Ultimate Knife Buying Guide | How To Choose The Right Knife
Posted by Hassan Yousaf on
Introduction: Choosing the Right Knife
When it comes to purchasing a knife, the large variety of knives that exist can make it difficult to decide which knife is best to buy. Especially for those who have not purchased a knife before, finding the right knife for the task at hand can be a bit daunting. Searching the term knife on the web will yield a large amount of results, each with a large assortment of various forms of knives.
The key features you need to know about a knife include blade material, handle material, and accessories. The knife’s specifications and dimensions, such as the length, height, width, and weight, are also important pieces of information to know when purchasing a knife.
Knives come in many shapes, sizes, types, and colors. Types of knives include hunting knives/survival knives, pocket knives, manual knives, fixed-blade knives, spring assisted / assisted opening knives, neck knives, Damascus knives, every day carry (edc) knives, and many more. Also, there are numerous companies out there which supply knives, including Tac Force, Mtech, Master USA, Damascus, and Elk Ridge.
Which type of knife is the right kind to purchase? Which company should you buy the knife from?
This knife guide will help answer these questions and assist you in purchasing the right knife for your necessities or desires. We will highlight the different types of knives and their uses, materials used to manufacture the knives, the various blades and handles crafted, and the different knife companies and which knives they manufacture.
By the end of this guide, you’ll be a knife master!
I. Single Edged & Doubled Edged Blades
II. Plain vs Serrated Blades
III. Blade Number
IV. Blade Types & Materials
V. Handle Material
VI. Assisted Opening vs Automatic vs Manual Opening Knives
Future Content (In Progress)
VII. Types of Knives
VIII. Knife Companies
XI. Knife Sizes
X. Locking mechanisms
XI. Types of Blade Steel
XII. Folding vs. Fixed Blades
XIII. Full Tang vs. Partial Tang
I. Single Edged vs Double Edged Blade
When looking to purchase a knife, something you may have noticed is how some knives have blades that are sharp all around, while other blades have a sharp side and a less sharp (dull) side. What’s the purpose of having these two different types of blades? Which type of blade is better to get?
Single Edged Blade
A single edged blade is the most common type of blade and is very functional. A single edged blade has a sharp side and a dull side. Typically, the front edge (side) of the blade is sharp, while the spine (back) edge (side) of the blade is dull. This allows for the user to make cuts and slices using the front edge of the blade, while placing their thumb on the spine (back) edge to increase pressure and accuracy, making a cleaner cut. Due to this functionality, single edged blades are recommended when considering purchasing a knife.
Double Edged Blade
The double edged blade is characterized by both the front and spine (back) edge of the blade being sharp. There is no part of the blade that is dull. This may sound more functional; however, this design places some restrictions in the way the user can operate the knife. With the double edged blade, the user is unable to place his thumb on the back edge of the blade to add pressure and accuracy, as both sides are sharp. As a result, knives with double edged blades are less common than knives with single edged blades. Purchasing a knife with a double edged blade is recommended if you are purchasing the knife as a collectible rather than a tool, or if you like the design.
II. Plain vs Serrated
A variety of aspects, such as handle material, blade type and material, accessories, and size, makes each knife unique and distinctive. One feature that distinguishes knives is whether the knife’s blade is a plain blade, fully serrated blade, or half serrated blade. Let’s break down the uses of each.
The plain blade is considered the traditional blade used in knives. Typically, a plain blade is single edged, meaning it has a sharp front and a dull spine (back), allowing for the user to place his thumb on the back of the blade for clean, accurate, and pressurized cuts. Also, these knives are easily sharpened using a knife sharpener.
Plain blades are great all-purpose knives, and are used for slicing and cutting, or skinning animal game.
Fully Serrated Blade
A fully serrated blade is similar but very different relative to a plain blade. A fully serrated blade is usually single edged, but can also be found as double edged. The main difference between a fully serrated and plain blade is, with a fully serrated blade, the blade has serrations along the entire length of the blades front edge. This allows the user to perform very different tasks compared to a plain blade.
The serrations allow for added strength and pressure, allowing the knife to cut stronger materials.
Fully serrated blades are great for cutting and sawing through tough materials, such as rope and zip ties. However, they aren’t as accurate as plain blades, and their cuts are not as clean. Also, fully serrated blades are more difficult to sharpen. If you’re looking to cut strong material without the worry of accuracy, a fully serrated blade is the way to go.
Partially Serrated Blade
The partially serrated blade is the most popular blade and integrates the best of both worlds. Also known as the combo edge blade, a partially serrated blade can either be double edged or single edged, although single edged are more common. With a partially serrated blade, the first half of the blade edge (closer to the handle) has serrations, while the second half of the blade edge (converging at the tip) is plain.
This allows the user to perform tasks meant for plain blades and fully serrated blades. With partial serrations, the user can use part of the blade to make accurate and clean cuts, while using part of the blade to make rough cuts through stronger material. The only restriction with the partially serrated blade is sharpening difficulties.
III. Number of Blades
Pocket knives are simple folding knives that can either be assisted opening, in which a built in spring allows for the knife to be opened in a quick fashion, or manual opening, in which the knife is opened relatively slower (see types of knives). Pocket knives can also be single-bladed, multi-bladed, or multi-tools. Okay… maybe pocket knives are not so simple. Let’s break down the advantages and disadvantages of the number of blades, and which one you need.
Single-bladed pocket knives have, you guessed it, one single blade and handle. These knives are known to be simplistic yet functional. These knives feature one large (3-4 cm length) blade, making them durable and strong. Single-bladed pocket knives can also have assisted opening functionality, where they can be opened with one hand in a moment’s notice. However, single bladed pocket knives are less versatile compared to the multi-bladed pocket knife.
Multi-bladed pocket knives are multipurpose pocket knives. They feature multiple blades within one handle, allowing the user to perform the work of multiple pocket knives with just one. These knives can have two to four blades built in, each blade having a different style for different functions. These knives may include a drop point, spey, and/or sheepsfoot blade, perfect for skinning an animal or carving wood. Although these knives are very versatile and functional, they are not as durable as single-bladed pocket knives.
Multi-tool pocket knives consist of multiple blades, as well as additional accessories or tools, such as screwdrivers, can openers, filers, scissors, and more. These multi-tool pocket knives are some of the most functional and multipurpose knives on the market. These are great for individuals looking for an all-inclusive knife.
IV. Blade Types & Materials
You’re probably thinking knives can’t get any more complicated, well do I have news for you. To add to the confusion, pocket knives also have several (twelve) different types of blades. But don’t worry, we’ll go through each blade type and their uses to help you choose the right knife.
Drop Point Blade
The drop point blade runs from the handle and converges at the tip at the end of the blade. The back of the blade coming from the spine of the knife handle is dull and has a convex shape, while the opposite / front side of the blade is sharp. Both the sharp and dull sides of the blade converge at a tip. Survival and hunting knives typically incorporate drop point blades, however, some pocket knives are drop point knives.
Drop point blades are single edged blades, meaning only the front of the blade is sharpened while the spine of the blade is dull. The tip of the drop point blade is dull, making it easy to puncture without damaging the inside of the target animal. Thus, these blades are especially great for hunters, but can also be used for miscellaneous camp activities as well.
Uses: These knives make for great hunting knives, as they make skinning game very easy without damaging the meat. They are also very durable and good for self-defense stabbing hits due to the sharp point at the end of the blade.
Straight Back Blade
The straight back blade has a conventional and standard shape. The back / spine of the blade is straight and dull, allowing for the user to place their thumb on the back of the blade and apply extra pressure. The front the blade is curved and sharp, allowing for easy cuts, which is why this blade is found on kitchen knives.
Uses: This knife is very versatile, as it is great for both chopping, slicing, and stabbing.
Clip Point Blade
The clip point blade shares many similarities with the drop point blade. The spine of the blade is dull, while the front of the blade is sharp. The main difference between the clip point and drop point blade is unlike the drop point, the clip point has a concave curve nearing the sharp tip of the blade. This blade is typically found on bowie knives.
Clip point blades are flat, thin, and have a sharp and pointy tip, making these knives great for piercing.
Uses: These knives make for great hunting and camping knives, and works great for cutting and puncturing.
The sheepsfoot blade is great for slicing and cutting due to sharp and flat front of the blade. However, the back / spine of the blade is dull. Additionally, the tip of the blade is convex shaped and dull.
Uses: A knife with a sheepsfoot blade is the safest knife you can get. The dull tip and spine of the blade makes it relatively non-threatening and difficult to inflict injury on the user. The user can place their thumb on the blade’s dull spine for added pressure. This is a great blade for first time knife users.
The wharncliffe blade is similar to the sheepsfoot blade. The front of the blade is sharp and flat, great for slicing and cutting. The back of the blade has a longer curve relative to the sheepsfoot blade.
Uses: This is a great every day carry (edc) knife, as it is an all-purpose blade. It’s especially great for slicing and cutting.
Spear Point Blade
The spear point blade resembles the shape of a spear. Both edges, the front and back, of the blade have the same shape and curve equally until reaching the very sharp tip of the blade. The spear point blade can be double edged, meaning both sides of the blade can be sharp. However, in most cases, the blade is single edged, meaning the front of the blade is sharp while the spine (back) of the blade is dull.
Uses: This knife is an equally balanced knife and excels at stabbing. The blade can be used for cutting and slicing, however, it is not as good at slicing as some of the other blades.
Needle Point Blade
The needle point blade has a symmetrical design, in which both the spine and front of the blade are characterized by an equal steep slope to the pointy tip of the blade. However, the needle point blade has less material within the stomach of the blade compared to the other blades on this list. Thus, this knife is not as great for slicing and cutting, and is less sturdy and durable.
Uses: This knife can be used for stabbing, but nothing more. This blade is rarely found on knives, and can be occasionally found on stiletto knives.
In a spey-point blade, both the front and spine (back) of the blade are flat. Both edges of the blade curve to the pointy tip of the blade. This blade can either be double edged, in which both sides of the blade are sharp, or single edged, in which only the front of the blade is sharp while the back is dull.
Uses: This knife is great for skinning animal game.
Pen Blade Blade
Both the front and spine (back) sides of the pen blade slope to the same degree reaching the dull top. The front of the blade is sharp and typically serrated, while the spine of the blade is dull, allowing the user to place their thumb or finger on the back to increase pressure. Knives with pen blades are usually small and accessible, making it handy for quick tasks.
Uses: This knife is great for small tasks, such as cutting rope. This knife can also be used for carving wood to make spears.
Trailing Point Blade
The trailing point blade has a sharp front side that curves up to the tip of the blade. The spine (back) of the blade is dull and also curves up to the tip of the blade. The tip of the blade is relatively dull and exceeds the handle’s highest point. This blade has a large belly, making it great for cutting.
Uses: This knife is generally used for cutting and slicing.
The tanto blade has a very distinctive look, highlighting angular lines & edges. The end point of the tanto blade has a sharp downward slope, making it highly durable and can easily puncture its target.
Uses: Great for puncturing strong material, such as a rough animal hide.
Reverse Tanto Blade
The reverse tanto blade has a sharp and flat front and spine (back). The spine of the blade slopes downward before reaching the very sharp tip of the blade. The spine of the blade is generally dull, while the front is sharp, making this knife a single edged blade.
Uses: Similar to the traditional tanto blade, the reverse tanto is great for puncturing and piercing due to its sharp tip.
The hawkbill blade bears a resemblance to a hawk’s claw. The hawkbill blade has a curved shape, and the cutting edge of the blade has a concave shape. Occasionally, the cutting edge of the hawkbill is fully serrated.
Uses: This knife is perfect for cutting rope, tape, wires, cardboard boxes, and zip ties. However, it is not as functional and multipurpose as some of the other blades.
The kukri blade has a very distinctive look. The front of the blade is sharp and initially curves up, then down, and then up to the sharp tip of the blade. The spine of the blade initially slopes up from the handle and subsequently slopes downward to the sharp tip of the blade. Kukri blade knives are generally full-tang, meaning the blade extends through the entire handle, making this made very heavy duty.
Uses: Kukri blade are very strong and durable, making them great for chopping wood or slicing.
Skinner blades feature a sharp hook above the blade’s tip.
Uses: These knives are great for cleaning and skinning game.
Gut Hook Blade
Gut hook blades feature a gut hook and semi-circled edge.
Uses: These blades are perfect for cleaning game without damaging the meat.
V. Handle Materials
Another distinguishing factor among knives are the materials used to create the handle of the knife. This is an important aspect of the knife, as it dictates how the knife feels, as well as defines the knife's reliability and durability. Below, we go over the common types of materials used to make knife handles.
Stainless steel is not limited to great blades, but they make for great handles as well. Stainless steel handles are very durable and reliable and are heavier compared to their titanium counterpart. Stainless steel is also a much more affordable material, making knives made from stainless steel affordable as well.
Aluminum handles are lightweight and provide a great grip. Aluminum knives can be anodized, providing a protective layer on the handle. Aluminum handles can be found on inexpensive, cheap knives. But don’t let the word cheap throw you off, aluminum knives make for excellent all around and durable knives, which can survive any condition. Maybe I should have said budget-friendly instead.
One thing nobody can deny, wood handle knives look pretty great. Okay, maybe some may disagree with that statement, but the added coating on most wooden knives giving it that nice shiny look while protecting the wood handle is pretty irresistible in my humble opinion. There are a lot of different types of woods used to make wood handle knives, with the most prominent being pakkawood. Pakkawood handle knives are relatively inexpensive due to the use of wood veneers to make up the core of the handle. However, pakkawood knives are covered with high quality wood making them treasurable.
Bone is another common material used is knife handles. Bone handles feel great and provide an excellent grip, however, they are prone to degradation over time.
Rubber handles may not provide the most exquisite or quality knife handles, however, when I say these knives are some of the most reliable and durable on the market, I really mean it. Rubber handles deliver an exceptional grip, and unlike other materials, they don’t decay over time. Rubber knife handles are weather proof and water proof, making them useful in any condition. Also, the excellent grip makes for slicing, dicing, skinning… whatever you’re doing with the knife, much easier.
White pearl is considered a premium and fine material, made from the material that makes the outer layer of pearls. Pearl handles are very durable, and make for great looking knives. The good news is, even though pearl is an expensive material, it can be found on both expensive and inexpensive knives.
When thinking heavy duty knives, G-10 handles come to mind. The G-10 handle is made from fiberglass and can handle any situation or weather environment. On top of that, these knives are lightweight and provide an excellent grip. You can find G-10 handles on a wide range of survival and tactical knives – from bowie hunting knives to pocket knives. If you’re looking for quality, durability, and a nice grip, you can’t go wrong with G-10 handle knives.
Titanium handles are lightweight, durable, and strong. This is a common material found in premium knives and can be anodized to add an extra protective layer. Titanium handles can come in a variety of colors, from yellow, green, blue, red, etc. These handles are also resistant to decaying and corrosiveness.
Carbon fiber handles are as premium as it gets. This material is commonly found within the aviation industry, used for fabricating reliable and quality wings for drones. Now you can have this material in the palm of your hand.
Oh, almost forgot to mention these knives are extremely durable, lightweight, and feel very smooth.
Polymer handles are made of nylon reinforced with fiberglass. These handles provide lightweight knives at a low cost. These knives are practical, functional for many situations, and cheap.
Micarta handles are fabricated from resin and cloth or paper, making for a strong knife handle. These materials allow for micarta knives to provide the user a soft grip. Micarta knives feature elaborate handle designs. These knives are generally tan or brown.
Stag handles are expensive and premium handles made from deer antlers.
Celluloid material is a form of plastic used to craft knife handles. These knives can take on a variety of handle materials, such as wood and pearl.
Zytel handles are made from a plastic polymer and are very durable at a low cost. They are moderately textured and have a great grip.
Kraton, similar to zytel, are made from a plastic polymer and have a soft grip.
Delrin handles are made from a plastic polymer and is heavier compared to kraton and zytel handles.
VI. Assisted Opening vs. Automatic vs. Manual Opening
The mechanism used to open your folding knife is a very important aspect of your knife, and comes down to personal preference, convenience, and the specific task the knife is being used for. The three main mechanisms used to open a blade are assisted opening, switchblade, and manual opening.
Assisted Opening / Spring Assisted
Assisted opening knives, also known as spring assisted knives, have become very popular in recent years. These knives are opened by applying gentle pressure to a thumb stud on the closed blade or flipper on back of a knife’s handle, and the spring action built into the knife does the rest of work, swinging the blade open in a very quick manner. Once the knife opens, it locks into place using the linerlock mechanism. The knife can subsequently be closed by pushing down a lever within the knife’s handle. These knives are so easy to use, they can be opened with one hand.
These knives are great for tactical reasons and self-defense purposes. If ever placed into an emergency situation, spring assisted knives can open and are ready to use in a matter of seconds. The assisted opening mechanism are usually found in pocket knives.
Switchblade knives opens quickly with the push of a button. Owning and carrying a switchblade is illegal within the United States. It is important to understand the distinction between switchblades and assisted opening knives. Firstly, the blade within a switchblade opens straight up from the handle with the push of a button or switch, no pressure is needed from the user to open the knife. On the other hand, assisted open knives swing open through gently applied pressure.
Ways to tell if a knife is a switch blade or spring assisted knife is whether pressure is required to open the blade from the neutral (closed) state. If gentle pressure is required to open the knife, then the knife is an assisted opening knife. If pressure is not required, then the knife is a switchblade.
Another surefire way to ensure whether a knife is a switchblade or assisted opening knife is whether the knife has a button. If the knife has a button, it is a switchblade, as assisted opening knives do not have a button.
In recent years, variations of the switch blade, which integrates aspects from the switch blade and assisted opening knives have been introduced and are legal to possess in certain states. These specific knives are known as OTF knives, and they are being legalized in certain states. It is important to check your state laws before purchasing an OTF knife, as certain states may prohibit the purchase of this knife.
Manual Opening Knife
Manual opening knives are considered old fashioned knives. With a manual knife, the user is required to hold the knife with one hand and open the knife with the other hand by placing their nail within a dent in the blade and pull the knife open. Manual opening knives are also capable of being opened with one hand through the use of a thumb stud on the blade, however, only the knife experts would be able to open manual knives seamlessly with one hand. However, manual knives should not be considered obsolete, as these can be considered some of the most reliable knives on the market. The less complicated the knife, the less breakable parts. It is recommended to carry a manual knife with you on camping and hunting trips along with your spring assisted knife and hunting knife, as you can always depend on the manual knife to do the job.
VII. Types of Knives (To be Continued...)
There are numerous knife designs garnered for every task to ever exist. Thus, understanding the type of knife needed for the task at hand is important, as specific knives are made for specific situations. Don't get me wrong, there are many all-purpose knives out there that are multifunctional - these are great for a wide variety of tasks, and they're perfect knives to have if you don't want to carry dozens of knives with you to every camping or hunting trip. However, these knives may be outperformed by specific knives when it comes to the tasks they were built for. Let's go through some of the common types of knives.
A hunting knife is primarily designed for animal hunting and cleaning game, such as skinning an animal hide. The common blades used in hunting knives include skinners, gut hook, drop point, and clip point. The use of skinner knives is in the name, these knives are typically used for skinning animals and cleaning game. Gut hook knives are designed to open up the animal from the stomach. Clip point and drop point blades can be used for various outdoor and camping activities (see types of blades for more information).
A strong grip is very important when skinning and cleaning game. The hunting knives handles are typically made from horn, wood, plastic, or bone. These materials are highly durable and reliable, making the knife feel great in your hands.
The sizes of hunting knives can vary, and depends on the type of hunting. Small hunting knives (blade length: 2-6 cm) are used for smaller game, including birds, rabbits, and squirrels. Medium hunting knives (blade length: 6-9 cm) are used for deer, sheep, pigs, goats, and lamb. Large hunting knives (blade length larger than 9 cm) are used for bigger game with thick skin, such as buffalo, zebra, moose, etc.
Hunting knives come in two variations, fixed-blade and folding. Folding hunting knives are very convenient, as they are capable of folding into half its size, allowing the user to place it in their pocket. A fixed-blade does not have the ability to fold, however it is recommended for skinning larger game, as there is no chance of the knife folding as you are in the process of skinning.
Survival knives and hunting knives are interchangeable within the knife community. All hunting knives are survival knives, but not all survival knives are hunting knives. Now that I have you confused, let’s go over the main difference between the two. The main difference is, hunting knives primary purpose is to skin and clean animal game. Survival knives are “all encompassing”, meaning they can be used to skin game, but also have many other purposes. For instance, survival knives can come with a variety of accessories, including a compass and survival kit (containing a fire starter) within the inside of the handle. These are great knives to carry for general camping and outdoor activities.
As these knives are multipurpose, they are great for survival situations. They can be used for crafting weapons from wood, food hunting, generating a fire, and you can even place first-aid materials within the knife handle.
Survival knives are limited to fixed-blade knives, meaning the blade of the knife has no folding capability, and all parts of survival knives are immovable. This is beneficial, since there is no chance this knife will fail you when you need it most. It is much more durable and reliable, therefore it is much less likely to break. However, the main disadvantage is it is not as accessible as a folding pocket knife. Although survival knives come with a sheath that can be attached to your belt, if you ever need quick access to a knife, a folding knife is convenient as it can easily fit in your pocket. Thus, it is recommended to bring a survival knife and folding knife with you on your outdoor and camping trips.
In the case of survival knives, the most effective blade length ranges from 4-8 inches, as these are the easiest to carry and durable survival knives. Bigger blades above 8 inches in length are harder to carry and thus, may be detrimental in an emergency survival situation.
Survival knives can have a straight edged or partially serrated blade. Straight edged knives are easier to sharpen, but partially serrated blades are more versatile, as they can also be used to cut rope and wood. Regarding survival knives, single edged partially serrated blades are highly recommended.
Survival knives handles can be made from wood, plastic, bone, or rubber. Wood and bone are very high quality and provide a strong grip, however they can deteriorate easily. Rubber can also provide a great grip.
When it comes to a survival knife, a full tang knife, in which the blade fully extends into the handle, is recommended. These knives have the highest structural integrity and are essentially unbreakable.
Damascus knives are some of the best hunting knives to have. These damascus knives are hand forged and crafted through countless hours of heat treatments, making each and every damascus knife unique and one of a kind.
Most damascus knives are fixed blades and full tang, meaning the blade of the knife runs through the entire length of the handle. This quality provides the damascus knife an increase in durability and strength compared to other hunting knives, and you can be sure to rely on this kind of knife for cleaning, gutting, skinning, or any other hunting necessities.
The Damascus steel from which these knives are crafted are unique blades in their own right. The damascus steel blade is forged through layers and layers of sheet metal, making these knives as durable as it gets. This also results in the beautiful wavy design of the damascus steel blade.
The handle of damascus knives are very comfortable and durable as well. These knives are typically made with either bone or simulated bone handles. The one downside is bone can degrade a bit faster than other handle materials, but this can be circumvented through proper care of the knife. The damascus knife is also easy to protect and carry, as they come with a leather sheath.
If you're looking for the perfect hunting knife to take on your trips, look no further as the damascus knife is your best choice. However, if you're looking for a more all encompassing knife with survival and emergency capabilities, the survival knives are you're best bet.
Flashlight KnivesFlashlight knives are similar to spring assisted opening knives. These knives are considered some of the best emergency tactical knives, as they incorporate various accessories making them perfect for any situation. As a result, most flash light knives highlight first responder themes, such as EMT, EMS, Air Force, Navy, Army, and other military themes. Generally, flashlight knives have a drop point partially serrated single edged blade, and an aluminum handle with a seat belt cutter and glass breaker. The one accessory which makes flashlight knives unique compared to other spring assisted knives is the built in mini LED light within the handle of the knife. This LED is very strong and convenient, and can be easily turned on by turning the head of the LED light. The LED flashlight also comes with replaceable batteries, ensuring you'll never be left in the dark if you have this knife with you. As previously mentioned, this knife is a great all encompassing knife, making it great to carry with you on camping and outdoor trips.