Shun classic Chinese Chef's knife, model DM-0712, which in simple words is a Chinese cleaver, or a Chukabocho was given to me during the fall 2009, for sharpening. Obviously I asked for some time to evaluate for reviewing. So, in the end I had around two weeks to use this cleaver and sharpen it twice. It was a batch of the knives that I got for sharpening, so I had quite a bit of work on my hands :) Well, I didn't mind that part at all. I've already reviewed several knives from Shun's classic series, relevant links can be found at the end of this review. Therefore, I already knew pretty well what to expect form the VG-10 steel, but overall, this was a new knife, or a chukabocho to be precise and I was curious to compare it to what I already had. It was a very tough competition for the Shun cleaver, competing with two authentic Japanese chukabochos, from well known makers Moritaka and Takeda, both made out of the Aogami Super steel, is very difficult challenge for any knife. Well, running ahead, I have to tell you Shun did loose to both, Takeda Kuro-Uchi Chinese Cleaver, and Moritaka Kuro-Uchi Chinese Cleaver. However, there is no shame in that ;) Custom, handmade knives, from much higher grade steel, with higher hardness, it's not realistic to expect factory knife from VG-10 steel to win that. So, the result of course was expected, and I'd be very surprised to have any other result, but comparison was still interesting and for what it was, and given its price ~175$ compared to those ~400 cleavers it did perform well.
General- Shun DM-0712 Classic Chinese Chefs knife, well, it's a chukabocho or a cleaver, and I'll refer to it as such further in the review, is a typical Shun knife form their classic knife. Hard steel core - Hagane, is clad in softer, stainless damascus steel - Jigane, 32 layers of it, which gives both, good protection, and pretty good looks of the knives too. I suspect, that damascus pattern is a good part of Shun knives success, which is quite well deserved by the way. Well, I think there are other Japanese knives, perhaps with better price/performance ratio, I've discussed those in other reviews, but overall Shuns are really good kitchen knives. Anyway, back to Shun chukabocho, it is a relatively small cleaver, Both of my Chukabochos are bigger than Shun cleaver. Smaller blade is not that big of a problem, but unfortunately the handle is relatively small too. It's probably ok for a lot of people, but for those with larger paws it won't be that good. Fit and finish on Shuns are top notch in general. As I said above, I got this knife used, I might add well abused too. Still, the fit and finish were good, no gaps between the handle and bolster, or buttcap. Edge bevels were evenly ground, that much I was able to observe, with the leftovers of the edge. Overall, it is a well made knife, thin, lightweight 318.20g(10.76oz), and not to big. So, if you are looking for medium, small cleaver this might be your ticket.
Since it was a used knife, one of the first things I did, examined the edge with the microscope :) It is really interesting what you can see under 50x-300x magnification on the edge. I do see that as quite educational experience. it is especially useful during sharpening, or even use, but examining what other people do their knives under the microscope is very interesting too. Most of the folks are in denial when they see the micrographs later ;) Well, let's see what we had on Shun vegetabel cleaver knife. Attached here are two photos, the first one is a large chip, of unknown origin, most likely a hard hit on the bone or on another knife or metallic object. Second one is the jagged section, which was quite typical throughout the edge, and I didn't need the microscope to see the carnage. You don't need microscope either, just look at the photo attached at the top of this page :) Needless to say, the knife wouldn't cut worth a dime at that time. I was curious what happened to it, or how it was used, and I asked the owner about that. I've had cases when people mistake Chinese cleaver with good old western meat cleaver, both because of their resemblance in blade geometry, large, rectangular blades, and the word cleaver in the name. Sadly, chukabochos(Chinese cleavers) were never designed to cut anything but soft food and vegetables. At least the thin ones, there are numbers for Chinese cleavers, indicating thickness, and common sense would tell you the thick one is for bones and harsh stuff, but still, people do make that mistake. Turned out no, that was not a case, but the blade was often thrown around, tossed into the sink with other knives and utensils, and you have the result. Very sad result for the knife edge. Back then, when I wrote small article - Maintaining Your Kitchen Knife, I did mention how much damage could other knives and utensils cause to the blade, and this poor Shun chukabocho is a living proof of the results of such abuse. So, if you like your knife, Shun or whatever it is, keep it away form the dishwasher, and other objects in the sink. It's not that big of a deal to wash it separately. There is a practical aspect to it as well. To restore the edge I had to remove considerable amount of metal from the edge, to get rid of the chips, nicks and rolls. You do that few times and soon enough half the blade will be gone. 175$ is considerable money for most of the people to spend on the kitchen knife after all. Well, I wouldn't abuse 5$ knife like that either, but that's me.
Blade- Shun classic cleaver has 197.00mm(7.76") long blade, slightly curved edge, which makes rocking motion more or less possible. The blade is 83mm at its widest and 2.42mm thick at the heel. Blade tapers towards the tip and most of the blade is between 1.5-2mm thick. That part I do like about Chinese vegetable cleavers, they're meant for delicate cutting and thin, high performance edges are just what the doctor prescribed. As I mentioned above, the blade is made of VG-10 steel. The steel is well known and widely used by both Japanese and western makers. Although, it is Japanese that use it more often in Kitchen knives, while Euro and American makers prefer to stick to lower grade X50CrMoV15 steel or its equivalents in kitchen knives and often use VG-10 steel in high end folding or combat knives. Anyway, as far as kitchen knives go, VG-10 is just fine. I won't say it's the top grade, by now there are better choices including ZDP-189, Cowry-X, CPM S110V and few others, but it is a solid performer, especially from the makers who know how to work with it. VG-10 in Shun's execution is definitely a good steel. Hardened to 60-61HRC, it is easy to sharpen and holds thin, sharp edge reasonably well. In fact, if this is your first Japanese knife after lifetime of western kitchen knives like Wusthof and Henckels, you will be surprised how long it will hold the considerably thinner edge. Considerably thinner, because typical western kitchen knife is ground to 40° inclusive angle edge, while Shuns are shipped from the factory with mirror polished, 32° inclusive angle edge. 8° difference may not seem as much by itself, but in fact that is a 20% difference in the edge thickness and in terms of cutting performance the difference is very dramatic. if I had my Shun knife I'd probably lower the edge angle even further, ~14° per side. Well, it wasn't my knife :) So, I kept the original edge angle after sharpening. Ok, I guess that's it about the blade, after all this is still a sharp license plate with a handle ;)
Sharpening- Given the intensive damage to the whole edge, I had no other choice but to grind completely new bevels, using the original edge angle, or close to that. I am sharpening freehand, and while I am pretty good at that, obviously I can't maintain 15° angle absolutely consistently :) But I am working on it. Anyway, the sharpening procedure overall took over an hour and a half and required pretty much complete set of the sharpening stones and other abrasives to get it to the level I wanted. Although, knowing VG-10 steel, I did skip two of the coarsest stones, DMT D8XXC diamond benchstone, and the Shapton 220 grit Glassstone. I've started with Beston(Bester) 500 Grit Whetstone, then Bester 700 grit whetstone, followed by 2000-3000 grit Aoto Natural Whetstone, then Kitayama 8000-12000 synthetic whetstone, that completed the whetstone part of the sharpening. Stropping on the 0.5µm and 0.25µm diamond crystal loaded strops followed by stropping on plain leather strop was the finishing touch. Later, after my test cutting and use in the kitchen, the edge was dulled, but not significantly, stropping on the 0.5µm and 0.25µm restored is quickly. That result matched very closely testing results from Shun Classic Chefs Knife(DM0706) and Shun Classic Santoku(DM0718). That also was expected and is very logical result, same ingredient cutting by me, same steel, from the same maker. At least I know Shun is consistent with their knives :) I emphasize that part, because unfortunately in western kitchen knives it is quite widespread practice to harden larger knives at lower Rockwell hardness than the smaller ones form the same alloy, although the official spec indicates the same.
Handle- Well, like the rest of the components, this handle is also typical in Shun knives. Actually the handle shape and material is common across the different lines kitchen knives from Shun. Traditional D shaped handle, which is made out of the Pakkawood, The handle has a bolster, which is well fitted to the wood and like I said above, there are no gaps. The buttcap is also there, stainless steel and I did use it few times as a garlic crusher ;) It's flat and works well for that. I said, or complained already that the handle feels smallish compared to the overall size of the knife, but may be for the other people it will be alright. Other than that I don't have much to say about this handle, at least in regards to this knife. I've discussed it quite a bit in other Shun Kitchen Knife Reviews.
Last updated - 01/17/12