The truth about tangs.
The term “tang” refers to the portion of a blade that extends into the the hilt. Essentially it is the portion of a blade you grip and in many cases the grip itself is built up around the tang. There seems to be a general over-simplification in the way many people think about sword tangs. Lots of people are familiar with the terms “Full Tang” and Rattail Tang” and seem to use them as a type of short hand for functional vs. non functional tangs. However, there are many other types of tangs and as with most things sword related, the truth about them is not as cut and dry as many would assume.

 

Let’s start with the most popular term, “Full Tang”. This term is often somewhat misused. Over-simplified internet advise tells us that you want a “full tang” on your sword, anything else is a rattail and will just break. There is a bit of truth to this, full tangs are good, and rattails can be very poor, but it is not the full story. The actual meaning of the term “full tang” is a tang both as long and as wide as the grip. Think of a steak knife as an example, note how you can see the blade tang on the edges of the grip. This is the literal meaning of “full tang”. Many people will ask us if a particular sword is full tang, a question we can really not answer until we know if they are using the literal meaning of the term or are simply asking if it is a “functional tang”.

When we use the term, it will always refer to the full profile tang type described above. The correct term that should be used to designate a durable usable tang from a cheap decorative only one is “functional tang” or in some cases “full length tang”. Historically, most swords did not have a true full tang design. In most cases, the tang is cut thinner to allow for the grip to be built around it. By the literal meaning of the term, most historic swords are not “full tang”. This is why I feel it is important to start using the correct terms for what we are talking about. We as sword enthusiasts should make a point to use the correct terms and educate others to do so as well. When the terminology means the same thing to everyone, communicating a point is much easier.

Types of Tangs
Below is a list of the most popular tang types followed by more details and examples.

Full Tang
3/4 Length Tang
Push Tang
Full Length Tang
Rattail Tang
Welded / Extended Tang
Encapsulated Tang
Partial Tang
Half Tang
Stick Tang
Skeletonized Tang

Full Tang: As mentioned above a full tang is the full length and width of the grip. The tang is forged as one piece with the blade. This type is used on some knives, kukris and machetes and less often on some swords. An exception would be some stage combat swords where the grip is literally just the tang wrapped in leather.

3/4 Length Tang: This is your typical katana tang. It is technically a type of push tang. As the name would imply, it is usually about 3/4 of the length of the grip. This is the same method used on typical historic katana as well. I don’t think anyone would argue that the samurai did not use functional weapons. As such, this is our first example of a functional tang that is decidedly not “full tang”. In this tang type the blade is affixed to the hilt by way of bamboo pegs (mekugi) that go through both the grip and the tang itself. Historically, only one peg was used, but many modern katana use two pegs for added security.

Push Tang: As the name implies, a push tang is basically pushed into the grip and held in place by pins or adhesive. This again is a functional tang type if done properly. Some historic examples of this type include many Filipino and South East Asian swords, Indian swords such as the Talwar and many daggers, particularly ones with stone, jade or antler grips.

Full Length Tang: A full length tang is similar to a “full tang” but is not the full width of the grip, only the full length. Like all of the tangs listed above, it is forged as one piece with the blade. In this case the tang is decidedly thinner than the base of the blade allowing for a comfortably sized grip to be built around it. Most Medieval swords are this type, both historically and in reproductions. In some cases the end of the tang will go through the pommel and be peened in place, in others the end of the tang is threaded and the pommel is screwed on. Many people will refer to this as simply a full tang, but to avoid confusion with the definition above, Full length tang is a more accurate term.

Rattail Tang: A rattail tang is a tang that has been welded to the body of the blade. In many cases the tang is very thin. Sometimes the weld is right at the blade’s shoulders and sometimes there is a short piece of a true tang before the welded section. This method is popular with cheap decorative swords. This method is not appropriate for a functional sword. In this type of design, the weld happens to be at a point of great stress where the blade and hilt meet. As such, it is inherently weak. A common misconception is that any tang with a weld is a rattail tang. This however, is not actually the case. See below.

Welded or Extended Tang: While a Rattail tang places a weld close to the blade shoulders and the majority of the hilt is built around an extension, a welded tang is the opposite. In this case a portion of the tang is forged as one with the blade and will usually extend through the majority of the grip, but the final portion features an extension that has been welded on. This type should not be confused with the inferior Rattail tang. Generally this is done when the maker wants to transition from a hard blade steel to a softer steel to facilitate peening or threading. In most cases the weld is at the last inch of the tang, although some very long grips can feature longer extensions. What makes this type functional is the fact that the weld is placed well past the stress point of the shoulders. When done properly a weld can actually be stronger than the steel around it and some well respected manufacturers use this method with very good results.

Those are the main types of tangs you will encounter in most swords and daggers, but here are a few more that are common with other types of knives.

Encapsulated Tang: This is when the grip of the sword is molded directly onto the blade tang. It is more common with tactical items where they may be using a type of plastic for the grip.

Half Tang or Partial Tang: These are a bit different, but both basically mean that the tang is only partially the size of the grip. In other words, towards the end of the grip, there will be no tang. This method is not very useful for most swords, but can be common in modern knives.

Stick Tang: This term is used mostly with knife makers to differentiate from a full tang. As implied, it is a thinner tang where the grip is built up around it. It is a bit more of a catch all term, while the ones above are a bit more specific.

Skeletonized Tang: This is kind of like a full tang with cut outs or holes in it. This is usually only seen on some modern knives.

Hopefully this information will help clear up some of the misconceptions that are so prevalent about blade tangs and provide a bit more understanding for those new to the hobby.


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