Tanto Blade Benefits and Drawbacks.
There is something to be said about the strong shape and solid style of the Tanto blade. I have had many people ask me what are the Tanto blade benefits and drawbacks.
This article will delve into the details of a Tanto blade and look into what makes them a popular blade design among so many knife enthusiasts.
What Is A Tanto Blade?
A Tanto Blade is a knife style with a sharply angled tip that somewhat resembles a chisel point. The chisel tip angles can vary between very steep and more swept back and can impact the overall tip strength.
Most Tanto blades have very little belly or up-sweep in the main edge. This leads many people to say that Tanto blade knives are not very good for slicing. However, as with any knife, there is a trade off between style, functionality, and purpose. Also, like any knife, it will slice effectively, it is just that it needs a slightly different technique and there are other blade styles that are much more effective at specific slicing tasks.
Traditional Tanto Blade Design.
Traditional Tanto blade design comes from Japanese inspiration. The Traditional Japanese Tanto was fairly simple with blade lengths usually being between 10 and 12 inches long. They did not have the sharply angled edges on the tip that a modern Tanto blade has. Instead, they had a slight trailing edge with a classic point.
Within the main traditional Tanto blade style were different subsets of designs that each had their own specific details and styles. Some were double sided, Some had more curved or less curved blades. Some had detailed grooves running the length of the blade.
Tanto knives were sometimes carried as a secondary blade to a Katana or longer sword and were often used for thrusting and puncturing duties.
Most tanto blades were traditionally differentially hardened. This hardening process produced a Hamon that gives many Japanese blade edges their characteristic look. This hardening process also gave the blade a harder edge while still allowing for a bit of a softer spine and more overall strength to the blade.
A different blade with western origins and completely different purpose but also has an angled tip is the Spey blade. You can read more about it in this post here about Spey Blade Uses.
Tanto Blade Purpose And Uses.
The traditional Tanto blade purpose was for close quarters combat and as a hold out weapon. They were designed to be usable in smaller areas and for puncturing armor as needed.
These traditional combat applications don't really carry forward to the modern day so many people may wonder why the Tanto style is so popular? The overall style and look of the blade is definitely one of the factors that leads to its popularity. But the overall function of the blade still needs to have a strong purpose.
Their is no doubt that the blade design lends itself well to poking and puncturing duties. This can transfer to the modern tasks of things such as breaking down boxes. These blades also excel at poking holes in harder materials.
The chisel tip style can also be used as a scraper or chisel for things such as scraping stickers or labels off of products. I have also used a tanto blade style to clean out the edges of a mortise on a door hinge and it worked quite well for this task in a pinch.
Tanto Blade Benefits.
The main benefit of a Tanto blade is the strong tip shape. The Tanto tip is designed for puncturing while holding up to tough materials and not breaking. While most modern uses of a tanto do not carry over from the traditional use as an armor puncturing tool they can still be used to great effect on day to day tasks.
This benefit of a tanto blades strong tip shape helps give confidence when using this style of knife for rough duty tasks. Having two distinct blade edges gives the blade versatility in its use. The front blade can be used for puncturing while still keeping the main longer blade sharp for slicing and cutting tasks.
I have even heard of some people that do not sharpen the front tip edge too finely and instead reserve it for a more obtuse edge angle to further strengthen its already strong tip.
Tanto Blade Drawbacks.
As mentioned earlier, one of the main drawbacks of a tanto blade style is its usual lack of belly or up-sweep on the main cutting edge. This is not to say that all tanto knives have a perfectly straight main edge. However, the most common modern day tanto designs have a fairly straight main edge design with the sharply angled triangular tip shape.
The usual lack of belly makes it difficult to use a tanto blade for many traditional knife tasks. Not to say it can't be done, but many other blade styles can be more effective in these uses.
Jobs such as gutting and skinning game, carving wood or other materials, and slicing food can usually be performed more easily with curved blades blades that are designed specifically for these tasks. For tasks such as field dressing large game we may recommend a drop point blade while for dressing small game we may choose a clip point blade.
This two edge design also leads to some issues when sharpening. Especially among less experienced knife owners and those without a lot of experience sharpening different styles of blades.
How To Sharpen A Tanto Blade
Sharpening a tanto blade can be a tricky endeavor for newer knife owners. Many times the aggressive shape and style of these blades is enough to deter inexperienced blade owners from trying to sharpen them. But, as with any knife, good technique and a little bit of practice can achieve a razor edge and keep your knife functioning its best.
In this post about how to sharpen a Tanto blade we go into detail about exactly how to achieve and maintain a razor edge on your Tanto blade.
The main thing to keep in mind when sharpening a tanto blade is to not remove too much material at the tip and change the angle where the two edges meet. The best way to do this is to sharpen the main long edge first. Also, be sure to stop your stroke as the tip nears the end of the stone to ensure you don't rock the blade and round over the tip.
Keeping the blade at the proper angle and perpendicular to the sharpening stone is critical to keeping your edge straight. After the main flat edge is sharpened then you can sharpen the tip edge portion. Although, as mentioned, some people prefer this edge at a more obtuse angle so keep this in mind when determining your sharpening style.
To sharpen the tip portion, make sure to keep constant contact with your sharpening stone all the way from corner to tip. It can be easy to rock the blade and round off the tip edge which detracts from the style and design of this blade type. It probably won't detract from the functionality of the blade but the design intent is for the tip edge to be straight as well as the main blade portion.
As you can see, sharpening a tanto blade is not that difficult if you take some care and focus on precision. If you want to learn more about how to sharpen all styles of knife blades then check out our article linked here.
Reverse Tanto Blade.
The reverse tanto blade style is a newer style which seems to be becoming more popular recently. This striking style is sure to grab attention whenever you use it.
One of the main difference with the reverse tanto vs a standard tanto is the obvious angle difference between the two. The reverse tanto's front edge sweeps backwards tot he spine rather than the standard tanto angle.
The other main difference is that the front angle of the reverse tanto is usually not sharpened. This helps keep the spine a consistent thickness from end to end of the blade and helps lend strength to this blade style.
This blade design also usually has more belly sweep to the main edge. This sweep allows the reverse tanto to perform better at slicing tasks than a modern standard tanto style.
The one drawback of a reverse tanto vs a standard tanto is that the main tip is thinner at the point and does not have as much steel backing it. While this style still functions well at puncturing and piercing it does not have the brute strength of the standard tanto tip design.
Tanto VS Drop Point.
The main obvious difference between the tanto blade and a drop point blade is the difference in tip shape. A drop point knife also has much more belly to the edge which makes it superior at slicing tasks.
The advantages of one over the other is mainly determined by the tasks which you wish to perform. If you are going to be mainly poking and puncturing then there can be no doubt that the strong tip shape of the tanto blade would make it an obvious choice.
With that being said, if you were going to be skinning game or butchering meat where a lot of delicate and careful slicing tasks are needed than a drop point would make a lot more sense.
While both blade types can be used to perform either job, it is clear that each one excels at a specific task and would be much more suited to each. the choice of which blade style suits the user and job that it will need to perform is a personal one and an often debated topic.
Tanto VS Sheepsfoot and Wharncliffe Blades.
There has been a surge of newer blade styles and designs and two of the more recently popular designs are the Sheepsfoot and Wharncliffe blade styles. Each of these has a different designs and purpose but they are often compared to a tanto due to their specialized nature and purpose.
The Sheepsfoot blade style is very similar to the reverse tanto and many people would say they are just slight variations of the same style. The Sheepsfoot blade has the same backwards sloping tip edge as the reverse tanto however it usually also has a more rounded tip than a reverse tanto. This backwards sloping rounded edge give the Sheepsfoot blade its characteristic shape and visual appeal.
Check out our review of the CRKT Pillar II Folder here if you want to see a detailed look at a popular Sheepsfoot blade style.
The Wharncliffe blade style has a tip shape which is usually very similar to a Sheepsfoot. However, the main difference is that the Wharncliffe blade usually has a very straight main edge which is very distinct. The Wharncliffe edge makes it very specific in the tasks that it excels at. Much like a straight razor, this straight edge is usually maintained with great precision and gives the Wharncliffe the reputation of being a great precision slicer.
The main differences between a standard modern tanto blade and a Sheepsfoot or Wharncliffe blade is that the tips of both the latter styles are much more refined and not as strong as a standard tanto. While both of these blade styles are still quite capable of puncturing and poking they are not as robust as a tanto and should be treated as such.
Cold Steel Tanto Knife Influence.
The Cold Steel Tanto from the 80's was one of the first manufactured knives that led to the popularity of this style. It can be said the Cold Steel was the originator of the modern day tanto style and was largely responsible for the blade shape we know today.
The original Cold Steel Tanto was advertised between 1981 and 1983 with two versions, the Tanto, and Mini Tanto. The Tanto had a 6 inch blade while the Mini Tanto had a 3.5 inch blade. In the original ad they can be seen to have the characteristic tanto tip shape and is arguably the first time this style was produced for western consumers.
Since those early versions were released the style and design has changed slightly over the years but still maintains the unmistakable tanto style. These first Tanto knives were made in Japan and distributed out of Cold Steel in Ventura California.
Tanto Fixed Blade Knives.
Many of the largest knife brands today now make tanto versions of their most popular fixed blade knives. Each brand has a slightly different style to their tips with some of them being very obtuse and strong while others are more refined and lose some of the strength inherent in the design.
Due to the style and strength of this blade and tip type it is an obvious choice for a fixed blade knife. This makes for some of the strongest and most capable combat knives and close quarters defensive blades.
Some of the more popular tanto knives today still come from Cold Steel as well as brands such as; CRKT, Kershaw, Ka-Bar, Benchmade, SOG, Schrade, and many more.
Tanto Folding Blade Knives.
While a folding tanto blade knife may seem a little contradictory in styles they are an interesting option in blade styles for a pocket carry knife. There are many times when the utilitarian function of a tanto blade and the ease of carry of a folding pocket knife would make the combination quite useful.
Most modern folding blade styles and blade locking mechanisms are very strong and function quite well with the tanto blade. This style of knife would make for an interesting EDC knife and be very functional in the case of self defense.
Much like the fixed blade knife brands listed above, most of the more popular knife manufacturers make tanto versions of their folding pocket knives.
The Tanto Blade benefits and drawbacks listed above as well as the additional information provided help to show why Tanto blades are one of the more popular blade styles today.
While some people may question the functionality of the style for every day cutting tasks it is undeniable that this unique blade style has a distinct purpose abilities. The overall strength of the tip design and usefulness as a puncturing tool has earned its place into the lives of many knife lovers.