Knifemaking and the steel it uses have very strange relationships sometimes. Well, may be most of the times. It's either funny or sad, depends how you look at it ;) Well, I tend to be an optimist. My major grip is the conservativeness of the industry. Most of the popular steels used in the newest knives have been around for decades, some are well from the mid 20th century or earlier. A lot of people, in the industry and outside of it, as in the knife users and buyers are more into if it ain't broken don't fix it philosophy.
I wholeheartedly disagree with that, in any given area technology and performance improves, that is the universal law, common sense, that is the progress. So, given that, even if the steel X was a supersteel 50 years ago, it will still have the same performance now, why settle, why stop? Anyway, it's not all dark and gloom, and there's quite a bit of new alloys developed and tested for the new knives. Of course, knife industry is way behind car industry, where 90% of the alloys used was developed within last ten years.
I mentioned funny at the beginning, and the funny part is the simple truth that, despite M4 steel being hailed as the newest supersteel, in fact AISI M4 high speed tool steel has been around for a long time. It's just the knife industry where it is the newest super steel. And that's thanks to custom makers who have been using it very successfully in cutting competitions, and a lot of the winners were using M4 steel.
That is how M4 ended up in knives, and once I've learned Phil Wilson was also working with M4, to be precise CPM M4 steel, I've asked him to make one from it for me, as for the design, I chose my favorite - Meadows Skinner. However, since I already had standard design in CPM S110V steel, and I wanted a longer version of it. The slightly curved, upswept blade is a perfect slicer so I asked for a bigger one. And that's how the CPM M4 large meadows skinner came to be, well to me :)
General- As usual it takes few months with custom knives, but hey, that's better than year(s) :) I've had that before, more than once. Anyway, after I've learned Phil was using CPM M4 steel, but once I've placed the order, it was ready in less than 6 months. I've also asked for a kydex sheath, which Phil is making now, and which is very convenient too. The knife arrived securely wrapped and packed in a box. It's a custom knife, so no fancy boxes, just a plain cardboard ;) Well, whatever the knife lacked in packaging it made up in knify things.
Even though it sort of my design idea to make it an inch longer compared to standard design from Phil, when I've opened the wrap I just uttered - WOW!!! The knife is simply gorgeous and really begs to cut something with it. Really, very beautiful blade. With 6" long blade, same gentle curves as on standard meadows skinner, nicely satin finished surface... And the usual, super precise machining and grinding from Phil. Everything is perfectly fitted. No gaps anywhere, no uneven or asymmetrical parts. So, overall, I'd describe it as a medium size slicer, with 6" blade it's a little too big for a skinner, not that I care about that though. For one, I already have CPM S125V Meadows Semi-Skinner and already mentioned above, CPM S110V Meadows Skinner, so I am covered for skinning jobs, besides I don't really need a skinner. Slicer works better for me, as in it is more useful to me.
Blade- The full flat grind blade of the large meadows skinner is 153.00mm(6") long, 30mm at its widest and just about 3mm thick. I've specifically asked Phil for high hardness knife, besides high hardness, cutting optimized knives are his specialty. The large M4 skinner is hardened to 64HRC. Pretty close to its maximum limit. It is quite sturdy blade, especially given the properties of the CPM M4 steel, which is pretty tough steel too. At 64HRC CPM M4 is still tougher than AISI M2 tool steel at 62HRC. Considering that I have cut steel and copper wiring and other metals with 64HRC M2 steel, this M4 knife should do even better than that. The blade geometry is simply slightly oversized skinner. Drop point, upswept tip, nice belly. All that makes it a very good knife for slicing, and I figure it will do really good for skinning as well, especially for large items.
The CPM S110V meadows skinner worked out better than excellent for light cutting and slicing. Longer blade of the large meadows skinner makes it a better slicer if anything. The blade has CPM M4 etched on the left side and Phil's name on the right. No other markings other than that. Out of the box sharpness was good, as usual Phil sharpens his user knives with something about 800-1000 grit. This knife had the same type edge. After some time of experimenting with high vanadium CPM steels, I am experimenting with low grit edges now, that is CPM S125V and CPM S110V steels, well, CPM 10V is on the rough edge list too. However, CPM M4 is relatively low alloy steel compared to those steels, so the plan for now is to sharpen the fine, 0.25µm edge on it. It should have more refined grain structure and size, so I figure the highly polished edge should work better.
I've already mentioned CPM M4 steel few times. As you can guess, it is Crucible metallurgy steel, AISI M4 high speed steel produced using their proprietary CPM technology. I won't go into CPM process benefits here, Crucible website does just fine, but in short it produces cleaner alloys, with more evenly distributed carbides and more evenly sized, finer carbides too. All of that is a welcome news for any alloy, at least use din knives. Other than that, here take a look at CPM M4 vs. AISI M4 steel composition comparison. As you can see, CPM M4 differs slightly form the official spec. Nothing that important though. Just giving you the precise info if you are interested.
Handle- Phil Wilson offers several options on his knives, including various types of wood, micarta, etc. Personally, I like ironwood very much. It's a dense, tough wood, and when smoothed out properly has very nice feel to it. Yes it's more expensive than many other types of wood, but it is also cheaper compared to many others. That's why I chose ironwood as a handle material. It worked very well for me on my old trusty CPM 10V utility hunter knife, and later acquisitions including CPM S125 meadows semi skinner, CPM S110V meadows skinner and Kumagoro hammer finish gyuto, which being a Japanese kitchen knife, wasn't made by Wilson, but has the same desert ironwood handle, and I love it.
The distinction of the handle on the large meadows skinner is its shape, thickness to be more precise. I specifically requested the handle to be thinner and more flat. As a standard option the handles from Phil Wilson come thicker overall, and they are thicker at the butt side compared to the base. Can't say I had any problems with earlier handles made by Wilson, I've tried at least three different types of them in my knives, this is the fourth. I just wanted to test more flat handle and so far it worked superbly well for me.
Large meadows skinner is a half tang knife, and the ironwood slabs are attached with five small pins. The handle has a blue spacer between the slabs to fill the space for the missing top end of the tang. At the end there is a lanyard hole, and for the tasks requiring better precision there is also a choil. The wood on the handle is very well finished. It's smooth, yet provides nice grip. Works fine in all grips I have tested and doesn't cause any sore spots on palms even when I have to use excessive force to make that cut. As for the tang, I prefer small and medium knives with partial tang. Especially the knives like this skinner, i.e. medium or small light cutters. There is no need for the extra metal. Those knives amd most of the knives for that matter will never need the extra strength provided by that full tang.
Usage- Will be updated as more data is accumulated.
- Model - Large Meadows Skinner
- Blade - 153.00mm(6")
- Thickness - 3.17mm
- Width - 30.00mm
- OAL - 284.00mm(11.18")
- Steel - CPM M4 steel at 64HRC
- Handle - Ironwood
- Weight - 169.00g(5.71oz)
- Acquired - 03/2010 Price - 550.00$