Ask A Knifemaker: The Truth About Tantos

Tanto blade

Why a Tanto?

fig 3

The “Alchemist” asks:

Could you explain the differences between knives with a Tanto point versus a standard point? What is the advantage of a Tanto point on a pocket knife (if any?). I’m considering buying a new Benchmade pocketknife and don’t know what to choose!

Good question! First let’s talk about what a Tanto blade is. A Tantō (短刀) is a traditional Japanese short sword with a blade length less than 1 shaku (11.93 inches) Below is a 436 year old Hira Zukuri Tantō from the Koto period. As you can see the spine has a soft upwards sweep and the belly matches that sweep. At the tip the edge rises upward dramatically creating a strong tip with powerful slashing capabilities. Supposedly this was intentional for use on armored opponents.

fig 1

Now that we have the origins of the Tanto covered let’s talk about the American (or Westernized) Tanto. Back in the 80’s Cold Steel popularized the new American Tanto blade shape. Ever since then there has been hot debate about the advantages and disadvantages to the double primary grind American Tanto blade. Lynn Thompson himself will talk about the combative advantages to tip strength and the secondary point’s (yokote) use in snap cutting but honestly these benefits are relegated to offensive knife duties.


Your question asked specifically if there was an advantage to a Tanto pocket knife. Well yes and no. Yes the Tanto blade shape has the potential for leaving more steel at the tip and making it stronger BUT every maker/manufacturer grinds their Tantos differently. Honestly, unless your job involves perforating car hoods regularly, I doubt you will miss the tip strength on a more traditional spear / drop / bowie pointed blade. If you’re looking for a reliable EDC blade that will fill a variety of roles I would recommend sticking with a more versatile blade shape like the drop point.

There are a few disadvantages to the Tanto design. Firstly, sharpening is more difficult. You have two primary bevels to deal with and keeping the first and secondary points razor sharp will take some time and practice. Secondly, Tantos have two flat edges and zero “belly” to the blade. Slicing tasks can be more difficult depending on the medium.

Bottom line. If you love the look of the Tanto blade go for it! But be aware that there are no practical advantages to the Tanto design in a folding EDC knife.



  1. SubZ says:

    I’ll stick with a drop point

  2. ChuckN says:

    Ditto on the sharpening issue. To my knowledge while part of
    this is due to shape, the metallurgy also plays a part. Most
    tanto tips are cut into shape not formed. Essentially, the blade
    is made by cutting against the grain of the metal. This makes it
    very hard to actually get the tip section sharp. A few
    manufacturers sidestep this by simply grinding a rough chisel
    edge on the tip (CRKT does this). Many modern tantos also only
    have only one bevel from the spine and are completely flat on
    one side, adding to the annoyance.

    I use a CRKT M16Z for piercing feed/fertilizer bags but as Will
    mentions unless your job requires a lot of piercing you won’t be
    any better off than a standard design.

  3. Mark Davis says:

    These days I usually carry drop point blades, but back in the day I was in a long term relationship with a tanto Cold Steel Voyager. Great knife, and the tanto blade never seemed like a handicap.

    And there is one place that a modern tanto comes in handy — spreading mayo and butter. Don’t laugh – try putting butter on a bagel with a Spyderco Endura – you’ll soon understand what I’m talking about. I acknowledge this is fairly narrow application, but it is relevant if the knife is a camp knife, or if you use your folders for food prep, as I do.

    With respect to sharpening: The two distinct edges can present a problem. If you let it. With my tantos, I only sharpen the long edge. The short edge (near the point) is used for rough tasks that don’t require a high level of sharpness – like opening boxes, etc. The long edge is kept razor sharp for tasks that require slicing. I can’t take credit for this idea – I read it somewhere a long time ago and its worked fine for me.

  4. OHgunner says:

    I just bought a CRKT M16-14ZLEK. It’s a nice knife with a sturdy AUS8 Tanto blade. How does the Tanto shaped blade do for self defense situations vs the other shaped blades (ie puncturing soft tissue)?

    1. I myself own a CRKT M16-10KZ in Tanto. Decent little knife. For self defense I would NEVER recommend a small folder. Honestly when comparing soft tissue damage between tanto, drop point, spear, and bowie blades there will be little to no difference. I would say the speed of deployment and handle design would be more important in a small folder self defense situation.

      Now in a large dedicated anti-personnel fixed blade knife the Tanto design does have some real advantages. My issue with the Tanto is the claims people make adding them to standard EDC type folders. Whats more likely, you opening packages with your knife or defending your family from tigers with body armor?

  5. Nate says:

    I’ve only bought one Tanto in my life, a Microtech SOCOM. I only bought it because they were on sale and they didn’t have anymore drop points. I EDC it but not much

  6. Jeff S. says:

    I’ve never wanted a Tanto knife. They just don’t seem to be as versatile as other blade shapes. One of my favorite blade shapes is on the Bark River Canadian Special. Unfortunately I don’t own one yet, but I will someday.

    1. Denny Symes says:

      The tanto is the most versatile of blade designs, in terms of utility.

  7. Mitchell says:

    For a Benchmade EDC look no further than the 940 model. It features the reverse tanto blade – that is, the the sharp angle is on the back side of the blade. This leaves the cutting surface the more traditional and easily maintained curve while also having a stronger tip than you would with the spear type. Also, it makes the tip heavier so one handed opens are faster and easier. I love Benchmade knves.

    1. Derek says:

      Look at Wharncliffe and Sheepsfoot blades. Very similar.

  8. Colby says:

    Thank you for writing some logical, analytical piece about Tanto blade shapes. I am a traditional knife guy who likes his blade to have a lot of belly and a strong, precise tip. As such I wafer back and forth between clip points, (great for poking holes in bull elk hides to use as finger holes to help pull the hide while skinning) to drop and speer points (not so great for poking those holes). Lately I have been tempted to try the tanto shape because of the great precise point that would be great for suck “pokey” procedures, but sacrificing a bit of the the stroking-slicey function of a blade with a lot of belly. After reading this I am less tempted toward experimenting with tantos.

  9. JAS says:

    I recently bit the bullet and bought my first “Americanized” tanto blade, a Benchmade 557 Mini Griptilian with a plain edge. I wanted to see what the fuss was all about.

    I learned three things. First, the edge, although sharp, is a monstrous 27.5 degrees per side with a very thin bevel. I reshaped it on water stones and it took a long while to get it right because of the “second”tip.

    Second, I now know why the blade shape is so good. The 557 has a drop point of sorts. When pushing the tip into say cardboard, you can readily see what’s happening. The drop point pushes the knife into the secondary edge, which is at about a 35 degree angle to the cardboard surface and is VERY sharp. as the blade keeps going in that razor sharp edge is at the perfect angle to easily slice into the cardboard and this greatly enhances penetration for such a stout blade.

    Finally, the second tip is also VERY sharp, and that small amount of steel in contact with any surface cuts into it very quickly.

    So, the design works, and very well indeed.

  10. Bubba says:

    US style tantos are superb for scraping and for making squaring and chisel cuts with the short edge. Kind of like a knife/chisel/pry bar/scraper hybrid. So I actually see them as more versatile than many traditional points. For food preparation I prefer to use a proper kitchen knife rather than a pocket knife any day, and I don’t ever do any skinning, so the lack of belly isn’t a huge issue for me. YMMV.

  11. Tom says:

    Pretty much comes down to the question: Do you want a weapon that can be used as a tool, or a tool that can be used as a weapon ? I’ve made the first choice.

  12. Stefan says:

    While this article starts out informative, the verdict is poorly justified and idiotic. Yes, tantos require more effort to sharpen, but really? stabbing car hoods? I work in retail and I am a hobbyist. I’ve owned many curved blades and all of them were rubbish at opening boxes, precision cutting and numerous other tasks. I picked up a cheap set of tanto folders at a convenience store and have yet to find another blade that can match the utility for my everyday tasks. If you’re going to dismiss an entire style of knife just because you don’t have a use for them, fine, but don’t masquerade as an expert and make blanket statements that no one has a use for a tanto folder. A tanto is the only type of EDC knife I’ve found that can remove stickers/labels without damaging both the label and the surface. If you like skinning rabbits and chopping vegetables with your pocket knife, (not exactly sanitary but w/e) a tanto is not your thing. If you need a knife to plunge cut thick, low density materials, open boxes, slice paper and occasionally misuse as a screwdriver/pry-bar/can opener, a tanto may be an excellent choice, just try not to hurt yourself, as they don’t break as easily as your fingers.

    1. I like your point about the sticker removal. The only time that was a frequent activity for me was when I was building boats, and I just grabbed a replacement utility knife blade.

      I think Will certainly covered the durability of the tip, and while it may be advantageous for you in how you break down boxes for days on end with a higher performance plateau than some other styles, I have broken down shit-tons of boxes as well, and I have never found drop points deficient in this task. My personal favorite EDC for the task is my Mini-Grip.

      1. There is nothing sanitary about skinning an animal with any knife. I don’t know anyone who washes a carcass with antibacterial soap prior to dressing. I have dressed countless small game animals with an EDC. I just clean it thoroughly before it reenters the rotation.

        Personally, I think a Buck 110 is the finest implement I have ever used for breasting out a dove.

        A Tanto blade is akward at best for the task.

        I would also argue that properly dressed and cooked game meat is more sanitary than factory farmed and industrially processed meat any day.

        1. Paul says:

          I used my Cold Steel Voyager XL Tanto to field-dress my pheasant. Yes, I used that ridiculously sized blade on a small fancy chicken. It was magnificently easy. You’re just used to your drop/clip points and such that doing it with a tanto is awkward. For someone like me, using a tanto is second-nature. It’s the only type of knife I’ve ever cared to use. And the sharpening thing mentioned in the article? I call BS. It takes a little more time and effort, but it’s not rocket-science. Good steel knives can be kept sharp just by rodding/stropping. I’m not even going to blame anybody for disliking the tanto as far as it looks. Majority of knifenuts like Spyderco while I think they’re all basically slight variations of same ugly bird-face knife. Doesn’t mean Spydercos are bad, I just think they look bad. But don’t justify your taste with BS.

  13. bzacon says:

    While you make some good points in this article, I have to call you out on the “no practical advantage” point. I own several westernized tantos as well as drop point folders. As a hobbyist and retail worker, my gerber evo and ridgerunner rescue blades are quite handy. the western tanto is useless for hunting and fishing, but for opening boxes and cutting paper against a flat surface the point between the two grinds is very useful. Also the front edge is great for scraping, such as removing stickers or trimming. It’s a matter of use and taste. for self defense, blade shape doesn’t matter, but for utility, it really depends what you do. Many hobbyists can benefit from a tanto knife while an average user is probably fine with a drop point.

  14. tantoitis says:

    Upon reading this article, I realized my collection of knives (fixed and folders) consists mainly of tanto and reversed tantos. Only drop points I own are folders. For my EDC, I am usually carrying a tanto folder (for work), or my reversed tanto fixed blade (with a sheath clipped onto my pants pocket or worn on my neck under my shirt, for when I am just out and about). I also enjoy carrying my cold steel fixed blade tanto, but its bit bigger than my other edc so I only carry that when I will be spending some time out and about alone etc.

    I suppose my interest in tantos stem from protection/defensive aspect more than usages for hobbies or work (even though I use a folder tanto for work, which has suited me just as well compared to a point drop)

    I find my self using my night shade line up tanto from cold steel for more aggressive and carefree actions since I dont have to worry about rust or other cons that come with steel blades. Durable, and cheap. Its been through hell and back and its still put to heavy use when I am just messing around in my backyard or out in woods, river etc…

  15. bandar togel online says:

    Very good write-up. I definitely appreciate this site.
    Continue the good work!

  16. Richard says:

    I just replaced my 28 year-old EDC drop point lock blade with a SOG Vulcan Tanto. The blade is razor sharp and visually thicker and wider than my retired drop point. I use my EDC for everything from spreading peanut butter to cutting tree limbs. I see this blade as a significant improvement to the drop point for its jack of all trades mission.

  17. Heartland Patriot says:

    Some states have laws against certain knife blade shapes. I am not aware of any of the states in my area having the “American tanto” shape on the books as illegal. Therefore, less likely to get hauled to jail for it, if you EDC it as a defensive tool.

  18. nate says:

    I have a cold steel recon 1 tanto. Best knife I’ve ever owned… And I own alot of em. Tanto folders are great for wood batoning, basic camp carving, bark scrapping for primitive fire, etc. I’ve used it for work tasks for over a year now and never was left wanting. I would take a folding tanto over many knives for a defensive/survival knife any day. With that said, still love me some esee fixed blade all day.

    1. Jeffrey Polasky says:

      Your cold steel tanto

    2. Jeffrey Polasky says:

      Your cold steel tanto was the first fixed blade i ever held that left me speechless and made my palms sweat.
      Huge favor, if you would. I need all the correct angles so that i can cut all my “cardboard at work.

  19. Mike says:

    I really don’t know what the freak most of you are talking about with this talk of Tantos (Americanized, that it) not having belly. You can see that one at the top swells at the back of the blade, and many Tantos are curved. My Cold Steel Voyager, amazingly resilient, is slightly curved. Whether a knife has belly has little to do with whether it is a Tanto style.

  20. Peter says:

    As a hunter and farmer, my use for fixed-blade knives is in everything from breaking down large carcasses, to removing splinters. I don’t buy expensive knives, as the potential for loss is too high.

    I have tried the American-style tanto for butchering, and found it awkward.

    Recently, I acquired a Cold Steel Recon, at a discount, and being a practical user, I modified it by grinding to more closely resemble the edge shape of the traditional Japanese blade shown at the beginning of this article. The angle of the point remains the same and it has not been weakened. Only the secondary point has been removed, blending the two edges into one in a sweeping curve.

    It does not have quite the sweep of my favourite pointed skinner – a modified trade-blade – but it has enough, while still being a very capable “sticker” for killing pigs or slaughtering sheep and similar sized livestock.

    Cardboard boxes don’t taste very good.


  21. Ray says:

    I find that it’s a love – hate relationship with the tanto style blade. My Ka-bar tanto, primarily a fighting knife is fantastic for that purpose. As a general purpose blade, it’s quite awkward. I prefer a drop point for hunting, camping and general use. The exception is for my tool box knife. I keep a Ka-bar Warthog tanto folder in there. Not too expensive, great for general purpose, and the flat tip works great as a super sharp chisel for mortising door hinges, strikers and what not.

  22. Rica says:

    Hi every one, here every one is sharing these kinds of know-how,
    so it’s nice to read this website, and I used to go to see this web site everyday.

  23. Red says:

    I’m a fan of the tanto blade. My current edc is a Gerber Edict with the 154CM steel and sports a tanto. Tip is incredibly strong compared to a clip or drop point. I hear the argument that they are hard to sharpen but if you are like me and truly enjoy knives then you enjoy the challenge. Sharpening is one of those things that relaxes me and the better you get at it, the more you’ll want to try different blade styles. It’s no harder than sharpening a recurve. You do the long edge first and then work on the tip edge.

  24. C. Watts says:

    I’m likely going to be criticized for saying this, but here it is anyway. Tanto points are for Mall Ninja’s. Sorry !

    1. James says:

      I hardly think that carrying tanto blades are the mark of a mall ninja. I’ve seen too many people in Afghanistan and Africa carrying tanto blades. For penetration you can’t beat them. I’ve seen too many clip points break off when put to the test. While the tanto may not be the “best all around” knife, it can’t be beat when you need a strong penetrating ability–or you find yourself in the fight of your life. If you’re familiar with how most knife fights go, there’s not a lot of slashing involved–it’s more like a blade going in and out of the victim as if it were a sewing machine needle. Knife fights are more about penetration–and they are quick and dirty and usually involve the element of surprise. And a tanto blade will go through a so-called “bulletproof vest” like a knife through butter–while other blade styles could break during the attempt.

  25. Nikon says:

    in my state, the laws on knife carrying are fairly vague to say the least, in the state of Maine, most knives are legal, other than the typical automatic switchblades, balisongs, and more specifically vague “knives designed to hurt other humans”. My question is this: Would a tanto blade be classified as “designed to hurt humans”, or would there be a more reasonable reason to possess and carry one? My query arises due mostly to the vague nature of my state’s laws and wanting to seek further information from others long before I truly consider any purchases or commissions.

    1. James says:

      First of all, I would say that Maine’s laws are so vague that anyone fighting the charge of illegal carry would have the case thrown out of court. Tanto blades are designed to be superior penetrators–and that doesn’t necessarily mean flesh. All knives are made to cut, and that characteristic can “hurt humans.” I like the tanto point for those times you need to penetrate a box or some tough material. I have seen clip points snap off when stressed. I think you will be all right as long as you steer clear of “automatics” and balisongs. Knife laws, like guns laws, are based on emotions, not logic. By the way–never admit that you carry a knife for self-defense. If questioned by law enforcement, either say nothing or that you use it as a utility knife–offer no more statements whatsoever.

  26. Anggie says:

    great article. I have some very good collection of pocket knives I think these knives I often carry if I go hiking with my friends. The knife that I have is very sharp because it is made of stainless steel material and can be used as survival equipment in an emergency. I still have some other information about a quality folding knife, lest we buy wrong knife with poor quality. you can check the site here to see more information.

  27. says:

    However, you may be able to learn more about your knife and its possible value in one of the many books about knife collecting and knife valuing available through your library, local bookseller, or online book dealer.

  28. Stephen Churchill says:

    Hey Will, thank you for your advice and humor. You told me exactly what I need to know. I just bought a knife online and the Tanto tip Edge has a belly. I felt I was being ripped off but I think, considering this New Perspective, that my knife provides the look of the tanto without as much inconvenience.
    Thank you very much,

  29. judi 4d says:

    agen toto resmi di indonesia dengan berbagai pasaran resmi ternama seperti pasaran toto gelap hongkong dengan berbagai bonus judi togel terbesar dalam kelasnya.

    nikmati kemudahan bermain togel 4d hanya dengan minimal deposit 25 ribu anda sudah bisa
    bermain judi toto gelap dimana saja dan kapan saja dengan situs kami.

    karena kami mempunya situs terbaik dari semuanya yang telkah disuport dengan berbagai teknologi untuk bermain judi toto melalui smartphone anda

  30. I’m now not sure the place you are getting your information, but good topic.
    I must spend some time studying much more or understanding more.
    Thank you for great info I was looking for this info for my mission.

  31. Craig johnson says:

    I have fixed blade knives with a tanto point and then with pointed (not sure if it’s drop pointed or not) and my question is : which is better ,both in opinion and fact ?

  32. Scott says:

    Most tanto blades are mediocre at best. I carry a Brend tanto recurve folder. It is by far the best folder I’ve ever owned.

  33. Magnificent goods from you, man. I’ve understand your stuff previous to
    and you’re just too fantastic. I really like what you have
    acquired here, certainly like what you are stating and
    the way in which you say it. You make it enjoyable and you
    still take care of to keep it wise. I can’t wait to read far more
    from you. This is really a great site.

  34. James says:

    I would beg to differ there. Tanto blades are recognized for their power and all-round quality. Here’s what I love about them-
    1. The design that lends a historical appeal to it.
    2. As you mentioned, Tanto knives feature a high point and a flat grind, which give them the power to puncture hard objects without the blade snapping. Further, these knives do not deteriorate easily even with regular use.
    3. The tanto’s pommel on modern versions is usually tapered and fashioned from steel. It is designed in such as way that it can absorb impact from heavy strikes, which makes the pommel extremely effective as a blunt weapon against an assailant charging at you with force.
    4. One notion floating around is that the tanto is a war weapon primarily designed to puncture armor and not particularly good for the outdoors. However, many will argue that the criticism is unwarranted. The tanto is one tough knife and its chisel point is great for scraping and puncturing. Also, these blades are a solid choice for defending against attacks, human or animal.
    5. Another criticism of the tanto knife is that it is not easy to sharpen. However, a tanto knife with a straight blade can be sharpened on a stone, while those with curved blades can be sharpened by a ceramic rod.

    Courtesy :

  35. mining hyip says:

    I got this website from my friend who shared with me about this web site and now this time I am browsing this site and reading very informative articles or reviews at this time.

  36. Lidia says:

    Right here is the right web site for anybody who ants to
    fid out about this topic. You understaznd so much itss almost tough
    to argue with yoou (not that I actually would want to…HaHa).

    Youu certainly put a new spin on a topic that has been discussed for ages.
    Excellent stuff, just wonderful!

  37. Excellent web site. Plenty of helpful information here.
    I’m sending it to some friends ans additionally sharing in delicious.
    And obviously, thank you on your sweat!

  38. userbola says:

    You need to be a part of a contest for one of the most useful sites
    on the internet. I will recommend this site!

  39. D says:

    AMERICANIZED TANTO IS NOT A TANTO. Agimmick that does follow the Japanese design, or effectiveness.

  40. Togelwin88 says:

    Great website. A lot of helpful information here.
    I’m sending it to some pals ans also sharing in delicious.
    And obviously, thank you to your sweat!

  41. space513 says:

    Helpful information. Lucky me I found your site by chance, and
    I’m surprised why this coincidence did not took place earlier!
    I bookmarked it.

Leave a Reply to D Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Ask A Knifemaker: The Truth About Tantos

button to share on facebook
button to tweet
button to share via email