I bought this knife a year ago. It rapidly became my favorite cutting implement. I postponed reviewing it to make sure initial infatuation was not coloring my opinion.
The balance is near perfect, the blade shape works well for cutting, slicing, mincing, and chopping. The steel readily takes a sharp edge and holds it well. This cleaver excels at both moderate cutting and delicate work. The wood handle is warm and easy to grip even with wet hands. The strong blade allows using the side for mashing and as a spatula, the back as a scraper and tenderizer, and the end of the handle to pulverize.
Whether this knife is worth the price of admission depends on the depth your pocketbook and your intended use. For those wanting a fancy knife to display, the Damascus edge makes for a striking appearance. That did not rate high on my list, but I presume it does for some. I use this knife on a daily basis; it is a pleasure to work with and does the job with a minimum of drama. The build quality is such that I see this knife lasting for many a year to come. After having used, abused, and worn out a number of lesser cleavers, my only regret is not purchasing this one sooner.
Addressing several comments made by previous reviewers: D. Symanski's cleaver came with a sharp spine. Mine did not, nor did ones I have handled in several stores. I do agree with the mention of the asymmetric handle. This knife comes in left or right hand versions. Using the Shun with your off hand is uncomfortable at best. If, like me, you are used to wielding two cleavers at once for mincing meats and veggies, you will need to pay attention to which hand holds the Shun. My cleaver came sharp - for a factory edge. A few minutes with stone and strop brought out a wickedly sharp edge, but the out-of-the-box blade was serviceable. That's a rarity for most cutlery.
DAL notes that the edge notches when cleaving a chicken. This is a medium cleaver, weighing the shy side of 12 ounces. Heavy cleavers start at a pound and a half and go up from there. The VG-10 steel used for the cutting edge is not the best choice for whomping on thick bones. The Vanadium content makes for a fine-grained metal (i.e. easy to sharpen and takes a razor edge) but it can bend or nick, particularly with the thin working edge this knife has.
rl123 compares the Shun to a Dexter cleaver. Owning one of each, my preference is strongly for the Shun. If you are not going to use this knife often, a cheaper one should suffice. As a daily workhorse, I know of none better than this baby.
As Bobo mentions, this knife slices into soft cutting boards. A good end-grain wood block solves that problem.
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