Tanto knives are traditional and antique Japanese blades that were originally used as weapons. With time, they’ve become popular in the world of pocket knives, and their design is starting to gain prominence in the world of kitchen blade knives as well. Today, Tanto knives have been developed into several styles such as tanto pocket knives, tanto blade knives, hunting knives, tanto fighting knives, tanto folding knives, tactical tanto, and even some modified tanto blades. Let’s take a look at the tanto knife design, its history, and how to use it.
- What is a Tanto Knife?
- A Brief History of the Tanto Knife
- The Tanto Blade Design
- Tanto Knife: Pros & Cons
- How to Look After Your Tanto Knife
- The Only Tanto Knife You’ll Ever Need
- Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is a Tanto Knife?
The more I dig deeper into the world of knives, the more fascinated I am by the rich and varied history that knives have had over the course of human life. There have been so many different types of knives that it’s legitimately hard to keep track of, and often they serve as a sort of marker for specific times and places in culture.
One of my favorite discoveries is the tanto knife. If you’ve never heard of it before, don’t worry – neither had I until very recently. Turns out it’s much more popular than I thought. Not only that, but the tanto knife is one of the more distinctive and easy-to-spot blades around, thanks to its angular shape. It’s basically made up of two cutting planes instead of most knives' flat or curving belly. Tanto knife edges draw a line out from the handle, then make a dramatic change of direction running up to the tip.
This makes for an impressive and striking appearance, as well as a very broad and durable blade. The tanto knife design has most traditionally been adapted to pocket knives. A good fixed blade pocket knife with a tanto design is a very desirable item in the world of pocket knives, I’ve learned. But there are also companies that have adapted the traditional tanto shape into the world of kitchen knives.
Why is the Japanese tanto blade shape so special that it’s being used in so many different ways? Part of it has to do with pure visual appeal – it has a striking appearance, like a knife that makes a definite statement. But it may also have to do with the knife’s origins and history. Let’s talk about that.
2. A Brief History of the Tanto Knife
The Tanto knife has been around for much longer than you might think. It dates all the way back to 12th-century feudal Japan. Back then, samurai carried two swords: a long one and a short one. The shorter of the two was known as the tantō (meaning “dagger” or "short sword").
Now, the fact that this is where the Tanto blade originated doesn’t mean that modern Tanto knives (whether they’re pocket knives or kitchen knives) are a carbon copy of what they had back in samurai days. The samurai Tantos maintained a continuous edge that curved near the tip, while the tactical tanto knives of today are a little more streamlined in their design.
As time passed and innovations in blade manufacturing progressed, the sharp angle in the blade belly became a standard, creating what is now known as an American tanto. This is what you’ll most likely come across out in the wild.
3. The Tanto Blade Design
Tanto knives are easy to spot thanks to their unique design. As mentioned earlier, the tanto blade design is characterized by an angular, almost noncontinuous edge. Instead of the flat or curving belly that you’ll find on most knives, a tanto knife is made up of two cutting planes.
The modern tanto is often known as the American tanto or sometimes the Westernized tanto. This is the most common variation of the tanto knife that you’ll find in the world, and its most common use is as a pocket knife. In fact, most tanto knives you’ll find out there is a sort of melding of the traditional tanto knife with the modern tactical knife, featuring an antique Japanese-inspired knife pattern reminiscent of the tantos or katanas of yore.
It is often said that knife manufacturer Cold Steel was instrumental in popularizing the tanto blade shape for pocket knives in the 1980s. And because there’s a considerable amount of crossover when it comes to knives, it makes sense that the use of tanto knife blade elements would slowly start to seep into the world of kitchen knives.
Just like the original tanto short swords, modern tanto knives feature strong tips, which makes them great for piercing. Its piercing tip makes it a great tool as a fixed blade pocket knife (the type that Cold Steel used to make), but it also has a lot of usefulness when it comes to its use in the kitchen.
4. Tanto Knife: Pros & Cons
Any type of knife comes with its pros and cons, and the tanto dagger knife is no different. While its unique shape comes with a series of advantages, there are a few things that work against it too. Hopefully, by laying out the pros and cons this way, you can get a sense of whether it’ll fit your needs. Let’s take a lool.
Tanto knife pros:
- Tip strength. The triangular shape leading to the knife’s tip causes it to have much more reinforcement behind it than the usual tipped knives such as drop-points or spear-points. This makes it easy to quickly and easily pierce through the skin of whatever cut of meat you’re using the tanto knife on. Remember: the main idea behind the tanto design is to be used to stab and pry, so transferring that over to a kitchen knife means that it’ll be a fantastic tool for spearing and slashing meats or produce.
- Quality of blade materials. The tanto blade needs to be a hard material. Manufacturers like Dalstrong that are bringing the tanto knife design over to the realm of kitchen knives usually use top-of-the-line blade materials to make sure the knife has a good Rockwell hardness level, often in the 60+ range. The use of the Japanese super steel cutting core with 67 layers of Damascus cladding make it a powerful kitchen tool.
- Looks. How else can we put it? Tanto knives look awesome. Having one in your kitchen is almost like having a piece of art up on display, especially if you’re using a magnetic knife holder to keep your knives within view. The design, which is reminiscent of Japanese samurai tools, evokes both a rugged ruthlessness and a classiness that many people find appealing.
Tanto knife cons:
- Sharpening isn’t especially easy. Traditional Japanese tanto knives have two separate bevels, so instead of sharpening one continuous edge, sharpening the tanto knife feels like you have to switch between bevels. This is not to say that it’s a super difficult task – and if you don’t know how to sharpen a knife, we’ve got you covered – but it might take some getting used to the first time you attempt it.
- Slicing is a little more difficult. Traditional tanto knives have two flat edges and almost no belly, so if you’re slicing through a rough material it won’t exactly be smooth sailing at first. This problem is fixed in the Dalstrong Tanto chef’s knife from the Shogun series, though, thanks to its incorporation of chef’s knife design elements.
5. How to Look After Your Tanto Knife
Cleaning a tanto blade
How you clean your tanto knife will depend on the material it’s made of. In the case of the tanto kitchen knife mentioned above, you can see that the materials are AUS-10V Japanese super steel and a 67-layer Damascus steel cladding. You can wash it with hot water and dish soap, or any other mild soap.
It’s important that for high carbon stainless steel knives like that you don’t use harsh dish soap, and that you don’t leave your knife to air dry. For these knives, moisture is the enemy. Once you’re done cleaning it, you need to make sure you dry it with a cotton rag. You want to avoid any chance of your tanto knife rusting.
Sharpening a tanto knife
There are many types of tanto knives out there, and most of them feature the angled transition from the front of the back of the blade, eliminating the belly and instead featuring two straight cutting edges. As we mentioned above, this might lead to a bit of trickiness when attempting to sharpen the tanto knife, but it’s just a matter of practice. Certainly it takes more work that just using an electric knife sharpener.
What you need to remember when sharpening your tanto blade is to treat the two edges almost as two separate knives. This means you’ll have to keep an eye out for the angle of each edge, which may not be the same on each knife. Treat the transition point between the two edges almost as if it were the tip of the knife.
What defines the blade style is the transition point between the edges, and sharpening a tanto blade is tricky at first because you have to try to maintain the transition point. It’s easy to damage the transition over time if you’re not careful.
If the transition point has been rounded out over time, it can be restored with some treatment, but it will definitely take time.
6. The Only Tanto Knife You’ll Ever Need
Now that you know all about the tanto knife, its history and its various advantages, let’s talk about the very best tanto kitchen knife available in the market. This excellent piece of kitchen machinery combines the best elements of the traditional tanto knife with the maneuverability and versatility of the classic Japanese style chef’s knife, resulting in an utterly unique knife.
This absolutely stunning 8 inch chef’s knife brings the best design elements from the Tanto knife and combines them with cutting-edge kitchen knife technology, making it the ultimate tool for overcoming any food obstacle you might come across in the kitchen. As you can see, it features an extremely strong high point and a slight belly, setting it apart from most regular chef’s knives and making it a perfect tool to puncture, slash, cut, chop, and slice just about any food with ease.
It features an even higher concentration of the ultra-premium Japanese high carbon AUS-10V steel that is used in knives in Dalstrong’s Shogun series. With this extra strong 8” Tanto chef knife you’ll be able to make quick work of everything from the toughest meats to fruits and veggies with ease. Not only that, but the combination of the Tanto design elements, the 67 layers of Damascus cladding, and the Tsunami Rose blade pattern all work together to make this one of the most visually stunning knives you can find anywhere.
- The blade is the real deal, with an AUS-10V Japanese super steel core and 67-layered Damascus cladding sharpened under the ancient 3-step Honbazuke method.
- Features a tapered bolster for a perfect “zero balance” grip, making it a knife that truly feels comfortable to use and like an extension of your arm.
- Military-grade G10 handle, which is designed to be durable and comfortable.
- Features the incredible Tsunami Rose blade pattern from Dalstrong’s Shogun Series, making this one of the most visually appealing knives you’ll find on the market.
- If what you’re looking for is a regular chef’s knife, you can find those here.
- If you’ve never used a knife of this type before (and we’re betting you haven’t), the handle shape might be a tiny bit tricky to get used to at first, but it’s just a matter of practice. After a couple of uses, you’ll wonder how you ever did without it.
7. Frequently Asked Questions
What is a tanto knife for?
The tanto (or tantō) is a dagger, kind of like a samurai short sword. But it is also often used as a knife. The blade can be single-edged or double-edged and was designed primarily as a stabbing weapon. However, its shape makes it great for various kitchen uses, such as puncturing, cutting, slashing, slicing, chopping, and scraping various foods with ease.
What are the advantages of a tanto blade?
The steel tanto knife features a very strong blade. The tanto blade has a strong point, and its shape is uniquely designed to stab and slash through hard materials. It feels great to hold and is very easy and comfortable to use.