Kitchen Knife Anatomy Explained: Spine, Belly, Choil, and More!
January 24, 20234 min read
If you’re relatively new to the world of kitchen knives and doing some research to start your collection, chances are your head is about to explode from the vast amounts of knowledge seemingly required to make a decision. First of all, don’t sweat it too hard. While there is a ton of info out there, all you really need to know is what shape you want, how much maintenance you’re comfortable with, and what kind of looks you prefer in your knife.
Second, we’re here to help. At Knifewear, it’s our job to help newcomers navigate the labyrinth of knowledge, which is what I’m here to do today. In this article, we’ll cover the basic knife anatomy you might want to know when choosing & using your kitchen knife!
Handle - E 柄
See? Easy. I bet you already knew this one. The handle of a knife gives you something to grasp when using your blade. They come in two main types: Japanese-style ‘wa handles’ are made from one or two pieces of wood and tend to be quite light. They’re also tougher than they look and easy to replace if anything happens! The traditional riveted European handles are called ‘yo-handles’ in the world of Japanese knives. While they may be overengineered for kitchen activities, they offer many users a comfortable weight and balance.
Tang - Nakago 中子
The tang is a piece of steel that extends from the blade into the handle, sticking the handle and blade together forever. In European-style blades, you can see the tang extending into the handle. This design is called full-tang. Japanese blades have a hidden tang that inserts about two-thirds of the way into the handle, giving the knife a blade-forward balance. While a full-tang is essential for survival knives, either construction is plenty strong enough for any job you’ll be using a kitchen knife for.
Spine - Mune/Mine 棟/峰
As the tang widens into the blade, it continues along the top of the knife as the ‘spine’. Sometimes the spine gets narrow towards a tip, called a distal taper. The spine can vary substantially in thickness, but they are generally thicker than the rest of the blade to give the knife a little extra strength.
Choil - Ago 顎
This is a funny one. As the bottom of the tang curves down to the back end of the edge, it forms a section known as the choil. We recommend gripping the pack of your blade in a gentle pinch between your thumb and forefinger, allowing your middle finger to ride against the choil and help drive the knife. For this reason, many high-end makers spend a little extra time smoothing out the choil and making it more comfortable to grip.
Bevel - Kiriha/Kireha 切刃
When a knife is first made, it has no edge; It generally looks like a flat piece of steel with parallel sides, which must be ground down or ‘bevelled’ to a point. On many Japanese blades, you can see a distinct primary bevel called a ‘kireha’, which forms the shape of the knife edge. European knives have bevels, too, although they’re generally a more convex blade with bevels blended into the overall shape of the knife. The thickness of the knife and bevel determine how smoothly a knife cuts through dense foods, like an axe v.s. a razor blade. One is super tough but doesn’t glide smoothly; one is thin but fragile. A kitchen knife is somewhere between the two.
Edge - Koba/ Itoba 小刃/糸刃
Now we’re at the business end of the knife, and probably the one term everyone knows! Because the bevel forms a very fine point, an edge must be added at a higher angle to strengthen it and help the knife stay sharp longer. This edge is sometimes called a secondary bevel or micro bevel by knife nerds or a ‘koba’ in Japanese. The edge initially breaks through the food, followed by the bevel.
Heel - Hamoto 刃元
The back end of the edge is called the heel. When you rock-chop, this part of the blade follows through and completes the cut. The heel tends to be flatter than the rest of the blade, so I like this section for quick up-and-down cuts, like thinly slicing garlic.
The belly is the workhorse park of your knife, and on a curved blade, it tends to be the section that gets rocked the most. Western blades often have a more curved belly, while traditional Japanese blades frequently have a flatter one, but these days it varies a ton from maker to maker.
Tip - Kissaki 切っ先
Pretty self-explanatory; I love a good tip on my knife for precision work. When dicing an onion or shallot, the tip is excellent for scoring; the same goes for scoring meat before roasting or grilling. On smaller paring knives, the tip can be used for coring tomatoes and removing potatoes' eyes.
Face - Hara 腹
The face is the flat side of the knife, so there’s a left and right face. They don’t get used much, but the texture and shape of the face sometimes determine how much food sticks to the blade. I also use the face for crushing garlic.
Bolster - Kuchigane 口金
On many western-style blades and some Japanese, there’s a thicker piece of steel that tapers from the handle to the knife's heel. This can create a more smooth, comfortable transition for your hand, but I tend to avoid the blade with the thick bolster along the choil, as they make the knife challenging to sharpen properly.
Single Bevel Knife Anatomy
I won’t get deep into this here, as it’s not essential info for beginners, but some traditional Japanese blades are ‘single bevel’. This means one side of the blade has a bevel, and the other side is mostly flat. They’re made this way to be super precise, you can learn more about single-bevel knives here, and you can see their construction below:
Nathan started at Knifewear in 2013, when he left the restaurant industry to slang knives. Nowadays, he handles our communications, social media, and YouTube channel. If you're reading words on this website or watching one of our videos, Nathan was involved. He spends his spare time growing food, cooking, fermenting food and booze, and enjoying the great outdoors.