Knife Terminology: Technical Terms & User Lingo
Technical Knife Terms
Alloy: A combination of several metals to create steel superior to both traditional stainless and carbon steel. Most modern alloys will have better edge retention, durability, and corrosion resistance than traditional materials.
Anodized Aluminum: A process using electricity to coat aluminum with a thin protective and decorative film. Color is usually added.
Arc Lock: This is a a type of proprietary locking mechanism from knife brand Studies and Observations Group (SOG). Using a slide lock setup, this mechanism is similar to Benchmade’s AXIS lock. However, the lock curves or arcs in a way that’s similar to the mechanism on most bolt-action pens, making it a touch different than the AXIS Lock.
Assisted Opening (or A/O): A mechanism on certain folding knives used to propel the blade open by applying force to an incorporated thumb stud or flipper.
AXIS Lock: This type of lock is one of the most sturdy and revered (and commonly replicated) knife locking mechanisms of all time. The AXIS lock is Benchmade’s own sliding lock mechanism that was first introduced in 1988. The design was originally invented and patented by knifemakers Jason Williams and Bill McHenry before being purchased by the Oregon City outfit and renamed the AXIS lock. Similar lock creations were attempted by several brands like SOG, SRM, etc.
Back: The unsharpened back portion of the metal blade. Also known as the spine.
Back Spacer: Protect the edge of the blade from keys, coins, any lose object in one’s pocket, while providing the open space between the handle sides to receive the folding blade when closed. Backspacers can also appear on fixed blades, providing weight and/or structural integrity to the handles. On various knives this piece can be customized in different colors, materials, as well as include additional features like lanyard holes, glass breakers, pry tools, etc.
Bail: A metal half-loop for clipping or tying the knife for easier carrying.
Barehead: This term refers to a knife that does not have a rear bolster.
Barrel Spacers: Perform a similar purpose as back spacers, as the help keep the blade’s tip from being damaged, while also connecting the open space between handle sides to provide a strong structure. These can be customized as well in different colors, materials, and sizes. These specific spacers are shaped like barrels hence the name, but they can also be straight rod shaped or shaped to a brands’ personal style.
Base: This term describes the bottom of a blade where the knife steel meets the handle.
Belly: The curved part of the blade used for slicing.
Bevel: The ground-away or tapered portion of the knife blade that extends from the spine down to the cutting edge. Blade bevel does not include the cutting edge called the edge bevel.
Blade: The metal portion of the knife used for cutting.
Blade Action: Refers to how a folding knife opens. A knife’s action can be described in many ways, but it will be either manual or automatic.
Blade Lock: A mechanical lock that holds a folding knife's blade in place.
Bolster: A piece of metal added to the handle for extra strength and/or decoration. Located above the guard.
Butt: The end of a knife’s handle.
Button Lock: This is a type of locking mechanism consisting of a push-button that’s used to disengage the blade from its locked position. However, it doesn't cause the blade to engage all the way and lock in place in the upright, useable position. These buttons look very similar to the push button locks used to deploy blades on many automatic knives.
Butterfly Knife (or Balisong): A traditional knife with two handles that are flung open using centrifugal force. These knives have their own competitions, where participants demonstrate skills and tricks using one or more balisongs/butterfly knives.
Carbon: A common material for making knife blades. Carbon is easier to sharpen into an edge than steel, but more susceptible to corrosion without proper care. There are several different types of carbon blades; 1095HC, AISI 1045, 52100. etc. All with different properties; hardness, corrosion resistance, stain resistance, heat resistance, wear resistance, and more.
Carbon Fiber (or CF): Graphite fibers the size of a human hairs that are woven together and fused in an epoxy resin. Due it's lightweight, strength and appearance, it is sometimes used as a high quality knife handle/inlay material.
Chisel Grind: An asymmetrical knife edge that is only sharpened on one side. The other side is usually hollow ground to assist in keeping food from sticking. This grind is generally found on woodworking chisels and traditional Japanese sushi knives.
Choil: A small round cut-out that separates the cutting portion of a blade from the bolster to make sharpening easier. The term can also describe a cut-out, molded or formed area where the handle and blade meet which protects the index finger while gripping an open blade. Basically, its the unsharpened portion of a knife’s cutting edge that is close to the handle. This can be notched or jimped for extra grip.
Chromium: An element in stainless steel alloys that increases wear resistance and hardenability and is the most important element in an alloy to prevent corrosion. Most stainless steels, especially in kitchen knives, contain a maximum of between 14% and 16% chromium.
Clip Point: A common blade shape, the clip point is characterized by a spine with a front section that appears to be clipped off. This seemingly cut-out area can either be straight or concave and results in a fine point.
Compression Lock: This type of locking mechanism was patented by Spyderco and is currently used on many of its most popular knives. Extremely strong, the compression lock utilizes a “leaf-like spring” from a split liner in the handle that wedges itself laterally between a ramp on the blade tang and the stop pin.
Crock Stick: Ceramic rods placed in the shape of a "V" used to sharpen knives. Individual rods can be used to sharpen scalloped or serrated knives.
Crucible Particle Metallurgy (or CPM): This is a powder metallurgy technology first patented in 1970. Used to create many of today’s most premium blade steels. CPM combines additional chemicals and elements into the alloy which allows for markedly stronger blade steels with incredible edge retention. Used on many popular high-end knives like Spyderco's Resilience Lightweight, Cold Steel's Recon 1,
CruWear: This is a blade steel from Crucible Industries that is basically a more premium version of D2 steel that boasts greater toughness and superior wear resistance.
Damascus Steel: Created by steel being folded repeatedly during forging. This makes the blade more durable (and cool looking). Can be made with two parent steels or one type of steel like 9Cr18MoV.
Damasteel: in Söderfors, Sweden, Damasteel is a company that produces its own proprietary, high-end — and thoroughly modern takes on — Damascus steels using a patented metallurgy process.
Detent: A component used in folding knives. It is the tiny ceramic or steel ball bearing that raises up when the blade is deployed and falls back into a hole when closed, which will cause some blade resistance. The detent prevents the knife from accidental deployment, while also not mitigating the smoothness of the knife’s action. The detent on a knife can very from very loose to very strong.
Drop Point: One of the most common blade shapes, the drop-point is characterized by a convex spine that curves down from the handle to the point. This creates an easily-controlled point and a bigger belly for slicing.
Edge: The sharpened side of the blade.
Edge Bevel: The honed part of the blade that starts after the blade bevel and continues to the cutting edge.
Epoxy: The bonding agent used to combine the different parts of the knife together. Made from polyamide or amino resin, and combined with a hardening agent.
Escutcheon: A small plate inserted into a handle as an inlay which usually shows the name or logo of the manufacturer or a model number. Can also be referred to as a shield.
False Edge: This terms describes an unsharpened edge of a blade that’s been given the appearance of a beveled edge. False edges are common on dagger-style knives with a single beveled edge.
FDE: Abbreviated name for "Flat Dark Earth". A color used on many knife handles, similar to dark brown. Became popular around 2020's and was used by Spyderco, SOG, and many other famous knife brands.
Fiberglass Reinforced Nylon (or Fibrox): An injection molded nylon polymer mixed with fiberglass which is used in making lightweight and durable knife handles.
Finger Grooves: Contoured or molded design of a handle to fit the fingers comfortably. Improve the ergonomics of a handle on a knife.
Fixed Blade: A terms that describes a rigid, non-folding knife. These knives are often comprised of a single piece of metal that runs the entire length of both the blade and handle; a setup known as a “full-tang” knife.
Flat Ground Blade: A strong blade profile that is often used in kitchen knives. The flat grind results in a well supported edge that is easy to maintain, but difficult to create because of the increase in blade material.
Flipper: A folding knife that features a tab/stud that juts out from the back when closed to allow a user to deploy the blade quickly and easily, usually with the pointer finger.
Forging: Method of manufacturing a knife using molds, dies, heat and hammer to form a knife blade. The knife is then hardened, tempered ground, and honed. This process produces a finer grain in the steel, giving it more strength without sacrificing edge retention.
Four-Position: This term is used when the pocket clip can be taken off a knife and moved to four different positions. Tip-Up Left. Tip-Up Right. Tip-Down Left. And Tip-Down Right. This type of versatile pocket clip can be found most often on Spyderco knives.
Friodur: Tempering process used by Henckels that utilizes a cooling stage in sub-zero temperatures with liquid methanol to create long-lasting edge retention.
Framelock or Frame Lock: A locking mechanism in which a piece of the handle falls into place behind the butt of the blade to hold it open. To close the knife, push the handle out while simultaneously folding down the blade.
Friction Folder: This type of folding knife is completely devoid of any locking mechanism or detent, and instead relies on the friction between the blade and the inside of the handles in order to keep the blade closed when not in use.
Front Flipper: A type of flipper knife. On this version, the contact point is situated on the blade’s spine and is more of an exposed corner of tang than a tab/stud. Seen more easily when the knife is closed.
Full-Tang: When a knife’s blade extends fully through the handle in both length and width. The handle of this knife is usually between two pieces of plastic, wood, synthetic material, etc.
Glass Breaker: is an element of a knife intended to break glass in various emergency situations and is a common safety device found in vehicles. Found mostly on folding, OTF, and tactical knives, this piece is typically pointed and made of a harder material than that of the blade.
Granton Edge (or Scalloped): A type of edge featured on some slicers as well as santokus (Japanese chef's knives) that uses small divots or dimples to create air pockets so that foods will not stick to the blade. Great for cutting slices of meat or fish.
Grind: This term describes the way in which a blade’s edge has been ground in order to achieve a bevel. The most frequently used types on EDC knives are flat or hollow grinds, though saber grinds are fairly common too.
Guard: The part of the handle designed to prevent the hand from slipping onto the blade. This can be integrated into the handle or a separate component. Protects the hand. Can also be known as the hilt.
Gut hook: A sharpened hook on the spine of a hunting knife designed for field dressing.
G-10: Handle material made of epoxy filled with woven glass fiber that is impervious to changes in temperature. This material can be customized into various colors as well as be combined with other materials like carbon fiber.
Hardware: The screws, bushings, washers, and other small pieces that hold a knife’s main parts together. Can be customized in different colors, finishes, and metals.
Heat Treatment: A very important phase in a blade’s production, “heat treating” is a process in which blade steel is exposed to extreme temperatures, making it a harder and more durable material. Even using the most top-shelf blade steels available, without a heat treatment, a blade’s durability, finish, and edge retention would be non-existant.
Hilt: Could also be called a Haft or Shaft, is the handle of a knife, sword, dagger, or bayonet that consists of a guard, grip and pommel.
Hawkbill Blade: Blade shaped in a sharply curved downward hook. The inside edge of the blade is sharpened and works particularly well for fishermen.
Hollow Grind: An edge put onto a knife that is slightly concave to prevent food particles from sticking to the knife. This type of grind is often found on fillet knives because it allows for a sharper edge. Straight razors also typically use hollow grinds.
Honing: to realign and deburr the edge of a knife blade. Frequent honing is essential and will keep a knife cutting like new for extended periods.
Honing Oil: Oil used with a stone to aid with the sharpening process. It floats away particles of steel removed from the blade while sharpened, as well as small particles of the stone worn away through sharpening use.
Inlay: Material inlaid into a knife's handle.
Integral: A term that describes a type of folding knife where the handle is crafted from a single piece of material, rather than being composed of two handle slabs mated via a frame and backspacer. Aluminum, titanium, and G-10 are the three most common materials used to create this type of knife.
Joint: The point on a knife where the handle and blade are brought together via a pivot.
Jigged Bone: Genuine animal bone typically used in knife handles and often to emulate stag antler. The bone is usually dyed, and surface texture is obtained by cutting holes or notches into the bone. This term can also be used to describe a textured pattern, usually seen on Case pocketknives.
Jimping: A portion of the spine close to the handle with ridges/notches. Can be close together, far apart, large and small. Designed for extra grip.
Karambit: First seen from Indonesia’s West Sumatra region in the 11th century, this style of knife is modeled after the profile of a tiger claw. In addition to their curved blades, karambits are also characterized by the base of their handle which usually includes an incorporated finger ring. Karambits can appear as both fixed blades and folding knives.
Kick: The unsharpened portion along the underside of the knife blade where the edge begins. It keeps the blade "kicked out" so the edge does not hit the back spacer.
Knife Blank: These are pre-made knife blades, which are ideal for novice as well as professional cutlers to complete knifemaking projects in less time. They also allow for personal customization, since the blade of the knife is already made, one can sharpen it to their liking as well as add handmade scales.
Kraton: A rubbery thermoplastic polymer used as a flexible inlay on knife handles or as a general handle material for increased grip, especially in wet and cold conditions.
Kydex: A thin thermoplastic material commonly used for firearm holsters and knife sheaths for military personnel. It is flexible and resistant to sweat, chemicals, oils, solvents and temperature extremes. It is shaped by heat and retains its set form.
Lanyard Hole: A hole placed in the knife handle opposite the blade. Originally used by sailors or fishers who would place a cord through the hole to keep from losing it overboard. It can now be used for a belt/pack carry option as well as a personal expression aesthetic.
Lever Lock: These types of knives are a bygone style of switchblade where the blade is automatically deployed via the flip of the lever/switch. This same lever is also used to disengage the blade from its locked position. Found on various OTF models from Smith and Wesson.
Liner: An interior part of the handle, usually made from soft metal and used to protect a blade from damage when closed.
Linerlock or Liner Lock: Similar to the frame lock (see above), the liner lock is a common locking mechanism in which a handle insert falls into place behind the butt of a blade to hold it open. To close the knife, push the liner out while simultaneously folding down the blade.
Lockback or Lock Back: A type of folding knife in which the spine acts as a locking mechanism to keep the blade open. When unfolding the knife, the spine clicks into a hidden notch on the tang of the blade. When pressure is applied to an exposed piece of the spine, it disengages the lock. This then allows one to close the knife.
Micarta: A material used in handles. Made from wood laminates, linen, or paper combined with phenolic resin.
Nail Nick (or Nail Mark): A small finger notch or slot in the side of a blade that assists in opening the knife.
Neck Knife: This is a small type of fixed blade knife that comes in a sheath and is usually linked to a piece of paracord and worn around the neck beneath the wearer’s shirt or jacket.
Nickel: An element in stainless steel alloys that increases strength, corrosion resistance and toughness. Often used in flatware to increase stain resistance as well as knife bolster material.
OTF (or Out the Front): A tactical stye of automatic knife, the term “OTF” is simply short for “Out The Front” and describes a spring-loaded blade that is deployed straight out through the top of a knife’s handle at the push/slide of a button or with a switch/lever.
Pins: Small pieces of brass, copper, or steel used to join scales, tangs, and other knife parts together.
Pivot: The piece of hardware that runs through the base of the blade, marrying it to the handle.
Pommel: A knob or extension located at the end of a knife's handle.
Point: Refers to the very tip of a blade. The most common styles being clip points, drop points, and spear points.
Push Dagger: A knife with a usually double-edged blade that is designed in such a fashion that the handle is placed perpendicular to the main cutting edge and fits in the hand while the blade protrudes from between the fingers. Typically used for self defense, combat, and personal/martial arts training.
Quillon: The part of the guard or handle that extends beyond the tang of the blade to provide additional protection to the hand, similar to a guard. Typically found on fixed blades.
Reamer: Small tool that's typically found on multi-tools that is sharpened on one side and has a hole in the blade that can punch holes in leather.
Retention: How well a blade holds an edge.
Ricasso: The unsharpened portion of the blade located directly below the hilt.
Rockweel Scale C (HRC): There are different Rockwell scales of hardness. The important scale for knife steel is Hardness Rockwell Scale C, often shown as HRC, which is further abbreviated to just Rc. This is the most often used scale, however HRB is also used.
Rockwell Hardness Test: The standard test for determining the hardness of a blade's steel, where a diamond point is forced into a finish blade and the level of penetration is then measured.
Rostfrei: The German word for stainless. This term is often found on lower end knives to make them sound more antique/old, expensive, and/or exotic.
SAK: Abbreviation for "Swiss Army Knife".
Sandvik: Used on most Opinel knives and Swedish made fixed blades, Sandvik is a brand that produces blade steels that, while fairly inexpensive, at least when in comparison to other more premium blade steels. This steel offers solid performance, hardness, durability, and edge retention.
Scales: slabs of thin pieces of wood, horn, or synthetic material that are pinned, riveted, glued or bonded in some way to the tang or knife blank.
Scrimshaw: An art form in which knife handles made from bone or other softer materials have small holes made in them. These are then filled with ink to create a patterned design.
Serrated Edge (or Saw Tooth): The knife will have small teeth on the edge that can start the cutting on tough materials (bread, tomatoes or rope). Serrated edges are found quite often on cheaper knives (i.e. TV informercial knives) to prolong the lifespan of the edge since the quality of steel is lower. A serrated edge will tear through most materials instead of slicing, so they are best suited for their specific tasks. Cannot be re-sharpened easily.
Sharpening Steel: A tool used to re-align the edge on the blade of a knife. Despite its name, a sharpening steel will not re-sharpen a dull knife, rather it is used to hone and maintain the existing edge on a blade.
Sheepfoot Blade: A blade with a straight edge and a round, thick tip that has no point. The design inhibits accidental stabbing while working in emergency situations, or around livestock or inflatable boats.
Shield: A metal inlay, located on the handle.
Slip Joint: A non-locking blade that has a spring acting against it which provides some resistance to its opening and closing as it pivots within the handle (usually). This type of knife is opened manually.
Solingen: City in Germany that is widely recognized as the knife manufacturing capitol of the world and where many of the best knives come from. Boker, Dovo, Hen & Rooster, Henckels, Puma and Wusthof and many others created blades in Solingen. For a blade to have the Solingen name, the blade must have been processed and finished during all the key manufacturing stages within the industrial boundaries of Solingen.
Spine: Another name for the back of the blade.
Standoff (or Spacer): Another word for spacer, it serves a similar purpose as a barrel spacer or backspacer. They help keep the blade’s tip from being damaged, while also connecting the open space between handle sides to provide a strong structure. These can be customized as well in different colors, materials, and sizes. These specific spacers are usually straight rod shaped.
Stainless Steel: Steel with a higher amount of chromium and less carbon than standard steel.
Stag: Produced from animal antlers for use in handles of sporting knives. The majority comes from India and is known as Sambar Stag. Canada also exports a large amount of stag for use worldwide.
Stamped: A method of producing large quantities of knives using a "cookie cutter" to cut out the shapes of blades and their hardware.
Stiletto: A knife that is double-edged and has a very thin profile.
Stop Pin (or Anvil Pin):
Strop: A leather strap used to hone and realign the edge on straight razors.
Sweep: Refers to the round cutting edge on a blade. This term is interchangeable with belly.
Switchblade: A spring loaded knife that is opened by pressing a button or lever attached to the handle. Illegal in most states as well as Canada.
Tang: The portion of the knife extending into the handle.
Tanto Blade: This form of blade style takes its influence from the shape of the samurai short swords of the same name. This blade shape has three sides that meet at extremely angular edges and culminate in a pronounced point.
Tempering: A process for reheating steel to increase its toughness.
Terravantium: Terrain 365’s ultra-high-performance and low-maintenance blade steel. Terravantium is an extremely premium and rugged material that is completely impervious to corrosion, oxidation, rusting, staining, or pitting, even when left submerged in saltwater.
Thumb Hole: Refers to a cutout toward the base of a blade that allows the user to deploy the blade with one hand using their thumb. Spyderco is well known for its signature circular thumb hole design.
Thumb Stud: is a small nib or barrel set at the base of a blade that enables the user to flick the blade open with one hand. Can be found on many different brands of folders and can appear in various sizes, colors, and design shapes.
Tip-Up & Tip-Down: These terms refer to the positions of the pocket clip in relation to the orientation of the blade when riding in the pocket. The knife blade will tip-up toward you when a tip-up pocket clip is being used. The knife blade will tip-down away from you towards the ground, when a tip-down pocket clip is being used. Tip-up pocket clips allow for much faster one-handed access and deployment.
Titanium: A lightweight metal with very high tensile strength. It's very resistant to corrosion and is very often used for handle materials, backspacers, pocket clips, spacers, liners and more.
Trainer: An unsharpened knife that is usually made of rubber or hard plastic that is used for training or practice use.
Tri-Ad Lock: A locking mechanism patented by Cold Steel. This unique locking system uses a lock bar set along the spine of the handle. In addition to being tested to withstand up to 800lbs of force, this mechanism also has a rocker pinhole. This feature creates extra space on both sides which allows it to self-adjust as wear and tear occurs over time.
Vanadium: An element in stainless steel alloys that contributes to wear resistance and hardness.
Welt: An extra liner sewn into a fixed blade leather sheath. While carrying the knife, the extra liner within the sheath helps to maintain the strengthen and edge of the knife. It also prevents premature wear while drawing the knife in and out.
Wharncliffe Blade: A blade design in which the spine of the knife drops to meet a straight cutting edge.
Zytel: A lightweight and extremely durable handle material that can withstand constant use and holds up well in wet and cold conditions.
Blade Play: When the blade moves vertically or side to side when engaged. Usually due to lose pivot or poor engagement with the tang. Typically, this problem can be solved with tightening the pivot. However, numerous factory manufactured knives have this feature to some extent.
E.D.C.: A term used by knife enthusiasts to identify the knife they like to carry on a daily basis. Everyday Day Carry.
Gas Station Knives: Similar appearance as Mall Ninja knives, and are usually very cheap in price and make. Many consider Tac Force and Master brands to be "gas station knives" because they are the kind of cheap blades you'd find at a gas station checkout counter.
GRN: Shortened name for Glass Reinforced Nylon.
FRN: Shortened name for Fiber Glass Reinforced Nylon.
Flipper: Another name for a knife that has a flipper stud/tab, that allows one to flip open the blade.
Jimped: A portion of the knife, usually the blade, that has ridges for extra grip and/or decoration. Though it is usually the blade of a knife that is jimped or has jimping, it can also appear on the knifes' handle, backspacer, etc.
Lock Rock (or Loc-Roc): is a symptom of having the contact point of the blade and lock bar too close to the pivot. As a result, the blade can make the lock bar move up and down, causing a wiggle. Sometimes develops on framelock knives due to wear on the metal and "loosening" of the lock. It is more of a concern on knives with titanium frame locks, as steel won't wear as much.
Mall Ninja: Knives that are considered overdone or "tacky", adorned with skulls, roses, webs, loud colors, and/or gimmicky in opening. Usually found at mall kiosks or flea markets.
Presentation Side: The side of the knife that is usually shown in stock photos, and is the nicest side of the knife. It's the side of the knife without the lock and/or pocket clip.
Safe Handle: The handle that is held in the main flipping hand when using a balisong that usually helps prevent oneself from being cut. This is also the handle that is most times held when starting and/or ending a balisong flipping trick.
Safe Queen: The specialty knife selected by one to be kept in the safe for investment purposes or for one's personal collection, that is in the best condition and performance form as possible.
Sheath Shimmy or Sheath Shake: Terms used a great deal by Atlantic Knife "professionals" Cee & Just Jul, that describes how the sheath on a knife will move if there is any extra space between the sheath and the knife within.
Thumb Ramp/Disk: Deploys the blade much like a thumb stud, flipper tab/stud, etc., however a thumb disk is usually in the shape of a round frisbee "disk" shape, whereas a thumb ramp is usually sloped and located on top of the spine of the blade. Thumb ramps can have jimping. An example of a thumb ramp can be found on various Krudo brand knives.
Swage (or more popular term: Swedge): fashioned curve on the spine or back of the tip of a knife.
Walk and Talk: Phrased used when opening and closing a folding pocket knife. When opening the knife, during the last bit it will snap into the fully open position. This is known as the walk. When closing the same blade, it will spring closed as it approaches the handle creating the talk. This opening and closing should be crisp and produce a definite "click".
Want to know the differences between specific blade steels? Click Here
Related AK Blog Articles