Guide to Survival Knife Terminology: 28 Terms You Should Know

There are so many topics involving the outdoors, survival situations, and emergency preparedness that remembering everything can be a chore. Then within those topics, many techniques and gear have their own set of specific terminology, which can make things a bit dizzying to think about. 

I remember a long time ago when I first became interested in knives and bladed tools, there were a lot of terms being used that I had a difficult time keeping track of. Through my interest and sheer repetition, those terms eventually stuck in my brain. 

Whether you are new to learning about knives or would just like a refresher guide, I thought it would be worthwhile to put together a list of some of the most common terms used when talking about a knife. 

28 Knife Terms Knife Lovers Should Know

Butt

The end of the knife handle opposite of the blade. 

Pommel 

This is sometimes used to describe the butt of a knife. Sometimes the pommel can also be a piece of the handle that reinforces the handle so that the butt can be used for impact purposes. 

In full tang knives, it is now common for the pommel to extend past the butt.

Lanyard Hole 

A predrilled hole at the butt end of the handle where a piece of cordage can be threaded through. This cordage is then made into a loop to wrap around the wrist or to hang the knife up. 

Handle 

This is the part of the knife that a person holds onto. 

Rivets

Used to hold the knife scales and the tang of the knife together. These rivets or pins can also be for decoration purposes.

Scales

These are two pieces of material that are adhered to both sides of the tang of the knife, or handle. They can be made from many different types of materials such as wood, plastic, bone, or antler, just to name a few. They can provide decoration, a thicker handle, and give a better grip. 

Finger Guard 

This is a projection of material between the handle and the cutting edge that prevents the hand from slipping forward and causing injury from the cutting edge.  

Spine 

This is the top part of the knife that runs from the end of the handle to the tip of the knife. The spine is on the opposite side of the cutting edge. 

Tip 

The tip or the point of a knife is where the spine and the cutting edge come together.  

Grind 

This is the angel to which the cutting edge is shaped to. Different grinds produce different angels, and some are better suited for certain tasks over others.  

Cheek       

This is sometimes called the knife face and it typically refers to the section on a blade that is between the spine and the cutting edge.

Edge 

This is the sharp portion of a knife where all the cutting work is done. 

Belly

The belly is the curved section of a knife’s cutting edge. The belly is most useful for slicing tasks. This is why a hunter’s skinning knife will typically have a large belly on it. 

Apex           

When looking at the cutting edge straight on, the apex is where the point where the two sides of the blade come together to form the cutting edge.

Serrations

These are sections of a knife where the metal has been ground out to form teeth that can resemble saw teeth. They are two points with an angled cutting edge in between. They are typically used for “sawing” through harder materials. 

Choil 

This is an indent on a blade where the blade meets the handle. Large choils can be used as finger grips whereas small ones create stopping points to ensure a person does not go too far when sharpening and damage the handle. 

Tang 

This is the bottom part of a knife that goes into the handle and thereby connects the two pieces. There are several different types of tangs but here are a few. 

Full Tang

Where the tang runs through the entire knife handle. It provides balance and overall strength.  

Partial Tang

Where the tang does not run the entire length or width of a knife handle. 

Skeleton Tang

Often found on knives that do not have scales. This is where the tang has been drilled or cut out in various spots to reduce a knife’s weight or for aesthetic reasons.

Assisted Opening 

This is a characteristic commonly found in pocketknives in which a person uses a “flipper” to partially open the blade. An internal mechanism then assists in fully extending the blade. 

Switchblade 

This is a knife where the blade is hidden within the handle and by pressing a button or a switch, an internal mechanism automatically extends the blade.  

Nail Mark

This is a small groove that is cut out of the knife near the spine where a fingernail is used to pull the blade out. These are primarily found on folding knives. 

Straight Edge

This type of knife has a straight spine where the belly curves slightly upward to meet it. This produces a longer edge where more cutting rather than slicing is needed. 

Drop Point 

When a knife has a gradual decline from the spine to the tip. This provides a knife with a thicker spine as well as a thinner tip that can be used for detail work.  

Clip Point 

When a knife has a sudden downward curve from the spine to the tip. This creates a longer, thinner tip that is good for piercing materials. 

Dagger 

This is a type of blade that has two cutting edges and is primarily used for combat purposes.  

American Tanto 

This type of knife has a drastic downward drop from the tip to the cutting edge. This design creates two different cutting edges, a longer one and a short one running from the main cutting edge to the tip. A tanto is great for piercing materials.

 Trailing Point 

This is when the spine of the blade curves upward, creating a large belly on the knife. Commonly found on skinning knives.

Spear Point

This is a knife that has a spine as well as an additional small cutting edge opposite of the main cutting edge. A spear point is good for piercing materials.  


Wrap Up

I hope this guide was easy to follow and answered some of the questions you may have had about knife terminology. It is by no means a complete guide, yet, and we will most likely be adding to it over time. But covering the most common terms is a good place to start. 

Thanks for reading and stay sharp! 




Written by Bryan Lynch

Bryan grew up in the Midwest and spent every waking moment outdoors. Learning how to hunt, fish, read the land, and be self-reliant was part of everyday life. Eventually, he combined his passions for the outdoors, emergency preparedness, and writing. His goal was to spread positive information about this field. In 2019, Bryan authored the book Swiss Army Knife Camping and Outdoor Survival Guide. His second book, Paracord Projects For Camping and Outdoor Survival, is scheduled to be released on March 2, 2021. Read more of Bryan's articles.