In our first discussion, we talked about different blade alloys. It takes three main components to talk about the cutting performance of any knife: alloy, heat treat, and today’s subject: blade geometry. The broad subject of blade geometry encompasses many different parts of the blade. While I want to cover all the popular blade profiles, I think it’s best to break them down and talk about one family at a time. Today let’s discuss all the flat beveled cousins. The wharncliffe, sheepsfoot, reverse tanto and coping blade shapes are all related, and will do a variety of tasks well suited to their design . . .
OK so let’s all get on the same page and talk about the anatomy of a blade. Thanks to customtacticals.com we have this handy dandy diagram.
This diagram happens to show a spear point, but what defines the flat-bevel category of knife blades is a flat (or near flat) cutting edge with the spine dropping to meet it at the point. This makes for quite a few interesting possibilities for the primary grinds, but universally these blades share finer, more delicate points with more tip control. The flat, predictable edges respond well to utility tasks and give the user greater confidence when bearing down, that the edge will cut predictably. Sometimes the “belly” of more sloping curvaceous grinds allows the knife to slide, slip, and in general act more erratically when placed under pressure.
Historically these blade shapes have been in use for hundreds and thousands of years. Typical specialty uses would be whittling and fine carving, fisherman’s/sailor’s utilities, farm tasks, first responder/EMS emergency duties. Why would such a diverse group of people come to love this blade profile? Well the experienced sailor or fisherman use the sheepsfoot blade to allow efficient cutting without the danger of stabbing themselves on a less than stable boat deck. The high sloping spine of the sheepsfoot makes for a poor stabbing tool. This is also very useful for firefighters and EMS personnel when cutting passengers from a car wreck where the goal is to cut the seatbelt, not the people underneath.
Not all of the sheepsfoot’s flat, beveled cousins are terrible at stabbing duties. The reverse tanto and Wharncliffe make extremely thin, fine points that will pierce most mediums with ease. The reverse tanto usually has more tip strength for impact while the Wharncliffe will have a finer edge/point for increased control.
With the advent of modern supersteels, blades can be ground thinner and still hold up to the strength of thicker blade designs. I know that for me, there are very few blade shapes that can compare with the slicing ability of a Wharncliffe. When you slice with a drop point, bowie or spearpoint blade, the tip is usually doing very little work. As the blade slices, the belly of the ground edge cuts the material. This makes for a very smooth draw cut, but a flat bevel will drag that thinner, sharper tip straight through. A properly maintained flat bevel cuts like a laser beam and because you can see the tip at all times, it allows for a level of tip control not possible with other knives.
So if you’re a die hard drop point or tanto fan, right about now, your’re probably asking yourself, “Why?” Well I can tell you, every knife has a purpose and every knife user must make decisions as to the blades they choose to match the cutting tasks they have. For me, I EDC a Wharncliffe style straight bevel blade, because my daily pocket knife tasks require laser accuracy in an easy to touch up blade shape.
I don’t normally make production knife recommendations but as a knifemaker, I have been impressed with the CRKT Eraser, designed by Liong Mah. The $80 street price makes it easy to get a great modified reverse tanto blade in AUS8. The knife is beefy and secure with G10 and aluminum bolsters. I’ve been carrying one for months and love it. If you’re in the market for something different, you can’t go wrong with a Liong Mah design.
Let me know what your thoughts. I’ll be answering questions in the comments below.