Over the last several years, we have added much to the Shun line. Not just in new product, but also in technology. I have looked over the articles I have written, and thought it would be a good idea to consolidate and improve these for you. So what I would like to accomplish, is to talk about each of the lines and what makes them special. The logical place to start would be Shun Classic. To start with, the reason we call it Shun Classic is because it utilizes classic European shapes, and it has a double bevel edge. As you all know most traditional Japanese cutlery uses a single bevel edge like our Shun Pro lines. The first question we usually get about Shun Classic is, "how do we get that beautiful pattern across the blade"? The process is absolutely amazing. To best understand it I think it is important to first describe the German process so that you can compare it with ours.
You have all heard the term "hot dropped forged". In the old days, this denoted the highest quality of German knife making. Steel was heated to almost molten hot, and then a 3000 pound hammer with a mold attached would slam into it, forming the bolster and would also realign the molecular structure of the steel. As demand grew and technology improved, the Germans decided that this process was no longer efficient or profitable.
These days, the steel they use starts out as a one by one by one-foot ingot. They then pound it down until it is about 3/16ths of an inch thick. As you might imagine at this point, the molecular structure of the steel is pretty much aligned. This means that the only thing you are accomplishing by slamming a 3000 pound hammer into it is forming the bolster. The problem is that over time, the mold starts to warp, which means that you have to shut down the line and retool. This is very costly and is the main reason that the Germans don't do it anymore.
Henkels and Wusthof now use what is called compression forging. This is where they take a piece of roll stock called a blank, and using electricity, heat up the middle till it is molten hot and then using what looks like a vice, compress the blank creating a bulge in the molten steel. A mold for the bolster is then compressed very slowly on to the bulge forming the bolster. The advantage is that it still is a one-piece knife using forged steel.
So now let's talk about what we do. Remember, I said that the Germans pound out their roll stock to about 3/16ths of an inch. We pound out ours to 3/1000ths. I hope you can imagine how perfect our molecular structure is at this point. We then take 32 layers of this steel, and put 16 on each side of a layer of VG-10 making a kind of VG-10 sandwich. Then using heat and pressure we clad these 33 layers together making our roll stock.
The next step is to place the sheet of roll stock into a press that kind of looks like two beds of thick blunt nails facing each other. The roll stock is then compressed, causing a series of dents or impressions across both sides of the sheet. This creates a kind of ripple effect in the sheet, like throwing several pebbles in a still pond. If you look at our Chinese cleaver, you can actually see where the dents were made. These would be the circular pattern across the length of the cleaver. This process was inspired by a famous knife making style known in Japan as Kasumi style. It is the same process used to make Samurai swords. The Japanese learned 700 years ago that there is no such thing as the perfect steel. Hard cutting steels with more carbon in them were highly reactive to corrosion and rust, and could also be brittle. The Japanese would surround these steels with softer less reactive steels to protect and support them. This process would create a pattern in the steel that many people today confuse as Damascus.
To dispel this confusion, let me tell you what Damascus really is. There are two types of Damascus, Wootz Damascus and Pattern Damascus. Woots Damascus was actually first. It was invented in the city of Damascus where they discovered a special mine that had iron ore with traces of tungsten and vanadium in it. Of course at the time, they didn't know this particular fact, they did notice however, that the steel from this mine was very different and special. These trace elements were drastically changing the steel making it extremely hard and flexible. Imagine if you will, putting a pinch of salt into a glass of soda pop. The salt acts as a catalyst causing the CO2 molecules to split faster from the H2O molecules which makes the pop go flat quicker. In the case of Wootz, the tungsten and vanadium had the effect of aligning the carbides in the steel. I will explain what these are later. The steel had after forging, a "watered" look to the blade, which means there was a pattern. This pattern was caused by bands of extremely high carbon steel (being dark in color) contrasting against considerably lower carbon steel (which is lighter in color). The bands added strength, flexibility and toughness to the steel, which is a must for a great sword. These special qualities made the swords extremely tough and resilient in combat situations while maintaining a razor sharp edge. The Persians used these superior steel blades against the Christians in the crusades, and we all know how that ended, twice. In time the mine that had the special iron oar, ran out, and the art of Wootz Damascus was thought to be lost until it was rediscovered in the mid 90's by Al Pendray. Mr. Pendray is a Ferrier by trade, and through trial and error discovered that by adding the trace elements of tungsten into his metal mix, he could reproduce the Woots Damascus steel.
After Woots Damascus steel was no longer available, the art of Pattern Damascus was invented in Europe. Instead of cladding the high carbon steel in the protective steel like the Japanese, the Euopeans would fold different metals together. The patterns would appear, because some of the metals used in the folding process like the carbon steel were highly reactive while the other metals like nickel weren't and would stay bright. The pattern is brought out by rubbing the blade with acid causing the reactive steels to darken. The end results were what is now considered modern Damascus. Although the blades made by this process are very beautiful, they don't have the strength or ability to really hold an edge. This is why now the Damascus patterns are clad onto harder cutting steels. Much like the Japanese Kasumi style, today Damascus is folded into large sheets, using a variety of different reactive and non-reactive metals. These sheets are then clad onto various cutting steels. So as you can see, although there are similarities between Pattern Damascus and Shun, they are really quite different.
The shun knife shapes are then cut out of the finished roll stock, and the hand grinding process begins. You are all aware that a knife is thick in the back and tapers to its edge. As we grind the knives into this "V" shape, which is called flat grinding, the pattern emerges. We then make it visible by using a bead blaster. Imagine an air brush but instead of using paint, it uses teeny tiny glass beads. The bead blasting is what also creates the stick resistant properties of the knife. It does this by creating thousands of little indentions on the blade that in turn create thousands of little air pockets which of course reduces the percentage of the surface area of the blade touching the food which results in reduced sticking.
Two other factors to keep in mind when talking about Shun Classic, are the edge and the handle. First you need to remember that the edge on a Shun knife is ground at 16 degrees per side verses the Germans which are at 22 degrees per side. The Germans are certainly capable of grinding at a thinner angle, but they choose not to based on the type of steel they use. Grinding at such a thin angle greatly reduces the strength of the edge and its ability to stay sharp. So why and how do we do it? The answer is simple, better steel. The Shun Classic line uses VG-10, which is a new type of stainless steel that has a higher density. This allows the steel to be tempered to a higher Rockwell, in this case 61, and still have the flexibility and strength to take and keep a perfect edge. It is also important to note that our edge is also highly polished along its bevel. This greatly reduces drag as you are cutting making it seem like the blade is going through like magic.
The other factor is the handle. Ours is made of Pakka wood. Pakka wood starts out as thin layers of white birch that is then dyed, in our case black. These sheets are then layered between sheets of plastic resin then fused together under tremendous heat and pressure. The net result is a handle that looks and feels like wood, but is dishwasher safe. The other unique feature of our handle is our design. We call it the "D"shape, but in reality, it looks more like a tear drop. It has a distinct ridge that goes down the side of the handle that fits perfectly in the hand, as well stabilizes the blade and preventing it from turning and twisting.
From there we move on to Ken Onion. Here is a simple fact. Ken is the number one and most successful knife designer in the world. He has won more knife awards for design than any other single designer, and with our help and support he has done more to change the pocket knife industry than any other single individual.
As Ken began to consider how to design a chefs knife for use in the kitchen, he realized that he had no real chef's experience. This ultimately turned out to be an advantage, because he addressed the problem from a totally fresh perspective without any preconceived notions. The first thing he did was to subscribe to Food Network and start studying the chefs. At the time, the two shows that had the most knife skills shown were Bobby Flay's show and Sara Moulton's show. Ken also picked these two because of their different heights and the fact that Bobby is right handed and Sara is left handed. The goal was to create a knife that could be used by both tall and short people and be ambidextrous. Ken would video these shows then freeze them and using a grease pencil and protractor, measure the angles at which they were cutting, and how they were holding their knives.
The next step was to start working with the chef's and students at the Culinary Academy of the Pacific. He discovered that the first thing that students were taught was to hold the knife pinching the blade between the thumb and index finger. Although this gave the students the best control of the knife both vertically and horizontally, it also caused a lot of other problems. First of all, this type of grip places the index finger directly over the spine of the blade. When you are cutting for several hours per day, this created a terrible callous on the index finger, that would often crack and get infected. The other problem this grip caused was tension in the forearm, which could result in carpal tunnel syndrome.
So in designing his knife, Ken came up with his own definition of the word ergonomic. For most people, this word means that the product feels nice in the hand. For Ken, it means how does your big toe feel after six hours of use? Ken realized that tension in the forearm also created tension in the shoulder, and back moving all the way down your legs to your big toe. When combined with standing on a concrete floor all day the result was huge physical discomfort.
Ken realized that for his knife to be ergonomic, the bolster and the handle had to work with the hand to release the tension in the forearm while at the same time giving perfect control. He achieved this by first angling the bolster and extending it over the spine of the knife. Now when you pinch gripped the knife, your index finger was over the smooth and rounded bolster not the rough spine of the blade. He also created an inner curve on each side of the bolster, which formed perfect thumb and index finger rests. There was now no need to pinch the knife causing unnecessary tension in the forearm.
The other thing Ken noticed in a regular cooks knife handle, is that there is always a gap between the palm of the hand and the handle. So the next thing he did was to curve the handle downward, to more closely match the shape of the hand, then add his control bump located on the inside of the handle. By naturally wrapping you fingers around it, it presses the downward curved handle into the palm of your hand eliminating the gap. This resulted in much more control and comfort for the knife. The end result is that even people with small hands now feel that they have complete control over a larger knife.
The shape of the blade is also unique. As I said earlier, Ken came up with the curve of the blade by measuring the angles at which Sara and Bobby were using the knife. He wanted to maximize the glide of the blade across the cutting board, for someone who was any height. He also blunted the nose of the blade like a santoku, so that you could scoop chopped ingredients easier off of the board.
Next, we need to briefly look at Shun Steel. This line, feature for feature, and price for price is exactly like Shun Classic. The only difference is that the piece of Pakka Wood in the handle, has been removed and replaced with a piece of stainless steel. A lot of people have asked how we were able to keep the price the same as Shun classic, as opposed to the Germans whose steel handled knives are up to 30% higher. The answer is simpler than you might believe. Most of the finish work done on the German knives, is done by robots to help keep cost down. However, the steel in the handle is different from the steel in the bolster, and the robot isn't able to tell the difference. This results in the brushing not being even. The only way to achieve an even look is to do the finish work by hand. In Germany, that costs you about $42.00 per hour. Combine that with the cost of the Euro, and that is where you come up with such a difference in price. In our case, as I said earlier, the whole Shun knife is finished by hand any way, in fact the steel handle is easier to finish than Pakka wood, so there is no increased cost.
Continuing, we move into the world of Shun Pro, and Shun Pro II. The reason we call them Shun Pro is because these are the types of blades that a professional Japanese Chef would use. In Japanese cooking texture and repetitive consistency are critical elements. They can only be achieved by having a perfectly sharp knife that is exactly the same every day. This is why they feature a single bevel design. A Japanese chef will hone and sharpen his knives on a wet stone every single day. With a double bevel design such as used in the Shun Classic design, the chef is unable to gauge the angle in which to hold the knife every single time. This ends up causing the knife to have different degrees of sharpness which results in the food having different textures. The single bevel design eliminates this problem. First of all the bevel is almost a half inch wide. The reason for this is that you can put the blade down flat on the stone. In other words the angle is built in for you. The bevel on the Shun Classic is only a couple of millimeters wide, so there is no way to do this.
The second unique feature of the Shun Pro blade is the concave back of the blade. Right now the most popular knife in America is the hollow ground Santoku. The theory behind this design, is that the hollow ground divots along the length of the blade create air pockets reducing sticking. In Shun pro, imagine that you have one large hollow ground divot going along the entire length of the blade. The net result is that no part of the blade ends up touching the food as you slice. Just the edge is slicing. This removal of friction across the surface of the food eliminates sticking, and improves the texture causing better flavor transfer to your palate. These knives aren't built for speed, but if you want the cleanest and nicest cut, they are the way to go.
As far as construction is concerned, I am sure you have noticed that they don't have the distinctive blade pattern like shun classic. In Japan, there are two traditional styles of knife manufacturing. They are, as we talked about earlier, Kasumi style and Honyaki style. Honyaki style is where the blades are made of one piece of steel. In Japan the most prized and expensive kitchen knives are made this way. We were inspired to go with the Honyaki style for Shun Pro because first, one piece of VG-10 is stronger than the clad material, and due to the design of the knife being a single bevel, we felt that the edge would be supported better if we made it out of a single piece of steel. We also felt that in this country, that maintenance would be less of an issue. We knew that people would have a hard time with running their knife on a stone to sharpen it then ending up scratching the pattern, and ruining the finish. In Japan, theses scratches are considered a mark of honor. However here, they would want to return the blade.
There are three distinct differences between Shun Pro and Shun Pro II. First there is the handle design. Shun Pro II is much more decorative and elaborate. The second difference which is much more important is the thickness of the material in the blade. Shun Pro is 2.5mm and Shun Pro II is 5mm. This makes for a much sturdier and substantial knife. The performance is also improved because of the extra weight. Finally, all of the Shun Pro II is hand finished on a flat 6000 grit wet stone. This creates the sharpest edge in the entire Shun line. Regular shun pro is finished on a sharpening machine using 1000 grit, just like the rest of the Shun line.
Now we move to Shun Elite. Besides being very decorative, Shun Elite uses a new steel called SG-2. Unlike VG-10, SG-2 is a powdered steel. To understand what this means, you have to understand what powdered steel is, how it is made, and what advantages it brings to the table. The best way to do this is to first compare the perfect steel to the perfect chocolate chip cookie. When making steel the term carbides gets used a lot. A carbide is the combination of the carbon and chromium molecule. These carbides give the steel is hardness and resistance to rust. Carbides can combine to create different sizes or end up clustered in some parts of the steel leaving other areas without their benefit. How is this like a chocolate chip cookie? Well imagine if you mix the chocolate chips aka the carbides into the dough unevenly, and make the cookies. You will end up with some cookies with too many chips and some with none. This of course ruins the flavor and texture of the cookie. In steel, what you get is weak points and corrosion. The challenge when making steel is to keep the elements and carbides evenly displaced. The problem arises that when you mix all of the elements in large quantities, the outer part of the mixture cools faster than the inner part and the elements start to separate. The carbides also start to form unevenly and in different sizes, just like a poorly made chocolate chip cookie. Its also kind of like raw milk from a cow. If you let it sit, the cream rises to the top, and the solids sink to the bottom. Turning the molten mixture into powdered steel is like pasteurizing the milk. Once the process is completed the elements no longer separate, just like when raw milk is pasteurized and becomes whole milk, the cream and solids no longer separate.
How do they do this? First they heat up all the iron and elements in their recipe into a hot molten steel soup, and then mix it all together till they have even dispersal of all of the elements throughout the soup. Then they spray the molten mixture through something that resembles a garden hose nozzle set on wide disbursement. As they do this, liquid nitrogen is also sprayed through the same nozzle and instantly cools down each micro droplet making a perfect mini ingot with perfect size carbides and element dispersal. From there, you reheat the powder and form it into an ingot using what we call the HIP process
The way they form the powdered steel in to a large ingot, is to put the powder mixture in to a big steel can. A steel disc covering the top of the can is welded on, and then all of the air is sucked out and replaced with argon gas. The can is then put inside an autoclave, which is a large pressurized chamber, and then the chamber is filled with argon and heated up. This is called the HIP process, which stands for Hot Isostatic Press. Heating the argon causes it to expand creating perfectly even pressure, perfectly compressing the powder in to the ingot. The reason you have argon in both the autoclave and the canister, is so you have equal pressure on either side of the can. If you had argon only on the inside or only on the outside of the can, it would either be crushed or explode as the argon expanded in the HIP process. It is important to note that we don't heat up the powder till it is molten, only enough for the ingot to form. If we made it molten again, then everything we accomplished by making it into powder in the first place would be undone. The elements would start to separate and the carbides wouldn't have even dispersal or uniform size. The reason they use argon as opposed to hydrogen which also expands greatly when it is heated, is because argon is inert. Hydrogen isn't. If hydrogen is exposed to just one spark under that type of heat and pressure, which is entirely possible considering what we are working with, it would create what we call in the manufacturing world, "a really big BOOM". Imagine the Hindenburg. I am sure you can see why that could be considered a "bad thing." The end result is a perfect large ingot with absolute density, perfect grain structure, and perfectly even element and carbide dispersal ready for the rolling mill, where it is pounded down and clad with an SUS410 cover to form the blank for our Shun Elite. Similar to what we do for regular Shun.
What is the advantage here? Well imagine that steel is like fabric. Regular stainless steel would be like burlap. Strong but with lots of holes and hard to cut and sew. VG10 would be like denim. Much tighter weave easier to cut for sewing and a lot more durable. SG2 would be like fine silk. Super fine threads for maximum density, super flexible, easiest to cut and sew, and definitely the strongest fabric that will last the longest even though it is the thinnest. In all of the cutting steels that I have come across in my 17 years of housewares, SG2 simply blows everything else away for performance, edge retention, and re-sharpening. Because of the powderizing and HIP processes, you end up with an alloy that has a much higher density and grain structure with no imperfections or weak points. Just like silk. This allows us to increase the Rockwell hardness to 64, and the edge will still have flexibility so it won't chip, and can be re-sharpened. Even if it is paper thin.
Traditional Japanese Knife Styles
Japanese culinary tradition calls for a different knife for just about every task. Frankly, the variety can be a little daunting. That's why Shun offers a select group of Japanese-style knives that give you the precision of specialized tool combined with the versatility of a multi-purpose tool. Here are some of our favorites:
Santoku: A santoku is an Asian-inspired chef's knife. A santoku is a knife of many talents; some cooks even prefer a santoku to a chef's knife. While some have a completely straight edge, the slight belly curve on the Shun santoku enables you to rock the blade slightly and makes this santoku as easy to use as a chef's knife. It is especially well suited to the down-and-forward cutting motion known as a push cut. The santoku usually comes in 7- or 5-inch blade lengths.
Honesuki: The triangular blade of this Japanese boning knife is perfect for maneuvering around bones and between joints. The shape provides a high level of control enabling the user to process poultry and other proteins with ease. The razor-sharp blade makes removing breasts from bone simple and it cuts through joint cartilage almost like butter. Scoring and trimming is a breeze, too—and the blade's spine can be used for scraping as well.
Nakiri: "Nakiri" is Japanese for "vegetable knife." Cooks around the world choose this beautiful and extremely useful tool when preparing fruits or vegetables. With its straight blade, edge, and spine, the nakiri isn't rocked like a chef's knife. Instead, it is used with a simple push cut—down and forward. A fine dice of onions is fast, easy, and the nakiri's blunt end makes it safer, too.
Menkiri: In Japan, a menkiri is a noodle-cutting knife. The long, straight, razor-sharp edge contacts the cutting board completely to make cutting a folded sheet of fresh noodle dough almost effortless. Of course, in the same way that it can help you cut beautiful, even, delicious noodles, it is equally adept at cutting a full range of fresh, homemade pastas. And it even provides excellent cutting control for slicing vegetables.
Kiritsuke: The kiritsuke is known as the Japanese master chef;s knife. It is used for a wide variety of kitchen tasks, similar to a chef's knife. It works extremely well with vegetables. Julienne, dice, or brunoise; shave chives and scallions. It's also an excellent choice for cleaning and portioning boneless proteins, and particularly fish. It slices cooked proteins with grace and ease. In fact, it's so sharp and fine that some even use it in place of a mandolin.
Deba: Most often used to process fish and poultry, this traditional Japanese knife may be used to fillet fish, cut through small bones and skin, bone poultry, and cut meat. A deba is a single-bevel knife—sharpened on only one side of the blade—has a wider blade, a dropped point, and a curved belly. The Shun deba features the traditional slightly hollow-ground back to help food release quickly from the blade. Debas come in a variety of lengths.
Limited Lifetime Warranty
Each of these quality knives and cutlery products are guaranteed for the lifetime of the original owner to be free of defects when received from the factory. Any product we find to be defective in its original material, construction, or workmanship will be repaired or replaced with the same item or one of equal value at no charge. (Of course, normal wear, abuse such as prying with the knife, or neglect are excluded from this non-transferable warranty.) For warranty service, please return product via UPS or insured mail. Include your name, address, telephone number, and a short explanation of the warranty service requested to the address below. Please allow 4-6 weeks for delivery.
WARNING! Knives are extremely sharp tools and should only be used with the utmost care and caution. Any use other than cutting is considered misuse and abuse and will void your warranty.
Shun Cutlery products are made in the USA, Japan and China as indicated on the product.
KAI USA Ltd.
18600 SW Teton Avenue
Tualatin, Oregon 97062