Knife Guide: A Glossary of Terms

Finding The Perfect Knife Is A Lot More Fun When You Know What Everything Is

Most people think knives are cool, but not everyone knows what tang is, or the difference between AUS8 carbon steel and 420HC stainless steel, or even what the difference between carbon and stainless is. That’s the realm of knife makers and enthusiasts with gun cases dangerously packed to the gills with their blade collection.

There are a lot of different elements in the makeup of a knife, which is a great thing if you like the subject. But sometimes you hear someone say the “detent” on a knife isn’t very good and just want to know how bad that actually is before dropping 50 bucks on it. So for the person who really likes knives, just not enough to have all this stuff memorized, here’s a quick reference guide.


Knife steel quickly becomes a vast, complex topic because companies are constantly experimenting with new kinds. But, for simplicity’s sake, there are two main kinds of steel.

Carbon steel – Iron mixed with carbon to create a harder steel.

Stainless Steel – Carbon steel mixed with chromium to prevent rust.

Rockwell hardness – Also seen as HR or HRc (because we use the Rockwell Scale C for knives), it’s the scale used to measure the hardness of metals. Most higher end knives will be in the 55-65 range, while cheaper steels are often 45-55.

Knife Lock Mechanism

This is the thing that keeps the blade out securely on a folding knife. There are three basic types, although some companies play with their own designs.

Liner lock – A long piece of metal built within the frame that clicks under the knife when it’s fully open.

Frame lock – Similar to a liner lock, but the metal is part of the frame itself, rather than an addition.

Back lock – The blade is locked by the spine of the knife.

Blade Shape

Bevel – Where the metal angles into the actual cutting edge of the blade.

Grind – The shape of the cross section of the blade. Which is a wikipedia way of saying the shape of the knife’s edge. Here’s a few different types you’ll see:

Hollow – a very sharp grind where the sides curve inwards.

Flat – a simple grind where the sides angle straight from the edge to the spine without curving.

Sabre – the bevel only goes halfway to the spine, creating a v shape on the blade.

Double bevel – A sturdy grind with two bevels, meaning the steel is angled in toward the edge twice to form a sort of v with an extra section on each side.

Convex – Strong grind where the sides curve outwards from the edge.

General Knife Construction

Detent- The small ball bearing on a lock that creates drag on the blade while closed to keep it from opening to easily.

Tang – The interaction between the blade metal and the handle of a knife.

Full tang – The metal of the blade goes all the way through the handle.

Half tang – The metal goes halfway through the handle (if you hadn’t guessed).

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Andrew has been a commercial writer for about a decade. He escaped from a life of writing mundane product descriptions by running away to the woods and teaching himself how to bake and chop stuff up in the kitchen. He has a background in landscaping, Filipino martial arts, and drinking whiskey.

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