View Full Version : Which way to go....Chinese or Japanese?

09-04-2011, 08:50 PM
Hey Folks!

I'm super excited to have just found this forum to start learning more about knives and perhaps get some advice.

I'm a home cook that has always used cheapo $5 "kiwi" knives from the Asian market and have been happy until recently. I would like to have a higher quality knife that I keep for many years and learn to keep it really sharp. I'm looking for an everything knife that can do most things in the kitchen (outside of heavy bone and meat chopping).

So today I went down to a local kitchen store and handled some Shun and German knives in many different styles but they all felt so small and, well...wimpy (i know they aren't "wimpy" they just felt like something was missing). The only thing my hand liked was the Shun Chinese chef knife but it seemed over priced and it had a belly that seems to defeat the purpose of a cleaver. I then went to the Asian market and handled the cleavers which were cheap and uncomfortable.

I've looked online and found many Chinese cleavers but the good ones seem to be very pricey (which makes sense as there is so much metal). And the average ones don't look very good to me; very heavy and an uncomfortable looking handle.

The one that I fell in love with online was of course way out of my price-range (of ~$150-200) but the handle and blade looked perfect to me. It was a Devin Thomas "HOSS" Cleaver. Here is a video of it :


Are there any other kinds of knifes out there that are wider than a traditional chef knife or gyuto? The santoku and Nakiri bocho looked promising but they also were too small for what I want. I found one more that looked very wide and well made but of course it was another very expensive knife: Shosui Takeda knife (Aogami Super)

Anyone have any ideas? I'd like to stay away from stainless I think.

Thanks in advance!

09-04-2011, 09:24 PM
The most common knife that will do almost anything on this forum is the Gyuto aka known as a chefs knife and the most preferred length is the 240 Gyuto.
Handles come in western (ho) or eastern (wa). And there are thousand different brands to choose from. Torjo DP is a nice stainless start, but since you would like carbon then Carbonext is a great choice. I guess you know the difference between carbon and stainless, most home chefs prefer clad or stainless as other members of the family will abuse the knife as well.

For cleavers I guess you have checked out the CCK cleavers. If I ever would have bought a cleaver, I would have checked out Maestro Wu.
Maestro wu got a cool story for you to tell to friends while swinging the axe ;)

"Tai maker Maestro Wu finds a way to recycle war into peace…pieces of sure-slicing and dicing steel that is!

Recycled into kitchen knives probably isn’t what the Chinese really had in mind for their artillery barrages but it has worked well for Wu Tsong-Shan. The Maestro Wu vegetable cleaver is the perfect slicing and dicing blade for working with small quantities of raw materials when preparing stir-fries and curries.
Between 1958 and 1978, the People’s Republic of China dropped thousands of artillery shells on the Taiwan island of Kinmen. Along with the conventional high explosive rounds, there were also large numbers of shells filled with propaganda leaflets scattered by a smaller charge. Now if you have ever walked around a real battlefield or even a heavily used artillery range, you know the ground is covered with large chunks of rusting shell fragments (inaccurately called “shrapnel” by most people). To local Taiwan knifemaker Wu Tsong-Shan, this seemed to be a cheap and readily available source of high-quality steel going to waste and he soon began to forge blades for the local butchers from the scraps.

The fame of these “bombshell” knives quickly made his shop a must stop for tourists traveling across Kinmen Island. Today, the maker offers a full line of both Asian and Western-style kitchen cutlery under the “Maestro Wu” brand name. To make things even more interesting, Jende Industries (Jende means “real” in Chinese) recently began importing a modest selection of the Maestro Wu knives into the U.S."

Anyway. Id take a gyuto over a cleaver any day! .)
And to be honest I would have a cladded rather than mono steel carbon. But hey, thats me ;)

09-04-2011, 11:55 PM
The Devin Thomas cleaver is absolutely wonderful, but the CCK is a really fine cleaver to use - and more importantly to try - for not a whole lot of dough.

Try out a CCk first to see if a Chinese slicing cleaver is your thing. I have one around here somewhere being totally neglected. I am away the next few days, but if you're interested I can try to dig it up when I get back.

09-05-2011, 12:22 AM
The advantage of the steel, used by Japanese knife makers, is its ability to take and hold a keen edge. Custom knife makers, will also use higher quality steels. The steels used by the bigger, German knife makers, Henkels and Wustoff, use a softer steel. The steel that members have seen on Chinese knives, mainly CCK cleavers is also soft.

Thin CCK cleavers are well regarded, for the way they cut. The steel doesn't hold an edge for long, but it is an easy knife to sharpen. People looking to try a cleaver, will pick up a CCK, because its inexpensive compared to a Japanese cleaver.

There are a variety of shapes to cleavers, besides the traditional rectangle. CCK has specialized cleavers for cutting up frogs and other animals. I haven't seen any Japanese knife makers with the variety of cleavers, that CCK has for example. They do have cleavers for noodles and sushi, besides the more traditional styles.

Japanese cleavers can be divided into groups just like the gyuto. Some makers will label their cleavers by edge: thin, medium, and thick. Others will call a cleaver with a thin edge, a slicing cleaver. A medium edge cleaver will also be called a chopping cleaver or my favorite term all mighty. If that wasn't confusing enough some makers just use numbers. Six is a thin cleaver and Seven is a medium cleaver.

Thick edge cleavers are similar to western debas. A heavy knife meant to cut fish, chicken, and pork rib bones.

Cleaver names also has creates confusion over their use. A slicing cleaver will chop and a chopping cleaver will slice. The difference is similar to a thin gyuto versus a medium gyuto. A thin gyuto or as the forum calls them lasers or lazers, will chop. The lack of weight and thinness don't make it a an ideal all purpose knife, the medium gyuto is a better choice.

Cleavers don't have the same problem as their anorexic cousin, they are big knives and are always going to be big, no matter how much a knife maker tries to thin them. A thin cleaver, will work as an all purpose knife. A medium cleaver with its extra weight and size, increases its ability to chop. Plus the medium cleavers are really good at cutting tomatoes and proteins. My hunch is the larger bevel and weight.

Cleavers are also divided by size. Typically anything under 210mm is considered for home use, while anything over is for restaurants. Smaller cleavers are more nimble, while larger cleavers are more productive. The sweet spot is 220mm x 110mm, which strikes a good balance between agility and production.

While we have all seen videos of butchers and Chinese chefs using cleavers, the idea of a cleaver in a western kitchen is foreign. The gyuto is a natural choice for the person coming from a German knife. The person has a thinner, lighter, and sharper version of a German knife, and he is delighted. Cutting style might need to be changed with a gyuto, but the change still feels natural.

Put a cleaver into that same persons hand, and they won't be able to drop it fast enough. It's heavy and unwieldy, compared to a gyuto. Everything that person doesn't like about the cleaver is its strength.

The weight helps make the cut. The height of the cleaver among other things acts an edge guard, as long as the edge doesn't go above the knuckles, its hard to get cut. The height also allows a cleaver to clear a board in one swipe. I always miss this feature when I use another type of knife.

Cleavers also have relatively long flat edges. Their edges are so long that a 220mm cleaver can have a longer flat edge then a 270mm gyuto.

The advantage of a cleaver is that you can chop as fast as you want, with very little worry of getting cut. The size and weight assist in making the cut. The flat edge is ideal for chopping. Plus the size of a cleaver is handy for clearing a board.

The down side of a cleaver, especially a full size one 220mm and above, is the learning curve. It took me a month just to get comfortable holding a cleaver. And it took months after that, to learn how to use it. I was willing to go through the learning curve, because the cleaver fit my situation, which is to cook for large number of people in typically small spaces.

An unexpected benefit of learning how to use is a cleaver is now when I pick up a knife no matter its length, it feels natural. I think I built up my muscles in my wrist and forearm. Also I feel that I am more accurate in my cuts with other knives because of the cleaver.

The key to using a cleaver is the grip. Your wrist will quickly let you know if you are holding it wrong. The pinch grip will have your arm aching in a few minutes. Cleavers are held between the thumb and forefinger, but the fingers are extended down the sides of the knife. I use what a forum member calls the peace grip. I make an upside down peace sign. Typically the peace grip is for making finer cuts. Over the past year or so, I've been using it for all my cuts. The ring finger and pinky are wrapped loosely around the handle.

Cleavers are something you want to try, before you purchase a higher end model. CCK's are a good first cleaver. Get the full size one, and learn how to use it. When you are ready to try a cleaver with Japanese steel, the Suien would be the next step. After that is finding a cleaver that fits your style.

Among the higher end cleavers Sugimoto is the best all around production cleaver. It's the ideal size, comfortable handle, nice distal taper, easy to sharpen. The Mizuno strength is its steel. Very tough and holds an edge for what seems forever. Tadatsuna probably had the best production slicing cleaver. They stopped making it a few years ago. Takeda makes a nice thin cleaver, which is surprisingly light.

Hope this helps.


09-05-2011, 01:50 AM
Wow, thanks everyone for your input! I do think a Chinese chef knife is the way to go for me listening to everything you just said Jay. I just stumbled upon these two cheaper models as well, they aren't full size which I thought might be a nice next step:




the first one has some VG-10 in it, though for the price I think there isn't very much in there.

the second one is closer to the Shun but not nearly as expensive and without the belly. Anyone ever heard of these?

09-05-2011, 01:56 AM
and actually those I posted above both have a larger size up available for $20-30 more...

09-05-2011, 03:02 AM
I have a gyuto (Zhen) from that seller. Great knife for the price, very much like a Shun with a better profile (for me). There are postive reviews out there of these budget stainless cleavers. If you want a full size, stainless cleaver, I don't think you can go wrong for $70.


09-05-2011, 03:12 AM
If full size is not so important, Sugimoto make a smaller (190mm) cleaver, the #30 which is around $130. It is in their CM series, molybdenum stainless at RC ~60. I like this steel a lot.

09-05-2011, 03:23 AM
I do not have any experience or read anything about them on the forums.

A full size CCK is around $50.00, plus shipping. The CCK are well regarded because they have an excellent geometry, i.e. size, shape, grind, etc.... And they are very good cutting. Japanese knives are not as thin as CCK. I believe the reason is that CCK are mono steel, while the Japanese knives are typically clad. If you end up not liking the knife, it would be easy to sell on the forums.

The Suein which is a full cleaver, is $160.00. If you order from Jon at Japanese Knife Imports, shipping is included.

There are other brands that are less expensive. Japanese Chef Knife has their in house brand called Kagayaki. A full size medium cleaver is only $95.00. The down side is the fair amount of belly.


09-05-2011, 11:56 AM
You might look at a Dexter Chinese cleaver. It is good basic cleaver to start out with that does not cost much to see if you like the shape and style.

09-05-2011, 04:19 PM
I decided to go with the CCk full sized cleaver, I know it's big but i like the look of it and it's carbon. Now can any of you recommend a sharpening system? I want to learn to sharpen on a whetstone setup.

09-06-2011, 03:42 AM
A set of sharpening stones includes: A coarse stone 120-500 grit. A 1000-2000 grit stones, which are also considered coarse. A 3000-5000 grit stone. A finishing polishing stone of 8000-10000 grit. On top of that, something to flatten stones is needed. The DMT XXC is a popular choice. Then some type of material is needed deburr, i.e. felt, cork, pencil erasers. To finish sharpening, some people will strop on leather or paper.

Murray Carter, who is a well regarded knife maker and sharpener, takes a minimalist approach, and uses only two stones the King 800 and 6000.

Dave Martell the owner of this site, through experience with his sharpening company, came up with series of stones, that perform very well. These are the stones that I use.

Jon Broida the owner of Japanese Knife Imports, along with his wife, have been leading the way recently in introducing new stones to the market, with the Geshin line.

There are two types of stones, which are known as soakers or splash and go. Soakers, as the name implies, need to be soaked usually for 30 minutes, before they are ready to be used. Splash and go stones, need a little water poured over them, and they are ready.

In my very limited experience, Soakers are softer stones and give positive feedback. Which is needed, when learning how to sharpen. The downside is waiting 30 minutes for them to be ready, and they can take hours if not days to be totally dry. Splash and go stones, while easier to prep are harder stones and lack the feed back of soakers. Cooks in restaurants prefer them, especially since soakers are not an option in the kitchen.

I'd recommend soakers, since they have good feedback. For the money, I don't know if Dave's line up, can be beat. If you wanted to talk to a pro, and get his advice, then Jon Broida, with Japanese Knife Imports is a great resource.

Sharpening cleavers present their own challenges. The flat edge makes them more straight forward to sharpen then a gyuto. The challenge is the height and weight of the blade make it hard to hold a cleaver steadily over stones.

The typical way to sharpen is have the stone perpendicular to yourself. Holding the knife at a 45 degree angle, the blade is run over the stone.

Dave Martell posted a method a few years ago, he uses for cleavers and nakiris. Instead of holding the knife at a 45 degree angle, it's held at a 90 degree angle. You concentrate on following the edge of the knife as it moves back and forth over the middle of the stone. Lifting the handle as you get to the tip, and lowering it as you move towards the heel.


09-06-2011, 03:56 PM
Thanks for the reply Jeybett, you rock! I'll research everything you mentioned and let you know what I end up with. Thanks again!

09-08-2011, 11:24 AM
hey what have you all heard about the Apex Sharpening System? Are those things any good? Is it better to just learn the old fashioned way?

09-11-2011, 10:38 AM
Aww man...the cleaver arrived with the blade broken. And now that I've had a chance to hold if for a few minutes I think I want a bit smaller one with a bit nicer fit and finish. Has anyone tried the Sugimoto #30 cleaver? It is at around $130 and looks like a step up in craftsmanship , but I don't quite understand what the blade is made of... http://www.**************.com/sugimoto-cleaver.html

I says "This particular cleaver is made with Chromium and Molybdenum and takes a very sharp edge." I looked it up but can't discern if it's a stainless blend or what...

Any thoughts anyone for a well built cleaver in the $100-$150 range?

09-12-2011, 02:10 PM