Cai Dao Vs Nakiri: What’s The Difference?

By Ryan Leavitt •  Updated: 07/19/21 •  6 min read

It is hard to name a tool more important in the kitchen than a knife.

And many chefs prefer using Asian-style knives in the kitchen for their superior sharpness and craftsmanship.

There are tons of Asian chef’s knives out there, and two particular blades that chefs confuse with each other are the Cai Dao and Nakiri.

The Cai Dao is a Chinese blade, while the nakiri hails from Japan.

If you need a cleaver-style knife that you can use as an all-around kitchen tool, then the Cai Dao is the pick for you.

Chefs use the Cai Dao like a chef knife, and it can be one of the most useful kitchen tools out there.

The Nakiri, on the other hand, is specifically designed to chop vegetables, so it isn’t the ideal pick for people who need an all-purpose blade for their kitchen.

Below, we dissect some of the most important features of both blades so you can figure out which one to get for your kitchen.

 Cai DaoNakiri
Blade size8”5”-7”
Blade profileFlatFlat
How do you use the blade?Push-and-pull motionPush-and-pull motion
What is it used for?All-around kitchen knifeCutting and slicing vegetables

Overview Of The Cai Dao

Essentially, the Cai Dao is a large Chinese cleaver that is specifically designed for vegetables.

In fact, the name of this blade literally translates to ‘vegetable knife‘.

However, while it was originally designed for vegetables, it can handle just about any ingredient in your kitchen except for bones.

It has a large, rectangular blade designed to slice through heavy vegetables and other ingredients.

Since it has a large rectangular shape, it can also be used to scoop ingredients and put them in a pot, pan, or wok right after slicing.

Unlike Western cleavers though, a Cai Dao is actually fairly light, as it lacks a bolster.

It also has a fairly short handle, which is part of the reason it is so light.

If you’re new to this kind of blade, it can be pretty tricky to get used to.

But after some practice, it could actually turn into one of the most useful knives in your kitchen.

Overview Of The Nakiri

A nakiri is also a knife designed for vegetables.

It boasts a rectangular, squared-off blade that is very flat.

A nakiri was specifically designed to handle vegetables and fruits in the kitchen.

While it might resemble a cleaver, it is much smaller, usually measuring between 5 to 7 inches in length.

The flat blade allows chefs to get extremely straight cuts.

The nakiri is ideal for slicing julienne vegetables and getting consistent slices.

It isn’t ideal for rocking-chop motions, instead, it’s recommended to use a push and pull motion.

If you’ve grown accustomed to Western-style knives throughout the years, then it might be a bit difficult at first.

But once you get the hang of it, a nakiri can change the way you cut vegetables and fruits forever.

Related: The best nakiri knives for your money

Cai Dao Vs Nakiri – Which Is The Better Pick For Your Kitchen?

Blade Shape

The first thing that we’ll be looking at is the way the blades are shaped.

At first glance, they might seem pretty similar considering that they are both rectangular.

However, a Cai Dao is much larger than a nakiri.

While a Cai Dao has a bladed that’s around 8 inches long and 4 inches deep, a nakiri has one that’s only around 5-7 inches long and 3 inches deep.

This is because they are built for completely different tasks.

But we’ll get into more detail on that later.

The shape of the Cai Dao makes it ideal for a wide variety of ingredients.

Chefs use these blades to cut through vegetables, fruits, meat, and even herbs.

And since it is so large, it can be used to scoop up ingredients before throwing them in the pot.

On the flip side, a nakiri is smaller and more fit for slicing smaller vegetables.

Because of its shape, a nakiri can easily make very straight cuts and slices on a variety of ingredients, but primarily fruits and vegetables.

Like most Asian-style knives, these blades have very sharp edges, making them very easy to use in the kitchen.


The construction of a knife will differ depending on the brand and model you’re buying.

However, Asian knife makers utilize a wide variety of processes when making their blades.

For a Cai Dao, it’s typical to find that they are forged from a single piece of steel.

They use different recipes of steel frequently, but one thing that stays constant is that they are made out of high-carbon stainless steel.

This material is very hard, so it is ideal for knives since it can help them keep their edge for much longer.

While there are a lot of nakiri knives that are forged from a single piece of steel as well, it’s also common to find models with a Damascus construction.

This is a process that involves hammering multiple thin layers of steel over a hard steel core.

For a nakiri, it’s pretty common that this process is completed by applying a hammered ‘tsuchime’ finish.

This gives a wave-like pattern on the blade, which is highly sought after in the culinary world.

However, if they don’t sport this hammered finish, they will have a standard Damascus finish that is equally as unique and beautiful.


Since a Cai Dao is a fairly large blade with a smaller handle, it can be pretty hard to use for first-timers.

If you’re used to Western-style knives, you might find the balance of a Cai Dao fairly odd.

It’s best to use a pinch grip with a Cai Dao as it gives you the most control, and since they are front-heavy, don’t expect the neutral balance you have on standard Western chef knives.

Instead, think of it as the knife leading you instead of you leading the knife.

With a Cai Dao, both hands will be much farther apart than usual, but this is something you’ll get used to overtime.

A nakiri also poses a learning curve if you’ve never used one before.

The main difference is that a nakiri uses a push-and-pull motion, not a rocking one.

This gives you more control and allows for more precision, but it does take some practice.

When shopping for Asian-style knives, it’s important to know that they are very different from their Western counterparts.

So, as long as you take the time to learn the ropes properly, you might find that these knives might suit your style!


So, there you have it.

Both of these blades are designed for different tasks.

If you are looking for a cleaver that can function as a sort of chef knife, then the Cai Dao is the right pick for you.

However, those who need something that is more task-specific might find that a nakiri suits them better.

Either way, as long as your blade can handle all the tasks you need to be accomplished in the kitchen, then you’ve chosen the right one for you.

Ryan Leavitt

Hi my name is Ryan Leavitt a Marine Corps Veteran and currently an over the road trucker (Long Haul). I am no expert chef but am enjoying preparing my own meals on the road and testing all the different knives.

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