Certainly one of the most debated topics in the world of knives, an argument dating back before the time of the internet, is whether plain edged, serrated edged, or combo edged-knives are best. In this guide we’ll go over the pros and cons of each and outline which one would be better for you. Of course, the knife you select should reflect the mission at hand and as such, there is no right answer, only answers for specific use cases.
What’s the Controversy?
Just like anything, when it comes to edge types people have strong opinions one way or the other. The truth is, knives have many components and the edge is equally important as something like steel type, blade shape, or handle materials. All edge types have obviously been created from a real-world need and as such, anyone that states one type is useless or better than the other is simply missing the point. Different projects and different materials certainly do require knives with different attributes if efficiency is important to you. While fully serrated blades and combo knives are less common than plain edge knives, they still do have a place in the knife world and are preferred by many.
Before we get started, think long and hard about the life of your previous knives or tools and how you have utilized them in real-world settings. Planning out what you’ll primarily need a knife for is by far the most important consideration. Just like a mechanic would never show up to repair a car with just one tool, but with an entire toolbox, knives generally suit specific purposes and many people collect and use a wide range of knives with different attributes. There is no knife that is the best at every possible scenario.
Plain Edge Blades
What Is a Plain Edge?
These are sometimes called “traditional” or “smooth edge” blades. A plain edge blade will appear smooth and without interruption throughout the entirety of the cutting surface.
Plain edges are going to be found across pretty much every style of knife from kitchen knives to what’s strapped on the utility rig of troops. They certainly are versatile, however, the other two styles on this list can outperform a plain edge in certain circumstances.
Plain edge blades can come in many shapes, sizes, steel types, and even blade grinds. These attributes are a discussion for another time but are equally important as anything else so please make sure you find information for those as well!
How Do You Use It?
Plain edges are the most versatile and, even when you could get the job done more efficiently with a serrated blade, a plain edge can usually still get the job done. Plain edges are of course the easiest to sharpen and maintain, which is a major reason why most people prefer plain edge knives for everyday carry purposes.
Plain edge blades are great for combat and self-defense purposes as well. Yes, those nasty serrated blades can look quite ominous and may even deter your assailant, but don’t be fooled, a plain edge is still often the better choice. Something to keep in mind is that when fighting for your life, your attacker is very unlikely to be naked, meaning they have clothes on and possibly even body armor. A serrated blade, particularly one that is not well maintained, can
“catch” on those materials, slowing down your thrusts and possibly even getting stuck.
Overall, a strong plain edge fixed blade knife with a drop point is going to be your best bet in terms of physical combat. A plain edge fixed blade with a tanto style blade is also great for combat applications due to its ability to penetrate clothing and soft body armor. Knives with plain edges are also good for just about everything else including cooking, survival, hunting, and camping, especially when they come in the shape of a drop point.
Is It Right For You?
If you are new to using a knife, the recommended starting point would probably be the plain edge. A plain edge blade is also great for combat use, hunting, and anything involving cutting, slicing through thin materials, or stabbing. Plain edge blades are very versatile so don’t think you’ll be limiting yourself by getting one; people have been using plain edge blades for just about everything since the Dark Ages.
If you need a clean cut that is as straight as your skills and hand-eye coordination can offer, the plain edge is the obvious winner. The other two blade types will typically cause unwanted damage to what you’re working with and are incredibly hard to keep straight and clean.
A little bonus advice here would be to check the grind and shape of the blade as well. Blade shapes drastically change how the knife is used and what the blade excels at doing while the grind can really make a difference in the final product of your workmanship. If you want to learn more about knife blade shapes this article is helpful.
Serrated Edge Blades
What Is a Serrated Edge?
A serrated blade’s cutting surface isn’t smooth and instead has sharp saw-like teeth that grab and bite into whatever you’re cutting. These blades perform very poorly for slicing or stabbing but they are by far the best in cutting thick fibrous materials, like rope or leather.
Serrated edges can actually come in a myriad of shapes and configurations. Some have teeth angled back towards the handle, others have teeth that are angled forwards towards the tip of the blade, and some have teeth that are pointed straight upwards appearing like a mountain range. These all have specific uses, which makes this blade type a bit more difficult to compare against the other types but for the most part, serrated blades are used primarily for cutting rope, thick string, paracord, etc.
Not all serrated edges are created equally and if you’ve set your sights on a serrated blade, it’s important to consider the different patterns. It’s tough to really say which serrated pattern is the “best” so I’ll just give you a few examples and hopefully you can find something that works for you.
Veff serrations, designed by Tom Veff, are exclusively found on CRKT knives. These knives have a very uniform and distinct style of equally distanced backward-facing indentures. They kind of look like a set of waves, all perfectly distanced from each other, running up the blade. They are a favorite of many fishermen who use them to cut industrial fishing line and netting. These serration styles typically only work in one direction, usually a pulling motion, which eliminates your ability to saw back and forth continuously.
ESEE knives have their own serration pattern which is very conservative. They aren’t very deep so they don’t cut very aggressively like the Veff pattern but they take a bit less energy to use and are quite nice looking. These are also equally distanced and moderately beveled serrations. They are known to be some of the easiest serrated blades to maintain and sharpen.
Spyderco knives have become insanely popular and if you know anything about them at all, it’s that they are always looking to change the game and introduce something very “Spyderco-Like.” Their serrations are a bit less uniform, usually with one large bevel followed by two smaller bevels. This makes sharpening a tad bit difficult but nonetheless, it’s not something you can’t get used to. These knives are very efficient for a wide range of uses.
Although most other serrated pocket knives are only cut on one side of the blade, Chris Reeve knives often have serrations that are cut into both sides of the cutting edge. This makes them easier to use at odd angles and to keep straight.
How Do You Use It?
Well, as mentioned before, you wouldn’t want a serrated blade as your first choice when trying to make clean straight cuts. But a serrated blade comes in handy when you need to make fast and rather hardy movements through a material.
What’s great about serrated edges is that they tend to grab and pull the blade deep into whatever you’re cutting. If there is a rope with tension on it, slicing the rope will generally lead to the blade digging deep into the rope and cutting all the way through, as opposed to cutting a plain edge that will need to be pressed hard into the rope and usually needs a few cuts to drive itself through. Serrated blades can “do the work for you,” meaning they kind of guide themselves into the material and dig n with much less effort than a plain edge.
Is It Right for You?
Most people will not need to carry a serrated blade as their everyday carry (EDC). EDC knives are meant to be versatile. As such, the serrated blade doesn’t really fit the bill since it’s really made to cut through certain materials while not being so good with others.
A good example of someone that may need a serrated blade would be a fisherman or a first responder. A fisherman will likely need it to cut through thick ropes and fishing lines much more efficiently; a first responder may really enjoy the one-handed ease of use when cutting a seatbelt while responding to a car wreck.
As you have probably noticed, in neither of the above two examples is precision or cleanliness of a cut really needed; rather, quick digging capability in tough and thick materials is more important. This is offered by serrated blades.
Serrated blades are also very effective at slicing through metallic objects, like the fuselage of a helicopter, so long as the serrations are configured as such. One last place where you’ll find serrated blades utilized often is in the kitchen, slicing up a steamy loaf of bread! That’s right, many cooks around the world are using a serrated kitchen knife to gnaw through thick loaves of bread. No doubt, such knives are much better at getting the job done than a plain edge blade. They also use serrated blades for any food products that have a rather hard outside with a softer inside, like tomatoes.
A final note here is that serrated blades can be quite difficult to sharpen. You shouldn’t be frightened to learn and try but it certainly will take a bit more technique and usually a lot more time to get a serrated blade razor-sharp. Because some serration patterns take a lot of time and attention to properly resharpen, some people buy serrated knives and then just dispose them of instead of trying to maintain them.
Serrated blades will often wear uneven as well, meaning portions of the blade may still be sharp while others extremely dull. This is because people that carry serrated blades are using them for a specific purpose, like cutting rope, so not all sections of a blad get used as much.
Combination Edge Blades
What is a Combination Edge?
By now you’ve probably figured it out but a combination edge, usually marketed as a “combo edge,” is a knife whose edge has both a plain section and a serrated section. Many people believe these blades offer the best of both worlds but the truth is that while they do give you more options, overall usability and maintenance often suffer.
Combo edges can come in a wide variety of styles and configurations. Just like on serrated-only blades, the serrations on a combo edge can vary, but of course, you know what you’re getting when it comes to the plain edge section. The fun part is determining how much of either section you will be using. Some knives may have a half and half configuration while others may have something like a three-fourths to one-fourth configuration, or a myriad of other combinations.
Some blades will come with the serrated portion next to the tip of the blade. Yet, most of the combo edges you’re likely to see will start from the tip with a plain edge and will host serrations nearer to the handle. As you can probably imagine, with combo edges, you’ll run into tons of choices. The saying “a jack of all trades but a master of none” is what I would use to describe a combo edge blade.
How Do You Use It?
Well, a combo edge blade doesn’t necessarily have a specific use but allows you to use it in any situation. For this reason, knives with combo edges are sometimes preferred for survival applications and by those who work in fields where cutting of certain materials, like rope, is common. Many people think combo edges are cool looking or offer some kind of advanced versatility that they absolutely need; usually, this is not the case. These blades will require some practice and technique to use both of their sections properly.
Is It Right for You?
Of course, if you absolutely need both a plain and serrated edge and carrying two separate knives simply isn’t an option, then a combo edge is the way to go. But, despite combo edges offering a lot of versatility and options, they have heavy drawbacks:
Many people use the plain edge portion of their combo edge, attempting to get a clean cut and accidentally run the blade into the serrations, ruining their crisp and clean work. Other times, when the serrated edge is closer to the handle and the material you’re trying to cut is thicker, the serrated portion becomes a lot less effective. In such cases, the maneuverability of the blade suffers considerably. Serrated edges benefit especially from being able to be used as a saw, but by limiting the length of the serrated portion, as in a combo edge, that ability is diminished heavily.
Combo edges also suffer in self-defense and combat scenarios just like a serrated knife. So again, if that’s your reasoning for picking up a new knife, a combo edge isn’t for you. A combo edge will also be a bit tricky to sharpen for the untrained sharpener; it can even damage your sharpening tool if you try to sharpen the blade incorrectly or hastily. To properly sharpen it, you’ll need two different tools. That may defeat the purpose of the combo edge if you originally chose it to be lightweight.
There are literally tens of thousands of different knives consisting of different sets of attributes. Finding the right knife can be a daunting task for someone new to the world of knives. It will most certainly take more than reading this quick guide to pin down the exact knife that best suits you.
Plain edge blades work well for just about anyone and even where they aren’t technically the best, they are usually suitable still. Serrated blades are generally not so friendly to new knife users but nonetheless have excellent efficiency at specific tasks. Combo blades do a little of both and can certainly be an excellent tool in the versatility department but generally suffer in the efficiency department, making them a bit frustrating to use at times and even more frustrating to maintain.
Remember, the blade’s edge is only one of many factors you’ll need to consider in getting the right knife. The material the handles are made out of, the locking and opening mechanisms, the tang style, the blade’s material, the blade’s shape, the weight of the knife, the length of the knife, the blade’s grind, the knife clip or sheath, the knife’s ability to resist corrosion, and of course the knife’s appearance are all very important aspects you must consider to find that slicing and dicing sweet spot!