When it comes to cutting through bone, not all knives are created equal. The ability to cut through hard materials like bone depends largely on the knife’s design, materials, and construction. In this article, we’ll look at the key factors that enable a knife to cut bone effectively, and explore some of the best knife types and brands for the job.
What Makes a Knife Able to Cut Bone?
There are a few key elements that give a knife the strength and durability to cut through tough materials like bone without damaging the blade:
- Blade material – Harder blade materials like high-carbon steel are best for cutting bone. Softer stainless steel may chip or dull more easily.
- Blade thickness – A thicker, heavier blade is more rigid and less likely to bend or break when cutting through bone. Thinner blades may flex or snap.
- Blade design – A stronger tip, thicker spine, full tang, and general durability of design enable a knife to withstand the forces of cutting bone.
- Edge geometry – The blade’s grind (shape) and edge angles impact cutting ability. Flat grinds with more acute edges excel at cutting hard materials.
- Strength – The knife’s construction should be robust overall to prevent bending, breaking, or loosening over time with bone cutting use.
Knives that possess these qualities are much more capable when it comes to cutting through tough bone without damage to the blade.
Best Knife Types for Cutting Bone
Based on the above criteria, these are some of the best kinds of knives for cutting through bone:
Fixed Blade Hunting Knives
Designed for field dressing game, skinning, and butchering, thick fixed blade hunting knives are excellent for cutting through bone. They have robust, full tang designs with thick, rigid blades ideal for cutting bone without damage. Popular materials are high carbon tool steels and powder metallurgy steels that resist chipping and wear. The rigid blades and non-folding design provide controlled cutting power. Many feature ergonomic handles for grip and finger guards for safety when cutting bone and sinew. Top fixed blade hunting knife brands include Buck, ESEE, Benchmade, Havalon, and Spyderco.
Survival knives share many traits with hunting knives, with stout fixed blade designs optimized for challenging cutting tasks. From chopping and batoning wood to cutting meat and bone, survival knives are designed to withstand significant impact forces without breaking. They have thick, full tang blades with spine thickness and reinforced tips. High carbon tool steels like 1095 and 3V hold an edge well when processing bone. The best survival knife brands include Ka-Bar, Gerber, SOG, Cold Steel, TOPS, and ESEE.
Butcher’s cleavers are designed specifically for cutting through meat and bone. They have very thick, rigid blades that are durable and resistant to impact. Cleaver blade shapes also make them suitable for chopping type cuts. Well-designed cleavers will have an appropriate balance between the heavy blade and ergonomic handle to facilitate control when cutting bone. Carbon steel is a common cleaver blade material. F. Dick, Dexter-Russell, and Victorinox make quality cleaver knife options.
While narrower than other knives listed, quality boning knives are capable of cutting and slicing meat and poultry down to the bone. They combine a narrow, pointed blade with a robust overall design and thicker blade stock. This enables dextrous cutting and separation of meat, tendons, and cartilage from bones. Boning knives must be rigid enough to avoid bending and flexible enough for precision work. High carbon steel boning knives with ergonomic handles from Victorinox, Mercer Culinary, and Global are excellent performers when boning poultry and red meat.
Important Knife Features for Cutting Bone
In addition to the overall knife styles mentioned, there are some specific knife features and components that enable effective bone cutting:
A full tang design where the metal of the blade extends fully through the handle provides much greater strength and stability when cutting against bone. Partial or stick tang designs are more prone to loosening over time with forceful bone cutting tasks.
A bolster provides a transition area of thicker blade material near the handle on some knives. This adds rigidity right at the fulcrum area on a knife for bone cutting. Bolsters also protect the hand from contacting the blade edge.
The handle should facilitate a secure grip, even when wet. Materials like G-10, Micarta, rubberized Kraton, and textured polymers provide grip. Wood or plastic handles can become slippery with moisture, blood, and the fat content of meat and bone.
A substantial finger or hand guard creates a stop to prevent the hand from sliding onto the blade. This is an important safety feature when making forceful cuts against bone.
A pommel is an enlarged metal end portion on the base of some handles. Besides balancing weight, it can serve as a striking or crushing tool for breaking bone if needed.
A thicker blade spine adds strength and rigidity at the area farthest from the edge. This reduces flexing of the blade when cutting against hard bone material.
Some knives use special coatings like titanium nitride or DLC (diamond-like coating) to improve corrosion resistance and reduce drag when cutting. These can be beneficial properties when cutting bone under challenging field conditions.
Using Technique to Cut Bone
Technique is also important for cutting bone effectively and safely. Here are some tips:
- Make sure the knife is sharp. A dull blade requires more force and control suffers.
- Support the item being cut if possible for stability.
- Use smooth strokes, avoiding an abrasive sawing motion.
- Use the full blade for depth and thickness for control.
- Allow the knife to glide through the cut without forcing.
- Keep knuckles from contacting the blade by gripping the handle securely.
- Avoid bending the wrist, use arm extensions for bigger cuts.
- Watch out for snap back of bones when cutting through.
Proper cutting technique allows you to cut cleanly through bone without fighting the blade or losing control.
Maintenance for Bone Cutting Knives
To maintain knives used for bone cutting:
- Hone frequently to realign and straighten the edge.
- Sharpen regularly before extensive dulling occurs.
- Use sharpening systems designed for harder blade steels.
- Clean thoroughly after use to avoid residue building up.
- Oil carbon steel blades to inhibit corrosion.
- Avoid cutting hard materials not intended for the knife.
- Store securely in a knife block, sheath, or magnetic strip.
With proper care and maintenance, quality bone cutting knives can retain their edge and last for years of useful service.
Cutting through bone requires a knife specifically designed for the task. Thick, rigid fixed blade knives with high carbon steel blades are best suited to cutting hard materials like bone without bending, chipping, or breaking. Key design elements include full tang handles, finger guards, spine thickness, and blade geometry optimized for cutting force. Technique is also important for control and safety. Maintaining the edge through honing and sharpening helps the knife perform optimally. Investing in a good quality hunting, survival, cleaver, or boning knife means having the right tool when the need for cutting through bone arises.