Phil Wilson fillet blade vs 500+ lbs of cod

Cliff Stamp

Oct 5, 1998
I have had one of Phil Wilson's 9.5" fillet blades for over a year now. It is made from 1/8" CPM-420V, with a cryo treatment and after tempering 59 RC. It has a full distal taper and the tip is left that thin that not only can it be easily bent by hand, the ductility is that high that you can put a perm. bend in it and not cause a fracture. A picture :

I have used it as a reference point in several reviews. I have cut lots of rope, cardboard, staples, mild steel bar stock, carpet, grasses, weeds and even light woody brush. Based on how the edge performed during such work I concluded it was very resistant to rolling, had a high wear resistance with a decent amount of toughness.

I used it several times after catching some trout and it easily outperformed a few of the 10$ - 20$ fillet blades I had. It simply has a more acute profile, regarding both the primary and secondary grinds. The edge is set at about 10-15 degrees with a light double bevel at about 20. The handle is also mor ergonomic and secure because of the swells and guard.

I had intended to use it during the food fishery last year but got tied up. However this year I made sure to pass it around to quite a few people. All of whom were impressed with the confort and security, the way in which it cut, the ease at which the tip penetrated the fish and that fact that it was never sharpened.

It recieved one major workout from one of my fathers friends who used it to fillet their entire quota of 20 cod. They were about 10-15 lbs so it was about 250 lbs. After he was finished I checked the edge and could notice no difference in aggression. There was only one small spot about 5" from the base which was lightly flattened. It was 1 mm long and just dented in enough to reflect light.

I did some cutting and then gave it a few wipes on a 600 grit DMT rod and repeated the cutting and could see no change in performance.

Another 250 lbs of cod was processed with the blade the next day and again I could see no wear on the edge. Everyone was very impressed with the blade as the blades they use will require about 3-4 sharpenings to fillet that much cod and they are not at optimal use then either. These are however low end knives. They are mainly plain carbon chef's knives which have been ground down from years of constant sharpening. There are also few low end fillet blades in the 10-20$ range.

The only real complaint about it was that the very flexible point took a bit of getting use to. As noted they are used to much more rigid points.

It would have been nice to have a benchmark in the intermediate performance range. Say an ATS-34 blade. Something to consider for next year.


Cliff, thanks for the nice review. I appreciate it as always.

I have no use for fillet knife, though I think soon I 'm gonna try some knife from Phil Wilson. I still don't have any made from 420V. Does Phil have a website?

BTW, thanks for opening my eyes and show me what "hype" really is.


Any evidence of microscopic chipping on the blade from contact with bone? A 20 lb. cod would have pretty stout ribs, though not as hard as mammalian bone. If the fishermen were taking full fillets by cutting through the rib cages, it should have been a good hard materials test?

Dew--try Phil at:


[This message has been edited by WILL YORK (edited 08-27-2000).]
Will there are no cuts though bone on the way filleting is done here, except accidently of course which is what I would have guessed caused the small impaction. I checked under a 10X scope and there was no damage to the edge except in that one small spot which was dented in to about .05 to .1 of a mm.

Dew, no problem, hype is dead easy to spot, as makers who hype avoid answering questions in detail because the more they say the more likely they will contradict themselves. You don't need to know the correct answers to the questions yourself, which makes the identification trivial.

It is far harder to try and decide between quality makers as now you have to be able to evalute what does make a good blade. If you wanted the best light utility knife who would you pick to make the knife : Ed Schott, Phil Wilson, David Boye or R. J. Martin. That is a hell of a question to answer.

Of course RJ Martin is my favorite. Have an Odyssy (sp?) on order with Les. I am a 3V fan lately.

I kinda like the title "notorious knife destroyer" James Mattis gave you.

Do you have a more comprehensive work on CPM420V? I tried to look in your website but couldn't find it.

I'm now more interested in the "accidentally cutting bones" scenario. Rockspyder suggested that I lost the edge on "that material you disparaged" because I hit bones. I'd better learn more on new CPM steel that would do better than that.


[This message has been edited by Dew (edited 08-28-2000).]
Originally posted by Dew:
I'm now more interested in the "accidentally cutting bones" scenario. Rockspyder suggested that I lost the edge on "that material you disparaged" because I hit bones. I'd better learn more on new CPM steel that would do better than that.

I'd like to know more about this, too. It appears, in the cutting that I do, that most any knife will do pretty well for most of it. For the cardboard, which I apparently do more than most average users, the Talonite seems to be the absolute best. But, for something harder, like bone, it would seem to be not as good. I won't even start on staples, as it is obvious that I can destroy the best of 'em on those. D2 seems to be promising with harder materials, and from what I gather from Rob Simonich, 420V can be hardened/tempered to near or equal to D2. Sounds similar to what I've heard from Tom Mayo as well. I <u>know</u> that factory BG42 that I have experience with works great for cardboard and I <u>think</u> for harder materials.

For me, it appears that my blade choices come down to Talonite for ultimate corrosion resistance with very good edge holding; BG42, 154CM, or 420V (maybe) for great corrosion resistance and very good edge-holding; D2, 10V, or 3V for good/mediocre corrosion resistance but near ultimate edge-holding.

Hmmmm... big digression there.... where was I... Oh yeah... bones. So, what about 'em?

I used to be so naive in relating edge holding only to percent carbon (high carbon steel = good edge holding). It confused me sometimes to learn 3V, with its 0.8% carbon, could have good edge holding (but may not be comparable to other CPM like 10V? I think stronger point for 3V is toughness?) Later I learn more from people there're other factors : heat treatment, fine/coarse grain. It's so fascinating to be in here.

Even on the same knife, Jerry Fisk demonstrated very nicely on his video that an edge which sliced effortlessly on papers performed poorly on hardwood.

Yes, Bones! Bones! Bones! (sounds like Night of the Living Dead )


[This message has been edited by Dew (edited 08-29-2000).]
Dew :

I'm now more interested in the "accidentally cutting bones" scenario.

For working around bones where you are going to do twisting or sudden impacts you would want a very different edge profile (much thicker) with a different temper and/or steel. Right now the blade is at 59 RC and is very strong and compression resistant but is not very tough. It will fracture readily if hard snaps are applied across the edge face.

A tougher and more ductile steel like 3V will hold the same thin profile and easily be able to handle accidental impacts off of bone. It can be hardened enough to get the necessary strength and compression resistance so it will not excessively flatten or roll and yet will still have enough durability to resist fracture.

As for D2 and 420V, D2 can easily be tempered to 62+ RC, when I discussed heat treating 420V with Phil Wilson he commented that it drops below 60 RC immediately after tempering he also does a full cryo and runs very hot cycles so his RC's are higher than most. He will provide much more heat treat info, just drop him a line if interested.

No I have not done a compilation of the 420V work it is scattered across a few reviews, I will eventually get around to cleaning it up.

I can't tell you guys how relieved I was when I clicked on the story below and saw that the dateline was Brisbane and not Newfoundland. I was afraid for a moment that maybe Cliff had taken his Battle Mistress and gone over to the dark side

Police Find Human Head Inside Giant Cod

BRISBANE, Australia (Reuters) - Workers at an Australian fish wholesaler were shocked to find a human head inside a giant cod they were preparing for sale, police say.

Police in Cairns in the far north of Queensland state said the 97-pound flowery cod was caught by a fishing trawler off Townsville at the weekend and had been delivered to the seafood wholesaler before sale to the public.

``On preparing the fish they observed the remains inside and contacted police,'' detective sergeant David Miles told reporters Tuesday.

``It was fairly big and the head appeared to be fairly much intact inside it,'' he said. Forensic tests were being carried out on the head as police attempted to identify the remains.

Local media suggested the head could have belonged to a trawler fisherman missing after falling overboard about 31 miles off Townsville early Sunday. Police said a search for the fisherman, 39-year-old Michael Edwards of Cairns, was called off after the discovery of the head inside the 5.2-foot fish. It was hoped forensic tests would help determine how the head was severed.

Semper Fi

Let me see if I understand, so toughness does come into play to help with edge holding in case of hitting bones, since it prevents the edge from chipping. This may answer my previous curiosity how important is "wear resistance" in a knife. Something happens with talonite edge esp. when contacted with hard objects. You didn't use the word chipped, but "deformed" which destroys the micro-serrations? Vanadium carbides in CPM steel, on the other hand, tends to be more robust to chipping and deformation. Please correct me on anything I misinterpret.

Thanks again Cliff. I look forward to the 420V compilation.


[This message has been edited by Dew (edited 08-29-2000).]
On the tough/strong steels vs bone question, I'd mention that I have a forged CPM 10V hunter from Rick Dunkerley that he built for himself and used as a professional guide for a season before selling it to me. It went through three elk and two mule deer, including splitting the pelvis and sternum, without sharpening. He said it was the most aggressive and longest lasting edge he'd experienced. It does have a slightly convex grind, and a fairly obtuse edge bevel angle at something between 20 & 25 degrees per side, but I can put an edge on it with diamond hones that will pop hair readily (and hungrily). It's not particularly impressive on materials like hard rope, because the relatively thick edge must wedge the material apart as it penetrates, but it does have good "bite" on materials like hide and cardboard, I assume from the heavy dose of hard vanadium carbides in the edge.

so toughness does come into play to help with edge holding in case of hitting bones, since it prevents the edge from chipping.


This may answer my previous curiosity how important is "wear resistance" in a knife.

Very important assuming that the material has a functional level of strength and toughness, if not then wear resistance makes no difference as the edge will blunt by fracture or deformation.

Something happens with talonite edge esp. when contacted with hard objects. You didn't use the word chipped, but "deformed" which destroys the micro-serrations?

It happens on a larger scale that that. The edge rolls/dents easily because the material is soft and weak.

Vanadium carbides in CPM steel, on the other hand, tends to be more robust to chipping and deformation.

The carbides are just very wear resistant and give an aggressive cutting action. Take a cloth and rub some fine sand in it. Now rub the cloth across the back of your hand. The Vanadium carbides in the CPM steels act the same way.

Very basically this is how the following material properties effect edge retention :

Strength : determines how the material resists rolling. A very strong edge will not roll for a long time and will stay very straight and perpendicular to the spine.

Impact toughness : determines how the material resists fracture from sudden impacts. A very tough steel will not fracture along the edge. This is important for cutting gritty materials and/or when you are doing a lot of twisting or chopping.

Ductility : determines how far the steel can bend once it takes a perm. set before it breaks off. A very ductile blade material can be "steeled" back into almost 100% NIB sharpness for a very long time as while the edge will bend, it resists breaking off.

Compression resistance (hardness) : determines how the material resists denting. A very hard blade material will strongly resist being dented in.

Wear resistance : determines how the material resists wear. There are several type of wear resistance. For example the Cobalt alloys resist galling wear much better than even the high end CPM steels.

Some of these properties can be increased at the same time (wear resistance and strength). Some of them can not as you increase one, generally, you decrease the other (strength and impact toughness).

If you are interested in this type of thing the following knife makers would be worth your time to talk to : Ed Schott, Jerry Busse, R. J. Martin and Phil Wilson.

Originally posted by Cliff Stamp:

Some of these properties can be increased at the same time (wear resistance and strength). Some of them can not as you increase one, generally, you decrease the other (strength and impact toughness).


So there would be some optimal combination that gives the best overall performance. Let's say in a particular application we consider edge holding as first priority, but don't want other properties to suffer too much. From your experience so far, which steel or material would you pick?

I'm interested in hearing from others as well.



So there would be some optimal combination that gives the best overall performance.

Yes exactly, that is the million dollar question.

[edge holding]

which steel or material would you pick?

CPM-10V, 3V and INFI. CPM-15V would probably be directly better than 10V, but I have not used it yet. These steels will allow very acute geometries and thus you can make very high performance blades from them. 10V is very strong and durable enough for light stress cutting. INFI/3V are decently strong and very durable so they excell at high stress work.

It is essential to get the right heat treat of course or the abilities of the material will just be wasted. For the CPM's I would go with Ed Schott or Phil Wilson. I have no doubt that R. J. Martin would do an excellent job as well but have no experience with that directly. You don't have much of a choice with INFI of course.

I just discussed the work above with Phil Wilson and wanted to add a couple of comments.

First off the flattening I describe was probably not from a slicing contact with bone. Most likely it was off of a contact with something else like a nail on the table. No cutting boards were used just the bare surface of the table which was not cleaned off and many people were using it. It is quite possible that there could have been dirt on it, or like I said maybe a cut was made into a nail. It is also quite possible they cut something else besides fish.

In regards to bones, Phil has used his fillet blades extensively including cutting through bones and as well has a broad range of user based feedback so if you are interested in his blades then an email to him would be recommended.

How about a link or two to some of these knives? Maybe a link to his page, or perhaps a dealer?


I'm a consistent fisherman and user of fillet knives. Most of the blades in the over-the-counter market are made of 440A. A few are made of 440C (which I've not used) and some are made of steels which are so brittle the edges chipped off from cutting through heavy fish scales. That will shut down a filleting project in a hurry. Someone suggested the heat treat was the culprit. That chipping pattern occurred in several different manufacture's knives including Kershaw, Gerber and Buck, so I went back to the softer blades - stuff like Remington and Dexter Russel. I even picked up a nice cutom job in 440A. It cuts like crazy but the edge goes away. Do 20 or so yellow perch and it's got to be touched up before continuing.

About a year and a half ago I became aware of the forum and my eyes were opened to an new world of knife blade materials. I fired off some posts asking about the use of higher tech steels in fillet knives. The answers suggested that any steel which would REALLY hold an edge would be too brittle for a fillet knife. Specifically ATS-34 and BG-42 were cited as being unacceptable. I don't recall anyone mentioning particle steels - I hadn't even heard of them at that time. I I'm understand the above correctly, it sounds as if some makers are bringing those steels into the fillet knife field, and I'm really interested! Is anyone producing these units or are they still prototypes? Thanks.
Jack :

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Is anyone producing these units or are they still prototypes?</font>

Phil Wilson makes fillet knives out of CPM-420V and ATS-34 on a regular basis, from memory these are at 59 RC. He has also tried CPM-10V, which you can get harder without dropping down in relative toughness.

I have used my 10V hunter at 62.5 RC on cod, salmon, and trout with no problems. It has the same edge profile as his fillet knives. The edge is about 0.01" thick at back is is ground very acute. I have lowered mine even slightly more than the NIB profile. It is around 15 degrees or so now.

CPM-420V has a large advantage in wear resistance over ATS-34 so if you are cutting through a lot of very tough skinned fish (shark) it can be very valuable. For most of anything else I think he just suggests ATS-34. He does a full cryo treat on all of these which improves toughness and wear resistance.

CPM-10V would be tougher that either of those two and more wear resistant besides and even harder, but corrosion may be a problem. This depends on how you treat your blades and how you are using them. Frequent short use is much more likely to cause corrosion than infrequent extended use for example.

In regards to chipping and other sorts of edge damage, he is an experienced fisherman himself so your best bet is to be very specific about the problems you have had. Include the types of fish, the amount of damage, technique, and any specifics about the blades used, steel type, manufacturer etc. .

Matt, he doesn't have a website and I don't know of any dealers. He does have a pamphlet with information on his knives. If interested drop him an email at

Two pictures of his knives :


[This message has been edited by Cliff Stamp (edited 12-12-2000).]

Thank you very much.

I am on the quest for the "perfect" fillet knife. Striped bass, blue fish, cod and flounder all present there own very unique filleting problems. The striped bass may be the toughest because of the bones (small) that must be cut to get a full fillet. This is a great post and I admire you guys that can keep track of all the different types of steels for the rest of us!


He who has smelt the smoke is never free again...
C4 - you are not alone in your pursuit of the "perfect" fillet knive. I've been chasing that sucker for 30 years. I've got one custom knife, but alas it's 440A, and is probably as good as can possibly be gotten in that type of steel. It just doesn't keep an edge.

I read instances in the forum where guys whack up a couple of elk and several deer without sharpening the blade and it's shaving sharp when they get done! On the other hand, I fillet 20 small yellow perch, or half a dozen rockfish, or a 30 LB halibut, and have to stop and sharpen the blade mid-task. I want in on that high end steel for a fillet knife. I've sent an e-mail to Phil Wilson and an awaiting an answer. That "perfect" knife may actually exist. And if so, I'm gonna' have it.