All About Knife Handles

Posted by Steven Tuckey on

Also referred to as the 'scale', the part of a knife that is as important as the blade is the knife handle. The knife handle can be made with different materials and comes in different shapes and sizes which contributes a great deal to the balance and knife safety in the kitchen. Anyone who spends ample time cutting in the kitchen would certainly appreciate the importance of a knife handle.


When considering the shapes of knife handles, there are two shapes of significance:

  • The western (full tang).
  • The Japanese (hidden tang).

A TANG is the projection of a blade that extends into stock material or connects to a handle by which the blade is held firmly.

The Western (Full Tang)

Here the tang extends the full length of the grip portion of the handle. This may or may not be as wide as the handle but it will still run the length of the handle. The handle is often cut in the shape of the tang and the handle scales are fastened to the tang using metallic rivets. The handle does not entirely cover the tangs leaving a visible portion of the tangs showing at the handle and running along the spine of the handle. Full tangs knives are great for survival knives because they are robust, reliable and steadfast. 

The full tang is a kitchen knife; because the full-tang knives are weightier since the entire knife is made of steel, it is more balanced and this makes it easier for chopping food items for a prolonged time. Due to the weight of the knife one does not need to exert so much force to cut through denser food.

The chances of a full tang handle breaking are reduced since most of the force is applied and focused on the blade of the knife. Also, the joint between the blade and the handle is much stronger and the movement of the blade always follows the movement of the handle.

The Japanese (Hidden Tang)

This type of knife handle shape has no part of the tang visible. It is enclosed in the handle material. Traditional Japanese knives have a hidden tang that is embedded in the core of the handle. The handle is traditionally made of wood and maybe oval, octagonal cross-section or D-shaped. 

The Japanese knives are lighter, thinner, feel more balanced in the hand and can be held at the edge for a longer time. These are the reasons why they are popular among professional chefs, and why they are perfect for precision tasks chefs do all day every day. This knife would be nice for slicing and dicing.


The history and evolution of the knife handle slightly differ from that of the blades. As far back as the 600 BC - stone age archaeologists discovered that knife handles were often made of carved bones. Other materials were also used such as deer antler, tortoiseshell, staghorn and mother-of-pearl.

Moving up the timeline, the history of the knife handle splits between the wood handle and other materials. Asides from the bone handle, the other most popular knife handle was the wood handle as it is easy to carve by artisans and the material is readily available. Hardwood is preferred because it is not easily damaged. Since this type of knife handle is readily available and cheap to make, it was also difficult to maintain. Manufacturers, therefore, decided to apply plastic resin to the wooden handle to make it more durable and waterproof.

At some point in the historical timeline, Metals became popular, and to improve durability, steel became the ideal material.

Advances in materials engineering have permitted an even more diverse range in the types of materials used, different materials are now being used to make knife handles ranging from stainless steel, aluminium, titanium, carbon fibre, G-10, and leather Wood Composite (wood and resin) – Micarta (industrial grade thermoplastic) and Richlite (recycled paper and resin).

The longevity of stainless steel cannot be argued, it is 99% recyclable it is the ideal metallic Green Material. Stainless steel is an alloy that often contains chromium, carbon, nickel, some other metals but not excluding iron which is the main constituent.

Even though it is plastic, Micarta is another very strong material used when making the handle of a knife, it is a thermoset kind of plastic made from resins imbued with organic and inorganic fillers.


Picking the right knife handle design is crucial because the handle is what one holds onto to use the knife safely and comfortably. To pick the right handle, you’ve got to have certain points at the back of your mind.

Points like; the effect you want to achieve with the knife, the fitting of the knife handle to the structure of your palm and of course how comfortable are you when operating with it. Beyond the material of the handle, other factors you should consider when picking the right knife handle includes your hand size, the scale of the knife, handle dimension, handle swell, squeeze, handle material, texture, shape of the knife handle and finally Purpose of usage.

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