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knife blades, materials and design

Survival knife blades, materials and design 

Knife design:

soldier with survival knife

When it comes to survival knives, there’s generally only 5 main design areas to a good survival knife.

  • Full or 3/4 tang blade
  • Serrated or smooth knife edge
  • Blade material
  • Blade point style
  • Handle
  • Sheath

Full tang blade – 

view of a full tang knife

This type of blade will have the whole metal part running through the knife from tip to pommel end. All made in one piece. This will give the knife a consistent strength throughout it entire length. 

The knife is far less likely to bend or snap, as well as giving you 100% leverage.

You quite often find that a cheaper knife will barely have any tang at all, thus making it very weak and liable to snap if any pressure is put on it.

3/4 tang blade

A knife with a 3/4 tang is about the very minimum you should be looking for. It will still have good, overall knife strength, but can offer some additional features to the knife itself.

A good example of a 3/4 tang knife is the  Gerber 22-01629 LMF II Black Infantry Knife with 4.8-Inch Blade. This knife offers you advantages and therefore will make a 3/4 tang knife the better choice in your survival kit – see my full Gerber LMF II Knife Review here.

 Serrated edge blades

This type of blade offers you a combination of half smooth and half serrated – the serrations are used for cutting as on the Gerber, Bear Grylls Survival Series Ultimate Knife, Serrated Edge and are ideal for cutting rope or through small twigs of wood.

There is one main problem when choosing a serrated edge blade –  they are not that easy to sharpen – a ‘normal’ straight bladed knife will be much easier to sharpen, but the serrated blade knife will require a lot more work and in some cases even special machining.

Serrated blades are not particularly a good choice when being used for hunting and skinning. They tend to rip into the animals skin and make a real mess – generally avoid serrated knives for hunting and stick to a smooth blade.

Smooth edge blade 

This style of blade is generally the preferred blade grind by most survivalists and anyone using bushcraft skills in the wilderness. The typical style of bushcraft smooth edged knife would be a Mora Companion, as shown here.

It’s a full length edge along the blade which makes it an ideal edge for wood splitting, wood carving skills and is definitely the better blade for any skinning and gutting work. The fact that the edge goes along the full length of the blade makes this a very easy edge to sharpen.

Blade thickness 

There is a trade off between thickness and weight when it comes to the blade thickness of a survival knife –

For example:  the performance of a survival knife that will be used for chopping tree branches, battoning and digging (using as a lever) will be considerably effected if the blade thickness is below 3/16″. However, a knife for skinning fish need only be 1/8″ or even less.

As usual, it goes without saying that a cheap, normally foreign imported  knife will have a thin blade – so keep away from them. The blade should rarely flex when you try to bend it by hand.

Most good, “all round”, survival knives will have a blade thickness of, at least 3/16″ or maybe more, depending on the amount of abuse you intend to give it.

A knife with a 1/4″ blade, like the Schrade SCHF9 Extreme Survival Knife  shown here on the right, should withstand just about anything you can throw at it and will have the strength to withstand high impact when chopping through wood and will prevent the blade from flexing when levering.

Blade material 

There are generally just two main types of steel for a survival knife –

  • High Carbon Steel or Stainless Steel
 This knife is the  Schrade SCHF9 Extreme Survival Knife which has a Fixed 1095 High Carbon Steel Blade – this knife will hold a sharp edge for much longer than the stainless steel blade, however, it must be kept clean and ideally, lightly oiled to avoid any rust that will build up easier than on a stainless steel blade knife.
 This knife is the SOG  E37N-CP Seal Pup Elite with the stainless steel blade – this blade material is considered pretty much indestructible however, you will find the edge will need more frequent sharpening over the carbon blade.
Types of blade design & points
survival knife blade shapes

The type, design and form of your survival knife blade determines what survival and bushcraft skills you can easily perform.

There are several types of knife blade to choose from, however, if you are after a very specific style of knife with certain, unique personal features and a certain style of blade, then your only option is to have the knife hand made by a knife craftsman.

Hand made knives will vary widely in their design and their price.

Within the wilderness survival community there are really only four main blade point shapes that are used regularly –

  • Clip point
  • Spear point
  • Drop point
  • Tanto point

Clip point blade – Shown here is the SOG E37N-CP Seal Pup Elite Knife – this type of knife blade is very much the traditional hunters knife design and you will normally find this on larger blade knives.

This ‘boot’ knife is the Fury Tactical 9-Inch Boot Knife and show a typical spear point blade.

The drop point blade – This knife is the Gerber Myth Fixed Blade Pro, Drop Point, and has a nice chunky, thick end at the point.

Tanto point – this is the Cold Steel 80PGTK GI Tanto 7″ Carbon with a full tanto point

knife mora bushcraft handle

Handle & Grip 

The grip of your survival knife is one of the essential things to consider when using the knife for long periods of time.

It must be a comfortable fit in your hand, but the grip must also be strong and solid,  as you may well require your knife to be used more as a hammer to bang in nails or to break glass or even using as a ‘non lethal  self defence weapon.

Knife grips come in all sort of materials and sizes – wood, leather, bone, metal, hard or soft rubber, polymer etc. 

But, the main thing to consider over the actual material is,  as long as your knife handle feels comfortably and sits nicely in your hand, that is the main thing.

Remember this very important point – Avoid hollow handled knives. 

There are quite a few hollow handled knives available on the market today. Many by very good, reputable manufacturers, which offer you the ability to store something in the handle, this could be some matches or money or a fire starter or a small map maybe –  but consider these two very important main points.

  1. A hollow handle will mean you have a weaker knife – no full tang equals a reduction in the knives strength
  2. If your knife is lost, stolen or misplaced – you will lose everything..! Whatever is in the handle will go.


A solid knife sheath is the last essential bit of kit to make your survival knife complete. Don’t overlook the importance of a good knife sheath.

Traditionalists will have their knife sheaths hand made to suit their knife and how they wear their knife – It’s needed to protect your knife and to protect you as well.!

A basic sheath is designed to carry and protect your knife but, the trend nowadays is to incorporate  knife sharpeners and straps to fit your leg and Molle bag straps and other gizmos – not necessarily needed but quite handy to have.

girl with knife in mouth

If you looking for a new survival knife,

Please take a look at my knife comparison guide here: 

Best Survival Knife Guide and Buyers Comparison Chart