Shun Classic vs. Premier: Which Knife Collection Is Better?

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Are you shopping for new kitchen knives and trying to decide between the Shun Classic and Shun Premier collections?

Since hitting the market in 2002, Shun has won multiple awards, including Knife of the Year nine times. While they have a handful of collections, Classic and Premier are two of their best.

The truth is, Shun Classic and Premier knives are more similar than they are different:

  • Both collections feature forged blades with 68 layers of cladded steel and a VG-Max cutting core.
  • Both have full-tang construction and ultra-sharp edges cut to a 16-degree angle per side.
  • Both have PakkaWood handles with a steel end cap.

The most notable differences between Shun Classic and Premier knives are the blade finish, handle design, and price:

  • Classic blades feature a subtle Damascus finish while Premier blades have a more swirly Damascus pattern on the lower part of the blade and a stunning hammered finish on the top half.
  • Although the handles in both collections are made out of PakkaWood, the color is different. Classic handles come in either ebony or blond while Premier handles come in an elegant, natural brown.
  • Premier handles are slightly contoured from the blade to the butt end, and the grip is round and symmetrical. Classic handles are straighter, and the grip is fashioned into a D-shape, which provides extra control and stability.
  • Both collections are pricey, but Premier knives are about 25% more expensive than Classic. Skip ahead to the price comparison chart to compare the cost of Classic and Premier knives side-by-side.
Differences between Shun Classic and Premier
Shun Classic (top) and Shun Premier (bottom)

Those are the basic similarities and differences, but there’s much more to know about the Classic and Premier collections before you decide which to buy.

Keep reading to learn how these collections stack up in terms of performance, design, durability, price, options, and much more. Plus, I provide side-by-side pictures so you can see the differences up close.

By the end, you’ll have all the information you need to decide which Shun collection is right for you.

Let’s dive in!


Use the links below to navigate the comparison:


Side-by-Side Comparison Chart

The chart below gives you a quick side-by-side comparison of the key specs across Shun Classic and Premier knives.

 Shun ClassicShun Premier
Where It's MadeSeki City, JapanSeki City, Japan
How It's MadePrecision forged with 34 cladded steel layers per sidePrecision forged with 34 cladded steel layers per side
Blade MaterialVG-Max steelVG-Max steel
Blade FinishDamascusHammered top, Damascus bottom
Handle MaterialPakkaWoodPakkaWood
Handle ColorEbony or blondeWalnut
Handle DetailsD-shaped grip with steel end capRound grip, thin brass ring, logo engraved on the steel end cap
Edge Angle16-degree angle per side16-degree angle per side
Rockwell Hardness6161
Full TangYesYes
CleaningHand washHand wash
WarrantyLifetime Limited WarrantyLifetime Limited Warranty
Free Lifetime SharpeningYesYes
Number of Knives/Sets4128
PriceLess expensive (check Amazon)More expensive (check Amazon)

Differences Between Shun Classic and Premier

As I mentioned up front, the notable differences between Shun Classic and Premier knives are the blade finish, handle design, and price. But there are a few other important factors that set these two collections apart.

In this section, I cover the differences in detail, so you know what you’re getting with each collection.

Blade Finish

At first glance, you’ll notice that the blade finish is very distinct across both collections.

Both blades are handcrafted in Japan and inspired by the traditional techniques of Japanese Samurai swordsmiths. And, while both are beautiful and functional, the finish on Classic and Premier blades is quite different.

The blades on Shun Classic knives have a smoother finish with a matte glow. The subtle Damascus pattern travels from handle to tip in horizontal lines.  It’s wavy on the top half of the blade but becomes more straight-lined as you approach the edge.

Differences between Shun Classic and Premier_Blade finish
Shun Classic (top) and Shun Premier (bottom)

On the other hand, the Premier collection has a shiny, tsuchime hammered finish on the top half of the blade. On the bottom half of the Premier blades, you’ll see a Damascus design, but it’s more swirly than the pattern on Classic blades.

Both are incredibly attractive, but the Premier finish is slightly more functional than the Classic.

Since the hammered finish on Premier blades is more pronounced than the subtle Damascus finish on Classic blades, it does a better job reducing drag and preventing food from sticking while you chop. It’s a minor difference, but one worth pointing out.

Handle Design

The handles on the Classic and Premier knives are also very different, even though they’re both made of PakkaWood.

The Shun Classic knife handle has an ebony finish, which is dark and suits any kitchen. It’s fashioned into a D-shape, which increases control and stability, and prevents the handle from twisting in your hand. The D-shape grip is more suitable for right-handers but it works well for lefties too.

If you’re not a fan of the dark ebony color, there’s a variation in this collection you might like called Shun Classic Blonde (view on Amazon). Everything about these knives is the same as the regular Classic collection, but the handles are a lighter oak-like color.

Differences between Shun Classic and Premier_handle color
Classic (top), Classic Blonde (middle), and Premier (bottom)

The Shun Premier knife handle is more detailed, and it carries four distinct elements.

First, it’s finished in walnut color, giving it a slightly more rustic and natural feel. Due to its lighter color, the wood grains are more prominent, which is quite elegant.

Second, a thin brass band wraps around the butt end of the handle, which sets it apart while being fashionable.

Shun Premier Handle Details
Shun Premier Handle Details (photo credit: Shun.Kaiusa.com)

Third, the Shun logo is engraved into the steel end cap of the handle. The Classic collection doesn’t feature this engraving.

Finally, the moisture-resistant handle is contoured (Classic handles are straighter) to offer excellent grip and maximum comfort.

Options

Both collections offer various knife sets and individual knives, but the Classic collection has a much broader range of products available.

The Classic collection offers 41 different products to choose from, including 10 sets and 31 individual knives—so it’s easy to mix and match the ideal pieces for your kitchen.

With the Premier collection, there are 28 total options, including 8 sets and 20 individual knives. So, you still get a wide range of choices, but it’s not as extensive as the Classic collection.

Bottom line—both collections offer a lot of options. But if you’re looking for something specific, you’re more likely to find it in the Classic collection.

You can check out the entire offerings across both collections on Amazon at the links below:

Price

Shun knives are high-end, top-quality, Japanese knives. So it’s no surprise that both are pretty pricey.

However, the Classic collection is about 25% cheaper than the Premier collection on average, but in some cases, it’s even less expensive. The exact difference in price depends on which knives or sets you compare and where you buy.

To get a better idea of how these collections compare in terms of price, check out the chart below.

The prices displayed are pulled in real-time from Amazon, so what you see is what you get. You can click the prices to see more details on Amazon.

Prices and images pulled from the Amazon Product Advertising API on:

Similarities Between Shun Classic and Premier

Although Shun Classic and Premier knives have surface-level variations—and a difference in price—they share a lot of similarities.

In this section, I’m going to cover all the things these collections have in common.

Materials

Classic and Premier knives are made out of the same blade and handle materials.

First, both blades have a VG-Max cutting core, which stands for V-Gold-Max. It’s Shun’s proprietary super-steel formula; you won’t find it anywhere else. 

VG-Max is an upgraded version of VG-10, a steel used by many Japanese knife makers, including Shun.

The carbon content of VG-Max is slightly higher than VG-10, which increases strength and durability.

Additionally, it contains more chromium and vanadium, which increases corrosion resistance and improves edge retention—you won’t need to sharpen the knives in either collection very often. 

Both blades feature 34 cladded layers of stainless steel per side that support the cutting core, provide stain and corrosion resistance, and aid in releasing food from the blade. Plus, as I already covered, those layers give the blade an incredibly attractive finish.

While the handles on both collections look different, they’re both made of PakkaWood.

PakkaWood looks like natural wood, but it’s actually a wood and resin composite material. It’s dense, durable, heat-resistant, and waterproof—ideal properties for a kitchen knife handle.

With PakkaWood, you get the beauty and elegance of natural wood, but you don’t have to worry about the handles warping, wearing down, or splitting.

Sharpness

Both the Classic and Premier collections have a 16-degree cutting angle per side. Combined with the fine grain and VG-Max core, these knives have a razor-sharp edge that won’t dull quickly. 

Since the edge angle and blade steel is the same across Classic and Premier, you can expect the same chopping and cutting experience.

Let me give you some context. The edges of most kitchen knives are sharpened at a 17 to 20-degree angle per side. So, by contrast, both of these Shun collections are sharper than the average.

You might be wondering: why not sharpen the edge to an even smaller angle and make the knives as sharp as possible?

As the angle gets smaller, the edge gets weaker, more brittle, and more likely to chip. So, you have to find the right balance between sharpness and durability. And, that’s what Shun has done with these collections.

Edge Retention

Knife manufacturers use the Rockwell scale to measure the hardness of their blade steel. On that scale, the VG-Max steel used for Shun Classic and Premier blades scores between 60 and 61.

By contrast, Wusthof and Zwilling, two of the best German knife makers, use softer steel that scores between 57 and 58.

The primary benefit of harder steel is that it can tolerate a sharper edge and hold that edge well. The downside is that the blade is slightly less durable.

So, in terms of edge retention, Classic and Shun knives hold their sharpness equally well, and, due to the harder steel, better than most brands on the market.

How It’s Made

Shun knives are made in Seki City, Japan, which has been the heart of Japanese cutlery for over 700 years, and the home base of the Kai Group (the company that owns Shun) for more than 111 years.

Each piece of Shun cutlery goes through a 100-step process to transform the raw materials into the beautiful and sharp knives that end up in your kitchen. 

Although tradition is at the heart of the manufacturer process, Shun knows the importance of utilizing modern and advanced materials—such as powdered steel—but they combine these materials with historical aesthetics.

Classic and Premier knives, made from high-performance VG-Max steel, are ground and bead-blasted, which gives them their incredibly sharp edge and beautiful Damascus pattern.

The knives in both collections are forged—as opposed to stamped—making them more durable but more expensive. A forging technique is when the blade of a knife is heat treated and hammered into shape from one piece of steel.

A stamped knife, on the other hand, is cut out from a large sheet of steel. The blade is tempered, hardened before being finished. It’s usually thinner and more lightweight but likely to bend when cutting harder ingredients.

Classic and Premier knives are made with a full-tang, which is the portion of the blade that extends throughout the handle, so both elements are connected. The tang prevents the blade from snapping away from the handle when used vigorously. It also provides balance and more control when cutting.

Lifetime Warranty

Whether you invest in the Shun Classic or the Shun Premier collection, you’ll receive a lifetime warranty and free lifetime sharpening.

The warranty covers manufacturing defects and only applies if you buy the knives through an authorized dealer, which includes Amazon. You can get all the details on Shun’s website.

Free Lifetime Sharpening

Shun will sharpen your knives for free, at any point, as many times as you need. They’ll also repair microchips, nicks, and light rust. Free sharpening is a fantastic perk that most knife brands don’t offer.

To get the free sharpening, just ship your knives back to Shun and pay a minor shipping and handling fee. The process is super quick, and if you live near the Kai USA Ltd area, in Tualatin, Oregon, they can sharpen your knives while you wait. Learn more about this awesome perk on Shun’s website.

Bottom Line: Should You Buy Shun Classic or Premier Knives?

There’s a lot to love about both the Shun Classic and Premier kitchen knife collections.

Knives in both collections have a VG-Max core with 68 layers of stainless steel cladding. They both offer outstanding sharpness and edge retention. They both have elegant and durable PakkaWood handles. And, both are manufactured using a forging process, which results in durable and well-balanced knives.

The differences between Shun Classic and Premier come down to design, options, and price.

The Classic collection features both dark and light-colored handles coupled with a beautiful yet subtle Damascus finish on the blade.

The Classic collection has more options to choose from and is about 25% cheaper than the Premier collection—so if you’re looking for something slightly more budget-friendly, Classic is the best choice.

If you’ve fallen in love with the hammered finish on the blade, then the Premier collection might be the one.

The hammered finish not only looks stunning, but it also helps to release food while you’re chopping.

The handle has a walnut finish with a thin brass band around the bottom of the handle and a stamped Shun logo on the end cap.

Although the Premiere collection doesn’t have as many sets or individual knives available compared to the Classic collection, all the must-have pieces (chef’s knives, santoku knives, paring knives, etc.) are available.

The main downside of the Premier collection is that it’s more expensive than the Classic collection. But, considering you’ll have these knives for years to come, the investment is worth it. 

Ultimately, both collections are excellent choices, and the right one for you comes down to your budget and style preference.

If you’re ready to buy or want to read more reviews, you can check out both of these collections on Amazon at the links below.

If you found this comparison helpful, you should also check out:

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