Why Does a Butter Knife Have a Notch?

If you have ever seen a butter knife, you might have noticed that it has a notch on the back.

These are flat and smooth blades that are not made for cutting up items that require a sharp blade and they are designed for spreading butter as much as cutting it off a stick of butter or a pat of butter.

So why do these knives have a notch? Many people are not aware of what the notch is for, but it is a critical part of the design of this kind of knife. You might have been using butter knives for years and have never realized why this feature existed.

If you are ready to learn more about the reason that butter knives have a notch in them, read on!

Stainless steel butter knife isolated on white background

What Shape is a Butter Knife?

A butter knife is a small, flat-bladed knife that is smooth on both sides and has no sharp cutting edge.

This is to allow you to remove butter from a pat or a block without it slipping off the blade as you move it to your plate. Some butter knives are made with a rounded end to aid in smoothing butter over bread.

These knives are not commonly used anymore as dinners at home have become more casual and many people do not eat out at locations that would offer butter knives with your place settings.

However, at upscale restaurants and some homes in the US, a butter knife is used to make sure that the butter on the table can be cut appropriately and easily.

Why Does a Butter Knife Have a Notch?

There are a few reasons that this kind of knife is shaped this way and you might not have thought about these reasons if you have not been used to using butter knives other than at fancy meals or holidays.

It will become clear why this feature is built into butter knives once we discuss the various reasons for this design.


For many people who use a full silver set, it becomes immediately clear that there are many tools in each set of silver that might be mistaken for a butter knife.

The notch at the top of the butter knife identifies it as this particular kind of tool quite easily and makes sure that it will not be used for another task at the table.

While this might seem a bit pedantic to modern users of this utensil, in the more formal days of eating etiquette, choosing the right utensil for each kind of food and eating activity was quite essential to the overall impression that you made on other people around you.

To Indicate the Presence of an Edge

While this styling of knife has fallen out of favor as dining has become more casual, the butter knife that had an actual sharp edge and was used by servants to place butter on plates during meals was indicated with this notch.

This would warn you that the blade was sharp and would also prevent confusion about which tool in the silver set was used for this function.

There is some indication that this design has become part of the way that modem butter knives are made despite the fact that nearly all of them are blunt on both sides now.

To Keep the Butter from Sticking to the Knife

Butcher and chopping knives have notches and open slots in their blades to make sure that food does not stick to the knife as it is being used.

Imagine how embarrassing it would be to pick up butter from the shared butter plate and then have to use your fingers to pry it off the knife and onto your plate!

While this might seem silly to those who are used to more modern dining methods, there was nothing more embarrassing than having to touch your food without a utensil.

When these tools were in everyday use, the notch would have prevented the necessity of having to handle the pat of butter that you had cut from the cube of butter before placing it on your plate.

To Balance the Knife

This notch can also balance the knife as it rests on the butter dish in some designs. This is not as common these days, but you will find that you will have better luck keeping the knife on the butter plate with the edge of the notch resting on the lip of the plate.

There are many reasons that this kind of design choice was made for master butter knives and not for spreading knives.

This might all seem a bit old-fashioned these days, but once upon a time when these knives were first designed the notch would have made the use of a butter knife much easier in a variety of ways.

Being able to balance the knife as you carried the butter dish on a tray would have been a big value of this design feature.

Notches on Butter Knives Are Largely About Tradition These Days

While notched butter knives were once made this way for many useful reasons, today the notched design is more an indication of a commitment to traditional styling rather than real functional need.

You will find that your butter knife will work the same as a spreading knife for all of your everyday uses and a notched knife will not make a big difference in your overall butter consumption experience.

If you buy a fancy set of china or you go to a meal at a fancy restaurant, you will likely see master butter knives used, but your home set of utensils might not include this kind of butter knife.

This is a great kind of knife to have on hand if you intend on serving others at the table their pats of butter, but will potentially not be a very useful knife design choice for any of your other needs.

Notched butter knives are stylish looking but they are not required for your overall butter spreading or enjoyment.

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