Shun is known for producing some of the best kitchen knives in the world. Chefs in professional kitchens, culinary school students, and your average home cook all agree that Shun knives are top-notch.
I like the Shun Classic Chef’s Knife because of its edge retention, multi-purpose utility, and its comfortable grip.
But are they worth the steep price tag? Which Shun kitchen knives are the best for beginners? Are there other options that work just as well?
To answer those questions and more, I’ve broken down the features, performance, and best uses of Shun’s knives. I’ve also included some alternatives if you choose to go that route.
Are Shun knives worth it? If so, which Shun knife can cut it in your kitchen? Keep reading to find out more.
All About the Shun Brand
Shun Knives is a brand of the KAI Group out of Tokyo, Japan. The KAI Group goes back to 1908 when Saijiro Endo established the company in Seki City, Japan. Seki is considered the home of modern Japanese cutlery.
The company initially manufactured razors and folding knives but later added kitchen knives. In 2002, the KAI Group founded Shun Knives to introduce Japanese-style kitchen knives to U.S. and European markets.
Their commitment to excellence has given Shun immense popularity in western markets. As a result, Shun is now a leading name in Japanese knives. In spite of its global presence, Shun still handcrafts its knives in Seki. Each blade consists of high-quality materials and undergoes a process of 100 steps.
Shun is more expensive than other brands, but its reputation for superior craftsmanship makes these knives a worthwhile investment for many people.
Shun Knives Reviews
Shun knives are available in several lines. From the entry-level Shun Sora line to the premium Dual Core line, each Shun knife collection is unique while featuring superior materials and overall quality.
Read more about two of the most popular Shun collections, as well as some of the individual knives and sets within them. You can also watch this quick video breaking down the similarities and differences:
Shun Classic Line
Shun Classic Knives feature ebony D-shaped Pakkawood handles. Pakkawood is an engineered composite of wood and resin that makes for highly durable and water-resistant handles.
These knives have a cutting core of Shun’s proprietary VG-MAX steel clad with 68 micro-layers of Damascus steel. This cladding gives these blades maximum flexibility, sharpness, and corrosion resistance.
The Shun Classic series offers the widest assortment of traditional blades while still offering cutting-edge design. Each knife is stamped with the Shun logo.
Classic 8-Inch Chef’s Knife: Best Overall
This Shun Classic 8-inch Chef’s Knife (20.3 cm) is a popular choice for its versatility. Like the other knives in the Classic line, it has a lighter Damascus finish and ebony handles.
This kitchen knife is a staple piece. In fact, the Shun website recommends this blade as the one to get if you can only purchase one knife. That’s high praise!
The knife has a hollow-ground blade with indentations on either side. These indentations create air pockets between the blade and the food, which reduce friction and help food release more easily.
Cooks can use this Chef’s knife to slice fruits and vegetables and even cut through boneless meats. This is an all-purpose blade.
When using a Chef’s knife, you should use a pinch grip and a rocking motion. Watch as Chef Geremy Capone demonstrates the pinch grip:
Users found this knife sharp, easy to handle, and lightweight. They were able to use this knife to cut a wide variety of foods, from potatoes and onions to bologna and carrots.
Some reviewers had problems with chipping. Because the blade is thinner and tapers to a sharp tip, chipping is a possibility. Proper use and care can help reduce that possibility.
- Lightweight, good balance
- Hollow-ground blade releases food easily
- Susceptible to chipping
Classic 6.5-Inch Nakiri Knife: Best for Fruits and Vegetables
First up is the Shun Classic Nakiri Knife. This knife has a blade length of 6.5 inches (16.5 cm) and has an elegant, light Damascus pattern. The pattern almost resembles wood grain.
The Nakiri knife has a straight spine and cutting edge, which is ideal for simple push cuts. The thin blade is sharpened to an angle of 16 degrees, making this suited for cutting fruits and vegetables.
Slicing zucchini, carrots, and onions is quick work with this Nakiri. And the blunt end helps keep fingers safe while slicing and dicing. This knife would not be suitable for trimming meats or sawing cuts.
The handle is thicker and easy to grip, but it also adds some weight to the knife. It clocks in at 7.5 ounces, compared to the typical 5-6 ounces of other brands.
Some buyers didn’t like the weight, while others preferred heavier knives. The asymmetrical grip is comfortable. Shun claims this handle is suitable for left- and right-handers.
So what did users think? They overwhelmingly loved this knife, and they said it was razor sharp and held its edge for a long time.
They also loved the wide blade, which makes it easy to scoop cut-up food.
A few reviewers said their blade chipped after a few months, but this was a very small minority. The high-carbon content can make these blades more brittle.
To avoid chipping, be sure to always use a cutting board made of soft wood, like bamboo. It’s also essential to avoid a sawing or rocking motion with this knife.
- Super sharp
- Superb edge retention
- Great for precise cuts
- Wide blade for scooping up food
- Not to be used for cutting meat
- More brittle blade
Classic 6-Inch Utility Knife: Most Affordable Small-Purpose Knife
The Shun Classic Utility Knife has a blade length of 6 inches (15.2 cm), striking a balance between a Chef knife and a paring knife.
This utility knife earns its name. It’s appropriate for trimming, dicing, slicing, and cutting. It can cut small vegetables, fruits, and smaller cuts of meat.
This knife is on the lighter side and easy to handle, unless you have large hands. Some users found the handle to be uncomfortably small.
I’m not a big fan of the straight edge for a utility knife. This is a personal preference, but I like a serrated cutting edge for this type of knife.
Customers had high praise for the Shun Classic utility knife. They said it easily cut through steak, peppers, and other foods. They also found it to hold its edge for a long time.
This knife doesn’t have the length or heft of the other Shun knives, but it’s the most affordable of the ones on my list. If you have your heart set on a Shun knife but can’t afford a set, this is a good entry piece.
- Easy to handle
- Excellent edge retention
- Handle is too small for some
Classic 6-Piece Slim Block Set: Best Space Saving Set
The Shun Classic 6-piece block set has a sleek, modern look to it. It comes with the following:
- 3.5-inch (8.89 cm) Paring knife
- 7-inch (17.78 cm) Santoku knife
- 8-inch (20.32 cm) Chef’s knife
- 9-inch (22.86 cm) combination honing steel
- Multi-purpose kitchen shears
- 8-slot slim design dark wood knife block
Customers liked the sharpness of these knives. They liked the inclusion of a paring knife for smaller tasks. Several did say that the set is more suited for precision work.
Even though Shun offers free sharpening for all their knives, this set does come with honing steel. Several users emphasized using this steel frequently.
I like the choice of pieces included in this set. It has all the essential pieces without filling it with non-essentials to drive up the price. Several customers were disappointed in the quality of the block, but that was the biggest complaint.
This set is quite pricey, so expect to spend a pretty penny for these Shun knives.
- Comfortable grip
- Very sharp
- Has essential pieces
- Included honing steel and shears
- Complaints about the block
Classic 10-Piece Knife Block Set: Best Knife Set
For those that want a little more than just the bare essentials, Shun offers this Classic 10-piece knife set and block. This Shun Classic set includes:
- 3.5-inch paring knife
- 4.5-inch Honesuki knife
- 5-inch hollow-edge Nakiri knife
- 6-inch utility knife
- 7-inch Santoku knife
- 8-inch Chef’s Knife
- 9-inch hollow-edge carving knife
- 9-inch honing steel
- Multi-Purpose Kitchen Shears
- 13-slot Bamboo Knife Block
This set is more comprehensive and comes with a Honesuki knife, a Japanese -style boning knife used for preparing meat. Buyers loved the razor sharpness of the blades and the feel of the handles when using them.
These knives require more maintenance, so be prepared to sharpen them and wash them by hand. It’s also necessary to use a soft wood cutting board to avoid chips.
Just like the other Classic knives, these can be more brittle due to their high-carbon content. But by using them correctly and caring for them, they should last a long time.
This set is pretty pricey, but many users found it absolutely worth the cost.
- Extremely sharp
- Great for precise cuts
- Includes storage
- Variety of knives included
- Tips break off easily
Shun Premier Line
Shun Premier Knives have a lot of similarities to the Classic series, with a couple of key differences.
It has the same VG-MAX steel core and 68 micro-layers of steel and a Damascus finish. It offers the same corrosion resistance and edge retention.
But unlike the ebony Pakkawood handles of the Shun Classic line, the Shun Premier knives feature a gray or brown Pakkawood handle.
The most significant difference is in the finish of the blade. Shun Premier knives feature a Tsuchime (Japanese for “hammered”) finish. This finish is not only incredibly attractive but also creates tiny air pockets so to reduce drag and quickly release food.
Premier 8-Inch Chef’s Knife: Best Hammered Chef’s Knife
The Shun Premier Chef’s knife has a blade length of 8 inches (20.32) and a gray Pakkawood handle.
This knife’s edge is curved, allowing you to “rock” through fruits, veggies, herbs, boneless meat, and more. It’s also conducive to fine mincing.
Like all the Premier knives, this one features a Tsuchime hammered finish. This helps release food from the blades while cutting.
Users found this kitchen knife to be gorgeous, sharp, and comfortable to hold. One customer said they only used their Shun knife for fruits and vegetables, but you should be able to use this with small cuts of boneless meat.
The only complaint was that there was no storage included with the knife. And since these blades are so sharp, you’ll want safe storage.
- Beautiful hammered finish
- Very sharp
- Doesn’t include storage
Premier 5.5-Inch Nakiri: Best for Chopping
For fruits and vegetables, this Premier Nakiri knife is excellent. Unlike the Shun Classic Nakiri, which is 6 inches long, the Premier Nakiri is 5.5 inches long (13.97 cm), so it’s a little shorter.
Still, it has the same blunt end and straight spine and edge for push cuts, chopping, and dicing. And it features the VG Max core for extra strength.
It also has a beautiful gray PakkaWood handle with a wood grain finish. Unlike some of the other Shun kitchen knives, this one includes a saya, a wood covering for safe storage.
Customers loved this Shun Nakiri knife. They said it was a good knife for chopping and dicing vegetables and herbs. Some wished the blade was a little longer, and a couple had issues with chipping.
This knife will set you back some cash, but if you want the look and non-stick effects of a hammered finish, this Nakiri has it.
- Hammered finish
- Great for produce, precise cuts
- Beautiful gray handle
- Shorter blades
- Not good for meat
Premier 6-Inch Utility Knife: Most Versatile Runner-Up
The Shun Premier 6-inch (15.24 cm) Utility knife is the only individual knife on my list with a serrated edge. That makes this knife great for prepping meat, slicing tomatoes, cutting boiled eggs, and more.
Furthermore, the wide blades are great for spreading. So the next time you make a sandwich, you can use the same knife to spread the mayo, slice the tomato, trim the meat, and cut the sandwich in half. As someone who makes a lot of sandwiches for my kids, that’s nifty to have!
This particular knife features a walnut-colored PakkaWood handle, as opposed to the gray of the Nakiri and Chef’s knife.
Buyers consistently commented on how beautiful this knife is. They said the blade lives up to its name because it’s so useful. They were able to slice cheese, eggs, meats, and more.
Customers did emphasize that this knife is not for chopping. And since it does have a serrated edge, it’s tough to sharpen at home. You’ll need a special sharpening rod.
The good news? This knife holds its edge for a long time, meaning you won’t have to sharpen it often.
While this particular knife is expensive, you can snag it at a lower price than other blades in the Premier line.
- Great for small, everyday jobs
- Serrated blades for slicing, sawing
- Superb sharpness & edge retention
- More difficult to sharpen
- Not for chopping
Premier 7-Piece Set: Best High-End Set
If you can’t choose just one Shun knife, you can opt for this Premier 7-piece block set. It comes with the following pieces:
- 8-inch (20.32 cm) Chef’s knife
- 4-inch (10.16 cm) paring knife
- 6.5-inch (16.51 cm) utility knife
- 9-inch (22.86 cm) bread knife
- Herb shears
- Combination honing steel
- 11-slot bamboo knife block
This is the only set on my list with a bread knife. For those who do a lot of baking, you know how useful those can be.
This set has the VG-MAX core, the beautiful hammered design, and the walnut-finish Pakkawood handles.
If I were going to pick four knives to be in a starter set, these knives would be at the top. The only drawback? This Shun set is way too pricey to be termed a starter set.
Reviewers raved about how these knives cut through food like butter. They also loved the beautiful hammered look. One user had problems with chipping, but they had used them to cut venison. These blades are thinner, so I would avoid using them for blunt, heavy cuts.
One thing to note is that the block comes with extra slots, presumably so you could add to the collection later. Although that’s a nice idea, I personally don’t like the look of having empty knife slots. But that’s a personal preference.
- Comes with essential pieces
- Beautiful Tsuchime finish
- Includes storage
- Thinner blades
- Block has extra slots
- Quite expensive
What Are the Alternatives?
Famcute 5-Piece Japanese Knife Set: Budget Alternative
If you have your heart set on a Japanese knife set but can’t afford Shun, this FAMCUTE 5-piece knife set is a budget-friendly alternative. It comes with a Gyuto (Chef’s) knife, utility knife, Nakiri knife, and Santoku knife in a wooden block.
These knives have a hammered look and feature a clad steel cutting edge. They have an African rosewood handle that looks sleek.
User reviews were glowing. They loved the sharpness and beauty of these knives. They did remind others to hand wash these blades and dry them immediately.
Miyabi Birchwood 7-Piece Knife Block Set: Splurge Alternative
This Miyabi Birchwood 7-Piece Knife Set is a work of art. The birchwood handle is beautiful and easy to hold. It comes with a paring knife, a Santoku knife, a Chef knife, and a bread knife. This set also includes a pair of shears and a 12-slot bamboo block.
These knives are sharpened to a 9.5-12 degree angle, an incredibly pointed cutting edge. These would easily cut through paper. However, you’ll likely trade some strength for this level of sharpness.
Users were impressed with the quality of the knives. They weren’t huge fans of the block or the shears, but they loved the cutting performance of the blades themselves. But this is definitely a splurge pick and will come at a high cost.
All About Japanese Knives: Buying Guide
Handle Materials & Grip
Traditionally, Japanese knives have a wooden, D-shaped handle. This handle is comfortable and encourages the use of proper knife skills.
While D-shaped handles are great, they’re not universal. If you’re left-handed, you’ll have to find an ambidextrous handle or one that’s specifically made for lefties.
Wooden handles are great because they are non-slip. Natural wood also has a classic, attractive look. The only downside? Wood handles can crack and are higher maintenance.
Handles made from synthetic material are popular because they’re lower maintenance and won’t crack. But they can get slippery when wet.
The best handle comes down to personal preference, but be sure to choose one that’s safe, comfortable, and durable.
Cutting Edge & Sharpness
Having a beautiful knife with a comfortable grip is lovely, but none of that matters if it’s a dull knife. A kitchen knife must have a sharp blade to do its job properly.
Sharpness is commonly described using the angle to which a blade is sharpened. A lower angle means a sharper edge and a more precise, delicate cut. For reference, an X-acto knife would be sharpened to an angle between 7-12 degrees, and a cleaver is sharpened to between 25-30 degrees.
Most Japanese-style knives are sharpened to an angle between 14-17 degrees. Shun knives have a sharpness angle of 16 degrees.
Another thing to consider is the bevel. The bevel refers to the side with a sharp edge. Traditional Japanese knives might have a single bevel, where only one side cuts. Most modern knives, however, have a double bevel. A double bevel gives you maximum cutting power.
Common blade materials for Japanese knives include stainless steel and high-carbon steel.
Stainless steel knives are stain-resistant and flexible, but they are softer and don’t stay as sharp. High-carbon steel knives are harder, more durable, and sharper. But they’re more susceptible to rust and chipping.
Western-style knives are generally constructed with a single piece of steel. Japanese-style knives, however, often feature a high-carbon core that’s clad in stainless steel to protect against rust.
Sometimes this clad steel has a hammered finish to produce air pockets, which prevent food from adhering to the blade.
Cladded knives have superior sharpness, durability, and flexibility. Shun knives feature a proprietary VG-MAX cutting core with layers of stainless steel on either side.
What is Damascus Steel?
Damascus cladding is formed by layering and folding metal alloys while hot before being shaped into the blade and ground from the spine to the edge. The number of layers varies, but most Shun knives have 34 layers per side, totaling 68 layers.
Shape, Length, & Thickness
The best uses for a blade have a lot to do with the blade’s shape, length, and thickness. For instance, a Nakiri knife features a long symmetrical blade and straight edge, making it well-suited for an up-and-down motion.
But although a Nakiri’s shape might resemble a miniature meat cleaver, the knife’s thin blade is better for precise or delicate tasks. Thus, a Nakiri knife is excellent for cutting fruits and vegetables but unsuitable for cutting meat.
On the other hand, a utility knife’s long, tapered blade is more versatile. Some feature serrated edges, which are designed for a sawing motion.
For those reasons, the utility knife can cut meat, fruits, and vegetables. But this knife is not large enough to cut through a watermelon, for example.
Cleaning & Care
Although some manufacturers advertise their knives as dishwasher-safe, the reality is that hand washing is much better.
Knives can dull under the severe conditions of a dishwasher. High heat, contact with other objects, and harsh detergents can all quickly wear down a blade.
To get the most out of your Japanese knives, you should wash them with warm water and mild soap. Dry them immediately and store them in a safe, cool drawer or storage block.
Shun Knives Reviews: The Last Word
If your are looking for a knife set then I’d recommend the Classic 10-Piece Knife Block Set. It’s a quality, comprehensive knife set.
What if you can only afford one knife? My recommendation is the Shun Classic 8-Inch Chef’s Knife. There are others Shun knives that would be excellent picks, but if I could only get one knife? This one would be it.