By David Link

I enjoy cooking, and although I’ve never had any formal culinary training, I’m always trying new techniques and working new ingredients into my dishes. I’m certainly not a “follow the recipe exactly” type of guy either, and I prefer to think of cooking as a fluid art form that I can add my personal touch to as I experiment. Sometimes it doesn’t work out quite right, but I always learn something I can apply to future dishes.

As I’ve advanced as a cook, I’ve slowly added better tools to my kitchen. Good cast iron skillets and a dutch oven are a must, and they truly are the healthiest cookware you can use. Aside from good cookware, quality cooking knives are the number one way to upgrade your kitchen setup. For years I used cheap chef knives and inferior kitchen shears, all the while placing my fingers in constant danger as I cooked. What’s worse, I really love vegetables and I find chopping them and preparing them almost like a meditation.

Finally, I upgraded my kitchen with a new chef’s knife from Shun, and my cooking has become even more enjoyable.

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Why Shun

It was late in my teenage years when I fell in love with Samurai films. Akira Kurosawa was the king of the sub-genre, and I watched and re-watched films like Seven Samurai, The Hidden Fortress and Rashomon, enjoying every moment. What does this have to do with kitchen knives? Well only just a little really. In evaluating premium knife brands, I came upon Shun Knives by KAI and my interest was piqued. Shun crafts culinary knives in the tradition of Japanese sword smiths, and for someone who loves Samurai films but doesn’t really see much of a need to own a Samurai sword…a Samurai-esque kitchen knife will do just fine! No Shun cutlery isn’t exactly a mini Samurai sword, nor should it be. But it is crafted to the same standards that Japanese sword smiths demanded out of their weapons. For me, that’s enough to make it stand out from the crowd of culinary knives available. As a bonus, they’re handcrafted, and you know you’re getting better quality than a production knife.

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Shun Classic Chef’s 8in. Knife

My first experience with Shun Cutlery was the Classic Chef’s 8in. Knife. It is marketed as a “true does-it-all” cooking knife, and it is certainly that. First, and most importantly, it is extremely sharp. This makes any slicing or cutting task almost effortless. For example, when I cut into a bell pepper, the Shun knife severed the slice with minimal effort. When compared to my budget chef’s knife, I had to peal the slice off to get a clear cut. There are no concerns like that with the Shun Classic Chef’s Knife. This knife cuts through meat effortlessly as well, something I’ve always had trouble doing with budget chefs knives. The only thing the Shun Classic Chef’s Knife isn’t approved for is cutting bones (use a meat cleaver instead) and thick skinned fruits and vegetables like melons (opt for a vegetable cleaver).

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The Shun Classic Chef’s Knife excels at cutting meat, something not all chef’s knives do well.

The blade itself is Layered Damascus that has 68 total layers (34 on each side). Shun layers different types of metal alloys together, and they are forged together into a single piece. After that, the blade is acid etched to create rippling patterns on the side of the blade. The result is nothing short of an impressive and beautiful blade, and one that will stand out in your kitchen.

The 8 inch knife is a good size for most of my needs. The tip is nimble and I’m able to make precision cuts easily. I really enjoy how the PakkaWood handle feels in my hand, and it provides plenty of surface area so my grip never slips. If you look carefully at the handle, it has ergonomic styling (a “D” grip) to help it fit exactly in the palm of the hand. I’m a righty, so I can’t comment on how it would function in a lefty’s hand, but I imagine it would be much of a problem. For me, it doesn’t matter which hand I hold it in, the grip feels secure. I can see the PakkaWood handle lasting far longer than any traditional wood handle, especially if properly cared for. Shun does note that hand oils and elevation can cause some discoloration or swelling/shrinking in the handle overtime. Since I live at a mile above sea level, it’ll be interesting to see if anything changes in the handle overtime.

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Close up of the “D” shaped handle.

Sure, the knife is a bit heavier than other chef’s knives I’m used to, but I’ve found it to be just the right weight for me. If you go with something too light, the knife doesn’t quite give you the handling you need at the cutting board in my opinion. After many chopping, slicing and dicing sessions, the Shun knife is still as sharp as the day it came out of the box. You will want to hone it every couple weeks or so depending on how often you use it to maximize continued sharpness, but it’s not going to go dull on you after a month of use, that’s for sure.

All in all this is a magnificent chef’s knife well worth centering your kitchen cutlery around. Shun has a wealth of knife styles to choose from, and many are more sophisticated than this knife, but as far as a go-to choice for those uninitiated in quality knives, I can’t think of a better place to start.

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Specs

  • Hand sharpened 16° double-bevel blade (32° comprehensive)
  • Steel: Proprietary VG-MAX cutting core, 34 layers each side (68 total) stainless Damascus cladding
  • Handle: D-shaped ebony PakkaWood®
  • Blade length: 8 in. (20.3 cm)
  • Handcrafted in Japan

Care And Use Instructions

Once you decide to upgrade to a quality knife like the Shun Classic Chef’s knife or Shun Classic 3 Piece Set, you’ll want to take special care to keep it in the best condition possible. After all, this is an important investment for your kitchen. The first thing to pay attention to is how you cut with the knife. Using an up and down “chopping” motion is hard on the knife and will reduce its lifespan. Instead you’ll want to “glide” into what you’re cutting by pushing forward as you cut into the item and then pull back as you come back up. Shun likens it to sawing a log with a hand saw, and I think that analogy works pretty well.

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Once you have use of the knife down, you’ll want to care for it properly. Never ever put it in the dishwasher. The temperature is just too hot for the knife and the dishwasher detergent can cause harm as well. Instead hand wash it with a gentle dish soap and dry it immediately afterward. The best place to store the knife is in a knife block. Placing it in a drawer with other utensils is both dangerous (the knife is extremely sharp after all), and other utensils can damage it if they click around in the drawer next to it. If a knife block isn’t an option, you can use a knife sheath to keep it protected.

Next, make sure you’re using a proper cutting surface with Shun knives. Wood is the only approved surface for cutting with a quality knife, so keep those plastic, glass or granite cutting boards away from the knife. Using improper cutting boards or storing the knife improperly can cause little chips in the blade of the knife and effect its lifespan.

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I took the Shun Classic Chef’s knife out of it’s comfort zone on a camping trip and it performed just as well away from the kitchen. (Note: I used the knife on a plastic cutting board -very briefly- since packing my large wooden cutting board wasn’t practical. I don’t recommend using a plastic cutting board for any period of time…and hopefully the manufacturer won’t disown me!)

 

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As for sharpening, Shun knives require sharpeners specially designed to sharpen the 16° blade angle. The best option is to choose a Shun Knife Sharpener combo or Whetstone. You’ll also need a honing steel to perform maintenance on the blade every few weeks or so. Before you invest in a whetstone, the honing steel is the better buy early in the knife’s lifespan.

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re a culinary professional or just a hobby cook like me, the Shun Classic Chef’s 8in Knife is an excellent option for an kitchen upgrade or simply your go-to knife. Be warned though, once you add one to your collection you’ll want a few specialty knives to go with it!