Knife-aholism and the Search for the Perfect Edge: Choosing the Blade Edge that is Right for You

Posted by Leighton Taylor on

Photo by Bill Bradford. Used under Creative Commons.

One of the oldest conundrums in the annals of knife purchasing lies in the matter of the blade edge. Straight edge or serrated edge? If you’ve trolled through various forums, you’ll see that the unfortunate answer to which blade trumps is almost always “it depends” which seems like a very non-committal answer (and nobody likes those). So, how are you going to decide which blade edge is the one for you to get?

Rather than telling you that one blade edge trumps another, I’m going to break it down into the three basic blade types giving you a rundown on the pros and cons for each one. From there the choice will be up to you and the functions you deem most important in a survival knife, and this way, you can be sure that you’re getting the very best survival knife for you. 

3 Basic Blade Edge Types:

Plain/Straight Edge

We’ll start off our discussion with the straight edge blade. Though the popularity of other blade edges, particularly the partially serrated one, is increasing, the straight edge is still usually the default choice of many knife manufacturers. Just like its name, this blade edge is plain, without any teeth or grooves. It's easily the sharpest type and can be pretty versatile. One example of this type of blade edge is Cold Steel’s Leatherneck 39LSF. Although the plain edge provides a lot of versatility in a knife, there are some things that a straight edge blade cannot do.



Pros:

  • A plain edge blade is extremely sharp which ensures better precision and control, especially if clean cuts are necessary.
  • It can also be easily sharpened, especially compared to a serrated edge.
  • Straight edge survival knives are highly versatile because you can "customize" the edge by how you sharpen it.

Cons:

  • Straight edge knives usually need more frequent sharpening compared to a serrated survival knife.
  • The knife has to be extremely sharp to be able to cut through tough materials such as thick ropes and straps.
  • Sharpening it with a coarse stone in order to create "micro serrations" for easier slicing of thick/tough materials can damage the blade if it's not done properly.
  • Creating "micro serrations" on a straight edge survival knife can reduce the blade's effectiveness for push cuts, where cutting is performed by pushing the knife through the material.

Get this knife if you are planning to:

  • Shave
  • Skin animals
  • Chop wood
  • Prepare food
  • Any application that does a lot of push cutting

Serrated Edge

Contrary to popular belief, the serrated edge wasn't created as a rival to the straight edge. It actually serves as a complement to the other, able to easily perform tasks that a straight edge blade won't be able to do effectively. How do these two differ? Unlike a straight edge survival knife, a serrated one has little teeth that are extremely sharp allowing the blade to cut easily through tough material. One example of this type of blade edge is Cold Steel’s Super Edge 42SS.


Pros:

  • Extremely effective for cutting through thick or tough, fibrous materials such as ropes and straps even if the teeth are dull.
  • Requires less sharpening since it retains its edge far longer than a plain edge survival knife
  • Doesn’t require as much direct pressure to the object being cut
  • Can inflict greater damage in combat due to its saw-like edge.

Cons:

  • Not as precise/accurate as a straight edge blade when performing general tasks. It's also harder to control.
  • It's not easy to sharpen.
  • It's not an effective bushcraft knife.
  • In combat, the blade's teeth can get caught in the enemy's clothing or fur which can greatly decrease its effectiveness as a self-defense tool.

Get this knife if you are planning to:

  • Slice bread, rope, straps (i.e. seatbelts), thick wood and cardboard.

Partially Serrated Edge

*Commence angelic singing* This blade edge type is often called the best of both worlds because it combines the plain edge and the serrated edge onto one knife. Either the edge near the tip is plain and the lower part have teeth or the entire edge is plain while the back of the knife has a serrated edge. One of the best examples of this type of blade edge is Gerber's LMF II.


Pros:

  • A partially serrated edge is extremely functional for both push cutting (the straight edge) and slicing through tough materials (the serrated edge).
  • It's convenient because you have two types of blade edges in one survival knife.

Cons:

  • The partial serration doesn't work well if used on short blades (those that are 3 inches or shorter) because you'll need a certain length of the blade edge in order for both a plain edge and serrated edge to be effective.
  • Serrations (even partials) are always more difficult to sharpen.
  • The design is not always ideal--sometimes the placement of the serration on the edge is “wrong” for certain tasks. For example, if you’re whittling, you’ll need the straight edge to be near the lower part of the blade for better control or if you are batoning and the serration is on the edge opposite the blade, you’ll end up quickly dulling your serrations.

Get this knife if you are planning to:

  • Own only one knife that can function fairly well for most survival/woodsman activities.

So there you have it--plain edge, serrated edge, and partially serrated edge. Choosing the best survival knife for you really boils down to what you’re planning to use it for and how many you want to carry with you. Of course, then, there’s the matter of knife-aholism (the urge to always buy the newest, prettiest, baddest knife), and I can’t really help you there.

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