When to taper tangs and when not to

Sean Jones

Well-Known Member
Of those of you that taper tangs do you always taper, or do you have certain knives you taper and some you don't? I find myself frustrated with the tapered tangs that I've been doing and wondering if they are really worth extra effort.

Any comments appreciated.
 

Sean Jones

Well-Known Member
Personally, for 3/16 and over I taper, below that, I am not sure how much of a difference it makes.
That's what I was thinking. I just put a handle on a 1/8" Fish and Trout that I tapered the tang on, and I'm not seeing a lot of difference. However I'm not finished with the handle yet. But I had a devil of a time getting the bolster and the handle material to match up. As it is I can see some small gaps. When I did the KITH Bowie I tapered the tang and felt it was worth the extra effort. I'm not sure on these smaller knives.
 

Smallshop

KNIFE MAKER
Of those of you that taper tangs do you always taper, or do you have certain knives you taper and some you don't? I find myself frustrated with the tapered tangs that I've been doing and wondering if they are really worth extra effort.

Any comments appreciated.
I'm working on my first take down Bowie with a tapered tang....Seems like a lot more work than epoxying scales and grinding to fit...lol.
I'm sure some of it is learning curve...and yes I think it will be worth the effort. A handle with uninterrupted wood looks lovely...maybe a little better than a solid tang handle?

Hang in there...I feel your pain...lol
 

Sean Jones

Well-Known Member
I'm working on my first take down Bowie with a tapered tang....Seems like a lot more work than epoxying scales and grinding to fit...lol.
I'm sure some of it is learning curve...and yes I think it will be worth the effort. A handle with uninterrupted wood looks lovely...maybe a little better than a solid tang handle?

Hang in there...I feel your pain...lol
Thanks Ted. And glad to see you are feeling so much better.
I haven't done any hidden tangs yet. I suppose that would solve the problem all together, but most likely introduce a whole lot of new things to master. I'm hoping to do a hidden tang soon.
 

mike miller

KNIFE MAKER
I've always looked at 1/8 and above what handle material is going to be used. I know it shows a skill level to people if it is tapered and how well. To some of my friends, it is how thin you get them. Best I have seen is .003 and a .004 thick. They wave and bend with little pressure.
 

EdCaffreyMS

"The Montana Bladesmith"
IMO there is a VAST difference in the overall feel and balance of a knife with a tapered tang, versus one without. That being said, there is a limit on how thin the stock or blade is, and still gain anything in the way of feel and balance from tapering. Opinions seem to vary, but over my career, 3/16" and under has always been were most cease to install/use tapered tangs.

Personally, with the majority of my blades being forged, and nearly all of those having distal tapers forged in, it's just routine for me to have tapered tangs. If I were to say a specific thickness for my blades, most would be 1/4" +/- at the ricasso, and taper fore and aft from there.

Where I said previously that there is a vast difference between a knife with a tapered tang, and one without, then that goes double for a knife with distal tapers versus a knife that is equal thickness throughout it's length.

Some might scoff, but installing a distal taper (blade is thickest in the middle of the ricasso, and tapers both directions from there) will also create a blade that is not only lighter and better balanced, but also stronger as it applies to lateral stresses, then a blade of a single thickness throughout it's length.
How can that be? It's Physics.
What's the strongest structure? An arch. If you apply lateral force to a blade that is the same thickness throughout, those forces seek out, and concentrate in the weakest point, often ending in a broken blade. If a blade is tapered, and you apply that same lateral force, the blade basically turns into an arch....where the forces/stresses are equally distributed throughout the arch.....meaning that the blade will endure more force/stress before it bends or breaks, versus the aforementioned blade of equal thickness throughout it's length.

Distal tapers are a huge key for anyone seeking to test for ABS JS (I don't say MS too because by then, people know how important distal tapers are in a test blade). Over the years I've had a number of individuals fail their JS test, because their test blade did not have distal tapers, and even though the blades were differentially heat treated, they broke during the bending portion of testing.
 

Chris Railey

KNIFE MAKER
I taper my full tang knives when I need to balance a knife out. I just prefer the taper to drilling holes in the tang. I had not even thought of the testing issues Ed raised above. If you do not like to taper, drill holes. Some consider a tapered tang a sign of quality in a handmade knife. But like I said, I use it mainly to move the balance point of a knife.
 

Sean Jones

Well-Known Member
IMO there is a VAST difference in the overall feel and balance of a knife with a tapered tang, versus one without. That being said, there is a limit on how thin the stock or blade is, and still gain anything in the way of feel and balance from tapering. Opinions seem to vary, but over my career, 3/16" and under has always been were most cease to install/use tapered tangs.

Personally, with the majority of my blades being forged, and nearly all of those having distal tapers forged in, it's just routine for me to have tapered tangs. If I were to say a specific thickness for my blades, most would be 1/4" +/- at the ricasso, and taper fore and aft from there.

Where I said previously that there is a vast difference between a knife with a tapered tang, and one without, then that goes double for a knife with distal tapers versus a knife that is equal thickness throughout it's length.

Some might scoff, but installing a distal taper (blade is thickest in the middle of the ricasso, and tapers both directions from there) will also create a blade that is not only lighter and better balanced, but also stronger as it applies to lateral stresses, then a blade of a single thickness throughout it's length.
How can that be? It's Physics.
What's the strongest structure? An arch. If you apply lateral force to a blade that is the same thickness throughout, those forces seek out, and concentrate in the weakest point, often ending in a broken blade. If a blade is tapered, and you apply that same lateral force, the blade basically turns into an arch....where the forces/stresses are equally distributed throughout the arch.....meaning that the blade will endure more force/stress before it bends or breaks, versus the aforementioned blade of equal thickness throughout it's length.

Distal tapers are a huge key for anyone seeking to test for ABS JS (I don't say MS too because by then, people know how important distal tapers are in a test blade). Over the years I've had a number of individuals fail their JS test, because their test blade did not have distal tapers, and even though the blades were differentially heat treated, they broke during the bending portion of testing.
Thanks Ed. I currently have several small Bird and Trout knives that I've made with distal tapers. These are all 1/8". I have noticed a big difference in the feel before I put the handles on. They probably weigh half of what they did before grinding. And I like that feel.

I think I may have solved my biggest problem with the tapered tangs after reading your comments and others. I've been only tapering the tang up to where I've put the bolster and the area where the bolster is, is flat relative to the ricasso. Thus I end up with a gap and struggle to get everything lined up correctly. In the future I will just taper all the way to the ricasso.
 

Smallshop

KNIFE MAKER
Thanks Ted. And glad to see you are feeling so much better.
I haven't done any hidden tangs yet. I suppose that would solve the problem all together, but most likely introduce a whole lot of new things to master. I'm hoping to do a hidden tang soon.
Sorry! You meant back tapering the tang! I always mill out the inside under the scales to not have to taper. I think tapered tangs look lovely...but not part of my method....I have hidden tang on the brain right now...

Getting the balance correct is SOOO important. Even a person with no knife knowledge will sense the difference..."This one just feels right..."

So your question about tapering is even more important than I was stating in my ignorance of your question!


What Chris said....
"But like I said, I use it mainly to move the balance point of a knife."

What Ed said....

"IMO there is a VAST difference in the overall feel and balance of a knife with a tapered tang, versus one without. That being said, there is a limit on how thin the stock or blade is, and still gain anything in the way of feel and balance from tapering. Opinions seem to vary, but over my career, 3/16" and under has always been were most cease to install/use tapered tangs.

Personally, with the majority of my blades being forged, and nearly all of those having distal tapers forged in, it's just routine for me to have tapered tangs. If I were to say a specific thickness for my blades, most would be 1/4" +/- at the ricasso, and taper fore and aft from there. "


The Bowie that I am working on proves exactly what Ed is saying....No distal taper...but the taper of the hidden tang and the 7.5 blade length and being 1/4 thick moved the balance point to almost ideal...the Guard (which adds mass at the balance point) and handle should take it to the "end zone" for the TD...lol. A shorter blade would be more of a fight on balance with this buil I'm on.... I quoted Ed 'cause I think for us newer makers that is something we should tuck inside the noggin as a build directive...

...and they just look good...lol.
 
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Sean Jones

Well-Known Member
I taper my full tang knives when I need to balance a knife out. I just prefer the taper to drilling holes in the tang. I had not even thought of the testing issues Ed raised above. If you do not like to taper, drill holes. Some consider a tapered tang a sign of quality in a handmade knife. But like I said, I use it mainly to move the balance point of a knife.
I do like the feel of a tapered tang. In addition to the problem I mentioned in my reply to Ed, I just seem to spend a lot more time getting a tapered tang flat. I do seem to be getting better, though I still find the process frustrating.

All in all it's most likely my impatience taking over.
 

Chris Railey

KNIFE MAKER
I do like the feel of a tapered tang. In addition to the problem I mentioned in my reply to Ed, I just seem to spend a lot more time getting a tapered tang flat. I do seem to be getting better, though I still find the process frustrating.

All in all it's most likely my impatience taking over.
Maybe this will help? I am a keep it simple kind of person. I make a mark on the spine behind where the end of my scales will be so I do not grind too far forward. Then I make two or three marks on the spine going towards the pommel end of the tang spaced equally. I pull the tang across the platen perpendicular while it rests on the tool rest. I start at my first mark (near the end of the scales) and make two passes down the length of the tang. Then I move to the next mark and make two more passes to the end of the tang. Then I go to the final mark and make two pulls across. Then I flip the tang over and repeat on the other side. Then I start over. I do this until I am happy. Using the marks and going in sequence helps me keep things on an even continuous taper. I adapted this technique from when I use to grind tapers on bow limbs where you must have an even taper. If this does not make sense let me know and I will make a video which may help. Once you get the hang of it you will find it fool proof...That is the only reason it works for me...
 

Sean Jones

Well-Known Member
Maybe this will help? I am a keep it simple kind of person. I make a mark on the spine behind where the end of my scales will be so I do not grind too far forward. Then I make two or three marks on the spine going towards the pommel end of the tang spaced equally. I pull the tang across the platen perpendicular while it rests on the tool rest. I start at my first mark (near the end of the scales) and make two passes down the length of the tang. Then I move to the next mark and make two more passes to the end of the tang. Then I go to the final mark and make two pulls across. Then I flip the tang over and repeat on the other side. Then I start over. I do this until I am happy. Using the marks and going in sequence helps me keep things on an even continuous taper. I adapted this technique from when I use to grind tapers on bow limbs where you must have an even taper. If this does not make sense let me know and I will make a video which may help. Once you get the hang of it you will find it fool proof...That is the only reason it works for me...
That makes sense. I like that method. It's got a lot more control than the way I've doing it. I'll give it a try on my next one.

Thanks for the help
 
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