Down a Rabbit Hole: Zoomorphic Cleavers

When I reached out to knifemaker Michael Shoaf about 5 from the Grinder, I was excited to help an up and coming maker, and hoped that the post would get a bit of a boost by getting it in front of a different audience than we typically reach. I wasn’t expecting to make a contact with a gentleman who may in fact have the largest collection of Zoomorphic Cleavers in the world.

The name Allan Detrich might ring a bell for some folks. He is a professional photojournalist (Pulitzer Prize runner up), storm chaser, collector, and as it turns out, a passionate tOSU Buckeyes fan. He reached out to me after last night’s Buckey Scoop Podcast and shared his cleaver website. I was blown away and I spent an hour getting lost in his cleaver collection. (Note “THE” title of his introduction, the man is a true Buckeye).


THE Zoomorphic Cleaver Collection – by Allan Detrich

Zoomorphic Cleavers – cleavers that portray animals, humans or other living forms – were not made as only a utilitarian tool for the butcher but also a work of art. Blacksmiths in the late 1800s to early 1900s forged these cleavers to show their skills and creativity. Foxes and birds were most common. Many think the cleavers were made to pay tribute to the animals that the butchers were parsing out to their customers from behind the counters of their meat stores and at the local open-air street farmers markets.

Gothic styles are consistent with older cleavers in Italy and eastern Europe. Over the years, most of those were made by the local village blacksmith or sometimes even by the farmer or butcher who first intended to use it. Regardless of its manufacturing origin, there can be no disputing their sheer beauty and utility. Hand-forged from some very fine carbon steel these cleavers are second to none in terms of design, materials, craftsmanship and performance. Profound respect was often found expressed in the construction of the tools used to accomplish work, especially in the trades, to which butchers once belonged. Besides reaching the pinnacle of craftsmanship, these cleavers are intricate pieces of folk art. I’m not one to put much faith in the talismanic power of inanimate objects, but these cleavers do tempt one to reconsider. In every respect they are a truly great find for chef or folk-art lover alike and the kind of antique heirloom you’ll be proud to pass down to your heirs.

I love diving down rabbit holes, and among the hundred+ cleavers I looked at, I managed to find a rabbit at the bottom of one…

I don’t often put outside content above the fold on the website, but this is some pretty fantastic stuff, and many of our readers will want to check it out. Even Mark was impressed, which is high praise indeed. He hinted that the topic might be a good one for a future print article, which wouldn’t surprise me at all.

But in the mean time, clear your schedule for a little while and check out, you are in for a treat.