There’s more than one way to skin a cat, so the saying goes. However strange the idea of doing that may be, it should also be noted that there is also more than one type of knife with which to undertake that task. Even those just vaguely familiar with pocket knives will have noticed that blades come in every shape and size. That’s not just happenstance, and it surely isn’t the whimsy of imaginative bladesmiths. Knife blades are shaped differently for a reason. Below, you’ll find information on how to identify 12 of the most commonly-found shapes, and what they’re used for.

Drop-Point Blade

One of the most common blade shapes, the drop-point is characterized by a convex spine that curves down from the handle to the point. This creates an easily controlled point and a bigger belly for slicing. Drop points are great for general-purpose use and ideal for hunters.

Sheepsfoot Blade

A blade shape characterized by a straight edge and a spine that curves down to meet it at the point. Sheepsfoot blades are designed for slicing while minimizing the potential for accidental piercing with the point. It was originally used to trim the hooves of sheep but comes in handy as a rescue tool today.

Wharncliffe Blade

Like a sheepsfoot blade, this shape has a straight edge and a curved spine, but the curve extends gradually from the handle to the tip. The shape is similarly ideal for slicing while minimizing the possibility for an accidental puncture with the tip. These blades come in handy in similar situations.

Clip-Point Blade

The clip point is a common blade shape, characterized by a spine with a front section that appears to be clipped off. This cut-out area can either be straight or concave and results in a fine point that’s ideal for precision tasks.

Normal Blade/Straight Back Blade

A blade with a straight spine and an edge that curves up to meet it at the tip. The long spine makes the blade heavy and sturdy for chopping and slicing, and users can get even more force by using a hand to apply pressure to the long unsharpened area.

Tanto Blade

Inspired by the short swords that were worn by samurai in feudal Japan, this blade shape replaces a curved belly for an angular edge transition that makes for a much stronger and prominent point. That durable tip and generally robust point make it good for piercing tough objects, but it isn’t as adept at slicing.

Gut Hook

Technically, a gut hook is more of a feature included on a blade than a blade shape itself. One usually appears as a small, sharpened hook-like curve that interrupts the spine as it slopes toward the point. These have one main use: field dressing wild game. The design of the hook allows hunters to cut through an animal’s skin without damaging what lies under it.

Hawkbill Blade/Talon

Hawkbill knives, sometimes referred to as talons, are characterized by a spine and edge that curve down in the same direction to create a downward-facing point. This shape allows the blade to cut efficiently when pulled back in the direction of the handle, so most of their use comes through utilitarian tasks like cutting carpet and linoleum and pruning vegetation.

Needle-Point Blade

The needle point is a symmetrical blade with two edges that taper sharply from handle to point. This design increases the knife’s ability to pierce and penetrate, and as such, most needle points are used for fighting and stabbing. The needle point is also notably more fragile than similar blades, most notably spear points, due to its narrow shape. Many needle-point knives are daggers and classified as weapons, which makes them illegal in many places.

Spear-Point Blade

Spear-point blades are symmetrical with a point that’s in line with the center of the knife. This shape is stronger than the similar needle-point and is similarly adept at thrusting. A spear point can have either one or two sharp edges. The design is commonly used in daggers and throwing knives, which are classified as illegal weapons in many places, though it's definitely not true of all knives that use the shape.

Spey-Point Blade

A spey point blade has a mostly flat edge until close to the tip when it curves up to the point. The spine is also mostly flat, but like the edge, angles down close to the tip of the knife to create the point. The result is a knife that has a short belly and broad tip, which prevents accidental piercing.

These blades were originally used on farms to neuter animals but now are common on classic trapper blades, usually in multi-blade patterns, and are often favored by hunters.

Trailing-Point Blade

In a trailing point blade, the spine curves upward to create an elevated point that’s typically higher than the handle. This shape creates an oversized belly that makes these knives good for slicing, skinning and filleting.