(Above photo credit: Wilburn Forge)
A few days ago I was at our friends house, watching them dissect a toad. Or maybe it was a frog. Whatever. Anyway, one of the main tools they used was a small scalpel. The ugly, cruel-looking little tools are quite efficient, and perfect in its use for dissecting flesh, or, in the case of a skinning knife, skinning a deer. This is partly due to the design of the the little knives, and partly due to the incredible sharpness.
The curve, especially, is vital to the efficiency of these knives. As the blade is drawn against the cutting surface, the curve goes along with the natural motion of the hand, rather if it was a straight blade, like a dagger, being drawn across the hide, it would be very awkward and hardly cut at all.
The hardness of a scalpel or skinning knife is also a vital factor in the performance. Because it is so small but thick, there is hardly any risk of the knife breaking, so it can be made very hard, and so hold and very razor sharp edge.
In this respect, a scalpel is a little different from a skinning knife, as it is much thinner and meant for cutting tiny little portions of flesh hidden, maybe, way underneath a bone or the heart. If you used a heavy-duty skinning knife for small, delicate operating, you would be able to cut out whatever part you wanted, but probably also disintegrate a few other organs as well. The same goes for using a surgical scalpel for skinning a deer. You start at your starting point, and start drawing the knife down, but you have to press hard to cut through the thick, leathery hide. Snap goes the thin little scalpel.