A 'tang' is the continuation of the steel from the very tip of the blade to the handle and beyond.
The knife tang can be either full tang, meaning that it extends into the full length of the handle, or partial tang, extending only part way into the handle as a socket or file end.
The 'full' tang extension into the handle not only provides the best way of attaching the handle, but improves the weight and balance of the knife, plus adds strength and durability. When looking for quality kitchen knives, look for full-tang knives.
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Professional quality chef's knives will generally have a full tang, with riveted handles. Steak knives commonly have a partial tang, with handles that have been poured or molded around the tang.