An Introduction to Blade Styles


An Introduction to Blade Styles and the benefits of different shapes.

Shape Matters:

An Introduction to different blade styles.

In this review of blade styles, we'll examine the functional impact of 15 common and not-so-common options. These shapes suit widely various applications. Match your expectations to the specific capabilities of these options to find the right knife for every need.

1. Normal, simple, or straightback blade

The cutting edge of this single-edged blade curves upward toward its point, but the back, or spine, of the blade carries a flat, unsharpened edge so you can press down with your fingers to increase cutting force. The single-edged design adds thickness and therefore strength, which enhances the blade's suitability for heavy-duty tasks. You can use a normal blade to cut rope, baton wood to split kindling, and slash through roots.

The curved cutting edge, or belly, eases use, concentrating pressure and force on a smaller portion of the blade than in designs that use a flat cutting edge. The strength of the blade also makes it an ideal choice for those who want to enhance their mastery of knife-sharpening techniques. This general-purpose design qualifies as an EDC, or everyday carry, for many people, as it can chop, slice, pick, and thrust. Its flexibility as a jack of all trades may make it less than ideal for specialized tasks.

2. Clip-point or slant-point blade

The clip-point blade serves as a variation on the normal profile, with a straight or recurved swage, also called a false edge, that extends toward the tip, making it look as if the frontmost third of the blade has been clipped off. When sharpened, the clipped portion of the spine can serve as a second edge and enhance the blade's ability to pierce or stab. These piercing capabilities gain further enhancement from the relative closeness of the knife tip to the center of the blade. The clipped part of the spine is thinner than the rest of the blade, which weakens the point and makes it more vulnerable to damage. The Bowie knife provides a famous example of the clipped point, which makes an appearance in many folding knives.

A clipped-point knife offers handling characteristics similar to those of a dropped-point blade, but with a weaker point. Differences in the length and curvature of the clip give rise to variations on this profile, some with an oversized clip length (the California clip) or an extreme recurve (the Turkish clip).

3. Trailing-point blade

Typically single edged, this lightweight blade design features a curved spine that ends in a point. The upward slope of the curve means that the point of the blade lies above, or trails, the spine. The greater the curve, the more the point trails. This profile can yield the sharpest point of any knife shape. The curved nature of the blade also increases its cutting area.

A trailing-point blade's principal uses lie in slicing, slashing, and small, delicate tasks, which makes it a common choice for the profile of a skinning or filleting knife. The same anatomy that enables it to excel at these objectives also leads to its two primary weaknesses. First, the design's thinness makes it fragile and prone to breakage if you apply it to materials too rigid or hard for it to cut successfully. Second, the point can ruin a knife sheath if you fail to guide the blade in place with care.

4. Gut-hook blade

The point of this blade's profile curves back on its spine like the toe of a Turkish slipper. It adds a half-circular sharpened hook that you can insert into a small opening in the skin of an animal and pull like a zipper tab to open the abdomen without damaging the underlying muscle tissue or dulling the belly of the blade on a tough hide or pelt. This type of blade often serves as a hunter's field dressing tool because the hook begins the gutting operation and the large cutting edge or belly addresses slicing and skinning tasks.

A gut-hook blade must incorporate an unsharpened spine. It's more of a variation on or additional feature of other blade styles than a truly separate profile. Maintaining the "C" shape of the hook requires a special round file because traditional sharpening tools can't reach inside its steeply curved interior.

5. Drop-point blade

A drop-point blade's spine curves, or drops, slightly downward toward its point. Its convex profile gives it strength and makes it easy to stow in a sheath, contributing to its popularity as a utility knife among pointed blade styles. Its handling characteristics resemble those of clipped-point styles, but with greater thickness at the tip that produces a sharp, strong point less usable for piercing. It excels at cutting tasks and those that resemble carving techniques.

This single-edged blade profile has earned wide adoption as a general-purpose EDC knife, and in hunting, tactical, and survival knives. You'll also find this shape on chefs' knives and the larger blades in Swiss Army pocket knives.

6. Sheepsfoot blade

With a cutting edge and spine that run fully parallel to each other, the single-edged sheepsfoot profile slopes only near the very end of the blade. That slope can be flat or gently curved. The name reflects the original use of this blade style as an implement to trim sheep's hooves, not any aspect of the shape of the blade itself.

Because of its unsharpened flat spine, designed for fingertip use, this blade shape gives the user a great deal of control. You'll find this profile on knives designed for precise cutting and slicing, including Santoku chef knives and the first-responder tools that free accident victims from belted restraints. The sheepsfoot blade also excels at wood carving. Its lack of a point provides both an advantage and a disadvantage, in that it prevents users from jabbing themselves accidentally but cannot undertake any task that requires a point. The relative safety of the sheepsfoot blade makes it an ideal choice for inexperienced users, including children, and for learning sharpening skills.

7. Wharncliffe blade

With a gentler convex slope or curve dropping from flat spine to flat cutting edge than the profile of a sheepsfoot blade, the Wharncliffe takes its name from an English earl to whom legend, not fact, attributes its design. Its back-edge curve begins closer to the handle of the knife, which explains its gradual nature.

The lack of a point makes the Wharncliffe blade an ideal profile for sailing knives designed to cut rigging without injuring sailors or damaging the sheets themselves. This profile also does a good job of carving wood or cutting thick fabric. Its straight cutting edge makes it easy to sharpen correctly.

8. Spey-point blade

This single-edged blade profile incorporates a relatively abrupt upward curve at the end of the cutting edge, nearly perpendicular to the axis of the blade. The curve joins with a sharp downward angle that proceeds from the spine to a muted tip that lacks any real piercing capability. Originally used for neutering livestock, it has become a popular choice for skinning animals and dressing their meat. You'll find this design on trapper pocketknives.

The tip of this profile guards against accidental punctures, and safeguards the user who wields it while mobile or on horseback.

9. Leaf blade

The recurved waistline of this style serves as its most obvious earmark. The blade narrows past the handle, both on the cutting edge and on the spine, and then widens back out before it narrows again to form a tip. This unique shape curves the cutting edge enough to give it a belly, which increases its usefulness at slicing tasks. Because this distinctive profile pushes the weight of the blade toward its tip, it gains acceptance in designs for throwing knives.

10. Needle-point blade

With a profile that tapers sharply to a narrow point, this double-edged blade style often shows up in knives without sharpened edges, such as the type of dagger known as the stiletto. The long, sharp point increases penetration and lowers friction, but can leave the knife vulnerable to sticking and breakage.

With a reduced profile and an ability to cut on both sides, the needle-point blade is well suited to stabbing or thrusting movements and as a self-defense weapon capable of effective use in close combat. Its narrow point makes it easy to conceal. Its lack of cutting edge negates its use for slicing or slashing. In short, its geometry makes it a single-use blade.

11. Spear-point blade

This symmetrical knife shape narrows to its tip, with a point that coincides with the midpoint of the height of the blade. The symmetry and strong, easily controlled point of this shape make it ideal for tasks that involve thrusting. A true spear-point design features a double-edged blade like a dagger. This profile often appears on throwing knives. Its double-edged versions excel at piercing, and its limited but useful slicing capabilities give it a balance between the two types of tasks. Consider it a blend between the needle-point and the drop-point blades, with the former's sharp point and the latter's strength.

The name "spear-point" also appears on knives that don't actually qualify as such. Don't confuse this shape with small single-edge pen knife blades such as those once used to sharpen quill pens, or larger blades incorporated into pocket knives and more properly called drop-point styles.

12. Kris

This distinctively shaped double-edged dagger incorporates an odd number of undulating serpentine curves on asymmetrically waved edges that narrow to a sharp, symmetrical point. The edges may display as few as three and as many as 29 curves, although older kris designs carry straight edges. Its material is a laminate fabricated from precisely folded alternating layers of iron and nickelous iron, with a surface pattern called pamor. The pattern emerges from the contrasting appearance of iron and nickel, accentuated with special whetstones and acidic etching solutions that darken the iron in the alloy. Some kris are made from meteoric iron that contains nickel. Pamor patterns carry names and meanings that designate their ceremonial or magical properties. Both the handle and sheath of a kris can incorporate precious materials, including gemstones and gold.

Native to Indonesia, and produced there for centuries, especially in central Java, the kris also appears in Brunei and Malaysia. In Thailand, the design is known as a kalis and also exists as the flame-bladed sword.

The kris serves as a spiritual, ceremonial, and aesthetic object as well as a weapon, and is displayed as an heirloom, talisman, or symbol. Its shape and pamor come in many forms. It can confer social status, signify magical powers, carry good or bad luck, and appear in court or ceremonial attire. In 2005, to encourage the preservation of Indonesian culture and tradition, UNESCO named the kris Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

Like all daggers, the kris serves as a stabbing weapon, with a hilt that incorporates a pistol grip on its hilt to increase pressure on the blade. Its waved edges may create a larger wound than a straight-edged blade of comparable dimensions.

13. Tanto-point or chisel-point blade

The point of this single-edged design constitutes a second cutting edge at a 60-degree to 80-degree angle on the end of the blade. Modified tanto points show an angle on the back edge for a short distance up to the point. In this modified design, the angled portion of the back edge may be sharpened. The name "chisel-point" reflects the shape of the end of the blade. Nearly the full thickness of the blade carries all the way to the tip. This enables the tip to show sufficient impact-absorbing strength to create a penetrating strike without damage, although it can be difficult to control. The modified tanto increases this potential.

The tanto originated as an armor-piercing profile similar to the design Japanese swords. Its lack of belly, or cutting-edge curve, limits its slicing capabilities.

14. Hawkbill blade

Shaped like the blades used to slice through carpet and laminated flooring materials, the hawkbill profile's cutting edge typically appears on the inside of its beak-like shape. The point retains its cutting abilities even after the rest of the blade loses its sharpness. It excels at slashing, carving, and cutting. Today's hawkbill blade shows up as a tactical and defensive tool.

Don't confuse the designation "hawkbill" with the term applied to shape of the quillon placed at the end of a hilt to protect the user's hand from sliding onto the cutting edge or off the handle.

15. Ulu (literally "Inuit woman's knife") blade

These sharpened arc-shaped blades lack points and carry handles positioned in the middle of the knives. The ulu (plural "uluit") consists of a 90-degree section of a circular shape. The 180-degree semicircular design called a head knife is used to scrape and thin leather. Additionally, the rolling circular pizza cutter constitutes a version of the same shape.

The ulu serves as an all-purpose knife among the women of specific Alaskan peoples, including the Yup'ik and Aleut. It can skin and clean game, cut materials ranging from hair to food, and trim snow and ice blocks to use in igloo building. Uluit become family heirlooms, passed down among generations and believed to accrue and convey each ancestor's knowlege.

Four styles of uluit emerged from different groups and geographic areas, including the Inupiat style from Alaska, the Canadian style, and designs specific to western or eastern Greenland. The differences among these designs include the position and attachment of the handle and the shape of the blade. Traditionally, the ulu combined a slate or copper blade with a handle made of wood, bone, antler, horn, or ivory. The modern ulu uses iron alloy for the blade, but often retains the traditional caribou-antler handle. The knife may be fabricated from a piece of metal cut from a saw blade. In today's commercially produced uluit, the handle may be made of plastic.

Because of the position of its handle, the ulu concentrates force in the middle of the blade. Used one handed, it can cut food in a rocking motion with no need for a second implement to steady the material.

Make the right choices for your intended usage

This review of blade styles should help you understand the types of profiles and their specific uses. To provide useful service, the knives you select should match your needs. Whether you want an EDC with general-purpose capabilities or a special-purpose blade that masters a single task, we can help you find the blade style that can meet and even exceed your expectations.