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questions about First Proper Chef Knife purchase

post #1 of 11
Thread Starter 

Hi, have read a lot of posts here in the past but have never entered the discussion. I'd appreciate any insights- 


Basically, I'm trying to weigh my options regarding buying a knife from a friend for a good price or spending a bit more to get something that may serve me better down the road?  The knife in question is Shun Classic 8" Chef's in great shape for $85 USD.  I know that these don't get much love around here but I'm not sure how people would feel about them at this price point. 



I like it because:


-the price is great 

-it's very comfortable (I previously bought another Shun from him, a 5 in. santoku for $65, when I wasn't cooking much and completely love the handle and the way the bolster feels in my grip)

-pretty sure I want to stay with stainless and despite criticisms, they seem like pretty decent performers, edge-wise?



not sure about it because:


-although I'm sure I would be fine with an 8" I could be easily swayed to believe that I'm better off training myself to use a larger (240?) knife? 

-I would like to put my money into something that I'll enjoy for as long as possible

-even though I know very little of sharpening (outside of how to steel) I would like to have a knife that I can keep something of an edge on myself, even if that means only giving it a polish a few times in-between taking it to be properly sharpened elsewhere



I can imagine that, were I not to have this deal in front of me, I would be looking at the tojiro dp 240, which seems to be the go-to starter.  As far as I can tell, however, these knives use the same steel as the shun but have less fit & finish? I feel like it would be hard to pass up a knife with what I find to be a very comfortable grip and buy one that might not be as comfortable. I would also look at something like the mac pro 240, which every seems to be happy with for years of use. That one is at the top of my budget and I might even have to wait to get there but it's doable if it would really be the smartest choice. I wish I could try them all but I can't.


I'm pretty good with a knife- I'm not terribly fast but I'm an artist and I'm used to working with my hands, being very focused and seeing lines all day. I feel like it comes quickly to me- my eyes are trained and my hands are learning.  I'm organized, I have basics of good technique (I think...) and, perhaps above all, just really enjoy using great tools.  



so I guess the questions are:

-is shun really that undesirable? even at a great price?

-am I absolutely going to be wanting a longer knife the more I cook? (my cutting boards are 18x12 and 15x15 and the 8" blade already makes them look small- do I just need to man-up and get something bigger there too?)

-Would spending another $100 and bumping up to a mac pro 240 be a completely different world from the shun 210 or a slightly different world? if they were in two different worlds I would consider taking the leap now but if they were shades apart I would probably upgrade later.




post #2 of 11
Ben, I am by no means an expert but can offer a little bit of insight from an amateur standpoint. I started cooking about a year ago and originally had a 6in Wustof classic. After a short amount of time I knew I wanted a sharper knife and bought a 7in Shun santoku. From a sharpness standpoint it was worlds above my wustof, I liked it but wanted to practice knife skills so i started using my wifes 8in miyabi chef's knife. Within 3 months of using the 8in knife I knew it was too short for me. I ended up buying the 9.5 in mac pro and absolutely love it. Here is what I can tell you
1. If you are serious about learning to use your knife and have the space I could not in good conscience recommend anything shorter than the 9.5 in
2. I find the profile on the mac much preferable to the Shun (although I haven't used it it is similar to the Wusthof). This is totally personal preference.
3. I can't really comment on sharpening because I use a chef choice machine but the mac seemed to remain sharp for a longer period of time with proper honing.

Hope this helps.
post #3 of 11
Thread Starter 


thank you, that definitely helps. It sounds like you were in a similar situation to what I am now and I really want to avoid buying something that I'll outgrow very quickly.


much appreciated!

post #4 of 11

At that price point, I think the Shun is worthy of serious consideration.  It's about half of what it would cost new.  (And you'd likely be able to sell for your purchase price, or something close to it, if you decided you wanted something different in a few months or a year.)


Some people seem quite content with their 8" knives.  Though it doesn't seem like there are many who go to a 240 and find them excessively long--people adjust.


I haven't used the Shun you're looking at, but you are right about nice fit and finish.  A lot of people don't like the profile--too German, with too much belly.

post #5 of 11
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the input,

I feel confident that I'd like a bigger knife but I might just stick with this for a little bit and then trade up. 

post #6 of 11

so I guess the questions are:

-is shun really that undesirable? even at a great price?

That question can't be answered well, at least not in the way it's phrased. 


What you're really asking is whether the knife is worth $85... to you. 


Shun chef's knives have two major practical problems.  They tend to be somewhat chip prone and they're made with a somewhat exaggerated German profile.  To me the profile means a lousy action.  It probably won't mean much to you one way or the other for now.  Once you learn to handle a knife it will be more important.  On the other side of the ledger, you don't get much if any extra performance by buying a Shun as compared to other knives in the same price range -- even the same price range as that particular, used Shun.


In the ~$100 area, I think you'd be better off investing in a new, entry-level, 240mm knife like a Fujiwara FKM, Tojiro DP or Richmond Artifex.


-am I absolutely going to be wanting a longer knife the more I cook? (my cutting boards are 18x12 and 15x15 and the 8" blade already makes them look small- do I just need to man-up and get something bigger there too?)

Now you're asking me about you instead of about knives.  A 10" chef's knife is a more efficient all-round prepping tool than an 8".  Within the context of a relatively small knife set, a 10" is going to be the better choice for most people as long as they're willing to learn the skills (mostly grip) to get the knife to point where they intend it to point without a lot of steering.


Yes.  You need a bigger board.  Something big enough to allow you adequate room to prep will change your life in the kitchen as much as just about any other piece of equipment. 


You want a good quality, wood board.  Figure on spending around $100. 


-Would spending another $100 and bumping up to a mac pro 240 be a completely different world from the shun 210 or a slightly different world? if they were in two different worlds I would consider taking the leap now but if they were shades apart I would probably upgrade later.

Whether a MAC Pro 240 exists in "an entirely different world form the Shun 210" is another tricky question and the answer depends on context.  In my hand it does, but in yours -- almost certainly -- not yet. 


Because there aren't enough complications yet, you also have to think about how you're going to sharpen and maintain the knife.  Fortunately, thinking is free.  Unfortunately a decent sharpening kit isn't.  You can do an adequate -- but not great job -- for around a hundred bucks; a first class -- but not yet "top of the line" setup" is going to run you around $200 for bench stones and close to $300 for a good tool and jig like the EP Apex with suitable stones.


There are quite a few choices in the "first really good knife" category, but not many bargains.  You can expect to spend $150 - $225 to get in the door.   


Bottom Line:

Start the process by figuring out how much time and money you're willing to invest in sharpening and we can take it from there.    



post #7 of 11
Thread Starter 

thanks so much for your input-


I'm going do a little math tonight and look around to see exactly what I'll spending on a cutting board. I overlapped both of my boards on the counter to see what a 22x16 shape would look like and, even though it won't fit in the sink, I can already see it making life easier. I think you're right that that will change things a lot and it may be the easiest piece of the puzzle to put in place. Then I can think about the sharpening budget.

post #8 of 11

Wooden boards DO NOT go in the sink.  You wipe them frequently and sanitize as necessary (using very dilute bleach or a commercial sanitizer spritz), but NEVER wash them in the sink or dishwasher. 



post #9 of 11
Thread Starter 



thanks for the quick correction- my current procedure has been to give a quick rinse after scrubbing but I'll rethink that with my new board.


I've found a 24x18 Michigan Maple board at a good price, $55 shipped, but it's edge grain. I'm hoping to find a good sized, maple, end-grain board but so far the only ones that I found that don't seem suspect (unknown wood, complaints of splitting) are in the $175 range by the time it gets to me.  For now I feel like I'd rather spend that money on stones and use the opportunity I afford myself by dulling my knives on an edge grained board to practice my sharpening skills. 


I've decided to pass on the Shun and go to a Tojiro DP 240. I'm slightly hesitant but when I really think about it I know i'll be spending a lot of time with whatever new knife I'm using and so it seems clear that this will give me a lot more space to grow. 


This brings me to putting together a sharpening system....

You had mentioned several classes of options- I feel as though I'm at the lower end of the budgetary scale but I had money earmarked for a good hone so if your suggestion was including that I am thinking that for $150 (hone included) I could put myself in a workable situation? 


I would very much appreciate suggestions as to some options here.  I have read a number of posts and, from what I can tell, I'll want water stones but from there I'm pretty completely clueless regarding all the various brands and what grits and stages are necessary for the particular steel I'll be working with.  



post #10 of 11

End grain is preferable, but it's not a life or death difference.  Edge grain is fine.


$150 for sharpening is very workable.  In terms of a bench stone kit, you're looking at two very good stones, a flattener, and putting off purchasing the third (coarse) stone until you've learned to sharpen.  You could also buy a good pull-through like a Minosharp Plus3, or a Chef's Choice electric -- both of those go for around $80, both are very easy to use, and both are not great but "good enough."  


I'm not sure whether you'll want a "steel" for the Tojiro DP or not; it's more a matter of style, convenience and learning curve than anything else.  Since the knife has a VG-10 core, it won't need much truing but it will need some -- and that can be accomplished by "touching up," stropping, or steeling. 


Choosing stones starts with some understanding of what the different types of stones and grit levels do.  Think of the process of sharpening in terms of three stages:  Profile/thinning/repair; actual sharpening; and polishing.  For a Tojiro you DO want water stones.  Because Tojiros ship with a pretty good edge you don't need to profile them immediately, and that means you don't need a coarse stone immediately either.  That's a good thing, because small mistakes with a coarse stone have rather large consequences which can't be fixed other than on a coarse stone, and... well you get the picture.  At this stage of the game, there's no reason to bother with a high polish. 


To start, you need a medium-coarse stone for the first stage of actual sharpening (where "sharpening" = creating a fine, fresh metal edge), drawing a burr and chasing it; and a fine stone for polishing out the scratch left by the medium-coarse stone, drawing a more refined burr and chasing that.  There are a lot of stones on the market, and I don't know all of them -- so I'll stick with a few stones which I know are (a) very good, and (b) a lot of value. 

  • Medium coarse:  Bester 1200 or 10mm, or Naniwa SS 1000;
  • Fine:  Suehiro Rika or Naniwa SS 3000.  


In addition to the stones, you'll also need some way to flatten.  The best deal by far is the inexpensive diamond plate sold by CKtG for around $25.  Other efficient, inexpensive alternatives include drywall screen, and ceramic flattening stones.  Rank them in the order I listed them.  


NOTE:  You need to flatten and bevel the stones before you use them for the first time.


Hope this helps,


post #11 of 11
Thread Starter 

thanks to everyone for the great advice- BDL especially. 


I think I've got a great start now. The more I thought about the sharpening question the more I decided that it was a worthwhile investment and so I stretched out a bit more and, after a lot more reading, ended up buying the shapton gs 1000 and 4000 which I have see. I also picked up a diamond plate, stone holder and idahone steel. After putting some time in with some of my older knives I'm starting to feel comfortable with the whole process of raising a burr, etc and I'm looking forward to seeing how much I will be able to improve on the, already impressive, Tojiro factory edge. 


Also, I did most of my purchasing from Mark at CKTG and am happy that I did. There was a little bit of a miscommunication in the ordering process and I feel like I can understand why some people could be rubbed the wrong way by his communication style but persistence paid off and when everything was sorted out he was more than reasonable and quick to make sure that I had exactly what I was looking for. Definitely recommended.

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