A lot of the knives I review are simply just interesting knives, and the purpose of the review is to see if they’re any good. It’s a fairly simple concept, and it’s worked well for me over the years. But sometimes I review a knife to answer a specific question, one that’s not necessarily applicable to just that knife. That’s how I wound up with a Gerber Asada Micarta in my mailbox – I really wanted to answer the question of “so, what exactly does one do with a folding cleaver blade?”
There are a number of folding cleavers on the market right now – the Kizer Sheepdog is extremely popular, Kershaw makes several different folding cleavers, there’s one by CJRB, another by Civivi, cleavers by Honey Badger, Bastion, Bestech – there are tons. What’s confusing about this to me is why someone would want a folding cleaver in the first place. Cleaver blades are generally square or rectangular blades (with no sharp point) that are designed to cut through soft bones or tougher cuts of meat in the kitchen – using the weight of the blade in a vertical motion to chop through tough meat. This is a motion that doesn’t lend itself well to being attached to a folding knife, with the stress it puts on the lock, and the generally small size (and thus mass) of a pocket knife making them less proficient at this. So maybe it’s just that they look cool: which, yep, I will admit that a folding cleaver blade looks cool. Especially the Asada Micarta, the up-market version of the Asada with a better blade steel and nicer handle materials. The green canvas micarta and stonewashed cleaver blade look very cool when you pop it open, but what do you actually… do with these knives? Let’s dive in.
Key Specs: Gerber Asada
The Asada does get some things right: like blade steel choice. If you’re going to be chopping through things (which, again, you probably won’t) then a tough tool steel that resists chipping is a necessity, and D2 has been that tough tool steel for decades. Since the Asada Micarta is the fancier version of the regular Asada, it’s relevant to compare to the base steel: 7Cr17. A quick glance at a chemical composition chart quickly shows why D2 performed better than 7Cr – it’s got double the carbon content (.6-.75 to 1.55) which is the primary determinant of edge retention. It’s also got 50% more molybdenum, which is a large factor in the strength and toughness of the blade, and it’s got 5 times the amount of vanadium, which also increases strength and wear resistance as well as limiting grain size (creating a cleaner edge when sharpened.) It also has significantly less chromium, which is the primary determinant of corrosion resistance – which is why 7Cr17 is considered a stainless steel, and D2 isn’t. It’s not as rust-prone as high carbon steels or exotic alloys like Maxamet, but it will stain more easily than 7Cr – which is probably a worthwhile tradeoff for the increased performance.
As far as the blade shape itself, the Asada’s blade measures 3” long with a 2.5” cutting edge thanks to a pronounced forward finger choil. The forward edge of the blade is concave, curved inwards to create a quasi-point, and the grind is full flat from the sharpened edge all the way up to the spine. The plunge line is curved, intersecting the bottom of the blade about halfway across the forward finger choil. The sharpened edge itself is all belly with no straight portion, which is good for the blade shape as it’s meant to be used in a rocking motion. Being a cleaver, the relatively thick (0.14”) blade stock makes sense, but it is pretty chunky blade stock for a blade that’s only 3” long. Blade finish on the Asada Micarta is a pronounced stonewash finish which is a nice visual element.
Deployment & Lockup
The Asada Micarta uses a flipper tab exclusively for deployment, and is secured by a stainless steel framelock. Ball bearings in a cartridge provide a smooth deployment, and that’s about the last nice thing I have to say about deployment and lockup on the Asada Micarta. This knife has probably the worst lock-stick I’ve ever experienced in a pocket knife, and I kept hoping it would get better as time went on and it broke in – but it never did. It’s not just lock-stick, the geometry of the lock face is all wrong, with a solid flick (with a bit of wrist movement) seating the lock bar well beyond the lock side edge of the blade tang from the factory. For a knife to have lockbar overtravel out of the box from the factory doesn’t bode well for its long-term longevity, because the lock will continue to travel further right as the lock wears in. The lock stick is so bad that I couldn’t actually release the lock while wearing Nitrile disposable gloves at work and occasionally needed to use a pocket screw driver to dislodge the lock bar from the tang. This is annoying and also potentially dangerous. Thankfully there’s no blade play when open either vertically or horizontally, but the lock stick isn’t acceptable on a knife selling for $40. There’s also no cutout to access the lock bar, so you’ve got to shove the pad of your thumb down in between the two scales and try to leverage the lock bar open indirectly. It’s all bad.
Deployment is okay, the Asada has a pretty mushy detent but the ball bearings plus the weight of the blade means you can usually get it to deploy successfully the first try. One neat feature of the Asada is the “pinch plate” on the lock side – your middle finger rests on it while you’re gripping the knife to deploy it, and it prevents you from putting extra strain on the lock bar during deployment which can cause the blade to hang up. It also serves as a lockbar overtravel stop when you’re unlocking the blade from open, which could be a real concern considering the lock stick. Sorry to beat a dead horse.
Features, Fit & Finish
The most interesting feature on this knife is right there in the name: the canvas micarta handle scale. Canvas micarta isn’t necessarily a functional upgrade over the base model (which has an anodized aluminum scale) since they both weigh an identical 4.8 ounces – this is because the scale only covers the stainless liner on the show side of the handle, which is also there on the base version. The Micarta is a nice visual touch, though, with visible grain and the sort of worn-in appearance you get from a really old pair of denim jeans around the corners. It does also gradually absorb oils and dirt from your hands, over time developing a patina from use that an aluminum scale never will – it’s of course up to the consumer to decide if this is a benefit or a fault.
For carry, the Asada has a one-position pocket clip, a very wide bent steel clip that is set up for right hand tip up carry only. The “pinch plate” included on the lock side is clever, eliminating an issue that a lot of other framelocks just ignore, which is the user placing pressure on the lockbar (and thus increasing the detent strength) when they’re trying to open it. This has made some framelocks very hard to open in the past – the Kershaw Bareknuckle suffers from it badly, as do many of the Sinkevich designed Zero Tolerance knives. Your middle finger naturally falls on the pinch plate when you’re gripping the knife to flip it open, so you don’t have to think about where to place your hands. It also serves as an overtravel stop to prevent lockbar metal fatigue. Gerber went relatively minimal on branding with the Asada, with the Gerber logo laser etched on the show side of the blade and a serial number on the opposite side, and “Gerber” printed on the pocket clip being the only markings on the knife.
Let’s talk about fit and finish, because this knife really got the hair on the back of my neck to stand up. I’m not a huge snob about build quality because I just want things that work – like the lightweight Spyderco Manix 2, for instance, where the scales are joined together with the sloppiest thermo-weld you’ve ever seen. Great knife. But the general indifference to build quality present on the Asada kind of drives me nuts, and I’m not even talking about just the lock stick – because I’ve clearly already talked about the lock-stick enough already.
The screws – none of the screws on this knife are centered in the holes they’re supposed to go in. The two screws holding the pinch plate in place – off center. The lock side of the pivot pin – off center (in the metal scale!) Clip retaining screws – off center, two different depths, one screw hole larger than the other. The hole for the pivot pin on the micarta scale is too large and also off center from the screw and has rough edges. All three body retaining screws- off center of their holes. Is it just the screws? No, of course not, the edge grind on the blade itself looks like someone sneezed while they were sharpening it. It looks like the blade was ground in the Leatherman factory (sorry, it’s true, I’ve never seen a Leatherman blade with a straight grind.) The Micarta scale doesn’t fit the stainless liner behind it, but not like in an intentional way like the original Spyderco Gayle Bradley folder – just in a haphazard way. I’d forgive this stuff if the knife worked great, but…
I asked the very nice people at Gerber for this knife for a review (along with a very neat multi-tool which I’ll be reviewing soon as well) because I wanted to answer one basic question: just what do you actually do with a folding cleaver? I carried the Asada Micarta for a few weeks and my answer is still: I have no idea.
But first, carry. Is there something nice to say about the Asada? Sure, it’s got a good pocket clip! The super-wide pocket clip gets all the pocket clip basics right (provided you’re not looking for a deep carry clip.) It has very strong tension, a shallow approach angle so it doesn’t catch on things and scrape paint, the contact patch is rounded so it slides over a pocket nicely, and there’s plenty of room at the wide point for the hem. The chunky square clip definitely fits the aesthetic of the knife too, like something you’d expect a member of Mumford & Sons to whip out and cut a new string for his guitar with. But man, this is a heavy knife considering the overall size – a 7.5” overall knife weighing almost 5 ounces is a bit chunky. That’s probably partially due to the liners not being skeletonized at all, but also a stainless framelock with a stainless liner and extra hardware and a chunky blade is never going to be very light.
Ergonomics are quite good for me, that pronounced forward finger choil giving you a second grip to use for more detailed tasks, and there’s plenty of room in there for your index finger – it’s wide and deep enough. The spine is straight so there’s no thumb ramp or jimping on the back, but the wide (0.14”) blade stock means you’ve still got a pretty solid surface to rest your thumb on for downward pressure. Moving your hand rearward on the handle is also comfortable, with the flipper tab forming an effective finger guard and the palm swell filling the hand nicely. That relatively flat pocket clip also doesn’t protrude into your palm and create a hot spot – it’s a comfortable knife to use!
But, back to my original question – what do you do with this? Well, this will come as no surprise, but it’s pretty terrible at piercing things, even with the quasi-tip formed by the concave forward edge of the blade, the angle is just too obtuse and pointed downward to be much use for piercing hard plastic. You can do it, but it’s a two-step process: struggle to force the tip through, then slide the blade in to the center of the belly and pull down. It’s also not a great box opener, due to the super low placement of the tip forcing the handle down relative to the box you’re cutting.
But, you say – a cleaver is made for food prep! Ah, yes, here’s the rub: the Asada is a flipper, and the handle is not situated above the edge of the blade. So the flipper tab protrudes down further than the edge meaning you can’t get the edge fully into contact with a cutting board (like you can on the Spyderco Kapara) to cut things, and even if it wasn’t there, your hand and the handle would still get in the way. I tried some light food prep (dicing up some green onions for ramen) and found the process to be mildly irritating, with the knuckle of my middle finger hitting the cutting board. The cutting edge of the blade is only 2.5” long, so the knife isn’t physically long enough to cut up an onion. You can use it to cut up an apple, but the wide blade stock makes it harder than using a normal kitchen knife, and honestly I can cut up an apple just great with a drop point. A cleaver is designed to cut through tendons and bones, and I can’t think of a situation where that would – or could- ever occur with this knife.
Which brings me to my point – all of my favorite EDC knives are drop points or something similar to it. A drop point blade may not be the best at any given task, but it’s really good at all of them. Stuff that’s difficult with the Asada is second nature with a regular old drop point. And aren’t knives supposed to make our lives easier?
So what’s the Asada good at? Well, it’s great at breaking down cardboard boxes – which for me are a series of long vertical cuts – and it’s easy to re-sharpen. That’s about it. Well, and it looks very cool on Instagram.
All these knives available at BladeHQ.
The most obvious alternative to this Gerber folding cleaver is another Gerber folding cleaver- the FlatIron. The Flatiron came before the Asada, and it’s similar in a lot of ways: cleaver blade, variety of handle scales, low and high end version, that kind of thing. The Flatiron is bigger, though: with a 3.5” blade and 8.375” overall, it also weighs a considerable 5.61 ounces in the aluminum version. The basic blade steel is 7Cr17 (like the Asada) with the Micarta version upgrading to D2 (ditto.) The main difference is opening method: the Flatiron uses an oblong thumb hole and washers for deployment instead of a flipper tab and bearings. The Micarta version also adds a polished pinch plate as an overtravel stop (basic versions just use a round metal overtravel stop) for a little bling. Pricing is similar, with the Flatiron MSRP for $37 for aluminum, $42 for G10/7Cr, and $60 for Micarta/D2 (retail is currently 30/35/45, respectively) and the Asada’s MSRPs set at 48 for aluminum/7Cr and 59 for Micarta/D2 (retail at 39 and 40 right now). My suspicion is that the Flatiron wouldn’t have as much lock stick as the Asada since the blade doesn’t flip into place at high velocity via bearings, but some of the reviews on BladeHQ point to that not being the case – still, at least the Flatiron will be more useful thanks to its lack of flipper tab in the way of cutting and its longer blade.
If I were buying a folding cleaver for EDC – and to reiterate, I wouldn’t – it would be the BladeHQ exclusive version of the Kershaw Static – the regular version of which my Matco Tool rep tells me he sells every single one he can get his hands on, for what it’s worth. The Static uses a flipper tab and KVT ball bearings for deployment, and the BHQ exclusive upgrades it to G10 handle scales and a D2 blade (from Aluminum and 8Cr13MoV) for $50. It has a 2.875” stonewashed cleaver blade with a full flat grind, uses the bent steel deep carry clip from the Bareknuckle, and weighs only 3.1 ounces.
CJRB – the budget line of Artisan knives – makes the Crag cleaver, which seems like an awfully good value for money, coming it at $35 with G10 scales and a 3.5” stonewashed D2 blade, a flipper and ball bearings, and an ambidextrous deep carry pocket clip. I haven’t reviewed any CJRB or Artisan knives yet personally, but I’ve heard good things about their build quality.
We’d be remiss to write an article about folding cleavers without mentioning the 600 pound gorilla in the room, the Kizer Sheepdog. The most comparable variant would be the mid-sized (3.2” blade) Vanguard Sheepdog, which is the ‘affordable’ version – while it’s still twice the price of the Gerber, it’s half the price of the original full titanium Bladesmith series. Designed by Chris Conaway of Sheepdog Knives, it’s a production version of the custom Sheepdog folder. With a 3.2” Sheepsfoot/Cleaver style blade made from CTS BD1N steel, canvas micarta scales, a liner lock, and super slick deployment via a flipper and ball bearings, the Kizer Sheepdog is one to beat in this segment – although you could buy two Asada’s for the Vanguard Sheepdog’s $89 retail price.
I wanted to like the Asada. The last two knives I’ve gotten from Gerber – the Fastball and particularly the Sedulo – were both excellent, the Fastball with some quality caveats but the Sedulo being a particularly impressive alternative to the Griptilian at a lower price. But the Asada Micarta misses on so many points for me. The primary one is the lack of a use case – it’s pretty bad at EDC tasks, but also too small and the rest of the knife is in the way of doing food prep tasks. The other stuff that makes it a non-starter for me is the build quality and the lock stick. I realize this is a $40 retail knife, but Civivi will sell you a knife in this price range that is perfect, and doesn’t require you to grab a pocket screwdriver to unlock it. So I don’t recommend the Asada. Sorry.
- Looks very cool on Instagram, who doesn’t like a little Micarta, has good ergonomics and a good pocket clip
- Atrocious lock stick, poor build quality, not good at cutting things