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.
Below is a list of the most popular tang types followed by more
details and examples.
Full Length Tang
Welded / Extended 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
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
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.
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.