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Serrated vs Plain Edge for Self Defense – what’s better?

Serrated or not?

It’s the eternal question for EDC and self defense knife enthusiasts.

This question has been floating around the self defense community seemingly for as long as serrated and plain-edge knives have existed.

Today I am going to take a look at whether a serrated or plain-edge knife is better for self-defense and hopefully put the debate to rest.

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Defining the blade types – serrated and plain edge

First thing’s first:

Some of you might be wondering about the exact definition of a serrated edge knife and plain-edge knife.

To prevent any potential confusion, I’ll go over the difference between the two types of blades first.

Serrated edge blade

A serrated edge is simply a knife blade that has a jagged edge with “teeth.”

Think of a mini hack saw, but with not as well defined teeth and probably not as scary looking. These miniature “teeth” make the serrated blade good for tasks that involve slicing.

Examples include cutting a rib-eye steak or cutting a plastic water bottle. Just think about the motion someone makes when sawing a piece of wood. It is the same motion I am talking about here.

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Plain edge blade

A plain-edge knife has a plain edge without any “teeth” or indentations.

This is good for tasks that involve a pushing, or dragging, motion. Some examples include shaving hair, whittling wood, or cutting vegetables.

This is because you push, or pull, the knife through the object you are trying to cut.

The plain-edge knife is also good for tasks that require lots of control because the plain edge cuts are much more precise than their counterpart. One notable example that requires immense control, operating on a human. Yes, scalpels have a plain edge.

Finally, the plain edge blade is good for tasks that require the object being cut to have a smooth edge after cutting. For example, cutting skin during surgery or cutting a piece of paper. Trust me, you don’t want your surgeon using a serrated edge blade to make their initial incision.

Note, I didn’t mention self-defense as examples for either type, with good reason.

Things can get complicated very fast.

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Serrated vs plain-edge knives for self-defense

What about self defense?

When approaching this debate, put some thought into the specific use case of self-defense and what type of motion might be better.

In a self-defense scenario, you will almost always want to push your knife through an attacker’s clothing. We’re not running around knife fighting naked, after all (I’m not, anyway).

Pushing your knife through fabric is not ideal for a serrated blade.

This is because a serrated blade will often get its teeth caught on clothing. Teeth catching on clothing greatly reduces the fighting efficiency of the blade.

It can also sometimes make it difficult to pull the knife out from the clothing.

For this reason I prefer a smooth knife blade for general self-defense purposes.

Keep in mind, a plain edge blade will generally not be nearly as effective as a serrated blade. The fact that it is less likely to get hung up on clothing is all that really makes the plain edge blade superior.

That being said, I have a particular serrated-edge blade that I LOVE for self defense, the Spyderco Matriarch 2.

Best Serrated Self Defense Knife: Spyderco Matriarch 2

Carrying a tactical knife for self-defense, or any other reason, gets easier with the Spyderco Matriarch 2.

This folding knife measures just 5” when closed, with a curved, karambit-style serrated blade that measures 3.5”.

The black-coated blade is effective when you need a blade and intimidating when you need to protect yourself or others. You can even open the Spyderco Matriarch 2 folding knife quickly and easily with the Emerson Opener feature.

Pros:

  • Blade with “Karambit-style” talon-shaped, serrated design
  • Tactical look and feel
  • Reversible pocket clip

Cons:

  • Metal of the blade can be a bit brittle

The Spyderco Matriarch 2 folding knife can tackle everyday use, making it great for regular carry. However, if needed, you can access and use this knife quickly in self-defense scenarios.

Since we’re on the topic of serrated knives for self defense, let’s check out a few scenarios where carrying a serrated edge is better.

Scenarios where a serrated edge is better

There are always exceptions to rules, as with most things in life, and a complicated subject as a serrated blade vs a plain-edge blade is no different. I can think of at least 2 scenarios where a serrated blade are preferable to a plain edge blade exist.

Self-defense in nature

Sure, you may run into other humans that want to cause harm to you in nature. However, your biggest threat in the wild is wild animals. Some of these animals can severely injure, or kill, you depending on where you live.

Last time I checked, wild bears and dogs don’t wear clothes (though that would be cool). So, if you ever have to defend yourself against a wild animal, then you are much better off with a serrated blade that will inflict more damage.

Yes, serrated blades will generally inflict more damage due to the jagged nature of the cuts.

This point about nature indirectly ties into my second scenario.

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Your serrated knife is not your primary self defense tool

The serrated blade has more day to day use cases than a plain-edge blade.

You can cut and saw just about anything with it. The same cannot be said about the alternative.

Personally, the only times I have pulled out my pocket knife involved scenarios that are much more practical for a serrated edge.

My recommendation is to carry both types of blades. Use the plain edge for self defense and the serrated edge for your everyday use.

You get the best of both worlds. You are ready to defend yourself and can still solve any cutting or sawing problems that pop up.

Partially-serrated blades for self defense

I did say this discussion was complicated, didn’t I?

It’s not over yet.

There is actually a third type of blade and that is a partially-serrated blade.

Most discussions about this topic will ignore this type of blade or not differentiate it properly – that, to me, is a mistake. These knives are a great choice for self defense.

Hybrid-blade knives will have a plain edge portion and a serrated portion. The plain edge portion is near the tip of the knife. The serrated portion is near the back.

As an example, check out this Benchmade Griptilian 551:

Benchmade - Griptilian 551 Knife, Drop-Point Blade, Serrated Edge, Satin Finish, Black Handle
  • HIGH-QUALITY: The 154CM stainless steel blade is tough, rust-resistant, and holds an edge well. The glass-filled nylon handle is tough yet attractive, making it ideal for hard jobs and everyday carry.
  • WELL-DESIGNED: Benchmade's AXIS lock is exceptionally strong and fully ambidextrous. The Griptilian 551 is a manual knife that can be opened and closed single-handedly.
  • COMFORTABLE: The 551's lightweight design and handle grips make it comfortable to hold and use. The reversible pocket clip offers ultimate accessibility.
  • VERSATILE: The Griptilian 551's drop-point utility blade style and all-around functionality make it ideal for everyday use, outdoor activities, and even tactical applications.
  • GUARANTEED FOR LIFE: Benchmade's limited Lifetime Warranty and LifeSharp Service keeps your knife in the best condition. If your knife needs repair or sharpening, Benchmade will take care of it. Available for knives purchased from an authorized dealer.

You can read my full review of the Griptilian here. It’s one of my favorites.

It’s got the partial serration, but the front is smooth-edge. This layout makes it excellent for use in a defensive situation.

The smooth edge will cut through clothing without getting stuck. This nice clean cut allows the serrated portion to go through the clothing with less likelihood of getting stuck.

Combine all that with the serrated blade generally inflicting more damage. Now you have a viable alternative to carrying a plain edge blade.

However, the sawing and cutting of the serrated portion is adequate on some knives and terrible on other knives. Also, the serrated portion may still get stuck in clothing.

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The final verdict

I recommend a plain edge blade for self defense if you only carry one knife on your person. For those of you comfortable carrying two (or more) knives, then you carrying a serrated blade and a plain edge blade is an optimal.

The combo blade works well for those of you that find a combo blade with a good cutting and sawing motion. I know some people really like combo blades, which is great. They make an excellent alternative to the two blades mentioned.

It’s what I personally carry.

In the end, the most important things are to have a quality blade that you can depend on, and the skills to use it. Once you’ve got that, the actual makeup of the blade becomes less important.

Want more info? Check out this video on choosing a knife blade below:

Got an opinion in this debate? Leave it in the comments!

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