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What are the Different Types of Surgical Scalpels?

By D. Costa
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Surgical scalpels, which are essentially very sharp knives mainly used in medical procedures such as surgery and pathology, come in a wide array of different shapes and sizes. Because scalpels commonly come in two parts — blade and handle — the potential combinations are even more numerous. In all, there are 67 different types of scalpel blades and 27 different types of handles, although not all of these types are for medical purposes. In general, surgical scalpels are individually designed for specific types of surgery. For example, a scalpel with a rounded No. 10 blade is usually used to makes incisions on the skin, while one with a No. 7 blade would be used for more delicate, precise incisions for internal surgeries. Some types even have rulers on the handles to help precisely measure an incision.

The different types of surgical scalpels can be grouped into two categories: reusable and disposable scalpels. Reusable scalpels often consist of a disposable blade attached to a reusable handle — blades are used only once, then discarded. Disposable surgical scalpels usually are single-piece, often come with plastic handles and have retractable blades, much like a utility knife. The entire scalpel is thrown away after just one use.

Surgical blades and handles alike are commonly identified by a number. Some handles are designed to fit a specific hand hold. For example, handle No. 7, also known as beaver style, is shaped like a pen and is suited for close, precise cuts; other handles, such as handle No. 4, are wider and flatter. A particularly common type of handle, called the No. 3 or Bard Parker style, has a metric ruler to measure precise cuts. Another common type of handle is the rounded Siegel style, designed for curved incisions.

Blade types come in all shapes and sizes, most of them having a triangular or a crescent shape. Many types are essentially smaller or larger versions of commonly used blades. Each type’s shape is designed for its primary use. For instance, blade No. 10 has a rounded end and is used mainly for making incisions on the skin, while blade No. 11 has a pointed end and is usually used to make stab incisions for drainage purposes. Although most blades have a single sharp edge, double-edged blades called lancets also exist.

Blade materials can also vary. At one time, obsidian blades were more common, as they are typically cheaper to manufacture. Nowadays, however, most blades are made of medical-grade carbon steel. Higher-end blades are made of diamond.

A more advanced type of surgical scalpel is the laser scalpel, commonly used in eye surgery and neurosurgery. Currently the most commonly used sub-types of laser scalpels are excimer, YAG (yttrium aluminum garnet) and CO2 laser scalpels.

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Discussion Comments

By Heavanet — On Mar 31, 2014

@raynbow- That is a good point, however, I think that some people deal better when facing surgery when they know as many details about the procedure as possible. Understanding the instruments that will be used during surgery, such as scalpels, potentially could help anyone who has to have surgery to feel more confidence in the upcoming procedure and following results.

By Raynbow — On Mar 31, 2014

This is a very interesting article about something that most people probably don't spend much time thinking about. I think that the best tip when it comes to surgical scalpels is not to think about them if you have to have surgery!

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