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The Japanese Deba, which is also called the Hon-deba (Literally, “true deba"), is traditionally used to clean and fillet whole fish, but it is also commonly used for breaking down and dressing poultry and other meat with small bones. The significant weight of the Deba is desirable because, with adequate care, the sturdy heel section of the knife can be used to cut or chop through the bones found in small and medium-sized fish and poultry.

Deba are commonly used to cut fish heads in half and, when used with the correct techniques, they can safely be used to remove and split open the legs and claws of crabs. However, the Deba is not recommended for chopping though large bones, and care must be taken, as with all knives, not to subject the blade edge to sideways forces (Perpendicular to the main axis, or length, of the blade), as this can result in chipping or cracking.

The spine of the Deba tapers considerably along its length, which means it is also possible to have a tip which is thin and sensitive enough that the user can feel whether or not it is touching the bones. This is ideal feature for a knife used for filleting. The tapered blade and stout handle of the Deba create a point of balance which is centered at the heel of the blade, and this results in the substantial knife feeling far more agile than one would expect. The combination of good overall balance and thin blade tip also result in a knife which is surprisingly good for doing delicate work.

Because Japanese cuisine makes use of many different sizes and species of fish and seafood, Deba of many different types and sizes are available. Several varieties of Deba, including the Mioroshi Deba (Literally, "filleting deba’), the Ai-deba, and the Aji-kiri, or Ko-deba (Literally, “small deba”). Since all of the various Deba knives are used for chopping through cartilage, bones, and chitin, the laminated

Hon-deba are typically available in blade lengths between 150mm and 330mm, with the 180mm size generally recommended for home cooks, and the larger size Deba recommended for professionals.