Glass knife

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A glass knife is a knife with a blade composed of glass. The cutting edge of a glass knife is formed from a fracture line, and is extremely sharp.

Glass Knife

Glass knives were used in antiquity due to their natural sharpness and the ease with which they could be manufactured. In modern electron microscopy, glass knives are used to make the ultrathin sections needed for imaging. Diamond knives are also extremely sharp, and the edge lasts much better than glass, but they are extremely expensive.


Beginning in the Stone Age, glass knives (and other tools, such as arrowheads) were produced through a process known as knapping or lithic reduction[citation needed]. Although such bladed tools were often made of stone, naturally occurring glasses such as obsidian, natural volcanic glass, were also commonly used.

From the 1920s through the 1940s, Dur-X glass fruit and cake knives were sold for use in kitchens under a 1938 US Patent.[1] Before the wide availability of inexpensive stainless steel cutlery they were used for cutting citrus fruit, tomatoes, and other acidic foods, the flavor of which would be tainted by steel knives and which would stain ordinary steel knives. They were molded in tempered glass with ground edges.[2][3]

Modern use[edit]

Modern glass knives were once the blade of choice for the ultra-thin sectioning required in transmission electron microscopy because they can be manufactured by hand and are sharper than softer metal blades; the crystalline structure of metals makes it impossible to obtain a continuous edge with the sharpness of broken glass.[4] The advent of diamond knives, which keep their edge much longer and are more suitable for cutting hard materials, quickly relegated glass knives to a second-rate status. However, some labs still use glass knives because they are several thousand times less expensive than diamond knives. A common practice is to use a glass knife to cut the block which contains the sample to near the location of the specimen to be examined; then the glass knife is replaced by a diamond blade for the actual ultrathin sectioning; this extends the life of the diamond blade, used only when its superior performance is critical[citation needed]. Obsidian can be used to make very sharp knives; obsidian surgical scalpels are available commercially. All these blades are brittle and very easily broken if not used with care.


Glass knives can be produced by hand using pliers with two raised bumps on one jaw and a single bump between the two bumps on the opposing jaw, but special machines called "knife-makers" are used in most electron microscopy laboratories to ensure repeatable results. The glass used typically starts out as 1-inch-wide (25 mm) strips of 14-inch-thick (6.4 mm) plate glass, which is cut into 1 inch (2.5 cm) squares. The glass square is then scored across the diagonal with a steel or tungsten carbide glass-cutting wheel to determine where the square will break, and pressure is then applied gradually across the opposite diagonal until the square breaks[citation needed]. This technique provides two usable knife edges, one on each of the two resulting triangles. The better the break is aligned with the diagonal, the better the cutting edge.[4][5]

To make glass square: Align the glass bar so that the end is resting against the arresting stud and the side is against the angle setting plate. The angle setting plate should be set at 80° or 90°. Hold and lower clamping head onto strip with locking lever and tighten slightly to secure glass in a level position. Do not bounce the scorer on the glass. Select scoring position to parallel (marked with lines). Score glass by pulling scoring wheel across glass from back to front with continuous smooth stroke. Score should be distinct but not heavy enough to produce splinters of glass. Break glass by turning breaking knob clockwise slowly until glass begins to break. After glass breaks, turn breaking knob fully counter-clockwise to initial position. Lift clamping head, assisting with your hand, push scoring shaft back in, and remove the glass square with fork. [4][5]

     To make glass knives:

Turn the glass squire ¼ turn counterclockwise (see figure on the machine), put on top of breaking pins by inserting lower left edge between white guiding rings of front glass holder. Lower rear glass holder onto upper left edge of square by pushing in and turning counter-clockwise to disengage the knob. Select scoring position marked with a diamond and 25 for 25mm glass. Lower the head, score, break and remove the glass as before. Scoring marks should be no more than 0.2 mm away from the upper left and lower right edges of center line. The upper edge of the left triangle and the lower edge of the right triangle are the knives. These edges should not be touched. [4][5]

     To check knives:

View the glass knife with a dissecting scope. Good knife should have a narrow shoulder (<0.2mm), and as faint a pressure curve as possible. For either thick or thin sectioning, examine the knife edge directly to locate any edge imperfections, whiskers, contamination or fingerprints on the back of the knife. For thin sectioning, bounce light off the front edge of the knife. Any lines running parallel to the stress mark which sweeps from the left may result in knife marks. The best knives do not show this artifact. The sharpest edge is to the left generally, and the most durable surface is to the right (but left of the whiskers) [4][5]

     To put boats (troughs) on knives:

Use a commercial plastic boat, or use aluminum tape or electrical tape to make a boat. Seal with nail polish. Stick on double-sized tape and stored in a dust-free box. The knives are recommended to be used within a few days. [4][5]

In popular culture[edit]

  • Glass knives are the weapon of choice of the antagonist Dmitri "Raven" Ravinoff in the novel Snow Crash because they are undetectable by security systems and reputed to be molecule-thin at the edges, sharp enough to penetrate bulletproof vests.[4][5]