What's Better for EDC? Plain vs Serrated vs Combo Knives

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When choosing the best pocket knife for your everyday carry, one of the decisions you'll need to make is what type of blade edge you should choose.

The common recommendation is to go with a plain edge (for reasons we'll get into later), but you might notice two other types of edges: serrated and combo edges. Instead of an unbroken edge on the blade, these two alternatives add some “teeth” to the knife.

You may not have needed serrations on your knife before, or don't know enough about them to add them to your kit. In our last guide for custom-designed knives for everyday carry, one reader asked: “Why don't you guys ever feature serrated knives?”

Well today we will, and our goal is to compare each type of edge in the context of EDC tasks so you can make the right choice when picking one.

Plain Edge Knives

10 EDC knives with plain edge blades, all under $50. Click to see the full guide.

First let's talk about the most common knife type—plain edge knives. They have a continuous edge that make them the most versatile, with many different blade shapes to best make the use of a straight edge.

Since your main cutting action is to apply steady pressure to perform cuts, a long, unbroken edge lets you perform general cutting tasks cleanly and with minimal resistance.

Plain edges are also much easier to maintain since the unbroken edge is easier to sharpen or reprofile. A solid, plain edge knife with a general-purpose shape is sure to serve you many years over with maintenance you can perform yourself.

Pros:

  • Versatile and useful for most tasks
  • Easy to sharpen
  • Cleaner cuts through most materials

Cons:

  • Tougher materials will give a plain edge more trouble

Plain edge knives we recommend: Ontario RAT II, Kershaw Skyline, Spyderco Roadie

Serrated Edge Knives

Specialized serrations on the Leatherman Skeletool RX help first responders and EMTs cut tough fabrics like clothing and seatbelt webbing.

So what exactly are serrations? They're the teeth-like edge ground into a knife's blade, creating a long series of small edges. If you've ever handled a saw or bread knife, then you've probably seen them before.

These mini edges make it easier to cut into hardier or uneven materials where you can't apply steady pressure and have to resort to different angles of approach to cut through. Think rope, tree branches, or even a thick piece of bread—with a plain edge it would take you forever to cut through, but a serrated edge's teeth keeps your cutting momentum going once the teeth “bite” into the material.

The big drawback to serrated edges is maintenance. Lots of small edges means lots of work to sharpen all of them when they eventually start to dull down. Even though a serrated blade stays useful for longer than a plain edge knife, when it does get dull you're looking at either specialty sharpeners or a professional to get it back to factory sharpness. This makes a serrated knife a more specific-purpose type of knife compared to a general-purpose plain edge one.

Pros:

  • Makes short work of tougher materials
  • Keeps its edge(s) and bite for longer than a plain edge

Cons:

  • Does not make a clean cut because of its teeth
  • Harder to maintain
  • Useful in fewer situations overall

Serrated edge knives we recommend: Spyderco Native 5, Cold Steel Tuff Lite Serrated, Victorinox One-Handed Trekker

Combo Edge Knives

Combo edge as seen on the Benchmade Mini Griptilian.

Sometimes you just can't choose which edge you'll need for the day's tasks, or you don't want to carry two different knives with you. This is where a combo edge comes in handy, because as its name suggests, it brings both types of serration onto one edge. While this gives you the best of both worlds of utility, it also gives you twice the work of maintaining both edges on your knife.

A combo knife gives you both a plain edge and serrations, but you get less cutting length to work with on each. For the more common combo edge knives, most of the edge is a plain edge, giving you the ability to still make long and clean cuts. The plain edge is often closer to the tip than the handles to give you better leverage and precision. The serrated portion is usually nearer to the handles and your hand, giving you a better grip to push and pull when putting the serrations to use on tougher cuts.

Pros:

  • The best of both worlds of utility
  • Saves you from having to carry two knives
  • Many popular everyday carry knives come in a combo edge version

Cons:

  • You lose length for both types of edges, which may hamper cutting action

Combo edge knives we recommend: Benchmade Mini Griptilian, Kershaw Link Serrated, Spyderco Tenacious

Which edge is best for most people?

For general everyday tasks, a plain edge is your best bet. It gives you a clean cut with a long edge for constant pressure and precision.

A serrated edge becomes useful when dealing with tough materials, like cutting through rope, heavy fabrics, or foliage. A serrated knife would be right at home in a toolbox or camping bag where its functionality is most needed. Plus, since it holds an edge for longer, you don't have to worry about maintaining it for a long time, and after a lot of hard use.

If you don't want to commit to either edge and want to cover all your bases, then a combo edge would be best for you. In exchange for a slightly shorter cutting length you get to have both precision and bite in a single knife. Even better, many popular knives come in a combo edge, so you don't have to sacrifice your needs from a certain brand or model.

What kind of edge does your everyday carry knife have? Let us know which type of knife you chose and why in the comments below.

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Discussion (16 total)

The best way to tackle this issue is to just keep buying every knife you can...
What..... we're not supposed to be doing that already?!?
Very edgy article......
A serrated edge knife is a specialized tool. It's something that's useful for firefighters, police, or people in similar occupations. I don't know who else would use their knife to primarily cut things like ropes and seatbelts, and it's not like a plain edge knife cannot be used effectively for those types of tasks as long as it's kept reasonably sharp.

In my opinion, serrations on an EDC blade are nothing but a nuisance – they make the knife less useful for most everyday tasks, and also makes it harder to sharpen the blade. Plus I hate the look, makes it way too tacticool for my tastes. For EDC I like something less military-looking and treathening, like a classic gentleman's folder.
I live on a working horse ranch. That means that I cut rope, heavy nylon webbing, and harness most days. I also need to do fine work, trimming leather, hooves, even some field wound care. So a combo blade, currently a Benchmade 581 with M390 steel fits my needs very well. M390 doesn't require much sharpening, when it does a Spyderco SharpMaker does that very quickly.
When your serrations become dull, which they inevitably will if you use your knife, you'd better have a way to get them back into working order or you will have a useless knife (or part of your knife, anyway, if you have a combo edge). Benchmade has a Lifesharp service, but they will not resharpen serrations. I don't know if any knife company out there will.

A good follow up article to this would be one that shows how to put a proper edge back on serrations.
I tried to sharpen my Wave 2 serrated blade. Got it back to ok. I was using it to cut cardboard for a few weeks just to see how it would hold up.
Those of you who prefer to always carry a plain edge: have you ever attempted to cut a wet rope, large cable-ties, thoroughly butcher a deer (cutting through cartillage, tendons, etc.), cut baling wire (that has gotten wrapped around a cow's leg), or cut your way out of a tall briar patch (where wounded deer always seem to locate themselves)? I've done all of these with my Benchmade Griptilian combo-edge- and it's never failed me yet. And I totally reject the thought that it is more difficult to sharpen. Have you heard of a diamond rod?? I sharpen the plain-edge part of my knives with a Lansky System, hit the serrations with a diamond rod (if needed), and then strop the plain-edge part. It takes me no more than 10-15 minutes per blade.
I have field butchered a roedeer with my Victorinox Tourist, if there is something like cabletiez or baling wire then i have used my multitool.

I myself prefer plain edge, you can get it to a very good edge in a couple of minutes.

But if you like your combo edge and it works for you, then it is very good for you.
If a blade is kept sharp it will cut through even the tougher "everyday" sort of materials just as well as serratations. Like the article said, serrations have a use for certain materials, but for Edc plain edge is the way to go.
Nice article, thank you, and I can see the argument for a combo blade, and obviously folk have differing requirements. But for me, for my main knife, I almost always utilise a plain edge. If a material is tough, I'll baton it. Also there are many times when I need the base of the blade to give me that control in, say, making fire-sticks or a pot hanger. And the maintenance of a combo blade in the field is, as you say, more complex, especially if you have freezing cold, wet hands. Plus, there's nearly always a serrated blade / saw blade on your multitool. My LM2 is a beautiful machine, but it gets far less use than my plain blades.
Ah, yes. The mini griptilian with a combo edge... Fond memories... Until I actually have to use it. Big mitts need big knives. My SOG trident TF7 is a drop in quality, but I don't mind actually taking it out of my pocket! Also, I suck at sharpening, so softer and straighter is better.
The best blade is the one you have. I prefer one attached to pliers, file, saw, scissors, screwdriver....
I've been carrying serrated benchmade knife for about 20 years now and there where a lot of usecases like tuff rope and branches.
Plain edge all day everyday. Serrations adjust aren't useful on a daily basis and they will dull eventually and limit the useful edge of the knife.
Personally, I mostly carry a plain edge for EDC. A well sharpened plain edge will cut just as well as serrated in EDC tasks. I do see the value in serrated. I only switch to serrated just when landscaping though.