What is the tang of a knife?
In simple terms, the tang of the knife is the unsharpened, usually unexposed part of the blade that extends down the handle.
When a knife is said to have a full tang, this indicates that the solid piece of metal that constitutes the blade runs down the handle as well. A full tang knife relies in its structure and strength on a solid, continuous piece of metal.
The opposite of this is partial tang, where the blade only extends partially (usually very thinly) through the handle. As you can see in the images below, a full tang knife could just as well be used without a handle, and has a much more substantial profile than a partial-tang blade.
What are the different types of tangs?
Knives come in all shapes and sizes. Therefore there are many different types of tang available on the market. However, while all these types have their own specifications, they can also be generally referred to as having either a full tang or a partial tang.
This is the regular full tang that can be observed in many survival knives. The tang extends the entire length of the handle. The handle is usually made up of two pieces, fastened on either side of the tang with metallic rivets. Full tang knives are robust, reliable, and steadfast, which is generally great for survival knives. Variations of the full tang include the extended tang, the encapsulated tang, and the hidden tang.
Example: Ka-Bar BK2 Companion
This is the opposite of a full tang knife. In a partial tang knife, the tang only extends to a fraction of the length through the handle. Hence, the knife is not as robust and durable as a full tang knife. The advantage is, however, that partial tang knives are generally cheaper and easier to manufacture. But if you are looking at investing into a serious outdoors/bushcrafting knife, my gut felling would be to lean more towards a full tang. Variations of the partial tang knife include the push tang and, in some instances, the tapered tang.
Example: Gerber LMF II Infantry
This one is quite controversial. Rat-tailed tangs, as the name suggests, extends only very thinly through the handle. Although they usually spread the full length of the handle, I do not personally consider them full tangs. This is because I consider that you need at least a certain amount of material forming the tang in order to consider the knife full tang. A regular full tang knife is usually much more robust than a rat-tailed, and I would not trust a rat-tailed tang as much as I trust any kind of full tang.
Example: Ka-Bar USMC Utility Knife
Hidden tangs are a variation of full tangs. While in a regular full tang knife, the width of the tang is usually the same as the width of the blade, this is not the case in hidden tangs. Hidden tangs have a slightly smaller tang in comparison to the blade. However, there is still a substantial amount of material that runs down though the handle, which is why hidden tang knives are usually as robust and safe as normal full tangs.
Example: Fallkniven Kolt Knife (KK)
A tapered tang can be described as a tang that looses size as it extends through the handle. Hence it slopes, or tapers, down the handle of the knife. Tapered tangs can be either full of partial, which usually depends where the tang tapers to. If the tang slopes down through the entire length of the handle, the knife has a full tapered tang. Otherwise, the tang can be considered partial.
Example: Cold Steel Pendleton Hunter
A knife with an encapsulated tang is a full tang knife. The tang extends the entire length of the handle. However, you won’t be able to see any of it, and you might think that it is just a partial tang knife. This is because the handle material covers up the tang (the tang is encapsulated in to the handle). Encapsulated tangs have the same advantages as regular full tang knives, except that they can be easily mistaken for partial tangs.
Example: Gerber Bear Grylls Ultimate Pro Survival Knife
In skeletonized tangs, large sections of the tang are cut away during the manufacturing process. However, the tang still extends throughout the entire handle, which lets it keep its full tang characteristics and advantages. Another advantage of skeletonized tangs is the light weight of the item, since material has been removed.
Example: KA-BAR 1117 Short USA Neck Knife
The blade of the knife is pushed into the handle and fastened into place during the manufacturing process. This results in a partial tang, which makes for a blade that is not really attached to the handle. Push tang knives will have a weaker blade than full tang knives, but are easier to make. Although there are some good quality push tang knives, I wouldn’t attempt to baton a log or lever a rock using a push tang knife.
Example: Gerber LMF II Infantry
An extended tang is basically a full tang, but just extended, as the name suggests. The tang extends out the end of the handle, forming a thin pommel. In most knives with extended tangs, the part of the tang that sticks out of the handle usually contained a lanyard hole.
Example: ESEE 6P-B
Learn more about different tang types here.
How do I know if my knife is Full Tang?
Well, as seen previously, knives that have substantial blade material that runs down throughout the entire handle may be considered full tang.
Therefore, tapered, hidden, encapsulated, extended and skeletonized tangs are usually all considered full.
In many full tang knives, you can actually see the outline of the solid metal part around the blade. However, not seeing this does not mean that the tang is not full!
Indeed, other types of tangs, such as an encapsulated or a hidden tang, you won’t see any blade material on the handle, since it is being covered up by the material used for the handle.
Generally, when you purchase a knife, the manufacturer should state whether or not the knife has a full tang.
However, if you did not pay attention to the package labels, it is not hard to figure out if your knife has a full tang or not. If you have used your knife for batoning, firesteel striking or other such activities, without sensing a weakening of the blade-handle joint, then your knife is probably full tang.
What are the advantages of having a full tang?
The advantages of a full tang over any kind of partial tang are countless:
- The main reason why full tang is a better option is that partial tang knife tend to come very loose with time. This is especially true when performing hardcore outdoor activities that put the blade under a lot of pressure.
- The joint between the blade and the handle is much stronger, and the movement of the blade will always follow the movement of the handle.
- The change of your handle breaking are reduced since most of the force is applied and focused onto the blade of the knife.
- Full tang knives are much more robust and will always be a better option for all outdoor activities, including batoning, chopping, and levering, where a partial tang knife becomes a hazard.
- As you can see in the images below, a full tang knife could just as well be used without a handle, and has a much more substantial profile than a partial-tang blade.
Are there any disadvantages to full tang knives?
For me, there is absolutely no advantage to choosing a partial tang over a full tang, except that it might be lighter. If you want to invest in a survival knife, whether it be for serious purposes or just for fun, make sure that you knife is full tang.
You can clearly see why a full tang is necessary in
Essentially, what you should remember is that:
- The tang of a knife is the part of the blade that extends along the handle.
- There are many different types of knife tangs, but most of these can be qualified as either full or partial.
- Full tang knives are much more robust and reliable than partial tang knives. and hence are a better option for the outdoors and survival situations.
You can clearly see why a full tang is necessary in any good survival or outdoors knife. There is just no way to bypass that. A full tang knife will always be a better option than a partial tang.
To learn about more of the things that make a great survival knife, here are 12 Determining Factors When Choosing your Survival Knife.
Did you find that useful? Did it answer what you wanted to know about full tang knives? Do you have any comments about this article? Don’t hesitate to let us know in the comments below. We look forward to hearing from you.