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Sourcing a Large Cleaver

 
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Hello all.

I have a decent amount of experience in hobby butchering, but one thing I have always done without is a cleaver of all kind. I plan on ramping up my butchering, and thought a decent butchers cleaver would be a good addition.
I was wondering if anyone has any tips or suggestions for where to get a decent large butcher's cleaver capable of cutting through small bones and general carcass prep, hopefully without breaking the bank.

The ones you see in butchery videos are far larger than the ones you get if you just type cleaver into google search.
 
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I got my cleaver in the local china town.  It's medium-sized but works wonderfully well on large animals as well as small.

The important thing with a cleaver is that it fits comfortably in your hand.  If it slips in your grip on impact, it can just as easily go through a human bone as it can an animal.  If you can, go to The House of Knives or a kitchen shop and try different cleavers until you find one that fits YOUR hand.

(for people new to butchery) If your hands are cramping or your muscles hurt after butchering a ram, then the tools or technique are wrong.  Usually both.  


Personally, I don't use my cleaver as much as I expected.  I use it mostly for cartilage, like trimming chops.  For flesh, I use my boning/butchering knife and for bones, I find a saw is much faster and more accurate than a cleaver.  I have a proper bone saw, but the grip is wrong for my hand so I bought a small saw at the woodworking shop and use carbon metal blades on it.  Much faster and more accurate than the large bone saw I got from the hunting shop - but the large bone saw is better for anything larger than a hog.  
 
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r ranson wrote:I got my cleaver in the local china town.



I was thinking the same thing -- but even if you live too far from a place with a Chinatown, there's probably at least a big Chinese grocery in the nearest metropolis.  And that's where I've seen good cheap cleavers -- in the cookwares aisle at every large Chinese grocery store.  
 
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Yes, find a Chinese restaurant supply warehouse.  They are all over the place here in Los Angeles/Orange County.  I love walking around those places and always come home with something I didn't think I needed, but bought it anyway because the stuff was so cool.  

Or there's stuff on-line:

https://www.webstaurantstore.com/2869/asian-cutlery.html

Now I'm hungry for Kung Pao chicken.

 
Jon Wisnoski
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Thanks for all the suggestions.

I have used that website before even, but does anyone know what is going on with most of those knives be called "cast iron"? How could you make a (functional) knife out of cast iron?
 
r ranson
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Interesting.  I've never seen a cast iron cleaver before and I look on the site and there are lots.

Mine is stainless steel, but I like a cleaver that is a bit softer than my regular knives so that I can quickly change the angle of the sharpening based on what I am using it for and since I'm seldom using it on bone (If you ever had a bone splinter stuck in your gums, you'll know why).

I could see cast iron being stronger but more brittle.  I would have thought if we wanted that, then a carbon steel knife would work better... unless, it's for the weight?  It would need more care than steel, but I bet there are other reasons why this is popular that I didn't think of.  Google isn't giving me much when I ask "why make a clever out of cast iron"
 
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I just watched  a review of cleavers tonight on ATK.
https://www.americastestkitchen.com/equipment_reviews/1838-meat-cleavers?incode=MASAD00L0&ref=new_search_experience_1
I tend to trust them. There first choice was $150....Then they had best value at $55 .
you may want to check it out.
 
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I don’t know if this will help, but...here At least chefs can rent knives. Ask around at the proper restaurants if that is true there too? If it was me, I’d go to the knife rental guy and ask him to help me find a cleaver, but I know him from writing about him for a local paper.
 
Jon Wisnoski
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Doug Steffen wrote:I just watched  a review of cleavers tonight on ATK.
https://www.americastestkitchen.com/equipment_reviews/1838-meat-cleavers?incode=MASAD00L0&ref=new_search_experience_1
I tend to trust them. There first choice was $150....Then they had best value at $55 .
you may want to check it out.



Maybe you can post a summery of the results, that website requires a credit card to view.
 
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When shopping for a cleaver bear in mind that most of the Chinese cleavers are more like a cleaver shaped chef's knife and are NOT suitable for cleaving bone.  Great for chopping veggies.  Mine is sharp enough to shave a grape.  But even hacking through chicken ribs will damage it (DAMHIK).

For butchery you want a cleaver that's a solid 1/4" thick at the spine and 7-8" long (blade only, handle should add another 6-8").  If it doesn't weigh at least close to 2lbs it's probably not hefty enough to deal with chopping through bone without damage to the blade.

You can get a Dexter cleaver on Amazon for $50-60 most of the time.  My wife got me one for Christmas.  But, honestly, I'd rather troll estate sales and antique shops to find a good old school cleaver.  But that takes time, which is something I find is in pretty short supply.
 
Jon Wisnoski
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Thanks Andrew Mayflower, A good point.

Many of the cleavers listed on the website are specifically for bone, but I was wondering how thick they should be. The ones I am looking at are over 2 pounds, but if I try to estimate a thickness based on the profile size vs weight I get something around 1/10th of an inch.
 
Andrew Mayflower
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If the cleaver is listed as being over 2lbs, and the blade isn't crazy long (so up to 8" or so) it'll most likely be 1/4" thick, give or take a little.  If you're calculating 1/10" thick you either are assuming incorrect dimensions or density for steel.  Or a unit conversion issue (I see you're Canadian, so perhaps it's the conversion from kg's to lbs that's the issue - recall that 1kg=2.2lbs, so the cleaver should be weighing in around 1kg).
 
r ranson
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Are you planning to use the cleaver for bones or for standard butchery (cartilage)?  Your style of use will have a huge effect on which cleaver is right for you.  
 
Jon Wisnoski
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Andrew Mayflower wrote:If the cleaver is listed as being over 2lbs, and the blade isn't crazy long (so up to 8" or so) it'll most likely be 1/4" thick, give or take a little.  If you're calculating 1/10" thick you either are assuming incorrect dimensions or density for steel.  Or a unit conversion issue (I see you're Canadian, so perhaps it's the conversion from kg's to lbs that's the issue - recall that 1kg=2.2lbs, so the cleaver should be weighing in around 1kg).



Yes, I think I got that wrong, it should be closer to 1/5th of an inch.


r ranson wrote:
Are you planning to use the cleaver for bones or for standard butchery (cartilage)?  Your style of use will have a huge effect on which cleaver is right for you.  


Probably somewhere in between. I am not going to hack at a leg bone with it, but their are backbone joints and the ends of ribs where bones are weak and ill-suited to a bone saw.
 
Andrew Mayflower
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r ranson wrote:
Are you planning to use the cleaver for bones or for standard butchery (cartilage)?  Your style of use will have a huge effect on which cleaver is right for you.  


Probably somewhere in between. I am not going to hack at a leg bone with it, but their are backbone joints and the ends of ribs where bones are weak and ill-suited to a bone saw.

That's what I got my cleaver for as well.  When I butchered my lambs in October my big 10in butchering knife went through those joints but sustained some damage to the edge.  The cleaver will also get used for those times that the regular knives are just a little too high on the risk of damage when processing bone-in chicken and turkey.  When I spatchcocked my Thanksgiving turkey I had to break out the saw because my heaftiest knife at the time wasn't hefty enough for some of the bones.  A cleaver would have been a lot handier than the saw for that turkey.
 
Marco Banks
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I'm pretty sure those knives are NOT cast iron.  They are a high carbon steel that holds its edge well.  Yes -- probably 302, 304 or maybe 316 full-hard stainless.  Maybe even 320 -- that stuff is pretty hard.

Is it even possible to sharpen something made of cast iron?

Two very different materials -- each wonderful for what it's used for, but certainly not the same.
 
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Aloha,

If youʻre looking for a butcher blade, perhaps i can help you out as i sell these. I get them out of Thailand from a connection i have there. They are 5160 steel and are made to do some serious butchering. Eucalyptus handle that i have yet to have any break or dismount, these are made for getting the job done. $45 + shipping gets one to your mail box. Im attempting to attach some pics, hope it works, if not ill link to an IG or something...
IMG_20200112_082914.jpg
[Thumbnail for IMG_20200112_082914.jpg]
IMG_20200112_082840.jpg
[Thumbnail for IMG_20200112_082840.jpg]
 
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I am a knife, tool and sharpening nerd. I keep chickens, ducks and turkeys, plus take several deer off of our property for food every year, all these critters require some cutting up before cooking... I cooked in several restaurants while going to school as well, so I've got a few ideas about where you might look for tools and information.

To educate yourself, you could start at "the Kitchen Knife Forums"

https://www.kitchenknifeforums.com/forums/kitchen-knife-knowledge.9/

They have a questionaire where you list what kind of knife/cutting jobs, purchase budget and other preferences you have. Post your answers and knowledgable people will make useful suggestions and suggest where you can buy a suitable tool.

https://www.kitchenknifeforums.com/threads/the-which-knife-should-i-buy-questionnaire-v2.12791/

I'm going to make a couple of suggestions on CHEAPER equipment which I believe is good enough for the OP's use.

There is a company called Baryonix which has some butcher cleaver candidates, plus lots of other nice tools for sustainable practices, including things like hand scythes and rakes, land clearing/gardening tools, general purpose knives & etc.

http://www.baryonyxknife.com/angelob.html

http://www.baryonyxknife.com/famapa.html

There is a village of metal workers in Thailand called Aryanik. Some of their work is available on ebay, they are old school knife makers, generally using re-purposed truck leaf springs (carbon type spring steel) forged and heat treated properly. Prices are decent, finish is DEFINITELY "rustic" , tools are working man quality.

(Edit) While I was writing, someone who might be the guy from Hawaii Forest Tools pretty much gave the same suggestions on Aranyik cleavers as I linked to-

https://www.aranyik.com/h4.html

https://www.ebay.com/itm/set-chef-knife-Kitchen-steel-blade-wooden-handle-handmade-custom-Hardened-sharp/283631481043?hash=item4209c0f0d3:g:HUYAAOSwrW9dlKyt

Good luck with your meaty projects!
 
Keahi Tajon
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Yup, Aranyik, Im friends with the guy who deals them and will give you the same price as his + shipping. Tools take some maintenance as they are the real deal, so be prepared to oil after use as you would cast iron. i also have smaller cleavers for the everyday. Ill try to post a pic when i have a minute.
 
Andrew Mayflower
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My concern with using ex-automotive leaf springs is that by the time they're scrapped, especially in a place like Thailand, they're pretty worn out, which means they'll have lots of fatigue cracks.  If heated to forge welding temperatures and then worked enough it would be fine but I usually see videos where it's just heated enough to reshape.  
 
Keahi Tajon
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Andrew Mayflower wrote:My concern with using ex-automotive leaf springs is that by the time they're scrapped, especially in a place like Thailand, they're pretty worn out, which means they'll have lots of fatigue cracks.  If heated to forge welding temperatures and then worked enough it would be fine but I usually see videos where it's just heated enough to reshape.  




Not gonna lie, you get what you pay for. To forge a blade to the quality i imagine you are referring to in these dimensions, these blades would be well over $200 due to time and cost of materials. Its actually cheap because of the price of labor in Thailand. As a side blacksmith, it would take me a good day just to get this shaped and annealed. i get these because they are good enough and they work. Also because they are made to a standard that i can deal with if i ever needed to repair or reforge, i know the thickness of the steel can handle it. I also trust my friend who has his shop there. Heʻs spent 10 years developing a new shop for them to forge in with new grinding stones, etc. Heʻs been making knives for a long time and i know he knows what works as ive worked with him. For me, its all about the relationships. A knife bought from us means you have support from people who use the tools they make, not something found as common these days, so you know were not gonna screw around with you. we need to get stuff done and we know you do to, thats our focus. But i hope you find something that will work for you and you are happy with. =]
 
Bert Rowe
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Marco Banks wrote:I'm pretty sure those knives are NOT cast iron.  They are a high carbon steel that holds its edge well.  Yes -- probably 302, 304 or maybe 316 full-hard stainless.  Maybe even 320 -- that stuff is pretty hard.



I think you meant to recommend the 400 series steels, these are some of the more common (cheaper) stainless steel knife materials. Say, 420 or 440C? The 300 series is great for corrosion resistance, good for things like kitchen sinks, counter tops, bowls & etc.- I believe these perform poorly for cutting tools.

I have a cheap Chinese cleaver (actualy shaped as if it was meant as a bone breaker/cutter, 1/4" thick at spine and heavy) which IS made of 300 series stainless. It is a slightly sharp hammer, absolutely refuses to take a proper knife edge, which is OK for some things, but tiring to use and annoying as hell when you WANT a sharp cleaver.
 
Jon Wisnoski
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Thanks Bert Rowe,

Will give that forum you mentioned a try. I have found some good looking knifes on the websteraunt forum linked before, but am still open to alternatives.

Some of the knives you listed are apparently made for wood, is the recommended steel/hardness the same for wood as meat/bone?
 
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I happen to love these kind of blades.
The really big ones are called hogcutters.
 
Bert Rowe
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Jon Wisnoski wrote:
Some of the knives you listed are apparently made for wood, is the recommended steel/hardness the same for wood as meat/bone?



In general, I believe so.

Both chopping up carcasses and chopping on green wood require a TOUGH blade to prevent easy chipping, along with enough hardness to hold an edge for extended cutting  without too much tendency to dull, dent, roll an edge or bend the tool.

In my experience, suitable steel types/hardness ranges can coincide for hacking green wood and breaking up  animal carcasses.

Both types of work can benefit from some mass behind the edge too, blade shapes can be "dual purpose"
 
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I noticed a couple of cleavers today when my wife dragged me to IKEA.  One was a little larger than the other and about the size I prefer for cutting up moose.  I never attack major bones with it, (get a bone saw for that, although we just cut the meat off of the bone mostly), but it was good for smaller bones, joints, etc.  What I really liked it for was skinning and dismembering, which I thought was a little odd because I'ld never heard of a cleaver used for skinning, but it was the best tool I found for it.
 
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Here's an online place that has a variety of handmade and commercial Thai & Asian knives, I've ordered some hard to find spices and such from them before. Some things are at a great price, and others would be way cheaper if you have a local source. https://importfood.com/products/thai-cookware
 
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Sorry but you cant have my antique heavy one; it is my best kindling splitter.
 
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