What Is A Tanto Knife Used For?

By Ryan Leavitt •  Updated: 03/29/21 •  5 min read

The Japanese have always created distinct oriental designs.

From teapots, fans, and even cutlery.

Wanted to add a touch of Japan to your home?

You may get a Tanto knife as well!

The history

This could be your first time hearing about this knife and it would be better to know its roots first.

It started from the Heian period in Japan (between 794 to 1185), where it was used as a weapon.

In this period, the warrior class gained power in society making this a practical choice.

Tanto means a short sword, and one of the traditionally made Japanese swords.

Though samurai warriors are more famous for using katana (probably due to their depiction in movies and TV), they carry this for a last line of defense.

Originally, it doesn’t have any intricate designs on it, and usually smaller than the tanto knives that are sold today.

However, in the 15th century, war and conflict in Japan had a negative effect on this knife.

It became too popular that it entered mass production.

The artistic design and aesthetic appeal were lost, including the blade quality.

In the 18th century Japan, life generally became more peaceful.

Fighting has significantly decreased, including the production of this knife.

The presence of new Japanese knife designs has lost the popularity of the Tanto.

Used for self-protection, World War II made the Tanto gain popularity again.

Production has copied previous centuries’ design.

For display or for everyday use, owning a Tanto is like having a piece of Japanese history in your home.

What is it?

A Tanto knife has a sharply angled tip, some with a very small belly (the traditional tanto is straight, with no belly) on the blade which can make a slight rocking version in a flat surface or chopping board.

One of its well-known characteristics is the chisel-like tip angles.

A typical tanto blade has a strong blade, and perfect for stabbing through hard materials.

Some have double-bladed versions too.

A Traditional Japanese Tanto is usually 10 to 12 inches long and does not look the same as the current Tanto knives.

However, as we mentioned about its history, it had different design sets with its own characteristics especially when it entered mass production.

Through the years, it still kept its size to be smaller than a katana (which is about 23 to 30 inches).

Many of the modern Tanto knives just use the blade’s shape and characteristics and use it in another form such as folding knives.

This product is easy to sharpen too, because of its mostly straight edge.

Taking care of this one may depend on the blade steel it is used for since modern tanto knives vary on the material used as well.

What is it used for?

Coming from its history, a Tanto is used as a weapon.

Some still use this as a tactical knife, which can be helpful for hunting.

Modern Tanto knives take the shape of the traditional tanto blade and infused it into pocket knives or tactical knives.

Having a strong tip, a tanto blade is great for piercing or stabbing.

It looks cool while being a weapon for self-defense.

Modern tanto knives in pocketable sizes are also considered EDC (everyday carry), which can be used in daily all-purpose functions and for emergency purposes.

Using a Tanto knife for slicing will not be easy.

It can only slice effectively if you have a grasp of the technique on how to use the knife well.

Since it has little to no belly, it is not preferred for food preparation.

It will also be hard to remove the skin from the meat when it comes to preparing animals that been captured from hunting.

Its flat and strong tip is perfect for cutting objects with a flat surface, like how an office cutter works.

Open mail or cut paper with ease (just be careful not to scratch the surface you are working on!).

Where to buy it?

It’s not every day that we hear the ‘tanto knife’.

However, there is a bigger chance that it is available in specialty knife stores.

Since this kind of knife already exists for a long period of time, some of them are considered vintage and antique.

It became a collectible item that can cost hundreds and even thousands of dollars.

The easiest way to find one is buying online, but with its price tag beware of fraud or scams.

Try reading seller reviews or buy from someone that is trusted based on review sites or pages.

Modern tanto knives can be bought in many online retailers.

Since most of them are just using the blade design of a traditional tanto, make sure that you also consider the blade height, length, and handle.

The most important factor in owning and using a knife is that the owner should be comfortable in using it.


The tanto knife has a rich Japanese history, where the traditional pieces are perfect for display and the modern ones have great functionality.

Though events that happened in Japan’s history have greatly affected the original characteristics of a tanto blade, it still maintained its chisel-like tip which is the defining description of this knife.

Ryan Leavitt

Hi my name is Ryan Leavitt a Marine Corps Veteran and currently an over the road trucker (Long Haul). I am no expert chef but am enjoying preparing my own meals on the road and testing all the different knives.