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Glossary of Terms

There is a large vocabulary of terminology used in the knife world, by makers as well as collectors. Some of these terms may be confusing to the uninitiated, and so I have created this page to clarify and explain as best I can.

Knife Anatomy

Belly - The prominent curved section of the edge

Bolster - Metal end caps on the front and or back of the knife scales. serves a protective as well as decorative function

Choil - A notch in the edge of the knife, meant to facilitate easier sharpening

Dovetail - A joint of two materials cut at corresponding angles, meant to lock in place, for example, dovetailed bolsters

Grind - The geometry of the knife blade, specifically the cross section. For example, a "full flat grind" blade has a triangular cross section.

Hamon - The result of differentially hardening a blade, leaving a hard edge and a soft spine. This manifests in a visual effect called a hamon, visible after polishing and etching.

Heel - The end of the edge closest to the handle, typically referring to kitchen knives

Scales - The main section of the handle on a full tang knife. Typically made of wood, horn, bone, plastic, or other synthetic material.

Tang - The portion of the knife blade that continues into the handle. This is exposed on a "full tang" knife.


Materials Terms

Brass - Alloy of mainly copper and zinc. Yellow-gold in color

Bronze - Alloy of mainly copper and tin. Similar appearance to brass, but more of a red or brown tint. Higher hardness and scratch resistance than brass or copper.

Copper - A base metal, red in color

Carbon steel - While all steel has Caron, this term refers to knife steels that have a carbon content greater than 0.5%, and are not stainless. Typically has higher toughness and better sharpening ability than stainless steel.

Micarta - Synthetic material used for handles. Made up of layers of fabric (burlap, canvas, paper, etc.) held together with resin. Inexpensive and very durable.

Nickel silver - Trade name for an alloy of copper and nickel, also known as "German silver", it does not actually contain any silver.

Raffir - A type of handle material made of a metal mesh encased in a colored resin block. Includes Raffir Noble (brass/bronze mesh) and Raffir Alume (aluminum mesh).

Stainless steel- Steel with a chromium content of approximately 14% or more. While all steel will rust eventually in certain conditions, "stainless" steel is highly corrosion resistant, and therefore unlikely to develop rust under normal circumstances.


Process Terms

Annealing - A heat treatment process used to soften metal, typically via slow cooling in a furnace.

Cryogenic treatment - A process used to slightly increase the hardness of an already hardened blade, by cooling to sub zero temperatures. Also results in slight toughness decrease.

Forging - The process of using heat and force to move metal and form it into a particular shape. Traditionally done with a hammer and anvil, however power-hammers and hydraulic presses are also used.

Grinding - The process of using machinery, typically a belt grinder, to apply abrasives to steel, in order to remove material, and refine its shape.

Hardening - Critical part of the heat treating process. The blade is brought to a specific temperature, then rapidly cooled, typically by quenching in oil, to change the steel's molecular structure to a harder form.

Heat treatment - The process of heating and cooling steel at particular rates and temperatures, in order to manipulate its attributes, such as hardness and toughness. Includes, annealing, normalizing, hardening, tempering, cryogenic treatment, and other processes.

Normalizing - Stress relief process for steel, typically after forging. Consists of heating, then cooling the blade in still air repeatedly.

Stabilizing - The process of filling the pores of a piece of wood with resin, in order to strengthen the wood and reduce the potential for shrinkage, warping, and cracking.

Tempering - Final step of heat treatment, done after cryogenic treatment, and or tempering. Increases toughness and reduces brittleness caused by the hardening process.

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