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Difference Between Swords and Knives

Both swords and knives both have their place in Japanese culture. Did you know there are some key differences between swords and knives? Their swords were created for combat, while knives are more of a tool. Besides the sizes of the two, there are additional differences to be aware of. Here, we will dive into the unique characteristics for both swords and knives.  

Differences Between Swords and Knives


Many steels that are desirable for knives do not make for good sword blades. Knives can be made from very hard materials, as well as stainless steel, which would be too brittle for a sword. While stainless steel is a desirable material for knives because of its corrosion resistance, anything over 12 inches would be too brittle for functional use. Swords made of stainless steel are mostly wall-hangers and should not be used for anything more than display since they are at high risk of breaking off with enough stress put on the steel.


Knives are made to be razor sharp, while swords benefit from a convex edge. A majority of a sword’s strength is in the power of the swing, and with such a great force, the edge needs to be durable enough to withstand heavy blows. This is why razor sharp sword blades are not desirable. While sharper and more deadly, the cutting edge can easily chip against hard targets. The edge of a sword is rounded (convex), similar to that of an axe, while some knife profiles can even be made hollowed (concave) for an extremely sharp cutting edge. Since not as much force is put on the knife’s edge, they can afford to have a significantly sharper edge than swords.


Knives are mostly tactical in nature, or for cutting and carving, while swords are made for combat. Swords are made for combat first and foremost, while knives are made to be used as tools, for mostly non-violent uses. The one exception would be the dagger, which had a similar construction to the sword, with a shorter blade, still made for combat. Knives have various possible uses, and some are designed with a specific purpose in mind. There are carving knives, kitchen knives, table knives, boning knives, cleavers, and more. Knives are multi-purpose, and swords are usually made with one purpose in mind, as a close-combat weapon.


Knives are generally 6 inches or less, while swords are generally a foot or longer. While there is no established cut-off between a knife and a sword as far as length. The longer the blade gets to a certain point, the more useful it becomes as a fighting weapon. Historically, most swords were quite long, as the greater length offered greater reach on the battlefield. As the blade gets shorter, it becomes a more convenient tool and reach is often not important for non-combat purposes.


The handle construction between knives and swords are different. Generally, the tang of the blade for knives is visible around the edges of the handle, while a sword’s tang is hidden inside the handle. This is why the German Messer is sometimes classified as a knife, even though it’s length is that of a sword. The defining characteristic of a messer is the handle construction. The tang is riveted between two pieces of wood, rather than fully encompassed inside a one-piece handle.

In Conclusion

Overall, swords and knives were built to be used differently. The main differences between swords and knives is how they’re built, the handling, and usage. With the exception of the dagger, knives were created to be tools while the swords were used in combat.