A Beginner’s Guide to Knives


In my every day layout, I carry a pocket knife. And I’m hardly the first person to advocate that all men should carry knives in their daily lives, unless they’re going to a place where they’re explicitly forbidden.

And why shouldn’t that be the case?  Knives are tremendously useful-a cutting tool, a kitchen utensil, an improvised toothpick, spade, or crowbar, and, if need be, a relatively simple and effective to use weapon (it is here that I give the oft-repeated disclaimer that I do not advocate the use of violence unless absolutely necessary, and hope that none of my readers will have to utilize it).

In addition to a knife’s innate uses, many knives are sold that have a variety of widgets and accessories built into them-my every day carry knife-which was given to me for free in the one Fiverr job that I ever got-has a glass breaking pommel (which I predominantly use as a light-duty nutcracker and on one unfortunate occasion a Yawara stick), a “seatbelt cutter” (I fail to see why you would need that if you already have a knife, but whatever), serrated saw tooth edges (which I find mostly pointless for reasons I will describe below), and a flint rod to be used as a firestarter in conjunction with the steel of the blade. Many knives have a lot more features (such as the famous Swiss Army and Leatherman multitools), to the point where the actual blade looks tiny and ineffectual compared to the other rigmarole.

While I’m no expert, I do like to see myself as something of a sportsman and outdoorsman ever since I was in the Boy Scouts many years ago, an organization that, while sadly neutered in this day and age, can still teach boys some worthwhile information.

Anatomy of a Knife

Seeing as knives of some sort are arguably the oldest tool humanity has, I feel it would be prudent of you to learn about the anatomy of this tool. Broadly speaking there are two types of knives-fixed blades and folding knives, and the distinction should be quite obvious.


The blade (#1) is the part that does most of the work. It consists of the point (#3), the Edge (#4), the grind which is the cross section of the blade that can be shaped by professional smiths to create various types of edges depending on the duty it needs (#5), the spine which is the thickest part of the blade that the thumb rests upon when using the knife as a tool, giving the wielder more motor control (#6), the ricasso AKA the flat part of the blade that connects the blade to its tang and by extension the handle (#8) and a groove that some knives have to reduce weight known as the “fuller” (#7).

Then of course there is the handle (#2, it’s what you grasp), the guard (#9, which protects the hand from things sliding down the blade, folding knives never have these), and the hilt (#10, which is used as a counterweight for the blade and on occasion a blunt instrument).

Fixed knives will include a “tang”, a metal extension of the knife that extends into the handle. There are several types of partial tangs, but I would recommend only a full tang if you can help it, as the others are flimsy.


Folding knives of course do not have tangs, the blade instead ends on a pivot attached to a handle, allowing it to fold.

There are various types of folding mechanism, but any good folding knife should stay “put” once it has been unfolded, regardless of what type of mechanism it uses.


Knives Versus Daggers

I emphasize that knives are tools, because a knife that is designed specifically for fighting is a dagger. The difference can be seen in comparing a hunting dagger to a hunting knife. The latter is a single edged blade used for gutting and skinning a quarry animal, while the latter is a double edged blade specifically for killing an animal. Some daggers have a partial spine for doing some degree of labor, such as my M3 Dagger, but the double edge means that you won’t be doing any really heavy duty work with this. Also note that it has a hand guard, a feature predominantly found on fighting knives.


All The Many Knives

As alluded to above, you use various knives based on whatever task it is you want to do-undoubtedly you own many already: butter knives, steak knives, butcher knives, cleavers, et al. Just use common sense and you should be fine in picking the right tool for the job. Obviously a butter knife won’t skin an animal, and a stiletto shouldn’t be used as a crowbar or for batoning.

In my not-so-humble opinion, you only need three knives: a curved folder, a double edged dagger, and a heavy duty single edge.


These will do basically everything you need a knife for. Bear in mind I am not counting things like scythes and combine harvesters as “knives” even though Wikipedia insists they are. And with all that being said, let’s get to practical knowledge:

How to Sharpen a Knife

To do this, you’ll need a long, rectangular whetstone (circular ones are for axes). A proper whetstone should have a rough and smooth side-the former for heavy sharpening/dull blades, and the latter for finer work.  You can tell the difference by soaking each side in water-the rougher side will visibly absorb the water faster.

Then place your knife flat on the whetstone as shown.


Raise the knife up about 20 degrees on its edge, as shown.


Then, draw the knife along the whetstone, pulling down and horizontal if your knife’s shape requires it.

Then, flip it over, and draw the knife back towards you in the same fashion with the opposite edge.

If your knife has two edges, you have the pleasure of repeating this process again twice.

You only do this technique on a straight edge-never a serrated knife. For that, you have to grind the saw teeth on one of these diamond rods


Just place the rod “within” the curves of the saw teeth and grind up and down.

Personally speaking, I don’t really find serrated edges on knives particularly useful, with the exception of steak knives. The saw teeth are too small to do any sort of actual sawing of wood, they have a risk of getting stuck in things should you, god forbid, have to stab something or someone, and, if All Quiet on the Western Front was telling me the truth, the French will execute anyone with a serrated knife on sight.

The saw teeth, from my experience, have one use that I utilize regularly: the firestarter that came with my knife fights right into the grooves of the saw, getting me good shavings of steel that catch the tinder very well.

And now let’s get to what you REALLY want:

Basics Of Knife Fighting

First of all, bear in mind that I have only used a knife once in anger (and it wasn’t even the blade of it, as mentioned above). I have, however, had martial arts training using dummy knives, and thus I feel I have some knowledge to impart.

There are two main principles of knife fighting. The first is that YOU ARE PUNCHING. I cannot stress this enough: learn how to punch before you learn how to stab, for the motion is nigh identical, and the knife fighting stance is identical to the boxing “Deep crouch“. In addition to this, the proper grip is the same as a closed fist.


The reverse grip has its uses (when in a mounted position, or for Wing Chun practitioners who do a lot of trapping-to-backfist combinations), but is secondary to the proper fist grip due to a downward strike leading with the forearm being easier to block than a faster stab upward.


And anybody who does the “thumb grip” needs to be smacked in the back of the head.


The other important thing to remember with knife fighting is that YOU HAVE OTHER WEAPONS. Use your punches and kicks, elbows, and knees, clinches and every other hand-to-hand move you have. That’ll set you apart from the guy who puts all his faith into his weapon.

So how do you attack? Simple: you just punch from a boxing stance, thrusting the knife forward while keeping the rest of your body available for further options. It’s not a rapier that requires a fencing stance (blocking a knife with a knife is…unlikely).

The mechanics are (on paper, anyway) simple-practice them alone with a dummy, and then get some rubber knives and practice with a partner, where the difficulty ramps up considerably.

I will go into more detail about knife techniques at some point in the future, but for now I think I’ve given enough information for the beginner. Maintain your knives properly, have fun, and stay safe.