Plain Edge Vs. Serrations
September 6, 2013
There are a lot of choices to make when you’re looking into getting a new knife or even deciding on your first knife. One of the questions I get asked most often by knife “newbs” is “What’s better, a plain edged blade or a serrated blade?” Unfortunately the answers tend to be along the lines of “Both, neither and what are you planning on using your knife for?”
Serrated edges have gained popularity recently in knife culture. Serrations are often looked at being more “tactical” and aggressive looking that classic plain edge blades. As the trend in tactical and EDC gear rises the serrated edge has become more prominent in the knife world. People also tend to attribute serrated blades with superior edge retention, slicing ability and with less edge maintenance. In many cases this can be true, but generally serrations are not any sharpener than plain edged blades. Serrated edges just have more ability to tear at an object effectively. Plain Edge blades are precise and generally used in a more “traditional” tool sense. Plain edges are the standard for woodworking, shaving and other primary cutting tasks.
The main difference between plain edge blade and serrated blades comes down to how you use your blade. Plain edge blades excel at ‘push cut’, where you push the edge against the thing you’re trying to cut. Good examples of push cuts are when you’re shaving with a razor or whittling a piece of wood. Serrated edges excel at slicing cuts, where you drag the edge across the object you’re trying cut. The best example of a slice motion is when you slice a piece of bread. You don’t push the blade but rather drag the edge (often using a sawing motion) across the bread.
In general the serrated edge will be superior when slicing through thick, tough and fibrous materials. Serrated edges tend to “grab” or grip the surface of what you’re cutting easily. Because the high points on the serration meet the object first, there will be more pressure per area available at these high points. This will allow the serration to puncture and tear the object faster. Even dull serrations excel at slicing objects and this is often the reason people often prefer serrations and believe they stay sharper, longer. Serrations also have the advantage of being chisel ground, which inevitably leads to a thinner edge and greater slicing ability.
As I mentioned before, plain edge blades are best when you need precision and accuracy. Plain edge blades excel at tasks such as carving, dressing an animal, trimming your nails or peeling an apple. The nice advantage of plain edge blades is their versatility. With a plain edge blade, you directly affect its purpose by changing how you sharpen it. It is standard practice to customize the edge of a plain edged blade to tackle a specific task. For some tasks, a highly polished, low friction edge will do the best job. Tasks such as food prep and wood carving are prime examples of when a highly polished edge is ideal. For other tasks, a roughly sharpened edge that has hidden “micro-serration” is ideal and will often work similar to the way a true serrated blade would.
Recently, combo edged blades have become more and more popular. A combo edged blade feature sections with both a plain edge and a serrated edge. Ideally a combo blade is the best of both edge types. They would be able to slice effectively but also have the plain edge portion for push cuts. Unfortunately, this is what handicaps combo edged knives most often. The placement of the serrations towards the heel of the blade makes slicing slightly more dangerous when you have a plain edge portion towards the tip. And your separate edges have to share the same space, effectively shrinking the useful portion for each edge type. Not to mention the fact that combo edges are specifically built to be versatile, not necessarily to be the best tool for the job.
I tend to be a fan of the good old-fashioned plain edge blade. For both my day-to-day needs, and as a craftsman’s tool, a plain edge tends to compliment what I want out of a knife. On the other hand, I know people who rock climb hunt who swear by the combo and serrated blades. I think this is derived from the fact that they work with more rope or bone then I generally do. A serrated blade can be very useful when dressing an animal if you need to cut through bone and a serrated blade will tear through any thick rope in a pinch, no matter the state of the edge. Ultimately, the choice is up to you, but take the time to look at what you use your blade for. If you’re doing a lot of woodworking or just carrying a pocket knife, a plain edge or combo edge blade may be right for you. If you are carrying a blade to cut ropes or strapping in a pinch, you may want to lean toward a serrated edge.
Be Smart, Be Safe and Stay an Edge Above the Rest!
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