Have you ever tried shopping for a new knife and found yourself struggling to understand the marketing jargon? Knife manufacturers tend to use fancy terms like flat grinds, chisel grinds, Scandi grinds, zero bevels, mid-tech, forged, stock removal, textured G-10, S30V, Damascus, and pattern-welded, which can be confusing. However, understanding these terms can help you choose the best knife for your needs.
Fortunately, these terms are not too difficult to comprehend once you familiarize yourself with them. Most knife-makers use these terms in a straightforward manner, but it may still take some experimentation to determine which grind, edge, pattern, or profile works best for the task at hand.
To provide you with the most comprehensive knowledge on survival, we have put together a tutorial on knife grinds and blade profiles to help you understand each one and pick the best tool for your needs. The grind, or how the cutting edge is formed, is the heart of the blade and determines how well it can cut and retain its sharpness. There are many types of blade grinds available, but we’ll focus on the most common ones.
The flat-ground or “V ground” edge is a simple and common blade style. The blade tapers at a consistent angle from the spine to the cutting edge on both sides. It is commonly used in kitchen knives and blades made by Spyderco and Strider Knives. Flat grinds are easy to maintain and sharpen.
The hollow-ground blade originated in the 19th century for straight razors and gained popularity in hunting and sporting in the 1950s. The edge has a distinctive concave grind, with both sides bowing inward until they meet at a thin, sharp edge. While this edge is very sharp, it requires frequent maintenance through stropping or sharpening. This edge is found in Buck hunting knives, straight razors, and custom knives.
Also known as Scandi grind, this edge begins below the midpoint and lacks a secondary bevel on the edge. It is ideal for whittling, woodworking, and bushcraft because of the high bevel which allows the user to keep an eye on the wood grain while carving. The Scandi grind requires frequent stropping to maintain sharpness and using any other type of sharpener will change the grind by adding a secondary bevel.
The convex edge is very durable and sharp but challenging to sharpen. Both sides of the blade feature a slightly rounded (convex) bevel that tapers to form the edge. Convex grinds are used on heavy-duty chopping tools like axes and machetes as the rounded shape of the edge prevents it from binding in wood and helps to split it.
The chisel grind is a blade design originating from Asia that resembles the grind of woodworking chisels. It features a single ground side, with the opposite side left flat. This grind was initially popular on expensive Japanese kitchen knives and was introduced to the US by Phill Hartsfield in the 1960s. Hartsfield incorporated it into his combat knives, which became popular with Navy SEALs and Army Special Forces. Ernest Emerson later obtained permission to use the chisel grind on his tactical folding knives in the mid-1980s, and it eventually became prevalent on all kinds of tactical knives.
The compound bevel, or double bevel, is a common grind found on many modern knives. It consists of one of the previously mentioned grinds with a secondary bevel added for increased durability and ease of maintenance.
The asymmetrical grind is a combination of two of the aforementioned designs, utilizing two distinct bevel angles for each side of the blade. This is done to create a more durable edge by combining the benefits of each grind. Some makers opt to grind different portions of the blade, such as using a flat grind on the front half and a hollow grind on the rear half.
By examining the different grinds, a user can determine what they require in a blade. For instance, a hunter or trapper may favor a hollow grind for skinning and dressing game, while a Navy SEAL may opt for a chisel grind with a secondary bevel on a folder for its ease of sharpening or cutting ability. However, they might choose a machete with a convex grind for clearing brush.
The next consideration is determining the ideal profile for a particular knife. If the edge is the heart of a blade, then the profile is its soul, conveying much of the overall appearance of the knife and defining its function.
The drop point is now one of the most commonly used blade styles, but this wasn’t always the case. In the 1950s, Bob Loveless popularized this style by grinding the blade in such a manner that the spine has the same thickness and strength from hilt to tip. It is one of the most practical profiles for a daily use knife, with a lowered tip that provides extra control when cutting with the edge while still retaining piercing power. This versatility makes it suitable for hunting, skinning, caping, woodworking, self-defense, and other activities.
The clip point blade was once the dominant blade style worldwide. Originally, it was a result of the forging process, as the tip of the blade naturally curved upward due to heat and hammering. As machine-ground blades replaced forged ones, the style remained due to familiarity and perhaps as homage to the Bowie knife of the 19th century. The back of the blade closest to the tip is clipped in a straight or concave fashion, giving it its name.
Common on pocket knives, the clip is intended to safely house the blade within the handle when closed and may feature a false edge to aid in penetration. This profile is suitable for general use, hunting, skinning, caping, woodworking, and self-defense.
Originally intended for trimming the hooves of sheep and goats, the sheepsfoot blade features a straight edge, a straight and dull back, and a rounded tip that curves to the edge. Its unique design allows for precise control when held close to the edge. Today, it’s commonly used on rescue knives and for skinning, woodworking, and self-defense.
Similar to the sheepsfoot, the Wharncliffe blade has a more gradual curve on the back edge, and is typically thicker than knives of a similar size. It was originally designed for mariners on sailing ships, with a flat blade that made for predictable cutting action, and an excellent tip for fine work. Today, it’s commonly found on box cutters, and used for rescue, skinning, woodworking, and self-defense.
Similar to the previous two profiles, the Hawkbill blade has a pointed tip to aid in penetration when used for striking and cutting, making it a potent self-defense tool when used correctly.
The gut-hook is a specialized blade feature with a blunt edge and a beveled, sharpened single serration usually cut in the top plane of the blade. Originally intended for aiding in the skinning of animals, the blunt tip prevents damage to the hide or intestines while dressing it out. Gut hooks are commonly found on hunting knives, as well as rescue and military knives, allowing for easy cutting of seatbelts and cordage without risking injury from an exposed knife tip.
The unique tanto blade is easily recognizable. It was introduced to the United States by custom knife maker Bob Lum and gained popularity in the 1980s when companies like Cold Steel began producing them. Tanto designs exploded in the 1990s, especially with tactical knives from makers like Bob Terzuola, Allen Elishewitz, and Emerson.
These modern U.S. blades have a flat spine but typically feature an obtuse angle at the tip. Some variations have the spine angled towards the tip, creating a triangular shape. Tanto blades are great for penetration, but are less versatile than drop-points due to the obtuse angles near the tip. They can be found on tactical knives, everyday-carry (EDC) blades, and sometimes hunting knives.
The Persian blade is usually the opposite of the previous three types, as it curves upward with a pointed tip. This profile excels at filleting, but can also be found on certain combat and general-use knives.
The recurve blade is a modern design that gained popularity at the turn of the millennium. Its “belly” bows out from the edge before the point, giving more surface area for cutting. Recurve blades are commonly found on hunting knives, skinning blades, self-defense tools, and some EDC models.
The dagger blade has had a single purpose for centuries: combat. This ancient profile is steeped in symbolism and has been the base design of many art knives. Originally a scaled-down version of a double-edged sword, the dagger features two symmetrical sharpened edges. Some modern makers prefer to make the top edge unsharpened to avoid weapon laws and to create a more utilitarian blade. Its strength is in stabbing, as the double edge or top false edge aids in penetration.
However, carrying a dagger is heavily restricted or prohibited in most jurisdictions. In response to this, some makers have refined the design into what is commonly known as a spear-point blade or a bull-nose profile, which maintains the symmetrical shape but with only one sharpened edge.
The Reverse S profile was made famous by Spyderco and is a common feature on many of their knife designs, including the Cricket, Dodo, Matriarch, and Civilian. The sweeping curve of the blade provides a larger cutting surface area than a straight edge or even a recurve, resulting in a cutting performance similar to a larger blade, even if the blade length is at the legal limit in most jurisdictions.
What combo works best?
After acquiring a plethora of knowledge about knives, you may be wondering, “Which knife should I purchase?” As with any survival gear, the best knife is one that caters to your needs and budget. If you rarely venture outdoors, investing in a gut-hook skinner would be a waste of money. On the other hand, if you spend most of your time in the wilderness, a double-edged dagger would be a poor choice for bushcraft activities. Perhaps you’re searching for a multipurpose survival blade for your go-bag. In that case, a sheepsfoot with a hollow grind may not be the best option.
Every design has its strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes, personal preference and aesthetics may influence your decision. However, it’s essential to be practical and remember that a knife that looks impressive may not necessarily be the most practical.
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