Review: Custom Cutlery Fillet Knife

34 views
Skip to first unread message

Mike P. Swaim

unread,
Jun 12, 1998, 3:00:00 AM6/12/98
to

First the disclaimer-- I'd hoped to be able to include more examples
of current fillet knives, and had hoped to fillet some actual fish.
Time, $$ and the phase of the moon, (not to mention El Nino ;-)
conspired against all that. However, let me hasten to add that I feel
that I addressed the couple of pressing q's that generated this whole
exercise.

Just as a refresher, Jim from Custom Cutlery had previously posted
that he had a special blend of stainless steel that he felt
particularly proud of for it's edge holding and resistance to
corrosion. He called it a blended variant of 440A, but others seemed
to think that with what he was blending, it might better be called
something else. Anyway, I volunteered to test and report on this
"mystery steel" and shall proceed to do so. Since part of the original
debate was between Alvin Johnston, and Jim, I'm also including test
data on one of Alvin's carbon steel parers, and on some other
non-fillet knives for comparison. Not all these knives are suitable
for filleting fish, but I thought the comparisons might prove
interesting in terms of what I had on hand, vs the debate that started
all this. ;-)
***************************************************
Previously, regarding the Custom Cutlery fillet knife, I reported:

"... as to the knife itself, it's a full tanged, triple riveted, 7"
bladed fillet knife with a beautiful green and black Dymondwood
handle. The 1/16" stock blade is mirror polished to a degree that I
can literally see my pores in the reflection. "Custom Cutlery, Inc."
and under that in smaller type "Marengo, Iowa" are very tastefully
printed on the blade. The same is embossed on the back of the sheath,
and I gotta tell you more about that sheath. It's a very sturdy,
fairly thick dark leather, "suede to the inside" job, that is
stitched and tastefully decoratively tooled around the edges. It also
features a print of a largemouth bass up near the top. One thing it
doesn't feature is the standard leather belt loop or slot.

The handle is very nicely proportioned for even large hands, and
features built in guards against slipping both fore and aft. To be
honest, it shows well that the maker knows what a good kitchen knife
should feel like in the hand. As it should, the hollow ground blade
shaves right out of the box. "
*******************************

OK, well, to start with, for a sheer edge retention test, I simply cut
through pieces of 3/8" hard-lay black polypropylene rope sucessively
until the blades were so dull that they couldn't reliably make the cut
in one pass over a cutting board without leaving ragged edges. A good
sharp thin knife will leave a glassy looking smooth cut that almost
looks fused. The duller the knife the more ragged the cut.

"Stainless" blades--

Custom Cutlery Fillet Knife - custom blended "440A stainless variant"
($40)- quit shaving arm hair after 1st 10 cuts, started having
difficulties smoothly cutting rope after 60 cuts, cutting so raggedly
at 80-85 cuts that cutting was suspended

Rapala 6" Filet Knife- mystery Scandinavian stainless ($10)-- quit
shaving after 1st 10 cuts, started having difficulties making smooth
cuts after 60 cuts, cutting ragged enough at ~80 cuts that cutting
suspended

Chicago Cutlery 5 1/2" Utility/Fish knife-- mystery high carbon
stainless ($7-8), -- not shaving at 10 cuts, starting to get pretty
ragged cuts at 75-80 cuts, noticeable wire edge rolling over

Gerber "Shorty", (old out of production one, not new river knife),
mystery stainless,-- not shaving after 1st 10 cuts, giving ragged cuts
@ 45-50 cuts.
*******************************************************
High Carbon blades--

Ekco (Ontario) boning knife, soft 1095 high carbon steel kitchen knife
(~$3)-- never did establish a really good clean cut due possibly to
recurve shape of blade, not shaving at all at 10 cuts, edge gone by 20
cuts.

Russell Green River sm. butcher knife, hard 1095 high carbon steel
kitchen knife, ($5-10)-- still shaving at 10, and even 20 cuts. not
shaving at 50 cuts, just starting to give ragged cuts at 100 cuts, but
no evidence of a rolled wire edge yet

Cold Steel Red River Carbon V(tm) knife-- ($6-12)-- still shaving at
10, not shaving at 20, starting to give ragged cuts at 75, but no
evidence of rolled edge

Alvin Johnston's homemade paring knife-- either hard 1095 or HSS
hacksaw blade depending on when you ask him ;-)- still shaving arm
hair at 10, 20 and a whopping 50 cuts. At 75 cuts knife started to
just barely scrape, rather than shave. Still making glassy smooth cuts
in the rope at 100 cuts, but by then edge was noticeably producing
rolled burr.
*******************************************************************
Handle retention-- After doning the requisite Kevlar(tm) glove and
putting a vinyl exam glove over that, I poured a small amount of
mineral oil in my hand. Then I attempted to see how well I could grasp
the knives and cut with some of them.

The Custom Cutlery fillet knife was quite likely the slipperiest knife
I've ever handled. It became almost impossible to control with just
the slightest amount of oil, or later, dishsoap. This represents
absolutely the worst case scenario in a fish knife... a sharp knife
that is hard to hold onto. The vestigial forward guard, and palm swell
which felt so great when the knife was dry proved very little
protection against "stubbing" or slipping Polished, varnished
Dymondwood(tm) is some VERY slippery stuff.

The Rapala Fillet knife was very little better. In fact, it's forward
handle taper almost guaranteed slipping onto the blade. The fact that
the (poplar???) handle was rather poorly finished actually worked
slightly in its favor, since the rougher wood wasn't quite as slippery
as the polished Dymondwood(tm) of the Custom Cutlery knife.

Really, none of the knives did well in this test except the Chicago
Cutlery utility knife which has a pretty well shaped wooden handle
that features a crude but effective guard swell. Alvin's parer is
still sans handle, (my fault) and was not tested for this aspect. The
Gerber's "Armorhide" contoured and textured aluminum handle did
moderately well in test, but it had plenty of room for improvement.

None of the knives featured lanyard holes, (except the Gerber which is
only a result of my putting it there years ago.) Personally, I feel
that this is an important feature in a knife to be used around water,
but I understand that Jim feels that liability issues outweigh the
desireability of this feature.
*********************************************************************
Resharpening-- From there, I resharpened all the knives using a Norton
Crysolon "Fine" hone and a set of ceramic vee hones. All resharpened
to hair popping sharp without incident and without any undue effort.
Really, putting an edge back on all these knives was easy. I think
it's due to their thin edge profile more than whatever steel alloy
they are individually made of.
**********************************************************************
Next I completely immersed all of the knives in a brine solution
consisting of 1cup reclaimed Sea Salt: 3 cups tap water. At this
level, the water was so saturated with salt that it just barely did
all dissolve. After soaking the knives in their entirety, (handles,
blades ... all) in this solution for 6 hrs, I then drained the salt
water and let them all air dry overnight. Note, I did NOT rinse them
or wash them at this point. By morning, all of the knives were
completely coated with a layer of white salty deposit. After overnight
encrustation with a salt layer that was just sure to cause far higher
damage than most fishermen might likely encounter by leaving their
knives unrinsed for a few hours, I then rinsed, and washed them.

This is where things started to get interesting. Did I pull out mere
nubs where the carbon steel blades had been? Were even the high carbon
stainless blades pitted beyond safe usage? Actually, a disappointing
NO on both counts. The reality certainly surprised me, and perhaps it
will surprise a few other folks.

The absolute worst of the lot in terms of discoloration was the
Russell Harringtion Green River Butcher Knife. It was motled with dark
black and grey spots, but no red or orange rust at all. After that the
next worst off was the Ontario utility/boner, but it was simply
uniformly dark grey. No rust. Next, was Alvin's parer. It looked a
little like mottled pewter. None of the stainless knives exhibited any
discoloration of the metal at all, but the Chicago Cutlery one did
show black splotches on the Cherrywood handle. All of the knives
cleaned up very easily with soap and water, with the grey and black
discolored ones cleaning up with the barest minimum of wiping with a
3M ScotchBrite pad.
_There was no pitting._

One interesting note, is that although the knives had all been
rehoned prior to the brine solution abuse, NONE of them would shave
after this. The edge seems to wear away the fastest. The worst was the
Ecko/Ontario, but the best was Alvin's parer, so I'm not sure that
this indicts carbon steel so much as unpolished soft steel. The
Chicago Cutlery knife came close to shaving after the brine immersion,
but still has very dark stains on the handle. No other knives were
permanently altered.
********************************************************
Conclusion-- I'm not really sure what all this means, but I do think
it interesting that the very inexpensive Rapala/Normark/Marttiini did
in fact hold it's own next to the "custom blended" stainless. This
gets increasingly interesting if one assumes that the Rapala is made
of Sandvic 12C27, which according to the steel charts is darn close to
the dreaded 425M. (Thanks to Mamba9 for suggesting that I look that
up.) Unfortunately, I didn't have a 440C fillet knife to test, nor did
I have a host of other knives to test.

Nonetheless, Jim's Custom Cutlery fillet knife did well in the edge
retention and corrosion resistance aspects of this test. Where it
really, really failed was in the slickness of the handle. It is by far
and away the nicest looking and best finnished knife tested, yet
because of the slick handle, I'm going to be sending it back to him,
despite his generous offers for allowing me to purchase it "used".
It's a nice knife, and perhaps worthy of inclusion in several
collections, but it really doesn't do anything on a practical level
that can't be had more commonly. If it was a knife made to be used dry
handed only, then it really would be hard to beat for the price, but
considering that I'd likely use it exclusively around water and fish
slime, I just don't feel that it offers anything new. Make no mistake
about it, it IS a nice knife. Whether it's truly "the best fillet
knife under $40 is a matter of some debate". ;-) It has proven to do
duty as a remarkably able kitchen slicer, and it does such duties with
class. ;-)

MPS


Jeffry Johnston

unread,
Jun 12, 1998, 3:00:00 AM6/12/98
to

: Alvin Johnston's homemade paring knife-- either hard 1095 or HSS

: hacksaw blade depending on when you ask him ;-)

We talked about different kinds of steel so much that you got corn-fused
and I may have typed it wrong once, but I only attempted to make one
paring knife from HSS and I still have it, it has two 1/8" holes in it and
an half way 1/8" hole and that's where the ace hardware man ran out of
"lifetime guaranteed" tungsten carbide bits (made in Germany). The blade
is what I call still "square" since it is only profiled so far. It isn't
a wornout paring knife shape either. Hey he deserved to be messed with
they give the customers the third degree when they return something at
that Ace hardware (not just me, ok? :).

All my wornout paring knives that I've made were from 1095 spring steel
from Brownell's, a couple of them have been fashioned from other knives
I've made that chipped out or broke off which could be O1. The original
"wornout paring knife" was a paper thin carbon steel Case paring knife
(Old Forge) that chipped out from me hollow grinding it so thin and a
cowboy laid it nearly flat on the stone and rubbed out the chip.
"wornout paring knife" get it? :)

Later he said that I need to make a knife like this, and held up something
that resembled a knife. I decided to make some "on purpose" after him
and his wife went on and on about it.

Yours is a piece of Brownell's 1095 heat and cold treated to 64-66HRC.

: One interesting note, is that although the knives had all been


: rehoned prior to the brine solution abuse, NONE of them would shave
: after this. The edge seems to wear away the fastest. The worst was the
: Ecko/Ontario, but the best was Alvin's parer, so I'm not sure that
: this indicts carbon steel so much as unpolished soft steel.

: MPS

My first guess at this is there was less of a burr on the extra hard
steel paring knife as it's burr falls away quicker and easier than a
softer blade's will. In my experience. Re-sharpening a soft knife is
harder that re-sharpening an extra hard knife for me because of that
burr removing problem.

Now the question that you raised in my mind...

What would you suggest for a handle on the two fillet knives I need
to make? Checkering? Rough sanding (a cowboy's favorite :). I was
thinking along the lines of a handle shape like Chicago Cutlery's
professional knife handles using wood, epoxy and pins (I don't like
rivets ;) and rough sanding.

Alvin Johnston <--Libertarian

custom cutlery

unread,
Jun 12, 1998, 3:00:00 AM6/12/98
to Jeffry Johnston


Jeffry Johnston wrote:

> Now the question that you raised in my mind...
>
> What would you suggest for a handle on the two fillet knives I need
> to make? Checkering? Rough sanding (a cowboy's favorite :). I was
> thinking along the lines of a handle shape like Chicago Cutlery's
> professional knife handles using wood, epoxy and pins (I don't like
> rivets ;) and rough sanding.
>
> Alvin Johnston <--Libertarian

Alvin,
My personal preference would be a natural wood such as walnut or hickory
sanded to about 100 grit but unfortunately it doesn't look as fancy as the
"Dymond wood" does.

When I was working at Harris Knife Co all we ever put on for handles was lower
grade walnut and then coated them with boiled linseed oil to protect the wood.

One small note - if you choose to do anything with linseed oil you should be
aware of it's ability to spontaneously combust, so if you have a rag with it
on it, don't just throw it on the bench when you are done - or the bench and
the building around it may be gone the next time you try to use it.

Jim


custom cutlery

unread,
Jun 12, 1998, 3:00:00 AM6/12/98
to mik...@cphl.mindspring.com

I just wanted to take a moment to thank Mike for taking the time to do
this evaluation on our knife.

Mamba9 has told me that he will be doing his review of the knife after the
blade show - wish I could be there.

I will wait to comment on the reviews until he has completed his review

Jim
http://www.customcutlery.com


Mike P. Swaim

unread,
Jun 13, 1998, 3:00:00 AM6/13/98
to

Jeffry Johnston <jef...@primenet.com> wrote:

>What would you suggest for a handle on the two fillet knives I need
>to make? Checkering? Rough sanding (a cowboy's favorite :). I was
>thinking along the lines of a handle shape like Chicago Cutlery's
>professional knife handles using wood, epoxy and pins (I don't like
>rivets ;) and rough sanding.

>Alvin Johnston <--Libertarian

I like rough sanding on plain wood handled 'using' knives. I like some
of the proprietary synthetic handles better, but plain old rough
sanding on a properly shaped wood handle is fine.

In terms of handle shape and material, the *best* ones that I have are
the plainest, but they all share some features. They all have
something very similar to what Bob Engnath refered to as a "combat
handle". I feel that this moniker is grossly out of place, since the
knives I'm talking about are all kitchen knives. They all have
generous handle proportions and guards fashioned from handle material
fore and aft. The Chicago Cutlery 'Pro' series, the Forschner 'Fibrox'
line and a lone KJ Erikson Mora Fish knife with teak(?) handles all
stand out as what I think a proper fish knife handle should be. (The
KJ in q is not featured on Jim or James' sites. It's really a lot like
a steak knife on steroids, and I've never seen another, although I'd
bet that the pattern is familiar to folks in Scand, since it's a
really good one, usage-wise.)

Make your fillet knives just like your parer but about 6.5" of blade,
and put double swell end teak or mesquite handles on them. They'll be
keepers! Not all the dimensions scale linearly. For instance the blade
width and thickness, and perhaps the handle, but other than that just
make one of your parer's aprox. 3X size with oversized, rough handles
featuring generous, (I mean really generous) downward handle
protrusions front and rear. (Well, sorta ;-)

mps


Reply all
Reply to author
Forward
0 new messages