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Sep 3, 2011 11:31 AM

Does getting a Chinese cleaver make sense for me?

Now that the birds' beak knife question has been so efficiently settled, there's another knife I've been dithering over: a Chinese cleaver. The eternal question is of course, How much am I likely to use it? Unlike the birds' beak, there aren't any under-$10 versions out there, LOL.

It happens every autumn: I see the winter squashes in the produce section and think, Hmmmm... then immediately recall the times in the past when I gave up in disgust (or swore from pain as I re-injured my wrist) trying to cut the thing with an 8" chef's knife. Now that I have a GOOD (Shun) chef's knife I'd never risk that blade on something like a winter squash, so I've been just avoiding them, period. Also, I confess, buying already cut-up chickens when I'm not planning to roast them whole, simply because ... again... I'm not going to use my best knife/knives on anything that has bones in it. Not that we make chicken all that frequently ... maybe once a month? ... but again, holiday season means guests and that's another time that poultry is made more often than usual.

So I'm wondering, is it worth getting a Chinese cleaver that would PROBABLY only get heavy use for 1/3 of the year? Or am I likely to find other uses for it as well, that I haven't thought of?

Many of them seem to be $$$ so I can see that wouldn't make sense. I did, as a result of another post I found here, see there are a couple for under $200 at Japanese Chef's Knife which is where I recently bought a nakiri that I have quickly come to LOVE (my Shun is definitely feeling neglected now, LOL) . There is a JCK Kagayaki "Small size" cleaver (180 mm) for $80 which is currently sold out; and two 220 mm blades for $90 and $95 which seem to differ in the thickness of the blade (?). Should I assume that thicker is better/stronger no matter what?

I also see a Misono for $138 which was recommended on the other thread. Blade 190 mm which is between the other two in size.

Of course the HANDLE that I like best is on the Hattori FH Series which has "Ask for Price" on it... a red flag if I ever saw one, LOL. A few other western-shape handes which are of course all on the $300-plus models. Grrrr. I can't get over the feeling that the other handles look so darn, well... "insufficient". As if there won't be enough to securely hold onto, or is that impression simply because its blade is so much bigger than any other type of knife? I sure wish I had some clue as to how long the handle on these typical cleavers actually are, but the only measurements given are for the blades.

For the uses I've mentioned, and for someone with a wrist that needs to avoid unnecessary stresses, which affordable (under $200, preferably under $150 if possible) Chinese cleaver would you suggest? If it makes sense for me even to get one at all, that is.

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  1. I have one, it is a dexter and i got in in an Asian food market. Very affordable. How often do I use it? Not often. I often buy whole chickens and cut them up my self. The cleaver really is not meant for cutting through bone. I've reversed it and used the broad thicker back of the blade to break through poultry bones. Most often when i am cutting up chickens I use a chefs knife and a pair of poultry shears.

    I sell more expensive cleavers and they are good. I'm just very happoy with my Dexter.

    1. Check out Victorinix and Dexter-Russell for one that's affordable. As I recall, you're a vegetarian and may not find a lot of other uses for it, but sure would help with winter squash though.

      1. There are actually many cheap but decent Chinese cleavers out there. $10-20 is not uncommon. You just can't find them online. Do you have a Chinatown nearby?

        Also, just to repeat my thought from the other thread, CCK (on chefknivestogo) is one of the best values in kitchen knives that I know of. Good steel (carbon steel but not super reactive), great geometry, some rough edges, definitely not the prettiest CC on the market. It'll give you a very good idea of what a Chinese cleaver can be for a lot less than $200.

        1. Keep in mind that the most delicate Chinese cleavers will not do a good job with cutting bones, and, conversely, the heavier ones may not be great for delicate slicing tasks. Just because a cleaver looks big and tough doesn't mean it is -- don't think of a Chinese chef's knife as something you need to break out for heavy duty tasks - the more delicate ones are more comparable to a Western chef's knife. A CCK 1301 or 1303 is great for cutting vegetables, which is what it's primarily used for in our house. A mid-weight one is probably sufficient for chicken bones - we have a bone chopper, which is a real beast. In our mostly-vegetarian house, it mostly sees use for large squash etc.

          Definitely Nthing the CCK recommendation, and if you have a local source, should be able to get one for in the range of $25-35. You can find Chinese cleavers for $10 or less, but the quality may not be great. I would recommend oiling the handle occasionally so it doesn't crack. Note that it's carbon steel, but has a protective lacquer. If you want to build patina, you can strip off the lacquer. If you don't like carbon steel, they have a relatively lightweight stainless steel cleaver too.

          There are some Chinese cleavers with metal handles too. Personally I prefer the wood handle.

          1 Reply
          1. re: will47

            Winter squashes are actually easier cut well with a thinner knife. A big heavy knife along with a short hard swing will certainly cut a squash, but it can make a mess of it. A super thin (especially behind its edge) delicate-seeming knife glides through thick winter squash like it was a potato. The standard CCK cleavers are pretty decent for this task. Give it a try side by side with the thicker, heavier knife next time you're cutting winter squash.

            You're right that most Chinese cleavers are far too delicate to cut through bones, btw.

          2. Absolutely you need one. But I don't understand the prices that you are quoting. If your intention is just to be able to hack through large squashes, then a Chinese cleaver is not what you want. You need a long fairly heavy knife like the ones we can pick up here in Houston at an Ace Mart Restaurant Supply for around $20. A Chinese cleaner is what you'd use for more finesse work with vegetables, etc. My $30 Dexter with its razor sharp edge is one that has given me service for over 25 years. That's a little more than a dollar a year. For more serious hacking, there are heavy Chinese cleavers available in a typical large Chinese grocery store here in Houston for around $18. They don't have the fine edge of the Dexter, and that's cause they're used for more heavy duty hacking.