11 of the Most Popular Knife Blade Types and Uses Explained
A knife is a tool you use to do a job. So when it comes to choosing a knife, the question isn’t about which knife blade types or what knife shapes and designs look cool. It’s a question of what you’ll use it for and whether it will get the job done.
Our knife owners often find themselves in hunting situations one day, and out on the ranch feeding cows or at work cutting boxes the next. One of our owners spends all day cutting hops on the farm for his brewery.
You have so many options when choosing a knife. What kind of handle will suit your needs? Will a fixed blade or a folder work best?
These are important factors, but they’re a discussion for another post. Today, we’re focusing on 11 common knife shapes and designs and where each knife blade type works best. So let’s get into it.
1. Drop Point
The drop point hunter is the most useful knife blade type. It’s also the most popular style of all time.
Sometimes the name makes people think this knife blade type is only for hunting, but it cuts across all different uses and activities. It’s called a drop point because as the spine comes out from the handle, it slopes, or “drops,” down into the tip of the knife.
The profiles coming away from the tip of the knife vary, but drop points tend to have a little bit more belly on them. This knife shape creates strong tips that are actually useful.
There’s very little this knife can’t do.
2. Trailing Point
The trailing point knife has a spine that comes out of the handle and goes up to the tip. That tip actually rises to a point above the spine, so this knife blade type has a lot of edge with the tip out of the way.
You’ll use a trailing point knife for things like fileting, slicing, or skinning, where you’re making long swipes and need a lot of edge. While trailing points have a good tip on them, they’re not incredibly strong. On these knives, it’s the long cutting edge that does the work.
I wouldn’t recommend this knife blade type for jobs requiring a lot of tip work. It wouldn’t be a good choice for prying or self defense, or for gutting an elk. But it’s great for skinning and filleting.
The Hawkbill, also called a talon, is a knife blade design where the edge dives off aggressively and the tip ends up well below the cutting edge. It’s similar to a wire skinning knife that a lineman or an electrician might use.
This is a knife type that’s good for jobs requiring aggressive pulling action. If you’re in a warehouse all day cutting boxes, this is the tip you want to rip through all that tape and cardboard.
Otherwise, I don’t see many uses for it. It’s not a versatile knife. Again, choosing a knife is all about the job you’re doing, and this one is a great example of a knife designed for a very specific purpose.
4. Gut Hook
The gut hook isn’t really a knife blade type, but we get asked about it often so I want to mention it. It’s really just a backwards hook or slot with a sharpened edge on it that’s milled or ground into the spine of a knife.
Gut hooks are designed for very specific and limited jobs. You’d use it in field dressing when you want to get under the hide of the game you’re harvesting and rip all the way up the length of the animal without poking into the cavity.
Outside of that one application, however, the gut hook no longer has a use. The hook design only gets in your way most of the time. It can be dangerous, or it can snag on your clothing or inside the cavity of the animal you’re working on.
If you need a gut hook, I suggest carrying one by itself instead of on your knife. Or better, you can learn good technique to protect against poking your blade into an animal’s body cavity. Practice using your fingers in a V form to ride the tip of your blade under the hide all the way up.
5. Sheepsfoot / Wharncliffe
These two knife designs are similar but with slight differences.
A Wharncliffe starts to curve at the handle, and the spine slowly and continuously dives off to the point, where it meets the straight-line cutting edge. It has a much finer tip.
With a sheepsfoot, the spine starts straight and then curves a little more sharply at the end down to the tip. Like the Wharncliffe, it has a straight edge.
The sheepsfoot was originally designed for trimming sheep’s hooves. For that job, you wouldn’t want a point that could harm the sheep if it kicked or moved. So this knife blade type doesn’t have much of a tip, but the tip it does have is strong.
The Wharncliffe, on the other hand, has a lot of tip, but it’s pretty weak.
The sheepsfoot can be useful for electricians and linemen spinning a preform, who can get that strong tip underneath the preform and wrench it with a prying technique.
The tanto knife is one of the more popular knife shapes, taking design cues from Japanese sword culture. It’s very angular in design and people love the look.
The spine of these knives is straight. The edge is straight, too, until the final third where it makes a hard angle toward the tip.
Because of the aggressive tip shape and strength, the tanto is great for piercing, stabbing, and all around self-defense.
Aside from that, this knife blade type doesn’t offer a lot of use. It’s not a knife style you’ll see a farmer, rancher, or lineman carrying in the field.
Part of the reason is it’s very difficult to sharpen. The blade takes a lot of use and abuse right where it makes that sharp angle toward the spine, which means the tip gets dull faster than the rest of the blade. When you sharpen just that area, pretty soon you start to lose that sharp angle the knife is known for and end up with a little rounded curve.
7. Reverse Tanto
The reverse tanto is the cousin of the tanto. The knife blade design is the opposite of the tanto, with a straight spine making a very angular transition to meet the straight blade in a strong tip. It often has more of a belly than the tanto.
The reverse tanto is a popular knife blade type for folding knives. It has a really nice strong point and an edge designed for continuous cutting. It can be very useful for opening boxes, cutting rope, and many other tasks.
The downside as compared to the tanto is that it’s not as good at piercing and stabbing if the point is too low. Otherwise, it’s very useful, and the choice between the two is largely about preference and aesthetics.
8. Clip Point
One of my favorite knife types from a design standpoint is the clip point. A lot of knife owners refer to it as a Bowie knife, which was originally a fighting knife that got its name from Jim Bowie, who used it in hand-to-hand combat.
This knife blade design has a traditional, frontiersman look, with a fairly straight spine with a top third that appears to be clipped off. This cutout can be straight and angular or concave, going down to the tip and creating a very fine point.
Clip point knives are very useful for piercing and stabbing, but also great for chopping because of the width and dimension back in the blade.
The drawback of this knife blade style is that the fine tip isn’t great for prying work. It’s a very useful tip for getting into small spaces, but you see a lot of older clip points missing the last quarter inch of the tip because the owner used it for prying.
The blade on a kukri is somewhat narrow at the handle, then aggressively curves downward as the blade widens. It has a nice recurve in the edge with a strong, wide belly that then sweeps back to the tip.
Kukri knives are fantastic for chopping. When you chop into something, a kukri tends to trap whatever material strikes the edge behind the belly. Then, as you pull through what you’re chopping, the belly adds force and keeps slashing through it. Kukri knives can also have a really useful tip, depending on the design.
Kukris are large knives and not very versatile aside from chopping work. But they’re fun knives to own and use. If you’re interested in a kukri knife, Jason Knight designs some of the best around.
The dagger is one of my favorite custom knife types to make.
Generally speaking, a dagger is a symmetrical knife with a double edge, which means it’s sharpened on both top and bottom. Some are pointy, some have a stronger, more blunt tip, and some thin out quickly into a needle point.
For knife makers, a dagger is a challenge and is even a judging requirement for becoming a master bladesmith. Symmetry is hard to achieve when you’re making something by hand.
For knife owners, daggers are great for piercing and stabbing. In fact, that’s about all they’re good for, aside from looking badass. There just aren’t a lot of jobs where you’d use a dagger. The other downside is that they can be dangerous because of the double edge.
11. Push / Punch Dagger
Last up is the push dagger, or punch dagger, which is one of the coolest knife designs and has a really interesting history.
In the card-playing days of the Old West, guys would have to turn in their guns at the saloon door. They still wanted some self defense, though, so they stashed a push dagger in their vest in case they got into an argument. They could draw the dagger and hold it in their fist with the blade protruding from between their middle fingers for punching.
The knife blade shape can be very symmetrical and artistically designed, but the downside is they’re not really useful for anything besides punching. So unless you’re looking to defend your honor against a two-bit swindler with an ace up his sleeve (which we can’t recommend, of course), this knife is more for interest and aesthetic purposes.