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At first glance, many may think that a Wharncliffe blade is simply a standard shape, something that resembles perhaps a drop point or straight back design, but is flipped upside down and has the sharp thingy where the dull thingy once was, and they certainly aren’t off base with this initial assertion. Sometimes the best idea is an idea already put forth by the brilliance of humanity but perhaps needs a bit of a flip on its head and that’s basically the Wharncliffe blade in a nutshell.
Yes, it is no secret that, although it has a fancy name relished in royalty, the Wharncliffe blade isn’t exactly some complex geometric engineering that has thrust blade technology into a new era, but nevertheless, someone had to do it and that someone was named Colonel James Archibald Stuart-Wortley-Mackenzie, AKA Lord Wharncliffe.
Despite the Wharncliffe blade shape not being very complex or really all that royal by nature, it does have many fantastic reasons to consider it as part of your knife collection and even as an EDC or utility-based option.
In this guide we’ll be discussing everything you need to know about the Wharncliffe blade shape, how it came to be, what it’s good at, what it’s not so good at, why you may or may not choose to use it, and of course, stack it up against some of its blade shape competitors.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, it’s important to note that, just all of the other blade shapes, the other factors of geometry apply here and will change how the blade behaves. Just like the blade shape and grind, the actual steel composition of the blade will also dictate its performance across use cases and as such, if you’d like to brush up on some of the most common steel types, We have a guide on blade steels you can find here.
What is a Wharncliffe Blade?
The Wharncliffe is a blade shape encompassing a straight edge along the cutting surface while the spine slopes down from the handle into the tip. The tip is lower than the center, so the blade looks an awful lot like a straight edge or drop point simply flipped upside down and the cutting edge swapped over to the other side.
Wharncliffe blades take away any motion of cutting where you would change the angle of attack as you cut, as you would with a drop point, and instead, this shape performs a lot better with a straight and downward motion or a sawing-like action.
Many, including myself, benefit from using Wharncliffe blades when cutting something along a flat surface, like on a cutting board. Wharncliffe-equipped knives are typically great for heavy pressing while cutting as you don’t have to worry about the slippage you would otherwise get from a blade whose cutting edge slopes upward to meet a centered tip.
The first time I used a Wharncliffe, borrowed from a friend to slice open a thick burlap sack, I was thoroughly impressed with the follow-through allowed by the straight edge and non-sloping area near the point. At first, like many, I figured it was less than ideal for the task at hand, but alas, I was wrong and ever since then, I’ve been a humble Wharncliffe fan!
Check out this entertaining and tantalizing video of a Wharncliffe knife being born!
Popularity and Accessibility of the Wharncliffe
Wharncliffe blades have been around a very long time and in the world of modern pocket knives, there was a time period where they weren’t so popular, but not because they aren’t any good. There isn’t any common consensus as to why it seemed like virtually no blade manufacturers were offering Wharncliffe-shaped blades while other shapes, like the drop point, were used by pretty much all manufacturers. With all of this said, the Wharncliffe is making a comeback and it would seem like a lot of the big knife makers are jumping on board, which is great because I certainly think a lot of you would enjoy a Wharncliffe if given the chance.
Nowadays, there are plenty of opportunities to get your hands on a Wharncliffe and although they still aren’t, and probably won’t ever be, as popular as the coveted drop point or clip point designs, it certainly seems like new Wharncliffe options pop up every day and if you’re a fan of any of the popular knife brands, it’s pretty likely they’ll have at least a couple models to choose from.
Common Grind Types for Wharncliffe Blades
The Wharncliffe is fairly versatile and given that nature, it’s no wonder you’ll find a bunch of different grind options available when shopping around. In some cases, a thinner grind like a hollow grind or flat grind is complimentary to the straight edge design of the Wharncliffe, making the blade an excellent slicer.
In situations where you may need something a bit heftier, Wharncliffe blades are also great with a Scandi style grind, making them rather durable and tough with quite a bit of material backing up that long straight cutting edge.
The grind of the blade is arguably just as important to the knife’s overall performance and usefulness across different tasks as is the shape and materials. If you haven’t already, check out the Marine Approved guide on knife blade grinds here.
Wharncliffe Use-Case Assessment
These are simply our opinions after using a myriad of different knives with different blade shapes over the years. If you’d like to check out a more comprehensive guide on all knife blade shapes, we have one that you can find here!
The Wharncliffe can take a bit to get used to if the bulk of your hunting and skinning knives have been drop point-shaped, but after learning how to be nimble with the point and utilize a straight edge, skinning and slicing are an absolute breeze with the Wharncliffe shape.
The Wharncliffe is definitely not the first blade shape, or even the second or third that would come to mind when considering piercing or puncturing capabilities. Many Wharncliffes have a point that angles downwards instead of straight out, making them very inefficient for a thrusting motion in general. Of course, given enough power, a strong Wharncliffe blade can certainly do some damage, especially on a soft target, but for the most part, this blade shape is not designed for anything under this category of use.
The Wharncliffe, given enough blade length and a rather thick style of grind, can be a serviceable, although not ideal, batoning blade. The straight edge does make it pretty easy to get the blade wedged into the material and the spine is usually flat enough to baton on for at least a portion near the handle. The Wharncliffe isn’t exactly designed for batoning and to be honest, there aren’t even that many Wharncliffe options on the market today where the blade is large enough to be used in this manner in the first place, so if this is necessary, i’d look elsewhere.
The Wharncliffe isn’t going to outperform the deadly tanto or its brother the reverse tanto and it isn’t going to give you that dramatic slashing effect a steeply curved clip point could offer, but near the point of a well-sharpened Wharncliffe is a very capable slashing point. Is it the best slashing blade shape out there? Well, no, but if it’s all you have on you, it will get the job done in almost all cases.
The Wharncliffe can sometimes be a bit frustrating when whittling due to its brutally straight edge and lack of any kind of sloped curvature near the point because it can make doing precision work a bit difficult. Once you get used to it, though, the Wharncliffe is a very serviceable blade shape for the occasional fidgeting and whittling, just don’t expect the most optimum results.
No pocket knife is ample for prying and most Wharncliffes are in the pocket knife-shaped form factor, however, if it’s absolutely necessary, you can get away with it. Luckily for us, a lot of Wharncliffe shapes generally have a decent amount of material near the tip and since the tip is pointed down instead of outwards, the cutting edge is often protected in a sense from your prying mischief.
Everyday Carry (EDC) 9/10
Despite the Wharncliffe not topping the charts dramatically in really any category, it does actually make for an excellent EDC. If you’ve read through all of these use case scenarios so far, you’d notice I’ve done an awful job of selling this blade shape, but truly, the Wharncliffe is an extremely handy blade shape that can conquer a very wide range of daily tasks and challenges. Carrying a Wharncliffe on a day-to-day basis is very rarely if ever, going to be cause for regret.
The Wharncliffe blade shape just isn’t really designed for bushcraft and overall, most of the best bushcraft knives are going to be drop point or clip point blades due to the versatility of having both a straight cutting edge and a sloped option near the tip, whereas the Wharncliffe just has one long straight cutting surface and that’s it.
Fishing Line/Ropes 9/10
A sharp Wharncliffe blade is as good as anything else when it comes to cutting through fishing line or rope and performs exceptionally well in situations where you can lay the rope flat on something solid and really get the most out of that long and flat cutting edge.
Self Defense 6/10
The Wharncliffe blade shape isn’t the first blade shape I think of when considering a defensive situation but it’s actually fairly effective and will work in a pinch if need be. Sure, I’d prefer a tanto, but a Wharncliffe can easily do a significant amount of damage if used correctly.
First Response/Egress 8/10
Wharncliffe blades are booming in popularity right now, especially for EMT and firefighters because the tip points downwards instead of outwards, making use in close proximity to human skin, for example, while cutting a seat belt of a car crash victim, very easy and a lot safer than a majority of other blade shapes. Egress is a little more difficult since the piercing capability of a Wharncliffe is a bit less than optimal, but such is the tradeoff of an exceptional blade shape that can be used close to warm bodies with peace of mind.
There are many blade shapes I’d prefer when it comes to combat but with that said, if given a Wharncliffe as my only option, you won’t hear a complaint from me. The Wharncliffe lacks in piercing capability, so I wouldn’t use a thrusting motion as my go-to technique, but a quick and heavy slash will result in significant damage every single time it comes into contact with an assailant, making these a decent little backup if necessary.
Cooking with a Wharncliffe is as good as anything else. Slicing up those veggies on a cutting board is among the easiest with a Wharncliffe given that flat and easy to control cutting surface.
Wharncliffe Versus Other Popular Blade Shapes
The drop point is the more popular option and is often referred to as the most versatile blade shape, and since a drop point could technically do anything a Wharncliffe could, it’s pretty hard to justify leaving it behind for a straight edge blade shape. With that said, a lot of people are starting to carry and utilize Wharncliffes often because, after a slight adjustment period, it’s not so obvious that the Wharncliffe can’t hold its own across a myriad of tasks just as good as the drop point. Really, at the end of the day, the choice comes down to whether or not you simply prefer a straight or curved cutting edge.
The tanto is significantly different from the Wharncliffe, being an excellent piercing capable blade with a point that is pronounced and jutting out the end of the blade, while the Wharncliffe has a point whose sharp area points downwards. Of course, that second edge on the tanto near the tip can often be used similarly to a Wharncliffes flat cutting edge, but at the end of the day, you’re going to choose the tanto because you need piercing capability or you’re going to choose the Wharncliffe to make flat and downward slicing motions.
In this respect, the reverse tanto stacks up against the Wharncliffe similarly to the drop point. It’s hard to really recommend one or the other, so I strongly recommend trying them both out in person to see which you personally prefer. I generally tend to enjoy the reverse tanto and if I had to make a choice, the reverse tanto would be the option I opt for, but I could see why those who champion the Wharncliffe enjoy those flat-edged blades.
The clip point offers a lot of nimble edge work near the tip that’s pretty difficult to get out of the Wharncliffe, but the majority of the cutting surface is sloping up towards its point, giving it a very different profile. All-in-all, the Wharncliffe is going to generally outperform the clip point for cutting downwards in slicing motion while the clip point has better penetration and nimbleness in tight spaces.
A proper trailing point gives us a lot more cutting surface on the same length of blade than the Wharncliffe, but of course, doesn’t perform as well when slicing due to its dramatic curvature and also isn’t nearly as durable as a shape as the Wharncliffe.
These two are actually fairly similar, with the only real major difference being that the Sheepsfoot has more of a steep drop near the tip than the gradual downward slope that the Wharncliffe encompasses. Both utilize a very flat cutting area with a tip that points downwards instead of outwards, being safe and easy to use blade shapes, especially for slicing on a flat stationary surface.
Marine Approved Examples of Folding Wharncliffe Blades (3)
Marine Approved Examples of Fixed Blade Wharncliffe Blades (3)
So, is the Wharncliffe blade shape something you should consider? Well, if you can ditch the idea that a blade needs a sloping cutting surface to be usable then yes! Many are skeptical but after getting used to a Wharncliffe, it’s not uncommon to see a drastic shift in ideology when it comes to blade shapes and how they are used.
The Wharncliffe is certainly a neat and handy blade design but as any knife enthusiast knows, a fancy blade shape and super steel doesn’t do you much good without a solid handle to use it with, so make sure to check out the Marine Approved guide on knife handle materials before you go shopping for a shiny new Wharncliffe-equipped blade!