A variety of tactical knives laid in a pile

Types of Tactical Knives and Their Uses

You’ll find much more than “just” firearms at Pennsylvania’s Largest Gun Show, and many of our customers visit us because they know they’ll find all types of tactical knives to choose one when picking a blade for their purse, pocket, or glovebox. Knives are a popular EDC (everyday carry) item because they are generally allowed by law in most areas providing a powerful self-defense tool, great utility, and come in a wide selection of styles that let users match the right blade to their needs. Whether you’re looking for a folding tactical knife that’s perfect for pocket or purse, a tactical fixed blade knife that goes with you every hunt, or something in between, you can find it offered somewhere inside the dozens of booths at your local Eagle Shows gun show.

Defining a “Tactical Knife”

One thing that will become apparent as we look at all the features and types of tactical knives available is that the term is extremely broad, encompassing styles that are so different that it’s hard to see the family resemblance sometimes. The loosest definition is probably the most accurate: tactical knives are those knives designed to stand up to tactical use. If you immediately think about the martial arts-laden knife fights in Hollywood blockbusters, you’ve got an idea about what a tactical knife can be, but it’s also the knife used to cut open an MRE pack in the field by a soldier, offer corrosion-free utility to a first-responder, or help a hunter field-clean game before taking it back to their truck for proper skinning and cleaning. Far from just fighting knives, they’ve developed into a tough, no-nonsense bladed tool for anyone in any walk of life.

Getting Down To The Business End

How do you start narrowing down what you’re looking for when it comes to an item that defies easy categorization and apples-to-apples comparisons? With a bladed tool, such as a knife, it helps to start with the primary feature: the blade. After all, we’re not here to talk about tactical clubs or hats. The shape of a blade helps define what and how the knife is best used. While all blades will cut, and most will have a handy tip for poking things, some cuts are easier to make with one style than another based on their shape, edge, or tip. Put together, looking for a blade that has those three items in the correct configuration for your intended use will go a long way toward pointing you in the right direction. 

Close up view of a tactical knife blade


The edge of the blade is meant to cut material as it slides along the knife’s sharpened surface. Some tactical fixed blade knives will have two edges, while most folding tactical knives have a single edge for cutting.

  • Double-Beveled – This describes a blade edge where both sides have been ground to thin the metal to a razor-sharp cutting edge. This traditional way of forming the blade’s edge is the most common method you’ll find on knives, from your pocket to your kitchen counter.
  • Single-bevel – Only one side of the metal has been ground in forming the edge. This can be perfect for scraping.
  • Serrated – A series of sharpened teeth or peaks and valleys have been ground into the blade’s edge, giving it more cutting area in a shorter length. This creates a sharp edge that is durable, however, it is not as precise. This makes it great for utility knives. 
  • Composite – Sometimes viewed as giving you the best of both worlds, this edge features a serrated section near the grip before transitioning to a beveled edge toward the tip.


The tip of the blade is usually used for thrusting, however, this isn’t always the case. Some knife manufacturers use the tip to offer additional utility.

  • Point – The most common tip of a blade is a point that is meant to allow for poking or to initiate a cut or puncture hole for the blade’s entry into a material. Points come in a range of styles we’ll talk about in a moment. 
  • Blunt – Blunt-tipped knives are usually specialized for use when accidental punctures are to be avoided. 
  • Hook – Some blades will feature a hook at the tip opposite the edge of the blade. These can be behind either pointed or blunted knife tips and are used for draw cuts. 


Now we’re really going to see some differentiation in the types of tactical knives and their uses. This is where it really becomes important to understand what you want a knife to accomplish and will use it most often for.

  • Drop Point -This shape features a long, straight blade with a spine that gently drops to meet it at the tip.
  • Clip Point – While the edge of this blade is almost identical to a drop point, the spine is trimmed down at the end, giving it a straight or curved “clipped away” appearance. This type of point is one of the identifying features of the traditional Bowie knife.
  • Straight-Back – Just as the name implies, the straight-backed blade has an edge that curves to meet the straightened spine. The longer spine gives more purchase to apply finger pressure for precise, powerful cutting.
  • Spear Point – This symmetrical blade shape ends in an edge and spine (or second edge) that both flow into each other, making it highly efficient for stabbing motions.
  • Sheepsfoot – A traditional favorite among ranchers, the sheepsfoot has a thick blade with a flat cutting edge and a rigid spine that slopes bluntly to meet it near the tip.
  • Wharncliffe – Featuring a straight cutting edge similar to the sheepsfoot, the Wharncliffe’s spine drops toward the point sooner, creating a sharper point for thrusting.
  • Cleaver – Just as you would imagine, this style uses a thick, heavy blade to power a straight edge with a squared-off, un-sharpened tip, making it as good at hacking in the field as its namesake is in the kitchen.
  • Tanto – One of the most popular types of tactical knives, the tanto features a flat edge, straight back, and an angled, edged tip. This style is good for cutting and thrusting through rigid material, as the unique design means after the first ½ to ¾ of an inch, the initial puncture is wide enough for the entire blade width.
  • Hawkbill – The hawkbill blade has a curving edge that comes down like a bird of prey’s beak, making it perfect for draw-cuts or hooking material.
  • Trailing Point – The opposite of a hawkbill blade, this edge curves up to a point that is often higher than the grip, giving more surface area along the edge for slicing and slashing.

Fixed Or Folding

Fixed blade tactical knife with orange handle and plastic sheath

Fixed blade tactical knives are often referred to as sheath knives because that’s how they’re carried, much the same way as folding tactical knives are still referred to as pocket or purse knives by some people.  Fixed blade knives offer greater strength because they usually don’t feature any moving parts. Often constructed from a solid piece of metal, tang to tip, they’ll stand up to heavier use and take more abuse than their folding counterparts.

Folding knives, on the other hand, can be incredibly durable themselves while offering the convenience of easier transport and concealment. You don’t have to be an action hero to not want to advertise to potential assailants you have a self-defense weapon on your person. You also don’t have to carry a full-sized hunting knife everywhere just to have the utility of a good blade close at hand. Folding knives are usually divided into categories based on their mechanism type. To complicate matters, this can include both the mechanism that locks the blade, if any, and the manner in which the blade is opened.

  • Slipjoint – These types of tactical knives are fairly rare because they don’t lock open, making them more dangerous for thrusting. The blade is held by friction or spring tension but not secured. 
  • Lockback – One of the most traditional locking styles available, a locking lever in a depression along the backside of the grip locks the blade in place when open and lets you release the blade once you’re ready to put it away. Closing these blades usually requires two hands.
  • Liner Lock – When the blade is opened, a part of the blade’s liner–the thin metal frame that sits between the grip and the blade–springs over, blocking the blade from closing. Pushing this piece to the side allows you to refold the knife. On knives where the frame of the knife itself serves as the handle, this can be referred to as framelock. With practice, this blade can be closed easily one-handed.
  • Button Lock – Similar to a cross-bolt safety on a firearm, when opened, a spring-loaded button locks the blade. Depressing the button to close the knife is an easy, one-handed task.
  • Nail Nick Opening – This means the blade features a small indention along the spine to make it easy to open the blade using a fingernail. While traditional, many types of tactical knives opt for other opening styles that work better with gloves or inclement weather. Two-handed deployment is usually necessary.
  • Blade pegs/holes – Supplanting the nail nick’s positioning, these styles feature either a protruding ped or machined hole to allow for easier deployment. Depending on the specifics, one-handed operation may be possible. 
  • Flippers – A machined area near the pivot point designed to let a user’s thumb flip the blade open quickly for easy, one-handed deployment. Some folding tactical knives use nothing more than a knurled edge or a few raised bumps, while others use a larger protrusion that serves as either a thumb guard or cross-guard, similar to those found on some tactical fixed blade knives.
  • Switchblade – This type of opening mechanism is entirely spring-loaded. Press a button or slide a switch, and the knife deploys. You don’t get any easier opening than that.
  • Assisted Opening – Unlike switchblades, assisted opening knives require you to initiate the opening using either a flipper or blade peg before the spring engages to help you out. 
  • Gravity Knife – As the name implies, these types of tactical knives, once common with paratroopers, use the force of gravity or a rotational flick of the wrist to open the blade. 

Get A Grip

Your preferred grip is an entirely personal choice. You need to be able to hold onto your knife to use it, but beyond utility, you want a knife that suits your style.

  • Wood – The traditional choice that’s available in a wide range of styles and colors.
  • Metal – Stong and durable while adding a nice heft to your blade’s hand feel.
  • Rubberized – While not the most attractive material, grips with rubberized sections are easier to hang onto in slippery or wet conditions.
  • Polymer – Modern polymers offer strength, durability, and can be molded in patterns to improve grip performance.
Folding blade tactical knife with black handle

Blade Material

There are thousands of metal alloys being used in all types of tactical knives, and non-metal materials are becoming increasingly popular. There’s no way to cover them all, but there are a few popular materials to be aware of.

  • Stainless Steel – Popular for its resistance to corrosion, stainless holds an edge well and is strong enough for moderate use.
  • Tool Steel – Tool steel is tougher than nails (literally) and holds an edge well. It can be hard to sharpen, however, and it is easier to weather than other choices.
  • High-Carbon Steel – A popular middle ground between stainless and tool steels, high carbon steel is tough, durable, easy to sharpen, and holds up to corrosion and oxidation better than tool steel does.
  • Ceramic – Ceramic is a popular material in marine environments because it doesn’t corrode and accepts a razor-sharp edge. Unfortunately, it can be harder to resharpen and the material can be brittle, making it a poor choice for frequent utility usage.

While that covers most of the types of tactical knives available, that doesn’t mean that all will be legal to own or carry in your area. Be sure to check your local knife ordinances for legal folding tactical knife lengths, whether fixed blade tactical knives are allowed to be carried, or if you can even possess a knife of the action type you’re looking for without winding up in hot water. While knife laws in some places are wide-open, in others, laws may view some features, such as a switch-blade action or Bowie point, as prohibited. 

Find The Right Knife For You

Whatever types of tactical knives you’re looking to add to your collection or your EDC loadout, you’ll find them at one of our local Eagle Shows gun shows. Our safe, family-friendly environment brings regional and national vendors to the communities we visit while offering local artisans, collectors, and civic organizations a chance to meet with their friends and neighbors. There’s one coming to you soon. Get VIP early access and find your knife when you pre-order your tickets for your local Eagle Shows gun show today.

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