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Phil Wilson CPM154 Punta Chivato
Fillet Knife Review

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Phil Wilson Punta Chivato

One more knife that I bought just because I wanted to learn how to use it and on top of that, because it is a fillet knife I did want to compare western style filleting knife with various Japanese style fish knives. While us, westerners have pretty much one style fillet knife, Japanese have them by dozens, all sorts of knives, different thickness, length blade geometry etc. Although, it's not only fish knives, but most of the other styles of knives are in much larger quantities. Anyhow, to do fair comparison, I'd have to learn quite a bit. Well, for starters I had to learn how to fillet a fish properly :) On the last BAKCA show, in 2008 I've met Phil Wilson, discussed a few knives, including CPM154 steel Small Chef's Knife. At the show, Phil has a fillet knife, which he called Punta Chivato, and with a very long, curved blade, it sure looked very impressive, so I figured why not, and grabbed the knife right there and then. One of the rare cases when I get the custom knife as soon as I want it and don't have to wait weeks or months.


- As you can guess, Punta Chivato is a custom made fillet knife, made by Phil Wilson. One of my favorite custom makers ever. Phil's an expert on both, exotic high performance alloys, and high performance knives in general. In other words, he specializes in knives optimized for cutting. Thin blades, even thinner edges, and materials chosen accordingly, plus what's more important, the heat treatment on those alloys is a top notch as usual and Phil does know how to get the maximum out of the steels he works with. Just what I'd expect in a knife optimized for cutting. I got the knife at the show, so I did have enough time to inspect it there. Very well made custom knife. Everything is well ground, formed and fitted. He's really meticulous with details and that shows in the final product, i.e. knives. The knife also came with a leather sheath, which was nice, although personally I don't have much use for it, since my Punta Chivato fillet knife sits in the wood block. However, for the folks who do lots of fishing, I figure sheath would be almost a must. Overall, it's a long, thin and flexible knife, which is how the fillet knives are supposed to be. Despite its size, Punta Chivato is quite light - 130.00g(4.4oz), even with fingerguard and desert ironwood handle, which is a quite dense wood. Out of curiosity I've checked what Punta Chivato was, there's tons of hits if you google it, but translation from Spanish says sneak peak. Kindda matches, thin, flexible blade, sneak, peak. Ok, may be it's just me.


- The blade on my Punta Chivato fillet knife measures 240.00mm(9.45") in length, and obviously cutting edge is considerably longer, because the edge is one long continuous curve. At its widest the blade is just a tiny bit shy of 30mm, 29.5mm to be precise. At the hilt, the blade measured 2.5mm thick using digital calipers. For a 240.00mm(9.45") long blade, that's really thin, especially considering the fact that 2.5mm is thickness at the hilt, and then the blade tapers quite fast. Mid section is already 1.5mm thick and tapers further down. The blade has very nice, smooth satin finish. Left side has engraved CPM154 on it and the right side says Phil Wilson. Usual markings on Phil's knives, the steel and the maker name. Initial edge on the knife was about 15° per side, or 30° inclusive, convex grind edge. I guesstimated about 800-1000 grit belt was used for the final edge. makes pretty good utility edge, but as usual I am far more obsessive with edge finishing grits and I did the usual 100K edge later on, once I got home.

As for the steel, it is Crucible CPM154 steel, which in turn is a CPM version of widely used Crucible 154CM steel, hardened at 61HRC, with 62HRC being the maximum for 154CM, but in Fillet knife you need flexibility and having 61HRC knife flex, but not break is a pretty good feat on its own. Basically, a form of powder metallurgy is used to make this steel, reducing and refining the grain, thus improving toughness, edge stability etc. All that is good in theory, except I was rather disappointed with all the alloys in the family CPM154/154CM/ATS-34. I've had numerous production knives, including Benchmade and Emerson folders, Strider fixed blade, REKAT Sifu Folder, etc. For a while, 154CM and its Japanese counterpart were considered almost #1 steel choice for high end knives, but none of the above worked really well, except for the P. Boss heat treated ATS-34 in Strider MH field knife. Benchmades were around 60-61HRC and suffered form chipping, I've written about that in other Benchmade knives reviews, Emerson Commander reviewed here was ATS-34 and hardened at 57-58HRC, which is way too soft to speak of any significant edge holding and cutting performance. So, I pretty much gave up on those steels. However, seeing that steel in Phil's knife, I remembered that P. Boss heat treated ATS-34 was pretty good actually, so I figured I'd give it a try. If anyone would get the max out of CPM154, that'd be Phil Wilson. After all, he has worked very long time with various Crucible CPM steels. I'm glad I wasn't disappointed :) Both knives in CPM154 made by Phil, the Punta Chivato and the small chef's knife mentioned at the beginning of this review perform admirably well, with much thinner edges compared to all other knives from this alloy family I have ever had. If you are more curious about CPM and other steel technologies, you can check out Modern Steel Making Technologies article, which covers major tech and attempts to compare them with each other. Otherwise, CPM is good, PM is good and so on ;) Except, unless the makers does proper heat treat on all that, the knife performance won't be worth a dime.

Phil Wilson Punta Chivato


- The handle happened to be the wood I choose as usual for lots of custom knives, Desert ironwood. I really like it, to be precise I'm very fond of Ironwood in general, which if one of the hardest and densest woods on the planet. Besides its density, durability and hardness I simply like the feel of this particular wood. Desert Ironwood(Olneya tesota) grows predominantly in southwestern US. Not very easy to obtain, I've had few cases when there were shortages, and based on its density and hardness, I can deduce, it's not the easiest wood to work with, but the benefits are considerable. Mainly handle durability, resistance to elements and although it's personal, overall feel of the wood. As you can see on the image attached at the top, the handle has colored sections, where Phil used various coloring dies to achieve the effect. IMHO looks pretty cool. I wouldn't mind plain desert ironwood, but extra eye candy, when tastefully done is always welcome. There is a fingerguard on the handle, which given the narrow blade and designated use(working with wet and slippery fish) does make sense and indeed is a required attribute for filleting knife. The handle also has a lanyard hole, which for the field or sea use would prove useful, but in the kitchen I've never contemplated utilizing it. Overall, handle ergonomics are very good. Deliberately and not so deliberately, I had to use the knife for prolonged periods of time, as you can guess learning how to fillet the fish cab be tricky in the beginning ;) Never had a trouble with the handle, comfortable in any grip, even when my hands were wet, never had to worry about grip security. Pretty mush same experience with other desert ironwood handles in that regard(security).

Next - Usage And Specs.

Last updated - 07/23/12