Complete Shun Knives Review Guide: A New Perspective On Proven Success
By Bobby B. | May 31, 2019 | Knife Brands
Shun is a traditional Japanese brand of knives, popular for their thin, lightweight blades made of high-quality hardened steel, many including beautiful Damascus patterns. Owned by the Kai Corporation, Shun Cutlery has been making knives in Seki City for over 100 years. This area of Japan has long been known for its skilled blade artisans who’ve been making swords, knives, and other cutlery here since the 13th Century.
The spirit of this sword smiths lives on through each of the knives they produce. Made by hand, Shun knives can take as many as 100 or more processes to complete. They still follow many of the blade-making traditions of the past while using more modern Japanese Super Steels to increase performance for the future. For the reasons above and more, many consider Shun knives to be the best Japanese kitchen knives.
Shun Knife Lines
Shun Cutlery is one of the most popular producers of Japanese style kitchen knives in the world. They currently produce 7 main knife lines that are sold into the United States. Each line differs in quality level, price point, and which customers they are targeting, ranging from mid-range to to the higher-end of the kitchen knife market. Here’s a list of the lines with details and our review on each to help you in your search of which Shun knife to buy.
Shun Sora Review:
Sora is the least expensive Shun knife collection. It’s made of a 3-layer VG10 steel cutting edge and uses Japanese 420J polished stainless on the upper section of the blade. This composite blade technology puts the higher cost material only where it’s necessary. And, that’s on the edge where retention of the sharpness matters. In a continued effort to keep costs down and allow more home chefs to afford Shun knives, the Sora utilizes a textured PP/TPE plastic handle that has excellent grip and requires very little maintenance.
Shun Kanso Review:
We love the unique look of the Kanso collection, the next part of the Shun knife lines. It utilizes very simplistic design characteristics and only focuses on what’s important, which is a sharp blade and good balance. Kanso knives use AUS-10A Japanese blade steel. It hides scratches very well with it’s “Heritage” finish. The full-tang design adds strength to the knife and providing a solid base for the tagayasan wood handle. Tagayasan is very dense and durable and makes a great wood handle material.
Shun Classic Review:
As one of their most popular knife lines, the Classic Series is the lowest cost option that uses Shun’s proprietary VG-MAX Super Steel for its cutting core. This core allows for a sharper, more durable edge. It is also wrapped in 34 layers of folded Damascus steel on each side proving stain resistance. In addition, the ebony Pakkawood handle has an asymmetrical D-shape providing the user with a very ergonomic and comfortable design. These knives are specifically made for a right-handed chef. We’ve seen mixed reviews on comfort from left-handed users, so if you’re a lefty, we recommend the Premier Series.
Shun Premier Review:
Traditional Japanese Artisans make Shun’s Premier Series knives by hand. This is also one of their most popular lines. Made with a VG-MAX steel core, the blade is clad with 34 layers of hammered Damascus steel. The hammered texture produces dimples not unlike some hollow ground edges you’ve probably seen on other kitchen knives. This helps to reduce the effects of friction and to eliminate food from sticking on the blade when it’s being used. The handle on the Premier Series is a walnut-colored pakkawood in a symmetrical shape, so it’s ambidextrous, meaning it was built for both right or left-handed chefs.
Shun Dual Core
Shun Dual Core Review:
Another very unique blade from Shun, their Dual Core blades are made of layering two different high-carbon steels, VG10 and VG2. Once thought to be impossible, this combination will wear at slightly different rates, creating micro-serrations along the blade so its able to maintain performance longer. The Dual Core uses a rabbet tang to control weight, similar to how a samurai sword is constructed. It uses a traditional Japanese handle made of octagon-shaped ebony Pakkawood and comes with a saya (sheath).
Shun Blue Steel
Shun Blue Steel Review:
The Shun Blue Steel Collection does not have tons of options and is very exclusive. It can even be hard to find at times. Similar to the Dual Core, the Blue Steel knives have an octagon-shaped Pakkawood handle (very traditional Japanese look) and comes with its own saya. Unlike any other Shun knife, the Blue Steel knives are made with clad Blue Steel (should have been obvious by the name). This is a very high-end blade material. Note, it will patina over time and can give off a blue tint in the right lighting.
Shun Hiro Review:
A Shun Hiro knife is quite a treat to use in our opinion. Hiro knives use very high-end SG2 Japanese Super Steel. You can read more about SG2 below, but it’s very hard, but less brittle than the VG10 or VG-MAX steels, meaning less risk of chipping your thin blade by doing something silly. You’ll pay a bit extra for this high-end knife, but if you look around, many will tell you how much it’s worth it! The blade offers a hammered Damascus pattern. The handle is a dark charcoal Pakkawood with some crimson highlights.
Shun Knife Steel
The Kai Corporation, and particularly Shun Cutlery, have done a great job of choosing awesome, higher-end materials for their kitchen knives. Not only do they utilize great materials, but they incorporate many different options throughout their different collections as you saw above in our reviews of each knife line. If you’re wondering why they do this, it’s because it allows them to reach different customers with different needs.
A professional chef needs professional tools and also knows how to take care of them and can afford to buy the best. On the other hand, average home cooks like to have nice, sharp knives as well, but can’t afford $300 per knife. They also aren’t going to use them and put as much wear and tear on them either. For this reason, Shun comes out with a knife family that has lower-end steel to keep the costs down. Since that customer won’t use the knife nearly as often, a blade that won’t retain the edge as well doesn’t matter as much.
Here’s a detailed list of the steels that Shun typically uses in the core of their blades and what makes each of them special and unique.
This is a high-carbon (1.1% carbon) stainless steel that has good corrosion resistance, hardness and wear characteristics. AUS-10A includes additional vanadium which increases the toughness by producing fine grain steel during the heat treatment process. This assists the knife in taking on a fine edge.
VG10 “Super Steel” is very similar to AUS-10A. It is also a high-carbon (1% carbon) stainless steel. It is tough, holds a fine edge, and is stain resistant. Technically, VG10 is 1% carbon, 1% molybdenum, 15% chromium, 0.2% vanadium, and 1.5% cobalt. The vanadium helps ensure a fine steel structure, allowing for Shun’s long-lasting, yet extremely sharp edge.
The Dual Core collection of knives by Shun uses this combination in a folded Damascus pattern. Both of these high-carbon stainless steels are used in an alternating layers pattern. It gives the blade unique characteristics, both aesthetically and in performance. Since the steels will wear at different rates, the blade will develop micro-serrations that will help maintain the edge over time.
This is a proprietary knife steel that Shun uses in their Classic and Premier Series knives. It’s the latest in the “VG” Series and includes more carbon to improve strength. It is slightly better at wear resistance and edge retention than previous versions of these “Super Steels”. A great option for home chefs as it can easily be cared for at home.
SG2 is a slightly different animal that the other steels on this list. It’s known as a powder steel can can be made to be very hard (like 64 HRC). This gives it the ability to hold a very narrow angle and thus a thin blade, while staying sharper longer than the other steels. It’s also easy to care for at home. So, while it’s a bit more expensive, it’s a higher performance product as well.
The Blue Steel in Shun’s Blue Series knives is a high-carbon steel core sandwiched between two stainless steel layers. I provides for a nice, sharp edge and specifically fast re-sharpening. However, due to the lack of rust protection, these knives will need additional care to protect the edge from moisture and corrosion. Shun recommends their “Knife Care Kit” for this extra protection.
Shun Knife Comparison
It’s not uncommon when discussing Shun knives for someone to ask which one is best. With so many options, collections, materials, processes, and more, it can be difficult to decipher what you need or even want anymore. The BladeAdvisor team has found these to be the most popularly requested comparisons related to Shun knives. In an effort to help our readers out, we have written a quick comparison review to cover each topic. We hope getting very granular on the each series comparison will assist you in a buying decision between a couple great kitchen knives.
Shun Classic vs Premier
The Shun Classic vs Premier battle pits two of the most popular Shun knife lines against each other. Both are great knives in their own right. There are many similarities in the quality between these awesome knife collections, but also a few things that set them apart from one another.
Classic vs Premier Similarities
First, both use Shun’s proprietary VG-MAX steel for their cutting core as mentioned above. It’s ultra-hard and great for wear resistance and edge retention. Both are wrapped in 34-layers of Damascus stainless cladding to add corrosion resistance and sharpened to a 16 degree angle on each side of the blade.
Both lines have been around for several years, so there are many knife options to choose from in each collection, including several great knife block sets. These are both really nice knives and neither is the low-end option for Shun (which is still price high-end). Here are examples of our favorite options when it comes to Shun Classic knife sets and Shun Premier knife sets.
Shun Classic Knife Set
Shun Premier Knife Set
Classic vs Premier Differences
While there are many similarities between these collections, there are also features that makes each stand out from the crowd. One of the first thing you’d notice if you picked them both up would be the finish on the blade. While they both use VG-MAX steel for the cutting core and are both wrapped in Damascus folded steel, they look very different. The Premier Series knives are highly polished and have a tsuchime hammered finish. Of course it looks nice, but it also serves a functional purpose. Much like grantons or hollow ground dimples on the side of some blades, the hammered finish reduces drag. So you get the same benefit as the grantons and less food sticks to the blade when you’re cutting with it.
In addition to the finish, the handles are quite different too, both in the finish and the shape. While both the Classic and Premier Shun knives use a pakkawood handle, the Classic has an ebony-colored finish to it and the Premier has more of a lighter walnut look. As far as the shape goes, the Classics use a D-shape asymmetrical shape, specifically made for right-handed chefs. Whereas the Premier knives are completely symmetrical and have equal comfort for righties and lefties.
Classic vs Premier Conclusion
So, which is the best Shun Knife? Clearly both are great options. in our opinion, there are two deciding factors when comparing and contrasting Shuns’ Classic knives with their Premier knives. The first and easiest thing to consider is if you’re right-handed or left-handed. If you’re a lefty, the Premier Series is probably the better choice without giving it much thought. If you’re right-handed like most of the world’s population, the decision should just come down to aesthetics. Which one do you like the looks of more? Performance-wise, both are pretty much the same with a slight nod to the Premier for having the hammered finish that reduces sticking food. For this reason, we’ll give the nod on this one to Shun’s Premier Series!
Shun Hiro vs Premier
In the debate between the Shun Hiro vs Premier series options, we again have two fantastic knives. In this case, they even look very similar as one another. Of course both would be the envy of most home chefs anywhere.
Hiro vs Premier Similarities
As already mentioned, the Hiro and Premier Series knives don’t appear that different on the surface. Their handles are both made with a symmetrical, ambidextrous, pakkawood handle. This is somewhat common in the traditional Japanese knife making culture. Both knife collections also make use of the polished Damascus metal with the hammered finish wrapping the cutting core.
Both the Hiro and Premier Series have many different knives to offer. Where some kitchen knife brands only offer a few different types of knives, Shun, and more specifically, the Hiro and Premier families offer several types of knives. These include chef, santoku, bread, slicing, utility, and Honesuki knives and more!
Hiro vs Premier Differences
At first glance, the Hiro and Premier knives look pretty similar with their polished, hammered finish. Between that and their overall shape, is where the similarities end. When you take a closer look at a detailed image of the blades, you see that the blades are actually a different material.
Unlike the VG-MAX cutting core in the Premier Series, the Hiro knives use an SG2 steel core. As you saw in the “Shun Knife Steels” section above, SG2 is a high performing material that is extremely hard. In addition, due to their chemical make-up, SG2 knives are easily maintained at home because of its corrosion resistance and edge retention. When comparing/contrasting SG2 vs VG10 or even VG-Max steels as in the case of the Premier, SG2 is often the best choice for the reasons mentioned above.
In addition to the different blade materials, there are some slight differences in the handles of the Hiro and Premier Series knives. They are both made of pakkawood like many of the nicer Shun knives are, however the Hiro knives have a slightly different look to them. You can see the polished butt and the red highlights in the picture below.
Hiro vs Premier Conclusion
And the best Shun knife between these two? Definitely the Shun Hiro Series, however that’s with a caveat of course. The caveat is that the pricing on the Hiro knives is nearly double that of the Premier Series making it less affordable and out-of-reach for most home chefs. So, in most cases, the Premier is going to be what people can afford. However, if your goal is to find the best Shun knife at any cost, the Hiro Series is an amazing option we all wish we could afford!
Shun Sora vs Classic
This match-up, Shun Sora vs Classic, is a comparison between Shun’s most affordable knife line and their most popular! If you want to buy into the Shun family of knives and don’t have the money for the “big boys”, you can almost certainly start with the Sora Series of knives, with prices starting around $35 for a paring knife. For comparison purposes there are many Shun Classic paring knife options, but the start around twice the price of the Sora, and go up from there.
Sora vs Classic Similarities
There are only a few similarities between the Sora and Classic knives. Like all knives produced by Shun, they are both painstakingly handmade in a traditional manner by the Kai Corporation. Here’s a picture comparing their 8″ Chef’s knives.
As you can see, they are both Japanese style Chef’s knives and have a dark-colored handle, but you can see right off the bat that the handles are made of different materials, have different shapes, and even the blades show different patterns.
Sora vs Classic Differences
It makes sense that if there are few similarities, there will be several differences. The first thing that sticks out to us are the handles. While they are both dark in color, the Sora handle is an “odd ball” in the Shun lineup as it’s made of a textured PP/TPE polymer blend, giving it a more modern look. Those not familiar with the D-shaped, asymmetrical handles on many Japanese knives may also find the Sora handles more like what they’re used to and comfortable with.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the difference in the blades between the Shun Sora and Classic knives. One glance at the detailed picture of the blades below and you can see how different they are. The Sora uses a proprietary composite blade. Using a VG10 cutting edge and a Japanese 420J stainless upper allows for a hard cutting surface to retain a nice edge. It also provides a mostly corrosion resistant blade so that it’s easily maintained at home. At its price-point, this is where most of Shun’s Sora knives are likely sold into. They are joined through a braze welding process. Admittedly, it does produce a pretty cool looking blade as you can see on the left side of this picture.
As you already know from above, the Shun classic blade uses a VG-MAX core, wrapped in Damascus stainless for its corrosion resistance. Its materials are definitely higher-end than (both blade steel and handle) than those utilized in the Sora collection.
Sora vs Classic Conclusion
It’s probably clear here that the Shun Classic Series is a better knife than the Sora. But, in this match-up, pricing must be a consideration. For all those wanting to buy their first Shun knife to see what the fuss is about, the Sora Series is the easy first step.
Sharpening Shun Knives
Shun knives, or most Japanese knives for that matter, are sharpened differently than the “Western” knives that most of use are in the United States are accustomed to. They are thinner, harder, and more brittle than the heavier blades found on German knives. They also have different sharpening angles, 16 degrees is typical on Shun knives.
When it comes to sharpening Shun knives, the knife maker has three recommendations listed on their website. They include sending them in to be professionally sharpened, sharpening them on a whetstone yourself, and sharpening them at home with an electric knife sharpener. Let’s touch on each to be a bit more specific what Shun recommends.
Return For FREE Knife Sharpening at Shun
Shun offers FREE sharpening* on their knives. All you have to do is send them back to their facility in Tualatin, Oregon. They even make it easy for customer as all you need to get started is to fill out this form. You’ll even have the ability to purchase and print a UPS shipping label with a tracking number at a discounted price right from your computer.
You can also choose your own shipping provider, but keep in mind that it’s always good practice to ship with a tracking number and insurance so that you can assure you knife makes it.
This is our recommended method for getting your Shun knives sharpened. There’s no skill level involved in worrying about the sharpening angle, if you’re taking off too much material, or if you’ll leave any scratches on the surface. It’s free. You only have to cover the cost of shipping. Unless you have time constraints or are just too scared to ship off your Shun knives, consider this your best option.
Use a Whetstone
Another option for how to sharpen Shun knives if you insist on doing it yourself or just don’t have the time to wait for them to be shipped off and shipped back to you would be to use a whetstone at home. NOTE: This option does take some skill and if don’t incorrectly could potentially damage your knife.
Shun does have their own branded whetstone for this purpose and also offers a video tutorial on the process of sharpening your Shun knife on it. Make sure to take your time and follow their directions closely if you attempt this method and are not already proficient with such tools.
Use an Electric Knife Sharpener
A third option for sharpening Shun knives is an electric knife sharpener. Be diligent here as not just an knife sharpener will do. You’ll need a sharpener that uses a roughly 16 degree Shun sharpening angle to keep it consistent with what was intended from the factory. There is a Kai electric knife sharpener set to the correct angle, but if you read the reviews, there are mixed results with this product.
Further Advice on Shun Knife Sharpening
Again on their website, Shun specifically notes that “sharpening is not something that should be done on a weekly basis. Sharpening actually removes some of the metal from the blade, so sharpening too frequently may reduce the life of your knife.” In addition, they all but beg their customers not to use ANY sharpener with diamond or diamond grit (many electric sharpeners use diamond wheels). They state that it is simply a material that is too aggressive for their fine cutlery.
How to Hone a Shun Knife
Honing as you might know is different than sharpening. Honing helps maintain the blade for optimal performance and may extend its life. Different than sharpening, honing keeps the micro edge aligned, but does not remove any material. Regular honing will reduce the need for sharpening on your blades.
With the right tools, like the Shun Honing Steel, this process is much easier and requires less skill than sharpening. It also guides you specifically to the correct 16 degree angle. Again, just be sure to not use a diamond material in this process. “Diamond steels”, as they’re often called, can remove metal from your knife. Here’s a nice video tutorial from Shun for honing their knives as mentioned above.
Shun Knife Warranty
Shun knives are covered by a limited lifetime warranty*. Per Shun, the warranty guards “against manufacturing defects in material and construction and to perform as advertised when properly used and maintained.” Note, the warranty is non-transferable and lasts the lifetime of the original owner. Like most warranties, it does not cover normal wear and tear, damage due to improper maintenance or usage, accident, or loss/theft.
How Do You Clean Shun Knives?
In addition, the Shun warranty does not cover rust or corrosion on the blade. Why you might ask? Well because it’s your responsibility to keep them maintained. And part of maintaining good knives with a high carbon content is making sure not to soak them in water and to rinse and dry them by hand immediately after use. Do not use soaps or detergent as they can promote corrosion. It’s also not a good idea to use scouring pads as they may scratch the blades finish. just rinse and dry with a towel immediately after use…by hand.
Are Shun Knives Dishwasher-Safe?
It is NOT RECOMMENDED that you wash your Shun knives in the dishwasher. There are a couple of reasons for this. For one, they have thin, brittle blades that can chip it they are knocked or hit. Also, the dishwasher can leave them wet for long periods of time or use harsh detergents, both promoting unnecessary corrosion.
Summary & Conclusion
Shun Cutlery and the Kai Corporation make some amazing knives. They’re both beautiful and high-performing due to the traditional processes and top quality materials used in their production. Unlike many of the newer kitchen knife brands, Shun knives are not a mass-produced item, but rather a hand-made functional work of art that take skilled artisans many hours to produce.
With this in mind, it’s no wonder Shun knives are some of the most popular kitchen knives in the world. There’s really no discussion about Japanese knives that doesn’t include Shun Cutlery. Very few consumers that decide to buy Shun knives are disappointed as can be seen by the countless positive reviews posted above them online. This is just more social proof that their knives are great, but if you read this entire guide, you know the knives are top notch!
*Shun’s warranty and free knife sharpening only applies to knives that were purchased by one of their Authorized Sellers. Amazon.com is an Authorized Online Dealer of Shun products, but not all sellers on Amazon are, so please be diligent before buying from just any seller. You can find more information to protect yourself from Unathorized Sellers here.