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Jan 1, 2011 09:22 AM

Breaking bones: cleaver? bone saw? technique?

Butcher shops are a few and far between these days, at least where we live. I have a renewed interest in making stocks. I have found a source for veal bones, but they will be in relatively large sizes. Not having worked with bones before ( except during a rotation in orthopedic surgery!), I would appreciate some info about the equipment.

First, I have read reference to people using cleavers. I would like to reassure myself that I read correctly, as I would not want to ruin a good blade. I am thinking about the Henckels 4*, although any recommendations would be appreciated. Next, how is it used to cleave bones? Hack away at it with bones flying, or make a cut with a bone saw, place the cleaver in the cut, then whack it with a mallet?

Next, what about a bone saw? Can one purchase a specialized blade for a hacksaw or is it a completely different tool? If the latter, what should I expect to pay and what has worked for some of you folks on CH?

Many thanks,
Ken K

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  1. Use the back of any sturdy chefs knife or cleaver, towards the handle, not the tip...Good knives are designed for this task. You can cover the bone with a towel and strike....rotate and repeat the procedure.

    You could purchase a special food saw......but many chefs use a simple hacksaw.

    5 Replies
    1. re: fourunder

      I have an extra hacksaw I can donate to the task.

      Any recos for the cleaver?

      1. re: kdkrone

        I use vintage Dexter Cleavers.....probably have at least a dozen of them. I purchased my first one over 30 years ago for the same knife is approximately 30 buck. It's the most common knife you will see in a Chinese Kitchen, Today, the company is called Dexter-Russell .....Consider eBay if you want to go cheap and buy used.

        1. re: fourunder

          In your first link, those are Chinese Chef's knives (also known as Chinese cleavers). They are popular in Chinese kitchens because they are Chef's knives, not real cleavers. They do not have the thickness for chopping through big bones and they are flat ground. Chinese do have real meat/bone cleavers, but those are not the one.

          I would use real meat/bone cleavers like these:

          It is also desirable to have a convex ground cleaver.

          1. re: Chemicalkinetics


            all true, but as I indicated in my original comments.....I break bones with the back of my Chinese Chefs......quite adequate for veal, poultry and pork bones when making stock, or when a clean cut is not needed.. I figured the Op would have had enough curiosity to search the sight.....and if not, suggested with the eBay offering.

      2. re: fourunder

        With regards to Technique.....

        When I crack bones in half, I elevate one side with another knife's handle...or something larger like a block of wood...... a quick strike is usually all that's needed to crack the bone in half.

      3. kdkrone: Cleavers were the way 'back when, and they still are if you have the right cleaver. The blade needs to be thick (1/4 to 3/8") and the edge a fully-supported convex grind. Really, the heavier the better. You can "swing through", but you probably won't want to if you have a board/block that you baby (How do you think those wildly-dished antique butcher blocks got that way?). If you want to save your board, get a small piece of the commercial white butcher's poly board (about 1" thick) to lay on top. If you do it enough, you'll learn not to swing so hard that you chop the board below. If you only do it for occasional stockmaking (or aren't good hand-eye), the mallet or any other cudgel is a good safe way to go--you know exactly where the "blow" will fall. And if you can't find a really heavy cleaver, a short, single-bitted hatchet works great. Also remember you don't have to make especially clean or pretty cuts--you just need to break 'em up to expose the marrow and fit your pot.

        Yes, there are bonesaws out there, but this is a laborious process unless you have a bandsaw. If you can't get your orthopaedic friends to liberate an electric one for you, check out Cabela's, or troll eBay for "Pittsburgh-Erie meat saw". Be careful, though--saws can be even more dangerous than cleavers. And using handsaws at home means you ARE going to be putting cuts into the edges of your board/block/countertops.

        2 Replies
        1. re: kaleokahu

          Thanks for the info. Any recos for a cleaver with better price/value ratio?

          Ken K

        2. Whatever you do, don't use the blade of anything but a meat cleaver. I once took a big chunk out of a CC 10-inch chef's knife on a turkey leg. Who knew they were so hard? I brought to a knife shop and they ground it down for three bucks.

          1 Reply
          1. re: John E.

            I had to regrind a smaller cleaver after turkey bones. Big heavy duty cleaver is my choice.

          2. Short of finding a cooperative butcher who has what you want, I'd shop for a coarser pitch hack saw blade. I'd strongly advise against a cleaver(how often do you see butchers opt for one over a band saw?) for safety reasons--those being injury to you and bone shards and jagged bone ends. Chinese cleavers tend to crush and splinter even larger poultry bones as often as they cut cleanly. It takes a very big cleaver and a whole lotta muscle to cut a veal shank cleanly. Get a saw and sweat a little.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Kagemusha

              i just cut some boneless steaks from a whole ham. then i ran a knife around the bone a few times. i hit scored bone with boy scout hatchet using just more than weight of hatchet, flipped ham over and hit again, bone broke pretty cleanly.