Everyday Carry: Your Guide To Choose The Best EDC Knife
Carrying a folding pocket knife everyday has many advantages. From opening boxes and clam shell packaging to preparing food, they are extremely useful. Several professions such as hunters, fisherman, trail guides, butchers, emergency personnel, or military service members often carry knives every day. I would like to discuss folding knives for your everyday carry.
In this article I will review several criteria for choosing the best EDC knife. I consider several basic criteria. They are reasons to carry, local laws, weight, blade length, blade shape, blade treatment/finish, edge grind type, steel type, handle materials and design, cost, opening mechanism, retention (blade and pocket), lock type, fit & finish, and finally…appeal. Before we get to those criteria though, let’s look at pocket knife anatomy. It is my hope that by the time you finish reading this article, you will have a solid basic understanding of EDC knives. I will also provide a short list of quality knives I own and use.
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The Anatomy of an EDC Folding Knife
Before we can discuss the plethora of options available for EDC knives we should probably start with diagraming the basic anatomy. Below we see one of the most copied folding knives ever produced, the Spyderco Delica 4. You can see the basic parts diagrammed out. It will be easier for us to look at a folding knife if we describe it as an entire system. It has several moving parts and tolerances. They have to be designed correctly and maintained properly to continue performance. As you read through this article I will spend considerable time explaining the parts of a folding knife in greater detail.
Why Should You Get an EDC Knife?
First on our list of criteria is a serious question. Why would someone even want to carry a knife every day? Unless you’re a knife nut like me and love collecting them, carrying one every day may need an explanation. Unfortunately, some people treat knives only as weapons. Yet they are one of our oldest tools. The use of stone flakes as cutting tools (the first knives) dates as far back as 2.6 million years ago in the Oldowan period of the Paleolithic era. They were light weight, readily available, easy to produce, and easy to carry. A knife is a useful tool for opening boxes, letters, cutting bits of tape or string, cutting paper, opening clamshell packages, etc. It’s a great tool in an emergency to cut stuck seatbelts in a wreck or cut clothing to bandage wounds. It can be used in a survival or camping situation to cut small tree limbs, process wood for a fire, or strike a ferro rod. It can even be used defensively, however most pocket knives are too small to realistically use this way. Many people use pocket knives every day such as carpet layers, paramedics, network engineers, roofers, mechanics, plumbers, electricians, etc. What are your daily tasks? Would carrying a pocket knife help accomplish them?
Research Your Local Laws First
As always, research your local and higher government laws on what you can and cannot own or carry. I keep a small copy of my state’s knife laws in my wallet. When you carry a knife, you are an ambassador (willing or not) for their prolonged carry and use by the public. Be responsible. When in doubt, don’t carry a knife. The rest of the criteria detailed below will presume you adhere to local and higher government laws.
EDC Knife Weight: Keep it Light!
Weight is a concern for many folks. Space and weight in my pockets is at a premium. How much weight is comfortable to carry in your pocket every day? I try not to exceed a knife weight of 5 oz. Anything more and I really feel like I have an anchor in my pocket more than a knife. There are many knives that can do everything needed in an EDC folder yet stay well under 5 oz. If I am carrying anything more than 5 oz. it had better be one heck of a knife.
Choosing The Right Blade Length
What is the ideal blade length for you? Remember, this is not about getting as big a blade as possible. We’ll save the huge folding knives for the mall ninjas. Blade length is really about tailoring to suit your specific needs. Many common EDC blades range in size from two to five inches. A small blade offers more control while a large blade offers more reach. Anything outside of that size range should give you pause to ask why. What is useful about a one inch blade? What is useful about a six inch folding knife?
Personally, I prefer a three inch blade. It fits the laws in my area. Additionally, it allows many different ways to hold the knife such as a pencil grip. A three inch blade also allows me to accomplish different tasks without being obtrusive. It hits the sweet spot of carry and function.
7 Common Blade Shapes For EDC Knives
Blade shape also plays a role EDC knife options. Shape helps determine task and performance. Additionally, knife makers commonly offer different blade shape choices in the same model. Let’s look at the spear point, drop point, clip point, sheepsfoot, wharncliffe, trailing point, and the tanto. There are other blade shapes to be sure, however these are the most common ones used for folding knives. For a full list of blade shapes look at this Wikipedia’s article. It goes into many other shapes on all manner of blades.
1. Spear Point
A spear point is a blade shape where the spine and edge meet symmetrically in the middle of the knife. This shape is great for pushing/thrusting into material as it has an extremely strong tip. A Victorinox Swiss army knife is a perfect instance. As you can see below, the tip comes to a point evenly between the spine and edge.
2. Drop Point
A drop point is another style of blade where the angle of the spine slowly descends or “drops” in a flat or convex path. It usually starts at or near the base of the spine and gradually continues to meet the edge of the blade at a sharp point. This is a very utilitarian and versatile blade shape which lends itself to many tasks. The Benchmade Mini Griptilian is a great example.
3. Clip Point
Clip point blades look like a portion of the tip of the blade has been cut off which often results in a partially crescent shaped tip. Other versions have a flat clip point. This could create some confusion with drop points. The main difference is that the drop point starts somewhere near the base of the spine. Clip points usually display the clip about 2/3 of the way down the spine. Clip point blades also tend to have a thinner blade thickness near the tip which makes them better at piercing than the drop point. The Cold Steel Mini AK 47 below shows a flat clip point. The Cold Steel Voyager further below shows a crescent shaped clip point.
4. Sheepsfoot Blade
A sheepsfoot blade has a point that’s rounded over. This is offers more control and is also a much safer blade profile making it difficult to accidentally poke yourself should you slip. They were used historically by farmers to trim and clean the hooves of their livestock. These are commonly seen on traditional folders as a utilitarian blade. The Spyderco Roadie is a perfect illustration.
5. Wharncliffe Blade
The wharncliffe is similar to the sheepsfoot however the top of the blade rounds over much more gradually while still maintaining a point. The edge is usually perfectly straight. The Silent Solder by knife maker Jason Brous is a perfect example.
6. Trailing point Blade
Trailing point knives often have a thin blade that tapers evenly in a swept back direction as the edge and spine converge. The entire knife blade is designed to perform pulling sweeping type cuts as it is mostly belly. They are perfect for delicate cuts that require precision such as processing game and fish. Many butcher, filet, and skinning knives have a trailing point. Next time you go to your local grocer, take a look at the butchers and the types of knives they are using. The Boker Kwaiken is a great specimen for EDC. Not many EDC knives use the trailing point as it is weak in other common tasks.
7. Tanto Blade
The tanto is perhaps one of the strongest blade types as it maintains the thickness of the spine all the way to the tip. The word tanto is an inferior version of the Japanese word meaning chisel point. It is commonly employed as the tip on the blades of Katanas. A tanto creates two different edges however and each requires sharpening. It looks like someone cut off the end of the blade at 45 degree (or so) angle. The Kershaw Brawler below is a good instance of a tanto blade.
5 Common Blade Treatment/Finish
Rarely are blades on EDC knives left without a treatment to the metal itself. Once the metal has been heat treated it has to be protected. Blades often come in some sort of finish. This adds a level of protection to the metal itself to prevent against corrosion. Finishes often add a measure of appeal as well. Finishes such as a stonewash, DLC, blackwash, paint, etching, etc. are common. There are many other finishes available.
Stonewashing is a process of tumbling a blade (unsharpened) in an abrasive material to “scuff” the metal and create a lightly worn pattern on the surface.
2. Diamond Like Carbon (DLC)
DLC is a Diamond Like Carbon coating that is very durable and hard to remove which protects the metal from any rust or surface scratches. It looks like paint but wears much better over time.
Blackwash is accomplished by rinsing the blade in a water/colorant mixture that allows dark colorant to collect in recesses on the blade. Quite often this is repeated several times to build up layers that present a dark finish.
4. Protective Paint
Some makers apply a coat of protecting paint on their blades. Now, this is not your normal run-of-the-mill house paint or spray paint. It is specifically designed for use with knives to offer good protection. Though it does wear away with use.
Etching is done when the blade smith dips the blade into a weak acid mixture for an extended period of time. It corrodes patterns into the blade based upon the metals used to forge it. Modern Damascus is really two metals forged together and then acid etched to show the pattern.
The Edge of an EDC Knife
Now we come down to brass tacks. The edge of your knife is something this website is all about; not just sharpening, but the actual type of edge grind your knife carries. The sides of a blade will come down and meet each other in a particular way to form the edge grind that runs the length of the knife. There are many options in edge grind profiles.
Edge Grind Type
How does each side of the knife come down to the edge? The basic edge grind profiles are listed below:
The most common edge grinds in EDC folding knives are Full Flat Grind (FFG), V grind, and the Hollow grind. FFG offers ease in sharpening and use as the blade has less surface area to cause resistance when you slice with it. V grinds are a version of flat grinds that offer more body of the knife in the spine to maintain strength. However they can weigh more. Hollow grinds offer maximized cutting performance (especially with more delicate materials) but they sacrifice some strength to do so. Many of the other edge grinds above are used in kitchen cutlery, swords, or outdoor fixed blade knives.
Additional Features of the Edge
Additionally there are other options in the features of an edge such as a complex grinds, recurves, serrations, jimping, choils, thumb ramps, and swedges.
1. Complex Grinds
Complex grinds offer multiple edge grind types in one blade and make the face of the blade appear very geometric. They are mostly does for aesthetic reasons and rarely offer additional functionality. The Strider Nightmare grind is a good example.
Recurves, such as the ZT 0350 below, present an interesting option. They utilize an inward curve near the base of the blade for aggressive cutting. They are useful for cutting through materials like heavy cloth, rope, or food better and faster. However, they offer challenges in sharpening.
Serrations offer faster cutting in materials where starting a cut may be an issue (hard plastic or thick ropes for example). They require alternate methods to sharpen as well.
Jimping offers more security in holding the blade. It is made of a series of perpendicular cuts in the metal to form ridges that act as small “teeth” to grab your thumb with.
A choil offers a forward grip on the blade. It consists of a partially round cut out on the bottom of the blade before the edge. This gives you even more control. Some choils are jimped.
6. Thumb Ramp
A thumb ramp is a portion of the spine near the handle that may be raised up as a place to put your thumb for added pressure when needed. Thumb ramps often have jimping.
A swedge is created when the spine of a knife has been thinned in profile. This removes some weight without sacrificing strength.
There many different types of steel to choose from. Do you want stainless or carbon? Do you want tough or hard? Stainless steels offer much in the way of corrosion resistance while carbon steels are often easier to sharpen. Toughness and hardness are opposites in knife steels. A tough blade has to be forgiving to be able to take impacts and use without breaking. Hard steel has to be more rigid to stay sharp and hold an edge. The best steels are right in the middle for these attributes.
Most EDC blades come in some version of stainless steel. There are many different types of stainless steel such as 440C, 8CR13MoV, AUS 8, H1, 154 CM, VG 10, CPM 154, S35 VN, M3, etc. Each has specific properties. Some are easier to sharpen yet dull quickly while others are difficult to sharpen but the edge lasts much longer. Some are salt water resistant like H1. Some are in the middle of the performance scale. Usually, the better the steel, the more expensive the knife will be. Most quality budget folders fall into 8CR13MoV, AUS 8, and 440 C territory. If you can afford better steel, go for it. Bladeforums has a wonderful breakdown of stainless steel types and performance. It can be found here.
There are also many pocket knives that come in carbon steel. The old school folding knives such as Case and Old Timer come in carbon steel. Opinel knives come in carbon steel. Carbon steel is tough, holds an edge well but needs to be oiled regularly. It will also develop a patina of discolored steel over time. Many people like this as it shows they actually use their knives.
A Closer Look To an EDC Knife Handle
Common Handle Materials
We are spoiled for choice when it comes to handle materials; everything from concrete to plastic, to wood, to stone, to fiberglass, to bone. Common EDC handle materials are Zytel, FRN, G10 and Micarta, carbon fiber, and metal (Stainless steel and Titanium). Different materials offer different amounts of purchase and security in the hand. Commonly these materials are attached to the outside of stainless steel handle slabs called liners.
Zytel is a common material used for knife handles. It is a thermo plastic (a.k.a. it is heated up, liquefied, and poured into a mold). It is inexpensive and durable.
2. Fiberglass Reinforced Nylon (FRN)
FRN is Fiberglass Reinforced Nylon. It is sturdy and rugged. It may not be the prettiest handle material but it is readily available, tough, and functional.
3. G10 and Micarta
G10 and Micarta are similar in the sense that they are layered similar to fiberglass but the materials contained within are different. Micarta uses layers of linen set into a resin and is then compressed. G10 is composed of layers of fiberglass compressed in an epoxy. Both are solid and durable.
4. Carbon Fiber
Carbon fiber is composed of alternating layers of carbon fiber threads in reinforced layers of plastic. It is rugged and has a visual appeal that many people like. The Caly 3.5 by Spyderco below shows us what carbon fiber looks like as a knife handle material.
Some knife handles are made of metal such as stainless steel or titanium. Often these can be more expensive. They often look nice but offer little in the way of purchase or grip. The Benchmade Agency exemplifies this look.
Other Features You Can Find on The Handle
Often handle design will impact materials and vice versa. In fact, handle design is the other half of a knife. It determines so much of the system as a whole. Some handles are very ergonomic and others are more ambivalent or even awkward in design. Some handles incorporate other attributes in them such as pivots, back spacers, standoffs, skull crushers, lanyard holes, etc. Some handles are excessively large/long compared to the blade while others ride the cusp of barely containing the closed blade.
Getting into the anatomy we discussed earlier, the blade of a knife is sandwiched between two halves of the handle. The pivot is literally where the blade meets the handle halves and also where it opens. These pivots can be fancy or simple.
Additionally, the pivots usually have some sort of washer between the blade and handle slabs. Common materials used are Teflon, Delrin, and phosphor bronze (my favorite). Some higher end knives even incorporate entire bearing systems instead of washers.
2. Back Spacer
The rest of the space between the handles has to be for the blade, but how are the halves attached to each other? They are often afforded space around the blade in the form of a large piece called a back spacer.
3. “Flow-through” Designs
Other designs are called “flow-through” designs. Instead of a back spacer they have individual columns for each body screw called “stand-offs”.
4. Skull Crushers
Skull crushers are exposed portions of a back spacer designed to create an impact tool. These can be useful for breaking glass (in fact some incorporate a carbide glass breaking tip), cracking open nuts, or other impact techniques. The name comes from older warfare edged weapons that had a literal spike on the bottom of the pommel to attack with.
5. Lanyard holes
Lanyard holes are very useful for tying a piece of rope, leather, or some other line through to form a retention method. They are also useful for taking your knife from your pocket.
Cost: What’s Your Budget?
How much do you want to pay for a knife to carry every day? They range in price from $10 production knives to $2000+ custom knives. Yes, $2,000.00 or more. Personally, that is way out of my price range but may not be for other people. EDC knives are often divided into tiers of manufacture commonly referred to as Production, Mid-Tech, and Custom.
Many knives fall into the tier referred to as “Production”. These are often produced by machine in masse. They can have excellent quality, fit, and finish. There are many excellent production knives. These are the types of knife I usually have on my person. Some production makers create poor quality knives. Others create great quality knives. Do your research on the specific maker.
The next tier is “Mid-Tech”. These are knives often assembled one at a time from mass produced and/or hand made parts. They typically involve more hands-on by the maker and their team. These will often still look identical to each other but the quality should be better than production. Many people who collect knives progress from production to Mid-Tech because they want a custom knife but don’t want to pay the price for a more expensive custom knife. However some Mid Tech knives are more expensive than some custom knives. It depends upon the maker. Again, do your research.
Lastly are “Custom” knives. These are often made one at a time by a knife maker and are usually very expensive. Again, research the specific maker and kind of knife you want. (Do you sense a theme here?) Some use exotic materials while others use expensive and rugged materials. If you are interested in custom knives check out Jim Skelton on youtube.com.
All that being said, don’t let production scare you. There are many production knives of extremely high quality (some better than other custom maker’s knives). For some folks, a knife costing $100 is out of reach for others it’s the ground floor. Beware of cost creep. It is common for folks to buy a knife to use but it is not what they want. They then start buying other slightly more expensive knives as money allows and soon they have a collection that is not what they wanted. Instead, I suggest purchasing a knife that will do what you need while you save for the exact knife you want. Skip all the others in the process. Research the knives you are interested in. NutnFancy on you tube has great reviews on EDC knives. He is fairly blunt about his opinions but often explains why. Check out everydaycommentary.com. It’s a great place to look at EDC knife reviews with a solid rating scale.
Common Opening Mechanisms
Gone are the days of the solitary nail nick used to open knives. Today there are many ways to open pocket knives. Flippers allow you to push on an unsharpened portion of the blade that sticks out of the back causing the blade to flip open. Once open the flipper tab becomes a finger guards. Sometimes these are spring assisted Like the Kershaw Cryo below.
The Wave is a feature designed by Emerson knives and allows you to open the knife as you pull it from your pocket. It is a small “hook” in the spine of the knife shaped somewhat like a small rolling wave, hence the name. When you remove the knife from your pocket the “wave” catches on the material of your pocket forcing the blade to open as you withdraw the knife. The base of the spine on the Emerson Commander below displays a good wave.
A thumb stud allows you to hold the knife in your hand and use your thumb in a coin flipping action to open the blade. The Todd Rexford designed Kershaw Injection is a good example. Thumb studs can be very fast.
The thumb disc is similar to a thumb stud in operation. However it is literally a disc shaped platform on the spine of the knife set perpendicular to the blade itself. Quite often Thumb discs are incorporated with Waves to offer multiple ways to open a knife such as this Kershaw Emerson CQC 5.
The Spyder hole is an open hole in a blade that uses a portion of your thumb pad to swing the blade open. It is employed primarily by Spyderco (the inventors) however other companies employ it as well. The Spyderco Dragonfly shows us what this looks like.
Of course we have the ubiquitous nail nick, which occurs in more traditional folders. This can be augmented by the addition of an after-market thumb stud. The Buck 110 perfectly represents this.
Lastly are the autos. Automatic knives (think switch blade) are still illegal in some states. If you are in a state that allows autos, there are some great options for you. Out the Front (OTF) is another version of an auto. The Microtech Halo is the paragon of OTF knives.
Blade and Pocket Retention
Keep it down! Literally. Retention in EDC knives has two meanings. The first is blade retention and the second is pocket retention.
Blade retention involves how well a knife handle and mechanism keeps the blade down when it is in the closed position. This is usually attained by the use of friction, a ball detent, or both. When you open a folding knife you will notice there is a change in resistance as you open it. Initially the resistance is (relatively speaking) high. As you push past the detent the resistance lessens significantly.
Pocket retention comprises how well the knife stays in pocket. Does it fall out easily or is it securely in the pocket? There are several carry options in lots of knives. Some fit completely in the pocket. Others have a pocket clip that allows the knife to clip to the inside of the pocket itself. Handle length plays a role here as well. Long handles are more problematic than shorter handles. A long handled knife will have a tendency to “push” itself out of the pocket as you bend and flex your leg. I personally prefer no more than a 4 inch handle to prevent this problem.
Many knives with pocket clips have multiple places the clip can be attached to. This allows the owner to carry the closed knife clipped to the pocket with the blade tip pointing up or tip pointing down and set it for left or right side carry. These are commonly called tip up or tip down. Alternating the clip position will allow you to see which carry option works best.
Carrying a knife clipped inside the pocket is preferred to prevent it from causing problems. I have seen people with a knife clipped to the outside of the pocket; however it is often the sign of an EDC newbie.
There are several mechanisms that keep folding knives blades in the ‘open’ position. These are referred to as locks. Common locks are a frame lock, liner lock, and back/mid lock. Two other (non-locking) mechanisms are referred to as a slip joint and a friction folder. Speaking of locks we also have to look at “Blade Play”.
A frame lock uses part of the knife’s handle to do so. Its invention is credited to Chris Reeve, creator of the famous Sebenza. It is officially called the Chris Reeve Integral Lock, as it is integral to the handle of the knife. Most people call it a frame lock since it uses one side of the frame as the lock. It is generally accepted as a strong lock. The Kershaw Cryo incorporates a frame lock.
Another common lock is the liner lock. The liner lock is the father of the frame lock. Often a knife maker will use part of the handle’s steel liner to form a spring-like lock. As the knife is opened the liner springs into place under the tang forcing it to lock into position. The liner has to be depressed to release the blade. Many Kershaw’s use this type of lock.
The back lock is an old lock design and still one of the strongest. It involves using a bar to provide resistance to the tang of an open blade. The exposed part of the bar has to be depressed before the blade can be closed. A modification to this is the mid lock, which changed the position and length of the bar. The Spyderco Delica shows us what this looks like.
The Cold Steel Triad lock invented by knife maker Andrew Demko is perhaps the strongest lock ever produced for any folding knife. It is a highly modified lock back that uses a stop pin to absorb most of the force applied to the tang.
A slip joint is a type of knife that opens normally yet is held in place by friction within the handle. They are like lock backs with less spring tension and no button. The Boker XS Slip Joint by knife maker Chad Los Banos below exemplifies what I mean as do most Case and Old Timer folding knives.
A friction folder uses an extended tang to open. Once it is in the open position your hand applies pressure to the extended portion by simply grasping the handle. The Svord peasant knife is idyllic in this regard.
In considering locks we also have to examine “blade play”. That is, once a blade is open, is there any noticeable movement or play? It is essentially a hinge. Does the blade move from side to side or back and forth? Does it wiggle? Is it securely open? Is the pivot loose or do the handle scales need to be tightened?
FAQ: Questions to Ask Before Buying an EDC Knife
Scrutinize the knife and inspect it for any problems. Pay attention to reviews online and see if they are any commonalities that hold true. If ten reviews on the same knife model say different things then it’s hard to nail down any common issues, good or bad. However, if several of the reviews have similar points (again, good or bad) you may want to note that. It’s your money and you have a right to spend it judiciously.
Here are some things to consider:
- How well does everything fit or match up on the knife?
- How smooth are the transitions from one material to another?
- Is the blade centered when closed?
- Is there any blade play or wiggle when the blade is open?
- Is the lock up solid?
- Are there any flaws?
- How smooth is the pivot when it opens?
- Does the pocket clip wiggle needlessly?
- Are the grinds symmetrical?
- Is the polish of the blade even?
- Are the screws for the body in good shape?
- Is there any rust?
- Is the edge sharp out of the box?
This criteria is simple. Does a particular knife design appeal to you? All the criteria listed above could be perfectly matched in a knife. It could fit everything mentioned above perfectly and still have no appeal for you. You will discover your own tastes. I hear raves about the ESEE Zancudo. It fits many criteria above and is (from what I hear) a great knife. However it does not appeal to me. Many folks love that knife. Not me. Maybe it will grow on me. Alternatively there are knives I love that some people dislike, such as the Boker Chad Los Banos XS Slip Joint. It’s a great little knife. It’s perfectly ok to have a differing opinion than everyone else. As NutnFancy says, “Avoid group think”, which is just another way to say, “Think for yourself”.
My list: The 5 Best EDC Knives
I have a list of knives that I like. It is a long list. However I am going to provide you with a short list of good knives I personally own. These are not listed in any particular order. They are reliable, decent quality, and fairly easy on the wallet. They are all production knives .
Spyderco Delica 4 FFG (in VG 10 Steel)
Cold Steel mini AK 47 (in AUS 8 Steel)
Cold Steel medium Voyager (in AUS 8 Steel)
Kershaw Cryo in G10 (in 8CR13MoV Steel)
SOG Salute mini (in AUS 8 Steel)
As you can see, the world of folding knives for every day carry is vast. We are spoiled for choice when it comes to knives. I suggest being very critical and picky when it comes to choosing a folding knife to carry every day. You never know what you may have to rely on it for. Having a dull and cheap piece of junk in your pocket is useless when you need it. Find out exactly what you want, and get the right EDC knife for you. Find out what you are allowed by law to own and carry. See what appeals to your tastes and requirements. Look at your daily routine and ask this question, “Would a knife in my pocket make my daily tasks easier to handle?”