knife blade and handle balance. Most of the general use knives I make have the center of balance close to the placement of the forefinger. This creates a fairly neutral blade weight. Knives that need or have a heavier use blade (like my tactical, combat, and CSAR knives) often have a center of balance more forward of the forefinger. Heavy knives like khukris can be extremely blade-heavy. Knives that are used in light duty or fine controlled cutting can have small blades and be handle-heavy offering greater control. Balance is a subjective characteristic and is completely under the control of the individual knife maker and is determined by design and the intended use of the knife. It is not due to handle material choice, as some might suggest; most of my gemstone handled knives have a neutral balance. Alphabet Links
center of percussion
The center of percussion (COP) is a very old term, dictated when large knives and swords were commonly used as striking or slashing weapons. This is not a clearly defined spot on the knife like the center of balance above, but is the general area where the blade impact will not be uncomfortably felt in the hand. Even though most knives are not for chopping, heavier knives like my combat weapons and khukris can see some light impact, and swords and bolos a substantial amount. An entire volume cold be dedicated to this subject, perhaps I shall dedicate just such a chapter in my book. Alphabet Links
center scale
This is an older/early term for the spacers between the blades of a multi-bladed folding knife. The term is rarely used nowadays. See spacer (folding knife) below for more details. Alphabet Links
Chamfer is a very old word, dating back to the 1500's, and means to cut away the arris (angle) of two faces where they meet. The origin of the word in Old French suggest "can't break" probably because a sharp corner (think wood) may be a place where a sliver could be broken off. Chamfer (cut away) the corner in a bevel, and voila, the piece that would break away is gone. In knives, this means dressing the sharp corners of holes, profiled edges, or anywhere that a sharp corner is not desired, with a chamfering tool, which may be a mill, a file, a beveled cutter, a machinist's edge dresser, or any other suitable item. Chamfering is typically referred to as beveled, because the edge is beveled, not contoured, radiused, or rounded, and has a definite angled face. Chamfers are typically done at 45 and 60 degrees. While a chamfer may dress down an edge of a tang, finger hole, or profile, it seldom speaks to high quality, as it is a simple machine cut and still has some well-defined and crisp edges, edges that may cause injury to the hand. Radiusing is better, as the edge is rounded and smooth and less capable of abrasion or injury. Alphabet Links
chape, chape mouthpiece, chape tip
The word chape is a congener of cap and cape named for a churchman's cover. In the old days, many authors have referred to the chape in different ways. Shakespeare and Fairholt , for instance, considered the chape the guard plate or crossbars at the junction of the handle and hilt, however their use of this term referring to specifics is what I consider vague. Predominantly and currently, it is defined as the metal trimmings of a scabbard, specifically the metal mounting of a scabbard or sheath at its upper (mouthpiece) end which bears the ring or hook for attaching it to the belt. Curiously, in early use the term also means the metal component covering the point of the scabbard (crampet, bouterolle, or ferrule). So when referring to the chape, you probably need to specify the mouthpiece (top) or the tip end (bottom). An outstanding example of a knife I've made with a sheath that has a chape mouthpiece and chape tip of engraved 304 stainless steel is the Desert Wind. Alphabet Links
Chicago screws
I use special Chicago screws for my tactical, combat, CSAR, and professional sheaths and accessories. This is a domed head machine screw and tube nut, also called a sex bolt because of the male-female components. The female tube is the threaded nut, and the length of the Chicago screw is measured by the length of the tube below the head. The heads are usually made without screw slots and are smooth and polished. The male component is a machine bolt thread, and usually has a slot for a flat bladed screw driver. These screws are made of brass, blued steel, nickel plated steel, or stainless steel (304 or 316). You can see how they are used on my Locking Tactical Combat Knife Sheaths page and my Tactical Combat Knife Sheath Accessories page. Alphabet Links
A very interesting word indeed. The definitive origin is unknown, but there is an interesting similarity of the word to the Nepalese word "cho," that I talk about that on my Khukris page. There is a lot of misinformation about the choil, but it is simply defined as the area between the cutting edge and the tang. It may be an area that is angled, cut out, milled, or shaped in a decorative or functional way to create a specific point at which sharpening of the edge starts. The cut of a choil may create a finger shaped indentation, but it is NOT an additional finger groove. Anyone putting their finger there would be certain of experiencing a vicious cut if the finger slid forward only slightly. So this is another one of those wives' tales, started by someone who is not familiar with daily tactical, or practical working knife use and carry. You'll see it posted on internet sites that you put your finger there to "choke up" on the knife grip. If you have to move your finger onto the blade to get a good grip, you've got the wrong knife in your hand for the task. Today, most well made knives have some type of choil cut, so that sharpening on a stone will not create a rough or ragged indentation at the grind termination. Of course, as a knife blade is used up, the choil geometry eventually disappears with repeated sharpenings as the blade shape changes. Read more about that on my Blades page. Alphabet Links
This could mean several things, like the fixture to attach a knife sheath to a belt, but the predominant definition in our knife world is the geometry of the knife blade at the point. When the major portion of the blade spine is straight, and then near the tip the profile is angled down toward the cutting edge, this is a clip. The easy way to remember this is that the point is "clipped" off, as if you were trimming the knife spine toward the point. This is derived from the definition of the word to curtail or cut short. The reason a knife spine is clipped at the point is one of strength. By clipping off the point spine, a stronger, more abrupt and larger-angled geometry typically creates a thicker point. Note the photos described in the section above, and you can see how the clipped (or slant) point also creates a knife that is easier to sheath, as the point won't hang and snag the sheath welts or parts. Alphabet Links
collaborative (collaboration)
This term describes the knife or art project when more than one person is involved in making it. The parties both have a hand in the works, and all parties should be recognized in the final presentation, record, or description of the work. I've only collaborated with a few other makers in my career, and the knives that are the product of a collaboration are clearly identified. This is not the same as farming out work (below). In the past, my collaborations have been with James Beauchamp and Rusty Russom, new knife makers in my family and studio who have taken an interest in learning the tradecraft and art of knife making. They honored me with their own interest, time, and effort in this field, and I'm pround to have worked with them. Alphabet Links
combat knife
In one early (and dated) contemporary book, this term is defined as any knife that is "single or double edged with a blade 5-10 inches long and a double guard." Okay, this is just wrong. A true combat knife is any knife that is designed and created for actual combat by professionals, military, and law enforcement. What the writer was describing was the old WW2 Ka-bar style, which has long ago left the true field of combat for much improved designs, styles, and types. Want to know what real combat knives used by real military and combat professionals look like? I've got the page for you right here. Alphabet Links
There is a long historic tradition of creating knives, swords, and weapons that commemorate events, persons, units, and campaigns. Knives that commemorate these do so with text, graphics, images, and identifying features that describe or list those persons or events. The commemoration may be etched, engraved, carved, or otherwise permanently marked. See my own commemorative knives on a special page on this site. Alphabet Links
The contour of the knife is the outline of the figure, shape, or body. The word comes from French and Italian contorno, which means to compass about. This also refers the the artist's ability to apply perspective, balance, and proportionateness to the form. A knife handle may be well contoured, or it may be abrupt, squarish, or out of balance. Though it would be nice to use the term contour to describe the profile alone, profile is a better word, because a form may be contoured from many directions and views. Alphabet Links
convex (grind)
There are three types of grind: hollow (concave), flat, or convex. The choice of which grind depends on the maker, the design, the intended use, and the thickness of the material. In one older, dated text about knifemaking, the convex grind is described as "generally a sign of amateur or homemade work." This is quaint, but way off-base. Though early makers may create knives without hollow or flat grinding because they do not have the equipment, this does not mean that all convex grinds are created by novices. One of the reasons for a convex grind is to create a blade geometry that is stronger and more robust than hollow or flat grinds for knives and tools used for chopping or light impact. Another reason to create a convex grind (taper grind) is because the blade stock is far too thin to create a hollow grind and yet have the blade retain any blade strength. This is typically seen on blade stock that is less than 1/16 (.0625") thick. If a hollow grind or flat grind is attempted in these thin blades, the cutting edge would be too thin, with the geometry of a straight razor, not a knife. A blade this thin would easily bend or fracture; a razor is not a working knife, and this is where a convex (or taper grind) is applicable. Alphabet Links
counterterrorism (knives)
This is, unfortunately, a new and important term in our field. I write unfortunately because it would be great if we lived in a world where terrorism didn't exist. But it does, and that means that there are highly trained and effective teams, units, and members of military and law enforcement organizations that have critical needs for their counterterrorism field. Whether it's CT, counter-terror, or counterterrorism: what makes a knife a true counterterrorism knife? That's easy: if it was designed by the direct input of those critical and professional forces, and made for them, in the way they require, and in use in their hands: that's a true counterterrorism knife. I'm proud to make these knives and you can learn more about them on my Counterterrorism Knives page. Alphabet Links
CQC, CQB Knives
Acronyms for Close Quarters Combat and Close Quarters Battle. These terms are reserved for serious combat knives, usually made for and used by the military for killing or disabling the enemy. Though many manufacturers claim their knives are "tactical" or "combat duty," you might question why a serviceman in combat would carry a cheap piece of manufactured junk into battle... see my Military Combat Knives page for detailed discussion of this topic. CQC and CQB knives are durable knives designed to slash, pierce, and cut, with overbuilt strong blades, heavy duty fittings, and extremely stout sheaths and materials. Alphabet Links
crampet, crampette
A Middle Dutch word, this is sometimes another term for a chape (above). In this case, it means to restrain or constrict, by metal, referring, I believe, to the function of the metal chape parts to constrain the wood or leather of the sheath or scabbard and protect it from splitting or damage. Alphabet Links
critical (temperature)
In knife blades and heat treating, this is the temperature at which phase transformation takes place, the temperature when austenite is formed from the base allotrope. Also known as the austenitizing temperature. These temperatures vary depending on the steel alloy. In the old days, all the temperatures of transformation were called "critical." Alphabet Links
Please see guard below. Alphabet Links
Simply means: of or relating to extremely low temperatures. Cryogenic references do not have a specific temperature, no matter what you may read on open source definition guides and encyclopedias. Each science and realm of cryogenics is different, but in knife blade discussion, it means colder than sub-zero treatment of blades to impart higher wear resistance, toughness, and corrosion resistance. Further specification must be made, such as shallow cryogenics or deep cryogenics, or specifying the temperature to clarify the context of the idea, range, or discussion. Alphabet Links
This is a rock term, describing the physical form of a mineral. It also means microscopically crystalline, and is typical of agates and jaspers, some of the harder players in my gemstone knife handles. These are forms of chalcedony, which is elementally silicon dioxide. While agates and jaspers are a form of quartz, not all quartz is jasper or agate, since not all quartz has the cryptocrystalline structure. This structure makes these gemstones very hard, durable, and dense (with a specific gravity of 2.65), and therefore they take a very glassy vitreous polish that can only be abraded by extremely hard materials. Thus, they are the longest lasting gemstone handles I make, apart from handles that contain harder materials like ruby (corundum). They will, quite literally, last for thousands of years in their carved and polished form. Alphabet Links
crystal, crystalline
In this context, a body that is formed by the solidification of the combination of steel alloy elements that has a regularly repeating internal arrangement of its atoms and molecules with strictly defined and identifiable external plane faces. Alphabet Links
CSAR Knives
Acronym for Combat Search And Rescue knives. These knives are designed with not only combat applications built in (See CQC, CQB above), but also with additional rescue features, like thicker, heavier points for scraping, digging, and carving. They also may have heavier, thicker grinds for light chopping and shelter building, and serrations or rip teeth for sawing. Like the CQC knives above, they very tough, stout, and durably designed for rough duty and lifesaving work. It is one thing for a maker or manufacturer to designate a knife for CSAR use, and quite another to have the professional input of CSAR professionals in the design and application of the knives, and to have them carry the knives in operations daily. See some my best CSAR knives made for USAF Pararescue, our nation's top military rescue service. Alphabet Links
It seems like no other word is so misunderstood in knifemaking! Custom is a simple word, meaning made to or done to order. A custom knife is a knife ordered, and made to order. It's really very simple, but to see all of the confusion this one little word has created, please take a look at a detailed page about custom knives at this link. Alphabet Links
cutting edge, edge face
It is best to use the words cutting and edge together. If you use the word edge alone, it could refer to the edge of the bolster, the edge of the handle scales, or the edge of the filework on the spine. It might refer to the edge a maker has over his contemporaries. More distinctive and definitive is the cutting edge face (or primary face), which is established after creating the edge relief face (secondary face). The cutting edge is the working part of the knife, the very thing that makes it a knife. There are many ways to create the cutting edge, but the cross sectional geometry is the most important aspect, and I go into great detail on my Blades Page. Alphabet Links
Damascus (steel)
There are generally two types of steel called Damascus. One is ancient ultra high carbon crucible steel that is no longer made and is lost to history: often either watered steel or Wootz steel. The other, more common use of the term refers to modern pattern welded steel billets formed into knife blades. Usually made of two different alloys of steel, this is done for the sake of appearance only, since the performance of blades made this way is considerably less than that of modern, isotropic, uniform, homogeneous tool steels. Learn more about Damascus steels, history, advantages and limitations on this link on my Blades page. Alphabet Links
The property of absorbing heat energy without increasing temperature while phasic change is underway in steel. Technically, a decrease in temperature when compared to ambient thermal loading. Alphabet Links
A very bad thing; knife blade steels are overheated, or heated too long, or heated in an oxygen-rich environment, and the carbon migrates to the surface of the steel, bonding with the free oxygen to form scale. The scale is ground off, and the knife owner does not even know that the steel has been rendered to a less than optimum alloy by carbon loss. Carbon is the most important alloy in all steels, so this is no small error. Read about the horrors of decarburization by an established and experienced knifemaker at this bookmark. Alphabet Links
designs (knife patterns)
I included this term because so many organic searches for "knife designs" on the internet bring people to this website. The word design actually comes from the Latin designaire, which means to mark out or sign. So there is obviously personalization around signing your work, or individualizing it. Our definition's roots are: a plan, formed in the mind, of something to be done or produced. This covers a lot of ground, including a website design, working design, a financial design, and a business design. But these are not the way the term is typically used that brings people here; it is the pattern of the knife, which is different from the design! A design is the entire idea, and a pattern is well... a pattern. Alphabet Links
detent, detent ball
That which catches or locks a movement. In some folding knives, a small hole (detent) is placed in the blade to help a small detent ball (usually hardened and wear-resistant) find it's resting place. As the blade is closed, the spring-supported ball falls into the detent, pulling and holding the blade closed. Though this is a widespread application, there are others in use for knives, mechanisms, sheaths, and knife apparatus. Hey, now I know where detention came from! Alphabet Links
dickering, to dicker
In this field, the word is mostly used the same as the words bargain, bargaining, haggling, and bartering . It means reaching an agreement, typically by a series of offers, counter offers, and counter counter offers; you get it. This is not the way fine handmade knives are commissioned or sold. This type of process is defined in many dictionaries as applied toward petty items, and a fine handmade knife that sells for thousands of dollars is not a petty item. More about this as it applies to my own work at this link on my FAQ page. Alphabet Links
digital camouflage, digi-camo
Evolving from the early form of the pixilated, blocky MARPAT pattern (below) every branch of the military and many other military units of other countries as well as civilian suppliers of textiles, clothing, and gear now offer variations of the digital camouflage print pattern. There are a bewildering amount of these patterns and styles available, and some branches and even units are insisting on their own exclusive rights to certain patterns, much like the original MARPAT. Frequently, I get asked to supply specific patterns in my kydex sheaths and textile gear, and I do my best to accommodate them, but these patterns are best offered in a generalized form, since no exact and specific matches are licensed, regulated, and verified by kydex and textile manufacturers. Most of these supply companies can offer a version that fits with a uniform, but not one supplier I've found can match the patterns exactly. While it can be important that a camouflage pattern work with a combat uniform, because of the size of the knife sheath and accessories, matching the pattern exactly is not usually necessary, since most of the other equipment (like firearms, rifles, and other weapons) are basic black and do not match the specific camo pattern either. Alphabet Links
This is a word of uncertain origin, and was formerly durk or dork. Hmmm. The word compares to the Low German words dulk and dolk and the German word dolch. There are two dirks in history: the Scottish Highland dagger or the kind of short sword or dagger used by junior British Naval Officers. The word dirk does not describe a dagger; a dagger is symmetrical and has two, three, or four edges and always has a point. A dirk is accepted as a variant type of knife, a weapon (vs. a tool), with an evenly tapered blade sharpened on one edge. However, in historical texts its easy to find dirks that are sharpened on both edges, as many of these were made from broken and repurposed sword blades. By the late 1700s, the name was loosely applied to all short bladed side arms carried by naval officers. So the name had concise meaning at one time, but then evolved to describe additional types of knives, short swords, and weapons. The original Scottish dirks were an all-purpose knife used for meals and battle. The naval dirks varied greatly through the 17th and 18th centuries, and some were curved, some straight, some large, others smaller. Often, naval dirks were highly decorated with cast fittings in silver and brass, ivory handles, and gilded ornamentation and etching. The naval dirk evolved from straight to curved and highly ornamented, back to straight, becoming plain and non-descript, and eventually becoming an ornament that had little or no use in the navy. Eventually, the naval dirk simply disappeared. There is no record of dirks being used in any notable naval combat. Nowadays, the term dirk is sometimes used in slang referring to some types of straight-bladed bowies, but this is not valid. If you are tempted to call a knife a dirk, it's best to specify Scottish Highland dirk or Naval dirk. Alphabet Links
disk (or disc?)
In knifemaking, this refers to the disk grinder. This is a flat, round plate that has an abrasive surface, usually sheet abrasive applied by adhesion, that spins. The knife part, component, blade, or piece is held against the spinning disk and made very flat. The word "disc" is sometimes used, but it's not really the right word. Old dictionaries define disc as being used in botany and biology, and modern texts use disc to mean an optical disc (CD, DVD). Though the belt grinder gets all of the attention and glory in the knife shop, the disk grinder is just as important and used just as often, perhaps more so, to flatten, grind, sand, and finish metals, horn, wood, bone, and other materials. By the way, the disk grinder can not be used to grind stone, that machine is called a "lap" and that is the basis for the word "lapidary." More about lapidary on my Gemstone Knife Handles page. Alphabet Links
This term literally means "remote from the point of attachment." So you might see guys describing their knives as having a "distal taper." This would mean that the blade is tapered thinner along its length toward the point, or it could mean that the blade tang is tapered thinner at the butt. This type of terminology is not standard in the knife field, and is an attempt to link knives to the human body, which is what these terms are designed for. A knife is not a human form, so though sometimes used (even by me!) the term must be further clarified. It's one thing to say an injury is distal to the femur on the tibia, and proximal to the talocural joint, but this is jargon best left to the Emergency Room physician, not the knife maker. When you simply state, "distal taper of the blade," this does not define where the attachment point is. In other words, a tapered tang could be described as a distal taper as well, since it is distal to the union of the blade and tang at the bolster... and how is it that the central origin of the blade is at the blade to bolster junction when there is quite literally no articulating union or joint there in a full tang or hidden tang knife, only on a folding knife? This all becomes very confusing. The better and clearer statement would be claiming that the blade thickness is tapered towards the point. That is pretty easy to understand, and it doesn't sound like you're trying to talk over someone's head. It's a knife, not a complex body of tissues, organs, muscles, and skin in motion. My gosh, do we have to get into sagittal, transverse, medial, and caudad locations on the knife too? I can't just photograph the obverse side of the knife, I have to photograph it supine, in the anteroposterior position, with my camera at an inferolateral direction! Yeah, I was an Emergency Medical Technician once, too, but I know what field the terms belong in. Alphabet Links
dividing line
Also called the yokote (below), this term describes the line between the point grind and the main blade grind in tanto-ground knife blades. Since this area is often the meeting of two different geometries, a line may be present. This line is more predominant the larger the difference in the angle of the profile. So, if a knife blade has a fairly straight tanto point, the line will be less pronounced, if it has a more angled or square point, the line will be more pronounced. Often, the entire line is not visible particularly near the cutting edge, as blending and uniformity of the blade geometry brings these two grinds together. What is important to remember in this type of blade grind is that at the apex of the dividing line, a secondary point is created. In knives (and lesser in swords) this secondary point has distinctive purpose; it creates a very strong, well-supported point that will support bearing down with the heel of the hand on the spine of the knife, for cutting stubborn textiles and materials. Doing this with the tip would be difficult due to the angle. Most authors and authorities on this type of blade omit or ignore this important and distinct advantage to the tanto geometry. Alphabet Links
This is not a knife term! Technically, this is a malapropism, the incorrect usage of a word by substituting a similar-sounding word with different meaning. Some guys confuse this with the word detent (above). A divot is a small chunk of turf used to cover a cottage roof in Scotland, or burned there in the fireplace to keep warm. For you golfers, it's what you carve out of the grounds. I guess in that way it's similar to the detent hole... but maybe the guys using this term have spent way too much time on the links. I've even seen this term used to describe a finger groove, where a finger may rest on either the handle or the spine of the knife. So they call it a "finger divot." So this is the small chunk of turf about the size of a finger, right? Hey, if it's a finger groove, it's a finger groove, and calling it a divot won't make it sound better...sigh. Alphabet Links
double bevel cutting edge
Please see the single bevel cutting edge described below. The double bevel (or double face) cutting edge is established by first relieving the metal to establish an apex of faces at the cutting edge on a sharpening stone or device, followed by careful honing of the cutting edge by lifting the spine on the stone or increasing the angle slightly. See face, edge below. This type of edge is easy to maintain in the field, as very little metal is removed at the cutting edge face. When the angle becomes too great to yield a sharp edge, the knife must be relieved again to properly thin the metal behind the cutting edge. This is the system I recommend for clients, even though my later knives are furnished with a sharper single bevel cutting edge (below). The single bevel cutting edge requires higher skill and control to maintain in the field. Alphabet Links
dovetail (bolster and handle)
Refers to the angled cut of the bolster that is mounted against the handle scale in full tang knives. I believe that nearly all bolsters should be dovetailed, as this forms a stable, geometric lock of the handle material against the tang. The handle material must be accurately matched to the bolster dovetails for a seamless fit. Sometimes, with some geometric arrangements of fittings and handles, the ninety-degree squared-off angle of fittings to handles can not be avoided, but it is not as strong and durable as the dovetailed arrangement. Alphabet Links
drop (dropped) point
This term refers to a knife blade point where the point is lower than the spine, that is dropped (lowered) from the generally straight line of the spine. This is very similar to a clip (or clipped) point where the point geometry is strengthened by shaping the point to make it lower than the spine, thus making it thicker. This also makes the knife easier to sheath, as the point will not hang up, snag, or cut into the sheath welts or sides. The difference between a clip point and a drop point is more about the shape of the area that is cut away: a clip point is generally thought of as being straight or concave in profile, a drop point is considered rounded and convex in profile. While most drop points were considered useful for hunting knives in the latter part of the 20th century, history shows that this geometry is extremely old in many types of knives and weapons. Descriptions and illustrations of drop points are above. Alphabet Links
This is a hardness measurement, as well as a hardness measuring tool called the durometer, created by Albert Shore in the 1920s. The tool is used and the durometer rating details the specific hardness of certain materials: elastomers, neoprene, rubbers, and polymers. For the knife maker, this measurement is an important consideration for the contact wheels that reside on his belt grinder, the most used tool in the knife shop. Hard contact wheels have high durometer ratings, and are as hard as hydraulic O-rings (which are very hard, due to the high pressures they are exposed to and their high compression rates). Some contact wheels used in special operations have a lower durometer rating, like that of door weather stripping or an automobile tire. For the knife client, plastics, epoxies, thermosets, composites, and phenolics hardness is an important consideration. What's important to know is that phenolics are the hardest materials, actually topping the scale over all other plastics like rubber, neoprene, Teflon, and nylon. Note that phenolics and G10 composites are much harder than a golf ball, and much harder than any bone! Hardness means durability in this field, and since I'm dedicated to making the very best knives, this is another reason I don't use much horn, bone, or similar materials. Please think about the hardness and durability of your own knife's handle now. Alphabet Links
E & E
This means Evasion and Escape. Many military units carry E & E bags, a less frequently accessed kit that will allow them to survive behind enemy lines. Some of my accessory components may be carried in the E & E kit to allow change of wear, mounting, carry, and service of the tactical knife in the field. Alphabet Links
Acronym for Every Day Carry, a knife that is carried and used daily. I like to call this a working knife. Usually a less expensive model, as the client and knife user knows it will be used up, perhaps abused, misused, scratched, scarred, and eventually discarded. You might be surprised to find out the value, workmanship, and materials now used on working (EDC) knives. Knife users are more refined these days, and prefer a fine tool and instrument at their side. See my Working Knives. Alphabet Links
I don't know how this word could be so misunderstood, complexified, bloviated, and made confusing by a flurry of advertising hype, confusing knife makers and owners alike. It's just the cutting edge of the blade, the part that you shouldn't be touching unless you want to see blood. It comes from the Latin word "acer" meaning... are you ready for this? Wait for it... --from the Latin word "acer" meaning sharp. The unbelievable cognates of this root are astounding in ALL cultures and I believe that this is because of the universal need and use of knives throughout history. No, I'm not defining cognates; look that one up yourself. The definition: "the thin cutting side of the blade of an instrument (knife)." Even in the definition, they knew that there was a cutting side, that the edge did not disappear to nothingness, it has a thickness or a side, even if it is microscopic. Think about it. Don't you just love words and ideas? Alphabet Links
In this context, equilibrium means with all physical structure at rest, in balance, and with changes slow and static, with no dynamic forces. In steel, the phasic changes occur slowly with the physical form at rest, and this is not what knifemakers do, unless we are after full annealing of steels! Alphabet Links
This word is just about useless to describe anything these days. This is because ergonomics is simply an advertising buzzword. There are no accepted and detailed standards for what describes ergonomics, though the word is supposed to mean the study and application of workplace design to minimize fatigue and injury. So, naturally, knife advertisers add the word to their description list to make you think that a knife handle is more than just a handle, it's ergonomic. Really? What knife maker or manufacturer would claim that his knife handle is not made to reduce fatigue and prevent injury? In today's world of political correctness and buzzwords, file this one with ecofriendly, empowerment, mobile, and green. Alphabet Links
This is from the Latin word for shield. It may be lozenge, diamond, or shield-shaped, where bearings are depicted, marshaled, or displayed. In modern knives, it's a small plate, usually of metal, embedded and/or mounted to the handle, where engraving, etching, or marks of the owner, maker, event, or campaign may be detailed. Due to the size of knife handles, this is usually a very small plate, suited to very limited graphics or text. An escutcheon may also be mounted on a sheath, but on my knives I call it a Flash Plate, as it is ordinarily used to flash military affiliations or connections. Alphabet Links
In steels this refers to alloys that have 0.77% of carbon. Upon cooling, there is no proeutectoid cementite, or proeutectoid ferrite is formed. Eutectoid is the point at which hypereutectoid and hypoeutectoid steels differ. More details on my Heat Treating and Cryogenic Processing of Knife Blade Steels at this link. Alphabet Links
face, edge
The word face originates from Vulgar Latin and Old French facia, and used in these definitions describes the principal surface. The edge face is used in the definitive Razor Edge Book of Sharpening by John Juranitch to describe the multi-angled bevels ground along the edge of a knife that create the geometry that makes a dull knife blade a sharp one. There are primary faces, secondary faces, relief faces, and edge faces. To coin them simply the edge would be good enough for a general description, but the term face clearly defines that they are distinct entities. Alphabet Links
face, sheath
The sheath face is the front of the knife sheath, the part that traditionally faces outward when worn on the body. The sheath face can be a special area for embellishment, carving, inlays, or personalization. On my combat and tactical knife sheaths this is often a place for unit affiliation, campaigns, and service data, which is engraved on the flashplate. Though the sheath face is the most often seen and photographed, the sheath back is just as important. More details on my Sheaths page. Alphabet Links
facet, faceting
Meaning literally little face, a faceted gemstone is a gem that has a number of flat faces cut on the surface, and in gemstones, these are a good thing, something to plan and execute well, bringing the facet faces to a bright polish. On a knife, faceting is a bad thing. The term is used to describe what happens if the grind is not consistently placed, and more than one grind plane or curve can be seen, exhibiting several clearly defined planes or surfaces. Not only the blades can be faceted, but also the handle contours and radiuses can show signs of numerous flat faces, caused by insufficient movement or placement of the cutting device, machine, or abrasive. See related term tool marks below. Alphabet Links
false edge
Refers to a grind geometry usually on the spine of the knife near the tip. It's not really a good descriptive term; I prefer to use the term swage (see below). The reason is that in most well-made modern custom knives, an edge is actually formed at the swage, one that will cut, even though the geometry is thick. The reason for the swage is most often to reduce the point thickness and cross-sectional geometry without removing too much material that would weaken the spine. This is usually done in tactical and combat knives to reduce the combination of point angles for greater penetration force on a smaller surface area at the point. So, false edge becomes a misnomer, since there actually is a cutting edge, chisel-shaped but often sharp! By the way, the first idea every boy has when he receives his first knife with a false edge or swage is to sharpen it! I did; did you? See plenty of swages on hundreds of tactical, military, combat, and rescue professional knives through my Tactical, Military, and Combat Knife Portal. Alphabet Links
fantasy knife
Though this term has fallen out of popular use since the 1990s, I think it's a good term. Usually refers to a knife that is a total artistic concept, and is not a useful tool due to geometry, materials, shape, or ability to be carried. Fantasy knives are purchased for investment value and collection only; you wouldn't use one to skin an elk or carry into combat. Some of the finest and most valuable knives ever made are fantasy knives; you can see some of mine on my Museum knives page. Alphabet Links
farm(ed) out
Farming out work is a phrasal verb, meaning to send (work, for example) from a central point to be done elsewhere. This is actually the root of the word farm, which is a very old Middle English word ferme meaning to rent, lease, or make a contract to fix (not some place to raise crops and livestock; that noun is the result of farming out or leasing land for cultivation). So when knife work is farmed out, it is done by outside entities, sometimes in other countries, and sometimes by unskilled labor with non-verifiable materials and process, usually leading to an inferior piece. This is typical of large knife manufacturing firms, and even some makers. This is usually done for several reasons, and I'll detail these in my book. Farming out is much different from a collaboration, which is the dedicated and identified work of two makers who share makers' marks on the blade. Alphabet Links
ferrite (Alpha-ferrite)
The origin of this word is the Latin word ferrum, which is iron. The generalization is that ferrite is pure iron, but this is not the case, as ferrite is composed of several different crystalline lattice structures, and all ferrite contains carbon along with iron atoms. Ferrite is iron with a body-centered cubic crystalline lattice form, magnetic, soft, a major constituent of mild steel. More about ferrite at this bookmark. Alpha-ferrite has a body-centered crystalline structure. Alphabet Links
A small cap or ring, usually of metal, that covers the termination of a knife handle or component that protects the edges, strengthens the arrangement, and prevents splitting of the material it covers. The word comes from Latin (ferrum) which means iron, and viriola which means little bracelet. Ferrules are seen typically on hidden tang knives, where large turned or rounded handles are protected on both ends. They can be simple or quite elaborate, featuring hand-engraving, precious metal inlay, or gemstone mounts. I use them also to help bed the handle materials and to help distribute the forces of a tightly threaded pommel mount on a hidden tang knife. A good example are the ferrules tipped with sterling silver gallery wire at both ends of this sodalite gemstone handle of my Ariel dagger. Alphabet Links
fighting knife (fighter)
This is a negative term that is best avoided altogether. This term was popular in the 1980s, but has fallen out of favor with most knife aficionados and professionals because of the negative connotations. Unfortunately, the hobby knives crowd and internet knife dealers try their best to keep this term alive, though the knives they describe this way are not made for fighting, but mostly for display, since they have fragile, narrow points and are commonly made of damascus (an inherently weak pattern welded steel) with hidden tangs (inherently inferior to full tang construction) and horn, bone, antler, or ivory handles (more weak material). It seems that they are stuck in a time when real men of the south (circa 1800) settled their differences in the mud underneath the Spanish moss-covered live oaks on the plantation grounds with their big knives and lots of puffy sleeves and bravado. Real knives used as physical weapons in current times are combat knives, or more specialized counterterrorism knives, both very sophisticated and evolved weapons sets, including specialized gear for wearing, mounting, and interfacing with actual combat missions. Using the term "fighter" shows a limited understanding of our tradecraft and art, typical of hobbyist discussion, but the more important thing is that prosecutors love this type of term when knives make their way to court systems. Though there are tactical knives and combat knives that are made for military duty, it's foolish and irresponsible to label a knife for fighting. When was the last time you saw a professional knife bout in Madison Square Garden or in the Meadowlands New Jersey Sports Complex? Factories also use terms like this to appeal to the macho wannabes in order to sell knives, but it does a great disservice to our profession. Defensive tactical, counterterrorism, and combat knives? Sure. Fighters? No. Alphabet Links
This is a new term, (technically, a neologism: a compound noun of file and work) and you won't find it in any standard dictionary. It refers to the file cuts on the spine of a knife, frequently extending completely around the tang of a full tang knife. Its purpose was probably first to improve grip security and stop a thumb or finger from slipping on a slick, smooth blade spine, but it has evolved into a decorative art form. Good filework can not be imitated by machines (see jimping below), and is a definite indicator of a fine custom or handmade knife. Read more about filework on my Embellishment page. Alphabet Links
finger groove
Depressions created in the knife handle to accommodate fingers. They may be deep, shallow, or canted, and may comprise handle materials, bolsters, or guards as part of their geometry. Finger grooves should be well-rounded for comfort, with no roughness that would cause abrasion or fatigue from use. Care must be used when considering finger grooves in a knife handle, as this limits the grip positions of the hand. Multiple finger grooves can be tricky to put on a knife, because of the great variation of hand sizes in humans. See my Knife Grip Tactics page for hand sizing information. Alphabet Links
This word is from the Latin root finis, meaning "the end." In knives, it refers to any decorated, formed, distinctive or separate artistic or functional component at the end of a guard, butt, sheath chape, or knife stand, case, or display fitting. Finials were typical in renaissance period pieces, complimenting the ornamentation of the knife hilt and fittings overall. Alphabet Links
This is a neologism, a new word using several words but describing a unique object. A firesteel is a specially made extremely high carbon steel that when scraped or abraded, releases a shower of sparks that can ignite tinder and start a fire. This effect is based on pyrophoricity, a spontaneous ignition of material when exposed to air. Scraping the firesteel with a harder material (usually stone or the edge of a hardened knife blade) yields small particles that instantly ignite, creating sparks. I build a special firesteel/magnesium block safety cage and mount assembly that allows the knife user to mount, carry and use the item with relative safety and control for survival and fire-starting situations. More about that gear at this bookmark. Alphabet Links
This term describes the shape of a knife handle. The handle is widest at the outer end or butt, with a narrow area or girdle typically located where the small finger rests in a forward knife grip position. If a fishtail is properly made and located, the meaty, thick heel of the inside of the hand will rest inside the fishtail, increasing grip security. The fishtail can also add some weight to the butt of the knife handle, helping balance a heavy blade. On some knives, it offers an additional area for embellishment like engraving. Here's a dagger with a fishtail rear bolster as example. Alphabet Links
fixed-blade knife
Refers to knives that are solid between the handle and blade, in other words: not folding knives. Fixed-blade knives are the strongest type of knife at the blade-handle union. I recommend only fixed blade knives for combat and tactical use. Read why. Alphabet Links
This is not a radiometric assay plate for cellular studies, nor is it the process of chemically elecrolessly plating of small amounts and thicknesses of metals to aid in subsequent electroplating. This is the machine-engraved or custom etched plate that I include on many of my military, commemorative, and tactical combat knife sheaths to designate service units, dates, campaigns, or affiliations. It can be anything from an official military emblem to a web site graphic and URL. The plate is always removable, as they are usually not worn in combat but designed to be applied to the knife sheath for initial presentation and display after retirement of the knife. Many examples reside on my Military Tactical Knives page. Alphabet Links
flat (blade flat)
The flat of the main part of the blade, comprising the ricasso, the spine, and any areas along the blade left at the full, original thickness. In most fine knives, the flats are well and accurately finished, bringing out the character of the grain in the steels. The flats can offer a nice area to engrave and embellish the blade. It is difficult to match the flats on both sides of the blade with each other, and well-matched flats are a sign of fine custom work. Alphabet Links
flat (grind)
Simple enough, the grind of a knife blade that creates an edge, ground with a device or tool that creates a fairly flat surface. This can be done with a flat platen on a belt grinder, a flat abrasive disc, or by hand. They are common in many factory knives because they can be accomplished by automated and CNC equipment. Flat grinds are only beneficial on very thin or small knives, or special shaped knives. The problem with flat grinds on most blades is that after two or three sharpenings, the knife blade is much thicker, necessitating re-grinding the blade to yield a blade thin enough for the low angles required for a useful and significantly sharp cutting edge. More details about grind comparisons on my "Blades" page at this bookmark. Alphabet Links
folded (sheath)
This describes a knife sheath construction method where the sheath's leather body is folded over to create both the sheath front and back in one piece of leather. The sheath is then stitched, riveted, or laced where the folds meet, usually at the welt that runs along the cutting edge. There are limitations to this type of sheath construction; it uses large pieces of leather, so is costly, and has a weakness at the fold which must be grooved to be folded. The fold only offers single thickness leather, so is more susceptible to cutting by the knife blade, and must always be in the design of a straight line, limiting sculpting or creativity in the knife sheath design. See layered sheath below and more on my Sheaths page. Alphabet Links
folding knife (folder)
This is a knife that is made so the blade pivots or folds into the handle. In the old days this type of knife was called a pocket knife, because it was made to be carried in the pocket. See pocket knife below. Folding knives have evolved into distinct kinds and types, just like fixed blade knives. I predominantly make liner lock folding knives, because they have the strongest locking mechanism and design currently available with many design possibilities. My folding knives are frequently highly embellished with exotic metals, hand-engraving, and rare and premium materials. Folding knives have their own place in collections, and many become works of sculptural knife art. What a folding knife is distinctly not is tactical or for combat, no matter what you may read. Why? Take a look at this link on my Tactical Combat and Professional Military Knives page and it's all very clear. Alphabet Links
Food Contact Safety
This is a rarely considered requirement of knives used in the preparation of food in the kitchen, in restaurants, and in the food service industry. There are very specific standards for food contact safety, established by the USDA, the FDA, ANSI, AISI, CDC, and other official organizations. Much of food safety has been ignored in kitchen knives, and this page details these requirements. Protect the ones you care about by practicing food safety! Alphabet Links
Everything has a footprint these days, and knives are no different, though you'll seldom see a knife held by a foot! This term refers to the space occupied by the knife or the knife and sheath. Particularly important with tactical and combat knives, the footprint of the knife with the sheath must be accommodated on the gear, with additional room for the hand to allow the knife to be pulled or from the sheath. A large knife, then can have a hefty footprint, and the sheath body which is always wider than the knife blade adds to that. Alphabet Links
A descriptive term that is often used incorrectly by modern knife makers, collectors, and the public. You'll see mastodon or mammoth ivory called fossilized when it is not a true fossil, but merely mineralized ivory. Real fossils are stone, rock, groups of minerals that have replaced living biological forms over millions of years. Real fossils can not be cut with a band saw, sanded on a belt grinder, or finished with dry sandpaper and a buffer because they are rock. What some makers and dealers are calling fossilized is actually mineralized tusk, horns, and bone. When you see the word fossil on this web site, I'm referring to actual fossils, living forms that have been replaced by stone millions of years ago. See mineralized below. Alphabet Links
A very interesting word in this realm. It is the loop, as attached to the belt, to accept the scabbard of a sword or dagger. For visualization, you could call the metal ring mounted to your work belt that you slip your battery powered drill/driver into a frog... same thing. The word may have come from the Portuguese word froco which is a loop of fabric or ornamental braiding sewn on a coat or dress. Hey, maybe it comes from the acronym for Finished Room Over Garage. Alphabet Links
The fuller is a groove that runs along the axis of a knife spine, usually used on double-edged knives but not limited to daggers and swords. Also called a cannelure it allows a reduced central spine weight in the thickest area of the spine without sacrificing strength. In essence, it forms an "I" beam along the center of the blade, and limits lateral flexion. It is not a blood groove (above). The term blood groove is an American colloquialism and means nothing. We've all heard that the groove is made to allow blood to flow in a deep cut, but this is simply an uneducated attempt at describing the fuller. The fuller gets its name from the special hammer and anvil tool set (a fuller) used by a blacksmith to produce the groove that spreads the hot iron into the shape of a channel. Alphabet Links
full tang
When the tang of a knife is full, you can see the edge of the entire tang all along the handle. You can see a full tang knife in the photo above of The Spine Profile. Typically, a full tang has bolsters and handle scales, rather than a guard and pommel like a hidden tang (below). A full tang is a solid piece of steel from tip to butt, and is the strongest blade/handle arrangement. Handmade and finely made custom knives have a fully tapered tang (below). Alphabet Links
A chamber used to heat things. In our modern industrial usage, a furnace is typically thought of and clarified as different from an oven, and the delineation is 1000°F. If the chamber heats more than 1000°F, it's a furnace, if it's below 1000°F, it's an oven. In AISI, SAE, and ASM standards, when heat treating is referred to, it's done in a furnace, not an oven. So if you are trying to use the correct terminology by modern authorities, heat treating is done in a furnace, not a kiln or oven. Alphabet Links
garage maker
This is not a contractor who makes or installs motor vehicle garages. This is modern slang for a beginning knife maker, who works in his garage. I was a garage maker once; many successful knife makers start out in their garage. When the level of involvement increases, the knife maker usually outgrows the garage and builds or creates a bona fide shop. More about makers on my special page about modern knife making technology. Alphabet Links
glue and stick (jewels)
"Glue and Stick" is a jewelry term to describe the instant mounting of faceted and cut and polished gemstones on any item, including knives. The cut and polished gemstone (diamond, ruby, emerald or other commonly accessible gemstone) is pre-mounted in a bezel that often has a single stud protruding beneath it. The craftsman simply drills a hole, puts a drop of glue on the stud, and sticks it in the hole. Voila! Instant jewelry. While this may have some applications, this is far different from creating individual bezels and mounts which are part of the design, and individually mounting the gems as a jeweler would. Alphabet Links
grind (blade)
This is what makes a flat bar of tool steel a knife. The grind (sometimes called a bevel) is the most important part of the knife blade, and the hardest feature to execute well, accurately, continuously, and finish properly. All modern knives are ground in some form or fashion, even the forged knives have to be ground to be finished. The grind is simply a way of thinning out the blade to accommodate the cutting edge throughout the life of the knife. The grind may be hollow, flat, tapered, or convex. I go into it in depth on my Blades page. Alphabet Links
grinder marks
Not a good thing. These are the scars left on the blade by the grinder abrasives that have not been finished away by successive sanding and finishing. They are the bane of knifemakers, as many hours are required to eliminate them yet preserve the crispness and character of the knife. Probably another reason knives are hand-sanded (hand-rubbed) along their length and left rough, so the grinder marks can not be seen. Sometimes, on less expensive models, I'll leave the grinder marks as part of the finish, and I call it satin finished. The knife is ground to about 320 grit, and left unfinished, for a plain, useful blade finish that the owner is not afraid to scratch. This is not a high value finish. Alphabet Links
grind line
The line that is seen extending from the ricasso to the spine towards the tip. It is formed by the hollow or flat grind junction with the flat of the knife. The grind line is a very important feature and indicator of a knife's geometry, form, finish, and appeal. It should be crisp, clean, and not washed over with too much buffing. The grind lines should be symmetrical on both sides of the knife, and can be examined for symmetry by looking right down the point with both eyes, each trained to one side of the blade. Many makers and all factories have trouble with grind lines, particularly if the blade is well-finished. I go into this in more detail in my book, but it is one of the reasons most makers do not finish a blade, merely settling for sanding it along its length. Alphabet Links
grind termination
This is the termination of the grind at the ricasso. A tough area to properly grind and finish a knife, and makers and manufacturers have a lot of problems here. This is an extremely important physical part of any knife! A knife is physically stronger if the grind termination is gentle, rounded, and sweeping rather than abrupt, sharp, and with a definite corner. If left abrupt, the knife will fracture at this point when the blade is in a lateral bind with the handle. Consider that the grind is on both sides, so if it is abrupt, it doubles the amount of steel removed, and can create considerable thinness at that point. Not good. That very spot is where the blade will break away from the handle under severe stress. See plunge below. Some guys call this a shoulder cut but it's best not to use that term. A shoulder is the clearly defined flat where the milled guard rests against the ricasso in a hidden tang knife, dagger, or sword. See shoulder below. Alphabet Links
grips (grip)
The definition for grip is a handle, so this term is best avoided in modern custom handmade knives, though factories often use it because it sounds masculine and active. There is a bona fide use of the word grip when talking about historic sword handles only (see hilt below). When I think of grips, I'm carried back to my childhood and think of the plastic grips that were slid over the handlebars of my Huffy bicycle. It's kind of a low-rent term for handle scales, handle material, and a knife handle and is vague and non-specific. I suppose you could call the rubbery soft Kraton or Neoprene foam handles molded to the knife grips. I think this is a particularly bad way to handle a knife. If the material is soft and flexible, it has a very limited life on a knife handle, and is just not a durable material. If you really have to worry about hand fatigue and need soft, cushy grips, you're using the knife for the wrong thing, you're using your knife too much, or you're weak. Perhaps some decent gloves will help, and don't use the knife on vibrating machinery... Alphabet Links
A guard is used to do just that, guard against injury by protecting the hands from opponents. So, the origins of a guard were in sword fighting where parrying daggers and the strikes from opponents could injure the swordsman's hands, disarming him. Here on the Internet, you'll see it mentioned that the purpose of a guard is to protect the hands from the cutting edge. Though this may be a result of a guard, it is the quillon that does so, by keeping the hand from moving forward on the blade. The term guard in current times usually refers to the entire fitting including large, long or independent protuberances of metal that extend well beyond the hand between the blade and handle. Seems simple enough, but actual guards are usually defined on swords, daggers, or hidden tang knives, and the term is rarely used on full tang knives where quillons, often built into the tang and bolster, do the job of hand security. Simply put, a guard is used to guard against an opponent with another edged weapon, not to guard your hand from your own cutting edge and are a component of a hidden tang knife, dagger, or sword. Alphabet Links
gunmetal (gun metal)
You may see this word used to describe parts of knives (usually fittings), and it is usually incorrect. Gun metal is strictly defined as bronze, traditionally nine parts copper and one part tin (with modern variations of this mixture). Also called red brass, bronze is rarely used in modern knife fittings, but does have some limited use and appeal. This is a metal that can be considered both a bronze or a brass since modern gunmetal (red brass) can be alloyed with both tin and zinc. Where this term is so often misused is in describing steel. Historically, this takes place because early guns (think cannons) were made of bronze. As steel has taken over in the framework of most firearms and large guns, people automatically assumed that gunmetal is steel, when it is not. Also, this sounds more attractive to describe a knife guard as "engraved gunmetal" or "hot blued gunmetal" than "mild" or "plain steel," which is usually what it is. So, it's an advertising ploy used to make steel sound special. By the way, no gunmetal is hot blued, trying to do so will destroy the bluing bath and won't work. Bronzes, instead, are patinaed. When you read or hear the term gunmetal, the first thought that should go through your mind is to question if the person describing it is misusing the word on purpose, or accidentally, because if it is used to describe steel, it's wrong. One more important thing to remember: steel, unless it's stainless steel, will rust and corrode and be a constant source of worry and care on any knife fitting. Bluing can help, but plain steel or low carbon steel must be babied, waxed, oiled, and never left with fingerprints. That's why I rarely, if ever, use it on knife fittings. Alphabet Links
I've heard some guys use this term to describe the welts in a knife sheath, but that's just not right. A gusset is the piece of material in garb used to join and connect two angular pieces, it's also the angled span that connects two ninety degree components, like the support of a shelf. The word is derived from the French word gousset, meaning armpit referring to the material that forms that joint in armor or a shirt. That alone is reason enough not to use it! Alphabet Links
gut hook
A hook that is formed in the knife blade for gutting game. It is used by hooking around the skin of the animal, and pulled along. The skin falls into the sharpened recess of the hook and is severed. It is designed so that the person field dressing the game animal does not have to use the belly of the knife blade to create the main incision, because on most animals, the hair and hide are very tough, often filled with dirt, blood, and debris, which can dull a knife blade quickly. Since the gut hook cuts from the side and inside of the skin, the hunter can preserve his main cutting edge sharpness on this important step in field dressing. Hopefully, if the gut hook is designed well, he will not lacerate the internal organs of the animal which would spoil the meat with contaminating fluids from the organs. For a similar knife blade feature, see line cutter below. Alphabet Links
half tang
This is another term for a rabbeted tang, below. Alphabet Links
Hallmarks are for gold, silver, and precious metals, not knives. Knives do not have hallmarks, they have maker's marks. Hallmarks come from our British friends who use them to designate the purity and content of gold in alloys, and this has nothing to do with knives, unless a component of a knife is in precious metal and that metal is hallmarked for purity (which is something I've never heard of). So, don't use the term "hallmark" when referring to knives, it's the wrong word and you'll sound foolish. Use "maker's mark" instead; it's the correct term to identify the maker of the knife. Alphabet Links
hallow (malapropism for "hollow")
I've seen this frequently in the last ten years or so, and it's probably because of autocorrect and microphone input into cell phones and tablets. Hallow means "to honor as holy or a saint" or "a holy person." This is not any part of a knife, unless you're making some very special knives indeed! The right word here is "hollow (grind)." Alphabet Links
haggling, haggle
In this field, the word is mostly used the same as the words bargain, bargaining, bartering, and dickering. It means reaching an agreement, typically by a series of offers, counter offers, and counter counter offers; you get it. This is not the way fine handmade knives are commissioned or sold. This type of process is defined in many dictionaries as applied toward petty items, and a fine handmade knife that sells for thousands of dollars is not a petty item. More about this as it applies to my own work at this link on my FAQ page. Alphabet Links
The handle of the modern handmade custom knife is not just a thing to grab when you need to cut something; it is the union with the human hand and a great canvas for works of knife art. The handle comprises many components including the bolsters, scales, fittings, sculpting, spacers, pins, tang filework, and many others. Read more about Handles in general, and specific handle materials: Woods, Horn, Bone, and Ivory, Manmade Handle Materials, Gemstone Knife Handles. I've included hundreds and hundreds of pictures on these pages and plenty of information. Alphabet Links
hand-rubbed (blade)
I don't like them. Lots of makers do them, particularly beginning makers or guys who haven't refined their skill to a high finish either through practice or choice. They grind a knife blade to 180 or 220 grit, then clamp the blade horizontally in a jig, wrap a piece of sandpaper around a block of wood or leather and start hand sanding. I've seen this finish done up to 1200 grit, but it still looks unfinished to me. People rarely ask for this finish, and I've done it only once or twice in over 30 years of knifemaking. This demonstrates to me that it isn't a desired finish by the knife client, otherwise it would be asked for more often. More likely and frequently, clients ask for a mirror finish, because it is of higher value, takes more skill, and looks better on most blades. A mirror finish also inhibits corrosion better than any other finish. Why do so many makers hand-rub their blades? I write about it specifically on my Blades page at this bookmark. Alphabet Links
There are several definitions for this term. Up to and in the 1800's, a hanger was a type of sword, short and slightly curved, and the name hanger was typically used by seaman from describing the way the sword was carried. The name in modern knives and knife accessories refers to the clips, hooks, or devices used to hang the knife (and sometimes sheath) in a vertical case, board, or display. Hangers may take a variety of forms and shapes and are important for durability and dependability. You don't want to have that razor-sharp knife falling off the display! I've made display hangers in ivory, carved hardwood, metals, and sculpted and polished gemstone. See some examples of display hangers on my Knife Stands page. Alphabet Links
hardening temperature
This is the temperature above the decalescence point to which steels are heated for complete transformation before quenching during hardening process. The hardening temperature (and time that the blade is exposed to this temperature) depends on the steel alloy, the manufacturer's guidelines, the cross-sectional thickness of the blade, and the knifemaker's own experience for the desired result of complete austenitizing. Alphabet Links
HCR (incorrect initialism)
I've seen this string of letters used to identify the hardness of a knife blade, and this is a sloppy, amateur error. What the writer was trying to identify is HRC, an initialism of Hardness, Rockwell, C-scale. More at "HRC" below. Alphabet Links
heat treating
This is the secret of steel, not Conan the Barbarian's conclusion that flesh is somehow stronger than steel, but that the character of steel can be varied tremendously by the control and exposure of high and low temperatures. On this page, I go into the details, and heat treating is a characteristic of the modern tool steel worker that should be well-understood and well-practiced. Most of us old timers consider that if you don't do your own heat treating, you're not even a knife maker. Yep, it's true. Heat treating should be the start of the knife, and the first tool any knife maker should have is at the minimum a torch, and at least a heat treating oven. Only then can the maker know, understand, and control precisely the hardness and temper of the steel. More about heat treating, hardness and temper on my Blades page. The most detailed, concise, and complete page you will find on the internet about Heat Treating and Cryogenic Processing of Knife Blade Steels is here. Alphabet Links
heel (blade)
The heel is defined as "the part of the blade of a sword next to the hilt," so it's easy to see why in modern times many people call the cutting edge at the grind termination of a hand knife "the heel." I actually think that this is incorrect, as a knife is not a sword. By the way, it's also defined as "the handle end of a pike." But, people will be lazy and rather than describe this as "the cutting edge at the choil," or "the cutting edge at the grind termination," it's less effort to call it a heel. I suppose in the future, it will be called the "hee" and then just "h." Part of the laziness of communication that is sweeping our culture. How did I get off on that, anyway? By the way the root of the word is "hock" or foot. So if a knife blade does not drop below the ricasso, it doesn't really have a "foot" shape, like many wide-bladed large chef's knives do. If the cutting edge just stops (terminates), there may or may not be a small, large, plain, or intricate choil. If you are determined to call it a heel, it would probably be best if done on chef's knives where the edge does drop below the hand and actually has a "heel" shape. Otherwise, just pronounce the extra fruit and vegetables (nouns and consonants) and take the effort to accurately describe this area. Alphabet Links
In the old days, this term actually meant the hilt (a dialectic variation of haft), but that use is obsolete in America. Because the word also descends from heave, currently it is a subjective term to describe the combination of weight and balance of a knife. A weak, thin knife will feel light in heft, a solid, substantial knife will feel hefty. Since every person is different, this feeling is entirely subjective, but I like to make most of my knives solid, firm, and having good balance and heft. A thin, light, and flimsy knife may not be up to the task, unless it's a fillet, boning, paring, or chef's knife, where you want less heft and more flexibility. The heft of a knife is completely up to the knife maker, and good experience and tactile practice is well applied here. The heft must compliment the center of balance, and even the center of percussion (above). Alphabet Links
hidden tang
The hidden tang is described in detail above, at Knife Anatomy pictures 10-12. This type of tang is hidden usually completely hidden beneath the handle material that is held between the guard and the pommel. Though not as strong as the full tang knife, it can be made quite serviceable. See also stacked tang and stick tang below. Alphabet Links
From the Anglo-Saxon word hilt, or hilte, Old High German helza, or Old Norwegian, hjalt. It simply means the handle of a sword or dagger. A single-edged modern knife does not have a hilt; it has a handle. The term is best relegated to swords and daggers only, not general hand knives. There are many components to the hilt, including the quillons, grip, pommel, knuckle bows, pas de' ane, and crossguard of a sword, and various other components. Alphabet Links
hollow (grind)
The grind that significantly thins the knife blade in order to create thin enough cross section to then yield a serviceable, long-lasting, and sharp cutting edge. The word hollow comes from Middle English holow, hologh, holh, derived from hole, meaning sunken, depression, or concave. I believe that the hollow grind creates the sharpest, most serviceable, longest lasting grind of any knife blade grind, and that it is the premiere knife grind seen on the best knives. History backs that up with thousands of examples left to us in museums, representing hollow grinds throughout time. The hollow grind is the most difficult to create, execute well, and finish. It was interesting to note that on one knife reference site, the author claims that hollow grinds are made with a grinding stone. Perhaps this was true in the 19th century, but modern knives are hollow ground with abrasive belts. Read more about the hollow grind on my "Blades" page at this bookmark. Alphabet Links
The word holster, originating from the Dutch word holfter (meaning house) is the case for a pistol and is not a knife term. Sometimes guys get these confused, but it might help to just remember an old west movie, and the sheriff who would be considered a dandy if he told the bad guy, "You better holster that knife and sheath your gun!" Yep, doesn't work. Holster is the wrong word for knives. More on my sheaths page. Alphabet Links
This means having the same kind or nature, but it depends on what scale the material is being examined. Overtly, on a macroscopic level, steel is homogeneous, but when you examine it on a microscopic level, it has non-homogeneous microscopic structures. Since no one is examining knife blades under a microscope, knife blades are generally homogeneous if they consist of one kind of steel. An example of blades that are not homogeneous would be welded blades of different components, pattern welded damascus steels, and blades that have hamon or temper lines since these are visual physical differences in the steel. See monolithic and mono-steel below as a common misuse. Alphabet Links
You'll see this initialism (not abbreviation) frequently if you look at a lot of knives. Simply put, it means Hardness, Rockwell, C (scale). There are many ways to measure the hardness of metals and other materials, but in knives, we are mostly concerned with the blade hardness. Knife blades are tools, and cutting tools are measured on the highest hardness scales of the Rockwell tester, a penetration testing device. There are many scales in Rockwell hardness testing, A - V. These scales vary depending on the material being tested, and the hardness tester uses various penetrating styluses, and varying pressures applied to test them. In knives, you'll generally see two scales used; Rockwell C (HRC), and Rockwell B (HRB). If a blade is measured in HRB, it's markedly softer than HRC. Sometimes, knife manufacturers will give a hardness, and it might appear high, but somewhere in their text, they'll identify that they are using the "B" scale. This is a tricky, misleading feint to get the customer to think a knife blade is harder than it is. On one "evaluation" of chef's knives, I read the hardness represented as "HCR." This is the sign of a sloppy amateur writer, or an unknowledgeable knife enthusiast. More about Rockwell hardness testing on my "Heat Treating and Cryogenic Processing of Knife Blade Steels" page at this bookmark. Alphabet Links
hunting knife
Any knife used for hunting, mainly skinning and dressing game animals. This definition seems clear enough, but some of the knifemakers from the 20th century believed in tighter definitions, as to blade length, blade shape, and even the design of the guard. Hunting knives range from upswept (Western) trailing points with broad grinds to drop points to curved tantos. They may have sweeping bellies used for skinning; they may have gut hooks and specific features for processing game. Many knives cross many types, and hunting knives are no different, as they may have features and geometries suited to survival and woodsman skills as well. Alphabet Links
A hypereutectoid steel is a steel that contains more than 0.77% of carbon. In knifemaking, these are considered high carbon steels, as opposed to the lower carbon content of hypoeutectoid steels. More details on my Heat Treating and Cryogenic Processing of Knife Blade Steels at this link. Alphabet Links
A hypoeutectoid steel is a steel that contains less than 0.77% of carbon. In knifemaking, these are considered low carbon steels, as opposed to the higher carbon content of hypereutectoid steels. More details on my Heat Treating and Cryogenic Processing of Knife Blade Steels at this link. Alphabet Links
hysteresis (hysteresis band)
Also called "dead-band". In this context, it's the range of cycling in ovens between the temperature that the heating element turns off after reaching the set temperature, and the oven cools to a lower temperature and then the element turns back on until the set temperature is reached again. This creates a cyclic effect in a range of temperature, and this is called hysteresis. In most ovens and furnaces, this range can be extremely wide, between 50° and 150° F, creating wide swings in temperature and inaccurate control of the process. Attempts should be made with equipment to narrow this band for greater accuracy in the process. In my own studio, switching tempering and drying ovens to PID controllers will result in a hysteresis band of about 1°F! Mechanical freezers can suffer from wide hysteresis bands as well, applied to their cooling control rather than heating control. Alphabet Links
The acronym for Interceptor Body Armor used by the United States military. Though it is being replaced by the more modern IOTV and MTV armor, there are still a lot of units using these. Knives mounted to the exterior gear can be bolted with my aluminum belt loops over and around the PALS webbing. Alphabet Links
This is the acronym for Individual Integrated Fighting System. This is not some new age robotic video game combat strategy, it is the equipment carrying system developed in the 1980s for combat that allows the wearer to carry his equipment; pack, belts, and gear. It is newer than the ALICE system described above, yet is being replaced by the MOLLE system and ILBE system described below. There are still a lot of these around. They use the same 1965 era belt with eyelets design, so my tactical knife sheaths may be mounted by removing the belt loops and reattaching the loops around the belt. Alphabet Links
This is the acronym for the Improved Load Bearing Equipment system for carrying small equipment into combat. This recent military system was designed to replace the MOLLE and ALICE systems described in this list. It uses the PALS one inch webbing system, described below, so my knife sheaths will bolt on over the PALS webbing. Alphabet Links
This term usually refers to a knife that has been milled down from a very thick piece of stock, making the bolsters, guard, and/or fittings an integral part of the blade. Usually applied to full tang knife design, this means that the thickest part of the metallic parts of a knife, usually the bolsters, are actually the same solid piece of steel as the blade and tang. The reason for this supposedly is to create a very strong blade-bolster-tang junction. One has to question the high, extra, added expense of making a knife this way. Since the weakest part of the knife is the tip of the point of the cutting edge, extra strength at the bolster area is usually unnecessary. Rarely, if ever, does a bolster snap off or become unattached or loose from any well-made knife; in example: in the thousands of knives I've made, I've never had one single problem with any bolster, ever. One might question whether all this thick stock milling is actually necessary, or if it may be a gimmick or perhaps a way of turning over knife construction to a CNC milling machine. There are some serious drawbacks to this type of milling operation. First is the obvious expense of purchasing very thick stock and passing that cost on to the client. Secondly, since the blade is hardened and tempered, so, too must be the bolsters, making them too hard to engrave and embellish. Additionally, blade steels are not corrosion proof—even the highest chromium tool steels can corrode in long exposures to moisture from the hand where it contacts the bolster area. Mounting the proper type of corrosion-resistant materials (such as 304 austenitic high chromium, high nickel stainless steel) can prevent this. Another issue is that the bolster that is integrally milled can not be sculpted, faced, and radiused to the knife blade, as the shape of the bolster face and handle contact area is dictated by the limited function of the machine milling these areas. So a sculpted and finished bolster face (Knife Anatomy Illustration 6 above) is not possible in an integral bolster design. More about this on my Handles, Bolsters, and Guards page and in my book. Alphabet Links
This is the knife maker's term for inlay, specifically the inlay of materials in a frame of a knife handle. The handle is typically but not exclusive to a folding knife; I've made them on both fixed blades and folders. The interframe inlay method allows a smaller, tight, and somewhat protected inset of materials, which keeps the weight down and can offer striking creations and arrangements. The interframe (inlayed knife handle) is usually weaker than a full-tang handle, but stronger than a hidden tang handle. Here is a folding knife with an inlayed gemstone handle. Alphabet Links
In this context, the word refers to the holes between larger metal atoms in crystalline lattices where smaller atoms or ions occupy. It also refers to the spaces in the larger molecular arrangement that carbon and small carbides occupy. Alphabet Links
This is not the acronym for Indoor/Outdoor Television, but the acronym for Improved Outer Tactical Vest, the evolution of body protection gear for the military, and there are several and continuous variations to these vest and gear systems. Most of them are using the PALS webbing system, so my tactical sheaths can be mounted by mechanical screws on the sheaths with the belt loops over the PALS web. Alphabet Links
Of course a knifemaker's site would have to have this word! Funny thing; the word wasn't much in use before the end of the bronze age. That's because iron wasn't really used, apart from meteoritic iron, until the bronze culture collapsed, which is a fascinating story itself! The word comes from Middle English isærn meaning iron weapon, which originated from the Old High German word isarn meaning holy metal or strong metal. This was probably in comparison to bronze. Iron is an element (symbol Fe from the Latin ferrum). It comprises over 5% of the earth's crust, and is believed to comprise the bulk of the Earth's core, along with nickel. This would correspond well with the meteoritic theory of the origin of earth, since many meteorites are iron-nickel. In any case, iron is the main component of steel, which is why it's mentioned here. We are an iron planet, and iron (and steel) are part of our history and existence, and the very foundation for our knives. Alphabet Links
means: of or exhibiting equality in dimensions or measurements. This term is usually applied to daggers, which are ordinarily balanced on both cutting edges and of equal dimensions and handle shape, no matter the orientation and view. In simpler terms, the profile (shape of the blade and handle) is the same whether viewed from the obverse side or the reverse side. The only way to tell which side is which is the maker's mark, which is always placed on the obverse side. A blade may be isometric but the handle not, and also the handle may be isometric but the blade not. Alphabet Links
Meaning having the same mechanical and thermal properties in all directions. I use this when discussing modern knife steels, which are isotropic. An example of a non-isotropic steel blade would be pattern welded damascus, which has different properties in different directions. The same can be said for wood, but austenitic stainless steels like 302 and 304 are completely isotropic. In knives, this property is important to consider when making the knife, machining, and finishing the components, and choosing the right orientation for appearance and strength in natural materials like stone, woods, and other natural and manmade materials. Yes, some stones are isotropic and some are not! You had better know the difference before you use them for a knife handle, since many directional mechanical forces may be involved. Alphabet Links
This is the short, punchy, and accurate acronym for Information Technology, what you are reading right now. Every successful business has some type of information technology, and it's sad to see major knife manufacturers and makers neglect this wonderful and necessary medium while spreading wives' tales and hype. It's about information, and the people who read this information are not the old-style, typical, undereducated commoners who are sold by the hype about the "soul of the blade," and other such nonsense. People will never claim there is too much information about the product they are buying, and somehow modern IT professionals just don't get this. They claim that the speed of presentation is key, that just enough information to secure the purchase is all that the buyer needs. They are, and will continue to be, misinformed. Many businesses lump the IT department with the web development department, as if they are the same. So, is the guy that writes the coding is their most informed in the process, item, history, development, and sales of the product? Of course not, he just updates the website and makes sure it will take your credit card number and order the item. This is why sites are so often filled with misinformation and curiously humorous statements. Here's an example. Alphabet Links
The old word, jimp that came from North England and Scotland, means neat, handsome, and slender in form. The knife industry designated regular, machined cuts or cross-hatched patterns on the back of the spine of the knife to improve traction of the fingertips jimping. They still call those regular spaced machine-made cuts jimping, but the in the custom and handmade knife world the embellishment of this area has evolved into artistic filework. Jimping may be machine-cut by automated slitters, mills, or blades, but filework must be hand-cut. In my world, calling filework "jimping" is an insult, and novice and beginning knifemakers do it all the time. Read more about filework on my Embellishment page. Alphabet Links
Defined as a device with a chamber where things are baked, dried, heated, cooked, or cured: many knifemakers use the term kiln to describe a heat treating furnace or a tempering oven. There is no solid rule here, but kilns are usually described as being high temperature devices, lined with brick, and often used to fire pottery or bricks. Pottery firing has been the standard use of kilns in the United States for many decades, but recently (in the last 20 years or so) knifemakers have started using the term kiln to describe a heat treating furnace. It could be that this is because many makers have adapted pottery kilns for heat treating use, which is a bad idea, since pottery kilns usually have very slow heating rates, detrimental to knife blade heat treatment. The term is also used by at least one company manufacturing heat treating devices; they use the words kiln and furnace interchangeably, since they manufacture both. It could also be because of the internet and search engine optimization. Other usage may be because in some localities, the term furnace is used colloquially to describe a home heating system, and the word kiln sounds better. In any case, when I hear or read a maker using the term "kiln," I know he probably hasn't studied much scientific data on heat treating, since scientific institutions and authorities use the word "furnace" when discussing heat treating or changing metals. Alphabet Links
Though this seems a simple term, it is a fairly recent one. You won't find it in any modern dictionary, and though it seems fairly self-explanatory, it can be a confusing term. Technically an neologism (a new word based on several older words describing a unique definition), the term varies from country to country and from generation to generation. Older terms, such as knifesmith, do not strictly define knifemaking. This is because smith in the USA is generally defined as "one who forges with a hammer," and seldom more loosely, "one who makes things." This is not how the very best modern knife steels are processed—most of them can not be hammer-forged—and technically, they are machined. Would that mean that a knifemaker is a machinist? If he works with the finest modern high alloy tool steels, he must indeed use machinist's processes and skills. Since in the USA, smithing is generally considered as hammer-forged, you would not call a machinist a smithy; he would be insulted! Being a machinist would not define the great number of skills and techniques used to make the handle, since woods, horn, bone, ivory, and stone are not machined. A carpenter would define the woodworker in the knifemaking shop, but makers such as myself would also have to be called lapidarists. We might also be defined as sculptors, leatherworkers, designers, and foundry workers. Don't forget photographers, internet technology developers, weapons and tool makers, and jewelers. What about engravers? Cutler is another older term that refers to knife making. However, in the USA, cutlery is considered any number of common, cheap, food service and consumption utensils, so a cutler would be one who makes these common kitchen and service implements, and this is not what most modern knifemakers do. So, for now, the best defining term that encompasses what guys like me do is knifemaker. It's not a glamorous, exciting, or thrilling title, but it is a descriptive neologism that currently defines our modern craft. When people ask me what I do, and I don't want to go into the vast details of my profession, I'll tell them I'm an artist. That covers a lot of it. If they want more information, I'll tell them I'm a Professional Custom Knifemaker. That is rarely enough for them. The more questions I answer, the more confusion and curiosity grows. It's an unusual profession and art to describe! Alphabet Links Distinctive types of modern knifemaking are detailed here.
knurled, knurl
This word comes as a conferred term from knur, a hard excrescence of a tree, a rough area, the same root as the word gnarled. Machinists use the knurling tool to make a knurled finish on tools to aid in grip. How it works is one or several textured rollers are forced against a rotating handle on the lathe or mill, and the metal is displaced in raised, knobby forms, very small and patterned. This creates a rough surface to grip. This is not the way to finish any knife handle; it is cheap, poor, and does not perform well, holding dirt, debris, and abrading the skin. In the shop, it is a handy and fast way to give a little more grip friction to work tools, so it has its place. Alphabet Links
laminated (steel)
From the Latin lamina derived from the Old Norse word lamar meaning thin plate, this refers to plates of metal bonded together, usually by fusion welding or diffusion welding by hand or automated process. This process is actually very old, and started in various world cultures, so not one culture can claim historic origin or any kind of superiority. What is more important is to understand why it was—and is—done. Early steels were not capable of being both hard and tough, so a hard, wear-resistant inner plate of steel was bonded to a tougher, more flexible outer layer. Other laminating methods produce a softer, more flexible core or back, with the cutting edge made of the hardest material. The idea was that the cutting edge would be hard, and the other layers would allow limited flexing and toughness while supporting the cutting edge layer, which was brittle. The process worked well for its time, but is distinctly outdated, no matter what you may read from knife makers or manufacturers. This is because the cutting edge needs to be very thin in order to be sharp, and if that thin edge is made of brittle steel, it may easily fracture. These fractures may be microscopic and present as edge wear, the very thing a hard steel is supposed to prevent! Nowadays, there are far superior steels that are isotropic, uniform, and of high alloy content, so hardness and toughness are both available throughout the blade. In other applications, a more corrosion-resistant outer layer protects a less corrosion resistant inner wear-resistant layer. In my book, I'll go into why these steels are actually suspect now, and problems with their origin and sources and use. Alphabet Links
On one site, I read that the word "laminate" refers to wood. Currently, many different things can be laminated, so the use of this term alone should be avoided without identifying what is laminated. For instance, we can laminate vulcanized fish fiber insulation material (spacer) with phenolics, hardwoods, or metals. We can even laminate gemstone. The word comes from lamar, an Old Norse word meaning hinge. So the plates of a hinge are the origins of the word laminate. Interesting. Alphabet Links
lanyard, lanyard hole
A lanyard is a cord, thong, loop, or strap used for an extra measure of security. The lanyard is often mounted through a hole that is milled, drilled, forged, or carved, usually through the butt of the handle at the rear bolster, tang, and sometimes pommel. The lanyard may be wrapped around a wrist, around the neck (probably a bad practice), or tied to the body so the knife is secure. I have lots of clients who insist on lanyards for knives that are used onboard ship. A short lanyard may assist in extracting or pulling the knife from the sheath, particularly if the sheath is deep and protective. The use of a lanyard must be carefully considered, because the strap, loop, or thong may hang up on machinery, gear, and brush, adding difficulty and frustration (or danger) to carrying the knife in the particular environment. Most of my lanyard holes extend through the tang for great strength and security. In wood, horn, bone, and ivory handles, if there is no rear bolster in a full tang knife, the lanyard hole is usually lined with a metal tube to protect the handle material from splitting, stress, and wear. I use the term thong tube and thong less frequently these days, as there might be confusion with modern female undergarments- and that is no place for a knife! Alphabet Links
This is a very old word, coming from Middle English lappe, from Anglo Saxon læppa, akin to Dutch lap, and means a patch or a piece. In machining (and in lapidary), it refers to a small piece of material rubbed against another, so that one (or both of them) abrade each other, thus making surfaces mate against each other. Take the process further, and you'll achieve a finer surface. Add some abrasives in increasing grit steps, and you'll achieve a very fine polish. This is how faceted gemstones have been ground throughout history. In metals, a very fine matching surface can be achieved between two pieces, and in stone, a very flat and smooth surface can be achieved. This is the root of the word lapidary. Alphabet Links
One who cuts, shapes, polishes, and finishes stones, rock, or precious gems. The root of the word is lap. Lapidaries take on several forms in current times: those who lap (disc grind, shape and polish precious gems) for faceted mounts, those who work in the jewelry trade, those who perform small carvings in stone, and those who form mosaics or terrazzo in artistic pieces. There are many more, but lapidarists are considered typically working with rock of value. So the guy who installs your granite countertop is not a lapidary, though he may use a diamond wet grinder to shape and finish the edges and joints. Lapidary is an extremely slow process, taking much more time than machining or grinding and finishing metals, since the materials are often harder, and definitely more unpredictable than metals. It takes specialized equipment and a wet studio or shop to work with stone and minerals and a wholly different set of knowledge. What I do is typically considered lapidary carving, with inlays, doublets, mosaics and mounting gemstone and rock in steel, and it's a unique combination not found in the jeweler's trade or in the free sculptural carver's trade. More about gemstone handled knives on this dedicated page on my site. Alphabet Links
A regular geometrical arrangement of objects constituting volume; specifically: the arrangement of atoms in a crystal in a clear and definite physical and mechanical form. Alphabet Links
layered (sheath)
There are several sheath construction types, and the layered is also called sandwich style. The sheath has a defined and separate face (or front), back, and welts, and is constructed by lacing, stitching, or riveting the layers together. This type of sheath is the most creative in my opinion, because tight tolerances can be used to form the sheath, and the sheath profile is not limited by folded leather which always creates a straight edge and a single thickness of leather which can be more vulnerable to the knife point and cutting edge. More on my Sheaths page. Alphabet Links
lead-off (grind)
The grind lead-off is the geometry of the grind as it leads off the spine toward the tip of the blade. This is another tough spot to properly create and finish on the modern custom knife. The balance should be controlled for the intended purpose of the knife, the strength of the blade tip or point, and the fullness of the spine. A tactical knife would have a much more shallow lead-off than a working knife, which will be thicker than a chef's knife which often has the widest lead-off and thinnest blade at the point of any knife blade design. Like the plunge (below), it is a tenuous area for custom knives, as the lead-off should be matched at both sides, and this can be seen by casting a view down the point with both eyes. Alphabet Links
left under the table
This is a term from knife shows. The shows were filled with knifemakers who rent tables for a weekend, and display and try to sell their wares from the table top. Not everything was worthy of the precious space on the table, so some items were left "under the table," so that they would not distract from what was on top of the table. Makers who made marginal or poor sheaths commonly kept their sheaths under the table, and when asked, would present them to potential knife clients, usually with an apology. See my Sheaths page for more details about this. Other items left under the table were the lesser knives, bargain knives, and other unworthy bits of a knifemaker's business. In discussion, other makers might suggest that a particular piece, practice, or story might best be left under the table (and rarely publicly presented). Alphabet Links
legacy (patterns, designs)
The term legacy typically identifies something left behind by a knife maker, artist, or person who has died, simply, an item handed down from the past. With knife makers, this often refers to patterns of knives. The families of past knife makers often distribute or gift patterns. I consider it a great honor to make knives based on legacy patterns and designs. Alphabet Links
line cutter
Similar to the gut hook above in appearance, but usually smaller and often placed near the choil or ricasso, the line cutter is a specially shaped cutter designed to capture small line and sever it. Particularly useful in marine or wet environments where a floating or wet line may simply float away from the knife blade, and it would take two hands to cut the line (one holding the line, one holding the knife). With a line cutter, in one motion the line is guided down the arm and hand to the knife, where it is hooked and severed. Particularly useful for small line and rope, monofilament, netting, and small rigging lines. A great illustration of a line cutter is at the ricasso of my Flamesteed. Alphabet Links
On a folding knife, this is the flat plate that supports the handle sides, bolsters, spine, and blade pivot. In the old days, it was called a bolster liner, because that is where the bolsters are attached. This term has fallen out of modern use, because the bolster may have a decorative liner of another material, which renders the older term confusing. Many of my liner lock knives have liners made of 6AL4V titanium because of its light weight, high toughness, springy nature, and good wear characteristics. Other liners may be austenitic stainless steel. A liner is not spacer material! I've seen spacers called liners, they are not. See spacer material below. Alphabet Links
lock tang (sheath)
On my locking sheaths, the lock tang (made of 304 or 316 austenitic stainless steel) engages the knife at the thumb rise notch (below). This is the main movable component that the thumb disengages to release the knife from the sheath. I make this of highly corrosion resistant stainless steel for toughness, wear resistance, and longevity. The lock tang is hinged to the anchor tang, and sometimes carries a crossbar to widen thumb contact for the release from the sheath. Alphabet Links
This is derived from the French loquet, meaning latch, and is the fitting sometimes attached to the mouthpiece chape of a scabbard to engage a hole, loop, or frog of a belt. This is, then, the device that allows the sheath to engage the belt for hanging the knife on the belt. Alphabet Links
loop, belt
A belt loop is usually formed in leather, and is called a loop because early typical sheaths were made by bending a loop in the leather and attaching it to the back of the sheath. Belt loops today may be stitched to the back of the sheath top and bottom, and while technically not fully formed loops, they are still called loops. So called are also slits, cut in the sheath back that the belt can be threaded through. Making loops is important and durability and attachment must be carefully considered and addressed, as all of the weight of the knife and sheath hang on this one piece of material. Severe bending, carving, or thinning of the loops can shorten their life, and when they fail, the knife is lost. On my tactical and combat sheaths, the loops are high strength, corrosion resistant aluminum alloy. Alphabet Links
Lowballing describes the process that manufacturers and knife boutique shops use to offer a knife that beats a competitor's price, undercutting him on the market. How it's done is to make a cut in product quality. An example might be to not grind any blade finer than 180 grit, and then spray coat it with an inexpensive baked finish. The finish is hyped by advertising as being "non-glare", "improving lubricity" or offering a "stealthy, tactical appearance." This is actually just a way to cover a cut in quality, as the overall cost of knife production drops as further metal sanding and polishing is eliminated. The cost of a simple advertising phrase is much less than the time, skill, and effort to properly finish the knives, so the knife production cost goes down, and the price stays the same, and more profit is made. Lowballing decisions are rooted in the bean counting (accounting) of cost-based production, and always have a negative effect on quality. People don't purchase this kind of knife for an investment, they purchase it because of the advertising. Where the misconception materializes is when they begin to think the knife is actually worth investing in. Alphabet Links
low carbon steel
See mild steel below. Alphabet Links
maker's mark
This is the mark displayed on the knife (typically on the "mark) side (obverse) of the knife blade that identifies the maker of the knife. All good knives should have a maker's mark, and sometimes other information is included, like location, model number, production number, and maybe even a little graphic of a scantily clad female to seal the deal (just kidding). This is not a hallmark (see hallmark above) and you can learn a lot about maker's marks on a special page I've created about that very subject at this link. Alphabet Links
A frequent accessory on sailor's or mariner's knives. This is a small pointed tool for working into difficult knots to loosen them, and for aiding in braiding, working, modifying or creating features in rope, line and cable. I've found them absolutely critical if you have a difficult knot to work loose, and don't want to cut your line. They can also have additional features, like shackle-breakers, custom slots, and scrapers built in. Being marine-grade, they should be made of stainless steel. Here's a great example in my Mariner with Seahawk marlinspike and shackle breaker. Alphabet Links
Acronym for MARine disruptive PATtern camouflage, this is the modern camo pattern used only on United States Marine Corps military uniforms. Since this is a patented form, color, and process, it is not available to anyone anywhere unless you pop for a very expensive license. Since the blocky, broken pattern concept is a good one, most branches of the military have developed their own form of this pattern, called digital camouflage, or digi-camo. Even many other countries have developed their own versions of this type of pattern. See digital camouflage above. Alphabet Links
Martensite is a very hard, corrosion resistant wear resistant crystalline structure created by sudden quenching transformation from austenite. More about martensite at this bookmark, and further explanation of understanding martensite at this bookmark. Alphabet Links
I could be talking about the type of tissue that a butcher uses with his knives, but I'm not. The meat of a knife blade is the cross-sectional thickness and overall width, which, when considered together, mean the total cross-sectional mass of the blade anywhere along its length. Yes, it's slang, and a good and quick way to describe a component that is not often considered, and is difficult to determine from a flat, two dimensional photograph of a knife from the side. A knife with a large, meaty spine is very well supported and extremely strong, a knife with a lightweight, thin, or double ground edge will have less meat along its length. The same idea can be applied to the handle, sheath, and accessories. A 9-10 oz. leather shoulder cross section is much meatier than a 5-6 oz., and my polypropylene webbing used on the belt loop extenders will support the weight of more than six men; meaty indeed! Alphabet Links
This is the acronym for Mobile Emergency Response Group and Equipment. This is another name for a SWAT team (Special Weapons and Tactics). Typically, they are responsible for supporting the field operations by providing special skills and equipment to address critical incidents involving threats to life. They may also assist other entities like the Secret Service with dignitary protection and provide direct support to patrol personnel in the apprehension of violent criminals. They often require specialized knives and critical wear accessories that are custom and handmade to suit their individual needs. It's an honor to work with these guys! Alphabet Links
In the context of steel phases, this means stable for the moment, if no outside forces or conditions act upon the metallic structure. So in knife blades, this is not really reasonable, as force on the structure of the steel (applied by cutting and pressure), aging (inevitable), and temperature changes can all force the metastable material into another phase or condition. The idea is to get the blade into a "stable metastable" condition, so that normal knife use and exposure does not induce changes in the steel knife blade. Alphabet Links
On full tang knives, this is the description of the bolster pair that is similar to the sub-hilt of hidden tang knives (below). This central bolster pair are attached to the handle (or milled), usually located behind the area of the forefinger. This allows pressure to be applied to sawing cuts when pulling backward on the knife, and adds additional security in grip. By using bolster material here, thin cross-sectional areas of the handle are avoided. For example, if hardwood was used here, the wood that extends down the point of the quillon protrusion would be small, thin, and weak, and could split off. A good example of a mid-bolster design is my Patriot. Alphabet Links
mild steel
This is a typical industrial name for low carbon steel, also known as plain carbon steel. This is steel that has very little carbon, and is used in applications where great strength and wear resistance are not important. This is cheap and malleable steel, used where great masses of the stuff are required (as in structural steel). You may see it in used in pattern welded damascus knife layers, as the contrasting layer that is welded to a more wear resistant higher alloy tool steel. Unfortunately, this steel is commonly used for engraved knife fittings, because it is soft and easy to engrave, and cheap. It can then be cold blued (with room temperature solutions) to darken the backgrounds of the engraving. The problem with using this steel for fittings is so pervasive, I really don't know why it's still used on modern knives. It will rust at the mere exposure to air. It has to be coated, babied, cleaned, and a fingerprint can never be left on the surface, or it will be etched permanently into the steel. There are much better choices for engraving, but it's a traditional material. Even nickel silver is much more corrosion resistant than mild steel, but guys who must have soft metal to engrave don't use it. I believe this is because nickel silver much more expensive than mild steel, which can be found in any old piece of angle iron, bar stock, or structural beam. I prefer high nickel, high chromium 304 austenitic stainless steel for my engraved fittings. It simply won't corrode, and will usually outlast the knife blade. Alphabet Links
This is a neologism, meaning worked by a modern mill. In knifemaking, a mill is not the kind of stone used to crush grain, our mill is a modern milling machine, a heavy solid electrically powered machine with accurate beds and travel and a rigid but adjustable rotating cutting head. The actual cutting is done by milling cutters (or mills for short) which are made of tool steels, high speed steels, carbide, or have carbide inserts. Millwork is similar to the piercework of old; however a machine is used to remove material (usually from the blade) with the first consideration to lighten the weight of the blade, and the second consideration artistic. Millwork may be followed by extensive handwork for artistic completion. Millwork is seen also on skeletonized blades and knives where the entire handle bulk has been milled away to lighten the weight. I've got a special page on the site dedicated to skeletonized knives as it is a unique and critical form. Alphabet Links
Mineralized tusks, bones, and once-living organic materials are the actual materials that have been soaked and impregnated with moisture, bearing minerals, over centuries and sometimes millennia. The minerals carried in by the moisture darken and stain the material in interesting patterns and colors, and may stabilize or toughen it somewhat. Often, this is called fossil mammoth or fossil mastodon tusk, fossil ivory, or fossil walrus tusk. This is incorrect. these are not fossils, and the correct descriptive term is mineralized. Another term that some makers have started to use is ancient, mainly to differentiate modern banned ivory from old ivory that has been reclaimed from the soil. The term ancient should probably not be used, since it specifies a time of early civilization. Since some of the mineralized organics have dated to over 10,000 years ago, they predate human civilization. Also, the term is vague, because many makers are ancient; at least we've been called that... (See fossil above) Alphabet Links
Acronym for Modernized Load Carrying Equipment, introduced into the US Army in 1968 during the Vietnam War. This is the cotton webbing with eyelets and sliding metal clamps that we saw so much of as kids in the 1970s. Some of this gear is still available in surplus shops, for cheap. There are much better types of gear now, but in a pinch, it can be acquired for little investment, and it's longevity is a testament to its durability. Alphabet Links
This is a technique developed in ancient Japan and the word means "wood-grained metal." It's done by diffusion welding or soldering and forging (or pressing and rolling) non-ferrous metals, more typically in knifemaking, copper-based metals which will bond and fuse reliably. The layers of metal are then forged in a billet, creating a composite metal that has a "wood-grained" appearance. There are a whole host of non-ferrous metals that have been historically used to make mokume-gane including copper and its alloys, gilding metal, gold, and silver (coin and sterling). Here's a knife with mokume-gane bolsters. Alphabet Links
molle gear
Acronym for Modular Lightweight Load carrying Equipment, the modern carrying method for the U. S. Army and other professional services like law enforcement. Modern knives should be compatible with mounting arrangements, compatible with PALS webbing (below). Alphabet Links
monolithic ("mono-steels") [Incorrect Slang]
Knifemakers use a lot of slang, some of it bad, and this is a bad and very common one. It's often used to distinguish a uniform piece of steel from pattern-welded damascus steel or layered steels which consist of varying layers of different types of steels. On forums and on websites by uneducated knifemakers and knife enthusiasts, you'll see the term "mono-steels" thrown out. What these guys are trying to describe is homogeneous steels, but it wouldn't be cool to use the slang "homo-steels," and a bit, well, awkward, so they use "mono-steels." Really. It probably comes from monolith and monolithic which means consisting of one stone; a monolith is a single rock, like a monolith in Stonehenge.
Some might argue that the prefix mono- is a universal catch-all prefix, but in American English, maybe it means that steel has mononucleosis. When I hear the phrase "mono-steel," I'm reminded of this, and most Americans are, too. Maybe it's used to associate uniform, homogeneous steels with a disease, casting them in an unfavorable light...
If you want to use the narrow scientific terminology, mono means "compounds containing one atom of a particular element (i.e. monohydrate)". This is NOT steel! Steel is a solution, consisting of many elements, so "mono" doesn't work in the scientific sense, either.
"homogeneous" means consisting of all parts of the same kind, uniform, identical, unvaried, unvarying, consistent, similar, undistinguishable. Clearly, uniform steel is homogeneous, not monolithic since steel is not a stone. See homogeneous above.
Still, this simple definition gets a lot of confused commentary. This is because of forum and discussion board postings, where knife enthusiasts are creating their own words, despite the existing metallurgy, machine shops, steel industry, and metals research community. In every one of those fields, you won't find anyone using the term "mono-steel." It's not in any machinist's guide, no steel manufacturer or supplier, no industrial metals application, and definitely not in any academic research text, anywhere! Where you will find it is on the knife forums, Instagram, and Reddit. So, if you want to advertise that you are a knife forum junkie, that's the term you'll probably use while claiming that the rest of the actual professional metals field doesn't know what they are talking about. Oh, and the cheap import companies trying to sell knives are starting to use the word, since this is the level of market they are catering to.
What, then is the correct term when one is referring to a uniform, isotropic, homogeneous steel? Scientific researchers in metallurgy call this a "homogeneous alloy." Better yet, they call it "steel" and then identify it by type: "tool steel", "martensitic stainless steel," "die steel". For even more accuracy, they identify the alloy name: 1085, D2, CTS-XHP. For the greatest accuracy, they list the actual alloy content, but that's too much for casual discussion. How about just "steel?"
So, please don't embarrass yourself by writing to me to argue that the forum participants know more than the actual metals industry and researchers; you won't change my mind anymore than you can change the entire metals research field, but you're free to try. Start writing to the metallurgical departments at all the universities; insist on all textbooks being changed so they can get it "right."
The same guys who complain about this section of "mono-steel" are calling pattern-welded steels Damascus, and the real damascus is Wootz crucible steel, watered steel alloy made in ancient times, and yes, it's a single alloy, not made of two different kinds of steel. But they've hijacked the name long ago... Poor ancient Syria, it never gets the credit!
Moral of the story: Get a book, read it. Don't get your information from a forum or discussion board or YouTube video.
If you are a knife client, knife customer, or knife buyer, beware of the knifemaker's use of this word; it tags him as a forum-educated knifemaker, and you would be right to consider his knowledge because of his vocabulary. People who are knowledgeable about steels aren't using terms like "mono-steels, ice-quenching, blood groove, or fighting knife."
mortised tang
This is a description listed in some 20th century texts for a rabbeted tang that is inserted in a split pair of handle scales. Technically, it is not a mortise; a mortise is a square hole usually cut in wood that accommodates a matching square tenon. These same texts cite a modern knifemaker as introducing this to knives, but countless examples exist in historical weapons, knives and tools. Many early Japanese weapons and tools have this type of handle. There are even bronze aged weapons and tools that have handles mounted in this fashion, so citing a modern knifemaker as developing this method is ridiculous! Read about rabbeted tangs below. Alphabet Links
mosaic pins
A constructed knife pin used to secure handle scales to a full tang knife, made of multiple small pins or wire assembled into tubing and usually filled with black epoxy. Sometimes a tube within a tube is used, with varying sizes, shapes, and arrangements. Back in the 80's knifemakers could only make these pins themselves, and now they are commonly sold by knife making supply companies. I try to stay away from them. While they present some visual interest, I believe a knife is much better served cleanly, with smooth execution, with solid and striking handle material, and a good form. Additionally, the mosaic pin is usually large, in order to contain the assemblage of smaller pins, tubing, and pieces arranged inside it. A large pin might make a strong pin, but I believe multiple smaller pins strengthen the overall handle scale-to-tang assembly. By having multiple contact points, stresses are distributed over a wider area of the tang. Since singular pins are smaller, they don't require a large hole to be bored in the handle material, which can weaken the scales of some of the more brittle materials like ironwood, rosewoods, ebonies, and even G10. A useful comparison would be through-nailing two boards together with either one big nail, or multiple smaller diameter nails. Which is tougher overall and creates less stress in the wood? Alphabet Links
mouth, sheath
The sheath mouth is where the knife is inserted. This may be simply a large hole in the top of the sheath, or it may be a narrow slit in a sheath that has the knife handle covered, secured, or resting in a separate area. The sheath mouth construction is important; the welts must be sufficiently thick to accommodate bolsters, they must be ramped to guide the knife blade in and discourage twisting the blade which can cut the face and back of the sheath. The mouth of the sheath can be a nice area for display of the knife's embellishment, bolsters, or handle material. Ultimately, it should be constructed with durability in mind. Alphabet Links
This is the abbreviation for the Metal Powder Industries Federation, the world's most comprehensive source for powder metallurgy and particulate materials knowledge. This field didn't really exist when I started making knives over 35 years ago, and is a new and exciting materials realm for metallurgists. While expensive, the powder metals like CPMS30V, CPMS90V, CPMS35VN, and CPM154CM are major players in the new metals technology used in fine handmade custom knife blades, and some new ones like N360 nitrogen stainless steel are sure to become mainstays in the corrosion resistant knife blade field. What a great time to be working with these materials! Alphabet Links
This is an important abbreviation for any knifemaker, metals or arts studio, or machine shop. The abbreviation is for Maintenance, Repair, and Operations. This is a critical factor of this trade, and one that makers rarely discuss with clients, but frequently discuss amongst one another. The suppliers of MRO equipment, supplies, expendables, and materials are critical to successful knife making, and so are the skills and abilities for maintenance and repair. This is the background of knife making that few clients are aware of. I hope to change all that in these pages and in my book! Alphabet Links
Nope, not the musical television channel. This is the acronym for Modular Tactical Vest armor system, a modern protective and tactical wear system used by the military. Like the IOTV above, it uses the PALS webbing system for carrying gear, including tactical knives like mine, which can attach with the mechanical belt loop fasteners I use. Alphabet Links
This is the abbreviation for the National Association of Corrosion Engineers. One might wonder why a custom knifemaker would be interested in this particular organization. This is because most modern handmade knives, particularly chef's knives and knives that will see service in wet or marine environments, need to have highly corrosion resistant metal components. This is a new clarification in knives; in the old days, all knives were made of carbon steel and would rust. Not so today, and the use of refractory metals, aluminum, and highly corrosion resistant materials is paramount to good custom and handmade knife design and use. The NACE is a great source of technical information for these materials and their reaction with their environments and exposures. Alphabet Links
This means "in name only." The word has a place in knifemaking, in machining, in leather work, and in carpentry, so that's why I thought it's important to include it here. In knives, for instance, when referring to the thickness of the blade as nominally 1/4", this means that the blade is approximately .250" thick. While I give more exact measurements than that, the foundry that supplies the bar stock or billets of tool steel will not, simply listing the metal as 1/4". It is usually thicker than that in rough stock; they know you'll machine the surface down and can achieve exactly .250" from what they nominally supply as 1/4". In leather work, the thickness is measured in ounces (see link) and this, too is a nominal measurement, as tooling, compression, and variation of leathers will change that somewhat. In carpentry, all stock is referred nominally, when purchasing from a supplier. So 1" stock can only be used to make 3/4" thick finished lumber, and lumber is also measured in "quarters," which are quarter-inch graduations of sizes. So if wood is listed in rough as "five-quarter" thick, this means that it is nominally over 1.250" thick, but should be able to produce finished pieces of one-inch thick. Not always so; but this is the way board-foot measure has been for centuries and is likely to continue such! Alphabet Links
A treatment in lower alloy steels to relieve stresses caused by machining and forging, involving heating the steel to its austenitizing temperature or somewhat below, and then letting cool in room air or by a fairly fast rate. This cannot be used in high alloy martensitic stainless hypereutectoid steels, because they will quench and harden, but is typically performed in lower alloy or hand-forged blades. Alphabet Links
This is found in older or museum texts describing the open areas of a blade. This is done to lighten the blade, particularly large and bulky blades like axes, club heads, and halberds. The difference between openwork and piercework is that openwork is typically done when the blade is forged or formed, usually during the construction of the blade, where piercework happens afterward with cutting tools. So, openwork is seen as hammer-forged or in cast or constructed blades, where piercework is done by removal of the uniform stock of the blade. Alphabet Links
orange peel
In the world of fine and handmade custom knives, orange peel does not refer to the citrus fruit, but is the appearance of the grain in the polished structure of most D2 tool steel. D2 is an extremely high carbon and fairly high chromium die steel, and is classified as a Cold Work Tool Steel. Most versions of this steel will exhibit a characteristic granularity in the polished surface that has a pattern that looks like the surface of an orange peel. Some people have used this appearance to specifically identify D2, but this can be a huge mistake. Not all D2 has the orange peel granularity, because some manufacturers sell a version that has an increased sulfur content, which increases the machinability, and improves the surface finish. Incidentally, even the most corrosion resistant stainless tool steels can be discolored or even pitted when exposed to real orange peels and orange juice for a length of time! For much more about D2 and orange peel surface appearance, here's an important link explaining it in detail on my "D2" page. Alphabet Links
Simply defined as a chamber for baking, heating, and drying. This is a fairly generalized word in our language, and in older dictionaries, an oven and a furnace may be identified as the same. However, in current industrial language, an oven is considered to function below 1000°F, and a furnace above 1000°F. This can be confusing since even some companies that make devices for heat treating (well above 1000°F call them "ovens." I suppose a device that is used below 1000°F can be called an oven, but as soon as you crank it up to over 1000°F, you can call the same device a furnace. Alphabet Links
over-ground (blade)
When the grind termination (plunge) extends through the spine, and the spine of the blade is significantly thinned at the grind termination, the blade is said to be overground. This substantially weakens the blade at that area, and creates an area highly prone to failure. Many poorly made factory knives, many factory folding knives, and many custom knives are overground, and this is controlled by matching the correctly sized contact wheel with the blade width. Get a detailed description of this blade grind factor with illustrations and more information on my Blades page at this bookmark. Alphabet Links
palm handle
Note: this is not a pommel! It refers to a handle shape that accommodates just the palm of the hand: a short, often rounded handle that does not extend out the heel of the hand, but rests in the palm. This style is useful in many working knives, and on field dressing and skinning knives where the entire hand may be inserted into the animal when field dressing, and a large butt, pommel, or rear bolster would add unnecessary length, weight, and be in the way. My Trophy Game Set of knives all have palm handles. Alphabet Links
PALS (webbing and system)
This is the acronym for the Pouch Attachment Ladder System that is used on a variety of military gear including the MOLLE rucksacks and modular tactical vests. For the knife world, the PALS webbing may be the place where the tactical combat knife is attached. When I make sheaths to attach on the PALS webbing, I use bolt-on flat or belt loop die formed 5052H32 corrosion resistant high strength aluminum straps, and if the knife is in a locking sheath it can be mounted in any orientation. Since the orientation of the webbing is horizontal, special adaptive gear may be required if the combat knife sheath is to be mounted horizontally, unless it is built into the sheath. These arrangements are only available in custom handmade knives, you won't get the customization you really need from any knife factory! Alphabet Links
This is the neologism created for "parachute cord." Technically, this is nylon kernmantle rope. The unusual word kernmantle is a German neologism of kern (core) and mantle (sheath). This perfectly describes paracord; it has a interior core that may be of several to many strands of rope that give the cord its strength, and an outer sheath that protects the core from abrasion. Larger kernmantle ropes are used for climbing, on rigging on sailing vessels, or substantial lifting, but with limitations. Since nylon has a great degree of stretching in high or shock loads, it's not typically used in extremely heavy rigging (like lifting bulk and raw materials) in this particular style of weave and stranding. In knives, paracord has a great use as a lanyard, but little else. This might sound shocking, since so many cheap and common knives are wrapped with this nylon cord to make the knife look "tactical" or (in the new terminology) "tacti-cool." This is often done because it's cheap and easy, and claims of having an extra bit of little rope might get one out of a "bind" in an emergency. I've long presented that wrapping any knife handle with rope or textiles is a bad idea; eventually it will fail, it will snag, separate, curl, cut, burn, melt, tear and wear into failure. This can be disastrous, as it will take over 1300 lbs. of force to break a typical cord used, so that means that the knife wearer has now bound himself to whatever the paracord is hung up on with 1300 lbs. of force, while not intending for this to happen! Imagine being trapped and wanting to get away in a real tactical situation, a deadly or desperate rescue or combat environment, a law enforcement or survival situation complicated by a cord snagging, yanking on your knife while you try to use it or move. This is a very bad idea. No professional knife user I've ever heard of has requested a cord handle of any kind; not Japanese silk, not paracord, not fine wires, lines, or strands of any kind. More about why paracord should be used for lanyards only and not in knife handles on this special section on my Military, Combat, and Tactical Knives page. Alphabet Links
Originally from the Latin word parare, meaning prepare, parry means to ward off, stop, or turn aside. In days of old, this could be an important function of the sword fight. Guards can be built to parry blows and slices from an opponent's weapon, and large daggers were used to also block while the sword delivered the serious business. This applies to modern combat knives usually in the sense that they must be strong enough to parry a blow as well as inflict injury. Dig deep into the limitations, problems, and solutions about real tactical combat knives on this page. Alphabet Links
passivating, passivate
Passivating refers to a special chemical treatment applied (in the case of my knives) to stainless steel to make the surface as passive as possible, that is as corrosion resistant as possible. This is necessary for stainless steels that are exposed to highly corrosive environments such as prolonged salt water exposure and hazardous material emergency response exposures. Although austenitic stainless steels are extremely passive, they can be further treated to increase corrosion resistance. More about this process and application at this bookmark on my Tactical Knife Sheath Accessories page. Alphabet Links
Classically, this is defined as a film formed on copper and bronze by long exposure to the elements or by chemical application of acids and reactionary agents. This is the traditional definition, and patinas on bronzes have been executed by patineurs since the bronze age, thousands of years ago. In knifemaking, this word is also used to describe a darkening of a surface of steel. To be clear, a darkened piece of steel is surface corrosion, and cannot compare with the tenacious, tough, and durable patinas of a copper or bronze sculpture or work of art. Patinas on steels are always on carbon (non-stainless) steels, since they easily react, darken, stain, and rust in the environment of everyday exposure. While a darkened patina may inhibit atmospheric moisture, direct exposure to water or other fluids (other than oils) can cause serious rusting. Compare that to a bronze that has been exposed to the outside in all weather conditions for centuries, and you'll know the difference between a patina on bronze and a patina on steel, which is a light and impermanent surface discoloration. More about patinas on steels at this bookmark on my "Chef's Knives" page. Alphabet Links
poor man's patina
This is the practice, mainly in knifemaking, of slathering mustard, coffee, or other acidic substances on the surface of carbon steels to cause a darkening reaction of the surface. This appears as blotchy and irregular, and only inhibits atmospheric moisture corrosion, which would cause immediate rust on a non-protected blade. This process of "pre-corroding" the knife blade is common when knifemakers are using the wrong steels, mainly for kitchen use. Steels that need this type of treatment do not meet Food Contact Safety requirements, and easily and readily rust, independent of the poor man's patina applied to the surface. Alphabet Links
This is the name of "one who patinas." A French word for the person who professionally applies patinas such as in bronze castings. Patinas are a complicated chemical process, with surface preparation and layers of reaction that have to be understood by the chemist that applies them. These reactions may respond to heat applied by the control of the patineur, who must perform various tasks with and between layers, followed by top layers, hand-finishing, roughing, and sealing which stabilizes the patinaed surfaces. Most bronze foundries will let you know that the patineur is one of the most important people in the casting process. Alphabet Links
pattern (knife)
The origin of the word pattern is in Middle English, from patron, meaning father. Since we come from our father, it's easy to see why the pattern is the father of what it is used to create. Patterns are an artistic or mechanical design; a form, shape, or outline designed as a model for making things. My actual patterns are drawings of the knife, fittings, accessories and even engraving, filework, carving, handles, and embellishment. In knifemaking, the patterns are essential in defining the knife shape, size, relationship, and geometry of the entire work. In my patterns, I may also indicate general location of optional parts like bolsters, swages, grind lines, and lanyard holes. But the pattern is not the three-dimensional form, only the two-dimensional layout. I also have patterns for bolsters, guards, fittings, sheaths, stands and accessories. When people look at my Patterns page, they are only seeing a portion of my patterns. What they actually see are photographs of templates. Patterns may be unique and copyrightable art forms, or they may be common shapes in the public domain. I've created hundreds of patterns over my decades of making knives; you can see them all here. Alphabet Links
Pearlite is a layered structure of ferrite and cementite, formed in steels by slow cooling. It is very tough, but not particularly hard or wear resistant. More about pearlite at this bookmark. Alphabet Links
Acronym for Primary Edged Weapon. See definition below. Alphabet Links
PID controller
PID stands for proportional, integral, derivative, and this is an industrial process controller that is programmed to high accuracy with internal feedback capabilities. What this means is that the controller is not simply a thermal switch, turning heating (or cooling) on and off; it calculates or can be set up to work with the individual application, controlling the rate, timing, error, and expected heat loss (in the case of a heating application) to anticipate the load, process, and needs of an individual device. Without going into specifics, these controllers allow very accurate temperature control, once set up and programmed for the specific use. In the case of my tempering/drying ovens, variations of set temperature create a narrow hysteresis band of 1°F. Alphabet Links
Piercework is a neologism, from pierced work, a term often seen in older texts, used by antique arms experts. It describes the holes and decorative work through the blade, in effect piercing the blade to create a hole through it. This is curious because the modern term for putting a hole through a blade is drilling, and less often milling. This demonstrates that before modern machining, holes were placed while the blade was still plastic, red hot, and soft, and they were pierced with a spike or specialized tool. Now, many modern knives have millwork. This is different than openwork (above) which is done when the blade is forged, or being constructed, instead of by removing stock of the blade like piercework. Piercework of old was not just for decoration; it lightened the blade without sacrificing strength. Some claim that the piercework in the finished blades used in battle was used to hold poisons: contaminated or bacteria-ridden materials that could cause a nasty or lethal infection (Shakespeare describes how Hamlet was killed by Laertes who has a poisoned sword blade, a plot which backfires as he poisons himself with his own sword blade). Some scholars disagree that this application and delivery of poisons was actually accomplished, but since poisons were in use and their actions well-known, it is possible the practice may have been valid. One of the reasons I think this was valid is because in many of these early pieces, the holes were very small (less than .250") and there aren't enough of them to lighten the steel bulk. I'm not sure about bacterial contamination, because people in those ages knew nothing of germs, such as in our modern interpretation and understanding. This one will be argued for a long time, unless someone discovers a record of such knowledge. Alphabet Links
pins, bolster
See rivets below. These are the pins used to secure the bolsters to the knife tang. I drill my bolsters with zero clearance pins through the tang and both bolster sides, and then the pins are heavily peened for an extremely tight fit. They can only be removed by grinding the bolster away, drilling the pins through the tang, then grinding off the other bolster. At least two pins should be used through each bolster to prevent rotation, and on heavy knives or knives with long bolsters, there may be as many as four. Bolster pins should be as large as is practical without compromising tang strength. On my small knives, they are usually .0938", on larger knives .125", and on swords .250". The pins should always be made of the same material as the bolster for a nearly invisible union. More about bolsters on my Handles, Bolsters, and Guards page. Alphabet Links
pins, handle
The handle pins are the mechanical mounts used to secure the handle scales to the full tang knife handle. They are drilled through both handle scales and through the tang, usually with zero clearance for a tight, permanent fit. Some makers use decorative pin assemblies (see mosaic pins above) made of pins arrange and glued in a tube or series of tubes for visual interest. Since this is a fairly common practice, and not as mechanically stable, I stay away from it and opt for clean, light, comfortably arranged pins that are small enough to show off the handle material, and do not compromise tang strength or create high stress areas in the handle material. On tactical combat knives, I use heavier pins. All pins should be the same material as the bolsters for visual continuity. Some finished pin faces can be engraved for a classy touch. More details on my Handles, Bolsters, and Guards page. Alphabet Links
Technically, this is a malapropism, the incorrect usage of a word by substituting a similar-sounding word with different meaning. I've seen this term used incorrectly on other professional knife makers' sites to define the pommel. The pommel is not a pintle! A pintle is a rod or axle that another device spins or turns around, more clearly, a pivot pin used in a hinge, rudder, chain, or hook. In our modern times, the term is used to describe a pintle hitch, where the eye of a trailer's hitch is hooked on a secure pintle. The term these guys are looking for is pommel, which is defined below. Just as in the case of divot=detent, a similar sounding word is mistakenly used. Heck, even the pivot of a folding knife is not called a pintle, yet this would be a much closer application of the word and its mechanics at its definition. Don't use it; it's the wrong word! Alphabet Links
This is the axis of rotation of a folding knife. It also describes the pin, rod, tube, or element that a folding knife rotates on. Pivots can be small or large, depending on the size and duty expected of a folding knife. Though they limit the overall strength of the blade to handle junction, good design of the pivot can anchor it in the bolster or frame of the folding knife, so shearing and rotation are reduced and strength is increased. Alphabet Links
plain carbon steel
See mild steel above. Alphabet Links
plunge (grind)
This term has been adapted to modern knife making to describe the line that terminates the grind at the ricasso. I'm guessing that is because in manufacturing, the blade plunges into the grinder at this point. In handmade knives this is probably more properly called the grind termination. But plunge has stuck, so I use both terms. It is a very difficult area for any well make knife, and only the best, most practiced knife makers have clean, sweeping, and accurate plunges. Since this area is easy to see in an flat profile photograph of a knife, the plunge can speak volumes about a maker's skill. I believe plunges should be formed with rounded, sweeping lines both for visual appeal and (more importantly) strength. If a blade-to-handle junction is going to fail, it will fail more easily with a squared-off, sharp angled plunge line (grind termination) than a sweeping, gentle curve. But a curved plunge is hard to construct and grind and be balanced and matched on both sides, so many makers and all manufacturers are lacking here. Read grind termination above. Alphabet Links
pocket knife
A knife with a blade or blades folding into the handle to fit it for being carried in the pocket. This is actually an old definition, and not too many people use this definition nowadays. The reason is that the term pocket knife is being replaced by the term folding knife or folder. The reason is that knives are actually carried in the pocket less and less. First, it's a matter of clothing. Some men don't even carry a wallet; clothing styles and fashion can dictate what is comfortable to carry. Also, most localities prohibit the carrying of any concealed weapons, and (in our state) any knife with a blade capable of any injury is considered a concealed weapon if carried out of sight. Modern utility knives that fold often have belt or boot clips on their exterior and can not be comfortably carried in the pocket. Modern collector's folding knives are rarely carried at all, residing instead in collections. The term pocket knife will continue for a while, until pockets are eliminated altogether surrendering to head's-up displays in the ocular implant that mounts in the temple of the skull of the modern techno-savvy hominid. Besides, a folding knife would create an embarrassing bulge in our meggings and mantights. Ahem. Alphabet Links
This refers to the distal front end of the knife blade, and more specifically the general shape of the blade. A knife may be a spear point, trailing point, or drop point in shape as well as many others described and illustrated above. The point is one of the main factors in determining the use and design of the knife. The point is also the most easily broken area of the knife, as great leverage can be applied on a small amount of metal there. The geometry, thickness, temper, and design of the point should all be carefully controlled by the maker. The most used area of any knife blade is the first two inches, so the point is critical. See also tip below. Alphabet Links
DDirectly translated from Latin (pomum), this means apple. Translated from French (paumelle) this means the palm of the hand, which is where the pommel may rest. On a knife, dagger, or sword, it is an ornamental globular ball that terminates the handle at the end. On modern knives, it is the tapped and threaded component that mechanically secures the handle to the threaded tang or rod in a hidden tang knife. Can a pommel have a hawk's bill or rear quillon? In modern knives, it can. But if the knife is a full tang model with a rear bolster, the word pommel is an improper description for the butt and rear bolster. Simply put, there is no pommel on a full tang knife or folding knife, only a hidden tang knife, dagger, or sword. On some maker's and manufacturer's sites, they will describe a full tang knife with an extended and pointed tang as having a skull crusher pommel. This is just ignorant. This is actually a skull crusher (or talon) on the butt of a full tang, but it is not a pommel. I've seen it posted on web sites under pommel definitions that a pommel of some knives can be used to hammer in tent stakes.... what? A hidden tang knife that has a threaded-on pommel is already a weaker design; the only metal supporting the pommel is the threaded screw that extends inside the handle. Try this, and your knife may easily break. Would you hammer in a tent peg with a 1/4" to 3/8" machine screw with a small ball on the end? Of course not. So if you need a hammer, go get one, don't use a knife as a hammer! It's simple really to remember; a pommel is an apple with a stem. If it's on the end of a hidden tang knife, sword, or dagger, and it's used to secure the handle, it's a pommel. Alphabet Links
Another misused term! Technically, this is a malapropism, the incorrect usage of a word by substituting a similar-sounding word with different meaning. A pontil is not, nor has ever been a part of any knife. I've seen this term used by well-known and established knife makers to describe a pommel. Just like the word pintle above, the knife maker using this has probably remembered the wrong word, and then habitually used it until it sounds like the correct word to him and the people he speaks (or writes) to. No one, evidently, has ever bothered to correct him; after all, he is the maker, right? Boy, they will jump on me if I use the wrong word on my website, or (God forbid) forget to use an apostrophe! The word pontil is a fairly recent word (c. 1830), and it defines an iron pointed rod used to help manipulate glass in glass blowing technique. It originates from the the Latin word punctus, or a punty, meaning a pointed rod. So maybe a maker might use this to describe the narrow pointed hidden tang that runs through the hidden tang knife handle (see hidden tang above), simply because it's a pointed rod. But this is called a tang. Using the word pontil to describe the pommel is simply ignorant. Alphabet Links
poor man's patina
See patina, poor man's above. Alphabet Links
Described chemically, precipitation is when a solid is formed out of a solution. In steel phase transformation, precipitation occurs as a substance (usually carbide) is produced from a solution. For example, in tempering, the solid solution of carbide particles are formed from the atoms of carbon that are in the solution of the martensitic structure that are not part of martensite's particular crystalline lattice. The atoms of chromium, iron, molybdenum, and other alloy elements combine with the carbon and precipitate into carbide molecules and crystals. Carbon, when "in solution" is not attached to these other elements, so, even though it's actually a solid carbon atom, it is still considered "in solution" until it bonds to form carbides or other materials. Alphabet Links
precision (ground)
This is a term used to describe steel billets, bar, sheet, or plate thickness and surface. Precision ground stock is ground to an accurate thickness, whereas rough stock is usually overly thick to allow for the machinist to control the ultimate thickness to his needs. Precision ground stock is usually more expensive than plain bar stock, in order to pay for the process of surface grinding. In my studio, all of our knives are precision ground in-house, offhand, on a specially modified surface grinder. This creates superior finishes, flat and accurate tolerances, and a better overall knife. Alphabet Links
press stud
This is the British term for what we call a snap or dot snap. They describe the action, we describe the sound, I suppose. See "snap" below. Alphabet Links
Primary Edged Weapon (PEW)
This is the description of a real combat tactical knife. While there are many knives that claim to be tactical, few are worthy of relying upon when it comes to Close Quarters Combat and Close Quarters Battle. A primary edged weapon is first, a weapon, and secondly, a tool. PEWs have very aggressive geometry profiles made for stabbing, thrusting, and slashing; the blades are thin at the cutting edge and thick and substantial at the spine, ricasso, and handle to support intense pressures and stresses of combat. As with all my combat knives, Primary Edged Weapons are for the professional in military, law enforcement, federal or state service, or CSAR (Combat Search and Rescue). Learn more about these specialized knives on a dedicated page. Alphabet Links
From the Italian word profilo, meaning to draw in profile, this means the same in the knife world. The profile of the knife, sword, or dagger is the predominate outer shape, typically drawn when designing a knife and is sometimes referred to as the contour, but there are some distinctions (see contour above). Knives are usually and first photographed in profile, and the patterns are show in profile. The verb profile loosely means to cut, forge, or shape the knife to the dimensions exhibited in the profiled pattern or drawing. Here are some profiled knives. Alphabet Links
The chronology and ownership of an item, particularly and specifically, the origin and source. This is important in knives, as the value, performance, and even the materials are often carried with the provenance of the knife. It's not enough to know the maker; other critical information such as the materials and hardness need to accompany the knife for as long as it exists. It's important to know if the work is a sole authorship piece or the work of several artists and craftsmen, as well as the history of ownership and the maker's career practice. In my knives, I keep a detailed catalog of works, and each knife has an engraved acrylic plate detailing the materials and other critical information, which, with simple care, should last as long as the knife. Other makers may use paper documents and certificates, but their usefulness and longevity is questionable. This is why information, such as provided on this website that is regularly recorded in the Library of Congress in copyrighted form is also important. Alphabet Links
To cool suddenly. In knife blades, this forces transformation of austenite to martensite, and precipitation of carbides, the basis for hardening steel. Quench types, mediums, rates, and temperatures differ depending on the steel type and alloy undergoing quenching. Alphabet Links
quillon (or quillion)
In the very old days, this term referred to the arms or extensions in a crossguard that protruded farthest from the axis of the sword or dagger. In modern knives, this also refers to the projections that keep the hand from sliding forward onto the cutting edge, or backwards off the butt of the knife handle. So a modern knife may have a front quillon or quillons, and rear quillon or quillons. The use of this word has been adapted to modern knives probably for lack of a better term to define those protuberances. By the way, the word is properly pronounced: "key-own." But for fun, I frequently violate pronunciation, in an effort to be a rude westerner... and call it a "quill-yun." It seems the word has evolved from the quill of a bird's feather, so one would think you would pronounce it like that, but the word is French. Does that mean that the French of old wrote with key pens and birds have keys at the base of their feathers? Ah, yes... er... we-we. Alphabet Links
rabbet (rabbeted) tang
Also called a push tang (old). The word rabbet comes from old French and means beating down. This may refer to the way a tang was beaten down on an anvil during forging to reduce the shape to a tang. The rabbeted tang is a knife tang that is terminated somewhere in the handle; the tang that does not fully extend to the pommel or butt of the handle. On fine handmade custom knives, this may be necessary when using unusual handle arrangements and materials, such as a stag crown, where a large tang is desired, but the maker wishes to preserve the natural shape of the crown. It can be secured mechanically with pins, and sometimes by internal geometry which makes an adhesive bond permanent and mechanical. On factory knives, its often a cheap way to mount a handle, as the hidden part of the rabbet does not have to be finished, saving expense, and it is short and small, which saves on steel, and is not threaded or mounted, which saves on expense and finishing. Often, gummy, soft, or rubbery handle materials are mounted by being fused to a rabbeted tang, and because they flex, their durability is limited. Aside from a folding knife, this is the weakest blade to handle design. Alphabet Links
radius, radiused, radiusing
An interesting group of words indeed. In high school geometry, we learned that the radius is the line (and distance) from the center of a circle to the outer circumference, exactly half of the diameter. But in the machining world of metalwork, we use a variation of that definition meaning the circular area defined by the stated radius. So a concave radiusing cutter will cut a circular form defined by the depth of the cutter, which is the radius. Confusingly, it also cuts the diameter of the circle in another dimension which is two times the radius... In the knife world, radiusing means shaping surfaces by rounding over the edges where two faces meet. To be comfortable, a handle is radiused in fine knives, rounded over and finished, whereas the cheaply made factory knife is simply contoured (see above), or lightly dressed at the corners. Radiusing and finishing that radiused surface is difficult, time consuming, and takes considerable skill, as the contour of the surface can not be measured with any tool, and requires a trained eye and hand. Any misalignment, faceting, or unbalanced radiused contours can be usually seen by the naked eye. Alphabet Links
The property of losing energy without a drop in temperature during cooling of the steel at equilibrium during phasic change. The steel actually increases in temperature as the physical structure changes and the steel attempts to reach entropy. More about recalescence at this bookmark. Alphabet Links
This curious word means literally: "to restore to the constitution of." Webster's early definition compares dehydrated vegetables being reconstituted after soaking in water. The root word constitute means to form or make. Unfortunately, this word has been hijacked and misused to describe imitations of actual materials. For instance, you may see a handle material called reconstituted dinosaur bone. This is actually quite humorous, as the dinosaur bone can never be reformed to its original condition; that was gone millions of years ago. It will never be bone again, no matter what you claim. How about reconstituted turquoise? Well, turquoise is a mineral, a rock, and real turquoise never loses its form (its constitution), so this is incorrect. Humor aside, people who don't like to use the word imitation instead choose the word reconstituted. This is simply an advertising ploy to claim an imitation is more than it is. Reconstituted dinosaur bone is actually polyester or acrylic. The same can be said for reconstituted turquoise, reconstituted amber, or reconstituted lapis. None of these have any similarity other than color to the real thing; they are cheap plastic imitations. This type of description has gone on far too long in this tradecraft, where guys will argue about .02 percent of tungsten in the alloy, yet lie about a soft polyester handle by calling it reconstituted dinosaur bone. Don't fall for that! More tricks and deceptions about stone, fossils, and their "enhanced" descriptions on my Gemstone Knife Handles page at this bookmark. Alphabet Links
You'll see this word used to describe stone... incorrectly, of course. A reconstructed stone would perhaps be one that has been crushed, and then reconstructed using a binder such as cement, glass, or some fusion process to remake it into a near stone-like substance. Where is this word used in the modern knife business? Why when referring to plastic, of course. Polyester or acrylic is dyed in an attempt to mimic the color of gemstone, and suppliers often call this reconstructed stone, which is just ridiculous. This is dyed plastic, and nothing else, and the person who calls it reconstructed stone is hoping that you're ignorant enough to think it's somehow of comparable value to real gemstone. You may see it called composite reconstructed stone, or reconstituted stone or any of the other misleading fabricated terms to help define this as anything else but plastic. This is not a simple brand name mistake like calling phenolic Micarta® or calling facial tissue Kleenex. This is a blatant lie. Any knife that has this on a handle is a bad investment. Read more about this abhorrent misrepresentation on a special section on my Gemstone Knife Handles page at this bookmark. Alphabet Links
recurve (recurved) blade
The recurve is a blade shape that is defined as bent in an opposite, backwards, or unusual direction. In today's knives, this usually means that the blade is curved downward, away from the ricasso, or swept forward like a khukri, with a downward concave curve near the handle. Models of mine that also have recurved blades are the Hooded Warrior, the Magnum, and Horrocks.  Recurved blades can be difficult to sharpen, but have definite advantages. Read more on my Khukri page, and on my Blades page. Deeply hollow ground recurve blades are some of the hardest to grind and finish well, and can be incredibly sharp at the cutting edge at the inside curve. Alphabet Links
relief, relief face
This is the ground angle (face) created before the cutting edge. The edges of knives must be relieved, that is, material is removed at a low angle to the stone or sharpening instrument so that a precise, accurate and thin cutting edge face can be applied (usually at a slightly higher angle to the centerline of the blade thickness). The relief face is most visible as a small scoured or ground face extending along the cutting edge of the knife. The actual cutting edge face (above) is extremely small, barely visible to the naked eye. I talk about the cutting edge in depth on my Blades page. Nowadays, sloppy linguists call this area primary bevel, secondary bevel, or tertiary bevel or other such confusing gobbledygook. I use the terminology established by John Juranitch, who wrote the definitive and clearly simple book on the cutting edge, an invaluable source of plain talk and myth busting clarity on the matter. Trying to make the cutting edge complex is going to destroy it, and trying to confuse makers and owners with bevel talk does our industry no good (uh, which is the secondary? And since it's done first, why is it secondary?...I'm lost!) There is a relief, and there is an edge, and that's it! That's why the word bevel should not be used in any knife conversation! Alphabet Links
This is another term that has changed over the centuries. Originally, the Italians meant for it to describe the part of the blade of a dueling rapier between the cup guard and the quillons, which was also called the heel. Nowadays, we use the term to describe the thick, non-ground portion of the blade between the grinds and the guard or bolsters. In some web-based definitions, it's stated that the ricasso is where the tang stamps are usually located. This may be true in older, historic pieces, but with modern marking methods, a maker's mark or identifier may be located anywhere. See my page on maker's marks. In modern knives, it's often a good idea to keep the ricasso as small as is possible, because it offers no cutting edge or purpose (other than increasing overall length), and its length is added to the cutting edge length for legal descriptions of blade length, even though it can't cut! So the length of a knife blade in most states is from the point to the guard or front bolster face, and that includes the ricasso. I guess they figure that's how much of the blade can be shoved into someone, since all knives are evil weapons, and never useful tools or investment grade works of art... Alphabet Links
rivets (knife handles)
Interesting word. From Old French (river), meaning to make fast and tie off to shore. Rivets are shanks of (usually) metal, sometimes formed with heads, that are used in knives to secure the handle scales to the tang, or the bolsters to the tang (see pins, bolster above). They are passed through holes in the tang and handle scales, then peened, the metal spread out, tightly pulling the materials together. I don't usually refer to bolster pins as rivets, because they do not have a preformed head on them. In my own work, I do not use rivets to secure handle materials, ever. The reason is that a rivet must be peened and spread, both at the heads and through the shank, which imposes internal stresses on the handle material, shortening the life of it, possibly leading to cracks, splits, checks, and unnecessary strain on the handle material. This can lead to failure of the handle. You'll see rivets used a lot in cheap factory knives, because it is a cheap and fast way to stick a piece of handle material to a blade tang. Alphabet Links
rivets (sheaths)
Just like the rivets in handles above, these are shanks of metal that have a head or heads and are pressed and peened through a hole in the material. You'll see rivets and eyelets used on kydex sheaths a lot in this industry, and I believe it's a bad practice. The stresses from pressure, peening, and spreading metal in a thermoforming plastic will ultimately lead to failure around the thinnest portion of the kydex, right on the outside of the rivet or eyelet. These type of plastics change dramatically with temperature and environment, and they flex somewhat, so it's best to avoid rivets if possible. In leather, they can work well, but careful consideration must be applied here, as leather reacts with most metals, particularly when damp, and leads to corrosion around the hole, staining the leather and weakening the rivet. I won't say that I never use this method of mechanical fastening in sheaths, but I try to limit the practice. Alphabet Links
This is the abbreviation for the Refractory Metals Association. This is a trade association of the Metal Powder Industries Federation (see above). For knifemakers, the RMA is a great source of information on metals like chromium and titanium, used extensively in fine handmade and custom knives. They also furnish great information on alloy metals used in knife blades and modern machine shop cutting tools, namely tungsten, molybdenum, vanadium, and cobalt. While I've never used any yttrium in my fine knives, perhaps one day it too will be a mainstay of fine knives! Alphabet Links
roll (edge)
This is a term that should never be used to describe any knife, much less any fine handmade or custom knife! Rolling of the edge or edge roll describes what happens if a knife blade is improperly hardened or tempered, of an inferior steel, or for any reason too soft at the cutting edge. When the soft edge encounters hard materials, it literally folds over in a microscopic way, and you can even feel the cutting edge rolled to one side of the blade. No properly made knife should ever do this; I've always lived by the axiom that a blade should be just hard enough to, when stressed to its absolute limits, start to bend and then fracture. This assures that the knife is of maximum hardness for the toughness desired. Only cheap or badly made knives roll at the edge. More on the hardness-toughness relationship on my blades page. Alphabet Links
rolled edge
Strangely, this is not describing the edge roll above! I've seen this term used by knife makers and factories to describe a convex cutting edge. Instead of having crisp, clear, and accurate relief faces or edge faces, the edge is rolled around on a power abrasive, often an abrasive slack belt, to apply a quick cutting edge to get the knife out the door. This is poor workmanship, and is definitively not as sharp as a bi-faced or single faced edge and relief. It is simply an edge that is created in haste, without skill. You'll see all sorts of claims that it is stronger, more durable, or sharper, but these are not true. What has been proven time and again to be the sharpest, most durable, highest longevity and most serviceable cutting edge geometry? Learn more than you'll ever want to know by purchasing The Razor Edge Book of Sharpening by John Juranitch. This is the definitive guide, written by a guy who professionally sharpened knives for industry and other professionals for decades. If you are reading this, you need to have this book in your library! Link on my links page. Alphabet Links
Society of Automotive Engineers. While this was established as an automotive-based organization in 1905, this is now the SAE International, a U.S.-based, globally active professional association and standards organization for engineering professionals in various industries. In knifemaking, SAE standards are applied to steel and other material types, properties, alloys, and related performance data that the SAE has established over the century of their existence. Alphabet Links
See AMS above. Alphabet Links
safe queen
In custom gun and knife circles, it refers to a gun or knife that resides untouched in a safe, a collector's prized piece that dominates all others in appearance (and sometimes delicacy). Guys will sometimes refer to a knife as a safe queen in a derogatory manner, hinting that it's just too beautiful to use. This argument is discussed on my Frequently Asked Questions page at the topic, "What if I tell you it's too pretty to use?" Alphabet Links
sandwich (sheath)
See layered (sheath) above. Alphabet Links
scale, handle
The handle scales are the pieces of handle material that are mounted to the sides of full tang knives. Sometimes the term slabs (below) is used, but that is a clumsy, incorrect word, as a slab is by definition, overly thick and broken-off. The correct word by definition, even in present and very old language dictionaries is scale: "cutlery: either of the pieces fastened one on each side to the tang of the knife, weapon, etc. to form the handle." Do not use the term slab, it is the wrong word. Often, scales sit between bolsters and are secured with pins, either hidden or exposed, or screws. Handle scales may set the value of the knife, and comprise a bewildering amount of materials in the modern knife. They may be hardwood, plastic, manmade material, horn, bone, ivory, shell, and expensive gemstone. More than just something to look at, they are the material that is in contact with the human hand, so shaping, contouring, radiusing, forming, and finishing skills are well applied here. Handle scales should be durable enough to maintain their shape, and of substantial colorfastness and low reactivity, as they will be exposed to the acid, moisture, and contaminants that the human hand can carry as well as potentially heavy forces that it can apply. Alphabet Links
This property describes minerals, and is a bronze-like, iridescent luster or play of resplendent colors. Typical gemstones that display a schiller are Bronzite Hypersthene and Larvikite as well as any other feldspar. Alphabet Links
secondary hardening
an increase in the hardness of heat treated steel, particularly in high alloy hypereutectoid steels with strong carbide formers, that happens at a higher temperature range in the tempering cycle due to fine carbide formation. This is most useful on tools that will encounter high temperatures and need to resist softening. The disadvantages of secondary hardening are extreme loss of corrosion resistance, and loss of toughness. Alphabet Links
semi-production knives
This is not a knife made for guys who build Kenworths. This is a term used to describe boutique shop knives (above). In fact, it's another term for the very same thing. It describes a small knife manufacturer or business, usually started by an individual maker who has decided to go into volume production using his name only, even though the knives are created by several to several dozen other men, and often consist of parts that are farmed out to foreign companies. The knife bearing the maker's name is actually a knife produced in a small factory, and is subject to the factory or manufacturer's mindset. The business goal of any factory is to offer a product that is made as cheaply as possible, while charging as much as possible, paying as little as possible for labor, but charging less than a competitor. So the knife becomes a less than quality item, as features, materials, and workmanship are whittled away in the name of cost-based analysis. In this trade, I call this bean counter process lowballing. This means cutting labor and expenses while hyping styles, vague aspects of materials, or using heavy advertising promotions to push a product that is simple and cheap. These knives are frequently made to the same general standards of imported factory knives, but the maker's name on the knife is heavily hyped so that a greater price is usually asked. You can probably name several right off the top of your head, and then swear they're the best knives ever. Congratulations, if you can do this, you are a victim of advertising hyperbole! Learn much more about this advertising ploy at this topic on my Business of Knifemaking page. Alphabet Links
Acronym for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape, the term that describes specifically the survival training for the United States Air Force. Other branches of the military all have their individual types of this generalized training for military and combat survival. USAF SERE is closely involved with the USAF Pararescue, as the survival and escape skills particularly apply to Pararescue in their dangerous missions. That is why many of my knives cross over between PJ and SERE use and applications. Alphabet Links
shackle breaker
A specialized slot or tool with the slot used to lock onto the sides of stubborn shackles on sailing vessels and in rigging in order to break them loose for unthreading. In a way, it's a small, variable wrench. See marlinspike above. Here's a specialized shackle breaker named Seahawk with my sailor's knife Mariner. Alphabet Links
sheath knife
An older term, referring to a fixed blade knife that is carried in a sheath. Is a pocket knife or folding knife that is carried in a belt sheath a sheath knife? Hmmm.... kind of general and non-specific term that should be left to history. Alphabet Links
From Middle English and Anglo-Saxon shoppe and schoppe, this is an artisan's place of manufacture and sales. While this is very similar to studio (below), the difference is in that the emphasis in studio is study, a place of learning, whereas in shop, the emphasis is on production. Since we do both here (learn and produce), I use both words and they are both appropriate. Alphabet Links
In a hidden tang knife, dagger, or sword, the shoulder is the area where the face of the guard rests against the ricasso. See Knife Anatomy 10 above. This term is very ancient, dating back to early swords. The shoulder is an important area with hidden tang knives, because if a fracture between blade and handle is to occur, it will usually happen at the shoulder unless the grind termination is abrupt and weak, and then it will happen there. The shoulder supports the pressure applied from the pommel and through the handle material, solidifying the handle-blade junction. Please, do not refer to the grind termination as a shoulder! See why in grind termination above. Alphabet Links
This is a tendon, hopefully from an animal, used as a cord or thread. In older and early knives, these were used as binders for securing knife blades to handles, whether the blades were stone or metal, and used as the material to lace sheaths together. Fine, modern handmade knives do not use sinew, but cords are often made to resemble this. In my sheaths, I use artificial sinew, made of many fine threads of polyester, to stitch sheaths together. The polyester is much stronger, more durable, and longer lasting than actual sinew, but retains some of that traditional appeal and association with knife sheaths. Alphabet Links
single bevel cutting edge
This is not the single side grind (or single side bevel) of Japanese knives described below! The single bevel cutting edge describes what is also known as the edge face. defined above. Instead of first relieving the cutting edge to remove metal, thin, define, and align the area that will become the cutting edge when the edge is sharpened, this single bevel on both sides of the blade becomes the final edge. Because it is not a double bevel edge (described above) and does not use the Juranitch method of first establishing a relief face and then the edge at two angles, the single bevel cutting edge is absolutely the sharpest cutting edge possible. Unfortunately, few knife users can accurately apply this kind of edge, so when they sharpen, they modify it to a double bevel edge by lifting the spine of the knife higher above the stone, increasing the angle, and sharpening the edge face. The single bevel edge takes more time to reapply when sharpening, as it has a wider face and requires more metal to be removed. On some of my knives, I create a single bevel cutting edge because they are markedly sharper, and the client can easily convert to double bevel when he sharpens. Alphabet Links
single side grind (bevel)
This term describes the common and typical Japanese knife grind (or bevel). Instead of accurately and carefully grinding both sides of the knife blade to produce a centered, uniform, and regular thinness in the blade, the Japanese style knives have only one side ground, and the other side is left flat. There is a lot of hype and unjustified claims about how this leads to a sharper blade, and this is a very clever advertising ploy to claim some superiority by making a cheaper, inferior product, which is a common practice in the mass-manufacturing and marketing industry. Grinding the knife blade on only one side does not decrease the angle of the relief or the cutting edge, it simply is a faster, cheaper way to grind a thin knife and get it out the door with unskilled labor or automated machinery. Since only one side is ground, there is no need to have skilled labor or devices to match both sides, and flat grinds are the most easily automated. If you have any doubts that it requires highly skilled labor to produce a double side hollow grind in thin steel, I'll make this challenge to you: hollow grind a 1/16" (.0625" or .16 mm) blade from both sides, creating uniform, matched hollow grinds all the way to mirror finishing. This is beyond the scope of most knife makers, so is light years beyond the scope of manufacturers. Don't get sold by the hype of mass marketing. The true sharpness of the blade at the cutting edge is determined considering all the included angles. For example, a final edge of 10 degrees is the same sharpness whether the ten degrees comes from a flat side and one edge face, or from a hollow grind and two, three, or even four edge faces! Alphabet Links
skeleton, skeletonized
This refers to the way a thick, full tang handle is milled and made. Used on a full tang knife handle that has no bolsters, handle scales, or mounted pieces, the blade is left very thick and not tapered. I usually do this on at least .250" thick stock. To reduce the handle weight and control handle to blade balance, some of the handle material is milled, drilled, or carved away, creating a skeleton of a handle, thus the name. Then, the handle and blade are one singular piece, preserving strength, eliminating differing materials and mounts, and creating a uniform piece of steel from tip to butt. Skeletonized knives can be lighter in weight, easier to clean, and less expensive. Their drawback? Depending on the design, the overall thinner handles may be uncomfortable to grip. Here is a group of skeletonized knives made and carried by the 101st Airborne in combat in Iraq. Alphabet Links
skull crusher (talon, persuader, cat scratcher)
Though this term is fairly graphic, and doesn't do our tradecraft a lot of good in the realm of having knives accepted on their artistic and creative merits only, it is a persistent term to describe an additional point or protuberance that extends beyond the normal profile of the butt of the handle. The point is used on defensive and combat weapons to inflict injury and damage by striking with the butt of the knife, or persuading an opponent along with the pressure of the point. I've added the name talon (below) to describe the ripping potential of this adjunct to the knife, and the term cat scratcher to describe the scratches and scars that practicing tactical maneuvers with a knife with this feature will leave on the forearms of the knife user. The feature is effective in use, I've had several reports of combat knife use where the talon has been used to apply force, and in doing so stopped the opponent without having to use the deadlier knife blade, point, and cutting edge in combat and defense. A couple great examples: a small talon in my Anzu pattern, and a more substantial talon in my Triton Kerambit. Even the general shape of the knife butt may have persuading abilities as in my Halius pattern. Alphabet Links
slabs (handle)
This is an incorrect term for scales (above). The term slab is not a good term, as the definition of slab is a comparatively thick plate of broken or cut off material. The origin of the word is Old French (esclape) and specifically means a fragment or broken off piece. This is a clumsy, lethargic word, best suited to pieces of concrete and grave markers. A refined knife should not have slabs as a handle, they should have scales. In the dictionary, one of the specific definitions of scales is: "cutlery: either of the pieces fastened one on each side to the tang of the knife, weapon, etc. to form the handle." Do not use the term slab, it is the wrong word. Alphabet Links
slip (noun)
I specified the word as a noun because I didn't want to talk about the verb—a slip of a knife is a dangerous thing, and sure to cause damage, if not injury! Of course, it's not that simple, as a slip (verb) can describe a slip (noun) because something slips in and slips out... of a slip! In our case, the slip is where the knife (or blade) slips into, in a sheath, block, or stand. It's the hollow area in a knife block that sits on a kitchen counter; it's the actual area of a knife sheath that accommodates the knife. In knifemaking, we talk a lot about the sheath parts (welts, sides, fronts, backs, loops) but what do you all the negative space that the knife occupies? Why, the slip, of course! There are a tremendous amount of uses of the word slip, many verbs, lots of nouns, but in our case, the root comes from a berth, a place where a ship can "park" between piers. The word "pocket" is sometimes used, but a pocket can refer to an entire bag or something that conforms, whereas a slip is a dedicated receptacle. We could use the word "receptacle" but that's rather pretentious and somewhat... electrical. Alphabet Links
snap (dot snap)
Typically used in sheaths or accessory components like straps, belt loop extenders, my sternum harnesses, and in dive knife mounts and accessories, the snap or dot snap is a mainstay fastener that offers a good mechanical retention of flexible components with a tactile and audible click, snap, or engagement. See the British term "press stud" above. The snap is so often seen and used that few people consider its importance. All snaps are not the same; most are made of brass that is nickel plated for corrosion resistance and appearance, but the inside parts are still brass. Once formed (or deformed) to mount it on the web, leather, or gear, the nickel plating does little to prevent corrosion in these critical areas. So the nickel plated brass snap is only used in dry conditions. For wet, marine, or weather exposures, an all-stainless steel snap must be used, and few makers or companies consider this. In my tactical gear, I typically use all stainless components, including the dot snap, which is ' marine grade. Most makers don't like to use marine grade snaps, they are hard, tough, and difficult to mount on gear; brass is so much easier. In dive knives it's even important to passivate the stainless to make sure corrosion resistance is at its highest in salt water. Alphabet Links
solder line
In hidden tang knives, the guard or fittings are often soldered to the knife tang to stabilize the joint and prevent infiltration of moisture, corrosives, and fluids. The solder line should be as thin as possible, clean, even, and finished, with no pinholes, waviness, or irregularities. Low temperature solders are usually used, so as not to affect or change the knife blade temper. Alphabet Links
sole authorship
This term defines a knife or work of knife art as being completely made by the person whose name is on the knife, sword, dagger, or piece. Nowadays, many knife makers farm out (above) or commission tasks and parts of the knife construction, finishing, and embellishment to other individuals or companies. In a work of sole authorship, the singular maker has made all of the blade, done all of the heat treating, made the fittings, handle, stand, sheath, or case including construction, finishing, and embellishment, with no other hands in the work. This adds tremendously to the long term investment value of the artistic piece, because a singular mind and concept has created the entire piece and all of its components and accessories can be identified as the maker's. Sole authorship occupies a very special place in the knife making world, as it is rare to find someone who does it all and knife making can consist of a wide variety of skill sets and expertise. Sole authorship knives then, usually have and maintain the highest value during and after the life of the individual knife maker. All we leave behind is our works and the memories! Alphabet Links
spacer material
Usually used in the handle, spacer material may be used for visual accent and style, and less typically to space or adjust the mechanics of fitting the handle. The spacer material may be any metal (copper, brass, nickel silver, or stainless steel) and/or plastics and manmade materials. A popular and nicely colored material that is frequently used is a vulcanized fish fiber originally created as an electrical insulator. This is sold by knife making supply companies. This is not a liner, a liner is a component on a folding knife (see liner above). Alphabet Links
spacer (folding knife)
The spacer on a folding knife is the component or arrangement that establishes clearance between the liners, scales, or handle sides so the blade can fold between them. Also called a backspacer, or backspine, or spacer-spine, it is sometimes made of pins, tubes or rods (spacer pins) to minimize weight. In early historical references, this was called a center scale, but because the word scale nowadays defines the finished handle material, this can be confusing. So, most in the trade now call these components spacers because that is their primary function. This critical component strengthens the handle, gives continuity to the entire handle assembly, and can be a canvas for artistic embellishment. Often, on my highly embellished folding knives, the spacer is finished inside and out, with accents like filework being visible only when looking deep into the handle. The spacer can anchor the liners or scales with machine screws, set and peened pins, soldered, or welded attachment methods. Alphabet Links
spacer (knife block or stand)
The spacer in a knife block, typical for chef's knives, is the material that is between the slips, or holes where the knives rest. The spacers can be thin or thick, angled or straight, curved or square, carved or plain, in any materials. Usually, they are wood, since woods won't usually scratch or damage the blades. In manufactured or mass-produced blocks they are always made of soft, cheap woods. Spacers have to be thick enough to allow clearance between the knife handles, so the user can grasp the handle and remove it from the block or stand. Alphabet Links
specific gravity
This is the ratio of the density of a substance when compared to the density of another, typically standard substance. In our case, that standard is usually pure water. Where this is important in knifemaking is in determining weights of materials, typically handle materials since handle balance is very important to the feel of a knife. An advanced concept in balancing a knife, for instance, is considering the S.G. (specific gravity) of a particular gemstone as a choice for a knife. An overly heavy rock with a high S.G. will mean a smaller handle or one that needs to be backmilled or mounted to a lighter tang for proper balance. A very lightweight (low S.G.) material, like Micarta® phenolic, means a larger, higher volume of the handle material can be used for good balance. For example, jade has a S.G. of about 3, whereas Micarta phenolic has a S.G. of about 1.4, a substantial difference that the knifemaker must accommodate for proper balance and feel of a knife. Alphabet Links
spheroidized (spheroidizing)
A treatment of steel to convert plate-like cementite into spheroid cementite, resulting in extremely soft, malleable, ductile condition of steel for ease in machining and working. This is done by heating steel to a predetermined temperature, and cooling slowly over many hours to allow equilibrium phase transformation to take place. The exact time, temperatures, and rate depend on the steel alloy type. Alphabet Links
spine, knife
The term knife spine describes the entire spine of the knife, from the point to the butt. Like the vertebrate, the knife spine supports the whole animal. In a well made knife, it forms the strength of beam that joins the handle to blade, and supports all energy transfer between the handle and the cutting edge as well as supporting the butt. The knife spine is the thickest, heaviest part of the knife and the thickest part of the spine should be at the blade-handle junction, not in the handle area (see tapered tang below). Alphabet Links
spine, blade
You might wonder how the blade spine differs from the knife spine. When discussing the blade spine, this includes the area between the grind termination (plunge) and the lead-off. Spine strength in this area is critical, because if a blade is overground (definition below), the blade can bend or snap in the blade spine area. Alphabet Links
spine, handle
Just like the blade spine (above) the handle spine deserves special consideration. The handle spine must be able to transfer great forces of the hand into the blade, support the butt of the knife and rear fittings, and secure the handle material, bolsters and bedding, while limiting weight that is unnecessary. In a milled (weight reduced) handle spine, enough careful thought and planning should yield a lightweight, yet significantly strong spine despite the tapering of the tang necessary for weight reduction. In a hidden tang knife, the spine is the tang itself, and should be large enough to support the forces of the handle applied to the blade. Alphabet Links
spine depression, spine sculpting
The spine of a knife blade does not have to be straight or uniform. It may have a curve inward toward the cutting edge (called a spine depression) or it may sport full sculpting with carving and embellishment. This is not just for show or visual interest, the maker can control the overall weight of the blade by carefully reducing spine areas in wide-bladed knives. He usually does this knowing he must preserve enough mass in the spine for significant blade strength. Alphabet Links
a decomposition mechanism describing rapid un-mixing of a mixture of liquids or solids from one thermodynamic phase, to form two coexisting phases. As an example, consider a hot mixture of water and an oil separating. Alphabet Links
This is a martial arts term, and the way we who have studied Kenpo Karate understand reduces wrist injury. When a tight fist is made, the wrist naturally assumes a position "square" to the radius and ulna in the forearms. If you were to make a fist around a round rod, the position of the rod would be about 90 degrees to your forearm, thus square. In this position, the wrist is rigidly locked, and punches and impact can be delivered without jamming, or straining the complicated joints in the wrist. How does this apply to knives? If a knife is fairly straight bladed, and the blade must be pointed forward, the wrist will have to bend or lean forward to accommodate this. When it does, it is vulnerable to injury, as the wrist is not locked into position. All beginning martial artists know this well, as they jam their wrist if it is not locked while punching. On certain knives, the downward angle of the handle will allow a square or near-square position of the wrist. This is a good argument for gun handles, or downward sloped handles on knives that may see significant impact such as tactical survival knives with large blades. Alphabet Links
stacked tang
I first heard this term used by Don Norton, back in the early 1980s. It is a hidden tang knife handle, with sometimes numerous pieces of material shaped like doughnuts stacked onto a knife tang that may have a core of welded or brazed-on threaded rod. See Knife Anatomy pictures 10-12 above. The pieces (handle materials, wood, horn, bone, ivory, stone, spacer material, amber beads, etc.) are arranged and stacked onto the tang, assembled with epoxy and mechanically secured with a pommel. Then, the handle is ground to shape, sanded, polished, and finished. Very nice looking handle. I really should make more of those... Alphabet Links
stainless steel
A steel containing a substantial amount of chromium, which adds strength and inhibits corrosion. While in the United States of America, we classify stainless steels as generally having more than 10% and up to 13% or more chromium, in Europe and other parts of the world, they classify stainless steels specifically as having more than 10.5% chromium. Since it has been convention in the past to classify steels having as little as 4% chromium as stainless steels, it can be very confusing to classify with only the simple designation of "stainless." Therefore, it's best to describe stainless steels by their grade (austenitic, ferritic, martensitic) and by their trade name or SAE/AISI designation when describing them. Simply identifying a steel as "stainless" does not accurately identify the steel. Alphabet Links
A strong, hard metal made of iron and carbon with alloys of other elements all included to produce specific effects and results in the final use of the steel item. Plenty of information on my huge "Blades" page, and more that you probably want to know about modern knife blade steels on my "Heat Treating and Cryogenic Processing of Knife Blade Steels" page. Alphabet Links
stick tang
Another term for a hidden tang or stacked tang (above). So called because the tang looks like a stick without the handle pieces or pommel mounted on it. Alphabet Links
stonewashed (blade)
This describes a finish applied to a knife blade like you would a pair of mass-produced distressed canvas blue jeans. You use rocks. A tumbler helps, but you can abuse your wife's washing machine as well. The rocks beat the metal. They leave dents. They abrade. It looks flat and beaten. No one likes to mention that metals, particularly hardened and tempered tool steels, are adversely affected by peening (which is beating) unless they are stress relieved, which would change the temper. So, stress relieving is not typically done after beating and abrading the surface. Done this way, peening tends to increase surface stresses and initiate cracks in metals and the effect is well known by metallurgists, engineers, scientists, and machinists. Even the silversmith and jeweler knows that after peening, the metal must be annealed to relieve any stresses. This can't compare with blasting which has microscopic impact and abrasion of the surface, this is beating with rocks (or sometimes a hammer!). If you are intent on a beaten (ahem, stonewashed) finish, make sure your knifemaker has hardened and tempered the knife blade after the beating; chances are, he's done the reverse. This increased surface stress may not make much difference in low alloy carbon steels, but in high performance metals it shouldn't be done. Why do guys do this to knife blades? Usually, it's because finishing is the most time consuming and difficult process for any metal project, so, just like factories, finish is not where they want to spend their man-hours. It's fast, and it's cheap, which is okay for a cheap knife that you don't need to worry if the metal is surface stressed anyway! Alphabet Links
stud, thumb stud
The word stud is a very wide-ranging, old word that has origins in many languages. Anglo-Saxon, Swedish, Old Norse, German, Dutch, and Greek languages all have related words, so the actual origin is unclear. What do those original words that lead to our English word stud look like? studu, stöd, stoth, stythja, stut, stütze, and stylos. In knifemaking the main use of the word is describing the small post, protrusion, rod, or fitting that is attached to the spine of a folding knife blade to aid in opening the blade with the thumb. It is not a bob. I also use studs in my stone folding knife cases to align and retain the lids. A stud is simply a projecting rod, knob or pin. Alphabet Links
This word originates in Italian, and comes from the word study. This is the working room of an artist in employment, which is what I am, and what I do here. That is why my business is named Sharp Instinct Studio. While it has many rooms for many different disciplines, it is a learning, teaching environment that is continually evolving, growing, and changing. I am a student of the knifemaking arts, and there is always more to learn. I also teach my family members (three generations) in the art. Alphabet Links
A term for a finger-separating protrusion, usually made of metal that is within the handle area. In a hidden tang knife, it may be a thick piece of guard material that is located behind the forefinger in a traditional grip style, which has been formed down to accommodate the fingers. This allows greater security of grip, and pressure to be applied when pulling the knife blade through material (like sawing). On full tang knives, this is sometimes called a mid-bolster (above). Here's a good example of a brass sub-hilt on a Bowie knife. Alphabet Links
Definition: too small to be seen by an ordinary light microscope. In this context (knife steel) it means that a structure is too small to be seen by an ordinary light microscope. This doesn't mean the structure can't be seen (actually imaged) by a microscope that uses other methods, such as a scanning electron microscope. The sub-microscopic limit is about 1500X and the resolution of .2 micrometers. Alphabet Links
super steel
There is, simply, no such thing. This type of term is non-specific and a sales-directed descriptor, inserted to make one think one steel is superior to others. Like steels with mystical, generalized, or popular name created as business advertisers, this has no place in the context of steel discussion, unless you are discussing comic book characters Superman, Supergirl, Superboy, Superdog... hey, were is Superwoman? How come it's Wonder Woman and not Superwoman? Ahh, I get it: the wonders of women... Alphabet Links
Some clarification on this very troublesome word is necessary, as it seems that many are very confused about it. The source of the word is the French word souage, meaning an ornamental border. The original word swage comes from the anvil or tool that was once used to create it at the forge, and the term refers to a decorative edge. So a grooved swage would create a swage. You'll see similar words like swedge also used, but that word is an antiquated substitution and originates in the Oxford (British) dictionary. See the language and dictionary reference above to clarify this. You might see the text swege but that is not even a word. A swage is the top grind, taper, or bevel in the spine, frequently near the tip of the blade that is sometimes called a false edge. Calling it decorative is another bad interpretation of the purpose of a feature on a knife blade. In the old days, swages (or false edges) were left thick at the edge, so, naturally, it was assumed they were merely decorative, to give the appearance of another cutting edge only. On modern knives, many have a swage that is shaped or ground completely to the edge; they actually form a thick but sharp and formidable cutting edge. Why the confusion and assignment of this feature? Because many types of tools have swages or swaged components, the use of the term can be bewildering. For instance, the tool used to spread apart saw teeth for sharpening was a wedge and distinctly called a swage. This wedge shape may well be why the knife blade feature was originally called a swage as it is a wedge shape. Note that also, a device used to straighten drill pipe for wells is a swage, and there is an important company who makes industrial hydraulic and pneumatic fittings called Swagelock® which uses a wedge-type design to prevent galling and secure high pressure fittings. Swaging in modern industrial practice is simlar to drawing by die-forming, which is done in a wedge-profiled milled hole in a hardened die. Again, you'll notice the wedge idea. I believe that, taken all together, these are the sources of the term and assignment for this feature on a knife blade.
Why have a swage? The reason for the swage is not just decorative, it is most often to reduce the point thickness and cross-sectional geometry without removing too much material which would weaken the spine. This is usually done in tactical and combat knives to reduce the combination of point angles for greater penetration force on a smaller surface area at the point, and has been known and understood by those who make combat and piercing weapons for thousands of years. Only recently has this feature been give a name "false" because knives as weapons are frequently misunderstood these days.
A swage is usually flat ground or taper ground. If it is hollow ground and sharpened, it becomes an additional cutting edge, and the knife becomes double-edged. A swage is usually never field-sharpened or honed because it is not used as a cutting edge would be, but exists only to reduce weight and offer compound and sharper penetration geometry without sacrificing spine strength, whereas a cutting edge has a grind, relief, and is sharpened and used up. There are many knives with swages on my Tactical, Combat, and Military Knives page. Alphabet Links
This is the fine metallic particles removed by a cutting or grinding tool. Not to be confused with turnings or borings, which are coarse cuttings from mills, drills, and similar tools. Swarf is the fine, gritty remains of what was once metal, sometimes mixed with abrasives and lubricants, and the reason that full time knife makers should never have a full beard. How are they supposed to protect their lungs from swarf and abrasives if they can't fit a seal on a respirator? Okay, there are those face shield positive pressure blower hoods, but who can actually wear one of those? Safety lesson aside, this is an ancient term, from old Norse, to describe the remains of grinding on metal by stone. Alphabet Links
The origin of this word is far reaching, including Middle English, Old High German, Anglo Saxon, Dutch, Old Frisian, Old Saxon, Low German, Old Norse, Danish, Gothic, and Latin. That's a lot of history! The word is derived from swart, which means of a dark color, black, or of gloomy, dark, dirty, or malignant in character. In knives, it means stain of buffing compound, oxidation, or other darkened appearance that may be hard to remove. This does not refer to bluing, which is purposely applied; this refers to unwanted surface appearance. Amateur or homemade works often have swarthy surfaces, embedded compound, or hints of a dirty exterior. Alphabet Links
A word I've seen actually in print by modern machine tool companies, this is swarf, badly misspelled! See swarf. Alphabet Links
Also called a skull crusher or cat scratcher (above), the talon is usually located at the butt of the knife handle. In my full tang knives, I like to actually extend the actual tang so that the talon is well supported and part of the spine of the knife handle. The talon is not sharpened, and is used as a non-lethal method to persuade, guide, and control the enemy in combat tactical operations and defense. Just a small amount of pressure from a talon can yield painful directive, without the potentially lethal piercing of the blade. Many of my military clients as well as some law enforcement professionals are requesting this useful adjunct. Alphabet Links
The word is used so frequently in the talk of knives that I almost forgot to include it! The word tang originates from the Middle English word tange which comes from the Old Norse word tangi which means a projecting point, perhaps referring to the English word for tongue. Okay, then why doesn't that mean the point of the blade? Because it is a projecting point, which is like the tongue of a snake, or stinger of an insect. So in fixed blade knives, it refers to the metal piece that projects into the handle. This also refers to all the metal blade piece that the handle is mounted to. Tangs may be full, tapered, hidden, partial, rabbeted, or threaded. Handles may be secured to the tang by pins, screws, pommels, adhesives, soldering, brazing, or welding. The tangs themselves may be highly embellished and may also comprise the entire handle as in skeletonized handle tang forms. The tangs also importantly support the bolsters and fittings for the handles. A strong tang means a very strong handle to blade union. Alphabet Links
tang, full
See full tang above. Alphabet Links
taper (grind)
You might hear or read of us older makers using this to describe a slightly convex grind of the knife blade. See convex grind above for more details. While not profoundly convex (like an axe blade), the taper grind is used on knives that require a very robust chopping geometry and great edge strength, knives that are extremely thin (less than 1/16") that would not support a hollow or flat grind, and knives that have unusual geometries (like karambits and sickles) that can not be ground in other geometries. Alphabet Links
taper (tang)
On full tang knives (which are one solid piece of blade steel from tip to butt), the tang is frequently tapered. This leads to the thinnest portion of the tang at the butt of the handle. There are several reasons for this. It helps with weight balance by reducing the heavy stock in the handle. Also, it removes steel thickness where it is not needed for strength (most of the strength should remain in the spine). Additionally, it is an indicator of a well made, and usually handmade knife. Only the finest knives have tapered tangs, and the modern collector should expect tapered tangs on all his full tang knives. To leave a tang at full thickness is a sign of a lazy, inexperienced, or cheap knife. Filework (Embellishment page) applied to a tapered tang can demonstrate and exhibit great skill and care by the maker, greatly increasing the value of a handmade or custom knife. Alphabet Links
template (knife)
This word originates in the Latin word templum, meaning a small timber. The definition we use is a gauge, pattern, or mold, commonly a thin plate, board, or light frame used as a guide to the form of the work to be executed. In knifemaking, this most commonly refers to the physical pattern used to scribe, mark, and indicate the knife profile for cutting out or forging the blade. My templates are made of aluminum, acrylic, Plexiglas, or fiberglass, and occasionally wood. You can see photos of my templates on my Patterns page here; there are hundreds! Alphabet Links
tested, tested sharp
This phrase has been applied to knife blades and the earliest I've seen it described is on a Western States Daddy Barlow folding knife made before 1840. The Barlows were an English family of cutlers from the Sheffield region (thanks to Levine's Guide to Knives, 1985). Mark Twain immortalized Barlow knives in "Tom Sawyer." Evidently, the Barlow firm "tested" their blades, using their own means and methods, and were proud enough of this testing that they thought it would be a good idea to mark this on the blade of this large folding knife. The actual phrase was: "Tested Sharp Temper." So the idea of testing blades for hardness and then identifying them as tested is very old. Nowadays, the Barlow can refer to a particular style of folding knife, not the original. I've also seen this used on modern Chinese made "reproduction" folding knives, curiously with distinctive American names. By the way, collecting this type of Chinese knife is for personal pleasure only; they will not appreciate in value one cent. As Bernard Levine writes in the text mentioned above, "there is little potential for profit in collecting new regular production factory made knives." Actual testing of hardness and sharpness should be done by every knifemaker, knife manufacturer, or boutique shop. In my studio, knives are accurately tested for hardness with a hardness testing machine (not available in the early 19th century!), and the edges are tested with the Juranitch testing method for sharpness. Alphabet Links
This is the word that means the part that forms terminates or forms the end of something. In knives, this would be used to describe the outermost tips of a guard, chape, or feature, which may be decorative, balled, truncated, angled, or embellished in some fashion. It does not describe, however, the tip of the blade, the pommel, or the butt of the knife handle. It's more appropriately used to describe a fitting. Alphabet Links
termination (grind)
See grind termination above. See plunge grind above. Alphabet Links
thumb rise (thumb ramp, thumb rest)
This is the extended profile portion of the knife usually along the spine that accommodates the thumb. This rise helps the thumb apply pressure, guiding the knife in the cut, and may be reinforced by the bolsters on heavy duty knives. On my models with locking sheaths, the thumb rise frequently accommodates the lock notch, where the lock tang engages. The thumb rise may also help prevent the hand from sliding forward onto the blade, and may present an area where the blade can be pinched between the finger and thumb for controlled cutting, such as fine work with a chef's knife. Alphabet Links
See point above. The tip is the end of the point. The tip is usually the easiest part of the knife blade to fracture, and it is the most used for penetration and the controlled, fine beginning of a cut. Tip geometry is important, a balance of useable thinness with enough material to support use. How a maker or manufacturer grinds the tip of the point should be determined by the steel type, the blade's intended use, the temper of the blade, and the serviceability of the knife over time, as this area will change shape after repeated sharpenings more dramatically than any other part of the blade edge. If you take care of the tip of the knife blade, the rest of the knife will follow suit. Alphabet Links
Technically, a piece of cord, tie, lash, strip, tape, rope, or tether, this word is probably best if not used to describe a lanyard. The lanyard is historically related to and descriptive of the exact function (to secure a knife), where the thong is just a strip of textile. Also, because thong refers to modern (lack of) clothing, it's not the best word to describe a lanyard. The word "thong" would be appropriate describing the little dingily-dangly bit of leather some knifemakers like to attach to the butt of their knives to hold the pewter skull, doggie, or heart charms that make knives perform to their maximum mystical potential ... Alphabet Links
Another word describing a hidden tang (above). So called because the tang extends through the block of handle material. Alphabet Links
tool marks
These are simply the marks left by a tool, and not usually considered desirable on the modern, well-made knife. Some tool marks are unavoidable and are left purposefully to set apart a rough surface from a finished one, such as the file marks on spine or tang filework. Others are signs of poor finishing, like grinder marks, milling scours, and saw teeth marks on blades. Handles can show tool marks also, and are generally not desirable. Sometimes the tool mark itself is the finish, such as in knurled handles (yuuk), or in jeweled surfaces such as is done on some firearm actions. A horrid finish is the hammered surface of knife blades, done to quickly and easily finish a knife and give it a hammered, rustic, or primitive look. Not something you would expect to see on a fine handmade modern knife of any substantial value, this finish usually appears on inexpensive knives or beginner's works, though a few experienced makers use it. The use is not generally considered artistic—just know that the most difficult part of the knife blade to finish properly is the flat. This is the area that unskilled knifemakers love to leave hammered, scarred, blackened, and crusty. Coincidence or laziness? You decide. By the way, no chef's or kitchen knife should ever have a rough surface, since it can easily harbor bacteria. Alphabet Links
The tooth is not the handle material that is made of wart hog tusk, elephant tusk, or even bits of elk whistlers that were thought to be canines at one time. And no, it is not the semi-petrified tooth of a mammoth, which does make a striking knife handle. The tooth I'm referring to is the surface texture that is rough enough to hold debris, fluids, and wax. Like the tooth of a sheet of paper which is used to describe a paper's ability to hold the graphite particles of a drawing, a rough surface texture on a knife blade, handle, or component can offer enough microscopic hills and depressions to markedly affect long term contact with contaminants and thus, the corrosion resistance. A bead-blasted or satin finished blade has more tooth than a mirror finished blade, and more surface area and roughness, so will be less corrosion resistant. However, the same tooth on the blade surface also holds waxes well, so I always recommend heavily waxing this type of blade to inhibit and even prevent surface corrosion and rust. Alphabet Links
trapping (hooks and geometry)
"Trapping" is the action that allows a knife user to engage and retain objects that may ordinarily slide off a slick, smooth, or rounded knife edge or surface. This is very useful in the survival, rescue, and emergency response field for snagging, grabbing, and holding a line, rope, or textile. Without trapping, cutting a line may take two hands: one to hold the line, and the other to hold the knife for the cut. In the combat field, trapping allows snagging and pulling of clothing, body gear and equipment, and even gloves of the enemy for tactical advantage. Traps are typically near the handle; this gives them great strength, close access to cutting features (like serrations) and does not interfere with the regular blade point or cutting edge action. Though they are often near the choil, they may comprise separate mechanical geometry and function. Alphabet Links
tribology, tribological
Tribology is a branch of mechanical engineering and materials science. Tribology is the science and engineering of interacting surfaces in relative motion. It includes the study and application of the principles of friction, lubrication and wear. In knifemaking, tribological studies play a role in determining steel wear characteristics and this is the only scientific, accepted method to determine the relative wear resistance of steel. Cutting tests do not; they are too variable, and knife blades can not be consistently created to any high degree of accuracy. In tribological testing, wear surfaces, indentation, loss of mass, and friction are all considered and calculated. This is ASTM and AISI approved testing of the wear resistance of steels and it is the only recognized standard. More about cutting tests of knife blades on this page. More about the reasons for tribological testing of steels on my Heat Treating and Cryogenic Processing of Knife Blade Steels. Alphabet Links
This is the abbreviation of the Unified Abrasives Manufacturer's Association. It was formed to promote and standardize the wide-ranging abrasives manufacturing industry, and merged the Abrasive Grain Association, Coated Abrasives Manufacturers’ Institute, Diamond Wheel Manufacturers’ Institute and the Grinding Wheel Institute, in association with ANSI. It is the source of standards in the abrasives industry which can be bewildering and wide-ranging. Alphabet Links
under-ground (blade)
This is not a blade that is used to dig a foxhole! It refers to a blade (typical in manufactured knives) that has not been deeply ground, and is thin only at the cutting edge, having a shallow grind. The reason is economy and planned obsolescence. It's cheap and fast to do just a little bit of grinding on a knife blade, leaving a fairly thick edge, and get the knife out the door. It's also dangerous to grind thin blades (I go into that in my upcoming book). Also, if after three sharpenings the knife is unusable without regrinding, when most manufacturers figure you'll buy another knife. There is plenty of sales and production psychology that goes into knife manufacturing, but the outcome is clear: an underground blade is a cheap, badly made blade. In my opinion, most manufactured knives are underground. Get a detailed description of this blade grind factor with illustrations and more information on my Blades page at this bookmark. Alphabet Links
under the table
See left under the table above. Alphabet Links
This is the Unified Numbering System for metals (used in North America) and it's managed jointly by the ASTM International and SAE International. While it is not the full indicator of metallic properties, it does identify metal types and alloys across the metals field. Alphabet Links
This is a term for the lapidary side of knifemaking, and means "glasslike." It's used in describing the surface appearance of a gemstone, mineral, or rock material, but the interesting part is how that surface is derived. While a gemstone like obsidian can be flaked or fractured and have a vitreous appearance, this is not the normal method to achieve this. Polishing is, and in the harder materials, like agates and jaspers, it takes a slow, laborious process to achieve the bright vitreous surface that brings out the beauty of gemstone. More about gemstone knife handles. Alphabet Links
wall hanger
This term is used to describe a knife that hangs on a wall, usually considered a display piece only. Guys that carry ugly or cheap knives like to use this term; sometimes they may think it degrades a beautiful knife. After all, they wouldn't use a fine beautiful tool in their lives, so why would you? You'll often hear the phrase, "that's just too pretty to use," and I talk about that more on a special topic on my FAQ page at this bookmark. When they say, "that's just a wall hanger," what they really mean is they can't afford a knife that nice. Okay, I'm being harsh here. Some cheap knock-off swords, pop knives, and imports are made only for display. So if it's a real knife, it's usually called a collector's knife, and if the wall hanger is made in Pakistan or China, it's just called decoration. Alphabet Links
washed (washed-over, washed-out)
When knife blade, fitting, and handle materials are improperly finished, they lose their crisp lines of geometric form, and are often rounded-over or washed by too much time spent on a buffer, trying to bring an improperly sanded and prepared surface to a bright finish. Sometimes, it is desirable to have a rounded form (such as at the inside of the handle quillons), but the finish of the edges and angles of the bolster faces and handle edges should still retain their geometric crisp angles and form. Washed-over knives are not high grade investment works, and it is something to look out for in a fine custom knife investment. Alphabet Links
watered (steel)
This term generally refers to ancient ultra high carbon Persian steel, which, according to experts and historians, appeared on the surface to be a moiré silk pattern with alternating bands of light and dark wavy lines. This was believed to be caused by particles of iron carbides, contrasting by etching and darkening chemical treatments. In one reference, it's claimed that the flat cakes of crucible steel that will form watered steel when properly forged are called "Wootz." It's believed that wootz steel originated in India, and the cakes were taken in trade routes to Damascus for forging. This is not modern, pattern welded Damascus, but the appearance is an artifact of welding, forging, and treatment of a singular steel type from the Wootz cake. The difference in appearance from modern pattern welded Damascus steel is that true ancient watered steel has a very tiny pattern, almost needing magnification to be seen, and is a more gentle, less contrasting and striking layering effect. More about pattern welded Damascus steel at this link on my Blades page. Alphabet Links See also Damascus steel and Wootz steel on this page.
Waves belong on the ocean, not on a knife! This refers to careless or inexperienced grinding. As the knife is held in a bright, uniform illumination, you can see undulating waves in the flat and ground surface of the blade. Waves are caused by bad grind practice and too much time at the buffer. The maker attempts to remove scratches and smooth the surface of the grind by hogging out areas on the blade surface, destroying the crisp, clean grind lines that well-made handmade custom knives are known for. I've seen this a lot in foreign makers, I don't know why, as they have access to the same information and technology that domestic makers do. If you see a knife like this, don't buy it, it's not worth the investment. Alphabet Links
Technically, this is a neologism. In the knife field this word comes up because guys realize that although a knife might be very nice to hold and use, the maker or manufacturer has not included a useful, much less suitable knife sheath to be able to wear the knife. Knowing that in reality, a knife is worn, not carried, it is indefensible that makers and manufacturers constantly ignore this most important part of the real knife conversation. For my own knives and sheaths, not only do I work hard to create useful, reliable, durable, and dedicated sheaths, both traditional and tactical, I also include accessories to widen the scope of knife sheath wearability. Alphabet Links
Used in knife sheaths, the welt forms a width to accommodate the thickness of the knife and blade; it establishes and strengthens the spine of the sheath, and offers a protective surface for the cutting edge to glide in and out of the sheath without cutting the fastening means, like stitches, rivets, or screws. This is not a gusset; please don't use that word! Literally, the word welt means that which being sewn or otherwise fastened to a border serves to guard, strengthen, or adorn it. In the knife sheath, it does all three! See more about welts on my Sheaths page. Alphabet Links
Wootz (steel)
This is early high carbon crucible-made steel, a process that originated in Indian swordsmithing as early as 200 B.C. The Wootz steels are believed to originate in India, but India and the Persian world traded frequently, so identification of the steel's origination can become complicated. It's believed that Indian blades were imported into Persia from early in the craft, and Persian smiths often improved and worked over the blades, swords, and daggers as well as forged the wootz flat cakes of steel for their own designs. See also Damascus steel and watered steel on this definition list as well as Damascus steel on my Blades page.
worked back
see backwork above Alphabet Links
working knife
See EDC above. The daily carried knife, not purchased for collection or investment value, but for use. Though these knives may be elaborate and even feature gemstone handles, full engraving, and a high price compared to factory knives, they are more typically a maker's lower end in style, materials, and finish (and thus cost). Every knife should be made to the highest standards that the price will allow, and investment grade knives should be able to perform just as well as a gritty, tough working knife for every day carry, even though they're never expected to see any use. Alphabet Links
Pronounced yō-kō-tā (with the accent on ko).The dividing line in the grinds visible at the union of the tip grind and the main blade grind in tanto blades. See dividing line above. Alphabet Links
zebra knife
This is my own term and I'm sure it will catch on. A zebra knife is a knife that is adorned with images of zebras, either by fine engraving, etching, scrimshaw, or other methods of adornment. The zebra knife has been a source of humor for some makers and knife clients, as it can be the hardest kind of knife to sell. The knife doesn't appeal to most collectors because of the specific and narrow interest of the zebra, and no user would carry a zebra knife in the field because they would be afraid to scratch it and damage the fine zebra image. Another looming problem is one of misinterpretation; is the zebra there for adornment, or is it the subject of the knife's purpose and use (such as zebra skinning)? Nowadays, it's hard to make friends if you carry a zebra skinner on your hip no matter how open-minded they are. One more thing: a zebra knife usually rests in the collection of a big African game hunter, alongside the big five images of lions, elephants, rhinos, leopards and tigers. Who would hunt this poor striped horse, anyway? Taken generally, the zebra knife is a knife that for some specific reason, is difficult to sell.
(Note: I found out that a knife forum had cited this very definition for discussion. Though several people understood the humor, others not so gifted in the recognition of satire claimed that tigers had not been hunted recently in Africa. Duuuh, really? Oh, and yes, they went on to claim that they wouldn't ever buy my knives, but really appreciated the information on my site. This is funny; I must know something about knives, but after making and selling over 3000 of them for three decades, building the most extensive web offering and information rich website about those very knives, I don't build a knife good enough for them to consider. I hope I can survive in this business! Oh, and of course, a factory knife made by a boutique shop is somehow better designed when built with a parachute cord handle. Hmmm.) Alphabet Links

Thanks for being here!

Since language is a constantly evolving medium, I'm certain that I'll spend a lot more time here, updating the terminology of the modern handmade custom knife and its components, features, and accessories. I don't expect I'll ever finish this page, that hopefully it will evolve throughout my time making knives, and that that time will be substantial!

Thank you for taking your time to be here sharing in this fascinating field. You honor me by visiting!

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