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This article introduces BREES, the Basic Rated-Edge Evaluation System.
The BREES system is used to answer the question: How sharp is my knife blade?
BREES is aimed at knife hobbyists, pocketknife users, pocket tool enthusiasts, and EDC fans.
Why BREES is Useful
What BREES Stands For
BREES stands for “Basic Rated-Edge Evaluation System”.
How to Pronounce BREES
Say “cheese” but replace the CH with BR. The result should sound like “breeze” and not “breese”.
Getting Started: How to Use BREES
When using BREES, you will score your knife’s edge by applying an alphabetical rating at each of six levels of evaluation.
The Alphabetical Ratings
The ratings are as follows:
IF a cut starts at an N, there’s no need to continue testing the edge—it’s an N. Torture tests are not relevant to BREES.
Note: N is not the same as no grade at all. No grade may indicate that the blade is incapable of the given usage or would likely be permanently destroyed, or is otherwise completely inappropriate. This would typically be for an emergency use at best.
Levels of Evaluation: Test Your Blade
The following are the specific levels to use for evaluating blade sharpness.
Work through each level, assigning a rating (see above) each number, and stack the letters as you go along, like ‘AABCCN’.
Proper Rating Results
You can use the proper rating to compare multiple knives, or edges.
To get a proper rating, stack the letters from your test results. Always stop after the first B, leaving off C’s and N’s.
Here are the Proper Ratings:
An Example of Applying BREES
Chris was able to pass all three of the first levels effortlessly, using a brand-new knife. So far, Chris has an “AAA” rating, because tests at levels 1-3 each received an “A” rating.
Next, Chris was able to cut through paracord effortlessly (an “A” at level 4), and cut carving wood to 2mm depth starting parallel to the cutting surface with typical effort (a “B” at level 5) . After this, Chris had to exert additional effort when cutting through tin (resulting in a “C” at level 6).
This resulted in AAAA + B + C. At this level, only the AAAA part is kept, so Chris has an Expert Edge.
When I was a youngster, I used to watch my dad spend hours sharpening the various knives in his collection. He liked to carve, whittle, and collect knives. We would look through knife catalogs together and he’d say things like “GEE WHIZ, what pretty knives they have nowadays! Would ya lookit that one!” Dad was a very educated guy, but he couldn’t hold back those expressions from his rough-and-tumble childhood.
My dad grew up in Rock Springs, Wyoming, during the depression. It was a mining town with a colorful mash-up of cultures. Then during the war years, his family moved to Bremerton, Washington to work in the shipyards. A new adventure—and his dad was even an air raid warden!
Dad used to dig in surplus junk piles for old British pith helmets, and play war, army, whatever. Those were the days when boys and men loved a good hunting rifle and a knife or two—but they couldn’t get too fancy, since there was a lot of other stuff to save for as well. So as an adult, dad loved that he could afford to buy fancy european blades or just some budget knives with fancy designs on the sides.
And me—as a kid’s allowance and budget went, my parents seemed to alternate between periodic extreme generosity and depression-style thrift lectures. As I used my small collection of randomly-gifted knives in various outdoor & scouting activities, I also found some favorite formats. Lockbacks, SAKs, plier-tools, and so on. Sometimes grandma would even send me budget gimmick knives or tools and I’d use ‘em whenever I could. Thanks grandma for the crescent wrench with a corkscrew!
Decades later, I designed BREES after getting into the EDC hobby. I had purchased an EDC pocket knife that wasn’t very sharp. I spent a lot of time sharpening it, for how cheap it was. But I liked how it felt in my hand, and it was kind of unique, so I kept going.
As I sharpened and re-tested the blade, I noticed that it was helpful to compare the cuts it made to similar cuts by other knives.
At the same time though, I didn’t need this basic EDC knife to be as sharp as my sharpest knives. So, how sharp did it need to be?
I thought about this and decided to design my own comparison system based on how the cuts felt & looked. This way, it’d be easier to figure out when I could stop focusing on sharpening my blade, and start counting on it for my normal tasks.
The result, BREES, has been satisfying to use because it provides a practicality-based rating as a result, rather than just “really sharp” or “so-so sharp” or “dull”.
I decided to publish BREES in case others might also find a slightly more objective measuring system helpful.
More About BREES & Friendly Licensing
BREES was created by Marc Carson. First Publishing, 2022-12-12.
BREES is released under CC-BY-SA 2.0, with Attribution Required. Please feel free to share, print, and post as long as the BREES author’s name, “Marc Carson”, is included in the result.
A link back to this article is also appreciated, but not strictly required.
Please note that this license is open to remixing / adaptation as long as attribution to the original author is provided. Enjoy!