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Shun Elite SG-0408 140mm(5½") Honesuki
Japanese Kitchen Knife Review

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Shun Elite SG-0408 Honesuki 140mm(5½")

One more borrowed knife, or to be more precise one more knife that came to me for sharpening and I gladly took it for a spin, as I was interested in the Shun Elite knives line. Shun Elite SG-0408 Honesuki was the first knife I have handled and sharpened form that line, and I sure hope not the last one. Sadly, I was under rather strict time constraints, the sheer number of the knives and other errands I' have had to do during that week, simply didn't allow me to test use this knife for longer time, which would be very beneficial in determining the steel performance. Again, SG2 steel was my main interest. However, I hope later on, I will get this knife again for sharpening and at that time, I will dedicate several days to more detailed evaluation of the steel edge holding ability. On the other hand, whatever time I've had, two days to be precise, that was more than sufficient to form an opinion about Shun Honesuki as a kitchen knife, and this is how it all came out.

General

- Shun Elite SG-0408 Honesuki was the number two honesuki I have ever handled in my life. I can't say I was excited about it, frankly, even less excited than with the first honesuki, which was my own, unlike Shun. Like I already said in Watanabe Pro Honesuki review, I personally, think Honesukis are one of the ugliest knives in the world, I mean traditional designs :) Otherwise, various knife designers do manage to come up with the knives a lot uglier. Anyway, because this was a loaner, I didn't get to examine it in its New In The Box(NIB) condition. On the other hand, I've seen Shun's packaging, and it is really good. And so if the fit and finish on brand new knives. Of all the Shun kitchen knives I have seen in NIB condition, none ever had any visible defects, and kudos to Kershaw/Shun for that. As for this particular honesuki, it came to me slightly used, but overall it was still in 95% condition compared to new. The only problem was, which also was expected, chipping on the edge, we'll talk about that later in the review. Surprisingly though, chipping was not as pronounced as on the other Shun knives I have seen and photographed, be it from the same owner or others. It was really unexpected, as the steel used in Shun elite knives and this particular honesuki is harder and more delicate SG2 powder metallurgy steel. No visible scratches on the blade, no gaps between any parts of the knife. As I was told the knife was around 8-10 months old, but didn't see intensive use. It has been used primarily as a boning knife, and that is not exactly its designation, it is a poultry knife and while it can be used for other types of kitchen works, in many cases dedicated boning knife is preferable, for example quite western looking Global GF-31 boning knife, or much more Japanese sabaki, or even this customized Watanabe Sabaki. You can easily guess why, those knives have much more narrower blade, and make it easier to get into the tight spots. However, wider heel of the honesuki does have its advantages.

Blade

- Shun elite honesuki features very typical blade geometry for the knife of this type. Generally triangular looking, but actually rectangular blade, which has 2.30mm thick spine at the blade heel, and the width of the Shun honesuki at the same spot(heel) is about 38mm, I've measured 35.57mm using digital calipers, but let's say it's was 38mm ;) Almost forgot, the blade officially is 140.00mm(5.51") long. As usual Shun blades are sharpened at fairly thin(by western standards) 16° angle per side. As for the blade construction, it is a traditional San-Mai(laminated) knife. Hagane, or the hardened core is made of SG2 PM steel and the Jigane, soft outer jacket is made out of highly stain resistant, but soft SUS 410 steel. Common method for protecting the hard, delicate core and also a common method for reducing the overall cost of the knife. One other feature of the blade, is that it's not traditional(for honesuki) chisel grind edge, but normal, double grind edge. I figure, Shun decided that would make it more friendly to westerners and they're right about that. Although, learning how to use properly a chisel grind knife is nothing impossible. Well, double grind does allow Shun and its customers to skip the whole left/right handed issue, and out leftie friends will escape leftie penalty for ordering left handed knives ;)

I don't have too many complaints with Shun's design except the major one, at least in my opinion, and that is very little knuckle clearance. You see, the way Honesuki is intended to be used, whether that is disjointing the chicken, or using it as a utility knife, or veggie cutter, relatively wide blade provides necessary clearance for the fingers when working with the knife heel on the board. I strongly recommend against disjointing chicken or any other poultry in the air ;) Comparing to Watanabe honesuki, the trouble with Shun elite honesuki is with its width, 38mm vs. 43mm on Watanabe, that's 5mm gone right there. And when it comes to your fingers squeezed between the knife handle and the boars those millimeters do count. Second problem which makes it worse is the handle placement. Look at the photo attached at the beginning of the review and then compare to the Watanabe Honesuki photo. The handle on the Shun honesuki is sitting in line with the blade spine, while Watanabe honesuki has the tang entering its center, thus going half way above the blade spine. That provides another few millimeters of extra clearance for your fingers and in the end, thanks to those two factors Shun elite honesuki comes real short when it comes to the clearance for your fingers when cutting on the board. You still can do it, after all people cut on the board with utility knives :) But, as far as convenience goes, Watanabe honesuki is a clear winner in that regard. Another aspect I am not entirely happy about Shun SG-0408 honesuki is the blade thickness. Most of the time, I favor thinner blades, for most of the knife types. However, there are some knives where thicker blades are more desirable and honesuki is one of them for me. Watanabe honesuki is ~4mm thick and I did feel more comfortable with that blade about disjointing the chicken, than with ~2mm thick Shun honesuki.

Chipped edge on the Shun Elite SG-0408 Honesuki

Steel

- Shun elite line knives, as I mentioned above, are made out of the Powder Metallurgy(PM) SG2 steel. SG2 is also known as SGPS, and is produced by Japanese steel manufacturer - Takefu, rather well known steel maker, who is also responsible for the very well known and widely used VG-10 steel. Exact composition of the SG2 steel, alternate names and a graph are located under the SG2 link provided above. As you can see it is a high carbon, high alloy stainless steel. Powder metallurgy makes the alloy only better. Officially Shun specs it at 64HRC, however various sources, some referring to Shun themselves give another number, 62-64 HRC range, which is more realistic. Given the character of the microchipping on the edge, shown on the micrograph attached to this paragraph, it's pretty clear the steel is quite hard. Definitely 62HRC and above. For those who like hard knives, this is good, for other folks, this might not sound very exciting, potential sharpening problems(nothing really) and possibility of breaking the knife, just don't drop it and you are safe Ok? Other than that, I have to note, SG2 knives from another reputable maker Fallkniven, have rather bad reviews and I've seen a lot of disappointed folks with that steel. Although, to be fair, I have to say all the reviews were about the same Fallkniven SG2 knife U2. Not sure what went wrong with U2, but this honesuki wasn't that bad.

Sharpening

- Since this Shun elite honesuki did survive those 10 months without major edge damage, I figured there was no need for severe bevel grinding using DMT D8XXC diamond benchstone, however, the chipping was there and I had to get rig of that to sharpen a good edge again. Taking into account 62-64HRC SG2 steel, which in addition to ~1.4 Carbon also has ~2% of Vanadium, which is known to increase wear resistance and make sharpening harder, I've decided to start with the Shapton 220 grit Glassstone, which while not as aggressive as 120 grit DMT XXC, is still no slouch in terms of grit and metal removal performance. Chipping removal went quicker than I thought, and I was done in 10 minutes or so. After that, I've decided to ditch Beston(Bester) 500 Grit Whetstone, and went straight with the Bester 700 grit whetstone, followed by 2000-3000 grit Aoto Natural Whetstone, then Kitayama 8000-12000 synthetic whetstone, that completed the waterstone sharpening part. Stropping on the 0.5µm and 0.25µm diamond crystal loaded strops followed by stropping on plain leather strop was the stropping set. The edge was very nice, mirror polished, super sharp edge, I was pretty happy with the keenness of the edge. It could cut the hair barely touching it. Overall, I'd rate SG2 from Shun as easy/medium sharpenable, definitely a lot easier compared to famous(or infamous for their sharpening difficulties) Aritsugu knives, or notoriously hard CPM S125V steel.

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