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There are two main knife design types concerning the handle end of the knife; full and partial tangs. There are both negative and positive aspects to both tang designs. We will discuss these characteristics so you can make an informed choice about which is best for the types of knives you use.
Full tang knives have a full-width handle tang that extends through the handle material. The tang can be exposed or hidden. Partial tang knives always have an enclosed tang, and the steel in the handle is thinned down to a shaft to reduce the width and does not extend through the handle.
Many knife owners are not aware of the beneficial and negative characteristics of full and partial tang knives and when each design is appropriate in a knife. The best handle design for the knife depends on the application the knife is created for and the stresses placed on the knife. We will dig into the pros and cons of each design, so you know which is your best choice for the knives you use.
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Full Tang Vs. Partial Tang Knives
Full and partial tang knife designs have been around for as long as we have had knives in human history. There is much debate in knife communities about which design is best, with equal numbers in each camp for and against each tang design.
The best way to investigate these handle designs is to look at the strong points of each design and the drawbacks. The appropriate use for each design will become clear as we explore these characteristics of the tang types.
Contrary to what many knife makers and supporters of each camp would have you believe, there is no right or wrong in the choice between full or partial tang knives, as long as you know the difference.
Understanding what each handle design offers to the knife’s overall characteristics, performance, and handling experience will help you make a logical, informed choice.
What Is The Difference Between Full And Partial Tang Knives?
The difference in the design between full and partial tangs alters many characteristics of the knife and has implications for the knife’s intended purpose. Our first step is to understand the fundamental differences between the designs.
A full tang knife is where the knife steel extends entirely through the handle material. The upper and lower edge of the tang is often visible above and below the handle material.
This design does not reduce the steel in the tang and is usually the full width of the handle. The handle material is often fixed to the tang as cladding or a scale rather than a single piece.
In some designs, the full tang can be hidden entirely in the handle, especially with molded handle materials. This tang design is often referred to as a hidden full tang handle.
In contrast, a partial tang knife handle has reduced steel in the handle. The steel is cut down to a relatively thin shaft inserted into the handle material.
The handle material makes up the bulk of the handle in a partial tang design and is generally a single piece of material rather than scales fixed to either side of the tang.
There are two partial tang designs. With one design, the tang only extends about two-thirds of the way through the handle material. The other partial tang design has the tang extending almost the entire length of the handle.
In both partial tang designs, the tang shaft is not full width in the handle and is sometimes called a stick tang or a rat tail tang.
Each design imparts different characteristics to the knife. We will review each design and the advantages and disadvantages of each tang to determine the features each one gives to the knife.
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Pros And Cons Of Full Tang Knives
Full tang knives have steel going full-width through the handle with the handle material attached to the tang to improve grip and comfort.
This tang design is standard in hunting and bushcraft knives, and many knife owners prefer this style for its rugged durability.
|More mass to perform tough tasks, such as baton firewood.||Heavy. The additional steel weight in the handle makes these knives heavier to carry and heavy to use.|
|Durable design. More steel transitioning from handle to blade makes for a more robust knife.||Hand fatigue. Extended use can result in hand fatigue due to the additional weight.|
|More force can be applied to the blade.||Greater chance of rust and corrosion damage on exposed full tang knives.|
|The knife is more evenly balanced, with the pivot point at the transition between the blade and handle.||Full tang knives are often more expensive due to the extra steel used in the construction.|
|The pommel of the handle can be used as a hammer.|
|Better leverage. The more robust tang allows more pressure and leverage to be applied to the blade.|
Full tang handles impart strength, durability, and ruggedness to the knife, making this design ideal for knives intended for rough work.
BTW: If you want to know more about Japanese and other knives and their sharpening, check out the books listed above. These books are recommended by professional sharpeners and knife makers (Amazon links):
- Japanese Kitchen Knives: Essential Techniques and Recipes
- The Knifenerd Guide to Japanese Knives
- Knife: The Culture, Craft, and Cult of the Cook’s Knife
- Sharp: The Definitive Introduction to Knives, Sharpening, and Cutting Techniques, with Recipes from Great Chefs
Pros And Cons Of Partial Tang Knives
Partial tang design handles impart different characteristics to the knife, which are more suitable for specific knife applications.
|Lightweight. The reduction in steel mass in the handle reduces the knife’s overall weight, making it lighter to carry and use.||Less leverage. The thinner tang does not allow for the same leverage to be applied to the blade as with a full tang knife. Much of the pressure applied is via the handle material rather than the steel of the tang.|
|Less hand fatigue from prolonged use of the knife.||Handle material is more prone to cracking if the knife is used for rugged tasks|
|The blade is more agile, allowing for faster and more precise knife work.||There is a weak point where the tang meets the blade, which can snap the tang off at this point if excessive force is applied to the blade.|
|The knife’s balance is biased towards the blade, with the pivot point on the blade slightly ahead of the handle.||The pommel of the handle cannot be used as a hammer.|
|Less chance of corrosion of the tang because it is enclosed in the handle material.|
|Generally less expensive than full tang knives.|
|Less chance of rust and corrosion damage on exposed full tang knives.|
Partial tang knives are generally less robust than full tang knives but are designed with specific purposes for the knives in mind.
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Full And Partial Tang Knives Compared
The varying characteristics of full and partial tang knives mean that these designs are best suited for knives designed for particular functions.
Whether a knife is full ta ng or partial tang is not always apparent from the outward appearance of the handle. Some full tang knives have fully enclosed tangs, making it difficult to tell them apart from partial tang knives.
If unsure of what style the handle is on the knife, you should always ask the supplier to ensure you get the knife you expect.
What are the best applications for full and partial tang knives? We will discuss the roles these knife designs are best suited for to get the best knife for your needs.
Is Full Or Partial Tang Best For A Survival Knife?
If you are a survivalist, a hiker, or camp outdoors regularly, the knife you choose for these activities should be a robust, ready-for-anything knife.
My recommendation for a knife for these activities would be a full tang knife for added durability and strength.
Full tang knives are more robust for batoning firewood and placing heavy pressure on the blade to sharpen sticks to make outdoor tools and other bushcraft techniques.
Will a partial tang work for these tasks? A partial tang knife will, in all likelihood, work for these tasks, but it may break in a situation when you can least afford to be without a knife.
Is A Full Or Partial Tang Knife Good For Hunting?
If the knife is strictly for hunting and will be used to field dress animals or skin animals, a partial tang hunting knife will be more than up to the task.
A partial tang knife will be lighter to carry, and the blade will be more agile for skinning and portioning a carcass in the field.
A full tang knife will give better versatility and durability if you want your hunting knife to pull double duty as a survival knife.
I prefer to carry a hunting knife and a separate survival knife when hunting, but that may be considered overkill by some people who are not as passionate about knives as I am!
I will most likely also have a pocket knife in my pocket, just in case!
TIP: A lanyard on a knife can benefit safety, grip, accessibility, and storage and prevent you from losing your knife. Find out more about lanyards on knives in the article below:
5 Reasons Why To Use Lanyard On Your Knife & How To Use It
Will A Full Or Partial Tang Knife Work Best For Fishing?
A partial tang knife would make a better knife for fishing than a full tang version. The constant exposure to damp, wet conditions can cause exposed steel handles on full tang knives to corrode.
The tang of partial tang knives is fully enclosed and protected from the elements by the handle material.
Cleaning and filleting fish requires a deft, agile blade, making a partial tang knife a better choice for this option.
If you prefer to use a full tang knife for fishing, choose one with a hidden tang that offers similar protection for the steel in the handle.
Should You Choose Full Or Partial Tang Knives In The Kitchen?
Choosing a handle design for your kitchen knives will mainly be determined by the type of cooking you do regularly.
Most chefs prefer partial tang knives in the kitchen to reduce hand fatigue caused by extended knife use. Partial tang knives are lighter and easier to work with in this context in the kitchen.
The balance bias of a partial tang knife on the blade and the lightweight handle allows the knife user to process ingredients quickly. This speed is essential in busy commercial kitchens where time is of the essence and guests are waiting for their meals.
Most Japanese kitchen knives are partial tang knives to keep the knives light and agile. The hardness of the steel in Japanese kitchen knives allows the blade steel to be very thin, which, when accompanied by a partial tang handle, makes for an incredibly light, very sharp kitchen knife.
Western kitchen knives are less traditional than Japanese knives and can be partial or full tang designs. For this reason, you should enquire which handle design the knife uses to ensure you get the right knife for your needs in the kitchen.
Which Is Best – Full Or Partial Tang?
It is difficult to quantify which handle design is best for a knife since each has strengths and weaknesses for specific applications.
My philosophy is that you can never have too many knives, so try a variety of knives for different purposes with both full and partial tang designs.
Using this method, you can establish your preferences and use your preferred design for different tasks. The only circumstance where I believe that a full tang knife is non-negotiable is for a survival knife.
Likewise, my recommendation of where a partial tang knife is a requirement is in a traditional Japanese kitchen knife.
BTW: If you are interested in buying the best cutting board, you can find our recommendations below:
- The best overall: Virginia Kitchen Boys Cutting Board (Amazon link). This fantastic cutting board is made from sustainable walnut wood from the United States and brings almost perfect safety when cutting with your knives.
- Alternative: Yoshihiro Cutting Board (Amazon link). Professional traditional Japanese cutting board that chefs around the world use.
- Cheaper option: Shun Cultery Cutting Board (Amazon link). Another Japanese cutting board stands out, especially for its simplicity and affordable price.
Awareness of the features and characteristics that full and partial tang handle designs impart to a knife is essential when deciding which handle will work best for your needs. Each choice changes the knife’s performance, durability, weight, usability, and versatility.
Evaluate which characteristics of these handle designs best fit your needs for a knife and the tasks you need the knife to perform. The best knife for the job is always designed for the task. If you require more than one knife type, buy more knives suited to the job.
TIP: A large knife can be cumbersome in the kitchen, causing hand fatigue and presenting safety problems for people with small hands. Check out the best Japanese knives for small hands in the article below:
Best Japanese Knife For Small Hands (Budget & Premium)