From chopping vegetables to slicing steak to spreading butter on a piece of toast, different knives serve different purposes.
From the blade design to the style of the handle, even the slightest of differences have an impact on how the knife is used.
Remember that the use of knives is not just restricted to the kitchen.
Knives are used for diving, cutting wire, cutting vegetation, carpets, and much more, and for each of these uses, there is a different blade.
Read on as we look at different knives blades, their purposes, and the different materials used in knife-making.
- 1 By Material
- 2 By Shape
- 2.1 Normal Blade
- 2.2 Trailing Point Blade
- 2.3 Clip Point Blade
- 2.4 Drop Point Blade
- 2.5 Spear Point Blade
- 2.6 Needle Point Blade
- 2.7 Tanto Blade
- 2.8 Hawkbill Blade
- 2.9 Gut Hook Blade
- 2.10 Sheepsfoot Blade
- 2.11 Spey Point Blade
- 2.12 Wharncliffe Blade
- 2.13 Serrated Blade
- 2.14 Pen Blade
- 2.15 Dao Blade
- 2.16 Talon Blade
- 2.17 Harpoon Blade
- 2.18 Blunt Tip Blade
- 3 Conclusion
Contrary to the belief of the average home cook, not all knives are made of stainless steel.
Different materials are used to make knives used for different purposes.
Even if you consider only steel knives, a good knife is determined by the quality of the steel.
Steel is an alloy that is made using a combination of materials like iron, carbon, silicon, manganese, phosphorus, sulfur, and more.
The two materials that are always present, however, are iron and carbon.
The addition of the different metals to the mix gives the knives different properties.
When you’re looking for a good steel knife, you’ll consider the following properties:
- Strength– the ability of the steel to withstand resistance and pressure
- Hardness– the ability of the steel to avoid permanent deformities due to applied pressure
- Ductility– the strength of the steel to bend or move around without sustaining permanent damage
- Edge Maintenance– the ability of the blade of the steel to maintain a sharp edge without the need to be re-sharpened frequently
- Durability– the ability of the steel to withstand wear and tear during use
- Initial sharpness– the blade’s sharpness when you first unbox it
From a manufacturer’s perspective, the steel’s manufacturability is also important to ensure that the alloy can be ground, heat-treated, shaped, etc.
Different ratios of metals alter these properties:
- Chromium– improves the ability of the steel to resist corrosion, retain hardness, and maintain durability.
- Nickel– improves the ability of the steel to maintain toughness, resist corrosion, and is easier to shape and harden. Its high level of corrosion resistance makes it an ideal choice for dive knives.
- Vanadium– promotes the fine grain structure of the steel to increase the strength and durability of the metal.
Now let’s take a look at the different knives blades using steel.
Remember that the better the quality of the steel, the tougher it’ll be.
It will withstand corrosion, maintain its sharpness, and has a higher resistance to becoming deformed.
However, all these qualities do come with a high price tag, which is why many premium knives are only meant for professional and commercial use while the lower grade options are preferred for domestic, home use.
Also known as non-stainless steel, chrome steel has a high carbon strength, which makes it tensile.
In recent years, it has become well known as high carbon steel and is a somewhat new alloy that combines the hardness of carbon steel with some additional alloys to create a blade worthy of professional use.
It retains its shape quite well, is resistant to rust and corrosion, and doesn’t stain.
Stainless steel knives are the ones most commonly found in domestic households.
They have at least 18% chromium in the mix and have a very high resistance to corrosion.
Stainless steel blades are known to have higher edge-retention, shock-resistance, sharpness, and strength.
Stainless steel is used in kitchen knives, dive knives, and pocket knives.
Semi-stainless steel is a higher grade of steel than plain carbon. It has a slightly higher level of resistance to corrosion.
HSS blades are tricky to make and have a high level of strength and hardness.
They’re generally on the more expensive side and are used by professional chefs.
Knives made using HSS are known as Damascus knives and often have blades that have patterns welded into them.
The pattern involves multiple layers of steel, which strengthens the knives and makes them wear resistance.
These knives are often known as Damascus knives because their patterns resemble that of the Damascus steel that was historically used to make swords in the Middle East.
Steel that doesn’t have any additional metals other than carbon or iron added is known as carbon steel.
Carbon steel is one of the less expensive variants of stainless steel and is the material used in many households.
Despite the lower price point, it still retains its shape for a decent amount of time.
There are some things to watch out for with carbon steel.
It needs to be re-sharpened quite frequently, and it is more susceptible to staining and getting rusted.
After every use, it needs to be cleaned and dried thoroughly.
The lower the quality, the more chance there is of the steel leaving a slightly metallic hint in your food as well.
Carbon steel is used to manufacture hunting and sport knives as well as pocket knives.
Apart from steel, some knives may also be made of different materials or have additional coatings. Some examples include:
Ceramic blades generally have a high level of hardness and a sharp edge.
They are able to maintain a sharp edge and have high durability.
Ceramic knives are also generally quite lightweight.
The few factors to watch out for here are that ceramic is quite brittle, and if it is used to pierce anything, it may chip or break.
They also require special sharpening equipment, separate from that of your steel knives.
Despite that, many people prefer using ceramic knives because there’s no danger of corrosion and rust and don’t pose the danger of leaving a metallic taste in your food.
Ceramic knives are often quite tricky to use since their brittle nature makes it difficult to sharpen or hone them frequently.
Titanium Nitride Coating
Some steel knives are coated with titanium nitride, which is made using ceramic.
This golden coating is used to harden the steel, and in some cases, is simply meant to improve the appearance of the knife.
Titanium knives are dark and rust-resistant and are softer than the average steel knife.
They are not magnetic and have very high durability and are often used in dive knives, pocket knives, and high-intensity jobs like detangling wires for defusing bombs.
Copper blades have been seen on rare occasions, but have not come into mainstream use because the metal is quite soft, not hardened enough and nearly impossible to re-sharpen if the blade goes soft.
Plastic blades are generally meant for disposable knives and are more or less incapable of cutting anything unless it is very soft.
Plastic knives usually have a serrated edge to help you cut through your food.
Their usage has reduced considerably given the negative impact of plastic on the environment and the fact that their blade isn’t really sharp enough to even cut through something soft like a piece of fruit.
Once you know the material of the blade, the next step is to figure out the shape.
This is probably the most important step in selecting a knife because the shape of the blade will impact the way the knife cuts, what it’s capable of cutting, and the angle and sharpness of the cut.
Apart from the regular, straight blade, there a number of different blades that cover a range of purposes from kitchen use to crop cutting to sport and more.
Also known as a straight back blade, this knife has a straight blade with a slightly curved edge sloping to meet the tip.
The long and relatively wide blade is heavier and has a larger surface area, which is great for slicing and chopping.
The user can also exert pressure on the blunt side of the knife to push the spine deeper for a cleaner cut.
Trailing Point Blade
Think of the blades used by the guards in Aladdin.
The trailing point has a unique design, characterized by a spine that curves upwards to reach the tip, which usually extends above the handle of the knife.
The shape creates a wider belly making the knife ideal for slicing, filleting meat (or anything else), and skinning.
Clip Point Blade
Clip point knives are fairly common and are identifiable by the slight dent in the front top length of the knife.
This cut area covers around a third of the length of the knife, and it may be a completely straight cut or slightly curved inwards.
The end is a very fine point, which is meant for precision cutting or chopping.
Drop Point Blade
Another common design, the drop point blade has a spine that curves outwards from the point to the handle.
This provides a solid point for cutting, and the outer curve offers a bigger surface area (and more control) for slicing.
They can be used for a range of purposes, including cutting, carving and skinning meat.
Spear Point Blade
This blade has a symmetric design where the point is in the exact center of the knife.
The design is similar to a needle point blade, but the blade is stronger and can withstand more pressure.
Spear points may be of two types- they may either have one sharp and one blunt edge, or both edges may be sharp.
Apart from its use in the kitchen, this style is also common in throwing knives.
Needle Point Blade
The needle point blade has two symmetrical edges that slant towards each other to meet at a very sharp point.
The design is meant to increase the sharpness of the point, making it easy to penetrate surfaces.
The blade is somewhat fragile and is not meant for slicing or any other activities that require exerting pressure on the spine of the blade.
The style is common for knives that are used for fights to stab your opponent (also seen in fencing blades).
The Tanto blade has its origins in Japan, where Samurais would make use of short swords with this blade.
Unlike a straight back blade that curves towards the tip, this one has a straighter slope to the tip, making the knife sharper and stronger.
This sharp design makes it suitable for piercing but not an ideal choice for slicing.
The Hawkbill blade has a spine and a tip that curve downwards.
It is meant to give a clean, smooth cut when the knife is dragged towards the handle.
Its primary use is outside the kitchen- the hawkbill blade is common for carpet cutting, cutting linoleum, and trimming small plantations.
Gut Hook Blade
The gut hook is, well, a small, sharp hook-shaped curve at the end of the blade instead of the traditional sloping point.
It is not usually used in most kitchens, and its main purpose is to gut an animal without damaging the meat with the sharp knife end.
This blade has a straight edge, and the spine curves down towards the tip.
It gives you more control as you slice to prevent piercing whatever you’re cutting by accident.
Since the tip is not sharp, it is also known as a “false point.”
The sheepsfoot blade is used in rescue missions to safely remove people or objects from dangerous situations without piercing and hurting them in the process.
In the kitchen, it is commonly used by chefs for slicing in certain styles like a brunoise or a julienne.
Spey Point Blade
The spey point knife has a mostly straight edge and only starts curving upwards close to the tip.
The spine is also mostly straight, meaning that the belly of the knife is short, and the tip is somewhat wide (again, to avoid accidental piercing).
It may be used to skin meat or for cutting and slicing fish to avoid damaging the soft flesh.
The name “spey” also refers to its use in neutering (speying) animals without hurting them.
Similar to the sheepsfoot blade, the wharncliffe has an almost entirely straight edge and a curved spine.
The curve is more of a gentle slope going from the handle to the tip. It is meant for slicing and cutting, not piercing.
In some cases, it may also be used to cut wood.
Serrated knives have one straight edge with the other having a fine toothcomb-like structure.
The straight edge slopes inwards to meet the knifepoint while the serrated edge is completely straight.
The knife cuts in a sawing motion and is sometimes also known as a steak knife.
They are used to cut foods that are hard on the outside and soft on the inside, like crusty bread.
The pen knife blade has a gentle curve on both edges that meet in the very center for the tip.
Only one side is sharp, and the other is blunt so that you can exert force without cutting through your hand.
This blade is usually liked because of its compact size and mobility.
While it is suitable for basic cutting tasks, it certainly can’t perform tasks like chopping or piercing that require a sharp blade.
The dao blade has one sharp and one blunt edge.
The spine is straight, and what really makes this blade identifiable is the tip, which is horizontal and flat.
It is mostly used for chopping, and the design comes from the martial arts weapons used by the Chinese.
The knife is in the form of a cleaver and allows you to chop and exert pressure from the dull side without injuring yourself.
They are not designed for slicing or cutting or other similar tasks.
The manufacturing process of these knives is quite complex, and they tend to be fairly expensive.
Many people often confuse the Hawksbill and talon blades with being the same thing, but while they have a similar design, they are different knives.
The talon blade has a more gradual curve towards the tip as opposed to the sharper, slightly squared curve of the hawksbill.
The usage is similar, and the blade cuts effectively when pulled in the direction of the handle.
It is used to pierce objects and to make sharp, clean cuts.
Talon blades must only be used by those who know what they’re doing to avoid hurting themselves or ruining what they’re cutting.
They may be used to cut carpets, prune vegetation, etc.
The harpoon blade has a sharp edge with a dull spine.
The curves up to meet the tip of the spear. Different harpoon blades may have straight or curved edges.
The straight belly of the knife is ideal for slicing since it offers a wider surface area and greater stability.
Blunt Tip Blade
As the name suggests, this knife has, well, a blunt or rounded tip as a safety precaution.
Its usage is mostly outside the kitchen, and it is a common design for dive knives to prevent piercing your equipment.
There are different types of blunt tip blades, some with a straight edge, others with serrated edges, and others with both.
The blunt tip is meant for chiseling or digging and cannot be used for piercing or chopping.
When you’re looking for a knife for a particular purpose, it’s important to know:
- The different materials which will determine the quality and help you decide if it fits into your budget
- The shape and design of the blade to see if it is capable of cutting the way you need it to
As you’ve seen in the previous section, some knives have particularly sharp points designed for chopping and piercing, while others are better for slicing, and yet more are good for chiseling, gutting, skinning, and more.
If you’re having trouble cutting with your current knife, it’s probably because the blade isn’t meant for that purpose.
Before we sign off, we’ll just take a quick look at some more factors to keep in mind when you’re shopping or using knives blades:
Re-Sharpening Your Knives
Different types of knives need to be sharpened at different intervals.
However, before it comes to that, blades need to be honed.
This involves rubbing the blade along a sharp, abrasive ceramic or steel surface and helps the knife retain its sharpness.
Stainless steel knives on average need to be honed after every 2-4 uses if you want a sharp, clean cut.
Carbon steel knives usually need to be honed after every use since the steel is not high-grade.
If you hone your knives regularly, you’ll need to sharpen them after a year or so.
Knives for softer usage like cutting fruit or other soft materials don’t need to be sharpened frequently.
Maintaining Your Knives
While high-grade steel is fairly corrosion-resistant, it’s still not a good idea to leave it in water for a long period of time.
Ideally, knives should be washed, dried (and honed if needed) immediately after use.
Especially with low-grade steel knives like those made of carbon steel, you’ll find that even leaving them in the sink for twenty minutes or more will start leaving permanent stains and cause the blade to rust earlier than anticipated.