Cleavers: types and uses

I have a thin sharp hard stainless steel cleaver that’s part of my classic Kai Shun block set, and it’s fine for vegetables. I attempted cutting through a chicken leg once and noticed it damaged the edge, so I stopped.

I have a slightly thicker Chinese carbon steel clever which I’ve also used mainly for vegetables. Because it’s slightly thicker than the shun model and much less expensive, I use it more for general purpose cutting of meats, veggies, and whatever else.

Yesterday my wife and I were craving lamb shanks so we went to a Halal butcher who always seems to have lamb. He mentioned his shanks (forelimbs) come previously frozen but the hind limbs were fresh. So I took his advice and bought the ends of the hind limbs at about the same level as where shanks would be cut, well below the knee joint. I got it home and it was a bit too long to fit in my pressure cooker so I had to cut through the lower leg bone to make it fit. I attempted this with the Chinese cleaver as it’s the heaviest one I have. I sprayed bone fragments everywhere in the kitchen and even made a huge gouge in the blade edge such that it’s going to goodwill this weekend.

Now I need a heavy cleaver that can handle big bones. Any suggestions on brands or models, contemporary or antique?

I also need a new medium thickness cleaver to replace the chinese one I ruined.

How many varieties of cleavers are there, and which styles do you own and use?


For truly thick and tough bones, cleavers do not work well. There is a very good reason that any modern meat and butcher shop uses band chain for cutting through bones.

For what I call medium size bones, then get a true cleaver. The two knives you have in your photo are not thick enough to handle bones. Your Shun one is a slicer (桑刀). The other one looks like a vegetable knife (菜刀). Neither is for thick bones. If you want to stick with Chinese style bone cleaver, then I recommend getting Kau Kong or Bone cleaver


You actually do not need the highest quality steel for a cleaver. You can, but you do not need to. Beside the Chinese style bone cleavers I mentioned, I would recommend going something as simple as a Dexter cleaver or a Victorinox cleaver


That is an impossible question to answer. :wink: Part of the confusion is should we still call most of the Chinese cleavers as cleavers since they are not true cleaver?

I have about 15-20 Chinese cleavers including true cleavers and some slicers (not real cleavers)


:slight_smile: By the way, just based on the photo, I think you need to sharpen your Shun knife. It looks like it is dull.

Hi Alarash,

Let me answer you in two parts. This part is “background” to give an Americans perspective on cleavers, and why I refused to consider one for my batterie when I first began my home cook hobby. In the second part, I’ll explain how I discovered the Chinese Cleaver (from China), and how I rationalized my purchase together with some suggestions you might want to consider.

In my backwoods home kitchen, knives were primarily for meat, and the king of the meat knives was the American butcher knife. It was to be the all purpose knife for chopping and slicing–but not cutting through bones. One could use the butcher knife to make a vertical chop into harder materials, but when one wanted to go from “chop” to “womp,” lifting it for extra force to sever a bone, one went for a heavy duty cleaver–and a supporting board to handle the force: a “butcher block.” That cleaver and block were often not even in the kitchen, but in another room.

Memories of a cleaver, the womp, severing of a bone, and a board sturdy enough to bear the force were sufficient for me to rule out the American cleaver from my home kitchen, but rule in the American butcher knife–hoping it could at least sever small chicken bones. As I came to slicing more vegetables with precision cuts, I was given a small light Kai Seki Magoroku nakiri when I was in Japan.

That was the first revolution in my modern kitchen knife usage: butcher knife for meat, possibly some chicken bones, and everything heavy duty. For everything else–it was the nakiri. That was the foundation for my whole batterie.


I’ve never looked on cooking as a hobby.
More a necessity since my mother worked and sister and I were responsible for dinner much of the time.


Wow you beat that one up good.

I have a heavy, dull, piece of junk cleaver (think Ronco or the some other 1970s mass market crap, it’s that bad) that I sometimes use if I want to break up smaller chicken or turkey bones or necks etc, and it works fine for that. It looks something like the “Dexter” model Chemicalkinetics posted, but is a lot lower quality.

I rarely need to cut through larger bones as I tend to buy goat leg or beef neckbones for stews already cut up into pieces. But when I have needed to - similar to what you mentioned I couldn’t get all the lamb shanks down into the Instant Pot - I headed to my toolbox.

I Frenched the meat/tendons away from the bone as best I could, then took a coping saw and just scored a bit into the bone most of the way around and used a Channelocks to grip and snap off the piece at the score line.


Nice. I use Vice Grips or a Dremel. :muscle:


I have this Zwilling Henckels 6". It is heavy, and 1/8 inch thick.

While I don’t butcher meat, I use it for opening coconuts, cutting frozen food, and mashing herbs and spices. Had it for over 30 years and seems pretty indestructible.

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I had a Henckels cleaver that I got from a former chef for the Grateful Dead. In Grants Pass, of course.
No, it didn’t smell like patchouli or weed.

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Agree. It is a good cleaver.

Hi Alarash,

When I began to post on Chowhound, I noted the excellent threads put together by Chem, explaining how much more, and how different the Chinese cleavers were from my Western thinking, but I didn’t really get it, until

damiano posted a Chowhound thread claiming he could do everything in his kitchen with his beautiful damascus Shun Classic cleaver (same as yours)–and a beloved paring knife. He followed up with youtubes and examples–finally upgrading to a Sugimoto–and I began to “get it.” He could do everything I did with my nakiri–and more. In particular, he could slice and scoop–and he could do vertical “chops” as well as rock chopping.

I was able to track down the CCK slicers that Chem admired so much down the street, but I also checked out AMAZON and AliExpress–even found what CCK charged in Hong Kong. I finally made my way to Chef Panko’s web site and found him buying and testing all the various alternatives you might consider for a cleaver–especially ones from China.

The one I finally bought a year ago for my birthday, The 8X4 Shibazi F208-2 was almost as big a revolutionary movement in my home kitchen batterie thinking as my nakiri many years ago. It was inexpensive, it was beautiful, and it performed as well as any other knife I had–slicing and chopping–as long as I stayed away from bones. It did have a sticker on the blade suggesting where I even might chop through small bones, but Chef Panko already convinced me that I needed something more heavy duty–even for small bones–and a real Cleaver for the type of lamb bone you are looking for.

At first I teamed it, big brother/little brother with my nakiri, but I found a slightly wider profile knife with similar hardness to your Shun, the Xinzuo Zhen, and semi retired my Seki Magoroku. I still don’t have a cleaver or board support for that “whomp.”

Chef Panko has identified major suppliers in China–ordered and tested several models of each design, found CCK cleavers in Europe that he tested, but also tracked them to Hong Kong–where he picked up and tested a few models there that are not so well known here. Established Chinese brands he’s tested include Shibazi and Deng. Two other brands he hasn’t tested for their cleavers are Xinzuo and Hezhen. They are the same company. I’ve purchased three Xonzuo knives and Chef Panko has tested several others–and their cleavers are sure to be outstanding.

Chef Panko’s ideas parallel and agree with Chem’s points, but with actual video reviews and technical details about some different brands and models–and specific suggestions for sharpening.



Do yo know how they usually cut them into pieces?

Okay, so I have 5 cleavers.

The first one which I bought around a decade ago, is the same as yours, i.e. the Shun. I used it for years because I loved the shape, and frankly also because I didn’t know about other cleavers at that time. However, I started getting annoyed with how quickly the Shun became dull, and then the time it took to get it sharp using wetstones. So, I started researching and ended up with the Sugimoto sf4030, again a thin Chinese vegetable slicer but now made of carbon steel and in Japan. This was a huge improvement and still a knife I grab quite often.

It’s true what Ray says - give me the Sugimoto or similar and a Robert Herder carbon paring knife and I can do 95% of all essential kitchen tasks.

For that remaining 5% I need a tough butcher knife, of which I have two. First a cheap Thai Kiwi (which I use for breaking down chickens and so on including going through their bones) and then I also have a heavy duty F. Dick butcher knife, which I would use for lamb bones and so on. Really tough bones. It’s this one:

Finally, last year I bought a CCK bbq chopper, the one the street food vendors in Hong Kong use for breaking down roast ducks and slicing char siu. The CCKs I find outstanding and I’ll probably get a CCK thin stainless steel cleaver at some point as a replacement/addition to my Sugimoto.

I’ve spent lots of euros on Japanese knives last year, and while I see the exceptional quality say a Watanabe blue #2 steel has, I still love the (small) cleaver shape the most for clean, fast and efficient cutting.


If so, then like you said, get a CCK thin and small slicer, not the larger (still thin) slicer. It is the KF19XX series for stainless.


Why do you want to move away from Sugimoto sf4030? It is also a small knife too.

Despite some rumors on internet, I find KF19XX series as sharp as KF13XX series

Yes, I was indeed thinking of the CCK KF1912. It’s the knife chef John uses (the famous Chinese chef on youtube). The Sugimoto’s shape is perfect, but the white #2 steel needs alot of wiping inbetween cutting tasks, slowing me down a bit. Plus the steel is not as good in terms of staying sharp (as one would expect from white carbon). I’m not even sure I’ll get the 1912, because I like the Sugimoto a lot, but well what do you know I like cookware and knives… :slight_smile:

Which KFxxxx do you have?

Try finding a vintage Foster Bros. Look for a convex edge and abour 1/4" thick. Also try “Fulton Brand” See, Mine’s a #1190.

In a pinch, a small hatchet works…

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I have a similar, but Wusthof. Got it eons ago, don’t recall ever having to use it for anything. But … I’m prepared … for the zombie apocalypse.

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If you really want to see the heavy artillery, Google Image “splitting knife”.

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I’m going to be looking at my Dremel with new eyes. Meanwhile my toolbox multitasker helps me coax reluctant champagne corks to start twisting out. Not an elegant presentation, but , I’m alone in the kitchen, as they say. Good torque. Hooray for multitasking… and desperation.