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Best Tanto Knives

Ah, the brains and beauty of a tanto. The structure of the blade appealed to me the moment I held one and got a first, good look. Angular and clean, and usually with a triangular thicker point, there’s something about the design that demands attention.

Where Did the Tanto Blade Sword/Knife Come From?

Invented about a thousand years ago, during the Japanese Heian period, Tanto blades were made for tough, armor-piercing power in close-up or confined fighting. It just takes one look at this “short sword,” and you see how perfect it would be in close quarters for stabbing and slashing. In other words, similar to when your parents would tell you to use your indoor voice because yelling in the house was just too much, warriors knew when to use their indoor knife because a sword would get in the way and stab the furniture and the wrong people.

Nowadays, we generally don’t carry swords around in daily life–maybe you do, but then you and I lead vastly different lives–and most of us have to make do with carrying our indoor knives. But with a tanto, it doesn’t feel like it. Tantos are LOUD. Though “tanto” may mean short blade or sword, the knife has impressive, aggressive lines that make up for any lack of length with fierceness in design.

But did you know that the blade shape evolved to be made for beauty, too? During the Kamakura period, the knife conformed to the philosophy of Japanese aesthetics: Beauty as well as function, and beauty in the everyday including objects and tools. (Hey, if you were going to be gutted by a Samurai warrior, at least you were killed with something pretty…) At some point, a tanto dagger called a kwaiken or kaiken was given to a bride and worn for self-defense, at least in Bushi families–those who fought for a living. The blade proved to be popular.

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America Changes the Tanto

What’s the difference between a Japanese tanto and an American tanto blade shape? I’m glad you asked.

Since the Japanese term tanto refers to length, the blade shape wasn’t necessarily the focus. But then tanto knifemaker Bob Lum introduced his version of the tanto to the Western audience, and not long after that Lynn Thompson and Cold Steel popularized the design after their own tinkering, which included the prominent tip. 

Basically, the Americanized version has a thicker point, which is more obviously triangular. The American tanto is also shorter, whether in its fixed blade or pocket knife incarnation, and a compact blade tends to be more convenient than an actual short sword. Also, an American tanto has less belly. 

The Western tactical, streamlined tanto has only become more popular since its acceptance in the 80s. There’s much to love about the Americanized version. 

Pros and Cons of a Tanto Blade


Superior Piercing Capability: Triangles are known for being super strong. The Tanto blade’s triangular tip excels at piercing, giving better performance and durability compared to other knife blade designs.

Secondary Tip: Tanto blades feature a secondary tip that can be used–with great care and depending on thickness–like a sharp chisel.  Additionally, this tip enhances the appearance in the design of the blade.

Prying: You can pry in a pinch. The reinforced tanto tip provides added strength, making it suitable for prying in an emergency where any damage you incur to your knife is acceptable in the given situation.


Sliciness: Slicing through objects without a curved belly can be challenging, but it still can be done. Just not as easily.

Sharpening: Tanto blades have two edges that require sharpening, making the process time-consuming and demanding. The transition point between the edges needs to be handled carefully or the sharp transition will “round” over time. Check out our article How to Sharpen a Tanto Blade.

Which is the Right Tanto for You?

Sprinkled across the internet I found this Japanese saying, “the spirit within the sword always chooses its rightful owner.” Makes me think of Ollivander’s Wand Shop where the wand chooses its wizard in Harry Potter. Waiting for the sword–or fixed blade, automatic tanto, or pocket knife to pick you sounds like a singular experience, but getting to choose your own is fun, too. See which of the below speaks to you.

Best Budget Tactical Tanto




If you want the folding tanto pocket knife that’s a favorite with soldiers and rescue personnel, look no further than the CRKT Carson M16-14ZLEK. The late Kit Carson designed the M16 series, and this is the model that was huge part of putting the CRKT brand on the map. This beauty has an oversized flipper that doubles a seatbelt cutter and a glass breaker. Also, the LAWKS safety lock is a big plus.

If you love the CRKT M16-14ZLEK but would prefer a simpler, classic pocket knife version, the CRKT M16-02SS is an excellent choice from the M16 Series

Best Budget Tanto


Kershaw Emerson CQC-7K

Ernest Emerson is a legend in the knife world, making his first knife–a balisong–on his dining room table for his Filipino martial arts class. A visit to a gun show turned him on to folders, and the rest is history. For those with tight budgets, we highly recommend you take a look at the Kershaw Emerson CQC-7K. Here’s your chance to own a knife designed by Emerson, but at a ridiculously affordable price. With the Kershaw Emerson series, you get his experienced eye for tactical design combined with Kershaw’s exceptional engineering.

Take a look now at the  Kershaw Emerson CQC-7K from the Kershaw Emerson Series,

Best Budget EDC Tanto



CIVIVI lets you have your choice of colorways for the Brazen—a fabulous, everyday carry pocket knife that’s proved to be immensely popular. You can also currently choose between a tanto or drop point blade, and both are clear winners, but there is something about that tanto blade when paired with this design that just seems to align perfectly. The blade has a relatively wide profile and incorporates an elegant swedge at the tip that hints at sweeping movement.

Love, love the thumb stud openers and flipper, too. Perhaps best of all, the CIVIVI Brazen’s fidget factor of the is wonderfully satisfying.

Best Crossbar Lock Tanto


Benchmade Bailout

There is something about a super-tough tactical knife that’s also lightweight and fun to carry. Like Benchmade says, it has the “optimal strength-to-weight ratio” with superior materials that cut weight while maintaining durability. Their aluminum pommel is perfect for use with a lanyard and the excellent steel is sharp and dependable.

The handsome, highly-versatile tanto blade is paired with the coveted AXIS lock, supporting loads in excess of 200 pounds which is why this tanto-bladed knife definitely makes the cut. Check out our Benchmade Bailout selection.

Best Fixed Blade Tanto


Cold Steel Recon Tanto

A list of tanto knives is incomplete without mentioning the Cold Steel Recon tanto. The Recon is renowned for its durability and reliability in demanding situations. This exceptional blade has proven its worth over the course of two decades, undergoing rigorous testing by elite military units and SWAT teams all over the world. Cold Steel is known for their tactical blades, especiallly the ultra-durable fixed blades. Cold Steel’s point is particularly resistant to bending or breaking because of reinforcement by the full thickness of the blade’s spine, which runs almost to the very tip of the blade. This is a serious chopper that will be your trusty sidekick whether you find yourself in a tactical situation or are bushcrafting in the woods.

This version of the Cold Steel Recon Tanto from the Cold Steel Recon Series is built with an SK-5 steel blade and a high-performance Kray-Ex handle.

Best High End Tanto


Chaves Redencion Tanto

We’re big fans of Chaves for good reason. The Chaves Redencion Tanto’s allure lies in its beautifully executed blade grinds, showcasing the fusion of a hollow main grind that transitions perfectly into a flat secondary grind. This combo sets the blade apart from the crowd, somehow making a bold statement within its minimalist lines. This knife is durable pocket art made of the highest-quality titanium and steel, and it’s wicked sharp, too. A sleek, strong design that will be a star in any collection. I know I want one in mine!

This version of the Chaves Redencion 229 with a tanto blade has the Lee Williams Kickstop flipper tab!

Best OTF Tanto


Microtech Ultratech Tanto

While all Microtech Tanto knives are simply superb, we have to pick just one and that honor goes to the Ultratech Tanto. It’s a great sized piece that’s sits solidly in your hand, and the out-the-front, automatic action deploys this sleek and sharp tanto with perfection. We can’t get enough of this exceptional knife with the to-die-for double action. The Ultratech is Microtech’s flagship OTF and set the standard for all out-the-front automatic knives.

This Microtech Ultratech Tanto is a Blade HQ employee and customer favorite. Check out our Microtech Ultratech Review to see what makes this the King of OTF Knives!

Best Budget Automatic Tanto

Photo of Boker Kalashnikov Automatic Knife in Desert Warrior, displayed on reclaimed wood box.
Boker Kalashnikov Automatic Knife in Desert Warrior.


Boker Kalashnikov Tanto

Here at the HQ, we sometimes get in heated discussions about our favorite knives and which is the best in their category, but luckily we manage to remain on speaking terms–most of the time–despite our faves. When it comes to the best Boker tanto knife, the debate is still ongoing. It comes down to two epic knives: the Boker Strike and the Boker Kalashnikov. But in the end, after all this time, the Kalashnokov is still one of our bestsellers––so we decided to let you have the final say.

This powerhouse auto is inexpensive but it’s not cheap, and it’s still relevant over two decades after its introduction. With a reputation for aerodynamic excellence, Boker Kalashnikov still reigns as King of the affordable automatic knife.

And speaking of customer picks, the Desert Warrior Kalashnikov Tanto is the clear winner.

 Best Limited Edition Tanto


Spyderco PM2 Tanto Limited Edition

The Blade HQ exclusive edition of Spyderco’s immensely popular Paramilitary 2 has become one of our most highly sought-after knives. However, there’s a catch: its availability is extremely limited. This means that it doesn’t come around often, and when it does, it sells out within minutes. Sometimes seconds. This is the first PM2 to ever feature a tanto blade and showcases a compound grind, combining a hollow grind along the primary cutting edge with a flat grind on the tip and swedge. The outcome is an exceptionally robust blade that excels in utility, capable of tackling both demanding, heavy-duty cuts and precise, delicate tasks with equal finesse.
If you’re jonesing for a Spyderco PM2 Tanto of your very own, your best course of action is to create an account at Blade HQ, save this item to your wishlist, and make sure you enable email and text notifications. It truly is a remarkable knife.

We get the significance of the unique Spyderco PM2 Tanto and want you to have the chance to experience its excellence.

Final Thoughts

Best Tanto Knives


When I first saw a tanto, it was the look of it that got my attention. I didn’t know about the stronger knife point, the power behind its construction, or anything else about them, really. The blades just looked cool. But a tanto is that happy combination of a pretty face combined with the ability to actually do something.

Whether you need a strong small blade in a folding knife or a hefty, fixed blade, there’s a tanto for everyone.

Learn More

An oldie, but goodie. In this episode of Knife Banter, Kurt and Jamie take a look at some of the Best Tanto Knives at Blade HQ. They look at their specs, what makes them great and talk about why you should add them to your collection. Watch it below!


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Other Best Knife Guides

Still in that information gathering phase? We’ve got a whole bunch more lists of all the best knives! Happy hunting and may you find the knives of your dreams!