We have seen alot of Cleaver shape blades enter the field cutlery market recently. Most have been of the small, cute, novelty folding variety. They make for fun little EDCs. Tops had something a little more functional in mind.. The Tops El Chappo.
Tops have been making field cutlery since 1998. They have an extensive catalogue of tactical blades and tools designed primarily for Military and Law Enforcement. Tops knives are all American made and are overbuilt to ensure reliability in the field
Who Needs a Cleaver?
Humans have used the Cleaver to process food for hundreds of years. Most kitchen knives are designed to slice, the Cleaver is made for chopping. The grind on a traditional cleaver is more akin to an outdoor knife or even an axe. The heavy Cleaver combined with a sturdier grind allows the user to chop through bone and tough sinew when preparing meat. If you hunt and process game you would want a rugged, capable Cleaver.
Tops have produced a BAMF of a Cleaver. The use of modern materials updates the design, enabling it to cope with life on the trail or in a field kitchen. Leo Espinoza designed the El Chappo and the first thing you know he got just right was the aesthetic. From the dark blade through to the black Micarta handles this thing oozes drama and makes for some great photos!
The El Chappo is a full tang 1095 carbon steel Cleaver. The full tang handle is well contoured for a good grip which is vital when in full swing. Black canvas Micarta scales are securely fastened with Torx bolts. A red liner gives a great colour accent between the handle and the scales. The scales themselves have a great pattern to them which seems to improve through use. At the rear of the handle is a lanyard hole big enough for 550 Paracord.
The mighty 1095 high carbon steel blade is a thing of great beauty. It came razor sharp, I mean wafer thin tomato slicing scary sharp. The grind was perfect and polished to a mirror finish. The blade has what Tops call an acid rain finish which acts as a rust preventer and looks foreboding, adding to the apocalyptic aesthetic. It looks good enough for a starring role in Walking Dead! The spine of the blade sweep upward which gives it a feeling of wanting to chop. The blade has two holes and an oval cut from the top front edge. I would guess they aid in lashing the cleaver to a pack when not in use.
The spine of the blade is 4.8mm thick (0.190″ for my American friends). The bomb proof construction adds weight which a Cleaver needs or it would never make it through bone. The Tops El Chappo without sheath weighs in at 450g (15.9oz) which affords it plenty of kinetic energy to get the job done. All you have to do is swing it!
The sheath is made from Kydex and covers the 5.88″ cutting edge. Despite looking simplistic the sheath was a perfect fit and retains securely thanks to an elasticated loop. A full cover or belt worn sheath are unnecessary for a cleaver and the supplied one is light, rugged and perfectly adequate.
I kept the El Chappo on the kitchen worktop and it quickly became my go to blade for all food prep. The blade was incredibly sharp despite its size the El Chappo sliced like a champ. It made short work of vegetables and is well suited to crushing garlic cloves with the flat of the blade. This is great for food prep in the field as a traditional (blunter) Cleaver would likely struggle.
Meat preparation was where the Tops El Chappo really shines. Thick bone was no issue at all. Tops knives are well made and that their heat treat is spot on gives you confidence that you aren’t going to damage anything. This allows you to put some serious power into any tough sections which we certainly did. The blade on the El Chappo has no rolls or nicks out of it. I have sharpened it once which was quick and easy. 1095 is very easy to work with and is a great steel to start with for those new to sharpening.
The only downside related to 1095 steel is that it will rust readily. I have picked up a little discoloration on the cutting edge (likely from reaction with the veg or fruit), but no rust. This is probably thanks to that “Acid rain” finish. . I give the knife the odd wipe over with coconut oil. CLP would usually be my choice but I don’t fancy Froglube flavouring in my Venison steak.
The Tops El Chappo will cost you around $180 in the U.S. direct from Tops linked below. If you are in the EU then the price will be around £160. The El Chappo is a specialised bit of kit. If you hunt and need to process your meat then this would be a great blade to own. If you are used to food prep with a large Cleaver type blade (many cultures use Cleaver type blades for all chopping tasks in the kitchen) then the El Chappo is certainly sharp enough. It has become the talking point of our kitchen! Last but not least there are people who just like to collect badass blades, the El Chappo badass in abundance..