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What can serrations do that plain edge can't?

May 22, 1999
Some knife models come in full serrated or combo edge only
Why do knife manufacturers insist on such models? Do they really sell that many more to the general public? What can a serrated edge cut that a plain edge can't? I'm not asking 'cut/chop better' but can only cut that a plain edge can not.

"A knifeless man is a lifeless man"
-Nordic proverb

[This message has been edited by David Williams (edited 20 August 1999).]
The preverbal if it sells some make-um all like it so we can sell a lot. Although some makers offer most blades in either or configuration a lot do not. Most think that they can have an edge in the market by saying that it has more cutting edge than a plain edged blade. While this may be true to a certain degree the problem still remains, and that is this NOT ALL PEOPLE WANT SERRATIONS ON THE KNIFE THEY CARRY. If some one wants serrations on a knife that I make I'll put it on and resharpen for as long as they own it, and they pay for the shipping. But, then there is one of my knives that it comes standard on with at least 1 1/2" of serrations due to the design of the Green Beret SOG Knife.
While I prefer a plain edge 90% of the time, there is one thing that immediately jumps to my mind which serrated edges do well; keep cutting for a long, long time. Yeah, I realize every true knife knut here is jumping to their keyboards to say "just sharpen the plain edge!," but it's not that simple. Let me give real-world example.

A friend of mine is a real knife knut. Honest. He worked in a knife store for several years, sold me my first knife, talked many a long afternoon with me about the various aspects of knifedom, and encouraged me to eventually make knives myself. He can put a good edge on anything he likes and appreciates the value of a sharp blade.

This friend now works in an appliance store, where he takes apart many boxes each day. Big boxes. Thick boxes. How many refrigerator boxes can your plain-edge knife take apart before it starts to look and act like a butter knife? What if you can't whip out a sharpener midway and put the edge back on? What if at the end of a ten-hour day (and possibly dialysis that morning) you don't have the energy or the willpower to sharpen it up when you get home? What if you don't sharpen it all week, because there are bills to pay, a new house and a new wife to attend to, and a serious medical condition to worry about? How long will your plain-edge knife keep doing what it must do then?

My friend has been carrying the same serrated Spyderco Viele for over a year, and if it's been sharpened, it hasn't been often. It's halfway to being a plain-edge knife now, just due to wear, but it keeps doing its job, day after day. Not doing that job nearly as well as a shaving-sharp plain-edge, but doing it nonetheless. Real knife guy, real-world knife job.

That's the big thing serrated knives do, in my opinion.

-Drew Gleason
Little Bear Knives
Very well said.
Drew is absolutely correct, nothing more to say.
I like plain edges better, but then sometimes you just want to get the job done.

Let me add a couple of things: performance-wise, even against a sharp plain edge, a serrated has a definite advantage when you need to cut nylon webbing, heavy tie-wraps or anything else (mostly plastic) where the plain edge does not "bite" and slips off.


P.S. Combination edges work best for me, I like the AFCK ratio of 75%-25% (about three quarters of the blade in plain edge and only a small serrated portion for emergencies)
I don't think there is anything a serration can do that a plain edge CANT do, but it's all a matter of (along with marketing something that looks deadly to casual knife fans who don't know any better) what they can do BETTER. Rope and the like are always the first things to come to my mind, but what about actually STARTING out cuts? If I need to start out a cut, and I am in a tight space, I use the serrations to push down, and then continue with the regular blade. This, as opposed to just pushing a plain edge back and forth until it catches, seems to make things easier. It makes things cleaner too. I get partially serrated edges on all the knives I expect to carry for utility, and plain edges on those I don't count on carrying and those few (and far between) knives I purchase for self defense... That should say something, right?

Robert Joseph Ansbro

If it can be written, or thought, it can be filmed. -Stanley Kubrick, 1928-1999


I am the moderator on the forum "The Balcony" located at Cinematopia, please come support this brand new site
Two things I like about serrations:
They stay sharp MUCH longer than a plain edge
Some serrated models (I'm thinking of the Syderco Police Model) are able to cut things that wouldn't be possible to cut using a plain blade. I recently found myself in an emergency situation that called for the fast removal of some shrubbery. The Spyderco cut through about 6 1" branches in well less than a minute. The only way I could see a plain edge doing the same thing would be to use it as a small axe.

That's my two cents. Hey! How come you're giving me change?
David, serrations can saw through materials that are too hard for a plain edge to slice into, as well they can focus damage so if you happen to hit something you should not the effect will be localized to a smaller part of the blade.

I don't care for serrations on a carrying pocket knife. I do have one yard work, though. I also use an old serrated kitchen knife for cutting sod. It works much better.

I have a half serrated knife, and a plain knife I carry on me, works out great having both.
The never ending debate.....LOL. I started with combo blades and then realized that it was the worse of both works since I typically carry 3" blades
. How I get around it now is I carry one PLAIN and one SERRATED
. Now I have the best of both worlds.

I am the fence rider

Ray 'md2020'

ps. I agree w/ corduroy - nothing works better on thick double walled corrugated boxes like a serrated knife.

[This message has been edited by maddog2020 (edited 20 August 1999).]
Especially with "slippery" steel, a plain edge takes forever (and leaves the knife considerably dulled) when working on fibrous material like green twigs, roots, and the proverbial seat belt, but at the same time opening plastic bags of soil or slitting envelopes is much cleaner and easier with a plain edge.

Opening boxes, serrations are great for tearing through the cardboard, but get all gummed up (and a real pain to clean) with tape.

I don't know what I'll use my knife for on any give day. I like a tactical, single-bladed knife. Two knives would be inappropriate in my environment (regardless of how hard James Piorek tries to sell me!
). I'll stick to my combo edges.
I hate serrations and I hate combo edges.

The only knife I own at present happens to have serrations, in fact it's combo edged, and I love the thing to death and it's been a real great knife that I'll miss when I finaly break it.

I would never want a fully serrated knife, and I'd like my Project 1 even better if it was fully plain edged, but I suppose as Drew pointed out, a serrated knife is just another tool and it has it's place.

But I don't have a need for such a tool as my circumstances vary considerably from his friend's, and plain edges tend to work out best for me.

Serrations are not superior in every area, they just have their own unique blend of strengths and weaknesses, as has been said, it's often a matter of doing certain things better than their being able to do anything that a plain edge can't.
The one undeniable disadvantage of a serrated edge, you can't take them on most airplanes.

Don't forget to pay your taxes...they eventually become my knives

[This message has been edited by amacks (edited 20 August 1999).]
Thanks Fireprez, Thanks Cliff, those are points I didn't consider. I always have my Swiss Tool with me except on Sundays. I've never sawed with my knife but I can see how serrations can do that while a plain edge can not.

amacks, excellent point. No serrations is not an FAA reg. But more and more airlines are adopting it to the point it seems like a national FAA guideline

"A knifeless man is a lifeless man"
-Nordic proverb

Wow, that got responses quick!

Serrations have a number of disadvantages, but they do definitely have some advantages. They do keep cutting longer, they do work well on zipper cuts when the thing being cut is very thin, and they do cut very hard material better.

Contrary to popular opinion, they do not necessarily cut rope better than a coarse-ground plain edge blade. My champion rope cutter is a recurved coarse-ground plain edge blade, it outcuts a serrated blade, and makes the cuts much neater. Of course, the serrated blade will keep cutting longer without needing a touch-up.


I read your Plain vs. Serrated faq and didn't quite understand what you meant by coarse ground edge. Is that a plain edge sharped with a coarse stone only and not a fine stone?

"A knifeless man is a lifeless man"
-Nordic proverb

David - I think Joe's referring to the edge he puts on knives like the BM Axis (see the ever referred to "How to Make the Axis Perform")...If I remember right, he sharpens as he would normally, and then touches up the recurved portion with a coarser stone
Right! Polished edges, as done on fine stones or strops, *stink* at slicing. They're good for push-cutting and shaving, but I don't shave with my Axis! So I leave the edge coarse -- using the coarse brown stone on the Sharpmaker. Many of my knives, I leave even coarser than that, if I know I'm going to be doing lots of slicing.

A polished plain edge is terrible at slicing, and can't hold a candle to a serrated blade at slicing anything. The coarse ground plain edge can do very well versus a serrated edge on a number of materials.

Joe :

[serrated edges]

Contrary to popular opinion, they do not necessarily cut rope better than a coarse-ground plain edge blade.

Actually on small to moderate sized ropes a thin plain edge blade can push cut through them a lot easier and faster than sawing with a serrated edge. A plain edge also handles really small rope easier which can snag on large serration patterns. I would be curious to know how many people who like a serrated edge for rope have tried a nice thin blade like the Calypso Jr. .

However on some really thick or hard ropes a serrated edge can be nice. I had to cut through 4" thick docking line the weekend. No way I was push cutting through that. I don't have to do that very often though. But as Joe noted, a plain edge that has a decent amount of bite will still fare well.


[This message has been edited by Cliff Stamp (edited 20 August 1999).]
I've generally preferred plain blades, but I also often carry a fully-serrated Delica or my combo edge AFCK, etc. I sometimes like the "grab" that a serrated edge offers when cutting something most (especially curved, or with a belly) plain edges might slip off of. But for certain other jobs like whittling, fine work, etc., the serrations get in the way.
So I like plain, combo, and full serrated blades, depending on the knife, and all can have their place.