Blade Patterns for Hunting/Outdoors and Everyday Carry Knives
By Gary Zinn
I am into my seventh decade of buying, using, giving away, wearing out and discarding knives. Reflecting on knives that I currently own and on those which I have used at one time or another, I realize there are certain blade patterns that dominate my experience as a user of knives for hunting, general outdoors use, and everyday carry (utility uses).
I made a list of common and useful blade patterns (or profiles, if you prefer) for fixed blade knives, and also a list of patterns for folding knife blades; some key patterns appear on both lists. I will cite one or more examples of popular commercial knives that use the blade pattern in question.
Buck brand knives will be my main examples for fixed blade knives, and Case brand pocket knife models for most folding knife examples. I use these brands and models as examples, not as endorsements, so anyone who may be unfamiliar with a blade pattern can use the Internet to find images of the knife model cited and see what the blade pattern looks like.
Several blade pattern names relate to how the spine of the blade is curved or angled, relative to a straight line. Others are named for the use for which the blade pattern is best suited or purposely designed (e.g., skinner). I believe this will become clear as I work through the pattern list.
Fixed blade knives
Drop point blade: This is probably the most prevalent blade pattern for fixed blade hunting and general outdoor use knives today. A drop point blade is so-called, because the blade spine drops to the point in a convex curve. The spine may be straight for the majority of its length, then curving downward near the tip, or it may curve gently downward throughout its length. The Spyderco Bill Moran FB02BB, Buck Vanguard and Buck Open Season Small Game Knife are typical examples of drop point blade knives.
Drop point knives are very versatile and the design puts a little more steel above the point, making it stronger than, for example, a clip point. A well designed drop point knife can be used to deftly gut, skin and butcher a deer, prepare the ingredients for a camp stew and do just about anything else that one may need a knife for while hunting, camping, or pursuing other outdoor adventures.
Clip point blade: The clip point is also a quite popular fixed blade pattern. The typical clip blade has a spine that is mostly straight, but is abruptly "clipped" at some distance toward the tip. The clipped forward portion of the spine may be straight, or may have a shallow concave curvature. Either way, the tip usually lies somewhat lower than the rearward portion of the blade spine.
The Buck #102 Woodsman has a slender clip point blade. It is a light, nimble, versatile, general purpose hunting and outdoor utility knife. The Joker CN100 Bowie Knife has a longer and wider blade, with a more pronounced clip point. It is a modern example of the classic American Bowie knife type, suitable for heavy duty outdoor adventures.
Clip point blades are arguably as versatile as drop points. The drop point may have an advantage in field dressing big game animals, while the clip point is usually a bit better as a skinning knife. Otherwise, they are pretty much equal in capability.
Straight spine blade: This blade type is pretty much self descriptive, meaning any blade that has a straight, or very nearly straight, spine for its entire length. Scandinavian knives that follow traditional designs are among the best examples today. The knife models made by H. Roselli of Finland mostly have straight spines. Another Finnish maker, Marttiini, makes a model called the Lynx, with a clip blade, but the clip is so subtle that it looks like a straight spine on casual inspection. Similarly, Helle (of Norway) favors blade patterns that have a slight drop point profile. These knives are nearer to having straight spines than to having pronounced clip or drop points.
Scandinavian style knives come from a long tradition of form following function. The straight, or nearly straight, spine designs of these knives has been found highly functional and versatile by many generations of users, who have depended on knives for their livelihood and sometimes their personal survival.
Upswept (trailing point) blade: Again, the terminology describes the blade pattern. Knives with continuously upswept spines, with no drop or clip toward the tip, are not highly common, but neither are they rare. The Buck #118 Personal has a mildly upswept blade, with a lot of gentle curve to the cutting edge. The Buck Kalinga has a more pronounced upsweep and rakish cutting edge.
Trailing point knives are natural slicers. They shine at breaking down and butchering large game animals. As a bonus, there is enough curve in the edge for the blade to be a decent skinner, while the sharp point, if coupled with a moderate blade length, makes the knife useable for close work, such as caping.
Skinner blade: The prototypical big game skinning knife has a blade with a mildly upswept spine, a short front drop and a cutting edge that curves strongly from a deep belly to a relatively blunt tip. The Buck #103 Skinner is a classic example. More contemporary designs are the Buck 392 Omni Hunter and the Buck Open Season Skinner, both with subtle drop point spines and wide blades with deep bellies and rounded cutting edges. Any knife with a wide blade that has lots of belly and pronounced edge curve toward the tip is a natural skinner. A skinner pattern knife is not a one trick pony, but the blade shape is not as versatile as those listed previously.
Fillet blade: The typical fillet knife has a thin, narrow blade, usually slightly flexible. A fillet knife typically has a slight trailing point spine profile, but some makes or models have straight spines. The many models of Rapala fillet knives (made by Marttiini of Finland) are exemplary specimens. The fillet knife is a special purpose pattern that is perfectly designed for the intended task.
Caper blade: Caper knives typically have relatively short, narrow blades that are designed for close work, such as caping out trophy head skins (hence the name). The Buck 135 PackLite Caper is a contemporary example of this speciality knife type.
Gut hook: A gut hook is so-called because its sharpened edge is contained within a hook shaped blade frame. This tool is designed specifically for quickly and cleanly opening the abdomen of a big game animal, for field dressing. The Buck PakLite Guthook is a good example.
It has become common for hunting knife makers to offer models with a gut hook milled onto the blade spine. I bought such a knife many years ago, but I did not like it. (This is a personal peeve I will not argue here.) A separate gut hook tool is relatively inexpensive and well worth adding to the field pack when one is hunting big game.
Fixed blade summary
I believe the blade patterns listed cover the waterfront of useful types of fixed blade knives for hunting and general outdoors use. Other distinct patterns are either very highly specialized in their usefulness, or sometimes just plain strange. Someone conversant with named types of hunting knives may wonder why I have not listed types such as the Pendleton, Loveless, or Nessmuk. My answer is that the blades of these, and others like them, are simply variations on one or another of the patterns listed above.
Folding blade knives
When I was a lad, everyone and their cousins carried pocket knives, i.e., slip joint folders with two, three, or sometimes even four blades. (Yes, I once had a Boy Scout knife.) These are still my idea of everyday carry knives, the contemporary concept of EDC knives notwithstanding. My discussion of blade patterns for folding knives will mostly refer to blades usually seen on slip joint knives, although I will not ignore single blade locking folders.
Clip point blade: Clip blades are very common as main blades on multi-blade slip joint knives. They are also often the choice for single blade folders, such as the Case Back Pocket slip joint, Buck 110 Folding Hunter lock back and sometimes on one hand or assisted opening knives, such as the SOG Trident.
Spear point and pen blade: I am covering these two together, because a pen blade is essentially a small spear point blade. Both typically have parallel, mostly straight spines and cutting edges, with the front of the spine and the cutting edge curving symmetrically to a point. (Like a spear, duh!)
A relatively large blade of this type is called a spear blade when used alone, or as the main blade on a multi blade knife. A relatively small blade with the spear profile, used as a secondary blade, is called a pen blade.
The Case Tear Drop is an example of a slip joint knife offered with a single spear blade. The classic Case Canoe is a two blade slip joint knife with a spear main blade and pen secondary blade. The spear blade is also fairly common on modern locking folders, such as the CRKT M16 Kit Carson and is sometimes used on fixed blade knives, such as the Bark River Aurora.
Many small to medium size two blade slip joint knives feature a clip main blade and a pen secondary blade. The Case Mini Copperhead and Case Texas Jack patterns are examples.
Spey blade and skinner blade: Spey blades have parallel spines and cutting edges for most of their length, with the tip formed by the spine being steeply clipped, to meet with the sharply curved cutting edge. I consider the skinner profile blade, as used on folding knives, to be a variation of the spey. The spine of a skinner blade is not clipped and the cutting edge has a larger radius to form the tip at the end of the straight spine.
The trapper is a long popular slip joint knife pattern that usually pairs a clip main blade with a long spey blade. The Case Trapper knives (in various sizes) are classic trapper knives. The Case Folding Hunter has a large clip main blade and a long skinner secondary blade.
Sheepfoot blade: The sheepfoot blade is the mirror image of the skinner blade just described. It has a straight cutting edge, with the front of the spine radiused sharply downward to form the blade tip. The sheepfoot is mostly used as a secondary blade on three blade stockman pattern knives, joining a clip main blade and a spey secondary blade. The Case Large Stockman is a classic example. Sometimes, a pen blade is used instead of a spey blade on stockman knives, such as the Case Small Stockman.
The trapper and stockman pattern knives are arguably the two most useful slip joint knife types ever devised. Both are great all purpose pocket knives. Trapper knives are also excellent tools for the small game hunter, as they are very well suited to dressing out rabbits, squirrels and the like.
The same can be said of stockman knives, plus they are nearly ideal working pocket knives. The farmer or rancher who goes out without a stockman knife in one pocket and leather gloves in another is just going for a stroll, not to work. (I grew up on a farm, so I say this from experience.)
Drop point blade: Drop point blades are not often seen on slip joint knives, but are quite popular on single blade one hand and assisted opening models. A simple, functional knife with a drop point blade I like is the Kershaw Link. This knife has an assisted opening mechanism and a liner lock.
Wharncliffe blade: The Wharncliffe may be thought of as a modified sheepfoot blade, with a straight cutting edge and a spine with a long, gentle downward curve. The result is that the Wharncliffe blade has a much more sharply pointed tip than does a sheepfoot.
I feel that the Wharncliffe is under appreciated. It is a great everyday utility blade. The Case Tear Drop with a single Wharncliffe blade is ideal for opening letters, packages and those maddening blister packs that so many products come in today. I got my wife one of these knives, and she loves it for opening things and for small cutting chores around the house.
I have two trapper knives that substitute a long Wharncliffe blade for a spey blade and I like them both. The newer one is a GEC Northfield #48 Improved Trapper, as nice a slip joint knife as I have seen in quite awhile.
Coping blade: This is a small blade with a straight cutting edge and spine, clipped downward at about a 45 degree angle to form the tip. This blade is mostly found on whittler pattern knives, for it is especially useful for doing fine wood carving work. A whittler knife usually has a clip main blade, but an interesting whittler variant is the Case Seahorse Whittler. This has a somewhat short and pudgy Wharncliffe main blade, with coping and pen secondary blades.
Gut hook or gutting blade: I have already discussed the gut hook. A gutting blade has a more conventional looking sharpened edge, but with a bulbous, unsharpened tip (to avoid cutting into entrails when the body cavity of an animal is opened.
A gut hook is one of the interchangeable blades supplied with the Savage Hunter's Edge Folding Knife. The Buck Selector 2.0 lock back includes a gutting blade in its interchangeable blade set. The Buck #183 Alpha Crosslock is an interesting contemporary two blade design. It has a spear main blade and a secondary blade with saw teeth and a gut hook; both blades have thumb studs and liner locks.
Folding blade summary
Case Cutlery lists 27 blade patterns that it uses on various models of its folding knives. I have featured only about a third of these, the ones that are time proven to be most useful for hunting, outdoors and everyday pocket knife uses. These are the blades commonly found on popular traditional design folding knives made by Case and other notable makers, such as Bear & Son Cutlery, Great Eastern Cutlery and Queen Cutlery. Further, most makers of contemporary design folding knives offer proven blade patterns, such as the drop, spear and clip points on many of their models.
Call me a fossil, but I am not interested in most of the blade designs that are found in knives that seem to appeal to the bush-crafter, survivalist and weekend ninja types. My lack of interest is not because some of these contemporary blade designs are unconventional, but because their practical utility is suspect. I would buy a ticket to watch someone field dress and skin a deer with a tanto knife. I enjoy a good farce.
Neither do I get excited about Swiss Army Knives with miniature tools, or so-called multi-tools. I own a couple of Leatherman Multi-tools, but I seldom use them. I get frustrated figuring out where the blade or tool I want is located in a multi-tool.
The bread-and-butter blade patterns I have featured are road tested and proven by generations of users. I do not believe in reinventing the wheel, just because it has been around for a long time.
Copyright 2017 by Gary Zinn and/or chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.