Knife Terminology

Many of our production processes and equipment here at Great Eastern Cutlery are the same or very similar to those used in the cutlery factories of 75 years ago.  We continually strive to make our pocket knives reminiscent of that era, an improbable task without the use of bygone manufacturing, but also, a bygone terminology.  Just as with all other types of manufacturing, there are names and terms specifically used in the cutlery industry.  We use it here at Great Eastern Cutlery on an everyday basis.  This terminology from 100 years ago was conveyed by highly skilled cutlers from one cutlery company to another throughout their careers. But in the 21st century, skilled cutlery workers are nearly nonexistent, and there are no trade schools for cutlery manufacturing, so new employees here at Great Eastern Cutlery have the difficult task of not only learning the manufacturing process but also the terminology.
The Knife Makers Who Went West by Harvey Platts is an excellent book to read about the cutlery manufacturing history in the United States.  The book follows the lives of four generations of the Platts family in the cutlery industry.  A portion of that book that includes pocket knife assembly diagrams and terminology handed down through generations is copied below. We use the same terminology here at Great Eastern Cutlery.


Knife collectors have always been interested in knife terminology because it is essential to meaningful communication about knives. Most terms and expressions currently in use in this country can be traced back to English knife makers. It is in the nature and the character of the product that these old traditional terms have survived down through the years and continue in common use today. Quality standards have been passed along in the same manner.
The badges of quality in cutlery have a long tradition and are based on many of the old hand skills. Just as the quality standards were passed from cutler to apprentice by example and word of mouth, so too were the knife terms we know today.


The edge portion of a single edge blade opposite from the sharpened edge. The back of a knife or knife handle is that portion that lines up with the back of the blade.
Back Square
The portion of a pocket knife tang that meets the end of the spring, causing outward rotation of the blade to stop. Sometimes called the run-up. The “kick” of the tang performs the same function when a pocket knife is closed.
Bare Head
A pocket knife without bolsters on the cap end.
Blade Walk
The portion of a pocket knife spring along which the end of the blade tang moves during the opening and closing movement. 
A smooth, rounded piece of metal, usually nickel silver, located on the end of a knife handle for added strength, protection of the cover, and improved appearance.  An “extension bolster” is wider than the handle cover and extends up the side of the blade tang and over the back square to make a flush joint.
Bolster Thread
A decorative groove in the bolster parallel with and close to the edge of the cover.
Either the manufacturer’s name or the customer’s name marked on a knife. If the name is not the maker’s name, it is referred to as a “private brand” or “contract” knife.
Cap End
The end of a jack knife opposite from the end with the blade or blades.
Catch Bit
A small piece of metal, usually brass, which acts as spacer to make up the difference between a thin pocket knife blade and a thicker spring that operates it. The catch bit is shaped so that it will not move when the blade is rotated. A pocket knife may also be designed with a thin blade and catch bit to make room for other blades.
A small recess at the shoulder of a knife blade where the cutting edge begins. This recess provides clearance, or run out, when sharpening. A blade with out a choil always has a blunt section on the transition from the sharp edge to the thick tang. A choil is one of the old badges of quality.
A trademark for cellulose nitrate plastics. Cellulose nitrate was first used as a plastic in England in 1855. It became one of the most popular early plastics. It could be laminated in various colors and then cut across the laminations to produce patterns of color. It could also be mixed with other materials such as essence of pearl to make imitation pearl. Celluloid was very popular for knife handles for many years. Its disadvantage is that it is highly flammable. Consequently, its use in today’s factories has been severely limited.
The slab of material that forms the side of a knife handle. “Covering” refers to the manufacturing operation of fastening the cover to the handle scale.
A very fine polishing powder that produces a mirror finish of high quality.
Double Header
A machine that simultaneously glazes both sides of a knife blade using wheels with a glued head of very fine emery abrasive. This machine can apply more pressure that a hand finisher, and of course, do both sides at once.
File Side
The opposite side of a knife, knife blade, or knife handle from the “mark side”.  Also called pile side.  See mark side.
The opposite side from the back of a knife handle. On a pocket knife the front is the side into which the blades fold. 
The pattern of small marks, grooves, or notches that provide a decorative effect or improve grip. Used in “Nail marks” for decoration and on thumb rests for increased friction.
A finish produced by a wheel with a glued head of a very fine emery abrasive. Wheels like this are often called set-up wheels because the head is built up with several different applications of glue and emery glaze finish is determined by the fineness of the thin grey lines left by the abrasive.
This term usually refers to animal antlers, but sometimes buffalo or cattle horn which are much softer than antlers. The term may also describe the appearance of the material rather than the material itself. See genuine under stag.
From the old English word meaning handle. Haft may refer to the handle part of a knife or to the act of fitting the handle to a knife blade. Hafting is shaping and polishing the handle of a fixed or folding blade knife.
Jack Knife
A simple rugged pocket knife with a single blade or both blades at only one end. Blades in a Jack Knife often have square tang end to hold them in half-open position.
The portion of a folding knife where the blade is connected to the handle with a pivot pin. Types of joints refer to how much of the tang remains exposed when the blade is closed. A knife with narrow side scales that expose the sharp corner of the blade tang has a “common” joint. A “half-sunk” joint has wider side scales, but still leaves some blade tang exposed. A “flush” or “full-sunk” joint is more comfortable to handle and causes less wear in a pocket.
A portion of a pocket knife blade tang that provides a stop when the blade is closed to prevent the sharpened edge from hitting or “rapping” on the front of the spring.
A piece of metal, usually a casting, that forms the end or butt of a fixed-blade knife handle. Also called the pommel. It is both decorative and functional, and it protects and strengthens the handle.
Mark Side
The side of a blade or a knife that faces the user when a right-handed person holds the knife in a normal manner. The brand of a knife is always on the mark side. The nail mark in a pocket knife blade may be on either the mark side or the file side, depending on the blade’s location in the knife. The mark side of a pocket knife handle corresponds to the mark side of the master blade.
Nail Mark
A fingernail groove near the back of a pocket knife blade which provides a fingernail grip for opening the knife. A “common” nail mark is shaped like a half moon. A “French” nail mark is straight and long, parallel to the straight side of the back of the blade. Either common or French nail marks may be decorated with a gimp in the lower or front edge. Some persons refer to these as “match striker” nail marks. Not all folding blades have to have a nail mark. Some pocket knives are designed with the scales cut down far enough on the sides of the blade so that the blade may be pinched between fingers and thumb, and pulled open without the aid of a nail mark.
Pile Side
Another term for the side opposite the Mark Side. See File Side.
An abbreviation for “polished mark side.” This term means the master blade is polished on the mark side and glazed on the opposite side.A mark of high quality requiring extra labor.
The pivoted locking arm in the back of a lock blade pocket knife. Pressure on one end tilts the lock on the opposite end out of the blade tang releasing the blade. It derives its name from its rocking action.
 The lining or side of a pocket knife, usually made of brass. The scale usually has a cover attached on the outside, but on some knives the scale also functions as a cover. A “center” scale is assembled in the middle of each knife to separate the operating parts from each other. A center scale can be full scale or a cut-out scale that has the front part cut out. A “cut-out” scale may also be placed in the side of a knife to provide more working clearance for the blade.
 A small piece of metal, usually nickel silver, attached to the mark side of a knife handle for decoration, identification of the maker or owner, or to carry some appropriate name or message. Also called an escutcheon.
 The tapered step in the side of a blade where the bevel meets the flat tang. A square, straight, clean shoulder has always been a badge of quality.
A pocket knife spring exerts a continuous pressure which holds the blade open or closed. A spring with a blade on both ends is known as a “two-end” spring, whereas a “cap-end” spring controls one blade with one end and the other end becomes part of the handle. An “equal-end” spring is a symmetrical two end spring with identical halves.
Refers to the appearance or material of a knife handle. “Genuine stag” is a term meaning antler horn material. “Bone stag” was developed as an inexpensive substitute for genuine stag and is made from the shin bone of cattle. The outside surface is cut with routers for the desired appearance and the material dyed to the desired color. Animal bone is very brittle and bone handles often break when a knife is just dropped on the floor. Bone stag handles are very porous, absorb liquids easily, and with time and exposure to sunshine gradually fade to a bone white. Consequently, they have been replaced in most instances by high quality plastics.
Refers to the pointed part of a blade. A “common” swedge begins gradually with a long taper, whereas a “cut” swedge begins with a small shoulder and then tapers on out to the blade point. A “single” swedge means one side only – the mark side, and a “double” swedge means both sides. A “long” swedge begins at, or close to, the blade shoulder. In the cutlery trade, this word is commonly spelled “swedge” but is listed in dictionaries as “swage.”
The portion of the blade to which the handle is fastened. A pocket knife tang is very short and cammed to produce the “walk and talk” action, whereas the fixed-blade tang may extend all the way through the handle. A full tang is the same width as the handle and usually extends all the way through the handle. A single tang fits inside the handle, which surrounds it entirely. A double tang is like a full tang, but with a slot down the middle which locks the other handle parts in place.
Tommy Pin
A rivet pin that holds the bolster to the scale. It is an integral part of the bolster and is raised when the bolster is struck or “coined.” The expression “Tommy-on” means to attach the bolster to the scale by riveting over the tommy pin.
Walk and Talk
 An old-time expression describing the action of a pocket knife blade. The tang end of the blade moving along the spring is the”walk”, and the snap of the knife at the end of the opening or closing cycle is the “talk.”

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