Guide to Knife Blade Shapes

knife blade shapes

As with the various types of steel and edge grinds, knife blade shape plays its own crucial role in how a knife functions.  Can you apply pressure to the back?  Does it have a sturdy point?

There are many, many blade shapes, and it seems like new ones pop up all the time.  However, there are some core shapes that you should know about because most of the knives you’ll see for sale fall into these categories.  Each has its own strengths and weaknesses that lend it different uses and purposes.

A straight back knife has many purposes, for example, while a needle point blade has very few.  Because of this, when you’re looking for a new knife, whether for cooking or as an EDC, you need to consider what kind of shape you want for the blade.

That’s what we’re here for!  This guide will give you a rundown of the various blade shapes out there so you can pick the best blade shape for your knife.

Table of Contents

Drop Point Blades

Advantages

  • Strong Point
  • Good Slicing Belly
  • Versatile in its Applications
  • Is Capable of Detail Work
  • Sharpens Easily

Disadvantages

  • Point Isn’t Very Suitable for Stabbing or Piercing

What's a Drop Point Blade?

You’ve probably seen a drop point blade before, seeing as how it’s the most common type of knife blade shape.  This is because it’s a practical, versatile shape that lends itself well to general use.

The drop point blade has a convex spine that slopes downward from the knife’s handle to its tip.  That’s where it gets its name actually.  It drops from the handle to the point.

The spine isn’t sharpened but there is some variation in how much belly the knife blade has.  However, it typically has enough that slicing with a drop point knife is no problem.

What Are Drop Point Blades Used For?

Drop point blades are used for virtually everything.  The end.

Just kidding.  They’re great as general-purpose knives, probably making up the bulk of EDC knives, and are often employed by hunters, too.

Its functionality is what makes it so popular as an EDC (everyday carry) knife blade.  It has a decent tip (though not as good as some) that can do detail work and a good belly for slicing.  Many people associate knives with this kind of blade as being utility knives, so you don’t have to worry about people thinking you’re carrying a weapon when they see it.

That being said, they feature in tactical, camping, hunting, and survival knives as well.  Woodworkers, outdoorsmen (and women), and even office workers benefit from this blade.  It just works for nearly everyone.

What Are the Downsides?

If you need a good point on your knife, the drop point isn’t going to be your first choice.  It has a decent point, but it isn’t ideal for piercing material.  If that’s what you need, then you should look at something like a clip point or spear point.

Examples of Drop Point Knives

Clip Point Blades

Advantages

  • Point is Sharp
  • Easy to Control
  • Good Belly for Slicing
  • Excellent for Piercing

Disadvantages

  • Point Can Be Narrow and Prone to Breaking

What's a Clip Point Blade?

Clip point knife blades look like the point has been clipped off.  The spine, which isn’t sharp, runs straight from the haft but stops midway(ish) to the point, after which it runs downward to the point.  This cut-off point can be straight or curved.

These blades are usually quite versatile, especially with the outdoors crowd.  The fine tip makes piercing easier than the drop point style while retaining the belly needed for slicing.

The tip is also very controllable.  That’s not to say that other tips are not, but the clip point is well-suited for swift stabbing motions.  This is the reason why one of my favorite kitchen knives is a serrated cut point.

The point is usually much thinner than the rest of the blade, enhancing its piercing ability.

What Are Clip Point Blades Used For?

I love clip point blades.  They really are a great, all-purpose kind of design.  Yes, they’re great for hunting, camping, and other outdoors activities, but you can do a lot with them indoors as well.

For example, I love them for opening padded envelopes and packaging.  I can stab through the material with the tip and then slice my way through the rest.  When I go camping, I can use them just as easily in that environment, too.  You really can’t go wrong with these knives, although you do need to be careful about breaking the tip.

What Are the Downsides?

The tip is both the clip point knife’s strongest and weakest feature.  Being able to puncture through something comes in handy sometimes, but the tip of the blade is insanely thin.  If you’re wanting to stab through a particularly tough material, you may find yourself with a broken knife.  This is why, especially if camping or doing anything bushcraft-related, you shouldn’t rely 100% on a clip point blade if you’re going to need to pierce anything really tough.

Examples of Clip Point Blades

Tanto Point Blades

Advantages

  • Strong Point
  • Cuts Well
  • Can Pierce Tough Material
  • Is Capable of Detailed Work

Disadvantages

  • Not Too Good for Tough Bushcraft
  • Not Good at Slicing
  • Difficult to Control Point
  • Difficult to Sharpen

What's a Tanto Point Blade?

Tanto blades look cool, which makes sense because they’re based on Japanese long and short swords.  As such, this isn’t a general-purpose knife; it’s designed to pierce tough material without damaging the tip.  It accomplishes this by skimping on the belly of the blade by sharply turning toward the tip of the knife.

Tanto blades have a flat grind with a lot of metal around the tip, allowing it absorb the kind of impact that would break a clip point blade.  This design is part of the reason why samurai swords were so effective at stabbing through armor.

It’s also fairly good at cutting, though the lack of slicing ability means it’s not going to be an EDC for most people.  Still, it has excellent stab and pry abilities, so if you use it in a way that plays to its strengths, a tanto-bladed knife can be a handy little tool.

What Are Tanto Point Blades Used For?

One of the main reasons to have a tanto blade is because they look cool.  Outside of that, they are the ideal tool for piercing something, such as tough game hides, and can chop.  You can also do detailed work with them thanks to their superb point.

I’ve also used mine for push-cutting, and I’ve managed to slice meat with them in spite of the weaker belly.  They’ve also been used for tactical purposes (not by me), given that they’re kind of like pocket versions of swords.

That’s really it, though.  A knife using this blade is really a one-trick pony, although if you really like them, you can probably get creative and find new ways to use them.

What Are the Downsides?

The obvious downside is that they can be impractical given their purpose.  As an everyday knife, they aren’t going to cut it for most people.

Sharpening them is difficult as well.  Tanto knives have two bevels, so it can seem like you’re sharpening two knives.  You have to switch between which bevel you’re sharpening in order to to get a good edge.

Examples of Tanto Point Blades

Sheepsfoot Point Blades

Advantages

  • Sharpens Easily
  • Has Good Controlability
  • Can’t Stab Yourself
  • Cuts Cleanly

Disadvantages

  • No Point; Cannot Pierce
  • Unsuitable for Detailed Work

What's a Sheepsfoot Point Blade?

The sheepsfoot blade has a straight edge with a back that curves downwards.  There’s no point at the tip, either, so this blade is for knives that aren’t intended to pierce.

Actually, it was originally used for trimming animal hooves, hence its name.  You don’t want to accidentally stab the poor creature as you tend to his feet, so the blade instead has a belly that’s ideal for slicing while minimizing the risk of accidentally stabbing yourself (uncooperative animals could cause the knife to slip and stab you) or stabbing the animal you’re caring for.

I’ve also read that this kind of knife was given to sailors.  This meant that on long voyages, sailors couldn’t accidentally hurt themselves or get drunk and stab other sailors.  I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it wouldn’t surprise me.  The most likely reason is because it allowed sailors to cut through rigging without stabbing through the sails.  Sometimes these knives are called rigging knives and boaters still enjoy them.

They are also easy to sharpen.  You won’t have to worry if your kit can handle them, so whether you sharpen with simple whetstones or some incredible rig, the sheepsfoot won’t give you a headache.

What Are Sheepsfoot Point Blades Used For?

These blades are tough and designed for tough jobs.  The blade shape also lends itself well to the kitchen, the curving edge allowing for scooping and for smooth chopping.  In fact, many kitchen knives incorporate the sheepsfoot blade, and it’s a favorite among many professionals.

They’re also popular among emergency responders because they can cut seatbelts and other restraints without the risk of stabbing the person you’re trying to save.

As an EDC knife, they’re versatile enough to do almost anything that doesn’t require a pointed tip.  You don’t necessarily have to be a farmer or rancher to like a sheepsfoot knife.

What Are the Downsides?

The biggest downside to the sheepsfoot blade is also its advantage: no point.  Pointed tips can really come in handy sometimes, and if you need one but only have a knife with a sheepsfoot blade, you’re in trouble.  That being said, the lack of point is also its advantage, depending on what you’re using it for.

However, as you can see in some of the examples below, it’s become popular to modify the sheepsfoot to include a small point.  While nowhere near as practical a point as something like the clip point or tanto, it’s a good option for anyone looking for and EDC who really wants a point of some kind.

Examples of Sheepsfoot Point Blades

Wharncliffe Point Blade

Advantages

  • Sharpen Easily
  • Good for Whittling and Boating
  • Good Control
  • Difficult to Stab Yourself
  • Great for whittling

Disadvantages

  • Not Great for Heavy-Duty Work
  • Can’t Pierce or Stab Well
  • Pointed Tip Wears Down Fast
  • Isn’t Good for Some Types of Cutting

What's a Wharncliffe Point Blade?

The Wharncliffe blade shape is so similar to the sheepsfoot that some people use the terms interchangeably.  However, the Wharncliffe design has more of a curve or angle on the back, creating something of a point without needing to modify the sheepsfoot.

The blade shape is attributed to James Archibald Suart-Wortley-Machenzie, the first Lord of Wharncliffe.  It originally had a rounded spine, tapering toward a point and a straight flat-ground edge.

What Are Wharncliffe Point Blades Used For?

It seems that the original purpose of the Wharncliffe blade was for woodworking.  Given that I use one in my woodworking, I’d say it suited its purpose well.  It’s really good for whittling.

The early ones had thicker blades that allowed t hem to even split wood!  Most of the modern ones you find can’t do that anymore.

Strangely, Michael Janich, a knife-fighting expert, conducted some experiments and found that the Wharncliffe blade had tactical usage as well.  This is because most fighting knives are poor cutters – something this Wharncliffe blade shapes lend themselves well to.  Joining up with Mike Snody, they created their own knives, including the Spyderco Yojimbo 2, featuring the Wharncliffe blade.

What Are the Downsides?

There are a few things I don’t care for about Wharncliffe blades, despite being great whittling knives.  One is that the tip wears down easily and they aren’t the most heavy-duty knives in general.

I think the biggest problem with them is that the lack of belly means that some kinds of cutting aren’t too great with a Wharncliffe.

Examples of Wharncliffe Point Blades

Gut Hook Point Blade

Advantages

  • Large Belly for Slicing and Skinning
  • Hook for Field Dressing Wild Game

Disadvantages

  • Not Very Versatile
  • Difficult to Sharpen

What's a Gut Hook Point Blade?

Gut hook blades were designed with one purpose in mind: hunters.  Specifically, they are for field dressing wild game, the hook allowing the hunter to cut through an animal’s skin without causing damage to anything beneath.

What Are Gut Hook Point Blades Used For?

Gut hook blades are used almost exclusively by the hunting community.  If you slice right, you won’t puncture the guts of the animal killed, making these blades popular among hunters and trappers.

While these blades don’t make for good EDC knives for anyone who doesn’t live in the wilderness, hunting to survive, that doesn’t mean you can’t get creative with them.

For example, I’m not a hunter.  I never felt the need to go out and kill animals who don’t stand much of a change against a creature that can kill from many feet away, but I still wanted a gut hook knife for my collection.  The day it (an Uncle Henry) arrived, I inspected it and tested the sharpness in the worst way (my thumb) and then headed outside to see what had my dog agitated.  On my way out, a nail from the doorframe snagged my shirt, so out it had to come.  Instead of retrieving a hammer from the basement, I decided to see if I could use the gut hook to pry it out.

It worked.  I have no idea if the nail was just a little lose (the knife wasn’t even full tang) and that’s why or if gut hooks can rip out stray nails regardless.  I was satisfied, though.

What Are the Downsides?

Even if you’re a hunter and intend to get a lot of use out of a gut hook blade, you’ll have to content with a few downsides.

The first is that this isn’t a very versatile knife.  Gut hook blades can vary quite a bit in shape, some being long like a straight back and others being short like a sheepsfoot, but they really only have one purpose in mind: skinning.  Outside of that purpose, there just isn’t much to do with them.  Even after my little experiment, I’ve never had a need to use the knife since.

The other is that they’re hard to sharpen.  You’ll probably want a sharpening rod to sharpen yours, although my cousin swears that the Work Sharp Knife and Tool Sharpener can sharpen a gut hook, too.  I’ll take his word for it since he collects these kinds of knives.  Regardless, if you want the hook part of the blade (and that’s obviously the reason you want it to begin with) you’ll need more than a good whetstone.

Examples of Gut Hook Blades

Straight Back Blade

Advantages

  • Blades Are Thick and Durable
  • Excell at Heavy-Duty Tasks
  • Good Belly for Slicing and Chopping
  • Tactical Use

Disadvantages

  • Hard to Control
  • Can Be Heavy

What's a Straight Back Blade?

Straight back blades are also called normal blades, so you can guess at how common they are.  These knives have straight spines, the edge curving upwards to form a tip.  This design gives the knife excellent cutting power while also being incredibly durable and tough.

The blade itself is straight, too.  You might think that without the curved belly of some other shapes, it wouldn’t be a good slicing knife, but straight back blades are quite adept as slicing.

In addition, the flat back allows you to apply pressure to the blade, giving it extra force while having a sturdy point to boot.

What Are Straight Back Blades Used For?

It’s probably easier to list what straight back or normal blades aren’t used for!

You’ll find these blades in the kitchen, being carried by hunters, in the military, at campsites, and on EDC knives.  They’re extremely versatile and have many applications.

That said, they aren’t that great for woodworking and many bushcraft tasks won’t be suitable for them.  The long blades are a drawback in this regard.

What Are the Downsides?

Most of the drawbacks when it comes to straight blades stem from the fact that the blades are too long and the points are not as strong as, say, a tanto knife.

Normal blades aren’t the best when it comes to stabbing or piercing if you have to use a lot of force.  The length and geometry of the blade also make it hard to use in bushcraft and woodworking.  Carving and drilling also aren’t strong points when it comes to straight back knives.

Examples of Straight Back Blades

Hawkbill/Talon Point Blade

Advantages

  • Unique Shape Can Grab Nets, Fishing Line, Brush, Rope, etc.
  • Can Cut Tough Material
  • Good Piercing Ability
  • Doesn’t Need Much Force to Cut
  • Extremely Versatile in Usage
  • Doesn’t Need Sharpened Often

Disadvantages

  • Hard to Sharpen
  • Tip Dulls Quickly (Your Mileage May Vary)
  • Blade is Usually Compact

What's a Hawkbill or Talon Point Blade?

Much like the tanto point blade from earlier, the hawksbill (talon) point knife has an obvious cool factor to its design.  Shaped like a talon or the beak of a hawk or eagle, this blade looks like you’d fight velociraptors with it.  Functionally, however, it’s similar to a carpet knife.  It cuts by pulling along whatever material you’re cutting, requiring very little downward pressure to work.

Hawkbill knives aren’t the best slicing knives, but they’re excellent cutters.  The back is straight and dull, so in the event that you actually need to exert some pressure to accomplish a cut, you can do so with your fingers.  For the right person, they make an excellent feature for an EDC knife.

What Are Talon or Hawkbill Point Blades Used For?

These knives look scary, and while some manufacturers feature them heavily in their self-defense knives, they’re probably best for anyone who does a lot of cutting.  This blade shape certainly does that well!

Construction workers enjoy these knives, as they often cut by pulling a knife back in the handle’s direction.  Opening boxes, cutting carpet – all of these things can be accomplished by these knives.

Gardeners, hikers, and campers like them as well.  They’re excellent for pruning, carving wood, cutting through rope and paracord, and making kindling.  Some hunters even prefer them for field dressing.

What Are the Downsides?

The biggest downside regarding talon point knives is that they’re very hard to sharpen.  I was reading a forum where someone asked how to sharpen one and the funniest answer was, “The best way to sharpen a hawkbill knife is to place it in the bottom of a garbage can and place the lid over it.”

The shape makes them devilishly hard to sharpen, but it can be done.  I’ve gotten an edge using a grinder, but round stones apparently work very well.  The next time I sharpen something like my karambit, I’ll probably just use Wicked Edge.

The other downside to the talon blade is that it’s not a good chopper.  Slicing is fine, and stabbing is okay, but its lack of chopping abilities severely limits its place in the kitchen.

Examples of Hawkbill/Talon Point Blades

Needle Point Blade

Advantages

  • Super Sharp Point
  • Good for Stabbing

Disadvantages

  • No Belly; Can’t Slice
  • Tip is Weak

What's a Needle Point Blade?

A needle point blade is symmetrical.  Two edges taper sharply from the handle to form a formidable point.  As such, knives using such blades are mainly for fighting.  Remember that bladed weapons are illegal in some states.

What Are Needle Point Blades Used For?

These blades are most popular among the military and police.  You find them most often used in daggers and such.

What Are the Downsides?

Outside of stabbing soft material (such as flesh), there isn’t much you can do with these knives.  The tip is too fragile to pierce strong material and there’s no belly for slicing or chopping.

Examples of Needle Point Blades

Spear Point Blade

Advantages

  • Strong Point
  • Can Pierce Tougher Material
  • Easy to Control

Disadvantages

  • Small Belly
  • Can’t Slice or Chop Well

What's a Spear Point Blade?

A spear point blade is similar to a needle point blade, but don’t mix the two up.  In a spear point blade, the edge and spine (or both edges if it’s a double-edged blade) are symmetrical and slope to meet one another.  They aren’t required to taper into a single, needle-like tip, though.  They can flare out first or take on a very broad sword-like shape.

Like the needle point, this kind of blade is excellent for stabbing and thrusting, but the tip is sturdier and can pierce tougher material than a needle point.  In general, the design itself is built to be tougher and withstand more abuse.

Like the needle point, spear point blade shapes are often used in daggers and other knives that certain states aren’t all that fond of.  However, spear points are versatile enough in shape that they can be adapted for pocket knives and used as effective EDC knives, making them far more practical than most needle points.

What Are Spear Point Blades Used For?

Stabbing.  They look like broad swords for a reason.

However, there are modified spear points out there that are far more versatile than they normally are.  You can find these knives on utility knives, bushcraft knives, and more.  Depending on what you need a knife for, the spear point could be a feature you want.

What Are the Downsides?

Unless you get a spear point made specifically for bushcraft or EDC, these knives are going to be a one-trick pony.  The look cool and medieval, but they aren’t all that practical outside of the realm of hunting, and most hunters will use a straight back or gut hook.  At least, that’s the word on the grapevine (I don’t hunt).

Also, while they’re far more durable than a needle point blade, that doesn’t mean the tip can’t break.  If it does. your knife if practically worthless.

Examples of Spear Point Blades

Spey Point Blade

Advantages

  • Has Many Uses
  • Is Durable

Disadvantages

  • The Point is Dull

What's a Spey Point Blade?

Spey blades feature a predominately flat cutting edge that curves upwards at the tip, creating a dull point.  The spine is also mostly flat, curving down slightly at the tip.  It has a short belly and wide tip, helping the user to not cut him or herself.

Remind you of something?

It should remind you of the sheepsfoot.  Whereas the sheepsfoot exists to trim hooves, the spey blade was to castrate livestock, but you don’t want to go accidentally stab and needlessly hurt the animal in the process.  Hunters in the modern era like them for skinning.

Spey point blades are most commonly found on multi-blade knives nowadays.  You’ll usually see them combined with something like a clip point blade to offset the lack of proper tip on a spey blad

What Are Spey Point Blades Used For?

The spey point blade shape has many uses.  They were introduced to the market for speying and castrating livestock, as they allow the user to cut through the animal’s flesh without accidentally stabbing them.

Hunters like to use the blade for skinning purposes, as they’re excellent cutters that won’t accidentally pierce something.  And if you enjoy fishing, you’ll find a spey blade can be used similarly for gutting fish.

They can be excellent blades to have in a kitchen, too.  I’ve used them for peeling fruit, for example.

Gardeners will also find that a spey blade is useful when dealing with plants, and anyone who uses leather in their crafts will be pleased to know that a spey blade slicing through leather like its nothing.

All in all, there’s very little the spey blade can’t do.

What Are the Downsides?

They can’t pierce anything, so if you have a regular spey blade and not a multi-knife set, you may find yourself wishing you had a point sometimes.

Examples of Spey Point Blades

Trailing Point Blade

Advantages

  • Large Belly for Good Slicing
  • Tip is Out of the Way
  • Lightweight and Easy to Control

Disadvantages

  • The Point is Weak

What's a Trailing Point Blade?

A trailing point blade shape looks a little like a saber.  The blade curves upward and creates a tip that’s higher than the highest point of the knife, including the tang and handle.  This creates a blade shape that’s ideal for slicing, filleting, or skinning.

Trailing point blades are nice and lightweight, making them easy to control.  Although you have to remember that these blades are double-edged, meaning you cannot apply pressure to the spine.

What Are Trailing Point Blades Used For?

Trailing point blades are often used by butchers, hunters, and fishermen due to their incredible slicing abilities.  The tip is high and out of the way, allowing the user to pierce hides and such if they need to while minimizing the risk of accidentally stabbing where you don’t want to.

Outside of that, the creative person can surely find other, more novel uses for them.

What Are the Downsides?

Although trailing point blades are made for slicing, they have a point.  It’s sharp, too, but narrow.  It’s all too easy to accidentally break it off.  Even sheathing a knife using this blade shape is a pain because it’s way too easy to damage its fragile tip!

Examples of Trailing Point Blades

Straight vs Serrated

All blade shapes are capable of being straight-edged, serrated, or hybrid.  Therefore, when you’re deciding which blade shape suits your ideal knife, you should consider what kind of edge you want.

Straight Edge

Straight edge blades look slick and cut cleanly.  They allow for better precision and control and are also great for anything that needs push cuts.

Manufacturers like them because they’re easy to make, and consumers like them because they’re easy to maintain.  Straight edge knives can be sharpened using any sharpener out there, whether you’re using whetstones or an electric sharpener.

They also have incredible versatility and are great for everyday tasks.  They can open packages, are good when working in a garden, can do detail work, whittling, and many more things.  For most people, a straight edge is all they’ll need.

They’re the most popular kind of edge out there but even they have some downsides.  Straight edge knives are best for simple tasks, but tougher material will be a challenge to cut through.

Part of this is because their edge dulls faster than a serrated edge.  They sharpen more easily, but tough material will really wear them down.

The other reason they aren’t good for tough tasks is that they have no sawing ability.  Bushcraft tasks are difficult with a straight edge, as is cutting fabric, thick rope, and tough meat and vegetables.

All in all, straight edge knives are common, popular, and can accomplish most tasks with ease.  They need sharpened often, but sharpening them isn’t a big deal.

Serrated Edge

Serrated edges have saw-like edges of fine, protruding teeth, and work best with sawing motions.  They may not be as precise, but they can slice through anything.  This is why steak knives are all serrated, and you’ll probably also need a serrated knife for cutting through rope and seatbelts.

Serrated knives are great for bushcraft, too, and hikers should definitely consider a serrated knife if they have anything tough they may have to cut through.  Just be aware that they leave a jagged edge in whatever they slice through, as they aren’t slick like a straight edge.

The biggest downside to serrated knives are that they’re hard to sharpen.  In my experience, they don’t need sharpening as often as a straight edge knife, but they eventually will.  There are electric sharpeners out there that can handle serrated edges, but I typically use rods.  Unless you get your knives as dull as butter knives, the Spyderco Sharpmaker will be all you need.  Just use the corners between each serration.  It takes much longer to sharpen a serrated knife, but it’s far from impossible.

All in all, serrated knives are for people who need something tougher.  Even something not so tough, like bread or tomatoes, are better off being cut with a serrated edge.

Hybrid

Many pocket knives feature a hybrid edge, which is when a blade is split between a straight edge and a serrated edge.  Sometimes the serrated part is just a tiny part of the knife and other times it takes up a whole half of the knife.  The idea is to create a more versatile edge that allows you to make clean slices with the straight edge part and be able to take on tougher cutting jobs.  Survival knives in particular are fond of this hybrid blade shape.

While they offer the best of both worlds, they also have some drawbacks.

The first is that you can accidentally slice with the serrated bit when doing detail work, leaving a jagged edge, or you could accidentally run the straight edge along something you’re trying to saw through and dull it.

Ultimately, you have a much smaller section of the knife to do the sawing motions with and a smaller area of blade to work with in general.

The other maker drawback is sharpening.  They’re harder to sharpen than a serrated knife because you have to use different techniques to sharpen a straight edge vs a serrated edge.  Again, the Spyderco Sharpmaker should do the trick (as long as your knives aren’t in need of a lot of maintenance), but it’s still a pain.

Final Thoughts

Between this article, the article about different steels, and the article about edge grinds, you’re well on your way to understanding the nitty-gritty regarding the world of knives.  Good luck hunting for your first knife.  Remember to take blade shape into consideration!