Help Me Find Buy-it-For-Life Knives

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Joined Oct 23, 2016
Hello,

I have recently gotten married, and registered fairly mindlessly (in the midst of all the wedding errands, embarrassed to say) for Shun knives:

-7" Santoku

-6" Chef's

-6" pairing

-3.5" Vegetable

-8" bread

-Carving set

They are beautiful, but here is the problem. We have only used them for 5-6 weeks and they have gotten A LOT duller, and have developed micro-chips even with our gentle use. We stick with sawing motions, wash and dry them immediately after use and store properly.

In short, we were buying them for life, but now they seem very fragile, not to mention the sharpening.

Honestly, we are pretty disappointed, and are not sure what to do now. It is not too late to exchange, but exchange for what?

We are looking for knives for life, durable, low-maintenance (very unlike Shun it seems). We cook all our meals and everything from scratch (a mix of love for cooking and dietary restrictions). 

Functionally, we are looking for similar knives to what we already have, these have been chosen with our cooking habits in mind. Also, we are pretty set on the sizes we chose; we are both small people with small hands.  An 8" chefs is already too big for us.  Price-wise, we are not looking to pay more. 

What do we cook? Lots of vegetables - lots of chopping, slicing, pealing - soft and hard (anything from tomatoes to cabbage, and even spaghetti squash).  When I cut greenery, I miss the rocking motion which is not recommended for Shun knives. 

I just don't want to worry about chipping, and if we can use an electric sharpener - that would be fantastic. The Shun knives are just 

Please recommend us something that would work for us.

It doesn't have to be of the same brand, we are open to mixing and matching. No preference for German or Japanese.

Thank you,  
 
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Congradulations and welcome to Cheftalk.

Word I get from pros who see a lot of Shuns are there knives for the most part are not up to the standards of the price range, but also not especially chippy for the particular steels, though other companies do provide a better heat treat.  But a lot of folks have brought up inconsistencies, some knife sharpeners saying they see them often (and most knife sharpeners do not even know what to look for).

Anyways it appears from your story that in fact your knives are not up to par, but I would like to know what line they are.  The Fuji line in particular are, unlike other Shuns, rather thin at the edge like true Japanese knives.  And the fresh factory edge of any high-hardness knives will tend to be weak and prone to micro-chipping.  This disappears to a large extent after a few sharpenings, and still micro-bevelling is advised for these knives.

No electric sharpeners do a good job, but they are much kinder to your knives than Shun's sharpening service typically is, so you can use them.  But it is always advised here to take a try at hand sharpenning on waterstones.  For less that $40 you could make a very good start here with something like a King combnation stone, like an 800/4000 grit.

You both must be perfectly-proportional small folk, as you don't appear small at all in the photo.  There are more rugged knives to be had, but I would have you stick with ones ground nicely thin if you will be sharpening electric, as electrics remove a lot of material and they will give more use before needing thinning.

So think about what has been said and how you might want to proceed before we start recommending replacements.
 
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I've had different experience than you with Shun. Not to diminish any one else's experience (just sharing my 50 years of cooking experience including about 5 in a professional kitchen) but let me just say that I've used Shun for years without the chipping some report. i know I'm not alone. You might want to also consider how you use knives as part of your needs assessment. I've used them extensively in home kitchen but haven't in professional kitchen as I've been out of them for a while. But I know several pros who do. Different strokes for different folks, eh? When they dull they really dull and need sharpening. I sharpen them myself rather effectively and sent one out once after I dropped it. I was not dissatisfied with the result... Actually more happy that it was repairable at all. But your not happy with them and that's all that really counts. Good luck finding the knives of your dreams!
 
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When answering Ricks great questions, also say if you are thinking of exchanging at a specific store. If so, what else do they offer. If not then other options may be possible.

My gut feel from your post, however, is that you might be happier with a German knife and a ChefChoice electric sharpener. Not state-of-the-art steel, but proven over many decades. Not popular with everyone, but nothing except sex really is... And even that exhibits fairly broad diversity of opinion and experience. That (the knives, I mean) is a reasonable approach for a home kitchen and not too unusual for a pro kitchen either... And may be the closest you'll get to a "buy it for a lifetime" option if your not too aggressive with the sharpening. For context, I still have and use my first set of decent knives - Henkels four-star bought in 1980.
 
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Thank you, Rick and Brian!

Our Shun knives are all from the Classic line, they are all VG-MAX Damascus steel. I have read that Shun has been using VG-MAX instead of VG-10 on their Classic line recently. We got most of them from Bed Bath & Beyond and 2 from Williams-Sonoma. 

When we were shopping, the idea was to get the best quality knives, not the brand or the looks. These big stores offer a limited selection of brands beyond Calphalon knives and the like- basically, it's down to Shun, Global, Wusthof, and Henkels. There is also a Sabatier set, and a few Victorianox knives.

We were not crazy about the Global handle, and were not looking at sets. 

Between Wusthof and Henkels, we read that Wusthofs may be slightly better (sorry, Brian, we were obviously clueless at the time).

So the choice at the time was between Wusthofs and Shuns.  We decided to go for Japanese knives because of their lightness, because of that 15 degree angle and the extra sharpness, as well as the hardness of the steel. In short, Shuns to us seemed sharper, lighter, harder than Wusthof. Just giving you an idea of our rationale at the time.

Sharpness is still very important to us, but we'd also choose durability and low maintenance over looks. We treat our shuns well, nothing we cook involves cutting through bone, but we also cook spaghetti squash almost every week, and KAI has it on their website that Shuns are not for that.

Re sharpening - we'd be able to send them back to Shun once a year, but it feels like we need to sharpen them every 3-4 weeks. Is that too often? Electric sharpener would be ideal for us, but the Shun electric sharpener has poor reviews  on Amazon.  It's difficult to find electric ones with a 15 degree angle.  Anything you'd recommend? I know the waterstone is better, but we have no experience with the stone and are afraid to chip the knife. We want quality knives and are ready to care for them, but we hate to worry about chipping them.

Here are my questions about sharpening:

1) How often would you say Japanese knives need sharpening?

2) How often do German knives need sharpening? I've read that they get duller quicker because of the softer carbon steel.

3)Sharpness-wise, how would Henkels or Wusthofs compare to Shun? 

4) For our Shuns: Would either electric or stone sharpening get us anywhere close to the factory sharpness? our Shuns were amazing the first few weeks. 

5) Could you recommend an electric sharpener for Japanese knives?

6) should I just stop worrying about chipping my Shuns and about the microchips? Will they go away with sharpening?

I'm eager to hear what you have to say. 

ps. we are both 5'5" with small hands, so the 7inch santoku was the largest we felt comfortable with, aside from the bread knife and the carving knife. 
 
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Thank you, Rick and Brian!

...

I'm eager to hear what you have to say. 

ps. we are both 5'5" with small hands, so the 7inch santoku was the largest we felt comfortable with, aside from the bread knife and the carving knife. 
Well I can't fault your logic. The German knives generally aren't as sharp as the Japanese knives. So you thinking that the Shun is lighter and sharper than the Wustof/Henckel is correct. That, in fact, is why I bought Shun after years of using Henckels. BTW, the diff between Wusthof and Henckel may be more of a Ford vs Chevy and Nikon vs Canon kind of thing. I've used both and find them rather equivalent.  :)

Perhaps what you may want to think about is sharpening solutions for the Shun and getting a heavier knife for breaking down your squash. Chef Choice has a sharpener that does angles for both Eastern and Western knives, but I've just looked at them and have no idea if they are really usable. On this forum there have been pro chefs who use them so I trust they aren't complete junk. The only time I used a Chef Choice was in 1982 or so and the coarsest slot ground the crap out of the knife (which may help if the edge is totally destroyed) but the finer slots seemed to do a decent job of sharpening. But it was a loaner so I tried it, returned it, and didn't buy one of my own. BTW, that was borrowed from a world-class chef, a name you'd certainly know and respect, who also recommended the Henckels. I know he use those Henckels but not sure if he really used the sharpener.

I sharpen with stones (Arkansas stones rather than the water stones that are more popular these days) and find that getting Shuns back into sharpness to be not really very difficult or time intensive. Sometimes it seems like more effort is required to get the Henckels back to decent sharpness. It does take some practice but if one is careful about the worst thing that can happen is scratching the side of the knife and not getting it really sharp. The former diminishes the appearance a bit and the latter is completely correctable.

How often the various knives needs to be sharpened depends on a wide variety of things... among them usage and expectations. I expect a knife to be sharp enough to effectively cut my food with ease so I can cook and eat/feed.  Others expect their knives to be scalpel sharp at all times. That alone, how sharp is sharp enough, drives big differences of opinion and is essentially an unanswerable question. We all know what too dull is, but...

I'm not too much taller than are you and find that shorter stature is more a problem with counter height. Normal counter + thick cutting board = awkward posture when cutting sometimes. But I still find a 8 or 10 inch chef knife best for most veg and meat.

I'm pondering your statement of "durability and low maintenance over looks" and not sure I know the right answer. In some ways the German knives would win in that respect but in other ways maybe not. In terms of durability I'd tend toward German. In terms of maintenance, though... the bottom line is that at some point all knives will need to be sharpened.

One point of correction on your question #2, "... because of the softer carbon steel." The knives you are looking at are probably all STAINLESS rather than carbon steel. Carbon steel knives are really nice to work with - they sharpen easily and get blazingly sharp - but can rust.
 
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http://japanesechefsknife.com/ProMSeries.html#ProM
You could look into grabbing one of those as a comparison point to your Shuns in usage and maintenance. Nice and thinly ground, a bit softer at the quoted 57 HRC, so will have a bit of durability and tend to deform rather than micro-chip. The other factor is you're probably still working through your factory edge on the Shuns? They can run brittle.

I'm a bit shorter than y'all and use either a 220mm Chinese cleaver or 230-270mm gyuto as my daily driver. As Brian says, the counter+ board height can be a big factor in terms of what knives can be used comfortably. Another is knife profile (shape). I find the French to Japanese profile to work better, being flatter and having a usable tip, especially taking personal height into consideration.

Stone sharpening plus moderate skill can blow away most factory edges. It's hard to express the difference if you haven't experienced it. With stones I never have to suffer dull knives again (well, at least not at home). You can also control factors like how thick or thin behind the edge a knife is which is a huge part of knife performance. And $30-150 of stones can keep all your non-serrated knives going for years and years

Edge retention and regularity of sharpening- you've already expressed how long the Shun went for before it was not at an acceptable sharpness to you

You're not going to chip your knife sharpening unless you whack your knife into it or try to sharpen on the un-eased corners. We will recommend good sources for learning and information
 
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rick alan rick alan how do the electric machines handle deburring and cleaning up the edge? I have to also admit personal lack of experience with the electric CC, as well as some deliberate aversion. I saw something that looks like that as well as a small tabletop belt grinder at the community kitchen I volunteer at, and inferred at least one of those causes the damage to the knives I go and fix up when I'm there...

Also, to the OP - what kinds of cutting boards are you using?
 
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@Foody, well here I admit I do find myself assuming that the CC works just as other very similar setups I am familiar with.  When I worked in Gillette's mechanical engineering department, over 30 years ago now, they used a setup very similar to the CC to put the edge on their razors.  Of course these were much finer abrassives, and a more complex setup that allowed a high throughput, but it was virtually the same counter rotating wheels simultaneously sharpening both sides, and some that concurrently sharpened both sides.  One wheel pushing the burr into the other wheel, but admittedly many times more often.  No problem with burrs there, there were no secondary operations for burr removal.  That is the information I had, and they told me a lot of very sensitive information on their sharpening process, but I really don't think there were any big secrets in the business left at that time, though they did disregard Noton's advice on dressing their wheels, claiming their experience showed Norton to be wrong.  And since Norton was not actually in the business of making razor blades, well....

To that I will simply add that I have heard no complaints about burrs with the CC or similar devices. They certainly can damage knives though, if uneven and/or excessive pressure is used, even these have a learning curve.  Belt sanders, well you can very easily get yourself into big trouble there as they typically run at excessive speeds, particularly for the novice, and there are other issues whether you are up against the rigid platen or roller section, or the slack part of the belt.

So as we keep saying, LEARN HAND SHARPENING!  Or be prepared to spend some real money sending your knife out to someone, not just anyone, who will do things right.
 
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Thank you, all.  I think the conclusion we are arriving at here is keep the Shuns for now and :

1) get a stone and learn hand sharpening (Arkansas or waterstones for Shuns?) What do you recommend? I'm looking at waterstones - 1000 and 6000.

2) in the future get a German knife for squash and other hard foods

Thank you, everyone. I was just so worried about the the Shuns. Let me know about your stone recommendations. 
 
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Anything like 800-2k (but a fast cutting 2k) medium grit and 3-6k fine grit is a good start and will do well for your Shuns. You will need a flattening solution sometime down the line, they don't have to be fancy

I use my thinner J-knives on kabocha pumpkin because they don't wedge so bad. Don't torque during the cut and don't slam down on the board are the big things

And Rick, thank you for the informative post about your experience. I love learning about stuff like that
 
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Your welcome Foody, and I was not familiar with the Pro M series knives you mentioned but they look a great value and the perfect option for the OP in terms of a nicely thin and more rugged knife.

More on Ala's question about sharpening frequency.  Once you've learned to sharpen and microbevel and gotten past the "factory edge" you may find your Shuns adequate for a month, maybe even 2 or more, but the degradation in performance will be significantly noticeable much sooner.  There is an easy way around that though.  Using just a few stropping strokes on your fine stone will bring your edge back to full sharp, where it should be.  Actual full scale sharpening won't be needed very often then, and your knives will always be performing at their best.
 

kuan

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I tried this one and I thought it was an even more useful version of a chef knife so I ordered one.  It is a very hard steel and has good weight so for a lot of lighter butchering and knuckles it will do fine.  Plus what little chopping and slicing I do at home can be accomplished with this.  An added bonus is the bolster is thick so you can actually punch a hole in a can if you want.

Apogee Fusion Dragon:

 
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I think your knives came with a junk factory edge. This isn't uncommon, and not particular to Shuns. I'd look around and see if you can find a sharpening service that works on stones. See if you can sit and watch while they work.

Get a King Combi 800/4000 stone. Very cheap, reliable, and gives lots of feedback, which helps a lot when you're learning. Once the service has put on a good edge, you won't need anything coarser than 800 for a long time. Practice on the 4000 side: you basically can't do much damage unless you're a total idiot, and you don't give that impression at all. Just go slow, don't put on much pressure, and let the stone do the work. In the end, you're rubbing steel on a rock--it's not rocket science.

The typical objection to Shun is that they're overpriced for what they are. But they're good knives. I think once you get a proper edge on, and start learning how to polish them a bit on that stone, you'll be very happy for a long time.

Of course, if the bug bites and you catch the knife-knut disease, we can cheerfully advise on how to destroy your bank account and your marriage!


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
 
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I think having a notable drop-off in performance within 5-6 weeks on the factory edge of a knife isn't necessarily a function of being a junk edge more than is normal. One of the things folks will first notice about new knives/good knives is the ease of going to things like tomatoes (without having to use a serrated knife), doing a fine dice on them, and maybe the cutting of skin side up bell peppers. These are cutting tasks that will show the noticeable degradation in several weeks use.

In fact that was the task that peeved me so much about getting a new knife I thought was good, being able to breeze through tomatoes, then several weeks-months later being absolutely unable to do so. It was the pursuit of how to break that cycle that led me to J-knives and also stone sharpening :3
 
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