Ask A Knifemaker: TTAK Knife Testing Protocol

Image: Chris Dumm

TTAG writer Joe Grine and I were musing about the differences between the gun world and the knife world. We joked about telling our wives that we were ‘headed to the knife range’ for the day, where Joe could chop at hanging ropes while I practiced slicing unsupported rice paper. Joe and I have done dozens of very lengthy gun reviews for The Truth About Guns (really lengthy in Joe’s case) and this got us to thinking about exactly what should go into a TTAK knife review.

We already touch on the no-brainers like ergonomics, functionality, mechanical precision, and quality of finish. For really technical attributes like ductility and Rockwell hardness, we mostly have to trust the manufacturer at their word because we lack the engineering equipment and expertise to test them for ourselves.

Styling and aesthetics is almost 100% subjective, so we probably won’t emphasize a knife’s looks unless we think it’s either hideously ugly or drop-dead gorgeous.

But the ability to take a sharp edge and hold that edge through repeated use are as crucial to a blade’s quality as the ability of a rifle to consistently put its bullets where they’re aimed.

Image: Chris Dumm

Clay came up with some great tests involving food preparation, whittling, and cutting paracord and poly-rope. In search of greater knowledge, I consulted The Master, our resident knife maker Will Woods.

Image: Chris Dumm

Will recommended the three tests that I more or less portray in these photos. Slicing through 18″ lengths of 2-ply cardboard until the blade starts to tear is a tough test, since cardboard can beat the crap out of a lesser cutting edge. Cutting supported 1″ sisal rope with a variety of draw and push cuts shows how efficient a cutting tool the blade is, and slicing unsupported newsprint shows how wickedly sharp (or not) the blade is.

Ask The Audience

We’re big believers in the wisdom of crowds around here. We won’t be trying to carve marble or bend a blade 90 degrees without snapping it, (unless a manufacturer dares us to) but we’re asking for your suggestions on other simple, repeatable, nondestructive and cheap tests that can help us tell you The Truth About Knives.


  1. SubZ says:

    I just shave hair on my arm. But I also won’t use a knife the same as others do. For example, for cardboard, I flip the knife(all my blades are lockback) and use point only to score. Then rip it, if needed.

    1. BLAMMO says:

      Corrugated cardboard is hell on a knife blade. I only use a utility knife with disposable blades for cardboard.

  2. ChuckN says:

    I vary with tests because I use different edges depending on
    function. Anything meant to be razor sharp should shave hair
    or cut newspaper/rice paper without any burrs. My utility
    knife simply has to cut through several sheets of newspaper
    or cardboard without tearing. Likewise I don’t expect to be
    able to shave with a cleaver or knife meant for chopping. That
    fine an edge could chip or shatter when hitting bone. But
    it should go through a rope placed on a table with one strike.

  3. janitor says:

    you should list type of steel, blade style, materials etc in the final break down list like you do with ergonomics, etc….

    other than strength of a lock, or some crazy new feature, i believe you touched all the bases. maybe have a”budget beauties” section.

    1. janitor says:

      nevermind…..ahead of me already.

  4. Daniel Medina says:

    Some knife testing suggestions.
    1. Cutting through thick packing tape or Duck Tape. Dull knives end up sticking instead of slices and thus make jagged cuts.
    2. Cutting through surgical tubing (done weekly at hospitals and surgical offices).
    3. Can the knife cut zip-ties well with little force?
    4. For the fisherman. Cut fishing line and measure its difficulty (1-10 rating)on 10-lb,15-lb,50+lb lines.
    5. How useful are the serrated blades on rope?
    6. Many knives don’t hold up well when using a magnesium fire starter. However this is a very important task for any camper, hunter or survivalist.
    7. We all get our knives wet at one point or the other. Test how well does the “stainless steel” protect/inhibit against rust or staining.

    1. Nanashi says:

      Second on the rust resistance test for “stainless steel”
      I’ve had some so-called stainless steel knives rust on me after one use/wash cycle

    2. Thanks for the ideas. You will definitely see some of these from me. Please keep the ideas coming everyone.

  5. Jeff S. says:

    I think knife testing really depends on the intended use of the knife. For instance my EDC blade is not going to need to do the same things my camping knife is going to do. So the testing should really correlate into things the knife is going to do, both realistically and taken to extremes.

    For instance my EDC is going to be cutting through cable ties, cardboard, paper, food, etc. My camping knife is going to be whittling, batoning firewood, food tasks, cutting rope, etc.

    If we could classify what a knife is for, then we could have a set of knife tests for it. But maybe that is all too complicated.

    1. I understand what you are saying Jeff. That is what I tried to do in my Neck Knife shootout with the apples and fire drill.

      We will probably use the tests that Will suggested, across the board for consistency. I can’t speak for everyone, but I also plan on throwing some curveballs in as well, especially when they are task specific to a knife or its advertising.

      We will be testing a lot of knives in the months ahead. Please send us any tests you would like to see. We can have some fun with this.

  6. don curton says:

    How it works as a screwdriver, regular and phillips (knife blade only, no fair using actual bits.

    As a hammer.


    Jiggering locks.

    Twirling between your fingers when bored at work place meetings (I get a few stares).

    How prominent a bulge in real small town wranglers.

  7. Chris Dumm says:

    I love the ideas getting tossed around here, and wanted to stir the pot with a few of my own:

    1. If the knife has a corkscrew, we’ll definitely want to test its performance opening various different varietals, as well as natural vs. synthetic corks. Everybody knows that pinots are just murder on corkscrews.
    2. There’s a special circle of hell for people who use Boker pocketknives as screwdrivers and break the tips off. Unless they’re MacGuyver, because he’s cool.

  8. Bill says:

    A while ago I assembled a list of functions, from an internet search, one might wish to see in an ideal survival knife. I assume most any other type of knife would need to possess a subset of functions, which I present unorganized (except for being in alphabetical order):

    Survival Knife
    fire ignition
    first aid
    food preparation
    kindling splitting
    path clearing
    self defense
    shelter building
    tinder shaving
    tool making

    Some of the above functions are higher level functions (e.g., repairs, shelter building, trapping), which can be crossed off, as testing should focus on fundamental functions (e.g., drilling, prying, slicing).

  9. Bob Damon says:

    I think creating categories is good,and noting when a knife could fall into multiple categories.

    Would be nice to know how strong the edge is, how long it might last before it needs to be sharpened, how easy or difficult to sharpen.
    I might not want an EDC that can’t stay sharp and is a pain to sharpen.
    For knives primarily used as self defense , you could test cutting jeans, shirts, jackets, leather, typical clothing you might encounter while defending yourself.
    You might categorize fighting knives by fighting style – ie.. a Marine Kabar has different tactics than a Karambit or a small folder.
    You could also have features from instructors of different fighting styles.

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Ask A Knifemaker: TTAK Knife Testing Protocol

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