What is a tanto knife?
The Tanto blade was originally developed in Japan. It’s a knife that can be a double or a single sided dagger. The blade was usually around 6-12 inches in length, san mei construction and differentially heat treated to create a hamon. It was used by Japanese Samurai as a slashing and stabbing weapon. They looked like this:
In recent years, the tanto knife has been modernized in America and looks like this:
The modern tanto blade still has an upswept/trailing point blade but the grind of the knife, the bevel and the tip are very different. Many modern tantos also have a guard where as traditional Japanese tanto knives did not have a guard.
The first half of this article will cover tradional tantos, the second half will cover modern tanto knives that you can buy. Skip straight to modern American tanto blades.
Tanto Knife History
As an introduction to historical tanto’s, check this out:
During the Heian Period (794-1185), the blade was developed as a killing weapon. During this period, the Fujiwara family rose to power and had control over Japan. They needed protection from dissidents and rebels and the soldiers that served the Fujiwara became known as Samurai and they used the Tanto blade as a combat knife and brought the Tanto into combat with them. Being specifically designed as a weapon, Tanto’s do not excel at bushcraft activities like wood carving.
Originally the long tachi sword was used which was suitable for outdoor combat, but next to useless in a narrow hallway or for house fighting. The Tanto served this purpose ideally as it was strong, but thin at the same time and it could be used as a stabbing and killing weapon in close quarters combat situations.
The Tanto was forged so the sides of the weapon have no ridge lines which is different from the Katana blade. Japanese women carried a smaller version which was called the kaiken and they used this blade for self defense. There’s two main categories of Tantos which are called koshiraetantos and Sugutatantos.
During the years 1185-1333, there were more artistic Tanto knives being developed.The blade went from a weapon to more ornamental in nature in both function and appearance. Bladesmiths developed new blade types, syles, and widths of blades. There was real development in the blade at this time, but it wouldn’t last. Japan went through a lot of fighting between 1336-1573, as the Kamakura Shogunate fell so the artistic Tanto blades diminished and they were mass produced to fuel the needs of the Japanese soldiers. The blade became narrower so the excess material could be made into more blades for combat. They bladesmiths dropped the ceremonial aspects of the blades and began to produce them on mass to keep pace with war needs.
After WWII, the use of blades was banned in Japan, but the efforts of American and European blade enthusiasts saw a resurgence of these weapons in the 1960s and today we see new Tanto inspired blades from companies such as Cold Steel in the USA.
Here’s a video of how a tanto knife would have been traditionally forged. Notice how he adds water to the anvil? That’s an ancient Japanese bladesmith technique to blow off scale that develops during the forging process.
Tanto blade Designs
There’s various Tanto blade designs. There’s also a whole host of other blade styles and options with both short and long blades being offered. Here’s a few of the Japanese styles which are as follows:
This is the most common Tanto style blade. There’s a triangular cross section since the edge bevels form the back to the edges of the blade and there’s no flat pints in between this. The blade is a simple one to made and it’s a single-sided blade.
These have a wide and long groove which runs halfway up the blade from the back to the front. The back half of this blade is usually not sharpened on the second edge. This is not a very common Tanto blade.
This is a rare double-sided Tanto. This blade tampers off to a longer point and there’s a diamond cross section shape.
This is a very rare Tanto blade and it’s a curved blade. Only the inside of the curve is sharpened and there’s not sharp point to it can’t be used as a stabbing weapon to any great effect.
Buying a traditional Tanto
When I buy historical weapons I try to buy them as accurately as possible. I like the feeling of holding something very similar in my hand to what an ancient warrior would have held. The blade design of what I wanted, to be able to match a historical tanto, was fairly simple. A bit of a trailing edge, about 10-12 inches long, flat grind, folded steel, a classic point of the blade for extra thrusting capabilities and a differential heat treat.
When it came to the handle and guard (tsuba) things became a bit more complicated. Seeing as one of the main reasons for a tanto was for it to be a weapon of last resort and it needed to be able to pierce through armor, it has to have a guard. I did a lot of research but couldn’t really find what I was looking for when it came to design but eventually decided to consult museum pieces to see what was most common. By far and away the most common handle and guard design involved dragons – https://www.mfa.org/search?search_api_views_fulltext=dragon+tsuba so that’s what I decided to go for.
When shopping I couldn’t find exactly what I was after so I decided I’d need to design my own tanto to get exactly what I wanted. When buying a piece like this, it should last a lifetime so I want to get exactly what I want.
At Samurai Swords Store you can make your own custom tanto – https://samuraiswords.store/buy/custom-tanto and that’s exactly what I went for.
Below I’ll compare it in size to some well known blades so you can get a proper feel for how big this beast is.
The above blade is one of the favorite blades I own. It’s razor sharp, excellent overall quality and the type of piece I’ll be admiring for the rest of my life and pass on to my son. When you get a knife like this you can really appreciate the old world charm they have, especially when you compare them to modern blades, a lot of which seem soulless.
If you’ve got any questions about the blade drop me a line or contact the guys at Samarui Swords store. They’ve got standard tanto’s you can buy or you can custom design your own which is what I did – https://samuraiswords.store/buy/custom-tanto.
Here’s a couple of youtube clips of their katana’s in action.
American Tanto Blades Today
The Tanto knives today are based upon the older Japanese design. it’s still a short blade and inspired by the Samurai of old that used to wield them. The Tanto knife today is a little more decorative than those of old, but they are very functional and some militaries around the world use these blades as a secondary combat weapon.
The traditional tanto blade is around 6-12 inches. There’s two bevels with a shorter vertical one at the front and a longer straighter bevel the goes to the hilt. There can be both a single or a double-sided version, but most of the ones designed in the USA now are single sided as they are preferred over the double-sided design. The popular designs today are made by the Cold Steel company. The main difference in this blade form the Japanese version is that it has a stronger tip. There’s two separate edges and an angular tip. The American version also has many different options to choose from.
Tanto knife advantages
There’s a lot of metal at the front of the blade and a bevelled tip so there’s more penetration with the Tanto is combat situations. These blades are designed for combat and to penetrate. The Tanto blade excels in this area. The blade is also well suited to provide adequate defense.
- Good piercing blade
- Strong tip
- Unique look and design
Tanto knife disadvantages
There’s tow primary bevels with these blades so it’s harder to sharpen them. There’s also two flat edges and no belly on the blade so it can be difficult to slice with this weapon.
- Not good for slicing
- Harder to get sharp
The best modern Tanto knives
The Tanto has a long history. There’s many different Tanto blades to choose from and options in knives so you should find something that suits your needs.
|The 3V Recon Tanto by Cold Steel||7 inch blade||cpm 3-v high carbon||$$$||4.1 out of 5
|Black 1245 Tanto by Ka-bar||8 inch blade||1095 Cro-Van steel blade||$$||4.7 out of 5
|Prodigy Tanto by Gerber||4.75 inch blade||420HC||$||4.6 out of 5 stars
1) The 3V Recon Tanto by Cold Steel
The Recon Tanto is going to be the best type of tactical Tanto out there. It has a 7 inch fixed blade, full tang, and is almost a foot long. The Recon is widely used by law enforcement officers and special forces, especially the SWAT teams. It has done many field tests over the years and has even been used in active war zones around the world like Iraq and Afghanistan. This a knife that many soldiers will put their lives on. It is now a standard issue blade for Navy Seal candidates during BUDS training.
It is super durable. The full tang design has a pretty strong handle that is textured and shaped to really ensure that you have a maximum grip. The way this grip is, it won’t just slip out of your hands during a moment that you really need a blade. It even has a pretty unique fastening that will keep the handle from moving. The blade is made from steel and since it is CPM-3V steel, it is going to be one of the hardest steels out there for regular use. It has been made so that your blade can pierce armor without losing the edge or deforming the blade. An interesting fact is that Cold Steel actually test this knife by repeatedly stabbing steel drums. So you know that this blade can take a whole lot of abuse.
One of the drawbacks to this blade is that the knife is going to be a bit hard to sharpen unlike other blades made with a different steel. Then again, this isn’t your average hunting tool, it is actually a tactical weapon. When it comes down to have a great defensive weapon, The Recon Tanto is the way to go.
2) Black 1245 Tanto by Ka-bar
For decades the military has been using Ka-Bar combat knives and the Ka-Bar USMC fighting knife is one of my favorite survival knives. so there’s no surprise that the The 1245 is considered to be the best combat Tanto out on the market right now. So, what makes it so great? It has an 8 -inch steel blade. The steel is a carbon steel that will actually hold its edge when it is being abused, which also means when you need to you can easily sharpen it. It is a defense and attack knife, and the thick blade really gives it some hardcore piercing power. It is also a blade that is well used by law enforcement and soldiers. This blade is actually only a partial tang blade, so the tang is pressed inside of the pommel. This widens the tang so it will be held much more securely. This makes better balanced and gives it a way more comfortable grip. If your hands are wet or you are wearing gloves, it will still stay in your hand without any type of issue.
The handle is made from Kraton G. This is a newer and more advanced rubber. It is shaped, textured and grooved to ensure that you get the best grip. It also has a cross guard and large pommel, and this is really needed when you are trying to prevent cutting yourself when you are stabbing things. It has a unique sheath that you can attach to a MOLLE bag or even to your belt. Fair warning though, the button on the sheath can scratch your blade. This is just a little issue, but you can use this sheath for other types of Ka-Bar blades as well. Another cool thing about this blade is that it is USA made and its done in New York. So when you get yours, check out the stamp on the blade.
If you plan to carry this knife around, you may want to check the local laws in your area. Places like California you can carry an 8-inch blade as long as its not concealed, but if you live in Boston, it is very illegal to carry it. So keep this in mind, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t keep it in your home for home defense. For the price, this Tanto is a great weapon that just might save your life.
3) Prodigy Tanto by Gerber
If you have been searching for a tactical blade that is super comfortable to carry, easy to grab when needed and is silent, then you need the Prodigy. This is literally an urban carry or military deployment weapon. It has a full tang and it is about 10 inches long with about 5 inches being the blade itself. It is big enough to be used during combat, but small enough to use in a tight space, where using a full blade is a real disadvantage. This blade is also super light being under 8 ounces, so you can carry it with no problems for long periods of time.
It has a super sharp edge made form stainless steel. It is a very durable steel but it takes an edge and holds it easily. It also has a black oxide finish that keeps it resistant to corrosion and it keeps it from being reflective like other blades. The handle is on a full tang and has a contoured, grooved and textured grip that means its not going to slip out of your hand when you need it most. The grip is made from TacHide which is almost like rubber but it is more durable, and even flame resistant and works great in all temperatures and environments.
It also has a really nice nylon sheath. You can attach it to your MOLLE equipment, belt or just carry it. It has some pretty versatile carry options with the sheath and it is super quiet when you pull the blade out. You can also use the pommel to hammer things. Gerber claims its for breaking windows, but its more of a blunt trauma weapon if that need ever happens.
The only thing that some may not like about this blade is that is partially serrated. Think about it, this is a survival knife. 2 inches on a 5-inch blade isn’t going to work best for a saw, but you can use it to sharpen sticks to make arrows with, so its better than nothing. Minimal serration doesn’t stop the slicing power. The Prodigy is a really great Tanto that you won’t even realize that its there when you carry it. It has a low price, and it will give you a run for the money. Not bad and plus its made in the USA.
The Tanto knife along with the seax and the bowie is just one type of knife but it is one of my favorites.