Drawn together: the boning knife

Categories: Behind the stalls

In a new series award-winning blogger and Borough Market regular Ed Smith displays a talent for illustration as well as the written word, as he talks to stallholders about the tools of their trade. This month: the boning knife

Words and illustration: Ed Smith

Graham Fletcher, Rhug Farm

I’ve been a butcher man and boy. Literally. I’ve been at Borough for four years, but previously I had my own business and shops in south-east London, after training at Smithfields in the seventies.

There probably hasn't been a day in the last 35 years where I haven’t held and used a knife for butchery. I suppose when you think of it like that, they’ve been an integral part of my life, quite honestly. For better for worse and all that!

I don’t have a specific favourite that I’ve used all that time. I use contract knives, which means I basically work with a knife grinding company who provide me with two sharpened sets of knives every fortnight.

With a knife, you can only keep it sharp on a steel for so long. Eventually it needs to be reground just to bring the edge back and I use a guy who takes the sets from me back to his unit in Brockley, south London, to grind them and gives me sharp knives in their place.

Boning knife

Thinly ground blades
There’s not a lot of romance about the specific knives I use but that said, the grinder does know the kinds of knives that I like. With a broad, newly bladed knife, I find it difficult to get in smaller gaps, so I prefer and am used to using thinly ground blades—ones that have been around for a while.

Maybe the kind of knife I use—and like to use—the most is a nice narrow-bladed five-inch boning knife. They start wide, but it’s probably had about a third to half of the blade ground off it. In fact, come to think of it, when I bought knives and ground them on wet stones myself, I never bought a newly bladed knife; I always asked for second-hand knives. I can be more dexterous with them.

Obviously I’ve cut myself a few times. I hate talking about it, but like most butchers I’ve been to hospital and had some horrific injuries and nasty accidents. You’ve got to keep knives sharp. It’s the old adage—a blunt knife is a dangerous knife, because you put more pressure on the job that you’re doing. You can easily get distracted or get stuck on something and it’ll slip.