Knife

By Joseph A. McGeough

The same jagged crest on the Palaeolithic chopper that developed into the axe also developed into another broad tool category, the knife, which combined a uniquely shaped sharp blade with a handle that optimized the position of the cutting edge. In contrast to the blades of the axe, adz, chisel, or plane, the motion of a knife is a slicing action made in the direction of its edge.

The first hafting of stone knives may have taken the form of a protective pad of leaves or grass. Next, pieces of flint were set into grooves of wooden handles and cemented with resin or bitumen to leave the sharp cutting edges exposed. The Metal Age produced a longer and tougher blade that could be set into a handle, or riveted to a handgrip. Some knives, such as surgical knives and razors, were cast with a handle (self-handled). Copper, bronze, and iron blades were hammered to produce a locally hard edge.

Aside from the utilitarian use of the knife in the field, kitchen, and workshop, variations giving it the status of a weapon appeared in the form of daggers and short and long swords. The stabbing dagger probably had its origin in the Neolithic Period, although an effectively thin and adequately strong blade did not appear until the Iron Age.

Hunting knives, equally useful as fighting knives, developed an overall style, proportion, and balance that changed little over the centuries after the introduction of iron. The first known folding knife is a Roman model of the 1st century CE. Beginning in the late Middle Ages, many improvements in detail were introduced. These included fancy handles and springs and locks for the blade.

As individual crafts emerged, an impressive number of convenient but single-purpose knives were fashioned to suit the specialized tasks of various craftspersons, including goldbeaters, farriers, shoemakers, and farmers.

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