The Ultimate Guide to Shun Knives and Knife Block Sets

The ultimate guide to Shun Knives and Knife Bloick Sets.

An In depth Shoppers Guide To Shun Sora, Classic, Dual Core, Kanso, Premiere, Blue and Classic Pro Knives and Block Sets

Shun knives are often hailed as top of the line for Japanese cutlery. A lot of chefs will tell you they’re also overpriced, and maybe they’re right, but Shun is still a fantastic knife that makes either a great gift or addition to a block set you already have.

Whether or not Shun is the best Japanese cutlery you can get right now, there is a certain safety in their brand recognition. They put out quite a bit of content out there that’s helpful for beginners (or not-quite beginners who are too afraid to ask at this point), and like any good company wanting to stay in the good graces of its customers, they offer free sharpening on all their knives.

At the moment, Shun produces seven different sets, and even though they’re all technically Japanese-style, there are a few differences that separate them in terms of ideal use and skill level. We’ll try to cover them here as comprehensively as we can, with the exception of their limited releases.

For quick reference, here’s a rundown of all their sets along with their defining features and relative cost:

Sora

The Shun Sora Block Set offers a great balance between budget and quality.

Specifications

  • Set includes: 8” chef knife, 6” utility knife, 3.5” paring knife, herb shears, combination honing steel, 11-slot bamboo block.
  • VG-10/420J steel
  • Double bevel grind
  • Textured PP/TPE handle

Pros

  • Comfortable handle
  • Good edge retention
  • More affordable Shun option
  • Easy to find as a set

Cons

  • Not as visually striking

Here we have another innovation in folding two higher quality steels together. They’ve put a VG-10 core between two layers of 420J steel to keep the edge cutting smooth longer and increase corrosion resistance to some degree. For Shun, these blades really aren’t anything that new. They’re always folding crazy stuff together to make a better cutting edge.

The really outstanding feature here is the handles, which for once aren’t some kind of wood or wood-synthetic. They’re a surprisingly untraditional thermoplastic blend. That doesn’t sound as cool on paper, but I think anyone who’s handled this kind of almost-rubber material on a well-made knife will attest to the possibilities. These handles are comfortable, and make maintenance a lot easier since you don’t have to worry about swelling if it gets wet.

Also, as one of the more reasonably priced Shun sets, the Sora line is worth considering for anyone thinking about trying Shun out, if the Shun Classic stuff doesn’t seem like your thing. It’s a pretty small series right now. They pretty much just cover some kitchen knife essentials (bother Japanese and Western), but Sora is fairly new, and I have a feeling they’ll be adding more knives as this series becomes more popular.

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Classic

The Shun Classic series of knives offer great performance for their price point.

Specifications
  • Set includes: 8” chef knife, 7” santoku knife, 9”hollow edge carving knife, 6” utility knife, 5” hollow edge nakiri knife, 4.5 inch Honesuki knife, 3.5” paring knife, Shun multi-purpose kitchen shears, 9” combination honing steel, 13=slot bamboo knife block.
  • VG-MAX steel core
  • Rockwell Hardness 60-61
  • D-shaped pakkawood handles

Pros

  • Wide variety of knives
  • Good edge retention
  • Easy to find as a set

Cons

  • Less comfortable in left hand
  • Least precise cut of the Shun sets

This is Shun’s largest series. It includes a pretty wide variety of both Japanese and Western-style knives, which you’ll only find in a couple of their other series. In that sense, this is not what you’d call traditional Japanese cutlery, but they still cut fine.

If you’ve ever wanted to find the closest thing to real Damascus steel in the modern age, this is probably it (along with some of these other Shun sets you’re about to see). The blades of Shun Classic knives are made with a VG-MAX core that’s folded with lesser high carbon steel to add tensile strength.

All the Shun Classics are made with a double bevel grind, which is one important detail that separates Shun Classic from Classic Pro. On the bad side, that means these knives really aren’t ideal for things like sushi or a lot of the finer cutting you need to do for some Japanese dishes. On the good side it means that edge will last longer and there’s less chance of it chipping, which, thanks to the hard steels and thin blades they make, tends to happen easier with Shun than some other companies. Because of that, you could think of the Classic series as a sort of one-size-fits-all entry series compared to the other increasingly specialized sets made by Shun, possibly with the exception of their newer Sora series.

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Classic Pro

The Shun CLassic Pro series is a favorite of Chefs.

Specifications
  • VG-10 steel
  • Single bevel edge
  • Graffiti etched blade
  • D-shaped pakkawood handle
  • Hollow grinds

Pros

  • Very precise cut
  • Subtle hollow grind makes for easier honing and sharpening

Cons

  • Higher chance of chipping
  • Edge will need more frequent honing
  • Not usually sold as a set

The Classic Pro series is really only similar to the Classic set in the handles. The blades of the Classic pro are pure VG-10 all the way through with some fancy pattern work done on the blade. The primary difference is the single bevel grind, which is going to give you a much more precise cut than most of Shun’s other sets.

That also means these knives will have to be honed or sharpened more often, and you better know what you’re doing when you cut (hence the “Pro” they threw in the name). If you plan on doing any traditional Japanese dishes, the Classic Pro line should probably be something you check out. It’s hard to find as a set, but since their handles match other tradition Japanese knives, you can add one or two of these into your block with other knives pretty seamlessly.

This series is also a lot more limited. You won’t find a Western chef knife. It’s pretty much all Japanese. I don’t really see that as a problem though. Like I said before, the handle style matches up with the regular Classics, so if you really want a mix of traditional Japanese and western blades, the aesthetics match up pretty well.

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Dual Core

The knives in the Shun Dual COre Series are high quality and beautiful.

Specifications
  • VG-10/VG-2 steel
  • Octagon-shaped pakkawood handles
  • Double bevel edge
  • Rabbet tang

Pros

  • Very good edge retention
  • Less chance of chipping

Cons

  • Getting pretty expensive
  • Not usually sold as a set

Despite the disparity in names, the Dual Core series actually seems like the next step up from the Classic set. The name comes from the steels folded together in the blade: VG-10 and VG-2. These are both High end steels woven together more or less equally as opposed to the VG-MAX in the Classic set laced with some nameless high carbon substance. This makes the Dual Core knives incredibly strong in terms of edge retention, but they’ve also forged them in a way that’s supposed to keep the edge cutting sharp as it wears away. I’m not really clear on the science of the thing, but as I understand it each steel alternates in a wave pattern along the edge and take turns at cutting, as it were, as the whole edge wears away.

If it were any other company I would start getting suspicious. Two quality steels woven together to keep and edge sharp longer sounds like a gimmick, but if anyone is going to do something like that properly so it actually works it will be Shun. They might be doing expensive work over there in the hand-crafted magic shops of Japan, but it’s always good work.

This is not a very large series right now. In fact it’s even smaller than the Classic Pro. It’s only a handful of traditional Japanese knives and all of them are fairly large with the exception of the honesuki knife.

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Kanso

The Shun Kanso Series of knies can be purchsed individually or in a block set.

Specifications
  • Set includes: 8” chef knife, 5.5” santoku, 6” utility, 3.5” paring, combination honing steel, 8-slot wood block.
  • Aus10 steel
  • Heritage finish
  • Contoured tagayasan wood handles
  • Full tang
  • Double bevel grind

Pros

  • Rustic look ages well
  • Simple design means easy maintenance
  • Easy to find a set

Cons

  • Handles can be a little rough

I like this line mostly because it stands out from the rest of Shun’s work. It doesn’t look as polished and perfect. It looks like it’s actually meant to be used and stained rather than set on a pedestal with soft lighting.

That rustic aesthetic does come with one possible problem, though. A couple people say the wood handles feel rough and uncomfortable because they aren’t smoothed and oiled. That’s certainly something you can fix yourself easily enough with oil and sandpaper if it bothers you, but when you’re dropping four to six hundred on a set it really seems like you shouldn’t have to make your own improvements.

If the feel of the handle doesn’t bother you too much, though, the Kanso knives will definitely age age better than other Shun knives. They’re made to take scratches and stains without getting ugly, and the Aus10 steel is a little tougher than VG-10, with the heat treatment is right.

In terms of options, the Kanso series has a little more variety. It has a couple western style blades like a paring knife and a utility knife, just kind of modified into a Japanese-ish aesthetic.

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Premier

The Shun Premier Knife series is a truly top of the line cutlery product.

Specifications
  • Set includes: 8” chef knife, 9” bread knife, 6.5” utility knife, 4” paring knife, herb shears, combination honing steel, 11-slot bamboo block.
  • VG-MAX steel core
  • Double bevel edge
  • Hammered finish
  • Contoured pakkawood handle

Pros

  • Smooth cut
  • Well balanced
  • Easy to find as a set

Cons

  • Very thin blades more prone to chipping

Take the Shun Classic set, now give it round handles and hammer-finished blades. That’s more or less what the Premier set is since they’ve taken a similar approach to a VG-MAX steel layered with lesser carbon steels for strength.

The other added benefit of this series, though, is that the hammered finish does a lot to cut drag and keep food from sticking to the blade. The handles also stand out with a walnut finish. It’s the same pakkawood material Shun uses in most of their other sets, but they made the refreshing decision to provide an aesthetic middle ground between the rustic look of the Kanso and the classic black of everything else they make.

Interestingly, this is one of the largest series made by Shun. They have most of the standard line of Japanese knives, but throw in a few different sizes of western chef knives and even steak knives into the mix. You can cover a lot of different culinary ground if you’re just getting Premier knives.

Be aware, though, the hammer finish and thin blades does make it a chipping hazard. As with all well-made tools, these will perform beautifully for a long time if you treat them right, but for the less experienced, these need to be treated with extra care.

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Shun Blue

Shun Bleus is the top of the line knife series.

Specifications
  • Blue carbon steel core folded w/ stainless steel
  • Double bevel edge
  • Rabbet tang
  • Octagon-shaped pakkawood handles

Pros

  • Tougher than most
  • Easier to sharpen

Cons

  • More prone to rust
  • Not usually sold as a set

The Blue set knives are technically knives made with pure carbon steel, but Shun has hammered the carbon steel core between two layers or mirror-polished stainless steel to cut down on oxidation and make it look a little nicer.

This does a couple things: first it makes the knives a lot less likely to chip, which is a bit of a problem on most other Shun knives. It will also makes honing and sharpening a much easier process, and ultimately these knives could take on a sharper edge because the steel is softer. But even with the layers of stainless steel added on, you’ll still have rust problems if you aren’t especially careful to keep Shun Blue knives dry and oiled.

In terms of knife options, you’ve got about the same with the Shun Blue as you do with the Dual Core. Nothing western, and only the basic tools in the Japanese kitchen tool box, so this is a pretty specialized set in terms of culinary tradition.

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2019-01-14T20:34:02+00:00

About the Author:

Copywriter with vague delusions of grandeur. My time is spent aggressively oscillating between drinking coffee at my computer and running through the woods with pointy objects.

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