Last Updated Feb 2020 – It’s sometimes hard to justify buying a Shun chef knife. Shun’s high-quality Japanese style knives are beautiful, effective, and fairly hassle-free as far as Japanese knives go. Unfortunately, they’re also pretty pricey. A nice Damascus Shun knife tends to be noticeably more expensive than options from competing brands like Dalstrong or even Yoshihiro.
Is this increase in price worth it?
Should you buy Shun, or should you pick up a more budget-friendly knife?
The answer depends on your cooking style, kitchen, and budget. With these reviews, we’ll discuss the best Shun options for most kitchens and go over the situations in which you should buy a Shun over a Dalstrong or another slightly less expensive Japanese-style knife.
In general, Shun knives are slightly better looking, slightly more hassle-free, and slightly more supported by the manufacturer than their competitors. This makes them ideal in a kitchen where style and ease-of-care are more important than price. If you’re only interested in performance, however, you can usually find similar knives made from the same metal that’s used in any given Shun for a (slightly) lower price.
The Best Shun Knife: The Shun For Most Households
Shun uses some of the finest steel in the world for their knives, but they don’t use the exact same type of metal in every blade they make. This particular Shun Classic chef’s knife has a core of VG-10 steel.
VG-10 is a particularly fine grade of stainless steel that’s strong, resistant to corrosion, and most importantly, fairly hard. The combination of these factors makes it exceptionally good at staying sharp over time, even with the extra-fine 16 degree edge that this blade comes with out-of-the-box.
I’ve already discussed the idea that Shun Japanese knives are slightly more expensive than the competition. The key word here is “slightly.” VG-10 blades from other reputable brands are actually quite comparable in cost to this Shun Classic knife. Importantly, however, you get the Shun name, an incredible warranty, and the trademark Shun Damascus styling on the side of the knife for just a few dollars more.
Let’s talk about what these things mean in a bit more detail.
First, the name. Shun is one of the most recognizable knife brands in the world. While European knife brands might carry lots of weight with professional chefs, Shun is a name that means a lot to your friends and family. Don’t get me wrong, it’s respected by professional chefs, too.
If you want to impress your dinner guests with your cutlery, Shun is perhaps the best choice, period.
Second, the warranty that Shun offers is incredible. You can simply box up the knife and send it in and they’ll carefully take a look at the whole knife. If it’s in need of sharpening, they’ll sharpen it. The durable steel and solid construction ensure that this service makes up the bulk of all Shun warranty operations.
On the other hand, Shun is not shy about sending you a brand new knife should they notice a defect or damage anywhere in the blade. While I think it’s unlikely that you’ll have to take advantage of this warranty, Shun has acquired a reputation as being very generous when it comes to customer service.
Third, this is one of the most beautiful knives in the business. Shun didn’t invent the Damascus style that’s popular in Japanese chef knives these days, but they certainly helped to perfect it. This blade is clad with layers of special steel that have been carefully treated to bring out a wood-grain like pattern of alternating light and dark metal.
Unlike some brands, Shun strikes a careful balance between bold and subtle with these marks, ensuring that they’re an accent to the beautiful lines of your knife. You might be able to find other Damascus VG-10 blades, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better looking knife than this Shun Classic.
The handle of this knife is made from ebony pakkawood, a resin and wood composite that’s pretty standard in knives of in this price range. It’s made in a Japanese-style D-shape, making it somewhat uncomfortable for left-handed use. The knife feels surprisingly light despite the bulky looking end cap. Balance wise, the Shun Classic tries to rest about a half-inch in front of the handle. Overall, it feels incredibly nimble. You don’t get the same “heft” that you get from a European knife. Instead, you get a very maneuverable, sharp tool that you can use to make precise cuts effortlessly from any angle.
The VG-10 cutting core in this blade has no problems holding the 32 degree factory grind. If you want to go sharper, you can do that, too, although you’ll need to find a local professional or purchase your own set of grindstones. It’s got plenty of chromium, meaning it won’t easily rust during normal kitchen use. VG-10 is stain-LESS, not stain-NEVER, so you’ll still want to dry your knife fairly promptly after you use it and avoid throwing this knife in the dishwasher when at all possible.
One complaint you might have come across with regards to Shun is that their knives chip “often.” This is not the case. Shun has incredible quality control and produces very fine knives that are made from very fine materials. They also have very fine edges, however, in the sense that there’s not a lot of metal in the sharp part of the blade.
VG-10 is a strong and hard metal, not a soft and flexible one. This means it’s extremely good at staying sharp and retaining a cutting edge with very little maintenance. On the other hand, it is somewhat prone to chipping if you drop your knife too much or you try to cut through things like beef bones that are simply too hard for the knife.
This means that some inexperienced knife users will blame Shun for this knife chipping. This is a specialized cutting tool that should hold up for many, many years under proper use conditions. Be sure to use a good cutting board, avoid dropping your knife, store it carefully, and make sure that you don’t use it as a prying tool or try to cut through things like bones. As long as you follow these basic precautions, you’ll enjoy your Shun Classic knife for many years.
Overall, this is the Shun knife that I recommend for most people.
It’s fairly affordable, it has the trademark Shun branding and extremely high-quality finish, and it’s made of pretty darn good steel with a pretty darn good edge. The fact that it’s one of the most attractive knives on the market is a nice plus. If you’re not sure what Shun to go with, the 8” Classic chef’s knife is probably the right choice.
Before we move on, one similar option to consider is the 7” Classic VG-Max. It’s practically identical in terms of looks, but Shun has elected to use their own alloy that’s very slightly harder than regular VG-10 in this knife.
This makes it a little bit better at staying sharp and a smidge more brittle than the normal VG-10 Classic above. In most cases, this won’t make a big difference and you’re simply getting a 1” shorter knife. For those who want a more maneuverable blade or people with smaller cutting boards, this can be a pretty big plus.
Shun Kitchen Knives: More Brilliant Options From Shun
If you’re after a Shun knife set, I’d suggest starting your search with this 5-piece Shun Classic knife block. It comes with three VGMax Shun Classic knives, a knife block, and honing steel that will help keep the blades on your knives sharp for a little bit longer. The handcrafted bamboo knife block prominently displays the Shun logo and will keep your knives handy and protected at the same time.
One thing that you’ll almost certainly notice about this knife block is that it has more holes for knives. This is a good thing. Shun knives are incredible, sure, but they’re not the only brand of knives that you’ll want to have in your kitchen.
A softer, heavier German-style chef’s knife is great to have when you’re feeling lazy and you don’t want to risk damaging a fine Japanese knife. The fact that this block has spaces for knives like that is a great feature for the serious knife collector.
The most important feature of this set is definitely the Shun Classic chef knife. This is the same knife that’s reviewed above in great detail. The other two knives in this set, a paring knife and a 6” utility knife, help to round out your collection and provide options for more delicate tasks that benefit from the precision of a smaller blade. These are definitely two of the knives that you should consider splurging on in addition to your fancy chef’s knives.
Admittedly, the honing steel included with this block might not be as effective at keeping these knives as a simple leather strop. Despite this, I think it’s still a nice inclusion since it’s a very visual reminder to take care of your knives. It’s definitely useful, I just think I’d personally prefer to have a strop and some stropping solution instead.
Overall, this set is a brilliant way to jump-start your knife collection with three very useful high-quality Japanese knives. The Shun products in this package are incredibly attractive and have some of the best fit and finish in the industry. You’ll love displaying this simple bamboo knife block on your countertop.
The Shun Hiro chef’s knife is a step up from the Shun Classic in terms of hardness, aesthetics, and overall quality. It’s a much pricier knife that offers a handful of tangible upgrades and very distinctive looks. While it’s not the sort of tool that every home chef can justify, it’s an incredible knife that you can proudly display as part of your collection.
To be clear, the Hiro chef’s knife is not just for show.
Instead, it’s a totally functional chef’s knife that retains an edge even better than the VG-10 and VG-MAX classic knives above. While the earlier knives measure at about a 61 on the Rockwell Hardness C scale, Hiro’s cutting edge weighs in at 64 HRC. This is really, really hard. It allows the Hiro to effortlessly maintain the 16 degree-per-side factory grind or be sharpened to ridiculous levels by you or a local professional.
This hardness comes at some cost in terms of fragility and brittleness. You’ll want to employ the same preventative measures with this knife as you would a Shun Classic – avoid bones, stay away from the dishwasher, don’t drop the knife, and strop it regularly.
As long as you’re careful, however, you’ll find that SG2 (the steel used in this knife) is incredibly durable. It high chromium content makes it very resistant to corrosion, too, so you don’t have to worry about cutting acidic foods or letting your knife rust if you don’t dry it out immediately.
In terms of empirical testing, this knife will outperform the crap out of the competition. The folks who run knife tests tend to find that this 64 HRC knife can perform twice as many cuts as a 61 HRC knife before the knife gets dull, and a 61 HRC knife might perform twice as many cuts as a 56 HRC German knife before both get dull. To be clear, this won’t help your cooking ability at all. Instead, it indicates how long you can go before you take this knife to the shop or mail it to Shun to get sharpened.
Unlike the Classic line, this knife features an ambidextrous pakkawood handle that’s quite wide and very comfortable in either hand. It’s very well suited for use by left handed individuals. Just like other Shun knives, the fit and finish of this knife is incredible. It practically oozes quality from every grain in the wood.
The thing that’s most distinctive about this knife is the appearance.
In addition to plenty of Damascus swirls, this knife has a dimpled, hammered finish that gives it an incredible look. It’s like viewing the surface of a bubbling brook. This finish is subtle enough that it doesn’t interfere with the knife’s use very much. It is, however, somewhat slippery, meaning that some people have trouble using this knife in a pinch grip.
Whether or not the tsuchime hammered finish of this knife and the increase in edge retention are worth it will ultimately come down to your budget. For most people, I feel like this knife doesn’t offer enough of a tangible upgrade over the Shun Classic to make it a superior choice. Sure, you won’t have to get it sharpened as often, and it looks a bit nicer, but I think that the Shun Classic’s aesthetic is almost as striking as the hammered finish on this SG2 blade.
If you don’t mind spending a bit more money, however, I think that this is an incredible knife that you’ll love having in your kitchen. It’s a great conversation starter that you’ll love showing off, and the increased performance of the higher-end steel will give you an excuse to break it out whenever you need a crazy sharp blade.
No Shun knife comparison would be complete without a mention of their cheaper Sora line. The Sora blades feature a VG-10 core that’s sandwiched between a bit of cheaper stainless steel. While they don’t have Damascus finishes, this layering of steel creates a subtle wave-like pattern called san mai that’s still quite beautiful.
While Shun’s Sora knives are nice, they’re a visible step down in quality from the Classic line. Instead of a polished Pakkawood handle, you get a composite chunk that seems far less nice. The blades are polished, sure, and I’m a big fan of the san mai concept, but when you put one of these down next to a Shun Classic you definitely notice a difference. Most importantly, however, the handle and the blade are joined together in a way that’s most un-Shun like. Users report fairly frequent issues with this part of the knife during normal kitchen use.
The Sora line is still sharp, however, and it’s every bit as nimble as the other Shun collections. The edges are ground to the same 16 degree-per-side factory edge, and even the grumpiest knife expert will tell you that there’s no practical difference between the cutting core on this knife and the cutting core in a Shun Classic. This means that this knife is a pretty good substitute if you really need to save money.
Due to the issues with the handle, however, and the overall feeling of reduced quality, I’d recommend spending a few more dollars and picking up a Shun Classic instead. If you thoroughly understand Shun’s warranty and you’re willing to risk a broken handle, a Shun Sora can make a beautiful addition to your knife collection at a pretty low price. Be sure you know what you’re getting into, however, as you don’t want to wind up wasting money on a knife you can’t use.
Knife Comparison: Which To Buy?
Here’s a quick summary of three of Shun’s most popular lines so that you can determine which knife or knife set to purchase.
Shun Classic: VG-10 or VG-MAX (similar to VG-10 but Shun exclusive) is hard, holds an edge very well, and can be cared for easily at home. Polished pakkawood handles, Damascus finish. 16-degree per side cutting edge. A great option for most households.
Hiro: SG2, harder than VG-10 and holds an edge better. Can still be cared for easily at home. Polished pakkawood handles, Damascus patterns under hammered finish. 16-degree per side cutting edge. The better option if looks are a priority and you don’t mind spending more money.
Sora: VG-10 cutting core, stainless steel exterior. Same blade as the Classic, functionally. Composite handle. Subtle san mai pattern along the blade. 16-degree per side cutting edge. Users report issues with handles breaking after several months of use. A solid option for households on a budget, although you should be sure you understand what Shun will cover if your handle breaks.
A Review of Top Japanese Blades
Shun is one of the most talked-about knife brands on the market. Their high-quality blades are both beautiful and highly sought after. While they’re not necessarily as cost-effective as options from brands like Dalstrong or even Yoshihiro, Shun’s knives are some of the most impressive tools on the market.
If you don’t mind spending a little bit more for Shun’s incredible aesthetics and wonderful quality, you’ll be happy to add any of the options above to your kitchen