An Expert Guide to Shun Knives: Handcrafted Japanese Cutlery

Shun knives are one of the top players when it comes to high-end knives. Cutlery Expert Mike Garaghty explains what makes them so great!

A man cutting up a red pepper on a cutting board.

I have spent over 25 years in professional kitchens. I started as a dishwasher, moved into cooking as a line cook, became Sous Chef, and eventually, Executive Chef. After all my years in the kitchen, I was afforded the opportunity to transition into a career where I get to educate and talk about my favorite kitchen tools and premium kitchen products.

As with any job, you learn the importance of the tools of your trade. If a carpenter, plumber, or mechanic walked into my garage and saw my tool collection, they would instantly know that I am not a professional in any of these fields. However, if you walked into my kitchen, it would be a completely different story! As a chef, knives are one of the most important tools in the kitchen, and therefore incredibly important to me.

Knives are my passion and how I make my living. People often ask me what my favorite blade shape is, and—although I use many blade shapes—I tell them that it's my chef knife as it is so versatile. I use a variety of knives from knifemakers from all over the world, and Japanese knives are among my favorites. Today I will talk about Shun cutlery—one of the most respected brands on the market today.

Introducing Shun Knives

Before we go any further, I’d like to share what a Shun employee shared with me many years ago: Shun is pronounced shoon like the moon not shun like the sun. All right, let's dig a little deeper!

Shun kitchen knives are produced in Seki, a Japanese city well known for its long history of producing samurai swords and other blades, starting around 800 years ago. Shun proudly calls Seki home as they continue the city’s long tradition of producing high-end, reliable kitchen cutlery. They keep a keen eye on traditional methods and combine them with cutting-edge manufacturing techniques.

Shun brings forth several uber premium kitchen cutlery lines (which I have listed at the end of this article). From the beginner cook to the cooking enthusiast, prosumer, and professional chef, you can be assured that Shun will have a knife that will suit your needs perfectly. Shun's knife lines are of the highest quality, beautifully styled, and steeped in Japanese tradition.

What Makes Shun Knives Special?

Keeping with Eastern tradition, Shun knives will present thinner, lighter, sharper, and have a higher Rockwell number (steel hardness rating) than European or Western-style knives. Shun blades’ Rockwell rating is between 60 to 62, depending on the product line you choose. As Shun knives also have a thinner blade, the knives are lighter; so when you are using them for a long time on meal prep, you won’t get fatigued. A thinner blade is also more agile and enables you to make very fine or thin cuts and slices. This combination of a thinner blade and hardness will give you a superior razor-sharp blade edge. This edge will hold up for a longer period of time before needing to be honed or sharpened.

Shun knives are an excellent example of the convergence of Japanese tradition, craftsmanship, quality, and durability, producing one of humankind's oldest and most important tools—the knife. Let’s face it, we all use knives pretty much every day, so it makes sense to set your sights high and start looking at cutlery as your own personal tools.

Shun knives are up to the task of becoming a partner in your daily meal preparation. They offer a variety of knives from small paring and utility knives to larger chef knives—perfect for all your slicing, dicing, mincing, and chopping needs. Shun also offers a variety of open-stock knives and block sets to choose from. With all of the options for design and function, you are sure to find a knife that will fit perfectly into your kitchen, or talk to a Cutlery Expert here on Curated for help!

Standout Features on Shun Knives

The Dual Core Yanagiba - 10.5" knife.

Dual Core Yanagiba - 10.5". I find this single-bevel Yanagiba sushi and sashimi knife very impressive

Blade Material and Design

It is important to note that all Shun blades are forged using traditional Japanese methods. The type of steel they use gives the knives corrosion resistance—Shun utilizes a three-layer construction consisting of carbon steel sandwiched between two layers of stainless steel. You can see the exact steel used in each line in the chart below.

Shun is well known for their distinctive Damascus pattern, which is formed by forging and folding hot layers of steel together to strengthen the blade. This gives the knives an artistic, wavy grain that is unique to each blade.

Shun’s Premiere line takes the Damascus pattern one step further by hammering the top edge of the blade to create divots and produce air pockets. These air pockets create space between the knife and the food you are cutting, which helps food fall off the blade, decreases drag, and gives you an effortless cut.

The Shun Premier Master Utility 6.5” knife.

Shun Premier Master Utility 6.5”

Some Shun knives have a single bevel, which means that only one side of the blade edge is sharpened. Single bevel knives are primarily used for sushi and sashimi—the single bevel works more like a plane allowing for very thin cuts. However, almost all Shun knife lines are created with a double bevel which means that each side of the blade is sharpened. These knives are sharpened at a sixteen-degree angle on each side, which makes them razor sharp.

Handle Styles and Finishes

Shun knives come in a variety of handle styles and finishes. Most handles are made from a durable blend of pakkawood and resin which waterproofs and strengthens the handle. It also creates the look of beautiful and natural hardwood! When looking at the handles from a side profile, they look like a capital D to form fit your hand and make a very comfortable grip.

Care and Maintenance

As with any quality product, proper care and maintenance are key to keeping your knives in the best working order. It's essential to hand wash and dry your cutlery. Never put them in the dishwasher as it may damage the knife and could affect the knife's sharpness. Also, the choice of cutting board is very important. I always recommend a wood or wood-composite cutting board.

Sharpening Your Shun Blade

Keeping your blade sharp is the most critical thing you can do to continuously get the best performance out of your knives. Shun does a great job supporting their knife enthusiasts by offering a variety of tools to help maintain the sharpness of their blades.

If you want to go old school and get technical, you can use one of Shun’s varieties of whetstones. It took me a lot of practice to get proficient at it, but they produce an amazing edge. Below is a YouTube video by Shun on how to use a whetstone.

You can also use a sharpening or honing steel or one of Shun’s handheld sharpeners. The beauty of using a handheld sharpener is that the angle is preset, and you simply guide the knife through the sharpener.

Note: it is very important to use a sharpener that is made by the manufacturer of the knives. This ensures that your sharpening tool is harder than the blade; if you use a sharpener that is too soft, you will not get the results you want.

Shun also offers a lifetime sharpening service, which is awesome. You can send in your knives and they will sharpen them for free—you only pay for shipping! For more information, check out their website here.

Breaking Down Shun’s Product Lines

Below is a chart of Shun's line with the line name, steel and handle material for your convenience. If you have any questions about these specs, chat with your Cutlery Expert for more information!

Chart explaining the steel material and handle material of different lines of Shun Knives.

I am often asked if expensive knives are worth the cost, and Shun is a great example of a resounding "YES". In my experience, you won’t be disappointed! Researching new knives can be overwhelming. If you would like to learn more about Shun knives, go ahead and connect with a Cutlery Expert at Curated, and we will be happy to help you find the best match for you.

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Written By
Originally from Warwick, Rhode Island, I moved to the Minneapolis area where I began my career on the ground floor, working as a line cook. It was there that I discovered my passion and fell in love with food and the culinary industry. I then moved into a Sous Chef position at a Minneapolis hotel. T...

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