When purchasing a knife, whether, for recreation, self-defense, or as a survival tool, it is crucial that you choose the right type of knife for your specific purpose. If you have ever been caught trying to use a knife that is clearly not made for the task at hand, you know the frustration and potential danger of wielding the wrong tool.
With so many styles of knives (fixed blade knife or folding knife) on the market, it is crucial for the buyer to do their research with the intended use of their new knife in mind. One of the simplest but most important distinctions to consider is whether you should choose a plain edge or serrated edge knife. Both have many uses and bring their own distinct sets of strengths and weaknesses.
While many knife aficionados have a strong preference as to which blade type they prefer, the truth is that both come with many advantages and specific functionality. Before making a decision, the buyer should take the time to understand the differences in these two blade types and then determine the type of blade that will be most effective based on the intended use for the knife.
Differences in Plain Edge vs Serrated Edge Knives
You can distinguish between a plain edge and serrated edge knife by simply examining the sharp side of the blade. Plain edge knives will have one smooth edge running from the point of the knife to the handle. Serrated edge knives will have what appears like curved teeth protruding from where the smooth, sharp edge would be. These jagged teeth will run the full length of the blade.
There are some serrated knives that have teeth covering only half of the blade, ending in a smooth point. These types of combination tactical knives are often referred to as having a “partially serrated” blade and provide the user with some of the benefits of both plain and serrated edged knives.
Something important for the knife owner to consider is the longevity and maintenance needed to keep their blade performing well over the years. Because the full length of the blade is often used to apply pressure when making cuts, straight edge knives are thought to require more frequent sharpening. The good news is that sharpening a fine edge knife is quite simple and there are a variety of sharpeners or knife sharpening systems on the market to help you quickly tune up your blade.
Because of the toothed design, a serrated edge knife will stay sharp for longer and will not require as frequent sharpening as its plain edge counterpart. However, sharpening a serrated edge knife can be a bit more time consuming and requires a specific technique and sharpening rod to achieve the best result.
Primary Uses for a Plain Edge Knife
The traditional, plain edge knife is often touted as the best option for an everyday carry knife (EDC). A plain edge knife offers the user extraordinary control and precision. With its one slender, sharp edge you can make detailed cuts quickly and easily. From cutting loose threads, peeling an apple, slicing raw fish for sashimi, or slicing through a cardboard box, a straight edge knife will prove incredibly useful.
These knives specialize in “push cuts”, where you slide the blade forward in a controlled motion. The fine edge does well when slicing through a fairly malleable object as opposed to sawing back and forth through a larger piece of wood or rope. When applying pressure to the knife while making a cut, it is crucial that the user remembers to point the blade away from themselves as plain edge knives specialize in making very fast, sharp cuts.
For the outdoorsman considering a plain edge knife, there are a plethora of possibilities. Straight edge knives are useful for things like hunting, skinning game, or preparing food. Larger plain edge knives like bowie knives can even be used for chopping wood; though this will take a much more substantial blade than your average pocket knife. Whether hunting or camping, a plain edge knife is a very useful tool for the outdoorsman to have on hand.
Keep in mind that the fine edge knife will prove most useful when you need to make a quick, clean cut through softer materials. Just like with any tool, the straight edge does have its limitations. With rougher, uneven materials that require sawing to cut through, a plain edge knife can prove difficult to use. That is where the functionality of the serrated edge knife comes into play.
Once you own a plain edge knife that meets your needs, the next consideration is how to keep it razor sharp and performing well for years to come. It is important to clean the knife regularly to avoid any build-up of gunk or debris on the blade or handle. As when handling any sharp object, it is important to take your time and work carefully. You can use a toothpick to remove any dirt or residue stuck in the nooks and crannies of the handle and then apply warm water and dish soap to clean the knife using a soft toothbrush to scrub if needed. Avoid using brushes with harsh bristles or steel wool as you can potentially scratch the surface of your knife.
The most important rule of knife maintenance is to regularly sharpen your knife to avoid it coming up dull when you need it most. Whether you choose to use a sharpening rod, stone, or other tools, the key to maintaining a plain edge knife is to ensure you apply consistent pressure and keep the edge angles in check. The angle of your cutting edge will vary based on the size of your knife, so be sure to sharpen in careful strokes where you can hold the edge angles steady against your sharpening tool.
Primary Uses for a Serrated Edge Knife
A serrated edge knife brings an entirely new range of functionality to the user. While most everyday jobs can be taken care of with a straight edge, a serrated edge can take on heavier duty jobs. From sawing through wood or rope or cutting through thick plastic and other uneven surfaces, the jagged teeth of the serrated edge knife are going to prove equal to the task. Often, cutting softer objects like bread or tomatoes requires a serrated blade as well to avoid crushing the items.
The back and forth sawing motion allows the teeth to grab onto the object and create a cut without applying too much pressure to the item’s surface. Due to its ability to quickly grab and cut through most surfaces, those in construction or medical fields may find a serrated edge knife especially useful. The sharp teeth will make short work of even the toughest materials for those who need to move quickly. However, it is important to keep in mind that this type of edge does not offer the same precision as a plain edge. If making a clean, controlled cut is your aim then the serrated edge knife may not be best for you.
Many outdoor enthusiasts have also discovered the incredible utility of serrated edge knives like tactical fixed blade knives. With their ability to quickly tear through tough surfaces and thick fabric, it is a great tool to have in tow during any outdoor excursion. Whether cutting thick rope or sawing through the wood – the serrated edge will provide superior grip and strength where a regular straight edge may be more difficult to use.
Serrated knives are especially gifted at tearing through synthetic materials that are often found in ropes and camping gear. Avid hunters will also find a serrated edge knife useful in some scenarios. While plain edge knives work well for skinning and precision cuts, a serrated edge is needed to tear through thicker hides and cut through tougher portions of the game. When it comes to the tactical knives or combat knives for self-defense, many consider the look of a serrated knife to be more menacing, making it desirable to fend off potential attackers.
While some avoid serrated edge knives because of their higher maintenance blades, caring for them is actually not as difficult as you may think. A serrated knife can be cleaned in the same way as a straight edge blade – carefully using a soft brush with warm water and dish soap. Sharpening a serrated edge knife is where many people find it difficult. While it is a bit more time consuming to sharpen your serrated knife, these knives tend to stay sharp for longer than their straight edge counterparts so you will find yourself sharpening less frequently.
A sharpening rod is the best tool for sharpening a serrated knife. The rod can be held against the beveled edge of your serrated blade and run in short, controlled strokes along the grooves in between the teeth. There are many great tutorial videos on how to do this effectively! With a bit of practice, you will be sharpening your serrated edge knife like a pro in no time.
Making Your Decision for Straight Edge Knife or a Serrated Edge Knife
In the end, the decision about the type of knife to purchase comes down to the buyer’s intended use and personal preference. Both straight edge and serrated edge knives are incredibly useful, and many knife aficionados choose to keep several of each! Before deciding what is right for you, carefully consider how you plan to use the knife (is it primarily for recreation, professional use, everyday carry pocket knife, self-defense, etc.) — and then assess the best tool for you.
With either type of blade, there are maintenance considerations, but overall both are fairly easy to care for and keep in prime condition for many years. A good knife is one of the most versatile and useful items to keep on hand—whether you choose a plain edge or serrated edge knife you are sure to find many uses for your new tool!