Shaping Up - Blade Style Guide (Part 2)
Last week I talked about standard, drop point and clip point blades. Now I want to cover some of the more eye-catching designs. On the table this week are spear point, tanto, and sheep’s foot blades. These blades all have a bit of a “wow” factor because they aren’t as common. You know by now that I consider the way a blade looks to be a big factor when buying a blade. These three designs may all look really cool, but each has its' own set of uses as well as strengths and weaknesses.
Spear point blades just look dangerous. And by dangerous, I mean cool. There is something about it that will make you look twice. The spear point is characterized by a sweeping, convex curve on the spine and the cutting edge that meet to make the point in the center of the blade. Most spear point pocket knives are only sharpened on the belly side of the blade. The spine is typically ground to match the looks of the cutting edge, but remains dull. This makes the knife much safer to carry. There are however, many automatic “out-the-front” knives that will have both sides sharpened. You will find the same dual edge on many boot-knives, daggers and throwing knives. The spear point blades do exactly what they look like they are designed to do. They pierce. Having the curve on both sides of the blade greatly reduces the resistance when piercing and will even provide some help with skinning. These blades don’t always have the best luck with tips though. For an amateur knife sharpener, the dual cutting edge can prove to be tricky to master, in particular; in keeping the tip sharp. If the blade is not very thick, it can be prone to its tip breaking if it is not used properly. True to its name, in a survival situation the blade can be lashed to a sturdy stick or limb and used as a spear. I do have to say though, that this would not be my first choice for hunting. The biggest downfall is that you lose the ability to choke down on the blade for detailed work. In general, these are great blades, but can require a little more experience to sharpen.
The Tanto blade is a favorite of many as it is a superb utility blade. Instead of following a smooth curve toward the tip like all of the previous designs, this blade either has a straight or very gently curved belly and makes a sharp, angular turn toward the tip. This design was made for armor piercing and is found in Japanese short swords and daggers. In contrast to the spear point, which is designed to penetrate flesh and hide, the tanto blade design makes the tip significantly more sturdy and able to penetrate thick, cured hides, and even metal. So, if you are in the market for an expensive can opener, this may be the design for you! But seriously, they make pretty good can openers… The flat grind of the blade leaves a good bit of metal in the tip, and that’s where its’ strength factor comes from. If you are looking for a strong knife, the tanto is a good buy, but it does have its weaknesses. The angle at the end of the blade leaves little room for broad strokes when skinning. This same feature can make it difficult to get detailed cuts when carving. This angle can also cause some frustration for amateur sharpeners as well. The big question is, “Form or function?” My answer is, “Both!” If you like the design of the tanto, use it for its strengths and get another knife to make up for its weaknesses.
Finally, the “looker” of the bunch, the sheep’s foot. These blades will get some looks anytime you pull them out. The sheep’s foot blade is characterized by a straight cutting edge and a spine that runs parallel to it, dropping abruptly at the end to make the tip. Don’t confuse these with the Wharncliffe design, which has a much more pronounced tip. This blunt curve reduces the risk of unwanted stabbing and accidental penetrations, so this blade is commonly seen used by paramedics and other first responders. The straight edge makes it an ideal carving tool, but it does have a few limitations. Sharpening is pretty straight forward, but takes a slightly different technique than the sweeping motion many use for blades with a curved cutting edge. Some artists have modified this design by giving it a slight recurve. The same parallel lines are found between the cutting edge and spine, and it has the same blunt drop at the tip. Both blades function in a very similar way, with the recurve design being a bit easier to sharpen because of the gentle curvature of the cutting edge. Like the tanto, these are utility blades and do not excel at tasks like skinning, although if you are in a bind; I’m sure that you can make them work. We categorize many of these blades as “tacti-cool.” They look great, but probably won’t be your first choice for self defense. The right design can make them a practical workhorse. They’ll tackle just about any task, but definitely have their strengths and weaknesses.
In the end, any knife is better than no knife; unless you are going through airport security… Find what you like and use it until you need another. When you do, you know where to look! Next week I’ll cover the trailing point, hawkbill, and Wharncliffe blade designs. Until then, be safe and stay sharp!