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If you’ve ever looked into buying a knife then you’ll know there’s more than one type of blade out there.
I’m not talking about an Ulu or Wharncliffe knife shape. I mean serrations.
Talking about the choice of a serrated knife vs straight edge knife is enough to send experienced bushcrafters to cover because this can be a hotly debated topic!
I’ll go over the pros and cons of each style so you’ll know whether you want that plain Jane edge or the super edgy serrated edge.
Serrated knives are the less common type of knife you see in the woods, though there are a lot of partially serrated blades available.
You most often see this type of knife in the kitchen cabinet.
Why is that? Is there something wrong with serrated edges?
What is a Serrated Blade?
A serrated knife has a line of what’s called teeth along the edge.
These teeth are points with a scalloped and sharpened curve between each point.
Effectively, this increases the cutting surface area of the knife. It also reduces the amount of contact area between the blade and the object you’re cutting, which concentrates the force.
Knives can have serrations from heel to tip or can be partially serrated, typically close to the handle.
Serrated Blade Uses
Serrations are great for a slicing motion, which is when you push or pull the blade parallel to what you’re cutting.
This effectively turns the knife into a miniature saw, especially if you pull the knife back and forth.
In the kitchen, this means you can cut through bread and tomatoes without distorting the food too much.
In the woods, however, serrated knives are the blade of choice for cutting through rope and other fibrous materials.
Hey, trees are made of fiber!
And so are tendons and cartilage. Serrations can help make the job of gutting and cleaning game animals easy, though I prefer straight edges for the meat.
Who is a Serrated Blade Best For?
The “Prepare” in “Know Prepare Survive” doesn’t stand for “kitchen prep,” but any sort of survivalist will need to cook in the wild at some point.
Serrated blades are excellent for outdoor kitchens.
And some hunters will appreciate serrations, too.
They’re also great at cutting through rope and straps, which means these are excellent survival tools, both in the woods and in the city.
For example, you can use a serrated edge to saw through a seatbelt more easily in order to drag someone out of a burning car wreck.
The Spyderco Byrd Cara Cara 2 Rescue is an excellent example of a rope-cuttin’ rescue knife.
In other words, serrated blades are great choices for people prepared to act when seconds matter or want an effective tool for cleaning a deer.
Straight Edge Blade
A straight edge, also called a plain edge, is a blade without any serrations.
It’s one continuous cutting line from heel to tip, as you can see on the ESEE 6 above.
What is a Straight Edge Blade For?
Straight edged knives are the default type of knife blade for a reason. They’re good for nearly everything.
Though serrated blades can win slicing tests, you don’t just slice with a knife. For everything else, straight edges tend to outperform serrated blades.
Plain Edge Uses
Straight edges shine when you are pushing the blade through the object.
In other words, if you are cutting perpendicular to the edge, plain edges work great.
This also means you can hack, chop, baton, debone, and fillet with a straight edged knife.
Who is a Straight Blade Best For?
Straight blades are great multi-use tools so they are a great choice for people who will use their knife in a variety of ways.
Hunters and bushcrafters tend to prefer plain edges, in my experience. (Not always!)
My EDC blades all have plain edges as well.
Straight edged knives are also a good choice for people who want a simpler sharpening time.
You can sharpen a plain edge in the woods much more easily than a serrated blade!
Serrated Knife vs Straight Edge
Straight edge blades have another advantage over serrated edge blades I haven’t yet touched upon:
Those teeth are all thin bits of metal with little support from the surrounding material. They’re easy to damage with rough use.
And you want your survival knife to be able to withstand rough use!
Anything a serrated blade can do a straight edge blade can do as well, even if it’s slightly less efficient at slicing.
This doesn’t mean that there’s no place for serrated blades, though!
Here are some situations in which you may prefer a plain or serrated knife:
Search and rescue personnel should carry a serrated knife to saw through straps, along with anybody building a rescue kit for their vehicle.
Similarly, anybody who deals with ropes (climbers, sailors, etc), will want a serrated knife.
If you are going to test your survival skills with just one knife then you’ll want a plain edge.
Also, for batoning and heavy chopping, leave the serrated blade at home.
On the other hand, if you’re going to construct shelter, serrations can help you saw through vines to make cordage. Just don’t use them on hardwood!
Food prep, whether in an air-conditioned kitchen or the great outdoors, is easier with a serrated knife.
And finally, I prefer plain edges on the EDC blades that accompany me everywhere.
What About Combo Edges?
“There are knives with a serrated section and a plain edge!” I hear you say. “What about those?”
The Benchmade Bugout, for example, has both.
Simply stated, I don’t like them. For two reasons.
The first reason is that the serrated section is typically too short to take full advantage of the sawtooth capability.
I’d rather carry an additional, fully-serrated blade, such as the Mora Craftline Rope Trade.
The second reason is that the serration is almost always in the wrong place!
The knife’s heel is the most controllable part of the blade for push-through cutting actions, especially with jimping on the blade’s spine for your thumb.
Putting serration there ruins this precision feature.
I’d rather have a combo blade that’s plain by the heel and serrated toward the tip but good luck finding one!
And I’m not the only person with this opinion, either.
But if you like them, that’s okay, too!
If I had to choose just one blade style between plain, serrated, and a combination, I’d choose a plain edge.
Straight edges are versatile and tough. These are what you want in an outdoors knife.
So, if you’re going to carry just one knife, then that should have a plain edge.
However, if you’re carrying a rescue knife (especially as a backup blade), then you want a serrated edge.
Also, if you’re buying a small knife for everyday carry, keep that edge plain!
Use a serrated blade if:
- You’re preparing food
- You’re cutting through fibers (rope, straps, some plant materials)
- You’re cleaning large game
Use a plain blade if:
- You’re carrying a small blade
- You want a do-all knife
- You’re going to use the blade for tough tasks such as batoning
- You’ll be doing more cutting and less slicing
- You’re lazy about sharpening
Use a combo blade if:
- You want a little extra versatility for slicing at the expense of some precision knifework
What’s your favorite type of knife edge? Be sure to share your experiences with serrated blades below!
Are Serrated Blades Better for Self Defense?
Some people prefer the idea of a serrated blade for knife fighting. The idea is that the serration cuts through flesh better, or at least leaves a worse wound.
However, self defense is not about making the other person suffer more. It’s about ending the situation as quickly and effectively as possible.
Serrations can sometimes get caught on clothing and interfere with your movement.
So, I’d recommend using a plain edge for self defense, though a serrated edge may not be a bad idea if the knife is an otherwise better choice.