What is a Butter Knife?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

A butter knife is a small, dull knife with a rounded or pointed tip, used solely for slicing butter and spreading it on bread. It has been a popular piece of silverware or flatware for several centuries. Victorian antique butter knives are often elaborately carved affairs, often made mostly of silver. Today, when a person buys a flatware set, it commonly comes with one such knife.

Butter with a butter knife.
Butter with a butter knife.

The point of the butter knife, which is often shared, is to avoid using a knife that was used to cut other food to slice pieces off butter. By offering a butter knife, diners can assure that really the only thing touching the knife besides the butter will be the bread people spread it on, or possibly corn on the cob and a few other things that are topped with butter.

Butter knives are dull and made just for slicing and spreading butter.
Butter knives are dull and made just for slicing and spreading butter.

In some cases, people merely use the butter knife to cut the butter they need, then they use their own knife to spread the butter on food. This gives the person more time to place butter on whatever food requires it without hogging the butter while using the knife.

The modern butter knife often looks very much like a regular flatware knife, but it is usually about half the size. It may feature either a pointed or rounded tip. Many people prefer the rounded tip style since this prevents the diner from accidentally spearing the bread he or she is buttering. One with a rounded tip may also be called a butter spreader.

Someone who would like to use a butter knife that is unique or interesting may want to consider an antique one. These can be very beautiful, and shoppers can often find ones that will coordinate well with flatware or silverware they already own. Some, especially the rare ones, can be quite expensive.

People who are devoted to their flatware or silverware pattern but who would like to have more than one butter knife for large parties can usually order additional knives from the company. Provided that the pattern is still being made, it’s likely that the company will be able to provide extra pieces needed. Discontinued patters can often be found on online auction sites or through companies that deal in older silverware.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


I have just bought a little butter knife in an antique centre, mother of pearl handle and silver blade, but don't know its age. hmm


I had a question. Is the backside of a modern butter knife used to actually cut the butter? Most people use the serrated edge of the knife. I have always used the backside for a smoother cut on the warm butter.


Do you know what I hate -- those little plastic butter knife sets that you get when you eat on airplanes or go on picnics; really anywhere you eat out.

I know that you guys are talking about a slightly different type of butter knife, but I think the point still stands -- whoever invented the common butter knife obviously never ate anything with it, or they would have realized how useless they are for literally anything besides butter.

I mean, just think about it -- any kind of meat can put up a good fight with a butter knife, as can most vegetables that haven't been boiled to within an inch of their lives.

Even if you're talking about the "proper" butter knife as this article does, it's still rather annoying to see something that has only one purpose...and one that it often doesn't perform well.

What do you all think; am I just the lone crazy person who overthinks silverware?


Wait, so I know what you're talking about, those little butter scraper knives, but aren't regular knives that get set on the table called the same thing?

I'm not taking about the fancy antique butter knives that you see on Antiques Road Show, I mean the regular old stainless steel butter knife that you get in regular silver packs.

Is there a reason that these two different types of knives are called the same thing? I personally loathe butter knives of both kinds (I don't think they work well), but I would be really interested in how two disparate things got the same name.

Any information?


My grandmother has this lovely old sterling silver butter knife that used to be her grandmother's.

I never really thought much about it, but after reading what you said about the value of antique butter knives, now I'm really curious as to whether hers is valuable or not.

It is pretty ornately carved, even the blade has some light engraving on it. The handle itself is almost entirely engraved with flowers and leaves; a very beautiful pattern.

Does anybody reading this actually know anything about antique silver butter knives (a rather specific category, I know, but surely someone specializes in those sorts of things, right?)

I would really love to learn more about this and Victorian silver in general, so if anyone has more information message me back!

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