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Full Tang vs Half Tang

Which is Better For Kitchen Knives, and Why?

By Bobby B. |  July 9, 2019  | Blog

The tang on a knife is the steel part that extends from the tip of the blade and into, or sometimes all the way through, the handle.  Kitchen knives are regularly made with partial tangs, half tangs, or full tangs.  A full tang knife means that the blade steel continues as a single piece all the way through the handle to the bottom end, or butt, of the knife. 

A full tang knife is generally considered the strongest type.  It allows for the most force and leverage to be applied on the knife without it breaking.  Here’s an example of a full tang knife with a visible tang, allowing you to see it extend through the handle. 

Full Tang Knife with Labels on Knife Tang and Butt

Full vs. Partial Tang

A partial tang knife is one where the tang does not extend fully to the end.  This could technically be what is called a stub tang (very short into the handle), a half tang, or a 3/4 tang.  This just describes how far into the handle the tang goes.

The area where the tang ends tends to be the weakest point on a knife since the metal will no longer be supporting the force you’re putting on the knife and only the handle material will be.  Because of this, the longer the tang is, the better.  To simplify things, and for the purposes of this page, we’ll be comparing kitchen knives with a full tang to those with a half tang.

Full Tang

Since a longer tang increase the amount of force it would take to break a knife, a full tang knife is best in most cases.  Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to tell if a kitchen knife is full tang or not.  In the example above, it was straightforward because it was visible and you can clearly see it extending to the butt of the knife.  But, what about the Phantom Series knives from Dalstrong shown below that don’t have a visible tang?

They’re full tang too.  In this example, the exposed butt of the knife helps give it away, but it’s no guarantee.  Tangs aren’t always visible outside the handle.  Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not there.

It also doesn’t mean there’s one in the handle.  You must be careful and read the full sales page to make sure if a knife is or is not full tang these days.  There are many that appear full tang that are not!

Benefits of Full Tang Knives

Besides the added strength, full tang knives are usually heavier due to the added metal used.  This makes them fell bulkier and more substantial in your hand when cutting.  In most cases this is a good thing.

One last benefit that comes with full tang knives is good balance.  Since the metal extends through the entire knife, it tends to be more balanced in your hand. 

Half Tang

In contrast to full tang options, half tang knives are much more difficult to spot and it’s likely not something the knife company is going to advertise.  No one goes around touting half tang knives since they’re mostly inferior to their full tang counterparts.  Here’s an example of a partial tang knife that broke where the tang ended.

While this partial tang knife is not quite a half tang, you can see how the knife is weakest where the end of the metal stresses the handle until it breaks.  The worst part?  If you look closely, this knife has a false butt at the end of it, giving the appearance that the knife in fact has a full tang.  It obviously does not, but something to keep in mind.  Some knife makers will do their very best to trick you into thinking their cheap knives are in fact higher quality than they actually are.

Our recommendation?  When you’re buying a kitchen knife online, check the sales page for “full tang”.  Most, but not all, notable knife brands are using all full tang knives.  But, when in doubt, ask the manufacturer before you buy.  I’d like to think none  of them would flat-out lie to you about it.

Hidden Tang

Before closing up, there’s one more example i should mention.  That’s the topic of “hidden tangs”.  A good example of this would be in some of the Shun knives.  They use what they term “full composite-tang”.  This is where a steel rod is welded to the blade steel within the handle and then extends to the butt of the knife.

I can only speculate, but I believe the reason they might do this is because they use very high-quality (thus more expensive) blade steel in their knives.  By welding in a steel rod that is not as expensive, but still as strong, it would help them keep the cost of their knives down for the consumer without sacrificing performance.

Conclusion

Yes, full tang knives tend to be better than half tang knives if all else is created equal.  That being said, keep in mind that it’s definitely not the only sign of quality in a knife.  There are poorly-built full tang knives.  And, there also partial tang knives that are made of high quality materials that would be more desirable than those poorly-built ones.  While it is “A” sign of quality, it is not “THE” sign of quality in a knife.

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