October 21

Shun Knives: A Detailed Review of the Premium Brand

By trk

Last Updated: October 21, 2022

Japanese knive, kitchen knife, shun, Wusthof knives

Shun (pronounced "shoon") is a Japanese knife brand. They're expensive, high quality knives, and are probably the most recognized Japanese brand in the US today.

In this review, we take a detailed look at the Shun knife lines sold in the US and discuss steel, shape, edge, handle, price, warranty, pros and cons, and the best Shun knives to buy. Our buying guide section will show you what features are important in a kitchen knife (or knife set).

Knives are a personal choice and what's right for someone else may not be right for you. We give you the information you need to make a smart buying choice. 

Overall Shun Recommendation: To Buy or Not to Buy?

Shun makes high quality, beautiful knives in many styles, both Japanese and Western. We enthusiastically recommend Shun knives for most kitchen tasks. But the sharp, brittle blades are not meant for bones and other hard foods. For those jobs, softer German steel is the best choice.

Shun Knives at a Glance

Here is Shun's knife lineup, according to their website. There may be discontinued lines still available at some retailers, but this is Shun's official lineup as of late 2022.

Shun also makes lines exclusive to Williams-Sonoma. For these, skip to the next section.

All Shun knives are made in Japan and have a limited lifetime warranty. 

For more details on knife features, see the reviews below. 

Knife Line

Features

Header

-34 layers Damascus steel (each side, 68 total)

-Proprietary VGMax cutting core

-32 degree bevel (16 each side)

-60HRC

-D-shaped pakkawood handle (for right-handed users), ebony or blonde, steel end cap

-Full composite tang

-Wide range of buying options

-App. $100-$200.

Shun Classic Chef's Knife 8

-71 layers VG10 and VG2 steel throughout

-32 degree bevel (16 each side)

-Octagon pakkawood handle in ebony (no end cap)

-Rabbet tang (partial)

-Includes wooden (SAYA) sheath

-Limited buying options (no sets)

-App. $250-$450.

Shun Dual Core knives

-AUS10A high carbon steel blade

-32 degree bevel (16 each side)

-Tagayasan wood handle

-Contoured handle (wider at butt) w/steel end cap

-Full tang

-Mostly Japanese style knives

-App. $100-$150.

Shun Kanso Multi-Prep Knife

-34 layers Damascus steel (each side, 68 total)

-Proprietary VGMax cutting core

-Hammered mirror finish

-32 degree bevel (16 each side)

-60HRC

-Round, contoured handle in walnut, blonde, or grey

-Full tang

-Wide range of buying options

-App. $95-$225.

Shun Premier Santoku Knife, walnut

-Shun's "starter" knife line

-VG10 cutting edge, 420J steel on upper blade ("san mai")

-32 degree bevel (16 each side)

-60HRC

-Full tang

-Synthetic contoured handle

-Limited buying options (but sets available)

-App. $65-$100.

Seki Magoroku

see at Shun

-VGMax cutting edge, SUS420J2 on upper blade

-32 degree bevel (16 each side)

-Round pakkawood handle, blonde

-Available only at Shun

-Limited buying options (no sets)

-App. $95 -$207 (at Shun).

Shun Seki Magoroku Chef's Knife

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Williams-Sonoma Exclusive Shun Knives

Shun Fuji chef's knife

Shun Fuji 8" chef's knife.

Shun also has several lines exclusive to Williams-Sonoma. They vary from mid-range quality (Kazahana) to high-end super steels (Fuji, Hakari, Kaji). 

Here's the current lineup:

Shun Fuji - 161 layer Damascus construction with SG2 steel cutting core (a top-of-the-line super powder steel), 16 degree bevel each side, tagayasan/wedgewood handle, full tang. 8" chef's knife goes for about $460.

Shun Hikari - Dual core Damascus construction with 71 alternating layers of VG2/VG10 steel, 16 degree bevel each side, birch pakkawood handle, angled bolster, full tang. 8" chef's knife goes for about $230.

Shun Kaji - 65 layer Damascus construction with SG2 steel cutting core, 16 degree bevel each side, ebony pakkawood handle, full tang. 8" chef's knife goes for about $300.

Shun Kazahana - AUS10A blade, 16 degree bevel each side, black pakkawood handle, full tang. 8" chef's knife goes for about $150.

We do not have detailed reviews of the W-S lines below. We will do a more detailed review of these Shun knives in a future article.

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About Shun

According to Wikipedia:

Shun Cutlery is a kitchen knife brand of the KAI Group, headquartered in Tokyo, Japan. In the United States, Shun is sold by Kai USA in Tualatin, Oregon—alongside the Kershaw Knives and Zero Tolerance Knives brands.
The origins of the Kai Group date back to 1908, when founder Saijiro Endo established the company in Seki City, Japan. The company produced various cutlery throughout the 20th century, including folding knives, razors, and kitchen cutlery. In 2002, Kai introduced the Shun Cutlery brand to the Western market. All Shun knives are currently made in Seki City and are distributed to over 30 countries.

Shun is known for exceptional customer service, their generous return policy, and free yearly sharpening for the life of your knives. They have a limited lifetime warranty on all of their knives.

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Helpful Terminology

Here are definitions for some terms you may not be familiar with.

Bevel: Also called blade angle, it's the degree of sharpness to which a blade is honed. All Shun knives sold in the US have a 32-degree bevel (16 degrees each side). This is pretty standard in comparison to German knives, which typically have a bevel of 14-20 degrees (each side). 

If you find this confusing, don't worry about it. The point is that all knives sold in the Western market have fairly thick bevels, which make them sturdy and less prone to chipping than than knives with thinner bevels. 

Cutting Core: The steel used for the sharp cutting edge.

Damascus Steel: A folded steel containing several layers of different steels, which enhances strength and provides a lovely, marbled appearance. Today's Damascus steels are primarily for appearance, as modern steels are much stronger and more durable than when the Damascus method was developed (in the pre-industrial era).

High Carbon Steel: High carbon steel refers to stainless steel with a higher carbon content than standard stainless steel; it does not refer to carbon steel (which typically has an even higher carbon content). Carbon makes blades harder, so they hold an edge longer, but it also makes them brittle, so they are prone to chipping. Carbon steel is also more prone to corrosion, which is another reason why high-carbon stainless is preferable to it (for most cooks).

Hollow Ground: Hollow ground means the knives have dimples along the edges, and can also be called a granton edge. The divots help with food release, so food doesn't stick as much to hollow ground knives as to smooth blades.

HRC: The Rockwell hardness rating of a knife. Most good quality German knives tend to be 56-58, and most Japanese knives tend to be 60-62. The higher the rating, the longer a knife will hold its edge, but harder blades are also more brittle and prone to chipping. Thus, harder Japanese knives are best for standard prep work, while softer-but-more-durable German knives are better for cutting through bone and hard foods (and also good for prep work).

Pakkawood: Pakkawood is Shun's wood/resin composite handle material, seen in the Classic line and a few others. It is a combination of layered wood and resin (plastic) that makes for a solid, durable, bacteria-resistant handle.

San Mai: This is a less expensive version of Damascus steel where one layer of softer steel is clad to the harder blade edge. San mai protects the cutting edge and extends the longevity of the knife, without the cost of a Damascus blade.

Tagayasan: The wood used for the handles in the Kanso line. Very durable, known in Japan as "iron wood."

Tang: The tang is the part of the knife that extends into the handle. A full tang knife has a blade that extends to the butt of the knife; a partial (or "rabbet") tang extends partially down the handle. Some Shun knives have a "composite tang," which means the blade steel and the handle steel are different, and welded together where the blade joins the handle.

Tsuchime: This is the hammered finish seen on the Shun Premier line. The hammering produces a beautiful textured pattern but also helps with food release (like hollow ground blades).

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About Shun Steel

Shun uses a few different Japanese steels for their knives. Many Shun lines have two types of steel on the blade: a harder steel for the cutting edge, and a softer steel for upper part of the blade to add durability and protect the blade.

Here are the types of steel Shun uses, along with the Shun knives you'll find them on.

AUS10A: (Kanso line) A high chromium, high carbon stainless steel more affordable than VG10 or VGMax. It is softer than VG10, with a Rockwell hardness rating of 58-60 depending on treatment. It offers less corrosion resistance than VG10, and will require more sharpening. It is considered a good quality starter level Japanese knife steel. 

Damascus: (Classic, Premier) Damascus steel is made from many layers of steel worked and hammered into a single blade. The blend of different steels creates a stronger steel and also takes on beautiful patterns when the blade is ground down. Damascus steel was developed in the pre-industrial era and traditionally hand-wrought. However, today's Damascus steel is not "real" Damascus steel in the sense that the blades are not hand made from several layers of steel, but rather, use a pre-forged piece of Damascus steel. Modern Damascus steel has the fundamental properties of Damascus, being made from several layers and it is high quality, but it's used primarily for appearance today, as modern steels can achieve similar and better strength without the elaborate folding process.

Damascus steel is not a specific type of steel, but can be made from different types.

Japanese 420J: (Sora) 420J is an inexpensive high carbon stainless steel with good corrosion resistance. It is an inexpensive steel and has a hardness rating of 58HRC, making it softer than most steels used for edges in Shun knives. This makes it a good material for the upper part of the blade, where it is used on the Sora line.

SUS420J2: (Seki) 420J2 is another inexpensive high carbon stainless steel with good corrosion resistance. It is seen mostly in inexpensive knives. It has a Rockwell hardness rating of 56. Shun uses it for the upper blade, not the cutting edge, which improves durability and protects the more brittle VG10 or VGMax cutting edge.

SG2: (Fuji, Kaji) A powdered stainless steel known for excellent wear resistance. Considered to be an excellent steel for high end kitchen knives. Similar to R2 steel (not used in Shun knives).

VG2: (Dual Core, along with VG10) VG2 is a high carbon, high chromium stainless steel with a Rockwell hardness rating of 57-58, depending on how it's treated. It is used in the Dual Core line along with VG10 to improve durability (because it's a slightly softer steel than VG10, it's stronger).

VG10: (Sora, Dual Core) VG10 is a premium Japanese steel with high chromium and high carbon content, as well as containing vamadium and molybdenum, which improve corrosion resistance. It has a Rockwell hardness rating of 60-62, depending on how it's treated. It is considered a premium Japanese knife steel.

VGMax: (Classic, Premier) VGMax is Shun's proprietary version of VG10 and has slightly better anti-corrosion properties. It has a Rockwell hardness rating of 60-61, depending on hardening. Shun says the "ultra-dense grain structure and purity make it both harder and yet less brittle than other high-performance steels.

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Does Shun Make Both Japanese and Western Style Knives?

ultra-dense grain structure and purity of SG-2 make it both harder and yet less brittle than other high-performance steels.

German chef's knife (Zwilling).

Shun Premier Chef's Knife, Grey

Shun Premier chef's knife.

Shun makes a huge variety of both Japanese and Western-style knives. Shun chef's knives in particular can be very similar to German chef's knives, or they can closer to the gyuto style, which is the traditional Japanese chef's knife. Different Shun lines have different offerings.

If you want a more traditional German chef's knife style, go with the Classic or Premier lines.

Here are the differences to look for in the different Shun lines. 

Blade Shape

German style chef's knives have a wide blade with a fairly steep curve from the edge to the tip (called the "belly"). Japanese style chef's knives can vary from this design considerably. The Premier chef's knife (shown above) is close to German design, but has a flatter, narrower blade. Other Japanese chef's knives can have an even flatter blade, but most have enough curve to use the blade in a rocking motion that's standard to Western (American) cooks. 

German knives typically have a full bolster as well (unless they're stamped), which adds weight and balance, and protect your fingers from the blade edge.

Edge Shape (Bevel)

All Shun chef knives made for the Western marked have a double bevel of 16 degrees on each side. Western chef's knives have a double bevel of 14-20 degrees, giving them a roughly similar cutting edge. (Somewhat ironically, Wusthof santoku blades have a bevel of just 10 degrees each side, making them thinner than most Japanese blades sold in the Western market.)

Hardness

Japanese knives have are harder than German knives, so they hold an edge longer, but are also more brittle, so they are prone to chipping and should not be used for bones or other hard foods. Thus, Shun chef knives are great all-purpose kitchen knives with the exception of hard foods.

Handle

German style handles tend to be flat and contoured, with grips on the bottom side and wider at the butt. Shun knives can be round, octagonal, D-shaped, or flat and similar to German knives. There is no better handel design and the best handle for a person is what feels most comfortable in their hand.

German handles also tend to be made of plastics, while Japanese handles tend to be made of wood or composites of wood and plastic (resin). Wood is beautiful, but plastic and composite handles are more practical: they're more durable and they're bacteria resistant, where wood is not.

For more information, see our article Japanese Knives: Better than German Knives?

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Which Knives Do You Need?

Shun Classic Chef's Knife 8

Chef's knife.

Henckels Paring Knife

Paring knife.

Henckels Bread Knife

Serrated (bread) knife.

A cook needs three basic knives: a chef's knife (or santoku) for general prepping, a paring knife for small jobs like coring and peeling, and a serrated knife for bread.

This doesn't mean you only need three knives. You may want a few different versions of each knife. You may also want a utility knife for in-between jobs that require something bigger than a paring knife but smaller than a chef's knife.

You may also want a Japanese knife for basic prep work, and a German knife for heavier work (cutting through bone, etc.).

And if you're a carnivore, you probably will want a boning knife and/or a carving knife, as well as a set of steak knives.

The list goes on.

So it's not that you should have only three knives; it's that you should have at least these three knives. With them, you can do nearly all cutting tasks.

For a list of all the types of knives available, see our article How to Choose the Right Kitchen Knives.

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About Knife Sets

Shun Sora 6pc Build-a-Block set

Shun's Build-a-Block sets are a great way to start your knife collection.

Sets are a great way to get a lot of knives at once, but they're not always the right choice. 

Some sets are so big, you won't use all the knives, or even know what they're for. You'd be better off getting the basic knives you know you need, even if the cost is about the same.

And if the set comes with a butcher block, do you have room for it on your counter? (And if you don't, where are you going to store the knives?)

But the truth is, you do need at least three knives, so sometimes sets are a great purchase. 

Our recommendation for knife sets is a lot like our recommendation for cookware sets: if you need several knives at once, a set is a good option. But buy a smaller set that you can add to as you discover which knives work best for you and add to your collection with knives you know you'll use.

Shun has several great basic set options that include a chef's knife (or santoku), a paring knife, and a utility knife or bread knife, plus a honing steel (an essential purchase for all knife owners). They also have a great build-a-block option, which comes with a few knives and a honing steel, but a block with room to expand your collection.

As great as it might sound to buy a big knife set at once, give some thought to what you want before you buy. 

The one firm exception is steak knives, which--if you eat steak--you should definitely purchase in a set.

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What to Look For in a Kitchen Knife (A Buying Guide)

This is our buying guide for kitchen knives--the features to think about before you buy.

Cost (How Much Should You Spend?)

Knives vary in cost from under $20 up to several thousand. You're paying for the quality of the steel, the quality of the handle, workmanship, and sometimes, the brand. 

Opinions differ on how much you need to spend to get a good quality knife--one that will hold an edge well and be well balanced and comfortable to use. We think a good 8-inch chef's knife or 7-inch santoku starts around $100.

You can pay less and get decent quality (Victorinox comes to mind), but if you want something higher quality, that will start at the $100 mark (and many people think it's higher than that). At this point, you get decent steel, usually a forged, full tang knife (though not always), and decent balance (which causes less strain on your hand). 

You can spend hundreds more on knives, too, but past about the $300 mark (for an 8-inch chef's knife), you might be paying for features you don't need. (Super steels are great, but past a certain point, the blade improvement probably isn't worth it.) 

Sets: Sets are harder to pin down because they vary so much in what's included. If you use the $100 figure for a decent chef's knife, you can figure out the math on a set (usually a better deal than buying individual knives).

Steel

Steel is probably the most important consideration when buying a knife, at least if you want good quality.

German steel is softer but more durable, so you can use it for anything in the kitchen, including chopping bones and hard squash (cleavers be damned). Most decent quality German knife brands (Wusthof, Zwilling) use a standard stainless steel that will get very sharp, but need more frequent sharpening than harder Japanese steels. The good news is that the softer German steel is easy to sharpen, and you don't need to be particularly skilled with knives to do a good job.

Japanese steel is harder, which presents some problems, especially for novice knife users. The steel holds an edge longer than German steel, but it's more brittle, so it can chip easily: never use a Japanese blade to cut through hard foods or bone. When Japanese steel does need sharpening, it's harder to get an edge on it and should not be attempted by novices. Harder steel is also less corrosion resistant because of the higher carbon content, although that's changing...

Japanese steel is where most of the exciting changes in knife steel have happened in recent years, as they try to make their harder steels more durable and more corrosions resistant. At one time, the majority of Japanese knives were carbon steel, which holds a superb edge, but rusts quite easily. These knives are popular among professional chefs, but home cooks prefer something easier to take care of--thus the general popularity of German knives.

But Japanese steel has evolved, and today, their high-carbon stainless steel is both hard and corrosion resistant. They accomplish this by adding vanadium and molybdenum to the steel, as well as some other elements that strengthen it and make it more resistant to rust and corrosion.

Shun uses "super steels" on most of their knives, meaning steels that are both hard and rust resistant. The section above on Shun steels defines all the steels they use in their knives. The more "super" the steel, the more spendy the knife will be. 

Do you need super steel, or any kind of Japanese steel? It really depends on your cooking style. Shun knives tend to be beautiful, well-balanced, and light, making them great for most kitchen jobs. But your kitchen probably won't be complete without a German blade or two for the tougher jobs.

Blade Shape and Size

Shun Classic Chef's Knife 8

Rocking cutting motion: get a chef's knife.

Shun Classic 7-in Hollow-ground Santoku knife

Flat up-and-down cutting motion: get a santoku.

Do you prefer a rocking motion when cutting? If so, you need a chef's knife, with a blade that curves up to a tip, allowing you to rock the knife efficiently on the cutting board.

Or do you prefer a flatter, up-and-down cutting motion? If so, the flatter blade of a santoku or nakiri is right for you. 

Of course, these are all chef's knife options. What about paring knives, bread knives, and utility knives? These are all fairly standard shapes, although you will find a lot of variation among each type of knife. Paring knives, in particular, can be thin or fat, short or long, smooth or serrated. Though a standard paring knife is a thinnish 3.5-4 inch blade, there are a lot of options to choose from.

As you can see, there is a lot of variety and no right or wrong answers--but this is a good argument, maybe, for not buying sets unless you know you like every knife in the set.

If you're a novice, how do you know what you like? Well, you don't--so you have to try different styles and see what fits best for you. Luckily, Amazon has a generous return policy, so if you're buying online, you can try several. (And if you're buying in person, even better: most kitchen stores have a butcher block and will let you take any knife for a test run.)

Blade Edge/Bevel

Blade Bevels Japanese and German knives

Shun knives sold in the US have a double bevel of 16 degrees (so this drawing is not accurate for Shun).

This is less important today because the majority of knives sold in the Western market (US) have a bevel of 14-20 degrees on each side. 

At one time, Japanese blades had a thinner cutting edge than German knives (as shown above), and those sold in Japan probably still do. But nearly all Shun knives sold in the US have a double bevel of 16 degrees on each side of the blade. This is pretty standard and not particularly thin (some Japanese knives have a bevel of just 10 degrees).

However, because the Japanese steel tends to be more brittle, even these fairly thick-beveled knives can chip. Thus, the thicker blade is not a license to use the knife on dense foods (like bone), and you will chip the knife if you do this.

And interestingly, German knives have gone in the opposite direction, and put thinner bevels on their blades. The standard Wusthof blade now has a bevel of 14 degrees (each side), and Wusthof's santoku and nakiri (both Japanese style knives) have just a 10 degree bevel on each side (go figure!).

All of this means that you don't have to worry too much about the bevel. But it is something you should know about before you buy a knife--and also when you sharpen a knife, as it's important for retaining the edge that you get the right angle when you sharpen.

Hardness

We've already discussed hardness quite a bit, but it's an important factor in a knife. The Rockwell scale is used to gauge hardness, and is abbreviated HRC when applied to knives (steels in general, actually). 

German knives have a hardness rating of about 56-58. Japanese knives have a hardness rating of about 60-62. 

Harder knives hold an edge longer, but are brittle and prone to chipping. Softer knives don't hold an edge as long, but they're more durable (less prone to chipping) and easier to sharpen when they need it. 

Again, there is no right or wrong answer, but you should know before you buy what the hardness rating of a knife is.

Unless you're buying at the low end (say, under $100), in which case the blade may not have a Rockwell rating (but you can assume it to be softer than 56HRC).

Forged Vs. Stamped

Shun Classic Chef's Knife 8

Forged: see the bolster?

Mac Hollow Edge Chef's Knife

Stamped: no bolster.

Forged knives are hammered out of one piece of steel and have varying thicknesses along the blade (for example, the bolster, where your fingers hold the blade, is thicker than the blade itself). Stamped knives are cut out of a piece of steel and are all one thickness (no bolster).

All Shun knives are forged, not stamped.

At one time, forged knives were considered much superior to stamped knives. But today, there are some high quality stamped knives on the market, such as Global and Mac (both good quality Japanese brands).

Some people believe forged knives have better balance, while others prefer the lightness of a stamped blade. Again, there is no right or wrong answer.

If you pay attention to steel quality and don't care if a knife is forged or stamped, you can find some great knives at lower price points.

Handle Material 

Handle material is important for two reasons: 1) comfort, and 2) bacteria resistance.

First, you want a handle that's comfortable to hold, not too heavy, not too light, and conforms to your hand (more on that in a minute). 

Most Shun knives are made from pakkawood, which is a wood/resin composite. This gives you the nice feel of wood with the bacteria resistance of plastic. Pakkawood is quite durable, and smooth to hold.

Most German and Western knives are made from resin or plastic. Higher grades are durable and heat resistant (Wusthof), while lower grades are rather soft and can melt easily if accidentally exposed to heat (Victorinox). Plastic is highly resistant to bacteria (unlike wood), so they are generally the only type of handle allowed in commercial kitchens (this includes pakkawood and other wood/sythetic blends).

You will find wood handles in all types of knives, but they tend to be found on either the lower budget lines (maple and hickory), or extremely high-end lines (exotic woods).

As with everything else, there is no right or wrong handle type.

Handle Shape (Ergonomics)

Shun Knife Handle diagram

Shun Premier.

Shun Dual Core Handle Butt

Shun Dual Core.

Shun Sora handle closeup

Shun Sora.

Shun handles can be round, octagonal, D-shaped (for right handed users, such as the Classic line), or flat, with contours along the bottom for grip and a widening out at the butt.

German handles tend to be flat, with small contours along the bottom for grip:

Wusthof Handle diagram

Wusthof handle.

Most knife handles are comfortable, and it's just a matter of personal preference what you prefer. But you should try a few--cutting with, not just holding--before you decide which style fits your hand best.

Weight

The weight of a knife is also important, especially if you have small hands or strength issues.

Japanese blades are thinner, with a partial bolster, so they tend to be lighter than German knives. Lightness is good for agility and can reduce strain on your hand during long projects.

Heaviness can help you cut through foods, as the weight of the knife pushes through them better than a lighter knife can. In this way, heavier knives can also help reduce hand strain.

In truth, most cooks prefer different knives for different tasks: light knives for basic veggie prep and heavier knives for cutting up meats or denser veggies. 

Since different weights are good for different tasks, many cooks have both Japanese and German knives in their collections. (One knife is rarely good for everything.)

Warranty

Any good quality knife should have a good warranty. This means at least 10 years, and preferable life.

All Shun knives have a limited lifetime warranty, which Shun has an excellent reputation of honoring.

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Honing and Sharpening Shun Knives

Shun Classic Honing Steel

Shun Classic honing steel.

We won't talk too much about sharpening, but it is something you need to consider when you buy a knife.

Even if you send your knives out for sharpening, you still need to own a honing steel. Buying a honing steel that's the same brand as your knives is one of the easiest ways to ensure you can keep an edge on the blade for as long as possible between sharpenings. (This is less important with standard steel, but for high end super steels, you should be sure you're using the right honing steel.)

You should steel your knives at least every other time you use them. Honing smooths and aligns the blade, correcting microscopic irregularities that will dull a knife quickly if left unattended. 

see shun honing steels on amazon

It's also good to know that Shun offers free yearly sharpening for as long as you own a Shun knife--you just pay for shipping, and they'll do the rest.

If you do want to sharpen your own knives, it's a good skill to have, but it can be tricky to learn and to get right. We recommend you read up on different knife sharpening systems and practice on your inexpensive knives before you try to sharpen the more expensive ones.

For more information on knife care, see our article Knife Safety, Knife Care, and Knife Skills: The Basics for Beginners.

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Shun Classic Review

Shun Classic Chef's Knife 8

Shun Classic chef's knife.

See on Amazon

See at Williams-Sonoma

See at Shun

About $100-$200 for individual knives

Features

The Shun Classic is the original and most popular of all the Shun lines, with the 8-inch chef's knife and 7-inch santoku probably the most common in American kitchens. It would be hard to see anyone disliking these knives--but do note that the D-shaped handle is designed for right-handed users.

  • 34 layers Damascus steel (each side, 68 total)
  • Proprietary VGMax cutting core
  • 32 degree bevel (16 degrees each side)
  • 60 HRC
  • D-shaped pakkawood handle in ebony or blonde
  • Steel end cap on butt
  • Full composite tang (different metal than the blade)
  • Made in Japan

Buying Options

Shun Classic knives have a lot of buying options, including several shapes and sizes of chef's knives, karitsuke chef's knives, utility knives, serrated and smooth-edged paring knives, smooth and hollow ground santoku knives, nakiri, cleaver, bread knife, steak knife, slicing knives, Asian prep knives, boning and fillet knives, carving forks, and a honing steel (which we recommend buying if you don't go with a set that includes one).

Several sets are also available, including build-a-block sets which come with just a few knives that you can add to as you decide which knives you want. You can also get carving sets, barbecue sets, steak knife sets, and more. 

Rather than listing all the buying options, we recommend you look at Shun knives on Amazon or, for a full listing, see the Shun site--but don't buy from Shun unless you've compared prices, because the prices are higher than at other retailers on most items.

Cutting Performance and Ergonomics

With the VGMax cutting blade, Shun Classic provides excellent cutting performance that will last for a long time. The 32 degree edge means more durability but less precision, so the Shun Classic is an excellent all-purpose knife, but not the right choice for specific, precision cutting--for example, what you would want for making sushi. 

The composite tang adds good balance to the knife without adding a lot more weight. We like that they use a different steel for the tang because it keeps the cost lower (a knife doesn't need VGMax steel in the tang).

The chef's knife is shaped very much like a Western-style chef's knife; if you want a more Japanese-style chef's knife, consider the kiritsuke, or gyuto-style chef's knife. The santoku is also a great option.

The D-shaped handle has a firm,  comfortable grip, but it's designed for right-handed users, so the Classic line is not the right choice for left-handed knife users. (There are supposedly left-handed handles available, but we haven't found them anywhere, including Shun's website.)

Pros and Cons

Pros: Excellent quality steel, sharp cutting blade, bevel thick enough for all-purpose cutting.

Cons: D-shaped handle for right-handed users only, brittle steel can chip if used on hard foods or bone (do not do this).

Recommendation

If you're just looking for a good chef's knife or all-purpose knife, we recommend the Shun Classic 8" Chef's Knife or 7" santoku (see it in blonde) or hollow ground Santoku. You may want to look at the wide variety of chef's knives in the Classic line (there are at least a dozen), but these are excellent knives for most users.

If you want a set, we recommend the 5 piece starter set, which includes a chef's knife, utility knife, paring knife, honing steel, and knife block. This set has everything you need (except maybe a kitchen shears) and nothing you don't. (See this set in blonde.)

If you want a starter set you can expand, look at the Shun Classic Build-a-Block sets: this is a great option if you're not sure exactly what you want, but know you'll want more knives in the future.

Shun Classic 5piece Starter Block Set

Shun Classice 5pc starter set.

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Shun Dual Core Review

Shun Dual Core Kiritsuke, with sheath.

See on Amazon

See at Shun

About $250-$450 for individual knives

Features

Shun Dual Core is a newer line without a lot of buying options. The blade technology is innovative, with two high carbon steels folded together into a beautiful herringbone pattern, with both steels alternating along the blade edge (rather than having one VG10 or VGMax cutting edge and a softer steel on the upper part of the blade, as with the Classic and Premier lines). The alternating high carbon steels are intended to keep the blade sharp even when it wears down.

  • 71 layers VG10 and VG2 steel throughout blade
  • 32 degree bevel (16 degrees each side); yanagiba has a single 16 degree bevel
  • 60 HRC
  • Octagon pakkawood handle in ebony (without an end cap)
  • Rabbet tang (partial)
  • Includes wooden (SAYA) sheath
  • Made in Japan.

Buying Options

Dual Core is a fairly new line, so there aren't a lot of buying options. You can see the complete Dual Core lineup at Shun, which includes a kiritsuke (Japanese chef's knife), santoku, utility, nakiri, and yanagiba. 

No sets are available yet.

Cutting Performance and Ergonomics

The Dual Core knives are amazing (for the price, they'd better be). The blade is extraordinary and the edge lasts a long time. As with most Shun knives, we have no complaints about the blade, and this one is even better than Classic (or even Premier).

The partial tang keeps this knife light and nimble, which is a great feature in a Japanese knife (but perhaps not the right choice for an all-purpose chef's knife). 

Shun Dual Core Handle Butt

The knife feels balanced and good in your hand. The handle is octagonal, and quite comfortable, whether you cut right- or left-handed. Unlike other Shun lines, it has no end cap. These knives are pretty minimalist in appearance, but the performance is truly exceptional.

Note that these are more traditionally styled Japanese knives, so the chef's knives ("kiritsuke") have a flatter blade than Western-style chef's knives.

Pros and Cons

Pros: Excellent sharpness and edge retention, beautiful minimalist design, top quality steel blade.

Cons: No sets available (yet), mostly Japanese style chef's knives, expensive (even compared to other Shun lines), brittle steel can chip if used on hard foods or bone (do not do this).

Recommendation

If you read the Amazon reviews on the Shun Dual Core knives, you will see an amazing number of positive reviews and an even more amazing amount of negative reviews (none). If you want a standard all-purpose kitchen knife, nearly any of the Dual Core knives will deliver. Remember, no sets are available yet, so you'll have to buy the knives individually. These are both great options:

Shun Dual Core 8-inch Chef's Knife

Shun Dual Core 7-inch Santoku

Note that the yanagiba (sushi) knife has a single bevel, so is not the right choice for an all-purpose American chef's knife (or a left-handed person).

The knife feels balanced and good in your hand.

Shun Dual Core nakiri knife.

buy shun dual core knives:

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Shun Kanso Review

Shun Kanso 8 Chef's Knife

See on Amazon

See at Williams-Sonoma

See at Shun

About $100-$150 for individual knives.

Features

Kanso is a principle in Zen philosophy that means simplicity. The Kanso line is a knife line stripped down to essentials: a sharp blade, a comfortable handle, and the right balance to make the knife a joy to use. 

There's nothing fancy about the Kanso line, but they are excellent knives for the price.

  • AUS10A high carbon steel blade
  • 32 degree bevel (16 each side)
  • HRC 58-60 
  • Tagayasan wood handle (actual wood)
  • Contoured handle (wider at butt) w/steel end cap
  • Full tang
  • Made in Japan

Buying Options

The Kanso line offers all the basic knives including chef's, paring, and santoku, plus a few Japanese style nakiri and utility knives, as well as a bread knife, boning knife, brisket (slicing) knife, boning and fillet knife, and honing steel.  Kanso chef's knives are more Japanese style than German style.

Kansos are also available in several set options, including build-a-block sets, a basic 3 piece starter set (no block), and a 5-piece block with the three basic knives plus a honing steel (a great option). You can also buy Kanso steak knife sets, a barbecue set, and more.

For the entire lineup, see the Shun site.

Cutting Performance and Ergonomics

Kanso blades use just one type of steel--high carbon AUS10A--which is layered for strength. As we said in the section on Shun steels (above), AUS10A is a high carbon stainless steel inferior to VG10 and VGMax. It is less rust resistant, more brittle, and won't hold a blade as well as VG10 or VGMax. Its primary advantage is its lower cost, which is why the Kanso line is less expensive than lines containing VG10 or VGMax steels. 

Having said that, AUS10A is still a high quality high carbon steel, and the Kanso is a good knife for the price.

As you can see in the image above, the Kanso chef's knife cutting edge curves up to the tip similar to a Western chef's knife, but the blade is slightly narrower and has a backward curve up to the handle, giving it a distinctly Japanese look and feel. 

The handle is made from durable but natural Tagayasan wood (no composite material). It is contoured to fit the hand and is usable by right- and left-handed people. It flares out at the butt end slightly for a firm, comfortable grip:

Shun Kanso Handle Butt

Kanso contoured handle is wider at the butt end.

Because the handle is made of natural wood, Shun designed the knife with the tang protruding slightly form the butt. This is so they could file the steel, preventing sharp edges that can form when the wood shrinks from use (it's a nice design touch).

The finishing of this knife is not as good as other Shun lines. The wood is a little rough, and the rivets can protrude slightly, making the grip uncomfortable (we didn't have this issue, but some reviewers did). 

Overall, the performance is not as good as Classic, but for the price, it's a very nice knife.

Pros and Cons

Pros: Sharp, natural wood handle, priced lower than other Shun lines, several buying options and sets available.

Cons: The steel isn't quite as good as VG10 or VGMax, some users found the handle uncomfortable.

Recommendation

If you want a Shun at an economical price point, the Kanso is a good choice (Sora is also an option).

Here are our recommended buying options:

Kanso 7-inch Santoku Knife

Kanso 8-inch Chef's Knife

Kanso 3 Piece Starter Set (8" chef's knife, 6" utility knife, 3.5" paring knife)

Kanso 5 Piece Set (7" santoku, 6" utility knife, 3.5" paring knife, honing steel, butcher block)

Shun Kanso 5 Piece Set

BUY SHUN KANSO KNIVES:

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Shun Premier Review

Shun Premier Chef's Knife, Grey

Shun Premier 8" Chef's Knife in grey.

See on Amazon

See at Williams-Sonoma

See at Shun

About $95-$225 for individual knives.

Features

The Shun Premier is an upgraded version of the Classic line: it has the same proprietary VGMax core steel and pakkawood handle, but the blade has a hammered finish ("tuschime") that adds both beauty and functionality, as the texture helps food to release more easily than a smooth blade.

It's debatable if the Premier is worth the higher price than the Classic, as it uses the same steel and the same pakkawood handle. But the cost is just a little more on most knives and sets, you have more colors to choose from--walnut, blonde, and grey--and there's no debating the beauty of the knife. 

  • 34 layers Damascus steel (each side, 68 total)
  • Proprietary VGMax cutting core
  • Hammered mirror finish
  • 32 degree bevel (16 each side)
  • 60HRC
  • Round, contoured handle in walnut, blonde, or grey pakkawood w/steel end cap
  • Full composite tang (different steel than the blade)
  • Made in Japan.

Buying Options

The Shun Premier line has several buying options, including traditional Japanese style knives and Western style knives, although Sora chef's knives are more Japanese than German style. There are almost as many buying options as in the Classic line, so if you're a collector or like your knives to match, the Premier line is a good choice. 

Several sets are also available, including build-a-block sets (a great option if you're not sure which knives you want), starter sets, full sets, barbecue sets, steak knife sets, and more.

We recommend you see the full line at the Shun site--but don't buy there without comparing prices because they tend to be higher.

Cutting Performance and Ergonomics

The blade on the Shun Premier is functional as well as gorgeous, with the hammered finish reducing drag and helping the blade resist sticking. We found it noticeably better slicing raw chicken compared to a smooth blade. Is it really noticeable in regular use? If food is moist, it will still likely stick a bit. But this is true for all knives, so slightly better stick resistance is a nice feature, but probably not a necessary one.

The blade is super sharp, but brittle, like all Shun knives. So these knives are excellent for most kitchen work, but do not use them on bones or other solid foods, or you can chip the knife. The high-end high carbon steel holds an edge beautifully, but is not the right blade for hard foods. 

Note that the chef's knife has a westernish shape, with a curved cutting edge, but the knife is slightly narrower and less full-bodied than a German style chef's knife.

Shun Premier Handle, Walnut

The handle is slightly wider then the Classic line and has a contour along the bottom, but it is symmetrical, so is usable by both right- and left-handed people, unlike the Classic line. 

The walnut pakkawood adds beauty in comparison to the standard black of the Classic line, and you can also find several Premier knives in blonde and grey (but we really like the walnut).

If you're trying to decide between this knife and the Classic, which is a nearly identical knife (except for the asymmetrical handle), the best way is to try both of them before you decide. Amazon's excellent return policy makes this easy.

Pros and Cons

Pros: Beautiful, holds an edge well, hammered finish reduces stick, symmetrical handle, several buying options (individual and sets).

Cons: Expensive, brittle steel can chip if used on hard foods.

Recommendation

If you fall in love with the beauty of the Premier line and have the budget, they're great knives you won't regret purchasing. 

Or, if you are left-handed, the Premier symmetrical handle is a better choice than the Classic line.

If you go with the Premier line, here are our favorite picks:

Shun Premier 8-inch Chef's Knife 

Shun Premier 7-inch Santoku Knife

Shun Premier 5 Piece Set (8" chef's knife, 6" utility knife, 4" paring knife, honing steel, butcher block).

Remember, the blades are brittle, so these are not the right knives for cutting bones or other hard foods.

Shun Premier 5 Piece Set

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Shun Sora Review

Shun Sora Chef's Knife

Shun Sora Chef's Knife.

See on Amazon

See at Williams-Sonoma

See at Shun

About $65-$100 for individual knives.

Features

Sora is Shun's starter line, with plastic handles, which helps keep the cost down. Somewhat surprisingly, this affordable Shun line has top notch VG10 steel on the cutting edge, which is not typically found in "starter" lines  of knives. 

Unlike the Classic, the Sora line is not folded Damascus steel, but rather uses the "san mai" technique: the VG10 cutting edge is clad by an outer layer of softer Japanese 420J steel. This adds durability and protects the edge.

Even though it's not folded, it still has a beautiful pattern on the blade that looks like Damascus steel. 

The Classic line is made with Shun proprietary VGMax steel, which is slightly harder and slightly more corrosion resistant than VG10, but VG10 is still a truly excellent steel, so you're not losing much with this blade. The J420 is not considered a high-end steel, but it's only there to protect the VG10 blade, so you're not giving up a lot, performance-wise, with this knife. 

The Sora knife is basic, and it looks basic next to the Shun Classic or Premier. But its performance is great, and it's one of the best chef's knives you can find for under $100 (just under $100).

  • VG10 cutting edge, Japanese 420J steel on upper blade ("san mai")
  • 32 degree bevel (16 each side)
  • 60HRC
  • Full composite tang (different steel than the blade)
  • Synthetic contoured handle (black only)
  • Made in Japan.

Buying Options

The Sora line doesn't have as many buying options as Classic or Premier (yet). Most are Western style knives with just a few Japanese options--such as a santoku--and there are some nice set options as well. 

See the Shun site for the full Sore lineup (but don't buy there without comparing prices).

Cutting Performance and Ergonomics

Sora's VG10 blade is super sharp, and the performance is really close to the Classic line. It's very light, which some people like and some don't: lightness makes the knife easy to handle and reduces hand strain, but it can also feel unbalanced, with most of the lightness coming from the plastic handle.

VG10 is premium knife super steel, so you can expect a razor sharp performance that should last significantly longer than a German knife (but not as long as Shun Classic or Premier).

Note also that the Sora chef's knife is more gyuto-shaped, with a flatter blade, than a Western chef's knife (which has a bigger curve up to the tip). Whether this is a plus or a minus depends on your preferences, but it's something to be aware of.

Shun Sora handle closeup

The handle is lightweight plastic, which you may love or hate. It certainly keeps costs down, as well as weight, but it's durable and resistant to bacteria, too. You can see in the image above that the blade is quite basic, and the rivet on the end sticks out too far (we think). But if you're holding the knife correctly, with thumb and forefinger pinching the blade, the rivet shouldn't be an issue.

You also have to be careful to protect this knife from extreme temperatures because the plastic could melt if it gets too hot or crack if it gets too cold.

A few users complained of the composite tang breaking apart (you can see pics on Amazon), but the complaints are rare, and the reviews on this knife are overwhelmingly positive. But is the "composite" tang really a tang at all? Since it's not one piece, it's questionable.

Pros and Cons

Pros: Excellent VG10 blade for a starter knife price, holds an edge well, very sharp.

Cons: Plastic handle is very basic.

Recommendation

If you're looking for a top quality blade at a starter price, Sora is a great option. You don't get the fancy Damascus steel, but you get that look, and more importantly, you get a super high quality blade for a lot less than Shun Classic or Premier.

Here are our favorite buying options:

Shun Sora 8-inch Chef's Knife (flatter blade than a Western chef's knife)

Shun Sora 7-inch Santoku

Shun 6 Piece Build-a-Block Set (8" chef's, 6" utility, 3.5" paring, honing steel, shears, butcher block)

Shun Sora 5 piece basic set (7" santoku, 6" utility, 9" serrated, honing steel, butcher block).

Shun Sora 6pc Build-a-Block set

buy shun sora knives:

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Shun Seki Magoroku Review

Shun Seki Magoroku Chef's Knife

See at Shun

The Seki Magoroku is only available on the Shun site. Given the much higher prices at Shun, we don't recommend this line--yet--and aren't going to review it until it becomes more widely available.

Shun Knife FAQs

Are Shun Good Knives?

Yes, overall Shun are high quality knives.

Do Shun Knives Have a Lifetime Warranty?

Yes, Shun knives have a limited lifetime warranty, and Shun has an excellent reputation for honoring it. 

Where Are Shun Knives Made?

All Shun knives are made in Japan.

Are Shun Knives Worth the Money?

Most buyers believe that Shun knives are worth the money.

Are Shun Knives Real Damascus?

The Shun Classic and Premier have real Damascus blades. However, this Damascus steel is cut from a pre-made layer and formed into blades, which is not the same as the traditional practice of hammering several layers of steel into a blade. Traditional Damascus steelmaking strengthened the blade, but this is not really necessary with modern steels, so the Damascus steel is largely done for decoration (but the softer steel on the upper blade does help to protect the harder, more brittle blade steel).

Why Do Shun Knives Chip?

Shun knives, and Japanese knives in general, are made from harder steel than German or other Western knives. The advantage of the harder steel is that it holds an edge longer, so requires less frequent sharpening. The disadvantage of the harder steel is that it's brittle, so it's more prone to chipping than the softer (but stronger) steel used in German knives.

Japanese blades are also traditionally thinner than German blades, which can also make them more prone to chipping. However, most Japanese knives made for the Western market are not as thin as those sold in Japan, so this is less of an issue than the more brittle steel.

For this reason, Japanese knives should not be used for cutting through bones or other hard materials (like winter squash).

Are Shun Knives Hard to Sharpen?

They can be. Because Shun knives, and Japanese knives in general, use a harder steel than German knives, they hold an edge longer, but they're harder to sharpen. In fact, you should not try to sharpen your Shun knife, on a whetstone or otherwise, unless you are experienced with knife sharpening.

Shun offers free yearly sharpening for life to their customers if you are willing to pay shipping, or you can find a knife expert in your area to sharpen them. If you want to learn how to sharpen them yourself, you should practice on less expensive knives first, and buy a Shun-approved whetstone or other sharpening tool.

What Angle Are Shun Knives Sharpened To?

The majority of Shun knives sold in the US are sharpened to a 16 degree bevel on both sides. This is roughly comparable to the bevels found on German knives, which vary from about 14 to about 20 degrees each side.

Which Shun Knives Are Best?

It really depends what you're looking for. All Shun knives are good quality. The Sora line is an excellent starter line, while the Classic and Premier are the most popular and offer the most buying options. The newer Dual Core line is probably the highest end line, but buying options are limited.

The Shun exclusive Williams-Sonoma lines offer even more high quality options (see above for links).

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Final Thoughts on Shun Knives

Shun knives are high quality and most buyers, including us, enthusiastically recommend them. You will also need a softer German knife for bones and other hard objects, but for most basic cutting and prep work, Shun knives are a joy to use. 

Thanks for reading!

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