I've read a lot of pejorative comments about Shun knives, both here and on other forums, so I decided to try an experiment to see how valid the criticisms are - I undertook to use only Shun knives for a month. I assembled a kit of six knives, both my own and some lent to me for the duration of the experiment (thanks to daveb and my friend Pamela). There were six knives - a 3½" Classic parer, a 4¾" Kramer Euroline utility, a 6" Classic utility/petty, a 7" Kramer Meiji santoku, a 9" Premier bread knife and a 9½" Elite slicer/sujihiki. Missing from the lineup was everyone's least favorite Shun, the Classic chef's.
I embarked on the experiment the day after Thanksgiving, and completed it the fifth day of the new year.
Now, keep in mind that I am a home cook, not a professional, so I may dice two onions where others may dice two bagfuls, or trim two steaks instead of two dozen.
Now the results.
Shun Premier Bread Knife.
A VG10 core clad with hammered stainless, the Premier bread knife was the least used of all the knives. I used Dave Martell's suggestions for sharpening a serrated knife and restored it to better than OOTB condition prior to the experiment. So much so that it cut a groove in my maple board the first time I cut a baguette. From then on out, I used an old bamboo board if I wanted to use the bread knife, which was not often, since the Elite slicer did a great job on bread.
Shun Kramer Meiji Santoku
The Kramer Meiji santoku has a core of SG2 steel surrounded by some very nice stainless damascus cladding. Unlike the Classic line, the etch is much deeper, and the pattern can be felt as well as seen. The handle is perhaps the best part of the knife, as it tapers dramatically at the ferrule, and is very comfortable to hold in a pinch grip. Those of you who have had a chance to use Marko Tsourkan's pass around knives with his D-handle will know what I mean.
I expected that I would feel hamstrung having to use the 7" santoku as my primary knife, since I use a 24 cm gyuto normally, but I was surprised to find that I was not. There were a few times I felt that a longer knife would be useful, but for the most part, I did not feel handicapped in any way. It handled every task I would do with a longer gyuto very well. When Eamon Burke developed the 19 cm utility with Will Catcheside, he made this comment, "The design is my own, I created this to be the most useful knife possible in a small package. It embodies everything I want to see in a knife like this, from ease of maintenance to knuckle clearance. I could use a knife like this exclusively in a kitchen, and not want for anything but a slicer." I feel the Shun Kramer Meiji santoku is another such knife.
There is a moderate amount of convexity to the grind of the Shun Kramer Meiji, and food release was very good. Potatoes had little tendency to stick to the side of the knife. The SG2 steel held a good working edge for the entire time of the experiment, requiring neither sharpening or stropping.
Shun Classic Paring Knife
The Classic parer has a VG10 core clad in stainless damascus. Many describe it as "faux damascus", as it has little in common aesthetically with the damascus produced by any of the custom knife makers on this forum.
I can now appreciate how the Classic parer has earned a place in the the kits of so many forum members. The knife performed well, needing only minimal touch up during the six weeks it was used. The handle is well-suited for in-hand work.
Shun Classic Utility/Petty
The Classic utility/petty was the second least useful knife of the six, as it had insufficient height at the heel to be used on a board, yet was long enough to feel clumsy for in-hand use when compared to the Classic parer. I found myself searching for tasks for this knife, and used it primarily to trim steaks or chicken breasts.
Shun Kramer Euroline Utility
The Euroline utility has a core of SG2 clad in stainless damascus, in a pattern similar to the Meiji santoku. It has enough depth at the heel to be used on a board.
I fully expected the Kramer Euroline utility to be the least used knife, but I found it to be the second most used blade in the kit. Slicing lemons, dicing shallots and mincing garlic were just a few of the tasks I found myself doing with the knife. Not unsurprisingly, this was the knife my wife reached for most of the time. Now, nothing this knife did could not have been done with the santoku, or with a gyuto, but it just seemed to fit the smaller tasks a bit better. The handle was a bit too full for my liking, and the quillion point was sharp enough to bite my hand a few times, though no blood was drawn.
Shun Elite Slicer/Sujihiki
The Elite slicer has a core of SG2 steel surrounded by stainless cladding which has been bead-blasted to a matte texture, almost like the Nashiji finish on some Teruyasu Fujiwara knives.
The slicer did exactly what a slicer should. It made short work of the Christmas ham as well as the several roasts that I used it on. The lack of 30mm of length when compared to a 27 cm sujihiki was not very noticeable. The SG2 steel did not require any sharpening nor touch up the entire time of the experiment, even though it made contact with a ham bone several times. The handle is neutral, unlike the Classic D-handles, so the knife is suitable for both right-handed and left-handed users. A pity the Elite line is discontinued.
In conclusion, I found that the reputation that Shuns have is probably due more to profile than any other aspect of the knives.
Okay, let the rebuttals begin!