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Cutlery 101: How to Properly Use and Care for Each Part of a Knife

Want to be on the cutting edge? Get to know the parts of your knife with this useful guide from "Martha Stewart's Homekeeping Handbook."

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Tip. Use the pointed end of the knife for piercing, precision cutting, and slicing scallions, mushrooms, and other small foods. Treat it with care -- never, for example, use the tip of the knife for prying something open.

Cutting edge. This side of the knife blade has been ground to a very thin, very sharp point. It is used, of course, for most types of cutting and slicing. The edge dulls just a bit wth every use, and must be honed and sharpened regularly.

Back. Also referred to as the spine, this side of the blade is thicker and blunter than the cutting edge. You may steady it with the heel of your hand or grip it with your fingers as you work.

Heel. When using the blade's base, known as the heel, you can get better leverage than when using the tip, making this the part of the blade for heavy-duty cutting, such as through a chicken-bone joint or a dense, hard root vegetable.

Bolster. The bolster is the thick metal section between the blade and the handle. It used to be found only on forged blades (those hand-hammered from metal), but some manufacturers today are attaching bolsters to machine-stamped blades. The bolster provides a knife with both balance and stability, making it easy to use and comfortable to hold.

Shoulder. This is where the blade thickens as it meets the handle. In kitchen knives, it keeps chopped items from moving back toward the hand as they pile up.

Tang. This is the part of the blade that extends into the handle. High-quality knives generally have a full tang, which means the metal extends all the way to the butt of the knife, and is cut to the same shape as the handle (which is riveted to or molded around the tang). A full tang gives a knife durability and balance.

Butt. The back end of the knife is known as the butt. On a knife with a full tang and riveted handle, the tang is visible at the butt, between the two pieces of the handle.

Scales. The pieces used to make a knife handle are called scales.