4 Best Japanese Cleaver Knives to Buy & Reviews for 2024

Posted by Tara Hohenberger on

The 4 Best Japanese Cleavers to Buy in 2024

Traditional meat cleavers used in butchery are rare from Japanese knife makers.  They do exist, but generally the factors that make Japanese knives great, hard steel, thin blades, and lightweight design are not compatible with what’s needed to hack through bones and joints.  Japanese cleavers are more often made in the chinese style, a wide and tall rectangular blade that is extremely sharp and thin. These blades have a good amount of weight and are great for larger ingredients.  The abundance of surface area is perfect for scooping up ingredients.  Overall Japanese cleavers are perfect for cutting everything that goes into a stir fry, vegetables and proteins. From dicing and precise cuts a chuka bocho is a great addition to your knife set.

The 4 Best Japanese Cleaver Knives 

Best Overall - Sakai Takayuki 33 Layer Damascus Chinese Cleaver 195mm
Best Budget - Sakai Takayuki Inox Cleaver 225mm
Best Premium - Takeda Aogami Super Chinese Cleaver 200mm
Best For Vegetables - Kazan Ginsan Nashiji Nakiri 165mm 

What is a Japanese Cleaver?

A Japanese cleaver is a kitchen knife based on a Chinese Cleaver, but using Japanese steel and forging techniques.  This results in a thinner, more refined knife that holds an edge longer.  Although it has some good weight to it, this is not a knife meant to break through bones, rather it is a tall rectangular blade with a lot of surface area.  The thin blade cuts vegetables and protein with exceptional precision and the wide blade surface helps move ingredients from cutting board to cooking vessels with ease.  A Japanese Cleaver with its razor sharp edge is best used for vegetables and boneless meats. It is particularly good at crushing and mincing aromatic ingredients like garlic and ginger.

Differences Between Japanese Vegetable Cleavers and Meat Cleavers

A Japanese vegetable cleaver, called a nakiri, is shorter in height and smaller than a Chinese Cleaver or a Meat Cleaver used in butchery.  Typically they have a 50/50 edge for right or left handed users.  Some Japanese knife manufacturers do make meat cleavers in the western style appropriate for going through bones, however we don’t carry knives in this style.  

What to Look for When Buying One

    • The key features to consider when choosing any Japanese chef’s knife or other cutlery are as follows: blade angle, knife length, weight, steel type and hardness, handle type and price. 
    • Blade angle: There is a lot of confusion about Japanese knives being either “right-handed or left-handed” based on the angle at which the blade is sharpened. While this is true for traditional single-edged Japanese knives in styles like deba, yanagi, and usuba, where the blacksmith produces right-handed knives (meaning the cutting edge is 100% on the side that works when used in your right hand.  Cleavers are generally produced to be 50/50 balanced so they are good for  right or left-handed use. 

    • Blade Length: Our cleavers and nakiris come in a range of sizes, between  gyutos’ blades are usually between 6 and 7” inches.  Our available cleavers range from  7.7 - 9.4”  The length that is right for you will be determined by two factors. First is the size of your hands. The second factor to consider is what you will be using the knife to cut the most.  Most of all, the knife should be comfortable and easily controlled and more or less be able to cut your ingredient in one stroke no matter what size inch cleaver you choose.

    • Weight: Overall, most people find Japanese knives considerably lighter than the German- or French-made knives they have used before. This will come down to personal preference, Steel Types + Hardness: There are pros and cons to every type of steel, but the first consideration is choosing between a stain-resistant or a high carbon steel option. Carbon steel knives are popular with professional chefs, thanks to their ability to get super sharp and hold an edge through heavy use, but they need to be kept very clean and dry, especially when cutting acidic ingredients. Among the options for stainless blades, most every Japanese option will stay sharp longer than average. The options then come down to balancing different pros and cons like blade strength versus brittleness of sharpening. Generally speaking, a harder steel will hold an edge longer but can be more challenging to sharpen. Hardness (HRC) is judged on the Rockwell scale, with a higher rating corresponding to greater hardness. You can find the rating for each product under specifications, with most of our knives falling in the 59-66 range. We recommend people new to Japanese knives and sharpening to start with knives on the lower end of that range. For more information check out our complete guide to choosing a steel type. 

    • Handle: You may notice two major options for handles on Japanese knives. First, the ergonomic western-style, full tang is attached to the blade with rivets like you would expect with any high-quality knife. Second is a Japanese-style wood handle, either round, D-shaped, or octagonal and attached with a ferrule usually crafted from horn. Magnolia is the traditional wood used, but high end woods such as ebony, rosewood and walnut are widely available. This is mostly a matter of personal preference, but many find the natural wood of the handle comfortable, stable to grip, and versatile for various tasks and angles. 

    • Price: Lastly, price is usually a key factor in choosing a  knife. We have a wide range of knives for all budgets. Hand-forged knives from master blacksmiths and those made by knifemakers entirely by hand will be priced according to the materials, skill, and amount of time that it takes to produce. Knives from makers like Takeda are made in small quantities by true master craftsmen and are meant to last a lifetime, and the prices reflect that.

    • For more detailed information check out our guide on how to choose a gyuto.

The 4 Knives We Reviewed

Sakai Takayuki 33 Layer Damascus Chinese Cleaver 195mm

Summary: One of our top selling lines, Sakai Takayuki 33 Layer Collection is crafted from folded damascus steel with a Japanese VG10 cutting core. The blades are stain resistant, hold a great edge and are hand-hammered for added blade strength and quick food release.  They are loved by professionals and home cooks alike.

    • Handle material: Western Style, Mahogany Wooden Handle
    • Blade length: 240 mm (9.4")
    • Thickness at spine: 1.7 mm
    • Thickness at tip: 0.7 mm
    • Hardness (Rockwell scale): 60
    • Bevel / Edge: Double (50/50)
    • Care: Hand wash and dry immediately after use.  Sharpen periodically on water stones.

Sakai Takayuki Inox Cleaver 225mm

Summary: Sakai Takayuki’s Inox Cleaver is the most heavy duty of the offerings, a hefty workhorse with a stainless steel blade that is very responsive to sharpening and easy to maintain. Corrosion is not a problem with this knife and it is one of the best meat cleavers when dealing with boneless cuts.

    • Handle material: Western Style, Pressed Wood
    • Blade length: 225 mm (8.9")
    • Thickness at spine: 2.4 mm
    • Thickness at tip: 2.4 mm
    • Hardness (Rockwell scale): 59
    • Care: Hand wash and dry immediately after use.  Sharpen periodically on whetstones.

Takeda Aogami Super Chinese Cleaver 200mm

Summary: Takeda knives are hand made by 3rd Generation  blacksmith Shosui Takeda in Okayama, Japan.  Each knife is carefully and painstakingly forged and tempered out of Blue Aogami Super Steel.  Each Takeda knife is completely unique and razor-sharp out of the box with unmatched craftsmanship.

    • Handle material: Non-slip Wa-Style, Stabilized Maple
    • Blade length 200mm - 220mm (7.9" - 8.7")
    • Thickness at spine 3.5 mm
    • Thickness at tip 2.5 mm
    • Hardness (Rockwell scale) 61-63
    • Bevel / Edge Double (50/50)
    • Care: Hand wash and dry immediately after use.  Sharpen periodically on water stones.

Kazan Ginsan Nashiji Nakiri 165mm

Summary: Hand-forged in Tosa, Japan out of stainless Ginsan (silver 3) steel, a steel known for being  tough, with excellent edge retention and easy maintenance. The blades are finished in the nashiji style, hand sharpened and fitted with octagonal oak handles. An all around great vegetable knife

Learn more about how to use a nakiri here.

    • Handle material Octagonal Oak Wa-handle
    • Blade length 165 mm (6.4")
    • Thickness at spine 2.3 mm
    • Thickness at tip 1.8 mm
    • Hardness (Rockwell scale) 61
    • Edge / Bevel Double (50/50)
    • Blade height heel to spine 45mm
    • Care: Hand wash and dry immediately after use.  Sharpen periodically on water stones.

  Japanese Cleaver FAQs

    • What is the best Japanese cleaver knife or best cleaver in general? It varies by person, but it’s important to know how you want to use the knife. For example, do you cook with more meat or veggies? Are you looking for a knife that can handle elaborate asian knife cuts?
    • Do Japanese use cleavers? Professional Chefs perhaps especially those who specialize in Chinese cuisine, but it’s not part of a typical knife roll.   
    • What cleaver do chefs use? If you’re looking for an all around all purpose cleaver, functional high performing in a good price range the Sakai Takayuki 33 Layer Damascus. It is a beautiful and functional Chinese chef’s knife.
    • How do I choose a cleaver? Take into consideration how you will use the knife and how much you would like to spend.

Next Steps 

In summary, a Japanese cleaver varies from a classic cleaver in several ways, mostly that the super sharp blade is extremely thin and better suited to vegetables and boneless meats. Refer to our buying guide for a few options for Japanese cleavers and nakiri knives that will suit your needs. You can shop our website and get in touch with any questions.

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