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Shun Kanso vs. Classic Kitchen Knives: What’s the Difference?

Shun is known for its handcrafted, high-quality Japanese kitchen knives, and two of its most popular collections are Classic and Kanso.

Although these collections share many similarities, they also differ in many areas.

In this review, I compare Shun Classic vs. Kanso kitchen knives in terms of design, construction, performance, price, and more.

So, if you’re in the market for new cutlery but can’t decide between Shun Classic and Kanso, keep reading.


Use the links below to navigate the comparison:


Shun Classic vs. Kanso: Comparison Chart

Before diving into the details, you can use this comparison chart to get a broad overview of Shun Classic and Kanso knives.

KansoClassic
Blade DesignFine-grained patternDamascus
Blade ConstructionOne solid piece69 layers
Blade MaterialAUS10A steelVG-MAX steel
Handle DesignContoured w/ two rivetsD-shaped w/ steel end cap
Handle MaterialTagayasan (Wenge)Ebony-colored PakkaWood
Options20 knives and setsOver 40 knives and sets
Price$$$ (view on Amazon)$$$$ (view on Amazon)
Sharpness16-degree angle per side16-degree angle per side
Edge RetentionLong-lastingLong-lasting
How They Are MadeForged in JapanForged in Japan
Lifetime Warranty and SharpeningIncludedIncluded

Differences Between Shun Classic and Kanso

In this section, I break down the five key differences between Shun Classic and Kanso kitchen knives.

Blade Design

Shun Classic versus Kanso Blade Design
Shun Classic (top) Kanso (bottom)

Shun’s Kanso and Classic collections differ significantly in their respective blade designs.

Kanso collection blades feature a sponge-like, fine-grained pattern across the cladding (the broad part of the knife’s blade).

Shun Kanso 3pc 3.5" Paring, 6

That pattern is designed to hide scratches and nicks and gives the knife a more rustic look.

The blades in the Classic collection feature Damascus cladding, which provides a grained, wavy appearance and looks similar to natural wood.

The Damascus cladding waves are larger and more spread apart on the upper half of the blade and become thinner and closer together closer to the edge.

Damascus pattern on Shun kitchen knife blade
Damascus pattern on Shun kitchen knife blade

Along with the aesthetic appeal, the design has the benefit of aiding in food release and stain prevention.

Handle Design

Shun Classic versus Kanso Handle Design
Shun Classic (top) Kanso (bottom)

The handles in the Shun Kanso and Classic collections differ in both their design and shape.

The handles in Shun’s Kanso collection utilize an incredibly durable natural wood called “Tagayasan” (Wenge), which has a reputation in Japan for being as strong as iron.

Shun Kanso 3pc 3.5" Paring, 6

The wood is sanded and polished to reveal its dark, natural grain, giving these knives a sophisticated look. The full-tang (part of the blade that extends through the handle) is exposed on the handle’s top and bottom.

Shun Kanso 3pc 3.5" Paring, 6

Kanso blade handles are slanted to form an attractive and ergonomic traditional design that fits easily into the palm of your hand. The natural contouring makes it easy to perform a pinch grip and minimizes wrist strain during ingredient preparation.

Shun’s Classic collection has handles made of ebony PakkaWood® — a sturdy, dark wood-and-resin material that prevents the growth of harmful bacteria.

Shun Classic PakkaWood handle
Shun Classic PakkaWood handle

PakkaWood is moisture resistant, and when sanded and polished, it has an attractive glossy finish.

The Classic collection’s handles are rounded or “D-shaped” and comfortable for both right or left-handed chefs.

Shun Classic 7-in. Flexible Fillet Knife with High-Carbon Stainless Steel Blade and D-Shaped PakkaWood Handle Right Amount of Flex for Skinning, Boni, 7 Inch, Metallic

They are capped with a steel end or “butt” and allow you to easily rock the blade back and forth when mincing fine ingredients such as herbs.

Blade Construction

While both the Shun Classic and Kanso collections use high-grade steel in their blades, the construction differs significantly.

The blades in the Kanso collection are forged from one solid piece of high-grade AUS10A steel. It’s rust-resistant, high-carbon steel that provides strong edge retention when sharpened properly.

Knives in Shun’s Classic collection are forged from 68 individual layers of Damascus steel with a VG-MAX cutting core.

VG-MAX is a proprietary Shun steel with high carbon content for durability, chromium and molybdenum for corrosion-resistance, and tungsten and vanadium for enhanced sharpness and edge retention.

The blade is surrounded by softer steel layers that act as a shock absorber and protect the sharp but brittle core.

The key takeaway is that Kanso and Classic blades are high-quality, but the Classic’s Damascus steel combined with the VG-MAX cutting core takes it to another level. Simply put, Classic blades are designed for superior durability, cutting performance, and edge retention.

Product Options

Classic is Shun’s most extensive collection with over 40 products available, ranging from Chef’s knives to specialized blades, like the Bird’s Beak Paring Knife. You’ll find dozens of individual knives and complete knife sets.

Additionally, the Classic collection includes a sub-collection called the Classic Blonde. That mini-collection features lighter PakkaWood® handles (as opposed to the ebony ones in the traditional lineup).

The Shun Kanso collection, on the other hand, is more limited and only offers about 17 individual knives. It includes all of the basics but lacks the overall variety of the Classic collection.

Price

If you take a look on Amazon or Shun’s website, you’ll quickly note that both the Kanso and Classic collections are expensive. However, the Classic collection is slightly more costly due to its higher-quality steel and iconic Damascus cladding.

To get a better idea of how they compare, refer to the pricing chart below. These prices are pulled in real-time from Amazon. Click the product name or price to view more details.

Prices pulled from the Amazon Product Advertising API on:

Similarities Between Shun Classic and Kanso

Now that you have a thorough understanding of the differences between Shun Classic and Kanso knives, let’s review their similarities.

Sharpness

Like most Asian-produced blades and cutlery, both the Shun Classic and Kanso collections are hand-sharpened to an approximate 16-degree angle on each side. This angle provides a razor-sharp edge that will cut evenly through most ingredients with ease. These knives are sharper than most Western blades.

Edge Retention

Shun hardens its blades to a 60-62 on the Rockwell scale. That produces a durable and long-lasting edge.

Although the steel used in Classic blades is known to maintain the edge for slightly longer, you won’t need to sharpen either of these collections often. Just be careful, as the higher the number on the Rockwell scale, the greater the chance the blade can chip if it isn’t taken care of properly.

How They Are Made

All of Shun’s knives, including the Classic and Kanso collections, are handcrafted in Japan and forged, not stamped.

In simple terms, this means that Shun’s blades are created from a single piece (or cladded layers) of premium, high-carbon steel, which is then superheated and molded, and pounded into the correct shape. The forging process produces a thicker and stronger blade with superior edge retention. 

Stamped blades, in comparison, are “cut” from a single sheet of metal (similar to the way a cookie is “cut” from a sheet of dough).

In most cases, forged blades are higher-quality, better performing, and longer-lasting than stamped blades.

Lifetime Warranty and Free Lifetime Sharpening

Shun offers a universal lifetime warranty and free sharpening service for all its knives.

Once you purchase a knife from Shun, it is guaranteed for the entire lifetime of the product.

Additionally, Shun will sharpen your knives for free anytime they dull. All you have to do is pay for shipping.

I’ve reviewed dozens of cutlery brands, and very few offer this level of service.

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

You now know how Shun Classic and Kanso knives are similar, how they’re different, and why those differences matter.

Before I give you my recommendation, let’s quickly recap the main factors to consider:

Blade Design: The Kanso collection features a fine-grained blade design that hides scratches, while the Classic collection has a gorgeous Damascus-patterned surface that aids in food release.

Handle Design: The Classic collection’s handle features a rounded, ambidextrous handle made of dark PakkaWood® polished to a glossy finish. The Kanso collection’s handles are made of iron-strong Tagayasan (Wenge) wood and are carved into a slanted, ergonomic shape that promotes the desired “chef’s grip.”

Blade Construction: Kanso collection blades are forged from a single piece of quality AUS10A steel, whereas the Classic collection features unique blades forged from 68 layers of Damascus steel cladding with a VG-MAX cutting core.

Product Options: The Classic collection comprises 40 different products, while the Kanso collection features approximately 17.

Price: The Classic collection is more expensive than the Kanso due to its higher-grade steel.

Shun Classic and Kanso collections are both composed of high-quality forged knives. Your decision should come down to look, feel, and price. 

Home cooks and professional chefs love the Kanso collection. Some say the Chef’s knife is the best knife they’ve ever used. They praise the natural wood handle’s look and comfort. It has a rustic appearance that you don’t often find in high-end Japanese cutlery.

Personally, I find that the rounded handles of the Classic collection are more comfortable. I also love the Damascus steel blade. It’s a stunning look with functional benefits, helping food release more easily. Lastly, the Classic collection has many more options, so you can buy a few essentials and add more later.

If you can afford it, I recommend splurging on the Classic collection, but you can’t go wrong with either.

To read more reviews and compare the current prices, check out Shun Classic and Kanso knives on Amazon:

Andrew Palermo Founder of Prudent Reviews

Andrew Palermo - About the Author

Andrew is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Prudent Reviews. He’s been studying consumer buying behavior for over a decade and has managed marketing campaigns for over a dozen Fortune 500 brands. When he’s not testing the latest home products, he’s spending time with his family, cooking, and doing house projects. Connect with Andrew on LinkedIn or via email.

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