“Tang” is an odd-sounding word mentioned throughout the knife community. For those new to the wide-spanning blade-filled world, you may be perplexed as to what it is, what it’s referring to, and most importantly, how does it affect your blade choice and use? So let’s get a handle on this gripping topic, shall we?

The term refers to the blade’s bottom portion. It fits partially into the handle, actually runs the length of the handle, or is just barely inserted into the handle. These three options offer both pros and cons, depending on how and where you’re using your knife.

The full tang construction of CRKT’s M16-13FX knife offers solid construction that can withstand plenty of punishment!

Full Tang

This kind of knife is usually one solid piece of metal with a sharpened blade end and the opposite end acting as the handle. Sometimes there will be nothing added except for perhaps some drill holes that optimize balance and weight. Other designs may sandwich the metal handle end with various handle materials including wood, G10, or carbon fiber.

A knife design adds weight when compared to the other options. Depending on personal choice, this may be a good or bad trait. One drawback: when you use a full tang knife in a cold climate the metal handle may become very cold and thus uncomfortable to use or even hold for a great length of time.

The benefits? That’s an easy one: super strong construction and an incredibly long life for your knife. Many tactical knives feature this design.

Always use a full tang knife when the cutting material you encounter is naturally tough and you need to apply extra force. Dense rubber, hardwoods, and breaking down freshly killed game fall into this category. Using a knife with very little, or barely no tang at all, you run the risk of snapping the knife where it connects the blade with the handle. When you are in an emergency or survival situation, that’s something you don’t need!

The lightweight partial tang Humdinger from CRKT.com

Partial Tang

In this design, a portion of tang runs through the handle but not all the way down. It may also not match the handle’s full width. Here, some tang is definitely better than none, but it does reduce its durability to some extent. On the positive side, it will reduce the knife’s weight. For some users, that is worth the trade-off.

This style is for moderate-use applications where you don’t need excess force to cut the intended material. Some hunting knives, fish filet knives, and some survival-style blades use this design. With the end of the tang lying within the portion of the handle you grip, the chances of a break are slimmer than one may think due to the fact that your powerful grip keeps all stress points evenly dispersed.

You can divide this knife design catagory into three varieties. A half tang extends to half the length of the handle. (That one is easy to remember!) A stick tang travels down the entire length of the handle but is very thin. Finally, the narrowing tang travels to the butt but narrows greatly as it reaches the end.

A one-piece, full tang knife…simple, durable, and easy to handle.

Little or No Tang

Why buy this knife design? It would seem like an accident waiting to happen. Well, yes and no. If you do try to force your blade through material that doesn’t give easily, then yes, a broken blade may be the result as well as possible physical injury to yourself. However, if you buy the correct knife for its intended material, then you’ll get a lightweight knife that allows for more precision cuts, which in turn decreases fatigue and knife wear. Some inexpensive filet knives, and other kitchen cutlery styles use blades with very little tang to accomplish the aforementioned tasks.

As discussed, more tang equals more weight, and in situations where a person needs to cut for long durations, a heavy knife is a burden not a help. These knives are usually far less expensive. Yes, you get what you pay for, but for someone on a strict budget, this choice might be the one to explore.

The lightweight Humdinger designed by Ken Onion and available from CRKT.com, is a partial tang knife with a blade constructed of 65 Mn carbon steel.

Beyond the Basics

A push tang is inserted, or (you guessed it) pushed into the handle and secured in place. Conversely, an encapsulated tang is when the handle material itself is molded around the tang and secured. Both ways accomplish the same result, but the road to get there is quite different.

A hidden tang is one in which the tang and the fastener used are both hidden from the outer surface either by using an epoxy or by inserting the tang with a machined protruding part that fits into a notch within the handle.

Finally, an extended tang runs past the handle and is shaped into various configurations. These could take the form of a window-breaking butt, a rounded pommel, or a ringed end for adding a paracord lanyard or for hanging when not in use.

Folding knives have the most common partial tang design of all knives. A folder’s partial tang is also the most limited of them all, extending only as far as its pivot-point within the top-end of the handle.

The Humdinger sports a tough textured glass-reinforced nylon handle for optimal grip and control.

Wise Decision

Now, with a little bit of knowledge under your belt, you can make a wise decision when choosing your next, or possibly your first, knife. Think about your needs and how you intend to use your knife. Take into consideration your budget and the outdoor environment that you frequent. When all your questions are answered, you’ll enjoy your knife to its fullest and never again be bewildered by this curious word.