I can gaze over the myriad of knives I have in my collection. A favorite is my Chinese Cleaver.  I  learned its usage forty years ago.  Many times I reach for a cleaver, more correctly a  Chinese chefs knife. In this section I will be opening your mind to the use of the cleaver in the culinary arts.  The word cleaver itself means “to split".  

I have a suite of Tramontina (COSTCO has the best deals) knives having lost, had them stolen at gigs, or exhausted all my older knives. Still, I still bring my 50 year old Chicago Cutlery 8x3 cleaver, if we are doing chicken. 

For big Tom Turkeys,as in charity gig, I use a branch trimmer, a trick I learned from a chef who worked at a big turkey restaurant and for Pterodactyls I bring a chainsaw.

I just cooked a twenty-four pound monster Tom and had to break the legs with the two handed branch trimmer, rated for 1.5 inch branches, this was the Arnold 
Schwarzenegger of Tom turkey’s.   My light cleaver didn’t dent it, my meat heavy cleaver got nowhere and I finally dragged out”El Branch-O.   Finally, Home depot and only 19-21 dollars, made by Fiskar’s a very reputable brand and it was easy, Grandma could do it.  

Later a big thanksgiving dinner for charity, this was a life saver.  An assembly line, twenty-five turkeys, spatch cocked, dispatched and the branch trimmer does a safe easy break without turkey parts flying all over the  nice clean floors and kitchen.  I could do it with the cleaver but the flying parts and the mess get you when a health guy is snooping around.  

This was clean and no mess the cut exactly where I wanted it to be and no lost fingers or chipped blades. I have some nice ($$$) cleavers and use them like a chefs knife and almost ruined it on one turkey with a steel prosthesis for legs. I wet stoned and reground the blade to specs and its like new.

And I store my cleavers near my work table and chopping block, on a magnet. Cleavers don't get along with storage blocks well since most don't fit into blocks.  Thats what magnets are for as long as children aren't allowed in prep areas of your kitchen and mounted eye high, your eye.

I have a fascination for these things probably after watching Chinese Chef Martin Yan years ago dismembering a chicken in well, 18 seconds flat. It is still not the record.  Another world class Chef named Hung Huynh on Top Chef was also fast, not as neat, but fast. 

Find him on the web on YouTube.  All I can see is flying chicken.  If I tried it, the only fast part would be the trip to the ER to sew my fingers back on.  In contrast to the celebrated French Chefs who do chicken at the speed of cranial surgery, I would starve to death by the time we cooked them.  

I met him a couple times, he is always 
on.  What you see or hear is Martin Yan, the real thing.  In his show or off stage, thats him,  he is a man of many quotes one which made so much sense to me…  A quote should be truth, this is…and you gotta love this.   

“Oriental style food is better for young people because normally with Western cuisine, you’ll serve vegetables separate from the meat,  so kids will eat the meat and never touch the vegetables”.   So true.

“Wisdom does not have territorial, spiritual, physiological nor racial boundaries,  the only border for wisdom is truth”.  I said that,  and approved my own statement.


Man has always been interested in dismembering. The typical butcher cleaver used in the West is a beast designed to break bones, and to partition larger cuts of meat especially those with grizzle.  That’s great in a commercial kitchen with tile floors and a garden hose to wash down the NSF appliances.

Usually the grind does not exceed 22-1/2 degrees. Its weight and momentum do the job.  And usually no time is spent for sharpening.  A bench sander or grinder is usually a food plant or butcher shops friend.

It plowed on, and with proper sharpening, to retain angle values and last forever.  It is a workhorse. I know three Chinese buffets here in Tampa that have a bench sander by the back door and with a lot of cooks, it’s a buffet that feeds hundreds, at least till the foods police get there.  Its fast and gets the job done on those six dollar carbon knives they give the help.

Do not try show off with this tool, it can be lethal.  While writing an article on Chinese Buffets one particular day and while snooping around the back, the back doors left open from the intense heat of the Woks (  1000 degrees)  sometimes gives you a glimpse into Chinese fast food.  One idiot was showing me how he can flip the knife and almost took his foot off.

The Chef or his helper had a four inch bench sander going full bore sharpening their cleavers.  Other than the more delicate Sushi or the Sashimi slicers, off limits to most of the help was done on a stone, all they had was a stack of cleavers.   He was good, one pass each side, you could tell they were carbon by the sparks and the sparks were about equal.  No wasted footage here.  About twenty seconds a knife and one shot with the steel file, not a steel to de-burr and he was done.

The butcher's cleaver is not for fine cutting or chopping. Never sharpen them to a razor's edge, they can chip because they are brittle when sharpened. Cleavers have a hole because they were usually hung from a meat hook, or a hook on the butcher's belt.  Osha probably choked on that idea and suggested something other than wearing it like your cellphone or you might get or do a wrong number on yourself.

The machete used in all parts of the world from Cuba south is also a viable food tool being used on coconuts to veggies. When not breaking trails it does a great job on Puerto Rican Pork right off the whole pig in Caicay, PR. as witnessed on the Anthony Bourdain show on the food network.  Beautiful slices of roast pork fell to the blade and served local style right at the beach.  Again a belt sander and file tool, fairly inexpensive... not quite what I use on my good stuff. But many places out of country, south america and the far east, a machete or similar long blade is the meat slicer. 

Yes, shorter machetes throughout the world are used in the culinary arts but you might not see things the way these country chefs see things.  Most were longer and high have broken, so they were shortened into a fourteen to sixteen inch length and let the wife use it.

The Western hemisphere developed the machete, which served the jungle, the Eastern world compressed it in size and shape to serve the palate.  Machetes are cheap, this Tramontina was only $14.00 and readily available on Amazon.  The Tramontina is a mild carbon stainless mix.  Stain resistant but I keep it oiled.  It has been modified for my use.  

The handle is wrapped in Tennis Racquet tape for grip.  A loop wrist strap added and the sheath is reinforced and provisions for shoulder or belt carry added.  Best fourteen dollars I spent. I also have a shorter custom machete, more a Kukri shape when trailing.

It is 22 inches long. It has flex if not machetes would snap if brittle and that would make for shrapnel if it hit something hard. It sharpens easily.  I have a small file, combined with the Accusharp and a small steel, it is invincible.  The blade is kept clean, it’s not THAT stainless resistant and cutting vegetation has exposure to acids.  Thus in the bag is a small sanding pad from Home depot that looks like a sponge and oiled when not being used.  Machetes differ from your good knives in the sense, you don’t hone it. It’s strictly a tool and gets sharpened.

Last year a friend had a situation where the side of a house was overgrown with everything from Brazilian Pepper trees to other undesirable species here in Florida.  About thirty feet on one side of the house, two feet deep, and taller than me and Im six-one.  About thirty-five minutes later, the side was cleared, dug out the roots, used a power chain saw on the Oak Tree, which legally was hitting the foundation, pressure washed it and got it ready for paint.  The machete did the job as it was designed to do.   The flex built into the blade proved it self, it took all the beating and kept on going and now I understand why they used a flex steel.


The Chinese cleaver is made in a myriad of sizes, blade widths, metallurgy, handle design and purpose. In other words what they may find in their backyard, on the battlefield or junkyard that they can recycle into cleavers.  In China and most Eurasian countries there are also style points such as seen on Thai Knives which have a pointed front. 

They look like a butcher’s cleaver but lighter, usually with no hole for hanging, since it never stops working, but it doesn’t mean you can use it to chop bones. The larger heavier cleavers are made for this act with thick blades that are not very sharp; they are meant to be used for splitting bone.  

Chinese Cleavers are the Asian version of the French chef knife. Again, they are slicers and treat them as you would a chef knife, Slicing, cutting, dismembering, chopping and scooping.  

  • The sharp edge of the blade is used for cutting.
  • The blunter top edge is used to pound and tenderize meat. 
  • Turned on its side, the cleaver is an excellent tool for smashing garlic and ginger.
  • You can even use it to transfer food from cutting board to wok. 
  • An added bonus is that the flat end of the handle nicely substitutes for a pestle.

The Chinese used the cleaver since the beginning of time and the Japanese combined it with their metallurgy and created some really nice cleavers of their own.  I know some members of the Knife Sharpening Guild probably could shave with theirs. The basic Japanese Nakiri style is thought of an ultra light cleaver design. Another favorite tool of mine. I’ll start with a traditional Chinese made cleaver with a non-traditional history, the knives of Maestro Wu. 


The Kinmen Knife (金門菜刀) is a knife exclusively made in Kinmen County in Fuchien Province of the Republic of China. The knives are made from the remains of artillery shells fired by the U.S. and Allied forces in World War II, and by mainland China between 1958 and 1978. As many as 500,000 bombs were dropped on Kinmen during the war.  I told you battlefields.

The second shipment arrived during the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis, the People's Liberation Army of the People's Republic of China fired around 450,000 shells at the Quemoy Islands in its conflict against the Republic of China which controls the islands. The shells have become a natural resource of steel for the local economy.  

This amounted to a very expensive way to deliver raw steel of good quality including stainless compounds and for those who “Bablically” wish to explain this, we promote and researched the theory of “ Beating Swords Into Plowshares".  

Swords to plowshares is a concept in which military weapons or technologies are converted for peaceful civilian applications. The phrase originates from the Book of Isaiah, who prophesies of a future Messianic Age where there will be peace amongst all humankind:  It reads: They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. 

Each shell usually took out a building or bunker adding to the cost of each shell in damage and casualties.  Thats the usual bottom line in war.  Kinmen, found itself a storage center for high-quality steel. The industrious Chinese being basically steel and iron users and needing all they could find turned this windfall into the hands of knife-maker Wu Tseng-Dong. Kinmen had a new business.

They are quite well made, for the price, after all most countries put some of our best steel into artillery shells, as we do with all weapons of war.  A knife is only as good as what it is made of, not who swears by it, as we have many cheap knives out there with endorsements by celebrity chefs. 

Quemoy has become famous for its production of "boom-boom cleavers" as they are nicknamed. A single shell, these are heavy 155 mm casings, I know I loaded a similar few, generally produces 60 cleavers from one bomb shell. They do a good tourist trade for the kitchen and for the souvenir market. With all the bombs on hand they will run out in 2096.

Wu Tseng-dong, as the third-generation owner of the Chin Ho Li Steel Knife Factory, currently markets its knives under the label of "Maestro Wu," goes back much further than 1958. Knifemaking , the art relates to his ancestor, Wu Tsong-shan, late 19th century.

These knives are hand forged steel.  Smelted down to a red yellow mass and using his knowledge of hand working steel, he literally rough shapes a billet of the steel.  He flattens it on a mechanical hammer through several stages, flattens it and shapes it more, rolls and works it into shape for the hand grinding and shaping process.

He was quoted as saying , this is a learned skill. "We must judge the heat of the steel very accurately, and the color of the red hot steel tells us what we need to know".  I thought to myself, heres one thing the computer doesn't know or does it? 

These knives are still hand forged, ground, shaped and sharpened.  Walk into any kitchen in the world where real Chinese food is prepared, and you’ll most likely find only three knives - 1) Vegetable Cleaver,  2) Meat Cleaver  3) Fruit knife. 

All variants are offered, differing in size, width and shape. And I’ll tell you a secret, many were using these products made by the master.  Its like a cult following but his knives are great and do the job.  

In 1998 the Maestro WU cleavers and others designs went to Western style knives for export.  One or two companies seems to have the stock in whats called the "Maestro Wu" lineup.  

Today Mr. Wu continues his craft and sells his knives internationally. He is respected worldwide for his ingenuity. Visitors to his shop can actually assign a shell and observe a knife being forged from it. 

 In all, his knives are collected by knife enthusiasts for their quality and their interesting and meaningful history. The collection includes both the "Bombshell" and "Damascus" lines. 

Another source is Jende Industries LLC.  I strongly suggest you call these two vendors first and see if what you wish is in stock and or available. Both sites have videos and other photos of what available in these unique blades.

These brands all make fine Chinese Chefs Knives. We liked for the way they worked and in some cases the value for the frugal buyer. Cleavers are fairly priced, not unreasonable unless you get into the high end named brands. 

Probably has one of the largest selections of cleavers, I have two of theirs. One with a wood handle and one with a slightly heavier composite handle. 

These are very reasonable and you can get a decent one starting at 24.00 up to 80.00 on Amazon. This one has a standard poly handle, the one higher up on the page has the round handle, and I have them in wood and nonslip. They are excellent buys for the money.

I still have my Chicago cutlery cleaver I purchased fifty (or more) years ago. It is laying on my block on left side of the page for small kitchens. I think it is now is the oldest knife I own and still does a great job every day. 

On a big Sushi day this is the layout plus cups of rice wine or vinegar and water for rinsing the long pointed Sashimi knife after each cut so as not to stick, cutting the Sushi or Sashimi. 

The white Tramontina Santoku is for helpers and those I don’t want using my Japanese knives.  And the magnet is for storage out of reach from little hands.


With a cult following,  some of the cleavers like the CCK lines in Carbon and CRES steel are very popular. “ The Chevrolet of the Chinese Buffet".  

NOTE:  The authentic pure or plain carbon steel ones can and do rust, they will develop a patina and require a simple but special amount of attention.  No dishwashers, rinse and wipe dry immediately after usage. . If storing a little mineral oil works great and will not rot like veggie or peanut oils and reward you with the sharpest blades of all. 

CCK is a famous brand of Chinese professional kitchen knives used in Chiuchow and Cantonese Cuisine.  This is like a cult and some Chinese Nationals, like the Chinese Chef at the Luxor using one chopping ribs faster then I could comprehend, and   I saw another at the M hotel, Vegas finest smorgasbord using them.  Since the food is out front, they were using the Accusharp sharpener, which is fast and accurate, but surprised me but as busy as they were this was not a Sashimi exercise,  but getting a ton of ribs out front. No steels, no files, no stones...just an Accusharp.  Surprise...

CCK knives come in a variety of styles, for brevity we offer the following: 

  • A Kitchen Slicer
  • Kitchen Chopper
  • Kau Kong Chopper
  • Dim Sum Knife
  • BBQ Chopper
  • Bone Chopper
  • Vegetable Knife
  • Duck Slicer
  • Butcher’s Knife
  • Butcher’s Bone Chopper
  • Butcher’s Knife
  • Scraping Knife

Due to demand and monetary exchange numbers the price of these Carbon choppers and slicers went from the thirties to the fifties and sixties.   Most of the CCK knives come with wooden , steel, or plastic handles. If you buy them for yourself we strongly recommend using knives with wooden handles.  

Chinese foods and Western Foods are prepared totally different, if you’d like to use knives with steel handles or plastic handles fine, but wood is preferred by Chinese chefs and they are fussy about what wood is used. Plastics, especially cheap hard plastics and steel polished handles slip when wet or greasy.

Please make sure you know that CCK’s knives with steel handles and plastic handles don't offer immediate shipping, sometimes knives with wooden handles get sold out, they need about 7 days to prepare the knives for you.  

I can tell you now, with some patience and a knowledge of making a good edge…  You can shave with these guys so be careful.  Many American chefs I know have converted some of their food handling and prep work to the Chinese knife using it as a knife lesser as a cleaver.  They discovered a thousands years tool that works well.  You will get used to it quite easily.