A Knife is Just a Knife Part 1 (of 2)


This information comes from my love of knives. Ever since I was little I have been fascinated by knives, swords, and just about anything that is sharp. I really began to learn about knives when I was in the Boy Scouts of America and got my Totin’ Chit (a card saying you know how to safely handle a knife and wood tools) during my first year. In my late teens I bought my first single blade Spyderco (more about that story later) and I realized the difference between a knife and a high quality knife. This realization was somewhat like understanding the difference between a Ford Focus and Ferrari 458 Spider, I took my thinking to a whole new level. I started reading forums and asking questions, studied few articles about knife makers, and observed how a knife cut different material… my knowledge grew.

Yeah, I used to think a knife is just a knife, but I soon found out, no, a knife is only a knife insomuch that it separates matter. The next few paragraphs of information inform you about different types of knife blades and their uses. It is important to know a little about knives, because with a little knowledge about blades and edges, cutting tasks and selection of a new knife will be much easier. If the right blade isn’t used, it will be like trying to unscrew a Philips screw with a flat headed screwdriver. It can be done but it takes longer and damages the screw and/or the knife at the same time. Just remember two points when reading this article; 1) there is no bad or inferior knife blade. All knives have their uses that include pros and cons. Yes, there is inferior quality, but that is another matter. 2) When you buy a knife you are actually buying the edge, specifically the shape of the edge. Everything else, the blade, grind, handle, and locking mechanism (if it is a folding knife), supports what the edge does, cut. So, where to start? The best place to start would be what types of edges are there? There are two main types of edge: plain and serrated.

First, the plain edge. Everyone is familiar with this type of edge. It is used when buttering a piece of bread, cutting a cake, dicing an onion, or even opening an envelope. The plain edge is an excellent everyday edge. It’s great for slicing, dicing, paring, and can be used for everything but sawing through frozen food (unless you want a sore hand and arm and not much to show for it). A plain edge will always cut straight down, provided the edge is on the knife straight. It is also easy to sharpen. One disadvantage of a plain edge blade is it goes dull quickly, very quickly if used on a hard cutting surface such as glass and metal. Personally, I think it is very important to have, and learn how to use, a knife steel. A knife steel extends the time between sharpenings because it re-aligns the edge. A bent edge is usually the main culprit with a plain edge. Furthermore, a plain edge isn’t very good at cutting fibrous material like rope and cardboard. I am sure you have noticed how box knives and carpet cutters are plain edge but to be replaced frequently. Heavy cutting tasks are geared more towards the serrated edge.

The serrated edge is known for its teeth and can be found in dozens of different configurations which vary in effectiveness. There are so many kinds of serrations that a thesis paper could be done on them alone. This type of edge is best for tough cutting jobs: sawing frozen food, pruning, cutting boxes or rope, and slicing bread. Another outstanding attribute is serrations takes a long time to go dull. The reason this is so is because the tips of the serration protect the inner curve of the serration; the tips hit the hard cutting surface first, therefore keeping the inner edges sharper, longer. This leads to very infrequent sharpening, which is an advantage. The problem with serrations is when cutting they make a jagged cut, although with practice, this jagged cutting problem can be reduced. In addition, they are much harder to sharpen after they do go dull. The knife then has to be taken to a professional sharpener or it has to be done in your home, and there are only two or three home sharpening systems that sharpen serrated edges. A couple of the sharpeners are called the Spyderco Sharpmaker 204 and the Lansky Universal System. There is another consideration when selecting a serrated knife. The serrations are always ground on one side of the blade because it cuts manufacturing costs. This means that the knife will deviate from a straight downward cut and skew to the left or right, depending on which side the serrations have been ground. Check this out when using a serrated knife next time. With this knowledge of edges it is time to talk about the grind of the blade… on my next post…

A Knife is Just a Knife Part 1 (of 2)