When it comes to performance, a knife’s profile and grind are akin to a car’s engine: Do you want hard-working, boat-towing torque or or do you want tire-burning speed? Do you want all of one and none of the other, or a just-right combination of both? And just as you need to know something about engines to get your perfect vehicle, you need to know how a knife’s profile and grind affect performance in order to pick the perfect blade for your needs. Here’s a breakdown.
How to Choose the Right Knife Profile
Choosing the blade profile for a given job should be one of your first considerations when buying a knife, but you also need to understand that it’s a world of tradeoffs. Piercing ability, tip strength, slicing efficiency, and how much abuse a blade can take are all factors in deciding which profile is best, but what makes a knife good at one thing might hamper it when it comes to another. Here are seven common profiles and the pros and cons of each.
This is simple blade profile with a straight spine and an upward curving edge that rises to the spine to form a semi-sharp point. Lacking intricate angles and curves, a straightback knife can chop and slice well, and the unsharpened spine allows you to use fingers or palms to concentrate force. It’s a great profile for learning how to sharpen a knife.
- Best for: General use, bushcraft, kitchen tasks
- Pros: Very strong, can be easily batoned through wood and rope
- Cons: Not great for piercing, and not much belly for skinning
2. Drop Point
The hunter’s favorite, drop-point blades feature a slight downward curve to the spine to form a lowered, or “dropped,” point. This enables the blade to be turned edge up while field dressing an animal, raising the drop point so it won’t nick or cut into an animal’s organs. It also has enough belly for skinning.
- Best for: Field-dressing and skinning, EDC, general purpose
- Pros: Strong point, retains belly for slicing
- Cons: Not a great piercing blade
3. Trailing Point
With a spine that curves upward, a trailing point provides a long, curved edge for slicing, and gives lightweight knives additional length to the cutting edge.
- Best for: Skinning and caping animals, filleting fish
- Pros: Very sharp point, lots of belly
- Cons: Weak point, difficult to get in and out of a sheath
4. Clip Point
This is the classic Bowie knife profile, in which a straight spine drops at a slight angle or concave curve to meet the tip, as if the spine were clipped off. The “clipped” section may or may not have a false edge. With a slightly lowered tip that is sharper and thinner than the spine, a clip point excels at piercing.
- Best for: Skinning and caping animals, filleting fish
- Pros: Very controllable and sharp point, decent belly
- Cons: Weak point
5. Spey point
Traditionally used for castrating farm animals, the spey point features a defined, sudden downward curve to the spine that meets a curving, upswept edge. It lacks a sharp point and is commonly found on trapper-style pocketknives.
- Best for: What it was designed for: removing testicles
- Pros: Easily sharpened, safe to use when a sharp point isn’t needed
- Cons: Typically a short blade, not good for piercing
A straight spine curves downward to meet a completely straight edge in a sheepsfoot profile. Originally designed for trimming the hooves of small livestock animals, there is no sharp, piercing tip.
- Best for: Rescue work, use on inflatable boats, whittling
- Pros: Blunt tip, can be very thick and strong, very controllable edge, easy to sharpen
- Cons: Not good for piercing
The angular profile of a tanto blade is unmistakable: Thick, with a straight edge that takes a sudden, upward, uncurved angle near the blade tip to meet the spine at a straight or slightly convex angle. This creates a second sharpened edge that meets the point.
- Best for: Self-defense, EDC, general utility tasks
- Pros: Extremely strong and sharp tip, robust blade
- Cons: Tricky to sharpen, no belly for skinning
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How to Pick the Right Knife Grind
The blade grind is the shape of the blade when viewed in cross-section. Is it thick or thin? Does it taper evenly from the spine to the edge, or have a convex or concave shape? A blade’s performance is largely hinged on how it is ground, and there’s a world of difference between how a hollow-ground blade moves through a hunk of meat versus a compound bevel grind. Some grinds are stronger than others. Some grinds are sharper than the rest. And some grinds attempt to straddle the line between durability and a wicked slice. Here’s a breakdown.
1. Hollow Grind
To create a hollow grind, knifemakers grind a concave section into the blade between the spine and the edge. In cross-section, a hollow grind blade looks as if metal has been scooped from the blade. You can feel the hollow by pulling a pinched finger and thumb from the spine to the edge. A hollow grind results in a thin, sharp edge and a thicker, sturdy spine.
- Best for: Dressing and skinning game, EDC
- Pros: Easy to sharpen, great for slicing.
- Cons: The edge can dull, chip, or roll more easily than other grinds. The hollow can create a suction when slicing thick materials.
2. Full Flat Grind
Flat grind blades have an even taper, in general, and this one is the simplest: The taper is even all the way from the spine of the blade to the edge. Such a linear taper allows a knife to pass through material with little resistance.
- Best for: Dressing and skinning game, kitchen tasks, fillet knives, EDC. A great all-around knife grind
- Pros: Very sharp and easy to sharpen
- Cons: Thin material at the edges can lead a knife to dull quickly
3. High Flat Grind
With this grind, the blade retains its spine thickness for some distance, then the bevel begins between the spine and the midpoint of the blade.
- Best for: Dressing and skinning game, EDC, whittling.
- Pros: A bit stronger than a full flat grind, but still sharp and easy to retouch.
- Cons: Not a great chopper.
4. Scandinavian Grind
Also known as the Scandi grind, this is another type of flat grind. Here, the bevel begins at or below the midpoint of the blade. This keeps a lot of steel in the blade for strength, so Scandi blades are better for chopping than other flat grinds. (You can see it in the Helle knife pictured above.)
- Best for: EDC, camping, general use, and bushcraft.
- Pros: The strongest of the flat grinds. Easy to sharpen.
- Cons: Sacrifices a bit of cutting ability for strength.
5. Chisel Grind
Ground only on one side, a chisel grind looks just like you’d expect it to look: like a chisel. This grind isn’t commonly found on outdoor knives, but shows up on Japanese cooking and whittling blades, and some machetes. Depending on the grind angle, chisel-ground blades can be wicked sharp.
- Best for: Rough tasks such as brush clearing and bushcrafting, slicing.
- Pros: Strong and fairly easy to sharpen.
- Cons: Pulls to one side while slicing.
6. Compound Grind
As the name suggests, a compound grind combines at least two others. It includes a secondary bevel, or a back bevel, to the primary grind. This thins the blade towards the cutting edge at a less acute angle, while retaining the strength of additional steel in the blade.
- Best for: EDC, general cutting chores
- Pros: Less prone to rolling and chipping than thinner grinds, and a stronger overall blade
- Cons: It’s a trade-off—more strength for less general sharpness
7. Asymmetrical Grind
In an asymmetrical grind, each side of the blade carries a different bevel angle. For example, a flat grind on one side and convex grind on the other, or two flat grinds of differing angles. This combines the attributes of two grinds to balance sharpness and durability, but it is uncommon.
- Best for: Tactical use.
- Pros: High durability and ease of sharpening.
- Cons: Not as sharp as hollow and flat grinds.
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