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BEST TANTO KNIVES – Copy

Ah, the brains and beauty of a tanto. The structure of the blade appealed to me the moment I held one and got a first, good look. Angular and clean, and usually with a triangular thicker point, there’s something about the design that demands attention.

Where Did the Tanto Blade Sword/Knife Come From?

Invented about a thousand years ago, during the Japanese Heian period, Tanto blades were made for tough, armor-piercing power in close-up or confined fighting. It just takes one look at this “short sword,” and you see how perfect it would be in close quarters for stabbing and slashing. In other words, similar to when your parents would tell you to use your indoor voice because yelling in the house was just too much, warriors knew when to use their indoor knife because a sword would get in the way and stab the furniture and the wrong people.

Nowadays, we generally don’t carry swords around in daily life–maybe you do, but then you and I lead vastly different lives–and most of us have to make do with carrying our indoor knives. But with a tanto, it doesn’t feel like it. Tantos are LOUD. Though “tanto” may mean short blade or sword, the knife has impressive, aggressive lines that make up for any lack of length with fierceness in design.

But did you know that the blade shape evolved to be made for beauty, too? During the Kamakura period, the knife conformed to the philosophy of Japanese aesthetics: Beauty as well as function, and beauty in the everyday including objects and tools. (Hey, if you were going to be gutted by a Samurai warrior, at least you were killed with something pretty…) At some point, a tanto dagger called a kwaiken or kaiken was given to a bride and worn for self-defense, at least in Bushi families–those who fought for a living. The blade proved to be popular.

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America Changes the Tanto

What’s the difference between a Japanese tanto and an American tanto blade shape? I’m glad you asked.

Since the Japanese term tanto refers to length, the blade shape wasn’t necessarily the focus. But then tanto knifemaker Bob Lum introduced his version of the tanto to the Western audience, and not long after that Lynn Thompson and Cold Steek popularized the design after their own tinkering, which included the prominent tip.

Basically, the  Americanized version has a thicker point, which is more obviously triangular. The American tanto is also shorter, whether in a fixed blade or pocket knife incarnation, a compact blade tends to be more convenient than an actual short sword. Also, an American tanto has less belly.

The Western tactical, streamlined tanto has only become more popular since its acceptance in the 80s. There’s much to love about the Americanized version.

Pros and Cons of a Tanto Blade

Pros

Superior Piercing Capability: Triangles are known for being super strong. The Tanto blade’s triangular tip excels at piercing, giving better performance and durability compared to other knife blade designs.

Secondary Tip: Tanto blades feature a secondary tip that can be used like a sharp chisel.  Additionally, this tip enhances the appearance in the design of the blade.

Prying: You can pry in a pinch. The reinforced tanto tip provides added strength, making it suitable for prying in an emergency where any damage you incur to your knife is acceptable in the given situation.

Cons

Sliciness: Slicing through objects without a curved belly can be challenging, but it still can be done. Just not as easily.

Sharpening: Tanto blades have two edges that require sharpening, making the process time-consuming and demanding. The transition point between the edges needs to be handled carefully or the sharp transition will “round” over time. Check out our article How to Sharpen a Tanto Blade.

Which is the Right Tanto for You?

Sprinkled across the internet I found this Japanese saying, “the spirit within the sword always chooses its rightful owner.” Makes me think of Ollivander’s Wand Shop where the wand chooses its wizard in Harry Potter. Waiting for the sword–or fixed blade, automatic tanto, or pocket knife to pick you sounds like a singular experience, but getting to choose your own is fun, too. See which of the below speaks to you.

Best Budget Tactical Tanto

CRKT M16-14ZLEK

 

If you want the folding tanto pocket knife that’s a favorite with soldiers and rescue personnel, look no further than the CRKT Carson M16-14ZLEK. The late Kit Carson designed the M16 series, and this is the model that was huge when it camt to putting the CRKT brand on the map a couple of decades ago. This one has an oversized flipper that doubles a seatbelt cutter and a glass breaker. Also, the LAWKS safety lock is a huge plus.

If you love the CRKT M16-14ZLEK but would prefer a simpler, classic pocket knife version, the CRKT M16-02SS is an excellent choice from the M16 Series.

Best Budget Tanto

Kershaw Emerson CQC-7K

Ernest Emerson is a legend in the knife world, making his first knife–a balisong–on his dining room table for his Filipino martial arts class. A visit to a gun show turned him on to folders, and the rest is history. For those with tight budgets, we highly recommend you take a look at the Kershaw Emerson CQC-7K. Here’s your chance to own a knife designed by Emerson, but at a ridiculously affordable price. With the Kershaw Emerson series, you get his experienced eye for tactical design combined with Kershaw’s exceptional engineering.

Take a look now at the  Kershaw Emerson CQC-7K from the Kershaw Emerson Series,

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