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Calton Cleaver Review

Posted by chad234 
Calton Cleaver Review
June 15, 2014 06:30PM
Calton Cleaver Review


This review will consist of two primary sections focused on my impressions of the Calton Cleaver and a discussion to follow on cleavers generally. Each section will have subsections to allow picture adequate posting.

Joe's description of the cleaver:

Triple quenched, differentially hardened 1095 and birdseye maple cleaver
12" OAL, 7" blade, 3" wide, .094" thick,
Convex short saber grind, firescale finish with blue scotchbrite belt finish
Brass corby bolts, mineral oil finish on the handle.

An article featuring Joe (and Murray Carter) in the popular internet media: [gizmodo.com]

Initial impressions: Given the short saber grind (a "scandi grind" cleaver) as it was originally made, I strongly suspected I would not care for the cutting performance of this cleaver. Notwithstanding the grind, I bought the knife as I have trust in Joe Calton as a maker. His heat treat and handle designs are top notch, so I viewed it as a diamond in the rough.

Upon initial use, these suspicions were confirmed. The handle is excellent for my hand. While the asymmetry would drive a collector crazy, its size and shape fits my hand perfectly. I would guess that Joe and I have similar sized hands, as he shaped the handle by feel. With only an edge bevel and no true primary grind, the cleaver split rather than cut vegetables. On foods where only edge sharpness is truly critical, such as cutting up cooked chicken and steak, performance was acceptable. This is what I expected, and I shipped the cleaver back to Joe's Cheyene, Wyoming shop to be re-ground.

The re-birth of the Cleaver: Joe was, of course, great to deal with. We discussed my uses, wants, some proposed geometry. I explained that I was looking to combine his excellent handle with a blade profile like a tall Japanese Nakiri or my favorite Asian cleaver, the Chan Chi Kee vegetable cleaver. I left the rest to his capable hands and his coolant fed grinder. It is no hyperbole to say Joe nailed it. Pictured below with one of Joe's boning knives in cocobolo, more to come on that one.

While to the lay eye, their does not appear to be much difference, the transformation from a performance standpoint is nothing short of astonishing. Seen here with the Chan Chi Kee.

By my measurement, the cleaver is now .005" behind the edge, .013" 1/4" back from the edge, and .076 at 1/2" from the edge. With the big handle, and full tang it has a far more neutral balance than you'd normally expect from a cleaver, which is what I wanted. It is like a very broad chef's knife. This not a butcher's cleaver for chopping through bones, something Joe made very clear.

It is a good bit thinner than a standard #2 Chinese all-purpose cleaver, suitable for cleaving through poultry and small pork bones without hesitation:

Re: Calton Cleaver Review
June 15, 2014 06:30PM
Over the last several weeks I have used the Calton Cleaver to prepare dozens of meals, including cooking for a party of 35 for Memorial Day. Not to sound overly effusive, its performance has been outstanding compared to its original geometry. It push cuts through vegetables, slices meat and transfer from board to pan with ease.


Stir Fry is a frequent meal at our house:

I look forward to many years of use from this one.
Re: Calton Cleaver Review
June 16, 2014 01:58AM
nice review as always

I like the proportions on that, I think of them as Chinese Chef's Knives (but in my head I like "Super Nakiri" ) made a couple such blades over the winter
Re: Calton Cleaver Review
June 16, 2014 07:57AM
Chad, I would be interested in your thoughts, informal or otherwise on why you would want/reach for that style of knife vs a simple chef's knife.
Re: Calton Cleaver Review
June 16, 2014 04:51PM
Mr. Nease- I also think of cai bao or nakiri as chef's knives equivalents, and heavier "meat and bone" models as western butcher cleaver replacements. Are there any pictures of yours online?

Cliff- the real answer is focused on the fact that I cook to have fun and express my love for people. I pick a vegetable cleaver (or Chinese chef knife smiling smiley ) for variety rather than optimizing performance. I grew up watching Martin Yan after all. So much of it is subjectively mood driven, though it does increase my connection with the dish to use authentic methods when preparing some foods. By way of example, when preparing Asian food, it increases my joy of cooking to use an Asian inspired knife. Maybe lame, but that is the answer.

Sometimes variety can be a wonderful spice. (Note, this is not relationship advice.) Using a cleaver can make mundane tasks, such as making a quick chicken salad, more fun:

As far as performance difference, the height and balance of a cleaver allows a shorter blade to have the cutting power of a much larger knife but can be used where counter space is short, such as a small apartment kitchen or boat galley. This is especially true when cutting vegetables within the size of the cleaver blade into small pieces using chopping push cuts rather than rocking cuts, though some cleavers do have a continual curve. Also, given their width, cleavers excel at transferring small cut up food from board to pan.

But, a traditional western style chef knife is superior where you need a point (obviously), but also where length is important (slicing large roasts), or where you need to turn the blade in the food, i.e. paring.

For a great example of the versatility of a Chinese Chef knife in skilled hands, check out the opening scene of Ang Lee's Eat Drink Man Women.
video: [youtube.com]

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 06/16/2014 05:41PM by chad234.
Re: Calton Cleaver Review
June 16, 2014 04:51PM
General Discussion of Cleavers

I have not undertaken any significant literature research on the declining household and commercial use of cleavers in the 21st century to claim any expertise, but based on my passing knowledge of the subject respectfully posit that the lack of popular interest in cleavers is multi-factorial, primarily related to the decline in home butchery and commercially by of the cleaver by replacement by hand and them electric bandsaw. Just as the gas chainsaw led to the decline of both large saws and felling axes in the lumber industry. Historically in Europe and the Americas, cleavers have primarily been associated with whole animal butchery. The rise of commercial packing houses where meat is broken down to primals, and even consumer cuts, led to the decline in butcher shops.

I don't think anyone would challenge the notion that home butchery is much diminished in all urban, most suburban and many rural communities compared to just a couple generations ago. Though recently there has been a small revival of traditional butchery. I just love Brandon Shear's videos on the subject. [anatomyofthrift.com]

I know in passing that there have been a several articles in the foodway anthropology literature have commented on this trend, and James Deetz suggested this has been an evolving trend for hundreds of years (see Small Things Forgotten at p.124). If time constraints ever allowed me to pursue my "outside" academic interests, it is something that I would like to look at in greater depth.

However, in Eastern cultures, the cleaver is alive and well thanks to both their shopping and chopping, cooking and meal presentation choices. One could easily write a thesis on this topic, perhaps some already have.
video: [youtube.com]
The term cleaver covers as much spread in design and function as the term knife. See these two extremes, a 1/16" full flat grind vegetable cleaver and and Aranyik Gigantic Cleaver that literally split a cutting board when I first used it.

Also, many traditional cleavers use a rat tail or sometimes stub tang and a full wood handle for a more forward balance without resorting to the massive thickness of the Aranyik.

Aranyik Gigantic Cleaver, Ref:

The difference in geometry among similar appearing cleavers can be dramatic. The Chan Chi Kee (L)and Wok Shop vegetable cleaver (R) looks similar, but the CCK is ground twice as thin, it has distal taper from 2mm at the base of the spine to 1mm at the tip, and the steel is noticeably harder.

However, the wokshop version is on sale right now or about 1/5 the price of the CCK. For heavier use, a Standard carbon steel No. 2 Cleaver, is surpassingly versatile. These are very low priced for the performance level. The CCK comes with a passable edge, the Wok Shop models do not.

Ref: [wokshop.stores.yahoo.net]

Edited 4 time(s). Last edit at 06/16/2014 05:51PM by chad234.
Re: Calton Cleaver Review
June 17, 2014 07:09AM
So the flip question Cliff- if you were just chopping some vegetables or small cuts if meat, needed to transfer the the food, and didn't need to turn the blade in the food (the you can turn the food in the blade), why would you choose a western chef knife? Presuming you would of course. (I am a fan of chef knives, don't get me wrong. Between the two, I pick the chef knife for versatility)
Re: Calton Cleaver Review
June 17, 2014 07:44AM

I buy knives all the time for similar reasons, I asked because I often buy knives for friends and have been considering using a cleaver and utility knife as a working set for awhile. This comes from similar to what you noted that I find that most of the chef's knife work I do is actually chopping/dicing and for paring, slicing. carving, etc. I use another knife. Now if you only have one knife, then a chef's knife is more capable, but if you have a decent mid-range utility then a cleaver starts becoming more attractive, plus as a gift it is an interesting conversation piece.
Re: Calton Cleaver Review
June 17, 2014 12:03PM
Joe- would you mind providing some insight into your various cleaver designs and what the future holds for this pattern? Thanks again for the re grind and continued excellent service.
Re: Calton Cleaver Review
June 18, 2014 07:20AM

Good to hear that you are enjoying the reground cleaver!!

Right now I only have the one design for a cleaver, and the thought behind it was to provide a "rough use" kitchen knife to folks that have my other kitchen knives. Since I normaly grind kitchen knives really thin, I wanted a knife that would be used for anything in the kitchen that might damage the edge of your primary working knives.

I just finished up 2 cleavers day before yesterday, and both have the same geometry as yours before the regrind. one was an order, and I hope to get the other on my website today.

For the future of the cleaver designs, as far as I know right now, Il keep making the original design, and I do have an idea for a more all around cleaver with just a hint of belly in it, as well as a special cleaver for a good friend of mine {Jim} that has essential tremors that I am pretty excited about.

Jim is in his late 60's and has essential tremors pretty bad. The other day we were at his families ranch and he was cutting up some carrots for a roast for later that night. using a 5" utility knife for the job. I was about to offer to cut them up, but then just stood there and watched him work. trying to figure out both how he was not cutting himself, and how to make a knife that would allow him to work easier. then we talked about the new knife for an hour or so, and I think the new knife will work really well for him. I then went and googled essential tremors kitchen knife, and did not find much. So ill get the knife made for him, let him use it awhile, make any changes, and then have him start letting others know on the forums that he frequents. with a little luck, it may help folks with essential tremors be able to work in their kitchens again.

of course, if anyone wants a super thin cleaver like yours, I will make those on orders. my only concern with them is that a family member may grab it and because it looks like a western cleaver, use it to chop bones with. as thin as that blade is, chopping with it would be devestating.

I think your hands are bigger than mine. the last couple that I have put large handles on for you have felt too big to me. I ground them to where they felt comfy, but still too big. the asymetrical handle is something that I dont even look at much. when I grind a handle, I am shaping it for comfort, security, and ease of use. I suppose that if a handle comes out symetrical then that could be a good thing, but id rather it felt good in my hand first.
Re: Calton Cleaver Review
June 18, 2014 11:16AM
Joe- thanks for the insight. For your friend Jim, you may want to look at an Ulu design.

Re: Calton Cleaver Review
June 18, 2014 08:46PM
So the flip question Cliff- if you were just chopping some vegetables or small cuts if meat, needed to transfer the the food, and didn't need to turn the blade in the food (the you can turn the food in the blade), why would you choose a western chef knife? Presuming you would of course. (I am a fan of chef knives, don't get me wrong. Between the two, I pick the chef knife for versatility)

From a non-foodie perspective, I have found I like using a Nakiri over a Chef's knife for most kitchen work because it is easier to pick up and move food around with. That Cleaver by Joe looks ideal to me. For boning a chicken or peeling something, I'd rather use something smaller than a Chef's knife. I've been using a reground Mora knockoff for those kind of tasks lately.

This is probably inexperience talking, but so far I think a large Nakiri or small Cleaver plus a large paring knife would be the nicest combo for me.

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E-nep throwing Brotherhood. Charter Member
Re: Calton Cleaver Review
June 18, 2014 09:39PM

I hadn't thought about an ulu. Will have to think about it for a bit as I have never used one.

If you have never seen someone with essential tremors, imagine someone who has the shakes part of hypothermia, ALL the time, only worse. I have only known 2 men who have it, Jim, and his father Chuck. Chuck had from my understanding a device placed under his scalp on top of his head that somehow cancels out the tremors, yet he still has a small shake, but it is barely noticeable. Jim's is pretty rough. when I was talking to him about the knife, he said that big handles, and a lot of weight helps to dampen them down a bit. so what I was thinking was a cleaver, with a medium grind, say .015" at the shoulder of the edge, with the tip rounded off and given a bit of belly for rock chopping.

so he would have plenty of blade to contact the side of his holding hand, a big handle, enough belly to rock chop so the blade never left the board, plenty of weight, and a stouter edge to withstand the pounding on the board from basically slamming the edge down on it, and no real control over the twisting on the board.

the nice thing that Jim has going is that his wife cooks most all the meals. but what about the folks with essential tremors like him with no spouse to help out?

he showed me a really cool spoon that he had just picked up. see he cant eat cereal or soup with a regular spoon. he can move the spoon, but anything inside the spoon will just spill out on the way to his mouth. but someone out there came up with a spoon that is kind of like a bobblehead character that you see in some folks' cars. only better. when he showed it to me, the spoon didn't seem to be all that special when I held it, but then I started shaking my hand, and the handle moved with my hand, but the bowl of the spoon stayed steady!! It was amazing! imagine how the guy that came up with that spoon must sleep at night, knowing that he helped some folks out with the simple act of eating soup!
Re: Calton Cleaver Review
June 19, 2014 06:44AM
As far as I'm concerned the "Chinese cleaver" is not a cleaver by western standards.
In western/european culture cleavers are heavy knives meant for rought tasks notably chopping bones.
Chinese "cleaver" is actually more of a mincing knife.
Most it does you could do with a chef knife. It's a specialized design.
Re: Calton Cleaver Review
August 17, 2015 02:14PM
Chad, I have a knife from the same maker as your ulu. Picked it up in Alaska a couple years ago:



I never met the man directly but I was told that his sheaths are made by someone else and that he uses antique (circa 1900) circular/band saw blades for his knives. I was very surprised when I saw the maker's stamp on that ulu sheath.

Edit to add: I got mine in a shop right on the Homer Spit, where did you get the ulu? I may be mistaken but the handle looks like some kind of bone, I remember that many of his knives had handles of natural materials from AK, mine is caribou antler. It's also very comfortable.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 08/17/2015 02:29PM by Ryan Nafe.
Re: Calton Cleaver Review
August 17, 2015 04:01PM
Maynard Linder in Homer-

Never met him. A friend on the web (Schwert) is a big fan. His article on Jimbo's old site is a good read.
Re: Calton Cleaver Review
August 17, 2015 05:44PM
Cool, thanks for the links. I hadn't anticipated seeing another of one his knives around here, that was a curious coincidence.
Re: Calton Cleaver Review
August 18, 2015 04:19AM
very interesting topic - smileys with beer

I love my chinese Càidāo's vegetable cleavers and the best part is my girlfriend finally found type of kitchen knife which she use with pleasure.
I even ordered an AEB-L custom /10x4x0.0906 inches/ which must be ready in the beginning of the next year...


Life is GOOD!

Re: Calton Cleaver Review
August 18, 2015 06:58AM
I would be interested in your thoughts, informal or otherwise on why you would want/reach for that style of knife vs a simple chef's knife.

for me, a cleaver 5" to 6" long, 2.5" or 3" wide with a works the best for me. i find a chef's knife kinda clunky for me, i feel i have more control with a cleaver.
the cleavers i make have blades from 1/16" to 1/8", total edge angle of 15 to 20 degrees. i make sure customers understand that these are similar to veggie cleavers
i have several blanks in 5/32" that are in work.
i do have one "traditional" cleaver, a WW2 vintage Foster Bros.
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