Last Updated Jan 2020 – Ask any professional cook or knife expert what features you should look for in a knife and you’ll get a pretty consistent set of answers. Everyone will agree that you want a high-quality steel, a blade design that suits the knife’s intended use, a comfortable handle, good balance, and ideally a long warranty that will cover any future mishaps. Shun’s Sora line has all of these features, at least at first glance. Why, then, is it so inexpensive compared to Shun’s other products?
In order to examine all of the factors that make Shun Sora knives less expensive and desirable than their other knife sets, let’s review a basic chef knife and compare it head to head with a product from Shun’s classic line. You’ll quickly see how Shun is able to cut their costs when making Sora knives and learn which of these shortcuts have an impact on the quality of the knife.
Shun Sora vs Classic
Shun Classic Chef’s Knife
Shun is an industry leader when it comes to high-quality Japanese style knives. Known for their high price, high quality, and great cutting performance, Shun knives are the standard by which other Japanese knives are judged. Their Classic line showcases many of the brand’s strengths with its classical stylings, Damascus patterns, and high-end steel.
If you’re buying a nice chef’s knife, you’re buying it for one of two reasons: the looks or the metal. Shun Classic knives combine both in an incredibly elegant way. By pairing VG-10 super steel with a beautiful Damascus etching, you get a durable, stain-resistant blade that’s quite impressive to look at and very, very good at holding an edge. The heat-treated steel has a hardness rating of 61 Rockwell C, allowing it to maintain a 16-degree double-bevel with only occasional honing or stropping. The high chromium content of the steel ensures that you don’t have to worry about cutting acidic foods or rush to dry your knife if it happens to get wet. In other words, it’s a pretty darn good knife for both serious enthusiasts and casual chefs alike.
The handle of the Shun Classic knife is made of pakkawood, a blend of both natural wood and synthetic binders that help make it strong, smooth, and water resistant. It’s not the most comfortable handle in the world,, but the asymmetrical D shape is still quite nice to use. The big advantage of this handle comes from an aesthetic perspective. Without any Western-style rivets, the dark, straight wooden handle serves as a subtle accent that underlines the beautiful curves of the knife.
You can’t talk about the aesthetics of this knife without mentioning the wonderful Damascus ripples yet again. Modern Damascus steel is created by folding together a thick layer of the steel you want (in this case, VG-10) and another steel (SUS410) many times. When you then make something out of the steel, there will be thin bands with different visual appearances. Knife makers (including Shun) often then dip the knives in a chemical bath in order to stain one steel and make the ripple patterns more visually distinctive.
Shun’s craftsmen are masters of making these patterns incredibly beautiful. While you can find lots of Damascus knives on the market, there are few with such elegant pairings of patterns, handle, and knife design. Shun’s products are very well put together in a holistic sense, with each part of the knife working very well with each other part.
Perhaps the most appealing part of any Shun product is the generous warranty. Shun has a full 10-year warranty available on their products. They’re happy to correct any defects you find or even sharpen your knife when it naturally gets dull.
And yes, this knife will get dull. The hard steel can only hold a sharp edge for so long. Luckily, it’s still soft enough to easily care for by hand. Simply strop it on an old belt or use your favorite honing steel once or twice a week to keep the edge in good shape for many months. Once or twice a year you’ll want to take it to a local shop, pass it over your whetstones, or mail it in to Shun for sharpening. As long as you care for your knife properly, it’ll stay sharp for many years.
Shun’s Classic knives aren’t their fanciest products by any means. They’re not the most basic, either. Instead, they’re the perfect mix of aesthetics, functionality, and price for many households. If you’d like a fairly affordable Damascus knife that’s made with very good steel, a Shun Classic chef knife might be the right choice for you.
Shun Sora Chef’s Knife
The Shun Sora Chef’s knife might seem similar at first glance. Until you really dig down into the details, it’ll seem like a minor aesthetic downgrade to the Shun Classic line at a fraction of the price. This is not the case. Shun has cut a number of corners with the design and construction of this knife in ways that might not immediately be apparent. While it’s an acceptable knife for the price, it’s not anywhere near as good as a Shun Classic knife.
First, let’s talk about the metal. Shun Sora knives are made of VG-10 that’s wrapped in stainless steel for aesthetics and “stain resistance.” From an aesthetic point of view, this is a nice feature that enables Shun to create what’s called a san mai edge where the two types of metal meet. The contrast in color creates a subtle wave just above the cutting edge that’s quite pretty to look at.
This doesn’t really add anything from a quality point of view, however. VG-10 is an expensive, high-chromium stainless steel that’s revered for its combination of hardness and stain resistance. In other words, when you buy VG-10, you’re paying a premium for its ability to resist stains. You don’t need to put a layer of stainless steel around it to protect it. Sure, the edge will look cool, but there’s certainly not a lot of functional advantage gained by this design decision. It’s essentially a cheaper version of the Damascus aesthetic.
Shun isn’t the only brand that does this. You can find san mai knives from other brands with the same combination of a VG-10 cutting core and stainless steel outer layers. In fact, many of these other knives are actually more expensive than the Shun Sora chef knife. If you’re a fan of the subtle wave created by the contrast of the two types of metal, this is one of the cheaper knives with this effect.
The Sora line features synthetic polymer handles in a traditional Japanese shape. This allows the knives to look fairly fancy from a distance. The handles are slightly grippier than traditional wood and arguably somewhat more comfortable. There’s nothing wrong with them, but there’s nothing really special about them, either. They’re simply a low-cost option that saves Shun a bit of money.
Interestingly, the cutting edge and warranty on this knife are the same as the more expensive Shun Classic line above. This means that you can expect the same incredible cutting performance right out of the box. A steep 16 degree double bevel is significantly sharper than the edge you would find on most Victorinox or Wusthof knives. Shun is more than happy to sharpen your knife for you, too, under the terms of their generous warranty. This makes this knife great for any kitchen where tools are cherished for many years.
There’s a small issue as far as this knife’s warranty is concerned, however: you might actually have to use it. The unremarkable synthetic handle I mentioned earlier connects to the blade in a somewhat suspicious and inconsistent way. This is NOT a full-tang knife. While some of these knives are solidly made and hold up for years, others have wiggly blades that sometimes even detach from the handle completely if the knife is dropped.
This issue only affects a small percentage of knife users. Most of the people who have bought Shun Sora knives are very happy with them. For those that do receive defective knives, Shun’s warranty provides a simple fix that ensures that you’ll have a working tool. In other words, this is a hassle, not a dealbreaker.
There’s no denying that Shun’s Sora chef knife is one of the cheapest ways to get a VG-10 blade into your kitchen. The prominent Shun branding and great visual design will impress your dinner guests. This knife is not without its downsides, however. If you want a dependable cutting tool that you can use for many years, you might need to use the warranty.
While there’s more than one reason to buy a knife block, this knife block is somewhat niche. It’s a very expensive set that features one of the cheapest lines of knives made by its manufacturer. The block features prominent branding and has lots of open slots for you to store your other knives. In other words, it’s like buying a slightly used luxury car: you get to show off something that appears quite fancy, but you don’t have to pay quite as high of a price.
This is definitely not a bad thing. Just like if you had bought a luxury car, you get a very nice product that’s quite fun to use. This knife set doesn’t have a lot of knives in it (only three), but the knives it does include are the ones that you’ll use the most. This means you get a chef’s knife, a paring knife, and a utility knife. The other inclusions, a honing steel and a pair of kitchen scissors, are other tools that will see quite a lot of use in your kitchen. This means you’re not wasting any money on gizmos you don’t need.
The knife block itself is beautiful, with the most important feature being the prominent Shun branding on the front. It’s very well made, with a wonderful polished finish that will look amazing on your kitchen counter. There are a number of empty slots that are yours to fill with your favorite knives from any brand, giving you lots of freedom to expand your collection later.
Just like the Shun Sora chef knife above, these knives have a somewhat questionable handle that doesn’t always stay solidly attached to the blade. Again, you should take advantage of Shun’s generous warranty should you experience any issues related to this. You may have to get a knife or two replaced, but you’ll still save quite a lot of money by choosing this less expensive line.
The knives themselves are sharp, beautiful, and fairly comfortable. The VG-10 cutting core easily holds a sharp Japanese-style grind with fairly casual maintenance, while the mirror-polished exterior of another type of stainless provides a distinctive san mai pattern on the edge. Other than the issue with the handles, they’re quite nice, especially for the cost.
This is not the set of knives you would buy to go to culinary school, nor is it a cheap way to get started in a new kitchen. It is, however, an okay way to get a core set of VG-10 knives while also picking up a knife block. If you’re like me and you enjoy trying out new knives, the extra slots will be super helpful to hold your favorite blades of any style.
Shun Sora Knives: Shun Knives On The Cheap?
Shun Sora knives aren’t perfect, but they’re quite good for the price. For a mere fraction of the cost of a more expensive Shun Classic, you can get a genuine VG-10 knife that’s still incredibly beautiful. Be sure that you research Shun’s warranty beforehand, though, as there are sometimes issues with the knives’ handles that may require fixing. It’s a small price to pay for a set of very sharp, easy to maintain knives from a top brand like Shun.