You may think pocket knives have fallen out of favor, but this simply isn’t true. In fact, there are currently lots of different types of pocket knives on the market that you can pull out and use for anything that requires a quick cutting task, like opening a box or getting some of your gardening supplies out of the packaging. What’s more, many people like to have restored types of pocket knives that were passed down as a neat little heirloom from their grandparents or parents, or you can go out and easily buy a brand new one that fits your style.
There is also a long history behind various types of pocket knives that will help you understand how each one came to be on the primary uses of each one. We’re going to go over a quick history, various blade types, and then other types of pocket knives you can purchase and have ready to go when you need it below.
Pocket knives come in a huge range of styles and sizes, and this makes it easy to find one that matches your wants and needs.
History of the Types of Pocket Knives
Did you know that the first folding knife discovered was actually in Austria, and it was a folding knife with a swiveling pivot that dated back to 600 BC. They were originally called peasant knives before the 17th century, and they were commonly used by herdsmen, gardeners, and farmers, so the name of this type of pocket knife was appropriate. They were also called penny knives because of how cheaply and easily they were to make.
Blades were originally made from bronze or iron and the handle was made from wood or bone. In the 1650s, England was the main spot for new smelting technology. The earlier types of pocket knives didn’t come with the locking mechanisms you find on virtually any pocket knife today, but they were held open by the user’s thumb instead by holding the tang in place against the knife’s handle.
17 Popular Blade Types
There are currently dozens of knife blade types available that are meant to take on a huge range of jobs and specialty tasks. Even if you have one type of pocket knife that you prefer over the other, you should familiarize yourself with what’s available when it comes to blade designs.
1. Blunt Tip Blade
A blunt tip blade comes outfitted with equal slopes on a symmetrical blade. The blade comes to a blunt tip, as the name suggests, for an added safety precaution. This unique blade style means that this is a very specialized design that you won’t find commonly used. They’re popular for use by divers, boaters, and kayakers when they need to cut ropes.
2. Clip-Point Blade
The clip-point blade is a nice choice if you don’t need any specialized tasks performed and you’re just looking for a type of pocket knife for general-purpose use. However, the front section of this knife’s spine has a little clip taken one. This lends a unique shape to the blade that makes it nice for precise, delicate tasks.
3. Drop-Point Blade
The all-around, classic style of this type of pocket knife makes it one of the most ubiquitous blades available. It has a dull back with a handle that has a very gradual down-slope. In turn, you get an easily controlled point for precision use. It’s popular for use with hunting tasks as it performs well in slicing and skinning projects.
4. Gut Hook Blade
You could argue that this type of pocket knife blade has the most morbid name, and it’s designed explicitly for field dressing and hunting. The knife’s belly makes skinning your kill very easy, and on the back of the knife, you’ll see the blade’s namesake. It comes with a sharpened hook that is specially designed to open the insides of the animal without causing any damage to the muscle.
5. Hawkbill Blade
The hawkbill blade has a slightly curved knife design. However, the longest side of the knife is the back, and it has a concave blade that is much more specialized than most of them. It’s not going to be a fantastic choice for everyday use in the garden, but if you find yourself stripping wires or cutting cords, this is a solid type of pocket knife to have ready to go.
6. Head Knife
The main difference between this type of pocket knife blade and another called the ulu is how far the curve of the blade goes. The head knife comes with a semi-circular design, and it’s popular in leatherworking. It thins the leather out and allows the user to make very precise cuts for designs outside of straight lines. A head knife will make a very unique addition to your knife set if you get one.
7. Needle-Point Blade
A needle-point is one of the only types of pocket knives on the list that is more for combat than practical, everyday use. The needle’s shape makes it great for slashing and piercing, but it’s on the fragile end of the spectrum in terms of durability as it’ll snap under improper stress. There isn’t a huge demand for this type of pocket knife today, so it’s going to be slightly harder to find if you seriously want one.
8. Plain Edge Blade
If you can manage to keep the edge of this type of pocket knife shart, it can cut through tricky material very easily. It’s very versatile, and it will stay sharp for longer periods without you having to constantly sharpen it. It can be tricky to use it to cut through softer objects, like bread, but it works well for things like smaller branches or plants.
9. Serrated Blade
Serrated blades are very useful when it comes to cutting man-made materials like cords or rope. They can really slice through difficult mediums, but the serrated edge does have a downfall. The teeth on the knife make them very hard to sharpen when they are dull, and you may have to send it back to the manufacturer to properly sharpen it.
10. Sheepsfoot Blade
A large number of emergency personnel carry this type of blade, mostly because it effortlessly combines safety with practicality. This type of pocket knife cuts very well and you can use it to work in close quarters, but the dull point and back of the knife make it difficult to hurt yourself on accident while you use it. Originally, the blade was used to trim sheep hooves, as the name alludes to, so it’s good for whittling too.
11. Spear-Point Blade
The spear point blade system comes with equal slopes on each side, so the point is in the direct center of the blade. Knives that have this blade type might or might not come with both sides sharpened. If both sides are, the point is very sharp and works for piercing. Also, the blade is decently strong and wide, and it’s a specialty type of knife. It’s common to find this knife in throwing daggers or knives, but they are available in pocket or folding knives too.
12. Spey-Point Blade
As another blade fraught with specialty usage, this one started as a tool to help people spay their livestock. It comes with a unique tip that lends a precise element with a straighter edge and a steep curve that makes it nice for hunters to use. This knife type isn’t hugely common anymore, but you can find them included as part of a multi-blade pocket knife kit.
13. Straight Back or Normal Blade
This is the type of pocket knife that you’ve most likely seen the most, and this is the shape that most kitchen knives are modeled after. This blade is very sturdy, both in tradition and practice, and it’s one of the oldest shapes you can get for your blade. Due to the strength and weight, straight back knives are great for cutting or chopping. Out of every option on this list, this is one of the ones you’re the safest buying.
14. Tanto Blade or Chisel Point
The chisel point or tanto blade is one of the strongest blades you can get, and this makes this type of pocket knife highly prized with specialized knife enthusiasts. The shape of the blade makes it very proficient when it comes to push cuts and piercing jobs. It’s a great pick if you want to pierce tough objects, but that’s about all you’ll use it for.
15. Trailing-Point Blade
Hunters are the ones who mostly use this blade, and the back of it has a steep upward curve that works to form a very deep belly. It makes slicing and skinning things very easy, and it’s a lightweight option that is easy to carry. But, this comes at a price. This particular style comes with one of the weakest spots in the industry, and this makes any piercing you want to do with it very shaky at best.
16. Ulu Blade
The ulu type of pocket knife is one of the most uncommon options, but it’s also one of the most interesting. You use it to chop and scrape, and it’s way ahead of other types of blades when it comes to sheer strength. The origins of this blade come from the Inuit culture, and women traditionally use this blade for household tasks. You can use it in the kitchen, but it’s usually not very helpful out in the field.
17. Wharncliffe Blade
There is very little difference other than pure aesthetics between the sheepsfoot blade and this one. This type of pocket knife blade does come with a more gradual slope that starts slightly closer to the handle. Otherwise, this blade works just like the sheepsfoot. It’s a nice choice for wood cutting or carving.
4 Types of Pocket Knife Materials
Along with the blade, there are the materials to consider. Not all materials are created equal, and some are much more durable to consider than others. The most popular pocket knife materials include:
Material One – Carbon Steel
There are higher carbon steel types of pocket knives available, but considering that most people use them in a rough manner, this material is going to wear out a lot quicker. It may be very sharp and flashy, but it won’t last you through a month of use without a sharpener handy.
Material Two – Obsidian
Obsidian is a very cool choice, and it’s a naturally-occuring volcanic glass that gets formed as igneous rocks. It’s very brittle, hard, and when it fractures, it does so in millions of tiny shards. These shards were among the first cutting tools used thousands of years ago. Due to the sharpness and thinness capabilities, it’s popular for use in surgical settings. However, these are very delicate projects. It won’t last very long tucked into your pocket as it’s one of the most brittle choices.
Material Three – Stainless Steel
Stainless steel has a large amount of chromium, and this is a metallic element that prevents the knife from rusting or tarnishing with water exposure. Virtually every type of pocket knife has some variant of stainless steel in the design, but you want to seek out companies that use a very specific type of metal called AUS8 or VG10. This is more durable and usually means that the company cares about the longevity of their products.
Material Four – Surgical Steel
If your type of pocket knife says it’s made out of surgical steel, stay away from it. This is a good indicator that the manufacturer doesn’t care about durability, and they know that this term is very confusing. It is meant to indicate that your knife will stay shiny and sharp, but all the manufacturer really means is that your knife is stainless steel.
Many people make the mistake of thinking that stainless steel is the most durable material for their pocket knives, but you actually want to avoid it as it can cause problems very quickly. Stainless Steel Pocket Knife by James Case / CC BY 2.0
10 Types of Pocket Knives
Along with the blade type of the material, there are dedicated categories for your types of pocket knives that you can choose from. Some of them you may be familiar with while others are more out-there.
Pocket knives have been around for centuries, but the first versions weren’t technically the pocket knife you know today because pockets didn’t exist until the 17th century. The peasant knife is a proto-pocket knife that was delicate and smaller and folded to make it easy and safe to carry them. The blades were made out of bronze or iron, and the handles were wood or bone. A bond handle folding knife was found in Austria dating back to 600 BC, and there are several pre-Roman folding knives found around Spain.
Unlike the types of pocket knives available today, the blades on these didn’t lock into place. Instead, they swiveled on a pivot. Keeping the blade open and ready to go required whoever was wielding it to hold the blade using the tang. It was like holding a modern straight razor.
While you can find small folding knives dating back thousands of years, how difficult it was to produce iron make them hard to find and expensive, especially before they were common for ancient people to have. It wasn’t until the 1650s that the folding type of pocket knife would become very popular. Around this period, Sheffield, England turned into the cutlery center of the world. They could mass-produce knives very cheaply with new smelting technology. One very popular design was a small folding knife with a wooden handle that herdsmen, farmers, and gardeners used. Because of the class of people who gravitated toward this knife, it earned the name of the peasant knife. The low price also coined the name of the penny knife.
Like the proto-pocket knives, this type of pocket knife came with no locking mechanism. To keep the blade in place, you’d fold the blade’s tang back into the handle, and you would have to hold the handle and tang together. Some peasant knives used the friction between the handle and blade to keep it in place. The Opinel knife has this design. This setup worked well for light knife work, but the chances of the blade slipping and cutting someone went up as the work got heavier.
Slip Joint Knife
Cutlers in England recognized how dangerous it was to use friction to keep the blade open on the knife, so they started looking into modifications that would lock the blade in place when you used it and keep it closed when you stored it. Folding knives that contained a slip joint came out in 1660. It appears that the slip joint knife locks the blade in place when you open it, it actually doesn’t. Tension holds the blade in place, and it does so by:
On one side of your handle, you have the blade that pivots using a joint. The other side of the handle features a flat bar called a backspring. When you rotate the blade to open it, the tang of the blade will rotte against the backspring. The pressure of the backspring pushing on the metal will keep the blade open.
The slip joint knife became one of the most popular mechanisms for keeping the blade open and ready to use, and several types of pocket knives today still use it. Chances are, the first pocket knife you got had this mechanism, and few popular options include:
This type of pocket knife was created by a man in England named Barlow. The design on this knife has an elongated oval-shaped handle with a pen and clip point blade attached. While this knife was first invented in England, it quickly became the favorite type of pocket knife in the United States. Rumor has it that George Washington’s mother gifted her son this knife for good behavior.
This type of pocket knife gets the name because it supposedly has a canoe shape. It usually comes with dual blades, and the most common combination is the pen blade paired with the drop point blade.
A Congress knife is a classic slip joint knife that has four blades on it. They usually come outfitted with a sheepsfoot, spear point, pen blade, and coping blade. Abraham Lincoln carried this type of pocket knife with him during his rail-splitting days. It supposedly got the name because all of the blades for a congress, or they all come together in the middle when you close the knife.
The peanut knife gets the name due to the very small size. It typically comes outfitted with two blades with the drop point and clip point on the same end.
Back when people had quill pens to write with, you had to create a point on the quill before you wrote anything. To perform this delicate work, cutlers developed a special type of pocket knife. Pen knives originally had a fixed blade on them, but to make it even more convenient for anyone who used them, they developed a folding pen knife so you’d be ready to write whenever you wanted.
If you look at British English, a pen knife is what is referred to as any multi-bladed tool or knife. However, a traditional pen knife is a very small pocket knife that has dual blades that pivot on opposite ends. One of the blades is a small pen blade. It comes with a very low profile so it doesn’t stick out of your pocket, so it works well when you’re carrying it and wearing a suit.
This is a working man’s knife that comes with a single blade attached. It has a lower price tag that makes it a great first knife, and it’s the equivalent of the modern-day peasant knife.
Originally developed for herdsmen and cowboys, this type of pocket knife is the American classic that has three blades on it. You’ll get the spey blade, sheepsfoot blade, and the clip point blade. If your father or grandfather passed down a type of pocket knife to you, this was most likely the style you got.
Tactical Folding Knife
These knives are standard issue to members of the armed forces. However, when you get outfitted with equipment as a recruit, you’re given a fixed-blade knife instead of a pocket knife. When you’re in combat, this allows you to draw the blade and be ready to go without having to open anything. To get a folding pocket knife ready, you have to stick your fingernail in the nail nick of the blade while you hold it in your other hand. Since you need both hands to open the blade, they’re not very good to have if you need them in a split second.
To fix this problem, manufacturers put a thumb stud on the blade that lets you open it using a single hand. Instead of a thumb stud, a company called Spyderco put a thumb hole in the blade. To open it, you press the pad of your thumb into the hole and rotate it to open it.
Along with making this knife easier to open, companies made them easier to get to by putting a clip on the handle. Instead of digging through your pockets until you find your knife, this type of pocket knife clips onto your pocket to give you immediate and quick access to it. The blade also comes with a serrated edge to allow it to slice through tough material very easily, like greenhouse fabric.
Laws Surrounding Types of Pocket Knives
There are very few laws in the United States that regulate how you can carry and own a pocket knife. Switchblade-type knives are prohibited for interstate sale and shipment, and many states have also put bans on butterfly knives and gravity knives, including carrying, selling, or owning them.
So, as long as you stick to a traditional type of pocket knife or tactical knife, you shouldn’t run into too many issues carrying it in the United States. Just make sure to leave your knife behind when you visit a state or federal courthouse and put it in your checked bag when you fly.
For anyone living in the U.K. or European countries, the legalities surrounding carrying any type of pocket knife is more limited. It’s illegal to carry a folding knife that has more than a three-inch blade in the U.K. If you have a knife that has a longer blade, you have to have a “good reason” for carrying it. This “good reason” could encompass carrying it for a hobby or work. Even if the blade on the knife is shorter than three inches, you can only have it if it doesn’t lock.
These 31 types of pocket knives give you a large amount to consider and look through. You can decide which ones you want to use and have in your collection, purchase them from a reputable vendor, and finish your projects quickly and efficiently.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.