The knife is a powerful and potent symbol recognized across cultures and continents.
Yet while this image is quite striking on its own, the power of the knife tattoo
often lies in the images that accompanying it: what is the knife cutting? Is there a snake or flower encircled around it? All of these elements will add layers of complexity and meaning to an already powerful tattoo.
Meanings of Knife Tattoos
The knife has several connotations in cultures and societies throughout the world
, and knife tattoos can vary in meaning depending on what is included alongside the knife in the tattoo. Some general meanings of knife tattoos include, but are not limited to:
- Love of cooking
- Career as a chef
- Painful love (stabbed in the heart)
- Deadly beauty
- Cutting ties
- Steely resolve
- Sharp intellect
Knife Tattoo Variations
There are several different variations of knife tattoos
, all of which have their own unique meanings. The potential for creativity and originality lies in the design of the hilt, or handle, of the knife, and the choice of accompanying images and symbols. Reading through the different variations below, consider combining one or two for an even more complex meaning, and be sure to discuss any design elements with your tattoo artist.
Knife Tattoo Designs
On the most basic level, the knife itself can represent intelligence and a quick wit: the "sharpest knife in the drawer", as it were. Standing on its own, the knife can also demonstrate an individual's readiness in physical combat and their willingness to take up arms to protect one's family, friends, or values. It can also symbolize one's desire to 'cut ties' with materialism, toxic relationships, or otherwise unwanted things or people. When combined with other symbols, these meanings become magnified and even more potent.
Whichever variation you choose, consider personalizing the knife through the design of its hilt, including an inscription along the blade or the handle, or playing with the colors in your knife tattoo. Add elements of your heritage - such as the particular style of art renowned in your country of birth - or colors of your personal aura to increase the individualistic element of the knife. The more creative, the better!
Chef Knife Tattoo Designs
One popular knife tattoo design is that of the chef's knife. For a chef, the knife is the most important tool in the kitchen, and getting a tattoo of a knife is not unusual within culinary circles. What makes the chef knife unique among knife tattoos is its wide, tapered blade and often simple hilt. Many chefs who choose to get knife tattoos will include a particular culinary reference (such as "mise en place" or "cook or die") or include a series of chef knives along their forearm.
Another popular variation on this tattoo is to include an additional kitchen tool with the chef knife, such as a whisk or tongs: these might be crossed, or they might be set against a skull in a chef's hat. Within these variations, the profession of chef takes center stage, and the knife is primarily utilized in the design to signify the main tool of the profession.
Knife and Fork
Along somewhat similar lines, another knife tattoo variation is that of the knife and fork. This is a great tattoo for any foodie, home chef, health enthusiast, or anyone whose career is within the food and beverage industry. Together, the knife and fork offer balance and are symbolic of two of the most basic, yet important, human tools.
Those getting a knife and fork design may decide to have the utensils side by side, indicating order and unity, or crossed to demonstrate a more 'battle-ready' stance: you are prepared for your food and know your way around a kitchen! Whichever variation you choose, personalize this design by getting creative with the handles of the silverware. You may choose to replicate the pattern in your wedding china, or get your initials in order to further personalize the images.
Heart and Knife
A heart with a knife through it is a clear indication of a broken heart, loss, or intense pain and suffering. There are a few different ways to vary this design in order to make it unique to you and the meaning you wish it to impart.
The most common variation on this design is to have the knife piercing the heart from the top through to the bottom: this is a clear indication of loss and heartache, or being literally stabbed in the heart. To make this tattoo your own, include a scroll with the name of the person you have lost, or with an inspirational or relevant quote to reflect your state of mind: something simple such as 'love' or 'vengeance' will succinctly get your point across.
Another variation on this heart and knife design is to use these symbols to portray yourself as a heartbreaker. To do so, you may add sultry eyes above or within the heart, or include a phrase such as 'hard love' or 'heartbreaker' on the script across the heart. While seemingly cool and callous on the outside, such a tattoo can also belie feelings of insecurity and an inability to commit: you'd rather get out of a relationship before you get hurt.
A tattoo of crossed knives is a symbol of battle readiness, and is therefore a popular choice among active and retired soldiers. You may want the two knives to be representative of one side, demonstrating the notion of "brothers in arms", or you may want the knives to signal opposing sides.
If you want the knives to be symbolic of the brotherhood and comradery you experienced during your armed service, have the knives be identical or very similar in nature. To personalize this tattoo, have your initials on one hilt and a friend's initials on the other, or include the name of your unit or battalion underneath the knives.
For the knives to signify enemies, or opposing sides in battle, decorate the hilts in different styles, or have the blades be different in their construction. For instance, you could include the colors of your country's flag on one hilt and those of your enemy's flag on the other, or simply write the name of the conflict underneath the crossed knives.
Serpent and Knife
A snake curled around a knife
is a common tattoo in the medical profession. But why exactly is this? This symbol, more commonly known as the Caduceus
, represents the staff of Asclepius, the Greek god of healing and medicine. By combining two symbols - snakes, the pagan symbols of fertility and rebirth, and knives, instruments of surgery - this tattoo creates a new meaning, one of renewal and transformation and thereby representative of the healing power of medicine.
To personalize this tattoo and create your own unique variation, you can include the year that you graduated medical school (and/or the name of the school itself), or a reference to your medical specialty. For instance, the hilt of the knife could be decorated with veins or a heart if you're a cardiologist, or you could have the knife cutting into a skull if you're a brain surgeon.
Knife in Garter
The knife is an incredibly powerful weapon used almost primarily in close combat: it can be quickly utilized in a sneak attack, and its ability to kill silently and effectively makes it a weapon of choice among assassins and other furtive killers. Combing this ruthless weapon with a lady-like garter has created a potent symbol for the inner strength and ferocity of women, making this a favorite tattoo for women everywhere.
Many women chose to get this tattoo around their thigh, the traditional place for a garter, with the knife tucked in on the outer side of the thigh. To personalize this tattoo, design a unique garter using a pattern and colors that reflect your own style, or even a garter that you already have in your wardrobe. You can add ribbons to play up the femininity of this design, or you can add drops of blood to the knife to indicate your willingness to use deadly force if necessary.
Knife and Skull
There are a couple variations on this classic design, each with their own meaning. One design has the knife going through the skull, top to bottom: this demonstrates that one has conquered their fear of death, and that it no longer has a hold over them. Such fearlessness can be emphasized even more by including blood on the blade of the knife, or by having an image of your hand gripping the hilt of the knife to demonstrate a more personal connection.
In pirate culture, knives and skulls were a symbol of the pirate community and often featured on their flags, the most famous known as the "Jolly Roger". In this design, two knives are crossed behind a skull; when this flag was raised, it signaled to other ships that they should "surrender or die". You can design this tattoo variation to depict the entire flag, or just the knives and skull: either way, you'll be demonstrating your affinity for pirate culture and your willingness to do whatever it takes to get what you want.
These knife designs can easily be customizable to fit whatever area of your body that you want, and can be scaled according to the size you want.
While once primarily popular with men, the universality of the knife as a symbol on its own, and its inclusion in the symbols for medicine and the power of the feminine, have made this an increasingly popular tattoo choice with women.
For custom design of a knife, you can check our Custom Tattoo Page