10 Essential Knife Shapes and Styles To Know
AKA normal blade, the straight back has, well, a straight back or spine. Because the spine is untouched and remains unsharpened, you can use it to apply additional force with your hands. For the same reason, there’s lots of weight and strength to this blade. It’s well suited for chopping, picking, and penetrating.
The trailing point features a back edge that curves upward, ending higher than the spine. This allows for a larger and longer cutting edge, or belly, thus making it ideal for slicing and skinning. You can often find trailing points on filleting knives.
Unlike the trailing point, the drop point has a back edge that curves downward from the spine to the tip in a convex fashion. One of most popular shapes, the drop point makes for a great general purpose knife and are particularly common as bushcraft knives. The unsharpened back allows you to baton the knife effectively to process firewood. Hunters use drop points to skin animals without having the risk of the point penetrating the internal organs.
Another of the more popular shapes, the clip point is like a straight back, but with the front third or half section “clipped” out in a concave or straight fashion. This clipped edge is sometimes sharpened to create a second cutting edge and to make it better at piercing. The sharp tip allows for fine work and picking. The infamous Bowie Knife is a double-edged clip point.
A derivation of the Japanese kissaki swords, the tanto point is characterized by a straight cutting edge meeting the (usually) straight, unsharpened back edge at a diagonal angle instead of a curve. The back edge generally extends past the cutting edge. The modified tanto has part of the end clipped and sharpened to increase penetration ability.
The spear point is easily identified, as it is symmetrically-shaped with the tip aligning with the center axis of the knife. It’s double-edged with a spine that runs along the center as opposed to a back edge. The shape lends itself to thrusting, piercing, and penetrating. As such, they’re not good for slicing or cutting, but are often seen as throwing knives and sometimes daggers.
Like a spear point, the needle point is double-edged and symmetrical with a central spine, but instead of curving, meets at the tip with straight, pointed edges. Ideal as a dagger due to its penetrative capabilities, the needle point is weak overall not used for cutting, slicing, or chopping.
Originally designed to trim the hooves of sheep, sheepsfoot knives are now mostly used in kitchens. They feature a straight, sharpened edge and a straight, unsharpened back edge that curves to meet the cutting edge in a convex fashion. The back edge can be held and controlled with your hands and fingers. Like Wharncliffe blades, the lack of point helps avoid accidental piercing.
AKA cook’s knife, the chef’s knife is an indispensable tool for food preparation in western kitchens, and usually resembles a drop point. Many cultures have variations on the chef’s knife, but most of them are characterized by their large blade size. They are truly a multi-purpose knife that can slice, chop, and pierce.
The cleaver is a large, rectangular knife used for chopping, hacking, and crushing. Unlike other knives, the edge is intentionally kept duller and tougher to allow for meat and bone work without compromising the knife. The cleaver is kept heavy and thick and is most effective when swung like a hammer. Cleavers will sometimes feature a small hole that’s used to hang the blade without damaging the edge or risking slicing your hand.