What defines a Tanto? Why is the drop point so popular? Why is a Hawksbill best for skinning apples and oranges?
Here’s your guide to knife blade shapes and their purpose.
Terms to Know
- Concave: An inward curve.
- Convex: An outward curve.
- Spine: The top of a blade, opposite the cutting edge.
- Grind / Bevel: The shape of the cutting edge, either hollow or flat.
- False edge: A sharpened edge near the tip, opposite the cutting edge.
- Fuller: A channel ground into a blade’s cheek to reduce weight.
- Swedge: An un-sharpened false edge.
- Cheek / Flat: The side of a blade.
- EDC: Everyday carry.
Why a Blade’s Shape Matters
The shape (“profile”) of a knife blade is as important as its cutting edge (“bevel”). Together, profile and bevel determine the purpose of a blade. Any old piece of pointy steel with a sharp edge can cut stuff. But that doesn’t mean one knife fits every function. Some blade shapes are made for chopping. Others are meant for carving, some were made for combat, and some are made for fileting, slicing and dicing.
- Drop Point Blade
- Clip Point Blade
- Tanto Blade
- Straight-Back / Standard
- Spear-Point / Dagger
- Sheepsfoot Blade
- Wharncliffe blade
- Hawkbill Blade
- Trailing Point Blade
- Kukri Blade
Drop Point Blade
The most common blade shape. A popular “do-it-all” profile.
The drop point blade’s cutting edge is ground as a sloping convex curve. The spine is also convex, sloping toward the tip. The tip often terminates just above the center line of the handle. Drop point spines often include a swedge to improve penetration. This profile favors durability over extreme sharpness.
Its elegant simplicity and durable, multi-use profile make the drop point arguably the best “do-it-all” blade shape for those who want a trusty EDC. Options like the Benchmade Bugout 535 (premium), the CRKT M21-02G EDC (mid-range), Kershaw Clash 1605 (budget) are recommended.
Clip Point Blade
The “Bowie” blade shape, found on field and skinning knives.
The clip point blade was made famous by the legendary Bowie. It was later adopted by the Ka-Bar, Air Force Survival Knife, and the Buck knife. The clip point’s swooping cutting edge is convex, while the end of the spine forms a concave curve. The spine is often ground with a swedge or false edge. This creates a crescent-shaped tip that typically runs 25% to 40% of the spine’s length.
The clip point’s narrow tip makes is good for delicate carving, puncturing tissue, and skinning. Some tip strength is sacrificed, and prying can result in a roll or break. To aid in skinning and slicing, the clip point’s bevel is often hollow ground.
For a bit of affordable nostalgia that maintains quality, we recommend the original Buck Knife 110 folder. The CIVIVI Ortis Flipper is forged from 9CR18MOV, a good steel with high hardness, edge retention, and corrosion resistance. For serious fieldwork, consider the Benchmade Taggedout 15535, forged from CPM 154 with a stone-washed finish.
Made famous by Japanese swordsmiths. A tough, rugged chopper.
The modern Tanto is inspired by the Japanese short sword of the same name. The Tanto’s profile provides an incredibly strong blade with a flat-ground tip made for serious thrusting. The Tanto is favored for its aesthetics, ground with sharp angles.
The hallmark of the Tanto is the angled tip, called the “Kissaki.” It’s formed by a vertical line (“Yokote”) that runs approximately half of the width of the blade, separating the tip from the cheek, and a horizontal ridge (the “Shinogi”) that runs horizontally along the blade. The Tanto’s primary cutting edge is hollow ground for sharpness, while the tip is flat ground to improve strength. The spine of the Tanto is straight or nearly straight, with a slight concave curve that runs from the handle to the tip.
The Cold Steel Recon is a proven choice. CJRB Cutlery’s Crag is a reverse Tanto folder with a carbon fiber handle and PVD-coated blade. For a light, nimble folder with a premium blade, consider the Blade HQ-exclusive Spyderco Paramilitary 2 Tanto.
Straight-Back / Standard
The simplest blade shape. High strength relative to width and length.
The Straight-Back (“Standard”) blade this is the simplest blade shape. It sports a straight spine from the handle to the tip. This adds strength and keeps the tip parallel with the top of the handle, providing accuracy when slicing and stabbing. The cutting edge is formed with a gentle convex curve.
As a pocket knife, the straight-back provides a skinny but strong blade that’s good for deep concealment. In the kitchen, it can provide a strong hollow grind with a fine tip while maintaining a rigid blade. The result is very high sharpness without flex. Large straight-backs can be heavy, but they make great choppers that can baton hard woods and take real abuse.
Spear-Point / Dagger
An old blade made for easy piercing and deep thrusting.
The spear-point, or dagger, is a classic combat blade designed hundreds of years ago. Modern daggers found favor with special operators in WWII. The dagger sports a triangular profile with symmetrical grinds on both sides of the blade. Both grinds meet in the center of the blade’s cheek, forming a ridge that runs to the tip.
This ridge may be ground down with a fuller to reduce weight. True daggers have cutting edges ground on both sides of the blade. Spear-points have a spine on one edge, and a cutting edge on the other. This blade shape excels in thrusting and stabbing. A double-edged dagger makes for a great EDC: When one edge dulls from daily use, just use the other side.
The Kershaw Barstow is a reliable spear-point folder, forged from 8Cr13MoV. For a fixed blade, consider the CRKT Shrill. If you want to go full “British Commando”, check out Sheffield Cutlery’s authentic Fairbairn Sykes Fighting Knife.
A tough utility blade that can tear and pry.
The Sheepsfoot is a good utility cutting knife made for repetitive tasks. This profile provides a stubby blade with a nearly straight cutting edge and steep tip, with a mostly parallel spine. Its short, wide blade and thick spine allows the Sheepsfoot to handle daily abuse and prying. Most Sheepsfoot knives have a finger choil in the handle or blade to provide extra control.
The Kiser Sheepdog C01C is a workhorse that’ll maintain a sharp edge through plenty of cuts, thanks to its CPM-S35VN steel. You won’t feel bad abusing the affordable but reliable Gerber Gear Flatiron. For heavy-duty field work and camping, the Off-Grid Knives Hoglet comes with a fixed blade and huge tang.
A straight blade that punctures and sharpens easily.
The Wharncliffe maintains a straight cutting edge and a spine that angles or slopes into a long, thin tip. The Wharncliffe provides great penetration and provides easy straight cuts, making it an excellent box cutter. This is one of the easiest blades to sharpen consistently, making it an excellent EDC that can handle plenty of all-day cutting.
The Kershaw Deadline is forged from 8Cr13MoV, priced well below $50. The Spyderco Yojimbo 2 is razor-sharp, with a hollow grind made from S30V. The Tops Little Bugger is a small, fast, and nimble fixed option.
Designed for easy pulling cuts, skinning, and carving.
The Hawkbill blade’s shape is made for field dressing and carving. This talon-like profile is great for snagging and cutting rope, zip ties, taped boxes and rubber. It’s a great fish skinner, providing a perfect curve for taking off scales and fins. The convex blade makes the Hawkbill a good fruit slicer, too. Fitted with a sawtooth edge, the Hawkbill will dig and chew through anything stubborn that needs cutting or ripping.
The fixed-blade, bond-handled Case XX WR Hawkbill looks at home in any hunter’s kit. The Spyderco Tasman Salt 2‘s hollow grind, H-1 steel, and thin tip are perfect for slicing rope, rubber, boxes, and plastics. Whetstone Cutlery’s Stainless Hawkbill sports saw teeth and a deep curve, allowing it to hook and tear hide, meat, and rough fish scales with ease.
Trailing Point Blade
A quick blade for delicate slicing and fileting.
The trailing point blade was made for the outdoors cook. It’s light and yields quick, accurate cuts with a long, gently swooping edge that terminates in a fine point. The trailing point’s curved blade is formed by a convex cutting edge and concave spine. The tip swoops up from the top of the handle. These blades are made for detailed work, and shouldn’t be used for heavy-duty ripping or prying.
The CJRB Tactical Folder provides a G10 handle, forged from AR-RPM9. The fixed-blade Puma SGB is a great field knife that can skin and carve heavy leather. The Old Timer 152OT is a super-sharp, affordable filet knife with a fixed blade and small profile for easy carrying.
A combat blade made for chopping, camping and EDC.
Designed by Indian swordsmiths, the Kukri, or “Khukuri” is a great combat knife and cleaver. This blade’s profile is identified by its large, swooping belly. The cutting edge is formed by an “S” with a fat bottom, and a steep convex spine that drops down to form a triangular tip just below the center line of the blade and handle. Large, fixed-blade Kukris make great companions for hiking and camping. Small folding Kukris balance sharpness with stout tough blades, making them ideal as EDC knives.
The Cold Steel Rajah III is a popular, affordable EDC forged from Japanese AUS10A. Ka-Bar’s take on the Kukri sports a fixed, coated blade that’ll handle thick brush without breaking a sweat. The ESK Hand-Hammered Kukri provides a traditional stainless rendition of the Nepalese military blade, accompanied by a stitched leather sheath.
The edge of a blade is as important as its shape. Next, learn the differences between cutting edge grinds.
Learn The Other Properties of Knife Blades
Things like edge geometry, and steel composition contribute to how each blade shape performs. Learn more about those important factors with our other knife guides: