serrations or not that is the question


knife law moderator
Dec 25, 1998
I would like to get some comments on serrations. Positive and negative. I personally like knives that are partially serrated. The best of both worlds. But really, are serrations worth it? What are the tradeoffs?
Contrary to popular belief, a partially serrated edge is NOT "the best of both worlds."

I dislike partially serrated edges. They reduce the useful length of the plain edge, and they tend to snag on the material being cut. Try the following experiment: cut a wide sheet of paper off of a roll, like butcher paper or gift wrap. Make sure there are no children or adults with sensitive ears present.

I hate partially serrated edges, but I hate them the most on blades that are already short to begin with, such as the Benchmade Leopard Cub, or the Spyderco Ladybug.

It is my considered opinion that a serrated edge is less versatile than a properly sharpened plain edge. Steve Harvey, who has a habit of being right about a lot of things, has said, "There is no cutting task for which a plain edge is a pain in the @$$ as a serrated edge can be."

I will admit that there are situations where serrations come in handy, as when cutting tough plastics. But there are a lot more situations where serrations are unnecessary and bothersome, so consequently I prefer to keep my serrations on a separate knife. I always carry more than one knife anyway, so this is not a problem for me. If I have to carry just one knife, it will always be plain edged.

The manufacturers and dealers will tell you that partially serrated edges sell better than plain edges on all models for which there is a choice. I believe this is because most people don't know how to sharpen a knife, and the serrated portion of the edge is likely to be marginally effective after the plain edge has become dull.

Have you read Joe Talmadge's FAQ on the subject of serrations? I recommend it.

There. I feel much better now.

David Rock
Well said, David!

Yes the serrated vs plain FAQ is a very good one.

I ahd my partially serrated Ascent (the only partially serrated knife I have left, as it was my first BM and has sentimental value) in my toolbelt while working on a friend's new deck. The serrations were a real pain when trying to evenly cut open bags of quickcrete. haven't bought one (for myself) since.

Have a few fully serrated ones I like, mostly sheepsfoot blades, but I am a plain edge guy.

Clay Fleischer

"10,000 Lemmings Can't Be Wrong!"
I love serrations! The first time I used a knife with serrations was a few years ago. Someone who I know that worked in a camping store had a fully serrated Syderco Delica. He told me what a great knife it was because of the clip, the hole and the serrations. I thought this ugly, cheap, plastic knife (sorry Sal
) is such a gimmick.

I decided to buy one (they're inexpensive) and planned on using it hard (ie. abusing it) until it broke, just to show him it was a piece of #$&%! This guy was not a knife guy so I planned on "schooling" him. I beat the hell out of that Spyderco. I'm talking about all of those things you're not supposed to do: throwing it, dropping it onto concrete (only by accident), jamming it between heavy metal doors to hold them open so they wouldn't close behind me, etc. It held up great! I worked in a warehouse and spent most of my time cutting boxes and those plastic straps that hold them together. I know most people don't like serrations but, I know of no plain edge that would stay sharp as long or cut as well.

I think it was none other than Mike Turber who, some time ago, offered a challenge to the serration haters: anyone was welcome to work with him in his warehouse and cut boxes all day and see how well their plain blade held up against a serrated blade. I think he said that there was no way a plain blade would hold up as well as a good serrated blade.

Recently, I bought a fully serrated Delica 98 for my camping store buddy (as a replacement for his older one), talked one of my friends into buying one, and also bought one for another friend that I worked with who wanted one after seeing/using mine. They are all serration lovers although, they (and I) resisted at first!

However, I agree that serrations are not good general purpose blades.


[This message has been edited by Bernie (edited 24 January 1999).]
I agree with David that combination edges are NOT the best of both worlds, actually they are "not enough of each world" in my humble opinion. But I'm partial. The New Spyderco Dyad (full size - (2) 3-1/4" blade) is attempting to be the best of both worlds. Time will tell.

Perhaps not all serrations are created equal? One cannot fault Ferrari's speed by judging VW's.

It is true that a "Sharp" plain edge will cut alongside a "Sharp" serrated edge on most cutting chores (except fibrous material, rope, kevlar, etc). But it is also true that a "Sharp" serrated edge will equally cut along side a "Sharp" plain edge for most cutting chores.

It is possible to "rake" the entire edge off of a plain edge knife on a bone or antler, not possible on a serrated edge. The tips of the teeth are protecting the recessed "sharp" portion.

Edge testing reveals that (given equal sharpness) a serrated edge will continue cutting for approximately twice as long as the equivalent plain edge on the same material.

Just my 2 Yen to "spice" the thread.

I think it depends on what you use a knife for.Working in Mike`s warehouse or in a situation that requires tough cutting jobs like cutting rope or seatbelts favors the serrated edge.However,for everyday use the average knife user is probably better served by a plain edged blade.Ease or re-sharpening being one of the reasons.
Hey I think I'll pull out my Ginsu knife and start using it, again.
Seriously though, I like both styles. I have equall amounts of both. Serrated edges don't usually cut clean like plain edges and are also not politically friendly, but boy can they cut. On a small knife I will either get plain or fully, on a big knife, I don't mind having partially. In a utility knife serrations are almost a must. Just try cutting nylon chord when wet or with oil or grease. The plain blade slides over it and doesn't cut very well. The serrated one does. The thing I hate about serrations is sharpenning. Plain blades are easier by a long shot for me. Maybe with some practice that will change.
Lots good comments. I'll start off agreeing strongly with Sal's comments about partially-serrated *not* always being the best of both worlds. For some cutting jobs, you want one smooth stroke, especially because the plain and serrated parts on a partially-serrated blade are out-of-line from each other. In that case, your 4" partially-serrated blade functions like a 2" plain blade *or* a 2" serrated blade, and a fully-serrated or fully-plain 4" blade would have worked better.

Serrations hold their edge a long time, and perform at the best when doing *slicing* chores on hard materials or materials under tension.

Plain edge blades push-cut much better than serrations. When slicing, a plain edge blade sharpened properly (i.e., with a very thin coarse-ground edge) will slice not too far behind the serrated edge on hard/tensioned materials. As the materials get softer, the serrations will perform worse and worse, tending to unravel and tear the material instead of cutting. The coarse-ground plain edge will handily outslice the serrated edge as the material gets softer.

So the plain edge performs better for all push cuts, plus slicing softer materials. The serrated edge performs better when slicing hard materials, and holds its edge longer. But when it needs resharpening, the serrated edge wants a fancy sharpening rig, whereas the plain edge can be sharpened on a fine stone (for push-cutting) or a coarse stone or file (for slicing). Touchups on the plain edge are much faster and easier to perform.

There's a whole lotta tradeoffs going on, but the right choice for you depends on what you actually do with your knife. Furthermore, to get the plain edge to perform the way I discuss above, you actually need to understand how to sharpen it properly. For most people, they can't sharpen the plain edge to get all the potential performance out of it, so serrated performance just seems incredible. Once you really understand sharpening, you may find yourself leaning towards plain edges again. That's exactly what I went through -- I'm more or less uninterested in serrated edges now, except for the Dyad case where one blade is plain and a completely seperate blade is serrated.

What I do is first try the plain edge of my Leatherman Wave(easier to resharpen.) If that dosen't seem to be working I will use the serrated. What helps is the fact that each blade can be opened and closed with one hand.
kudos to sal on the dyad. looking forward to the larger one. i don't care for the combo blades either. so i carry a plain edge knife and a fully serrated knife in another pocket for the larger jobs, and the spyderco dyad for the smaller jobs. works well for me, but not everyone carrys or wants to carry that many knives at one time. but i am a knifeaholic so what can i say?
my .02 cents.

I'm also a plain blade person. Mostly for ease of sharpening. I'm sure there are situations where a serrated blade will "cut" for longer than a plain blade, but once they both stop cutting which will be easier to sharpen?

I use my blades pretty roughly too, and sometimes I have to grind chips out of the blade. How easy is that with serrations? Can you sharpen them by a single candle? By feel? With a stone you pick up from a field?

Plus I find many blades absolutely _beautiful_ in plain blade style, that are terrible looking in serrated or partially serrated style. Like the BM 3500.

I like both styles. I own both styles, and I have noticed that my my cheaper "Beater" knives tend to be serrated, but the ones I carry daily tend to be plain. For most daily carry, a plain edge is fine, and for more "emergency" type knives, I think I like the serrations better. When I was a mechanic, I used serrations, but when I became a millwright, I prefered plain. edag...da nyQuil es kiking in.....I gunga gooo slppe now.



"No, it's a Vaquero Grande in my pocket, but I am happy to see you!"

When I think of serrations on a knife the image I get is of those cheesy white plastic handled steak knives SHELL used to give out with a fill up back in the mid 60's. To this day I can't get that image out of my head and of all the knives I own except for my gerber multi-tool none of them have serrations.My ramblings on serrations.
Serrations outperform plain edges at some tasks and the reverse is true for other types of cutting. To decide which is the best format for you then you need to figure out exactly what kind of cutting you do most.

Serrations have many advantages, they have *much* better edge holding, they are much more resistant to gross blade damage (as they localize it), they slice much better on stiff materials (the stiffer the material the larger the performace difference is seen and the lower the effect that roughing up a plain edge will have), they are also better choppers on certain tasks .

Serrations have many disadvantages, they are harder to sharpen (but its not overly significant), they push cut quite horribly (which is the major factor), and they are quite difficult to use on soft materials like fabrics etc. as all they do is puch the stuff around.

Serrations are good for non-knife people that won't sharpen their knives regularly. Even when they're dull you can saw through alot of materials.

I don't cut anything with my knives. So I understand and nod my head when I read all the serrated versus plain issues with cutting things, but I really never do cut anything. So with me it is a matter of being sensitive to how the character of the knife asks for the blade edge. Its an intangible asthetic choice and you have to listen to the knife to hear it.

For example, Microtech LUDTs ask for combo serrations. The plain blade is just too chubby and cute for an auto and one can imagine divers trying to cut tangled up fishing line with the serrations. But on a Benchmade Stryker Auto the beautiful grind lines just ask to be left alone with the long straight edge (it also asks for no black T coating on the satin finish).

With some knives the blade and handle can speak together for a unique effect, just asking for serrated or plain. For example many little Syperco fully serrated clipits look so much baby alligators it just has to be that way. On the other hand, my 12 inch kriss bladed butterfly knife has the symmetry of a swimming snake and combo serrations would ruin it. Sometimes, like these the choice is instant, but many knives need to get familiar before they tell you which way to go. Just keep listening...

Now, let me get this straight... some of you guys actually cut stuff with your knives?

[This message has been edited by senpai (edited 25 January 1999).]
Heck I like serrations for cutting bread in the kitchen and...........well I like them for cutting bread anyway.

Knife Outlet

I prefer the combo blade for daily work chores. The key word here is "work". As with everything, the right tool for the right job is the ideal philosophy, but sometimes we don't always have that tool with us. I cut plastic straps and shrinkwrap several times a day, 5 days a week. A plain edge needs to be sharpened every other day with such work where as a serrated edge, once every 3-5 months. I think that the combo-edge is the way to go in a work enviroment, besides, opening letters is what those cool ass OTF's are for


Live every day as if it was your last, for some day it shall be.
I`m divided on the matter. I generally prefer plain edges but there ar ea few tasks I perform that the serrations handle better. One is reinforced rubber fuel line and heater hose,my BM Panther work knife is part serrated and that portion cuts the hose much better than the plain edge. My Spydie Dragonfly with full serrations and a flat grind cuts through it like a laser. The other is bread,my Vaquero cuts it like it was made for it(not that I use it for the task much). At a recent birthday party the rolls weren`t cut and they couldn`t find a knife to cut them. So "CLACK!" out comes the Vaquero to save the day!
I think they may also have a place on a pure defensive knife,I`ve found the Vaquero cuts through thick clothing and leather somewhat better than a plain edge. Shame it takes three men and a boy a week to sharpen them. Marcus