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The fleshing knife is a key component to most fur sheds. If you’re fleshing muskrats, mink, marten and weasels, you can simply use a butter knife, or a small pelt scraper. But if you’ve got any amount of meat and fat to clean off a pelt, you need a fleshing knife.
Fleshing knives come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and a wide range of price points. The very low end, entry level fleshing knives cost around $15-25. Why so cheap? They’re simply a piece of mild steel with a handle on each end. Unlike the better knives, they’re only one sided, meaning you can do a lot of pushing, but little to no cutting unless you sharpen the convex side on your own. They also typically come unsharpened, and don’t sharpen very easily. They can get the job done, and are great for fleshing a few pelts a season, but they require a whole lot of work and will wear a guy out pretty quick trying to do much fleshing. A number of different companies make these knives, some with brand names and some without. Aside from a lack of ergonomics, the entry level fleshing knives don’t have the quality steel that will take a sharp edge and hold it. Sure, you can sharpen them, but they’ll go dull pretty quick, and won’t cut or push nearly as well. Still, if you need a fleshing knife in a pinch, or you only flesh the occasional pelt, one of these will save you a few bucks.
There’s a quick jump, both in price and quality, between the low end and high end fleshing knives – without much in between. Instead of paying less than $30, you’ll be well north of $60 for a good knife. And in my opinion, it’s well worth the added investment. I remember my disbelief when I tried my first good quality knife, a Necker 600, after spending years trying to flesh beavers with the low end knives. It was incredible. One side for pushing, and a razor edge on the other for cutting the tough spots. The high quality steel blade didn’t dull a bit, even after fleshing 20 beavers. In addition to steel quality, the ergonomic shape was easier on the hands and arms, and the knife had a level of flex to it that made for smooth strokes and less tiring. I swore I’d never go back to an entry level knife. If you can afford it, get a Necker, or equivalent fleshing knife like the Wiebe Elite or the Au Sable Superior.
In addition to the low and high end standard knives, there are a number of other styles that some folks prefer. Sheffield and Green English are a bit different style of knife, with a much wider double-edged blade. They come factory sharpened, and lots of folks like them. The Green English is available at a similar price point to the Necker, and the Sheffield is kind of the high end of the high end product – hand crafted in England with the best quality steel.
A relative newcomer to the market, the Caribou fleshing knife has had some really great reviews recently as well. The big time beaver trappers I know who have used it say it has a thinner, more flexible blade than the Necker, and they really like the precision it affords. Check it out!
Unless you’re a skilled clean skinner or one of those guys who fleshes beaver pelts with a small knife over his knee, you need a fleshing knife in the fur shed. It’s as important as the beam, and you certainly get what you pay for. The low end knives are a dime a dozen, and will get you by in a pinch, but a good fleshing knife that’s comfortable and high performing is worth every penny you spend on it. It’s an item that will last for many years, and pays for itself with every pelt you put up.