Knife Buying Guide
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What is a Knife?A knife is a handheld sharp-edged instrument sometimes called cutlery, consisting of a handle attached to a blade which can be used for cutting or other activities but can also be used as a weapon. Knives are typically fewer than 12 inches in length and made up of two basic parts, the blade and the handle. The blade of a knife is usually pointed and may have one or two cutting edges. The handle which is used to grip the knife, can be made of many different materials or is sometimes simply an extension of the blade.
Selecting a KnifeToday, knives come in many different forms but can be categorized in two broad types: fixed blade knives and folding knives, or pocket knives. Fixed knives have the blade and handle all in one piece and typically come with a sheath. A fixed blade knife does not fold or slide, and is typically stronger due to the tang, the extension of the blade into the handle and lack of movable parts. Folding knives offer convenience and protection because the blade of the knife can be folded into the handle for storage. A folding knife connects the blade to the handle through a pivot, allowing the blade to fold into the handle and be opened completely for use. To prevent injury to the knife user from the blade accidentally closing on the user's hand, folding knives typically have a locking mechanism. Many knives are designed to offer flexibility in accomplishing several tasks, while these designs may not master a specific task, they are good options if a good all around knife is preferred.
Blade Types and Knife Styles
1: Normal Blade
A normal blade has a flat back, and curving edge. A dull back allows the wielder to use their fingers to concentrate force. This also makes the knife heavy and durable for its size. The blade's curve concentrates most of its force on a small point, making cutting and slicing much easier. This knife can chop as well as pick and slice.
2: Trailing-Point Blade
The back edge of a trailing-point blade curves upward which allows a lightweight knife have a larger curve on its edge. A knife with these features can be optimized for slicing. Trailing-point blades provide a longer, sharpened, cutting edge, and are common for skinning knives.
3: Clip-Point Blade
A clip-point blade has a concave or straight cut-out at the tip. This brings the blade point lower for extra control and enhances the sharpness of the tip. Most often a false edge is put on the back side of the clip point.
4: Drop-Point Blade
The drop-point blade is a classic shape and typically has a lowered tip via a convex arc meaning the spine tapers downward toward the tip. This lowers the point for better control and adds strength to the tip. This type of blade can also have a good-sized belly for better slicing.
5: Spay-Point Blade
A spay-point once used for spaying animals has a single, mostly straight edge that curves strongly upwards at the end to meet a short, dull, straight clip from the dull spine. With the curved end of the blade being closer to perpendicular to the blade's axis than other knives and lacks a point which makes penetration difficult. Spay points can be suitable for skinning.
6: Westernized Tanto Blade
Tanto blades are typically inspired by the shape of the Japanese katana. The point to this style blade is in line with the spine of the blade. This leaves the point thick and strong. The tanto blade has a reinforced point which is excellent for heavy duty stabbing cuts.
7: Spear-Point Blade
The symmetrical spear-point blade, also called a pen-knife, was originally utilized for sharpening the tips of quill pens. The point of this blade typically drops down the center of the blade and edges are sharpened. Spear point blades are the classic stabbing blade, although these too can also have one side with a false edge. Some throwing knives may possess spear-points without a spine, making them only flat pieces of metal with a sharp tip.
8: Needle-Point Blade
The needle-point blade is a symmetrical, extremely tapered, double-edged blade that is often seen in fighting blades, such as commando knives. Its narrow point offers the ability to penetrate easily but is liable to breakage if abused. Although often referred to as a knife, this design may also be referred to as a stiletto or dagger due to its use as a stabbing blade, but is also a blade very capable of slashing.
9: Sheepsfoot Blade
The spine of a sheepsfoot blade curves downward to meet the edge, this leaves virtually no point. This type of blade gives the most control, because the dull back edge is made to be held by fingers, and typically is used mainly for slicing applications. The name sheepsfoot comes from the blade's appearance greatly resembling a sheep's hoof. This is one of the safest blade types as it allows for very few accidental piercing occurrences.
10: Wharncliffe Blade
The Wharncliffe blade is similar in profile to a sheep's foot blade, but the curve of the back edge starts slightly closer to the handle and has a more gradual slope towards the tip. Its blade of the Wharncliffe is much thicker than other knives of similar length.
11: Gutting Blade
Designed to help clean out or field dress game, skinning or gutting knives typically have a second blade called a gut hook to help with the skinning and gutting. Skinning/gutting knives are available for multiple tasks, and can vary in size and features.
12: Hawkbill Blade
The hawkbill blade (also called the hook blade) has a concave curved edge which provides a tip that can cut with little leverage on the handle. This type of blade is sometimes used for things like carpet knives or scoring blades and even as slashing blades in tactical knives.
Bowie Knives - Designed for heavy-duty all around use, bowie knives are typically fixed blade long knives and are often given other features such as a saw or hollow handle for storage of survival items. Its biggest drawback can be its heavy weight and long blade.
Gutting Knives and Skinning Knives - Designed to help clean out or field dress game, skinning or gutting knives typically have a second blade called a gut hook to help with the skinning and gutting. Skinning-gutting knives are available for multiple tasks, can vary in size and features.
Butterfly Knives or Balisong Knives - A balisong, otherwise known as a butterfly knife or a Batangas knife, is a Philippine folding pocket knife with two handles counter-rotating around the tang such that, when closed, the blade is concealed within grooves in the handles. After mastering the opening and closing, butterfly knives can be opened and closed quickly but are severely restricted by law in most states.
Switch Blade Knives or Automatic Knives – Automatic or switchblade knives open using the stored energy from a spring or other mechanism that is released when the user presses a button, lever or other actuator built into the handle of the knife. Automatic knives are popular amongst law enforcement and military users for their ease of rapid deployment and their ability to be opened using only one hand. Automatic knives are however severely restricted by law in most states.
Rescue Knives – Rescue knives are typically designed for emergency/fire/rescue professionals (and for the well-equipped civilian) who need specialized knives and accessories to complete different rescue and emergency related tasks. Features like blunt tips, seatbelt cutters and windows punches are often included on rescue knives.
Assisted Opening Knives - An assisted opening knife uses a spring or other activated mechanism to deploy a knife blade when a little bit of pressure is applied in opening the knife. They are commonly confused with switchblades, but have one main difference. While a switchblade can be opened usually with the push of a button, the user of an assisted opening knife must apply some pressure to the knife, usually at the thumb stud, thumb disc or index finger protrusion.
Training Knives – Often available with the same blade type and configurations as their sharpened counterparts, training knives typically have a dull or completely unsharpened blade for training purposes.
Size - Knives can vary in size and weight. Before buying a knife, make sure you have a basic understanding of what you will be using the knife for and what blade type, size and features might be required. Size can be very important and will greatly affect the weight and use of the knife.
Knife Materials - Many knife blades are made of stainless steel to avoid rust and to provide the temper needed to do the job for which the knife is designed. Some manufacturers now use carbon steel because it holds an edge well and can make sharpening the blade easier. Steel is an alloy of iron, other metals and carbon. Stainless steel is a generic term for a family of corrosion-resistant alloy steels which contain 10.5% or more chromium. “Stainless” does not mean that these alloys will never stain or corrode, but that they “stain less” than steels which do not contain chromium. Each alloy imparts different properties to the stainless steel. The most common knife materials are stainless steel, carbon steel, high carbon stain free steel and ceramics. Damascus Steel is a specially forged, layered steel made up of a variety of steels, It offers remarkable toughness and edge quality. For finishing, the surface layers or lines are exposed through an acid etch, which creates a very unique visual effect. Damascus Steel is typically used in special applications due to its inherent high cost and artistic nature. Coatings and paint are also often applied to knife blades which can provide corrosion protection, scratch resistant protection and can be used to camouflage the knife so that the blade does not reflect light.
Folding Knife Locking Mechanisms - Slip joint, found most commonly on traditional pocket knives, the opened blade does not lock, but is held in place by a spring device that allows the blade to fold if a certain amount of pressure is applied. Lockback, also known as the spine lock, the lockback mechanism includes a pivoted latch connected to a spring, and can be disengaged only by pressing the latch down to release the blade. Liner Lock uses a leaf spring-type liner within the groove of the handle that snaps into position under the blade when it is deployed. The lock is released by pushing the liner to the side, to allow the blade to return to its groove set into the handle. Frame Lock, also known as the integral lock or monolock, is a locking mechanism that was designed by custom knifemaker Chris Reeve as an update to the liner lock. The frame lock works in a manner similar to the liner lock but uses a partial cutout of the actual knife handle, rather than a separate liner inside the handle to hold the blade in place. Button Lock is a mechanism which is similar to other locking mechanisms in that when the blade is open completely the button lock locks the blade in place. The blade is only released by pressing the button on the handle which disengages the lock and lets the blade return to its closed position. Axis Lock is a patented Benchmade exclusive, AXIS Lock is a 100-percent ambidextrous design and gets its function from a small, hardened steel bar which rides forward and back in a slot machined into both steel liners. The bar extends to both sides of the knife, spanning the liners and positioned over the rear of the blade. It engages a ramped, tang portion of the knife blade when it is opened. Two omega style springs, one on each liner, give the locking bar it’s inertia to engage the knife tang, and as a result the tang is wedged solidly between a sizable stop pin and the AXIS bar itself. The Kershaw patented Stud Lock is for keeping a knife locked in the open position. It is an extremely secure lock that has 3 points of lock up. It is one of the strongest locks Kershaw manufactures and it can also be used for one hand closing of the blade. To unlock the blade simply press forward on the stud with your right or left thumb to compress the spring and your blade will start to rotate closed.
Tang - The tang of a knife is the extension of the blade that is covered by or used as the handle. Tang is most important when concerning fixed blade knives and how the blade of the knife is attached, connected to or part of the handle. Below are types of knife tangs. Full Tang means the tang is the width of the handle and is designed to be the handle or have scales (sides) attached pinned or riveted into it. Push Tang is a partial tang that is pushed into and secured to the handle. Encapsulated Tang is smaller than the handle. The handle is fitted around it. Rat-Tail Tang narrows down to a point at the butt/pommel, and is screwed into the handle at that point. Full Tang Bevel has a bevel running the entire length of the blade full to the butt/pommel. Hidden Tang is a partial push tang that is sometimes referred to as a hidden tang.
Serration - Serrated blades along with their plain blade counter parts are often available for many different knives. Serrations give added cutting power via their teeth, which are especially useful for cutting rope, cord and other materials. Knives are available that are either partially or fully serrated. The partially serrated knife gives you the choice of two cutting edges in one blade.
Knife Handles - The handles of knives can often be made from a number of different materials, each of which has advantages and disadvantages. Handles are produced in a wide variety of shapes and styles and are often textured to enhance grip. The most common knife handle materials are wood, plastic, rubber, micarta, leather, stainless steel, or a skeleton handle which refers to the practice of using the tang itself as the handle and would therefore be the same material as the blade. More exotic materials are available but typically only seen on art or ceremonial knives, but they can include materials like stone, bone, mammoth tooth, mammoth ivory, walrus tusk, antler, sheep horn, buffalo horn, teeth, etc. Almost any hard material can be employed as a knife handle.
Multi-Tools - a multi-tool is a portable, versatile hand tool that combines several individual tool functions in a single grip. They are typically small enough to be carried in a pocket and many models include a pouch to wear on a belt. The most famous example of a multi-tool is the Swiss Army knife. This design is basically a small, foldable pocket knife that includes different tools that fold into the handle of the knife via a pivot point mechanism. These other tools can include: screw drivers, a cork screw, a nail file, a saw, tweezers, a bottle opener, etc. Another design in popular use is based on a set of foldable pliers instead of a pocket knife. The additional tools are housed in the handles of the pliers. A third popular design is usually the size of a credit card and made to fit in a wallet. This kind of multi-tool usually features a small blade or letter opener, a nail file, a ball point pen, tweezers, a tooth pick, and other smaller tools. Multi-tools are very versatile and the tools included vary from model to model. Most brands offer both general multi-tools, and multi-tools that are designed with a specific use in mind. While multi-tools provide the user with a variety of tools and options, they typically do not excel in any particular area.
Knife CareLike most equipment, knives need a little care. Here are a few tips to help get lasting service from your knife: Keep your knife dry -the entire knife, not just the blade. Keep your knife clean, particularly moving parts and locking device. Keep your knife oiled; especially pivot points and the blade. Keep your knife sharp. A sharp blade is safer than a dull one. Attempting self-repair could void the warranty and may create an unsafe condition. Clean the entire knife regularly, including blade, pivot points and locking mechanism. If possible, clean it without immersing into liquid (spray cleaners work well). If you immerse your knife in liquid (water, soapy water, or solvents), dry it thoroughly after cleaning. Then, oil blade and moving parts. Regular cleaning and oiling should take care of sticky residue and light surface oxidation or beginning rust formation commonly found on knives. Sometimes knives if unkept can become discolored and even rust regardless if its made from stainless steel. Discolored metal has a blue/grey/black color, this is a sign of oxidation, and precedes rust. Regular cleaning will keep discoloration from turning to rust. Rust has a reddish-brown color. Rust will eat pits into your blade and contaminate what you cut. Light rust can be cleaned with oil. Heavier rust needs to be cleaned with more abrasive action, such as cleaner, polish, or plastic cleaning pad. Store your knife in a dry place out of the sheath. Sheaths (especially leather ones) collect moisture and can create pits on the blade. Lightly wipe the blade with clean oil 2-3 times a year to keep rust from starting (more often if near water).
Sharpening Stones - Sharpening Stones come in a variety of grits (grit refers to the size of the particles in the stone). Finer grits cut slower because they remove less material, while coarser grits remove larger amounts of material quickly. Grits are often given as a number, or grade, which indicates the density of the particles. A higher number denotes a higher density and therefore smaller particles. A lower number denotes a lower density and therefore larger particles.
Diamond Stone Sharpeners - Diamond Stone Sharpeners are made of metal or a composite base, diamond stone sharpeners have an outer layer of micron-sized diamonds bonded to a metal surface. Many have special surface holes to prevent “filling build-up.” Diamond stones are fast, effective and come in different grits. You can use a diamond stone wet or dry, but wet is recommended. Use water or water-based honing oil, not petroleum-based oil.
Natural Sharpening Stones - Natural Sharpening Stones can be used wet or dry. Wet is typically preferred and recommended. Water, water-based honing oil, or petroleum-based honing oil work best. Keep in mind using oil on a natural stone is a commitment. It's difficult if not impossible to switch back to water.
Tapered Sharpeners - Serrated blades and gut hooks require a different type of sharpener, known as a taper (or tapered) sharpener. A Tapered Sharpeners is a long, cone shaped sharpening tool, often with diamond layers, specifically designed to get inside each serration. Flat sharpening stones will ruin serrations and should never be used.
Pocket Sharpeners - Pocket Sharpeners are basically pocket sized versions of flat sharpeners. Due to their small size, it is difficult to maintain a consistent angle when sharpening. This makes the full sized flat sharpener ideal for precision work. What pocket sharpeners lack in precision, they make up for in portability. These sharpeners are perfect for use in the field and on the go. Many models include a travel pouch or even a key ring to make them even more portable.
How to Clean and Care for Your Sharpening Stone - Use a little extra fluid to clean and dry the sharpener after every use. Store carefully. Glossy grey streaks are a good indicator of debris build-up. Clean the sharpener thoroughly. If using water or water-based honing oil, clean with soapy water. If using petroleum-based honing oil, use the same oil or kerosene. To scrub clean, use your finger or an old toothbrush. Do not drop your sharpener. Being made of stone, it may break or chip.
Sharpening Fluid - Depending on the sharpening stone, you can use water, water-based honing oil, or petroleum-based honing oil. Treat your choice of sharpening fluid as a permanent one; because of the porous nature of the stone itself, it is very difficult to switch from an oil-based lubricant. The reason for using a sharpening stone wet is to cleanse the pores of the stone of the little particles of steel cut from the knife. Were it not for the oil mixing with and removing these particles, the surface of the stone would soon become smooth and the sharpening power would be greatly reduced. Don't be stingy with the honing fluid during sharpening. Use enough to keep a pool visible on the stone. Once murky, pat or lightly wipe away the fluid, then add more.