The Chinese cleaver looks very much like a regular Western cleaver, at least at first glance. There’s the same basic rectangular shape, but what you’ll notice when you pick a Chinese cleaver up is that they lack the heft of their Western brethren. Hold it up to find a cross-section that’s much thinner. This might not seem like a huge difference, but it grants the Chinese cleaver several compelling benefits that often appeal to professionals.
One of the greatest things about the Chinese cleaver is that it essentially combines the benefits of a chef’s knife with those of a regular cleaver. They’re sharp and thin like a chef’s knife, but that little extra weight makes them ideal for finer cutting. The weight of the blade will do most of the cutting for you, so you simply have to guide where it goes. Just try cutting through a tomato with a Chinese cleaver. All you need to do is set the edge against the skin and push a little; there’s no need for exertion, and the blade goes exactly where you want it.
Cleavers look a lot stronger than regular chef’s knives. A Chinese cleaver might be a little lighter than you expect, but they are still very strong since layers of the finest steel will be used during construction. The blade will hold its edge even after you use your Chinese cleaver for heavy cutting through tougher foods, and the full tang will not break.
Perhaps the overriding benefit of a Chinese cleaver is versatility. If you want to slice through boneless meat, a Chinese cleaver can do the job. If you then want to slice, chop, cut, or dice that meat, you can go right ahead without switching to another knife. You can flatten out garlic bulbs or ginger, or you can tenderise some meat. You can even use the smooth, flat edge as a makeshift spatula.