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Plain vs Serrated Knives - Which is better?

Understanding the differences, best uses and which you should select

By | 12/2015

Plain vs. Serrated Knives - Which is Better?

One of the questions we get a lot is whether plain or serrated blades are best when shopping for a new knife. The physical differences are obvious, but the answer to which is better is considerably more complicated; it depends on what you'll be using the blade for and in what situations. Read on to learn more about the serrated knife vs. straight edge knife debate and which one you should add to your collection.

Plain Blade Knives

Plain edge knives - blades that have one continuous sharp edge - are far more traditional. They serve a much wider purpose for EDC, outdoor and tactical operations. Their most useful application is what most of us think of when we think of using a knife: a strong, steady pressure. This design has been proven for centuries to provide precision and control in a variety of environments.

Another key advantage of a plain edge blade is that it doesn't snag or fray when cutting through some ropes and cables. A plain edge almost always cuts cleanly. However, with other ropes, such as those made of plastics or other synthetic materials, the blade may simply slip instead of cut. Sharpening these blades is generally easier, though it can depend on the type of material used for the blade.

Serrated Blade

Serrated edges are blades that have some kind of toothed or saw-like edge ground into the cutting surface. These are intended to be used much like a small saw with a back-and-forth motion. They're great for cutting through belts and ropes, fabric and various other textured materials. Serrated blades also work great on substances that are soft, flexible or can be crushed easily with downward cutting. Great examples of materials that work well with a serrated knife are bread, cooked meats, soft fruits and vegetables.

The downside to the serrated blade is that they can easily cause fraying, especially with ropes and fabrics. In addition, when the blade dulls, it's much more difficult to sharpen and requires specialty sharpening equipment. A serrated blade does not cut as cleanly as a plain edge knife. Often, sharpening requires taking the blade to a professional sharpener, especially if the sharpening is long overdue.

Types of Cutting and Which Blade to Use

There is not just one type of cutting motion or one type of edge when it comes to knives. In fact, there are several different types of cutting motions with knives, each of which is used with different knife edges. This is a primary factor when looking at serrated knife vs. plain edge knife options.

Push Cutting

The first type is push cutting. Push cutting is where a knife is used by applying force forward and pushing the knife edge in. An example of this is wood carving, or perhaps pushing a knife through a tomato. Push cutting works best with a plain non-serrated edge with a polished micro fine edge finish because the edge will be sharp and smooth enough to push right through. A micro fine or mirror polished edge can be obtained using an extremely fine abrasive sharpening system.

Slicing

Slicing is using a knife in a back-and-forth motion similar to a saw. This is commonly used for cutting bread, rope or steak. Slicing uses a coarse micro edge or a serrated edge to cut. This is one of the most common serrated knife uses, as the serrations help the knife bite into the surface. The toothiness of the edge also allows the knife to cut into the substrate, allowing it to quickly work through fibers.

Chopping

Chopping is cutting with a single directional force. Usually, chopping happens in a downward motion to take advantage of gravity and acceleration. An example of chopping is cutting wood with an axe. Chopping requires a polished edge with a thickness that allows the knife to cut without chipping or failing. The knife needs to be thick enough and polished enough that it will chop through something thick like wood without breaking.

Push cutting, slicing and chopping are the three main cutting motions with knives. Each of these cutting motions requires different types of edges. Next time you're chopping wood or just slicing your vegetables, think about what type of knife you are using.

The Right Blade for the Right Purpose

In the debate over plain vs. serrated knife blades, the key is picking the blade most suited for what you plan to cut. Generally, we'd say that plain edges work for most everyday use and carry. On the other hand, if you're into high adventure, whether that's a mariner, climber, hiker or working as a chef or in the rescue or emergency medical field, a serrated blade would probably be a better fit.

Oftentimes, it can depend on the material you are using the knife on. The best purpose of a serrated knife is for harder materials that require good bite in order to slice through. However, on softer materials, serrations may catch too easily and end up unwinding or unraveling the material rather than actually cutting it. Sometimes for these items, a course-ground plain edge blade may be better, as this can provide the catch needed without ripping an item apart.

Aesthetics play a role in choosing a blade as well. A serrated knife edge often looks more menacing and threatening than a plain edge. If you're looking to intimidate on the battlefield or in the wilderness, a serrated knife could serve this purpose. But if you're doing sailboat rigging or utility work, you might not want to scare people while doing it. While function is most important, consider your potential audience as well.

Partially Serrated Knife Blades

If the knife will serve multiple purposes, there is a third option that should be considered: a combination serrated/plain edge blade. The mixed blade has two partially serrated portions, with one at the base of the blade and the other at the end closer to the tip. The section in between is a traditional plain blade This provides less work area for each of the cutting edges, but allows you to tackle just about any cutting you may find yourself faced with.

So take a moment to consider what you'll be using your knife for. If you can narrow it down to one specific use, it will greatly help with your selection. If you are planning multiple uses, think about what you will most commonly employ it for. The experts at KnifeArt are available to help answer any additional questions about knife blades.

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