What's the Difference Between Cleavers and Butcher Knives?

When preparing meat, it’s important to have the right cleaver or butchering knife for the job. Read on to learn about how these knives differ so you can choose the perfect blade to meet your needs.

What Is a Butcher Knife?

Butcher Knives are designed to slice the fat off meat and cut it into small, easy-to-handle pieces. The first butchering knives were made to skin, cut, and dress meat. Some hunters use them to portion and prepare their game while in the field.

Today's cooks generally use butcher knives as kitchen tools for trimming and slicing thick or tough cuts of meat and cutting through bone. Most of these knives range from 6 to 14 inches long. Longer blades are best for cutting a carcass into pieces efficiently. Their curved edges allow users to maneuver around bones and make fast, smooth cuts without sawing.

What Is a Cleaver Knife?

A cleaver is a large, broad, and heavy chopping knife that can cut through bones, cartilage and connective tissues, and meat. Cleavers are usually thicker, wider, and more substantial than other kitchen knives. Their rectangular blades are usually about 6 to 8 inches long.

The best cleaver knives have a comfortable, easy-to-grip handle, so the user can easily drive the knife through the meat. They often have a hole in the corner that makes it easier to pull them through flesh. The sharp blade can make repeated chops without losing its edge, and the knife’s blunt side can crush ingredients and tenderize meat before cooking.

Comparison Overview: Cleavers vs. Butcher's Knives

Cleavers and butcher knives are both ideal for cutting meat, but they behave differently.

Blade Shape and Size

Cleaver blades are typically wide, heavy, and rectangular. Their shape and relatively short length contribute to their accuracy and maneuverability, while the height aids in balancing the knife and helps it cut through meat with a single swing. Longer, taller cleavers tend to be better at chopping through large pieces of meat.

Hand-Made Versatile Cleaver Knife

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Our butcher knives have long blades with an edge that curves upward at the end. They are well-suited to portioning meat, cutting through soft or tough flesh, and slicing through bones with minimal effort. The Hakai Chef Cleaver is the perfect choice for those who need a sturdy knife to cut through the toughest of meats.


The best cleaver knives usually weigh between 1 and 3 pounds. As the user swings the knife, the generated momentum should allow the knife to easily cut through thick meat and bone.

The weight of a butchering blade can range from less than 6 ounces to more than 13 ounces, depending on its size. Cooks who work with heavy, large pieces of meat often prefer to use longer, heavier knives for butchering.


Most cleavers are designed to be thickest near their cutting edge to give their cutting edge a wider, more versatile range of operation. The thickest blades are best suited to chopping through heavy, large-boned pieces of meat. Most cleaver blades range from 0.25 to 0.75 inches thick.

Butcher knives also have thicker blades than most standard kitchen knives, but thinner than cleavers. The best thickness for a carving knife is between 0.13 and 0.17 inches.


Cleavers are designed with a 40- to 50-degree-angled edge that can cut through meat and bones easily without the need for extreme force.

Butcher knives typically have a 30-degree-angled edge that is good for slicing and cutting flesh from bone.

Butchering Knives Perfect for Cutting Meat

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The Best Knife for You

The type of cleaver or butchering knife you should choose depends on the cuts of meat you typically prepare. If you generally work with poultry and lamb, you may find that a butchering blade best suits your needs. If you frequently cook large pieces of boar, venison, or beef, you may find that a cleaver is your best knife. Many cooks like to have both kinds of knives in their kitchen. One of the best ways to fully equip your work area is to invest in one of our Japanese knife sets containing both types of knives.

5-Piece Japanese Knife Sets with Butcher Knives

For those who need a variety of these knife types, the Torio Knife Set is a great choice. This set includes three butcher knives, such as a cleaver, a boning knife, and a typical slicing knife. When you have the right tools at your fingertips, you’re sure to build confidence as you enjoy cooking meals your friends and family will love.

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