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Phil Wilson CPM S110V Meadows Skinner
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Phil Wilson Meadows Skinner CPM-S110V steel

The other day I was watching a show on TV, it was about the auto industry. The part really interesting part was the fact that in auto industry 90% of the alloys used in cars didn't exist 10 years ago. Being a knife collector, and lately steel researcher, that really got me thinking, how sad is that in knife industry the picture is almost exactly the opposite, and 90% of the steels used in the modern knives were not invented in last 10 years, and not even 20 years ago, but more like 50-60 years ago. Lots of them were around in the beginning of the 20th century, and we're already past the first decade of the 21st...

Anyway, despite of this rather sad situation, every year or two there's a new steel coming in the knife industry, some are new, others are nothing new, but just getting started being used in the knives. Some are introduced with much fanfare and hype, others enter the market rather silently. The knife enthusiasts jump on it, including yours truly. Later, some of those steels disappoint, and others work remarkably well. For example, CPM S30V which was promised to be the next wonder steel didn't quite turn out that way, M2, M4 on the other hand were introduced without much hoopla, but work very good when heat treated properly.

Crucible CPM S110V was one of those steels that were actually new and were introduced first, by custom makers, and then by factory makers, although in the limited edition knives. At this point, sadly CPM S110V remains rather rare and restricted to custom knives from very few makers and last time I saw it in a production knife was limited edition Kershaw Shallot. It is obviously no good that such a good steel remains in relative obscurity, and known only to the knife collectors. Partly, custom makers and factories are to blame, because high wear resistance steels like CPM S110V, do require more work, more time, cost more and induce more wear on the tooling, and they stay away from it. Can't say I am too happy about that. Hopefully the situation will change.

As usual, when the latest and greatest steel arrives from Crucible, I check with custom knifemaker Phil Wilson. Phil is widely acknowledged and recognized maker, and one of the best, if not the best with exotic steels like CPM S110V, CPM 10V, CPM S125V and many others, including more conventional steels like M2, D2, CPM S30V, CPM 154 and more. This time was no exception either. As soon as I heard about that steel, I've contacted Phil. Coincidentally, this happened in the middle of the making my CPM S125V Meadows Semi-Skinner knife. Soon I got the CPM S125 knife, and I was really impressed with its performance.

Very soon, me and Phil were discussing another blade, similar, but larger, Meadows Skinner knife, the one I'm reviewing here. Even though I was very happy with the knife and CPM S125V steel performance, Phil wasn't very happy. CPM S125V is exceptionally difficult to grind and process, plus the batch he was working with had some defective bars too, then on top of all that CPM S125V got discontinued. And at this time CPM S110V was introduced. Phil recommended it, I was very curious about it and decided to go for it. The design of the knife was already chosen, Meadows Skinner. The steel was also defined CPM S110V and few months later I had it in my hands, although the waiting period was around 9 month, caused by Crucible turmoil. Read below, in the steel section.

General

- As the name suggests, Meadows Skinner knife is a skinner knife :) I have to say upfront, I do not do a whole lot of skinning, and in fact I've skinned one wild boar during my entire knife collecting career, but it is a very useful light cutting pattern knife and nobody says you have to skin with it all day. I use it for utility, light cutting, and for that it performs just superbly. I got the knife from Phil packed in a box, complete with a kydex sheath. I'm glad Phil started making those by the way. More utilitarian, even if less fancy than leather sheaths. The knife has overall 247.00mm(9.72") length, of which 120.00mm(4.72") is the blade.

As usual Phil's knives are optimized for cutting, and as such they have thinner blades, which translates into lighter weight too, just 142.00g(4.8oz). Initial inspection as usual was done with a 5x loupe and naked eye. Ok, as usual I use the loupe to examine the edge, sharpening pattern and if there are any chips and dents. Although, with Phil's knives the loupe mainly serves my curiosity, as there are no defects and his knives are always top notch. Without any instruments you can tell, he's really paying attention to details and every single piece is carefully ground, fitted and put together. In short, A+ in craftsmanship and execution from me.

Steel

- As it is the case with many of my knives, the steel, CPM S110V in this case was the reason to order the knife. Although, I do like Meadows Skinner design and if not CPM S110V, I'd order it in another exotic steel anyway :) Now about CPM S110V steel. Invented by Crucible metallurgy, not so sure when exactly, but knife folks started buzzing about in 2008-2009. With 2.8% Carbon and 9% Vanadium this steel easily qualifies as an exotic or super steel. Add there CPM(Crucible Particle Metallurgy) technology, not to be mistaken with PM(particle Metallurgy) and you get something real special, fine grained, very high alloyed steel. To be honest, CPM and PM sound awfully similar by description, even though the makers are adamant about their own processes. If you are curious, you can read up about them in the Modern Steel Making Technologies article.

What makes CPM S110V steel even more special, is the addition of Niobium(Nb) also sometimes referred as Columbium. The secret or the kick is the carbides. Niobium carbides are even harder than Vanadium carbides and also form at a lower temperatures. 3.5% of Nb is quite high, there are very few steels using Niobium to begin with, I managed to find only seven steels having Nb in their makeup. You can see the full list of the steels with Niobium in the Interactive knife steel composition chart. Second, the Niobium content is second only to RN15X steel form Dorrenberg-Edelstahl, which on the other hand is recommended up to 61-62 HRC, while CPM S110V can get to 64HRC, which is where my blade is at and works just fine.

In the end, this is one of those rare situations where both maker and knife user are at a win. That is, makers want the steel that is easier to work with, and the users want knives that holds the edge longer, so wear resistance does play differently on different sides :) But, in tis particular case Niobium carbides that form easier ensure cutting edge longevity, while annealed steel with less Vanadium, let's say 9% vs. 12.5% in CPM S125V, makes it easier for the maker to grind, polish, etc. Although I know for sure at 64HRC it was still a bear to grind. Rehardened COM S110V from the Kershaw Shallot gave hard time to two knife makers working with it. Read about that in The Importance Of Knife Blade hardness. Therefore, more prize to Phil for making it for me.

I mentioned Crucible troubles above, which isn't exactly knife review related, but it did affect this knife and in general Crucible is one of the few companies that kept coming up with the new steels for the knives, or whatever they intended them for, work well for knives for sure. Anyway, due to economic downturn in 2008-2009, Crucible Metallurgy company went bankrupt. For a while it was not clear whether they would dissolve completely, be bought out as a whole or part by part, in other words nobody really knew if we'd ever have CPM steels again. CPM 154 for example disappeared and because real hard to get, custom makers felt that first hand. In the end things worked out well, Crucible was bought, rehired their folks back and they're back in business. So, we can have our beloved CPM steels again and hopefully new super steels in the future.

Blade

- Phil Wilson's Meadows Skinner has 120.00mm(4.72") long blade. Being a skinner dictates certain features of the blade, main of them is the gently curved, upswept blade and more or less pronounced belly. I've seen skinners with quite radically different designs, all still were called a skinner. After all Ulu knife is a skinner too and try matching that with this skinner :) Well, besides being a first class knife maker, Phil is also a good outdoorsman and definitely knows a lot more than I do about knife shapes and classification. Skinner or not, I like this design a lot and as the use has shown, it is a very practical and versatile design. That's more than enough for me. The blade is flat ground, about 30mm at the heel. At its thickest, at the handle it is 3.5mm thick, but then it gradually narrows down and average width is about 2mm throughout the blade. Like I said, this is a pure cutter, it is mean to cut efficiently, with little effort, be maneuverable and light, and the steel, CPM S110V at 64HRC ensures that it stays sharp very long time, compared to other steels that is. Of course, there is never enough edge holding ability, at least not for the true knife nut ;)

Sharpening

- So far, I have sharpened this knife more or less seriously only once. Original edge was about 30° included angle and judging by the edge coarseness it was finished with around 1000 grit stone. Which is consistent with how Phil likes to sharpen his knives. As usual I go with much higher grits, all the way up to 100 000 grit (0.25µm). At this time, I have decided to leave the initial coarse edge and use it like that for a while. Earlier, CPM S125V blade(Meadows Semi-Skinner from Phil) showed really good results with coarse edge, so I've decided to repeat the experiment. After very long cardboard cutting session, followed by serious wood whittling, it did require sharpening. I didn't have to go all out with this sharpening session though. The edge needed sharpening, but there was no need or a plan to thin the edge, or cut a new bevel.

At that time, the only stone I had to use was the King 1200 grit Japanese synthetic whetstone. Well, followed by 0.25µm diamond crystal loaded leather and stropping on the plain leather pad. Overall impression was positive. It is nowhere near as hard to sharpen as CPM S125V, or dreaded Aritsugu A-Type gyuto, or Aritsugu 65HRC Honkasumi Yanagiba. Well, to be fair, I didn't have to cut the new bevels, so that made things considerably easier. But, at the same 1200 grit, CPM S110V did feel more responsive, even at 64HRC than the steels mentioned above. I'd say it felt similar to ZDP-189 steel. On the other hand, edge holding ability is definitely on par with those steels. So, it's quite sharpening friendly steel at small levels. However, removing any significant amount of metal from this knife will be a problem, I already knew that from rehardening and resharpening results of the Kershaw Ken Onion Shallot. Yes, it is no candy either. Well, you have to pay for that edge holding at some point :)

Based on later sharpening experiments and research, it became clear that coarse edge in the range of 400-1000 grit, is the best performer on high carbide volume steels, such as CPM S110V, CPM S125V, CPM 10V, and many others. Therefore, I have on reason to sharpen it above 1000 grit, and lately I've been using those steels closer to 600 grit and I'm quite happy with the results. Obviously, maintaining 600 grit edge is a lot easier, simply due to far fewer stones needed for sharpening.

Handle

- The handle is typical Phil's style. Nothing very fancy with no complicated grooves or curves. Pretty basic design, but comfortable and user friendly. It is made of ironwood. I really like that wood for the knife handle material. It's quite dense, and when finished properly, it does have very nice, warm feel to it. Grip security is good, I didn't have any problems with slippage and ironwood did absorb small amounts of moisture, which did help with grip security. Longest cutting session with this knife I've had was around 3 hours long, non stop cutting. Just the fact that I could cut cardboard and wood that long without resharpening is quite remarkable. And giving the credit where it is due, I never felt any sore spots on my fingers or on my palm even after all that cutting. In the end, all I can say, it has a really good handle :)

Usage

- Like I said, the initial edge was left intact for a while, at least for the primary cutting tests for the first set of tests, or first run, whatever. Basically, without getting very scientific, I just stropped the blade on the leather strop, around 15 passes per side, and it was shaving sharp. Although, at ~1000 grit it was pretty rough too. Starting edge angle ~15° per side, or 30° total. Test numero uno, as usual the cardboard. Lots of it. For the first 600 inches of it I have used the same section of the blade, around 20mm wide. As you can guess there was not much slicing, just push cutting. Because the edge wasn't 100K grit polished, of course the effort was greater, but it's pretty hard to tell by hand. Anyway, after 600 inches I couldn't tell any significant degradation by testing either on a free hanging newsprint, or shaving ability tests. Then I went with the rest of the cardboard, and the same section of the blade. Well, I run out of cardboard after ~850 inches total. The blade was still shaving. If you ask me that is quite amazing. The blade was getting really hot during the test, that is I was cutting real fast, and the edge was under significant stress for a prolonged time. Not that I can match any machine, but for the user to overheat the blade just by cutting isn't really trivial, just another day of cutting job. The blade took all that abuse and was not ready to give up.

After that all I had left was seasoned wood for whittling tests. Which is nothing I can measure in any accurate way. So, I just played with it for another 30 mins or so. One thing I did test, edge stability, it's Phil's own test method, push the edge into the wood 1-2 mm or deeper, depends on your test, then twist the blade. If you don't get any dents and chips, then obviously the blade is good :) So, I did alternating whittling and twisting, and after those 30 minutes the edge still could shave, except it'd miss some hair. At that point I was tired, and I figured it wasn't really giving me any new data, so I dropped wood whittling test. I knew whatever I wanted, the blade took all the twisting without any damage.

Next step was cutting harder materials, which meant copper and steel wires. Specifically, I've started with RG-6 coaxial cable, for the record that one has thicker center copper gauge compared to older RG-59 cables. Cable was resting on the hard surface and I was using vertical pressure without any slicing motion to push cut through the medium. I've made total of 4 cuts, then examined the edge with the 5x magnifying glass. Nothing on the edge that I could classify as a dent, roll or a chip. Well, theoretically that's the way it should be, 64HRC steel vs. other steel, not hardened, and much softer copper. However, there's a catch, being a normal human being, it's very hard to keep perfect 90° angle between the blade and the cable or any other medium, especially when significant force needs to be applied. Those slight variations translate into huge numbers of pressure on the edge which is few microns thick and can bend or chip it easily. So, partly my steady hand, and mostly CPM S110V steel properties and 64HRC hardness ensured the success :)

Specifications:

  • Blade - 120.00mm(4.72")
  • Thickness - 3.51mm
  • Width - 30.00mm
  • OAL - 247.00mm(9.72")
  • Steel - CPM S110V 64HRC
  • Handle - Desert Ironwood
  • Weight - 142.00g(4.8oz)
  • Acquired - 05/2009 Price - 515.00$

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Last updated - 06/16/14