Are Tanto Knives the Right Choice for You?

Tanto knives, with their distinctive angular design and rich history, have long fascinated knife enthusiasts. But the question remains: Are they the right choice for you? In this exploration of the world of tanto knives, their origins, variations, and the pros and cons of using them, we’ll help you determine if these unique blades are the perfect fit for your needs.

Uncovering the Origins of the Tanto Blade

The tanto blade boasts a history that stretches back a millennium, originating during Japan’s Heian period. These blades were meticulously crafted for one primary purpose: to provide formidable, armor-piercing power in close-quarter or confined combat. The design of the tanto, featuring clean lines and a triangular, thick point, made it ideal for both stabbing and slashing. Warriors of the time understood that in close quarters, a full-length sword was impractical and risked collateral damage. This unique blade served as the “indoor knife” that allowed for precise, controlled strikes.

Tanto Knives: A Marriage of Form and Function

While the tanto initially emerged as a practical combat tool, it didn’t take long for its design to evolve into something more. During Japan’s Kamakura period, the philosophy of Japanese aesthetics began to influence the tanto’s design. This marked a shift towards combining beauty with function, embracing the idea that everyday objects and tools could be both utilitarian and aesthetically pleasing. As a result, the tanto blade acquired not only functionality but also an exquisite design. It became a symbol of beauty in the world of blades. In some instances, tanto daggers, known as kwaiken or kaiken, were even given to brides as self-defense weapons, particularly among Bushi families, where combat skills were a way of life.

American Influence on Tanto Blades

The American tanto blade differs from its Japanese counterpart, and this distinction can be attributed to key knifemakers like Bob Lum. When the tanto design was introduced to Western audiences, it underwent changes that would cater to the preferences of a new audience. Knifemakers like Lynn Thompson and companies like Cold Steel played significant roles in popularizing the design, incorporating modifications like a more prominent and triangular tip. The Americanized tanto is typically shorter, making it more convenient for everyday carry, whether as a fixed blade or a pocket knife. Additionally, it usually has less curvature in the belly of the blade. The streamlined Western tactical tanto gained popularity, particularly in the 1980s.

Pros and Cons of Tanto Blades: A Deeper Look

Tanto blades, with their distinct design, have garnered a loyal following among knife enthusiasts. To make an informed decision about whether a tanto blade is right for your needs, it’s crucial to delve deeper into the pros and cons:


  1. Superior Piercing Capability: Tanto blades are renowned for their exceptional piercing capabilities. The triangular tip of a tanto blade is designed to excel in penetration, making it ideal for tasks that require a sharp and sturdy point. This design feature is especially valuable in self-defense situations and tactical applications where precision is essential.
  2. Secondary Tip: One of the unique attributes of tanto blades is the presence of a secondary tip. This secondary point, often referred to as the chisel tip, serves as an added tool in various situations. When used with care, it can function like a sharp chisel, allowing for fine and controlled cutting or scraping tasks. This not only enhances the knife’s functionality but also adds to its distinctive design, making it a versatile tool for a variety of cutting needs.
  3. Prying: Tanto blades are known for their strength, and this is particularly evident in the reinforced tip. In emergency situations where prying is necessary, the robust tanto tip can be relied upon. It provides added strength and durability, making it suitable for tasks that may cause damage to a knife under normal circumstances. This feature can be especially valuable in survival situations, where adaptability and resilience are key.


  1. Sliciness: While tanto blades excel in piercing, their design can be less suited for slicing tasks. The absence of a curved belly, which is a characteristic of many other blade shapes, can make slicing through objects more challenging. Tanto blades are better suited for tasks that require a stabbing or thrusting motion rather than those that demand smooth and continuous slicing.
  2. Sharpening: Tanto blades have a unique double-edged design that requires extra attention during sharpening. Sharpening tanto blades can be a time-consuming and demanding process, especially if you’re not experienced. The transition point between the two edges needs to be carefully maintained to prevent it from rounding over time. Proper sharpening equipment and technique are crucial to maintain the sharpness and effectiveness of a tanto blade.

Tanto blades offer a blend of unique features that cater to specific tasks and preferences. Their superior piercing capability, secondary tip, and prying strength make them well-suited for self-defense, tactical applications, and survival scenarios. However, their limitations in slicing tasks and the need for careful sharpening should be considered when deciding if a tanto blade is the right choice for your needs. Understanding the pros and cons can help you make an informed decision based on your specific requirements and intended use.

Selecting the Perfect Tanto Knife for Your Needs

Choosing the right tanto knife is a highly personal decision, as it depends on your specific preferences, budget, and intended use. Here, we’ll explore some excellent options across various categories, helping you find the perfect tanto knife to meet your needs:

Best Budget Tactical Tanto: CRKT M16-14ZLEK

Designed by the renowned Kit Carson, the CRKT M16-14ZLEK is a folding tanto pocket knife that has gained favor among soldiers and rescue personnel. Here’s why it’s an excellent choice:

  • Versatile Design: This knife features an oversized flipper that serves a dual purpose – it functions as both a seatbelt cutter and a glass breaker. In emergency situations, having these additional tools integrated into your knife can be a lifesaver.
  • LAWKS Safety Lock: The CRKT M16-14ZLEK includes the LAWKS (Lake and Walker Knife Safety) system, a significant safety feature that ensures the blade remains securely in place during use. This is especially valuable for those who rely on their knives in high-pressure situations.

Best Budget EDC Tanto: Kershaw Emerson CQC-7K

The Kershaw Emerson CQC-7K is an affordable tanto knife designed by Ernest Emerson. Here’s why it’s an excellent choice for those on a tight budget:

  • Tactical Expertise: Ernest Emerson is a legend in the knife world, and this knife showcases his experience in tactical design. It offers exceptional engineering, ensuring that it can handle demanding tasks despite its budget-friendly price.
  • Compact and Portable: The CQC-7K is designed for everyday carry (EDC), with a compact form factor that makes it easy to carry in your pocket. It’s a reliable tool that’s always at hand when you need it.

Best Crossbar Lock Tanto: Benchmade Bailout

The Benchmade Bailout is known for its lightweight yet durable construction. Here’s why it’s an excellent choice for those seeking a tanto knife with a crossbar lock:

  • Optimal Strength-to-Weight Ratio: Benchmade prides itself on the “optimal strength-to-weight ratio” of the Bailout. It uses superior materials that reduce weight while maintaining durability, making it a versatile and dependable option.
  • AXIS Lock: The coveted AXIS lock is featured in the Benchmade Bailout. It’s a robust and reliable locking mechanism that provides exceptional strength and functionality, ensuring the blade remains secure during use.

Best OTF Tanto: Microtech Ultratech Tanto

The Microtech Ultratech Tanto is a top-of-the-line out-the-front (OTF) automatic knife. Here’s why it’s a favorite among knife enthusiasts:

  • Precision and Speed: The Ultratech is celebrated for its precision and double-action deployment. It deploys the tanto blade with lightning speed, making it a practical choice for those who appreciate quick access to their knife.
  • Flagship OTF: The Ultratech is Microtech’s flagship OTF knife, setting the standard for out-the-front automatic knives. It’s favored for its exceptional quality and performance, making it a top choice among knife enthusiasts.

Best Budget Automatic Tanto: Boker Kalashnikov Tanto

The Boker Kalashnikov Tanto is an affordable automatic knife that has maintained its popularity over the years. Here’s why it’s an excellent budget-friendly choice:

  • Aerodynamic Excellence: The Kalashnikov is praised for its aerodynamic design and quality. Despite its budget-friendly price, it continues to be relevant and reliable, offering a cost-effective option for automatic knife enthusiasts.
  • Reputation for Quality: Boker Kalashnikov knives have a well-established reputation for quality. Their durability and performance have made them a favorite among those seeking a reliable automatic knife that won’t break the bank.

Now that you are well-acquainted with tanto knives, you might be wondering which one suits you best. The decision depends on your specific needs and preferences. Consider the primary intended use of your knife, your sharpening skills, and your personal style when making a choice.

In conclusion, tanto knives combine a unique blend of history, design, and functionality. They have evolved from being purely combat tools to encompassing beauty, everyday utility, and versatility. With the influence of American knifemakers, tanto knives have garnered a significant following in the West. Understanding their advantages and limitations will help you make an informed decision when selecting the right tanto knife for your needs.

You can explore more information about Tanto knives on otfknifehq. There are plenty of other knife options available for your selection.

Leave a comment