Kitchen Tools That Don’t Suck: Shun Ken Onion Knives

Time to take a look at another feature we hope to keep alive on this blog with some reasonably regular posts.

If you haven’t noticed the little note I threw at the bottom of the page, our kitchen and this little blog are not sponsored.  We don’t have a syndicated TV show, our own line of utensils,  or a kitchen full of spotless copper cookware.  We’re regular people – a husband and wife with two kids, a couple of pets, jobs, and plenty of daily responsibility.  We work hard to make enough money to take care of the necessities and leave a little bit left for “creature comforts” that might make our lives a little easier or more comfortable.  So when we do buy something, we want to make sure what we’re getting is worth it – in terms of quality and value – even if it might cost a little more.  We research, compare, test-drive in person when possible, and ultimately make a choice and hope it was a good one.  And usually, we’re very satisfied with our decisions.

Sometimes we’re not.  Sometimes we buy something that should be awesome and ends up being worthless – either broken after a few uses, or simply unable to perform the functions it was designed for.  Sometimes we end up with something that sucks.

So, we’re here with this feature to highlight those things we’ve come to use in our kitchen that don’t suck. Tools, gadgets, maybe even appliances that we’ve paid for and that have lived up to our expectations.  Things that we would recommend to others.  Things we would buy again.

So, let’s get started:

Shun Ken Onion Knives

Kershaw is a knife company located on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon, since (under the Kershaw name at least) the mid 1970’s.  They’ve got a great selection of pocket knives, hunting knives, fishing knives, and kitchen knives.  They are known for having one of the sharpest “out of the box” edges anywhere and they stand behind every knife they make with a lifetime guarantee.  If you pay the shipping to send your knife back to the factory (they’ll return it to you for free as long as you include the address), or happen to live close enough to stop by their factory, then they will also sharpen any of their knives back to the original factory razor edge for free (serrated or not, which is more than can be said for any other company out there).

Kershaw also has a couple of other “brands” that many people are not aware of: Zero Tolerance (a line of combat and tactical knives) and Shun.  The Shun line is made using a modernized variation of the traditional Japanese Kasumi style – the method used hundreds of years ago to make Samurai swords.  There are lots of details on their website about how all of this is done, and it’s great reading if you’re into that, but let’s just summarize it by stating it results in a blade that is both razor sharp and that holds an edge for a long time.

Among the Shun line are a series designed by Ken Onion.  He’s also responsible for a lot of other Kershaw-specific designs, and designs his own custom knives that sell for boatloads of money to people that are into the whole idea of collecting knives.

You’ll notice that these knives don’t look much like your “conventional” kitchen knives, whether they’re Henckels, Wusthof, or Chefmate.  They’re designed for ergonomics: to be used for hours on end by the sort of professionals that actually get calluses from chopping so much.  Professionals like that guy at the hibachi bar that can julienne a zucchini in 3 seconds flat.  But it turns out, they actually work pretty well for regular folks too.

Ok, so enough of the infomercial part.  How about that “real world” part?

Currently, the only Shun knives I’ve got at home are the 8” Chef’s (shown here) and the 10” Slicing/Carving knife (the one on the left in the photo above).  I picked them up last December after eyeing and drooling over them for at least a year prior in catalogs and occasional trips to the Williams-Sonoma store.

They are sharp.  They’ll chop all the veggies and herbs to prep for a meal with ease, and then turn to shaving the “silver skin” off a roast as if you were using a scalpel.  Soft skinned fruits and hard root vegetables both cut like warm butter.  I’ve used the slicing knife to fillet kokanee (the fish, not the beer) with ease – although admittedly the stiffer blade is more difficult than a nice flexible fillet knife (which I have, but was too lazy to dirty two knives that day).  If I’ve got more than a single vegetable to cut up, I’ll almost always reach for the chef’s knife before grabbing one of the other knives in our kitchen.

They are durable.  With almost daily use and never using a honing steel on it (I really need to be better about that), the chef’s knife finally needed sharpening after seven months.  Maybe not so much needed sharpening as got sharpened since I was going to be near the factory one day on business and figured I’d get a few things dressed up.  I’ve never had to sharpen the slicing knife yet, but have touched it up with a steel a couple of times.  And with regular honing, I don’t doubt that both will need sharpening only once a year or less.  Not bad considering I’m usually trying to sharpen the other knives we have (until I replace them with Shun ones) about every-other time I use them.

They look good.  I mean, yeah, it’s a knife.  And I’m not in to vanity, or showing off, or staring dreamily at my kitchen utensils.  But I do prefer to own things with a little heft and a feel of quality.  And I think that it looks pretty darn good in that custom little bamboo stand (Karen disagrees).

They are a little intimidating at first.  Not because of how they are shaped – the handle actually feels very natural and almost guides you into holding them in good form when you’re using them – but because of how sharp they are.  While everyone knows the saying that a dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp one, I can vouch for the fact that being used to a dull knife before using a sharp knife can be pretty dangerous too! I nicked my finger before I had even gotten a chance to use them – just taking them out of the package to put them away.  And there’s been more than a few occasions where Karen has run into the kitchen under the assault of profanities (not directed at her) to find me applying direct pressure to a finger while holding it under cold water and looking for something to contain the bleeding.  No, that isn’t my “secret ingredient.”  I have managed to develop a convenient flat spot on the end of my left thumb (my FB friends may remember that post at the end of June) that works quite well as a guide for chopping now.

However, since I’m a long way from needing to apply for work at that hibachi bar, I’ve learned that if it takes me an extra minute to julienne that zucchini, it’s still going to taste just fine.  And I’ve learned to use “the claw” hand position to hold things when I’m chopping away.  And I’ve come to appreciate the value of a durable, sharp knife.

So, are there any downfalls to the Shun knives?  Just one.  Price.  They are not inexpensive.  I won’t tell you what MSRP is (check the catalog), or what I paid for mine, but I will say that with a little research and a little patience, you can find them for a lot less than retail.  And if you’re really lucky, you may be able to find them at about half price on places like Woot.  If you do, don’t hesitate – I think they’re worth the full price, and getting them for less would just be a bonus.  Of course, if you’re in the Portland area on a certain weekend just once a year, and you feel like standing in line for about 6 hours, you can get them for even better than half price…

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