Knife-like tools have been around since the Stone Age and the original construction came from materials like rock, bone, flint and obsidian. Thankfully, tools have evolved since then and most modern-day knives are either fixed blades or folding blades and made from materials like bronze, copper, iron, steel, ceramics and titanium.
Whether you are someone who prefers hunting and fishing in the great outdoors, an emergency responder who uses knives and multi-tools in their daily lives, or a person who enjoys practicing survival skills as a hobby, you likely have debated the merits of a fixed blade compared to a folding blade.
Each offers their own benefits, and ultimately your decision comes down to personal preference. We’ll break down the differences between the two and help you make a sound decision on your next knife purchase.
There are eleven identifying characteristics of a knife including the blade, handle, point, edge, grind, spine, fuller, ricasso, guard, hilt or butt, and the lanyard, however, our focus is going to be on the blade.
The blade can be plain, serrated or a combination of the two. Knives are made with either partial tangs or full tangs indicating that the blades extend partially or all the way into the handle.
A fixed blade knife, also referred to as a sheath knife, does not have a folding point and therefore it’s thought to be stronger than a folding blade because the tang is built solidly into the handle. Conversely, a folding knife has a pivot point allowing the blade to fold into the handle, which some think makes this type of knife weaker.
Fixed blade knives do not fold or slide and are typically stored in a sheath. The sheath you choose should be of sturdy construction like leather to prevent the blade from poking through. Depending on the size of your fixed blade knife and the type of sheath you use, you can wear the blade on your hip, stuff it in your back pocket or toss it into a jump bag. You may want to leave one in your vehicle if you often head into the wilderness.
Fixed blades are quite versatile as they come in many sizes, and the blade lengths are usually twice as long as a folding knife. Considered a better option if you are an outdoorsman, fixed blade knives can handle the toughest tasks and their straightforward, sturdy and simple design makes them ideal for outdoor use.
With no joints, moving parts, or potential weak points, fixed blades are a more durable and reliable option. Hunters also appreciate this design as the knives are easier to clean.
Also referred to as a survival knife, fixed blades are indeed multi-purpose tools that can prove to be an asset in many survival functions including cutting/slicing, digging, splitting wood, first aid, food prep, shelter building, fire making, hammering, make-shift screwdriver and more.
If you are choosing a fixed blade knife for survival situations, less is more. It’s important to focus on a well-designed blade that emphasizes function over style. Choose a blade that has a full tang as it is a much more robust knife. Also, consider a knife with a sharp tip in case you need to use it as a weapon.
Keep in mind that fixed blade knives are quite a bit more cumbersome and you cannot easily conceal them on your body. The public tends to view these knives as a more aggressive tool, all of which make them less than ideal to carry as an everyday knife.
Folding blades are preferred for everyday carry and usually have an opening and a locking mechanism. The opening mechanism allows the user to open the knife with one hand which can be especially helpful if you are in an emergency situation while the locking mechanism helps prevent the user from closing the blade on their own hand.
The most appealing characteristic of a folding blade is that it is easy to conceal and can be transported in a uniform pocket, or hidden anywhere from a backpack to a boot.
Folding blades are also referred to as tactical knives. They are typically made from a heavier duty material and have a bit more rugged appearance. Most have some serrations on the blade and the handle is designed to fit securely in your hand. The serrations make performing tasks like cutting rope or a seatbelt easier without wearing out the entire blade.
The drawback to serrations on your folding knife is that they tend to dull quickly and you need a special tool to sharpen the blade. Folding blades are also not ideal for use outdoors as the very mechanisms that allow them to fold are prone to jamming or rust as water and dirt seep through the crevices.
All tactical knives are designed so that the blade can be locked in place which is necessary as they are meant for tasks where the blade may be forced in different directions.
For those with safety concerns, it may be riskier to carry a folding knife as you are more likely to have the knife snap back into your hand, however, if you purchase a knife with a more sophisticated blade lock, you are less likely to encounter this issue.
Most firefighters and EMTs tend to carry folding knives because carrying them is a breeze. They fit easily into pockets or boots and you can access them in an instant.
If you are an emergency responder, you’ll want to consider carrying a spare knife as you may find yourself in a situation where your blade breaks, or perhaps your partner doesn’t have one and you’ll both need to be working on the same task. You’ll also want to ensure that the knife has a window punch in the grip to help break glass when necessary.
When purchasing your knife consider all of the aspects that are important to you, whether on the job, at home or in the outdoors. Both fixed blades and folding blades offer sturdy construction, can cut through the toughest of materials and offer numerous blade lengths. Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference and what style of blade best suits your needs. And remember, you can’t go wrong with purchasing one of each!