Shun Elite SG-0403 Santoku Knife 178mm(7")
Japanese Kitchen Knife Review

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Shun Santoku Knife 178mm(7")


- The handle on the Shun Elite series is ebony pakka wood, with a stainless steel buttcap, which has their logo engraved. The handle is sort of D shape, but also unlike traditional D style handles, last 2/3 or so of it is thicker than the first section, closer to the bolster. The bolster on the Sun santoku is user and sharpening friendly, meaning it's not a full bolster disfiguring the blade. There are two rings separating the bolster and pakka wood part, I assume one is brass and another some sort of polymer. Those rings are present only on the Elite series knives, I guess serving both, decorative and distinctive functions. Unlike the classic series handles, Elite series, as more high end also have decorative pin in them. That's my objective description of the handle, but other than that I don't have too many positive things to say about it. As I said, I didn't like the handle on the classic line either, and having even thicker and somewhat awkward shaped handle, which left even less knuckle space, definitely didn't leave me excited at all. I do have bigger handles on several other knives, but they are either octagonal WA type handles, or at least they are fitted on a bigger knife. Combination of the handle size and knuckle clearance made things problematic for me. Well, if you really like this santoku, don't get too frustrated, handles are highly subjective and personal matter, so it might work just about perfect for you.


- I mention in almost every santoku review that in Japanese Santoku is a knife of the three virtues, I guess I am sortta frustrated that I hardly see any of those three virtues for myself, in short - they're short. I don't have same problem with neither using Usubas nor Nakiris, but don't like santokus that much, expectations are high, as in I mainly compare them with Gyutos and they don't fare well in that comparison. Never the less, I diligently went through the whole set of the cutting tests, I mean the 15lbs, 20 different vegetable, 2 hour long shredding/mincing session. As expected, the blade went through the test successfully, in that at the end, Shun elite santoku could still cut the cherry tomato using just its own weight, with any part of the entire blade, total length required to make the cut was 2-3", both at the beginning and at the end. I can't say I was surprised, or the result was unexpected. 64HRC(ish) steel, high alloy steel, and on top of all that, I had to grind 20° per side edge. I wouldn't, if the blade was in a better shape, but the knife wasn't mine and I try to consider owner's habits when sharpening. Ok, not into the details.

Hard Vegetables - Were the hardest to deal with. What a surprise ;) The thing is, 20° per side edge is still 20° angle per side, no matter how sharp the edge is. You still can tell the difference, when you are used to using knives with the edges from 5° to 10° per side angle. Simple physics and that's all. It becomes especially noticeable during push cutting, as the cut is made just by forcing the blade into the medium, no sawing to help you out. And there is your dilemma with santokus, the blade lacks in length, and with thick edge I put on it, push cutting wasn't an alternative either. I don't use that much of push cutting anymore, used to be a lot more, when I had less experience, and less vegetables to cut. Still, I don't think its possible to entirely avoid it, and it's not necessary either. Push cuts do have their place too.

I started off with carrots, making batonnet. Because they were about 7-8" long, first I cut them in half, then proceeded with slicing. That part went easy, the edge was sharp, but I did feel I was exerting more force compared to my usual knives. The handle also felt awkward and it took me some time(about 15 minutes of cutting) to get used to it and stop changing grips frequently. I've used the tip to cut thin stripes from the slices I made on the previous step. As usual, I go with the belly, or more straight part of the blade, but I was testing my repair job, and the other thing is, santoku being rather short, forces me to raise my elbow higher than usual. I know I was in for another two hours at least, so I didn't want to get tired sooner than usual. Anyway, the tip worked fine, and I moved onto harder ingredient, broccoli. Shredding the tops was fairly easy, but still, I work faster with 270mm gyutos when doing exactly the same work, longer blade... As usual, I also mince broccoli stems, about 5-7mm cubes. That in itself is a pretty hard workout for many kitchen knives and I've killed quite a few soft western kitchen knives edges on that step. Shun elite went through 5 stems without any noticeable edge degradation. I was happy the edge held up so well, but I wasn't exactly excited about the cutting ability of the 20° per side edge. To make a slice in one motion I had to apply more force than with thinner edges, and when you work fast, that becomes an issue, at least to me it is, more force means less precision and control. I am no control freak, trust me :) But I do value my fingertips and time, and I wasn't trying to impress anyone with my skills, just cutting veggies and testing the knife.

Next up, Brussels sprouts, about 2lbs. Frankly, I don't really like shredding those little buggers. Besides not tasting all that good, cutting bunch of them is repetitive and as usual, I can't wait to get through. Still, makes a good practice ingredient, for patience and technique. And this is where the lack of the knuckle clearance was more apparent than on other cutting jobs. The 46mm wide blade itself is what I'd call narrow, not for a 180mm(7") santoku. However, while I was shredding one Brussels sprout after another, I didn't have time to clean the board after each one, so quite often minced things were getting between my knuckles and the board, which was irritating if anything. Like I said, there's very little clearance left due to abnormally wide handle, which is sitting rather low, my knuckles would touch the board if I held the knife with knuckle joints towards the board, which is admittedly an awkward grip, but even in the correct grip, having anything on the board that was higher than 2-3mm was enough to get in the way. Well, that's just me and my preferences, I know folks who get by with a single utility knife, which has no knuckle clearance at all. Depends what habits you develop, but frankly, having a good(and right) knife for the job never hurt anyone.

Soft vegetables - Plenty of the soft stuff to cut too. Started with raw eggplants. That is one of those things with stubborn and slippery skin. Not so sharp knives, especially with thick edged love to slide on them instead of cutting. Like I said above, the edge felt grabby, even though not as refined as I wanted, but it did very good job in terms of slicing through the eggplant skin with ease. I've cubed the eggplant like the rest of the ingredients, and even though the edge was relatively thick, sharpness was still good enough not to squish the eggplant. Similar skin characteristics, and arguably more difficult ingredient to cut is the bell pepper. Tough, smooth skin, and duller knives don't do well on it. Shun elite handled them with no difficulties. However, when I moved onto the chiffonade from Basil, which is far more delicate than the eggplant, then the thick edge drawbacks became more apparent. With a thin (up to 12° per side) edge and really sharp knife, I can easily push through 15-20 leaves of basil rolled into a cigar, without damaging the leaves, producing very clean cuts. Tried to do the same with 20° per side edge and I could see the difference in cuts when I was using the same push cut. The edges on the leaves where the cut was made were squashed, especially closer to the bottom. Using slicing motion instead of the push cutting fixed the problem. I describe all that because I was testing a knife, and comparing its performance with the thin edge, otherwise, for most practical purposes it would make no difference whether I used push cut or sliced through those leaves, all that went into the salad anyway. However, for many gourmet recipes, and often for visual cue, clean cuts are important. So, that's what all that was about. Well, that and thin edges are mucho more fun to cut with.

Chopping and mincing Italian parsley was easier compared to chiffonade from Basil, but on the other hand, I certainly wished more than once I had a longer gyuto or a chukabocho instead. Well, I did have about a doze gyutos and two chukabochos within reach, but for the purity of the test, I had to refrain... When there's a lot of green mass on the board and you need to mince all that quickly, longer blade does make difference. Also, mincing soft ingredient on the board like that means lots of push cutting, and the layer of the green mass on the board gets about 1" high or even higher. That's quite a bit of cutting medium to push through, and the difference in the forces required to make the knife go through with 10° and 20° per side edge angles is very considerable. Now, add there the fact that this has to be done repeatedly, not just once, and you get quite a bit of power conservation or waste, depends form which side you look at it ;)

I've finished up the rest of the vegetables with no complications. Occasionally testing the knife sharpness level by slicing a cherry tomato using the knife weight. Went through all the way to the end of the test. I couldn't tell the difference in sharpness before and after the test, regardless of sharpness test methods I've tried. Although, you have to keep in mind, none of those methods were strictly scientific, as I have no proper equipment to do that. Test cuts, samurai sharpness test and testing the edge with my fingertips was all I could do. Anyhow, 64HRC steel, with 40° inclusive angle, edge grain wood board and no bones to screw the edge up, so no wonder I couldn't feel the difference. And as usual, I've stropped the knife on the 0.25µm diamond crystal charged strop and plain leather strop, before returning it to the original owner, with all the warnings and comments regarding the abuse.


- I just re-read the usage section again, and obviously I did get hung up on that thick edge :) I wouldn't talk about the edge thickness so much, if it was just another western kitchen knife made out of X50CrMoV15 steel or similar to it, being fool proof 54-56HRC. The thing is, that steel - SG2, at such high hardness can definitely take much thinner edge, which offers numerous advantages for a user, granted he or she can take minimal care of the knife and not abuse it. I put a thick edge on it, because I felt I had to, based on the damage I saw, but I guess deep down in there I felt guilty too ;) Yeah, well it's not that dramatic, but I did feel compelled to point out what I was loosing because of the thick edge, and what you'd loose too, in case you care. Like I said, sadly many people go through years, or their whole lives with thick edged kitchen knives, but never consider that a problem or a nuisance. In short, not everyone is as demanding about their knives edges as I am. So, keep all that in mind when reading the reviews. You do whatever is comfy and most suitable for you, including the edge angles. I can just bring some arguments to explain/augment my point of view. At any rate, nobody is forcing you to grind the same thick edge I had to. Have a thin one, and enjoy the knife.

I was done with the test in about two and a half hours. With my own gyutos or chukabochos, the same job takes closer to 2 hours. Longer blades, with thinner edges and I am more used to them. Plus I don't have to do control test cuts, but that hardly adds more than 2-3 minutes to the total time, so it can be discounted. The more pronounced effect was fatigue. Initially, that is not a problem, but at the end of my two hour cutting session I could definitely say I was more tired than usual. Still, I went through the whole test with the same knife, unlike other cases(e.g. Furi cleaver) when the knife becomes so tiring or irritating I just put it aside and pick up one of the better knives to finish the job.


- In the end, I have mixed feelings about the Shun SG0403 Elite santoku. It's not a cheap knife, not even for an avid knife enthusiast. On the other hand, the price alone is not a determining factor, at least while still in three digits. Build quality is high, maker is a solid, well respected company and the materials used in the knife are also very high end, which does justify the price to some extent, if not fully. The major problem for me is the handle design. Too thick and too low, leaving very little clearance for the knuckles. Takefu SG2 steel - I'm not so sure about it, mainly due to lack of experience with it. Very good alloy on paper, uses powder metallurgy technology, stain resistant, except for the mixed reports about its performance. I have not tested it in the field or outdoors, just the kitchen use, and there it performs quite well. Still, based on the limited experience with it, I'd prefer Hitachi Aogami or Shirogami series from a good maker, ZDP-189 and few other alloys. Other than that, no real complaints, well made knife, thin blade, no weird deviations from traditional santoku design, Shun warranty is good and that's all I can tell you about the knife. If the design and handle work for you, then sure, go for it, but if you are looking for something with better clearance for your fingers, you might wanna skip this and find something else.


  • Blade - 178.00mm(7.01")
  • Thickness - 2.30mm
  • Width - 45.70mm
  • OAL - 298.00mm(11.73")
  • Steel - SG2 steel at 64HRC
  • Handle - Ebony Pakkawood
  • Weight - 200.00g(6.76oz)
  • Acquired - 02/2011 Price - 200.00$

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Last updated - 05/19/19