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Tanto vs Bowie Knife – What’s the Difference?

Tanto vs Bowie, which one should you choose depending on your needs?

Tanto knives have a blade with an angular edge transition that produces a stronger and prominent tip, whereas Bowie knives have a clip-point blade style with a cut-out section near the tip. Bowie knives are larger and heavier to provide sturdiness to penetrate through armor or game skin. A tanto knife on the other hand is lighter and smaller, making it an easily controllable knife for everyday use.

There are other differences between Bowie knife vs tanto, like how to hold each one or the length of the blades. 

Tanto Vs. Bowie: Short Overview

SubjectTanto KnifeBowie Knife
OriginJapan, Heian Period (794-1185)Early 19th Century
Blade ShapeAngular Edge Transition & Two PointsStraight Spine with Clipped Off Section
Blade Length2.50 inches (63.5mm) and 7 inches (177.8mm)6.4 inches (162.5mm) and 11 inches (279mm)
Tip StrengthHigherLower
WeightLighterHeavier
UsesThrusting and stabbing through hard materials like rope, leather, fabric, wood, and more Flat cutting metal sheets, Prying, UtilityCutting thick game skin, Chopping small & medium-sized branches or logs Carving, Whittling, Dicing, Piercing, Butchering Game, Cutting Meat
Grip StyleHammer Grip, Pointed-Finger GripHammer Grip, Filipino Grip

7 Key Differences Between Tanto and Bowie Knife

The differences between Tanto vs Bowie make each knife suitable for specific situations. A tanto is usually lighter and smaller to carry around easily, but the longer blade of Bowie knives has more reach. Other differences to consider are weight, uses, and how to grab each knife. Learn all about these differences here to know which knife style suits your needs.

Origin

Tanto means “short sword,” and modern tanto point blades draw inspiration from Japanese swords that samurais used in feudal Japan. It’s a blade style that dates back to the Heian period when warriors used it as a weapon. Currently, modern tantos evolved to become tactical knives for piercing and stabbing.

James Black created the first Bowie knife in the early 19th century. The knife maker gifted it to James Bowie, who gained popularity due to a famous duel known as the Sandbar Fight, in which he used a large Bowie for knife fighting. Bowie knives evolved from being a weapon for knife fights, and now the term refers to a large sheath knife with a crossguard and a clip point tip. Now, Bowie-style blades are as common as drop point blades.

Nowadays, many companies and knife collectors produce custom Bowie knives using different steel types and variations.

Blade Shape

Tanto blades have an angular edge transition that creates a stronger and pronounced point. The tip is durable and robust, making tanto point knives excellent tools for piercing through thick armor. A tanto blade doesn’t have a belly, but the straight edge makes complete contact with the cutting surface to create clean cuts. You can find tanto blades in folding knives like the CVIVI Keen Nadder and fixed-blade knives like the CRKT Minimalist.

The Bowie blade has a spine with a front clipped-off front section. This cut-out section can be straight or curved, ending in a fine tip ideal for piercing and stabbing. A Bowie blade is similar to clip point blades, and people often use both terms interchangeably. However, clip point refers only to a blade shape found in fixed and folding knives, whereas Bowie is usually a knife style with a fixed blade.

Blade Length

Tanto point blades measure between 2.50 inches (63.5mm) and 7 inches (177.8mm). This size range makes the tanto point considerably smaller than Bowie blades, and it provides other benefits. For example, carrying a folding knife with a tanto point is more comfortable because you can keep it in your pocket. Also, the smaller tanto point blades comply with most laws across the states in America.

The downside to a smaller blade is that you have to apply more pressure to cut through rope, leather, and other items.

The Bowie knife blade is usually between 6.4 inches (162.5mm) and 11 inches (279mm) long. It’s a large blade with a longer cutting edge for making complete cutting motions, from tip to heel. Blades of 11 inches or more are not suitable for smaller areas because you need plenty of space to move the arm freely. However, a larger blade lets you cut through materials with fewer strokes.  

Large blades are also trickier to carry around, and they may be illegal to carry in some states.

Strength of the Tip

Tanto blades have a good chunk of metal closer to the tip, making the point stronger, more durable, and resistant. The reinforced tip is the reason why tanto blade knives are great defensive tools. This tip absorbs the impact and energy coming from piercing, even if you pierce through something repeatedly. A strong tanto point also lets you pry with it without breaking the blade.

Bowie knives have weak tips because the metal thickness decreases along the spine. The tip is finer and thinner, making it good for piercing but prone to chipping or breaking.

Weight  

Knives with tanto points are lightweight, weighing between 2.44 and 8.90 ounces. One of the heaviest tanto point knives is the Smith & Wesson SWBG2TS, which weighs 8.90 ounces, but it’s still the same as the lightest Bowie knife (SOG Tech Fixed-Blade Bowie). A lightweight tanto blade is easier to carry around as an EDC tool, and it doesn’t feel tiring after hours of using it.

The bowie knife is heavier, weighing between 16.8 ounces and 23 ounces. A large Bowie like the Snake Eye Tactical 16″ can weigh 23 ounces and tire your hand quickly. However, a heavier Bowie knife provides the sturdiness necessary to chop or cut through materials without losing balance.

Also, the heavyweight of a knife influences the way you hold it. Bowie knives are better to hold in a hammer-like grip, where you can get a firm grip to use the full length of the blade. The weight will distribute evenly, and your wrist and hands won’t feel tired as quickly.

Uses

A tanto point is better for thrusting into hard materials, like armor and thin metal. Tanto points are straight or slightly curved, making the blades sturdy and balanced for thrusting through materials with ease. The secondary point of tanto blades provides excellent leverage and slashing power for flat cutting metal sheets or ropes. Tanto point blades are suitable for self-defense, camping applications, or utility tasks.

The Bowie knife is the ideal tool for outdoor applications, like hunting or camping. A large model like the Timber Rattler Western Outlaw Bowie Knife pierces through the thicker skin of big game for hunting purposes. Plus, you can use Bowies to chop small to medium-sized branches and logs. People also use the clip point of the Bowie blade for carving and whittling

Compared to a Tanto point, the Bowie knife is the more versatile option.

Grip Style

A tanto point knife allows you to hold it in different grip styles. You can hold the tanto in a hammer grip for making cut-outs or a pointed-finger grip for maximum control to cut leather, fabric, and game animals. Compared to Bowies that often have larger blades, the tanto blade is easier to control with the proper grip.

Bowie knives are better to hold in a hammer-like grip, where you can get a firm grip to use the full length of the blade. The weight will distribute evenly, and your wrist and hands won’t feel tired as quickly. Another self-defense grip you can use to hold a Bowie is the Filipino style, with a thumb over the spine.

What Is the Advantage of a Tanto Blade?

Tanto blades have strong tips for cutting through hard items like plastic clamshell packaging or leather belts. This type of blade also offers a steel pommel that absorbs impact from heavy strikes, providing you with more control of the knife. Lastly, the tanto blade sports an eye-catching Japanese design similar to a Katana, making the knife look stylish.

What Is Considered a Bowie Knife?

The term Bowie knife refers to large sheath knives featuring a cross guard and a clip point. Historically, the Bowie knife is a pattern of fixed-blade knives designed by James Black for Jim Bowie in the 19th century. Bowie was famous due to his choice of using a large knife in a Sandbar Fight duel. Nowadays, knife makers such as Cold Steel, Buck Knives, and Ka-Bar produce some of the highest quality Bowie knives.

Bowie or Tanto – Which One Is Right for You?

Choose a tanto knife blade if you’re looking for a lightweight and comfortable utility knife with a strong tip. Tanto blade can’t slice, but it will stab through almost any material with ease and absorb the impact to reduce the vibrations. A knife with a tanto point blade is also smaller and compact, with different folding models available that you can carry in your pocket. 

The Bowie knife has a longer but finer tip for cutting thick game skin, prepping fish, or carving wood. It has a handguard to protect your hand from the cutting edge while stabbing, making the Bowie knife an excellent tool for self-defense. This knife style has a weaker tip compared to tanto, but Bowies are more versatile. Use it for cutting rope while camping, whittling, and chopping wood or branches.

About Brian M. Casey

As a food lover, Brian M. Casey developed a fascination for cooking at an early age. He soon realized that not only the ingredients matter but also the knives and the accessories used to turn those ingredients into a delicious dish. This way, Brian began his journey on the magnificent world of kitchen knives, outdoor knives, knife accessories, and much more. After years of experience with many ups and downs, Brian now wants to share everything he’s learned during his journey as an avid knife collector, a well-seasoned knife maker, and an all-around knives enthusiast.

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