Prospective knife shoppers spend time thinking about a knife's blade more than anything else. But one of the most important considerations to buying a knife has to do with something you might not even see. Tang — not the neon orange drink of your youth — plays an important factor in the construction, price and usability of a chef's knife. So what's the thang with knife tang?
What Is Knife Tang?
Tang refers to the part of the knife blade that extends into the handle. Tang plays an important factor in product costs, as well as how a knife performs with constant use. A knife can either be full tang or partial tang. This is how the two compare.
A full tang knife's blade extends fully through the handle both in length and width. Its handle is typically sandwiched between two pieces of wood, plastic or other material, revealing a strip of the tang. A full tang knife may also have a hidden tang in which the handle material fully encompasses the blade handle, hiding the steel.
Full tang knives are weightier than partial tang knives since the entire knife is made of steel. The knife is therefore more balanced, which also makes it easier to chop for extended periods of time. Because a full tang knife has a heavier handle, you don't have to exert as much force to cut through denser food. Then there's a matter of cost — because a full tang knife is fully made of steel, you'll be paying more for that extra material.
A partial tang knife is exactly as it sounds — the blade only extends partially through the handle. Budget knives, like the universally beloved Victorinox Fibrox line, usually feature a partial tang because it's cheaper and easier to produce. These types of knives, however, are less durable than their full tang counterparts. Because the metal stops partway through the handle, the knife is vulnerable to snapping where the steel ends inside the handle. Some knife manufacturers combat this vulnerability through different variations of partial tang constructions. For example, a rat-tail tang might see the knife's metal extending nearly throughout the handle, but the steel is thin and doesn't match the width of the handle.
A partial tang knife is heavier towards the cutting edge, naturally, since the steel doesn't extend through the handle, and puts more strain on the user and their wrist to cut through food. Some knives compensate for this by adding heavier handles to mimic the feel of a full tang knife.
When in doubt, go full tang. You'll dish out more on a full tang knife, but you'll get increased longevity and better ergonomics. Budget shoppers may find some decent usage from a partial tang knife, especially if they're not cutting anything tougher than something like onion, but you might as well buy a full tang knife for universal cutting abilities.