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Single-edged Vs. Double-edged Swords: What’s the Better Blade?

Written by: David Mickov
Published On: October 13, 2023
Edited by: Juliana Cummings

Swords worldwide are developed with either a single or double-edged blade. As the name suggests, single-edged swords have one edge for cutting, while the double-edged sword has two. These impressive weapons were used throughout history, from one-on-one duels to battlefield combat.

This article will examine both single and double-edged swords and discuss their negative and positive attributes. We will explain how their traits differed and how they each contributed to use in combat. We will mention some of the most popular single and double-edged blades as we progress and reveal whether or not one is superior.

Characteristics and Design Differences

Single and double-edged swords come in many different designs and are shaped by their culture, time in history, and level of craftsmanship. What sets them apart are features like the number of sharp edges, the curve of the blade,  blade tips, and any grooves or fullers.

Blade Edge and Bevel

Single vs Double Edge Sword Bevel Difference
Single-edge blade with a regular bevel, double-edged blade with the same bevel, and single-edged blade with a longer bevel – Credits: Skallagrim

The main difference between the double and single-edged sword is the number of edges. These edges can feature various cross-sections and blade profiles, resulting in a different bevel. The bevel is the level and amount of sharpening done on one or both sides of the blade to give it a sharper cutting edge or a thicker spine.

The edge of the bevel can be the same on both types of swords. However, double-edged blades have less space to work with due to the need for two edges, but they can be equally sharpened to the same level as a single-edged blade with a thicker spine. Single-edged blades can sometimes extend the bevel amount closer to the spine, resulting in a slightly sharper blade for cutting while sacrificing much of its durability.

When used in battle, neither of these swords would have had bevels made to be thin or close to the spine. Even the katana would have a zukuri (blade shape) with a regular niku (spine thickness) when used for war while having a sharp bevel called hirazukuri, used during times of peace such as the Edo Era (1603-1868).

Curve

Making the iconic curve of a single-edged Japanese katana sword – Credits: Zwe

While not a defining feature that sets the double and single-edged swords apart, the curve is still a considerable difference between them. Some single-edged swords have a straight blade, such as the Chinese tangdao, the Japanese ninjato, the European messer, and the backsword.

Swords with a single-edge blade, however, usually feature a curve, adding to the overall design of the blade, intended to be used primarily for cutting purposes. Double-edged blades are generally straight so that both edges can be used in combat in versatile situations.

Tip

Tip of a Double edged Sword
The sharp tip of a double-edged sword with a slight tapering blade shape – Credits: Reliks

Both double and single-edged swords can feature a sharp tip. Double-edged blades have a more pronounced tapering tip depending on the degree of both the tapering edges. Single-edged swords have a tip that ends with a sharp point from only one side of the blade, while the other will likely be the spine, depending on the type of sword. Some single-edged blades, like a machete or tulwar, can feature a broadening at the tip.

Some swords can feature a single-edged blade with a double-edged tip called a false edge, such as Japanese swords, like the wakizashi or tanto, or the European falchion and messer.  On top of excellent cutting traits, this false edge allows for deadly stabbing motions. 

Fuller

Single Edge vs Double Edge Fullers rotated
The fuller and bevel designs between a single and double-edged sword – Credits: Shadiversity

The fuller of a sword’s blade is made for decreasing the sword’s weight, redistributing the balance whether near the hilt or at the second half of the blade in balance with the pommel or for purely aesthetic reasons. The double-edged sword has the fuller or multiple fullers running across the blade’s center and between the two edges, while single-edged blades usually have the fuller near the spine of the unsharpened part of the blade. 

Single-edged vs. Double-edged Swords in Battle

Single Edged vs Double Edged Sword Victor
The longsword and katana are some of the most popular single and double-edged swords – Credits: Precapi

Single and double-edged swords differed greatly in battle based on the time. In close combat scenarios, the Viking sword and short swords such as the Gladius or Xiphos, all double-edged blades, were favored for their compactness. However, curved-blade weapons, such as the kopis or kilij, were preferred for cavalry use. The 15th-century longsword and samurai swords, such as the katana or tachi, combined the best attributes of both to better withstand heavily armored or unarmored opponents. 

The decline of armor after the late Middle Ages saw a rise in curved swords with single-edged blades like the cutlass or European sabres. Edged weapons with thin, straight swords like the rapier, smallsword, and broadsword retained their prominence mainly in dueling martial arts.

Single-edge Swords

Single Edged Sword 1
European single-edged messer sword – Credits: Albion Swords

The single-edged sword requires less expertise to use effectively and less time devoted to crafting and maintenance. The Chinese double-edged jian being replaced by the single-edged dao is an example. Single-edged blades can be better sharpened due to the bevel difference, achieving perfect blade edge alignment. The blade’s curve allows for added momentum on horseback and is also less likely to get stuck on an enemy shield or armor such as a shamshir sword.

A single-edged sword has limited versatility in combat use, as it will dull quicker with extended use. Single-edged blades can be used for thrusting attacks but fall short when attempting to slip through gaps in enemy armor when compared to the tapered double-edged blade.

Double-edge Swords

Double Edged Sword 1
European double-edged longsword – Credits: Albion Swords

The two-edged sword has the advantage of a double blade for prolonged attacking or defending. Double-edged blades with a tapered tip can deliver an impressive impact upon thrusting and are equally effective for slashing attacks. The double-edged blade is more adaptable and slightly faster than a single-edged blade due to its balance being near the hilt. The two-edged sword allows the swordsman to be more fluid in combat situations requiring thrusting or slashing.

Double-edged swords are generally more costly and complicated to create due to their set of two equally sharpened edges and the need to quench the entire blade while crafting it. The two edges add an element requiring more training to perfect its techniques.

What is the Better Blade for Battle?

Double Edged vs Single Edged History and Use Swords
European knight with a double-edged sword beside a samurai with a single-edged sword – Credits: Medieval Japan

Single and double-edged swords are different kinds of edged weapons that cannot be directly compared to which is more effective in combat. They both served individual purposes that were unique and needed at the time.

Contrary to common misconceptions, single-edged swords were not reserved for slashing alone, just as double-edged swords were useful for more than thrusting. While one may have excelled over the other in certain scenarios, each weapon had the potential to be effective in various attack or defense strategies. 

Ultimately, the overall performance and effectiveness of each sword were heavily influenced by the individual wielder’s training, experience, preference for combat techniques, and the sword’s level of craftsmanship.

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