Stepping into the realm of premium knives, you’ll immediately notice how often these two behemoth brands show up. Shun vs Wusthof has been in a conflicting discussion for at least 100-years. This might surprise you as most people don’t think of Japanese and German knives as competitors, but in reality, the truth is quite different.
Despite their diverse history and design, these knives have a lot in common. They’re exceptionally versatile, consistently producing some of the best knives on the market in this price range. They’ve been rigorously refined and improved using decades of experience and cutting-edge technology. Both knives are designed with professional standards and use in mind.
They’re exceptionally good at what they do, with a lot of overlap in their practical functionality. Our guide will help you better understand the differences between these fantastic brands and which brand offers the experience and performance you and your kitchen need. Getting a premium knife is all about sticking close to your needs, style, and personal preference.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to which premium knife is the best and greatest – but you can find the knife that’s just right for your kitchen. Keep this in mind as you make your way through our guide, and we’ll help you make an informed and regret-free choice! Let’s take a look!
Table of Contents
Shun vs Wusthof: An Overview
Shun knives are made in Japan and stick to generations-old sword-making traditions and techniques. Wusthof knives come from Solingen, Germany. They’re made using famous German designs that can also be found in other brands such as Henckels. Wusthof knives are generally thicker, slightly longer, heftier, and softer than Shun knives.
We’re going to cover more on this in the guide, but it suffices to know that Wusthof knives are heavier and bulkier than Shun knives. Shun knives are sharpened to a slightly wider degree than Wusthof knives (though this isn’t always the case) meaning they’re slightly less sharp.
Wusthof uses thicker blades, which offsets some of the benefits of having a sharper grind. Shun knives often have Damascus and hammered finishes on their blades, whereas Wusthof keeps it simple. This has drawbacks and advantages, depending on how and where you plan to use the knife.
Wusthof has 7 knife product-lines (six forged and one stamped) and Shun has a total of 11 different knife ranges. The Wusthof ranges don’t vary too much between each other, whereas one range of Shun knives can look and perform drastically different from other ranges. With these general differences in mind, let’s take a look at how Japanese knives differ from German knives.
Japanese vs German Knives in General
The Japanese are renowned for their knife and sword crafting abilities. They’re known to go through long and intricate processes (for example, Shun knives are crafted through a 100-step process). Japanese knives cater more toward working on softer meats like fish and poultry, so they usually use harder and thinner steel. This, combined with hammered finished drastically reduces drag while slicing.
Hammered finishes create little air pockets between the blade and the food, meaning you can get ultra-thin slices without ruining them. Japanese knives are often single-beveled with a very slight and sudden bevel on the back-side of the blade. This helps keep the knife cutting professionally after you sharpen it on a sharpening stone. Japanese knives have some of the best edge retention on the market.
German knives on the other hand use softer steel. They’re not as adept at slicing as Japanese knives are, but they make up for it with their chopping prowess. The softer steel helps keep the blade from chipping during rapid chopping. German knives also made excellent use of slightly curved cutting edges that allow for rocking motion chopping.
This rocking motion shouldn’t be used with Japanese blades or they can chip. German knives are heavier and thicker than their Japanese counterparts. They’re better for chopping and heavier meats, whereas Japanese knives are better at slicing with a smooth and steady motion. With these differences in mind, let’s compare specific features from Shun vs Wusthof knives!
The winner here depends on the type of work you’re doing. If you’re going with longer and smoother slicing motions then Shun is the clear winner. If you’re looking to cut through thicker roasts or around bones, then Wusthof takes the lead. Wusthof knives are better for heavier work and cutting around large bones thanks to their softer steel and heftier builds.
Shun knives are better for more intricate work such as thin-slicing thanks to their thinner blades and harder steel. Wusthof knives are sharpened to a 14° grind angle, whereas Shun knives are sharpened at a 16° angle. This means in terms of raw sharpness, Wusthof is better – but that’s not the entire picture.
Due to Shun knives’ thinner blades, they slice more easily than Wusthof knives. You’ll also find that their lighter build and hammered finish makes the blade feel even sharper.
In terms of edge retention, you’ll struggle to find premium knives with the same edge retention as Shun knives. With an HRC of around 61, their knives are harder than most on the market. Wusthof knives have an HRC of 56-58. This is the sweet spot of the kind of work that they’re made for, so it suits them better.
You’ll find you very seldom need to sharpen or hone your Shun knives, but it’s quite a mission when you do. Harder steel is tougher to realign or sharpen. Some Shun knives are sharpened at a lower 10°, but these aren’t very common.
Durability and Material Quality
In terms of steel quality, Wusthof keeps it standard, using very similar high-carbon stainless steel in all their knives. This gives them great edge retention, excellent rust and corrosion resistance, stain, and chip resistance. Wusthof mixes in various alloys such as chromium and vanadium to achieve specific increases in durability and resistance.
Shun, on the other hand, uses a variety of super-steels that are exceptionally hard (e.g. VG10 stainless steel) and sturdy. This steel can take a sharper cutting edge and hold it for quite a bit longer than softer steels – at the cost of being more prone to chipping and scratching.
You need to make sure you store all your Shun knives away from other metals and potentially damaging materials. You also need to make sure you choose a softer cutting board for your premium kitchen knives. If you’re working anywhere near larger bones (beef and chicken thighs for example) then a Wusthof knife is the way to go.
If you work mostly with light poultry, fish, vegetables, and fruit, then it will be hard to find something better than a Shun knife. Shun vs Wusthof knives are both incredibly rust and corrosion-resistant. You should always hand wash and carefully dry them to keep them in tip-top shape.
This is where you’ll likely notice the main difference between Shun and Wusthof knives. Sticking true to Japanese traditions, many Shun knives have a hammered or Damascus finish. Damascus finishes are the result of Shun’s 100-step knife making process, where the steel is folded over and over again. Shun blades are hammered by hand by skilled knife-makers.
This hammered finish helps the blade move smoothly while slicing. Wusthof knives feature the famous German curved cutting edge. This curve is included so that you can rock the knife back-and-forth over your food to quickly chop and dice it. It’s incredibly fast and efficient and is supported by Wusthof’s softer steel choice.
Wusthof knives’ handles are usually triple-riveted to the tang for enhanced durability and better balance. The tang is also visible on most Wusthof knives and there’s a seamless transition from blade to tang and then into the handle. These minor features all come together to make Wusthof knives some of the best-balanced knives on the market.
Wusthof knives use either a full-bolster or a half-bolster. This doubles as a finger-guard and guides your hand into a versatile pinch grip. You’ll often find Shun knives to stick out of the handle before curving up into the blade’s base. This gives the knife better balance and supports various knife grips (especially ones where you rest your index finger on the blade’s spine).
Shun’s handles are generally more rounded than Wusthof’s handles and more closely resemble a cylindrical shape. Wusthof handles vary quite a bit in terms of shape and often have a steel cap on the handle’s butt to further secure the knife’s construction.
You’ll generally find the handles more ergonomically shaped than Shun knives. If you’re a left-handed user, you’d have a far easier time with Wusthof knives. Their grind and handle shape often support left-handed use, whereas it’s much harder to find the same support from a Shun knife.
So which knife is better? The answer is “Well, that depends”. You should have a clear understanding of how these knives are different in their feel and performance. You need to think about the kind of food prep and meats you’ll be dealing with, your style, and your personal preference. These are all important when deciding between Japanese and German knives. Hopefully, our Shun vs Wusthof comparison has made your choice a little easier! Good luck!