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Choosing a Shun Paring Knife

Shun Narukami paring knife, 3.5-inch

Last updated 02.01.24 — A Shun paring knife offers you more than just the ability to slice up a pickle or peel a peach—which it will accomplish quite excellently. Japanese artistry in a pocket-sized package, it brings a bit of beauty to every mundane kitchen task. Again, and again. That’s one of the things I love about Shun knives and why they’ve earned reserved spots in my knife blocks. (Above: Shun Narukami paring knife)

Shun Paring Knives: Quick Guide

Classic (Blonde)The original—VG-MAX steel core, Damascus blade, D-shaped pakkawood handle, in Classic and Blonde; 3.5-inch, 4-inch / $100-110
Premier (Blonde, Grey) Similar to Classic, same VG-MAX steel—but tsuchime/hammered blade, oval-shaped pakkawood handle, thinner blade, in Walnut, Blonde, and Grey; 4-inch / $135
SoraBest value, VG10 steel core, composite blade construction, poly handle; 3.5-inch / $65
KansoRough-and-tough design, solid AUS10A steel, exposed full-tang, wenge wood handle; 3.5-inch / $80
KazahanaSame basic design (and steel) as Kanso—but more polished blade, dark pakkawood handle; 3.5-inch / $90
NarukamiHigh-performance, carbon steel core (Hitachi Blue #2), ebony Micarta handle; 4-inch / $150

Overview of Shun Paring Knives

As you can see in the Quick Guide above, there are six Shun knife lines (i.e. collections) that carry paring knives. Two of the lines are the same basic design with a couple of tweaks (Kanso and Kazahana). Shun’s most high-end knife collection, the Dual Core, doesn’t even offer a paring knife. Three exclusive lines for Williams Sonoma (Hikari, Kaji, Fuji) are outside the scope of this article—but they all come with paring knives.

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of each particular paring knife, lets take a look at Shun knives in general. We can save time by covering a number of general features that apply to all, or many, of the various lines.

Shun’s Reputation

The Shun brand was launched in 2002 in Seiki, Japan (one of the knife-making meccas of the world). But it’s parent company, the Kai Group, has a lineage dating back to the beginning of the last century (1908). Shun’s got serious Japanese creds. And like most top-tier kitchen knife makers, they back up their reputation with a limited lifetime guarantee. Plus, get this, they will also resharpen your knife and do minor repairs for free (not everybody does this).

Shun Paring Knife Blade Steel

There are four commonalities all Shun paring knife blades share that are important to be aware of. I’ll start with the most important:

1) Japanese steel: All Shun paring knives are fashioned from Japanese steel. Which is harder, yet brittler, than German—which is the steel most home cooks are accustomed to. Japanese steel can take a finer edge (i.e. sharper) and hold it longer. (Hip, hip, hurray!) But it can’t take the abuse a German (aka Wusthof, Zwilling/Henckels) blade can weather. (Boo-hoo.)

If your kitchen knife habits match campfire standards—and you like it that way—please don’t buy a Shun paring knife. Sooner or later, you’ll crack, nick, or break it, and be tempted to blame it all on the manufacturer. Stick with German. But. . . if you’re used to treating your knives with care (not powering through frozen chicken fingers), or, you’re ready, willing, and able to upgrade your kitchen knife standards for the sake of beauty and performance, then you’ll do just fine.

2) Rockwell hardness (HRC). . . is a standard of measuring the hardness of any given steel. Most Japanese knives have higher HRCs than most German knives. All Shun paring knives in this article are heat-treated to a HRC of 60-61—an average range for a Japanese knife. (German knives usually top out at HRC 58.)

3) Blade cladding: The majority of Shun’s knife blades (four out of the six parers in this article) are composed of a sandwich of two types of steel. A harder steel in the center to do the actual cutting, and a softer steel surrounding it, to protect the core from unnecessary stress and corrosion. It’s an age-old technique—perfected in the construction of samurai swords—and then more recently applied to kitchen knives. (Here’s an illustration in my article on Japanese chef knives.)

4) Sharpening angle: Shun sharpens all their knives (paring, chef, carving, etc.) at 16 degrees per side. (There’s only one exception that I know of—the single-bevel yanagiba in the Narukami line.) It’s a touch conservative for a Japanese blade, but it does add an extra level of insurance against any chipping or cracking. And I can promise you, 16 degrees is plenty sharp for 99 percent of home kitchen cooks.

(Above: Shun Premier Grey paring knife)

Pakkawood Handles

Four out of the six paring knives I’m covering have pakkawood handles which are very popular with Japanese knives. Pakkawood is engineered from thin layers of wood (or wood material) that are infused with resin and compressed together under heat and extreme pressure (not unlike plywood). The resulting material is hard as nails and highly resistant to water—perfect for kitchen knife handles.

Paring Knife Blade Lengths

Traditionally, paring knives come in two standard blade lengths—either 3.5 inches or 4. But if you take out a ruler and measure one (like I just did), you’ll discover there’s plenty of wriggle room. (I own seven paring knives from a smorgasbord of brands, and they all slightly vary.)

If you add to this fuzziness, the question of where the manufacturer figures the blade ends and the handle begins (at the heel, the bolster, somewhere in-between?), you end up with even more fuzziness. Which is not exactly the end of the world, but just something to be aware of when choosing the right paring knife for you. That there’s nothing quite like the feel of an actual knife in your own sweaty palm. (If you order online, you can audition and return—as long as you’re careful with the packaging and resist trying it out on food.)

The main thing to remember is this: If you’re looking for a Shun paring knife to do a lot of peeling, chances are you’ll be happier with 3.5-inch blade. A 4-inch will be more cumbersome—but still not impossible. Otherwise? Anything goes, according to your own inimitable kitchen style.

Oooops, one final tip: Three of the six Shun lines I’m covering come with a 3.5-inch blade only. Two of the lines—Premier and Narukami—come with a 4-inch only. The Classic line (Shun’s largest collection) comes with both a 3.5- and 4-inch paring. None of the other lines offer you a choice.

SHUN KNIVES: A BUYER’S GUIDE For more detailed info, photos, and insights on Shun knives, I highly recommend visiting my Buyer’s Guide.

Shun Classic Paring Knife, 3.5-inch / 4-inch

CHECK PRICE: 3.5-inch $100 @ Amazon / Sur La Table | 4-inch $110 @ Amazon / Sur La Table

Shun Classic is the original—Shun’s oldest line—and it also has the largest selection of knives. As mentioned above, in the Classic line, you have the unique option to choose between a 3.5-inch or a 4-inch paring knife. (You’ll notice in the specs below that in addition to being longer, the 4-inch version is a touch thicker and heavier.) You can also choose which color handle you prefer: original Classic or Classic Blonde. They are the exact same knife in substance and style except for the color of the pakkawood in the handle.

Classic has more knives in its stable than the Classic Blonde line. So, if you plan to build a large collection, and you want all the knife handles to match, you’ll want to go with Classic.

Classic’s Key Features

  • VG-MAX steel core
  • Damascus blade
  • D-shaped pakkawood handle
  • Original and Blonde handle finish

(Above: Shun Classic Blonde paring knife, 3.5-inch)

Classic’s Handle and Feel

Although the handle’s slender, it’s also a bit heavy. So, if you hold the knife in a pinch grip, up near the blade for, say, peeling an apple, the knife tends to want to slip down a bit. Less than ideal for major peeling projects. But if you have a larger hand, or another style of peeling than mine, you might not even notice.

I own the Classic Blonde 3.5 paring and I have to tell you it’s slim in the hand and efficient on the board. I love how the finishing of the pale pakkawood allows you to feel the woody texture. It contrasts with my Shun original knife handles which are significantly smoother. Whether this difference (between original and Blonde finishing) is intentional, I don’t know, but, knowing Shun’s manic attention to detail, I would guess it is.

Classic Paring Knife Specs

Blade Length: 3.5″ / Blade Height: 0.87″ / Overall Length: 8″ / Thickness: 1.7mm / Weight: 2.2 oz.
Blade Length: 4″ / Blade Height: 0.87″ Overall Length: 8.5″ / Thickness: 1.9mm / Weight: 2.4 oz.

Shun Bird’s Beak Paring Knife, 2.5-inch

CHECK PRICE: $85 @ Amazn / Sur La Table

Peel a lot of fruit? The original Classic collection comes with a curved, bird’s beak paring knife as well. It’s the only Shun line that includes this style of paring knife—which is incredibly useful if you go through bushels of apples and pears and peaches. If you’ve never tried a bird’s beak, you’re in for a treat!

Shun Premier Paring Knife, 4-inch

CHECK PRICE $135 @ Amazon / Sur La Table

Shun’s Premier line is similar to Classic and currently second in popularity. The main differences between them are included in the features listed below.

Premier’s Key Features

  • Only comes in 4-inch length
  • VG-MAX steel core
  • Tsuchime/hammered blade (vs. Damascus)
  • Oval-shaped pakkawood handle (vs. D-shaped)
  • Walnut, Blonde, Grey handle finishes (vs. Original and Blonde)
  • Slightly thinner blade (1.6mm vs. 1.9mm)

Whether or not (aesthetically) you’re fond of the Premier’s glossy hammered finish, it does have a (functional) upside—food sticks to it less. Along with this, the thinner blade will lessen resistance in your slicing and peeling. Although, please be aware, that, technically, the Premier is heavier than the Classic 4-inch (by 0.2 oz). (Below: Shun Premier Blonde paring knife.)

Premier’s Hefty Handle

As you can garner from photos, the Premier’s handle is not svelte and linear. It has a curve to it, a subtle bulge in the center. The purpose is to help the knife stay in your hand. Along with this feature (and unlike the Classic), a cross-section of the handle yields a symmetrical oval shape—rather than the Classic’s asymmetrical D. It’s up to you which style of handle works best—but it’s nice to have options. (Below: Shun’s Classic 4-inch and Premier Blonde paring knife handles/endcaps.)

Shun Classic / Premier Blonde paring knife handles

Not Peeling-Friendly

If you do a lot of peeling, I’m not sure I’d recommend this paring knife. My concern is that the combined awkwardness of a 4-inch blade and a hefty handle might continually annoy you. But this is just an estimate, taken from a distance—the only guarantee is your own personal experience. On the other hand: If you don’t intend to peel much with your Premier paring knife, but are more likely going to slice cucumbers/half sandwiches, you might especially appreciate the hefty handle.

Premier Paring Knife Specs

Blade Length: 4″ / Blade Height: 1″ / Overall Length: 8.5″ / Thickness: 1.6mm / Weight: 2.6 oz.

(Note: While you can still find the Grey version of Premier at many retailers, the line has been officially discontinued.)

Shun Sora Paring Knife, 3.5-inch

CHECK PRICE $65 @ Amazon / Sur La Table

In the Sora collection, Shun has created a high-quality knife for a budget-minded audience. It’s a completely retooled design, but they’ve made the line more affordable by:
1) using composite blade technology, and
2) molding the handle from a poly/rubber blend—instead of the more labor intensive (and material expensive) pakkawood.

Sora’s Key Features

  • Best value
  • VG10 steel core
  • Composite steel blade
  • Poly/rubber handle, textured to be grippy

Designed for Peeling

Judging from the specs, photos, and manufacturer’s descriptions (as well as a dose of KitchenKnifeGuru acumen), it’s safe to assume the Sora paring knife is light and nimble and nestles into your palm. And unlike, the Premier above, makes an excellent peeler. As a matter of fact, if I were to choose which, of all these Shun paring knives, I’d most prefer to peel a Bartlett pear, Sora would likely be my first pick (even though I own a Shun Classic 3.5-inch).

Sora weighs the least, has the narrowest blade, and sports a grippy, textured handle. The handle also swells outward at the butt, which helps prevent it from slithering out of your palm. And, in case you’re wondering, What the heck does a narrow blade (versus thin) have to do with peeling a pear?—it’s about geometry. A narrower blade will better hug the curve of a fruit—making it easier to separate the skin from the flesh.

Sora Negatives

For me, the only major drawbacks of Sora are twofold:

1) Wimp factor: If you tend to use your paring knives for meatier tasks than peeling—like prepping an avocado or slicing salami—then you might want a heftier paring knife. The blade and handle footprint of Sora may seem too wimpy.

2) Plastic handle: Although I appreciate its utility, plastic is not one of my favorite materials. Especially for tools I’m using day-in and day-out. This said, there are many knives with plastic handles that amazingly imitate the look and feel of wood (Wusthof’s Classic Ikon line being a prime example). Unfortunately (for me, at least), Sora is not one of them. Despite all this, I might ignore my bias, if I needed a solid peeling/paring knife. I might go for Sora.

Sora Paring Knife Specs

Blade Length: 3.5″ / Blade Height: 0.75″ / Overall Length: 8-3/8″ / Thickness: 1.7mm / Weight: 2 oz.

Shun Paring Knives Specs Chart

 Classic 3.5Classic 4.0PremierSoraKanso/KazahanaNarukami
Blade length (inches):3.5443.53.53.5
Blade height (inches):.87.871.0.75.871.0
Overall length (inches):88.58.58-3/888.5
Thickness (mm):1.71.91.61.71.91.9
Weight (oz):2.22.42.622.32.6

Shun Kanso Paring Knife, 3.5-inch

CHECK PRICE $80 @ Amazon / Sur La Table

With its rough-tough design—industrial-looking blade finish, exposed tang, craggy wood handle—Shun’s Kanso line stands out from all the other collections. And the difference runs deeper than just looks. For unlike all the others (except Kazahana, Kanso’s cousin), Kanso’s blade is constructed of one layer of solid steel—like your typical Western knife (no cladding or composite).

The type of steel Shun uses in Kanso (AUS10A) allows for this simpler blade construction as well as a lower Rockwell hardness. Thus, Kanso’s built to handle a bit more roughhousing than the other Shun lines and is tougher all around. But, rest assured, it still comes from the factory with an expertly sharpened, 16-degree edge.

Kanso’s Key Features

  • Industrial-like design and construction
  • Solid AUS10A steel with “heritage finish”
  • Exposed full-tang, Tagayasan (wenge) wood handle
Shun Kanso paring knife, 3.5-inch, handle

Kanso Handle

I love the exposed-tang handle and the natural Tagayasan (wenge) wood—which was chosen not only for its beauty, but its extreme durability. I’m not quite as fond of the way the wood has been finished—too glossy for my taste. But to each their own. . .

Another plus: Unlike Classic and Premier, the underside of Kanso’s handle incorporates a smooth, elegant curve. All the better to mold to your fingers. If you’re looking to impress your bros with a hipster, BBQ-pit paring knife, Kanso can make it happen.

Kanso Paring Knife Specs

Blade Length: 3.5″ / Blade Height: .87″ / Overall Length: 8″ / Thickness: 1.9mm / Weight: 2.3 oz.

Shun Kazahana Paring Knife, 3.5-inch

CHECK PRICE $90 @ Amazon

Shun’s Kazahana is kissing cousin to Kanso—a more refined cousin. Gone is the vintage “heritage finish” of the blade, replaced by a more traditional satin. And the rough-hewn wenge wood handle has been converted to smooth, ebony pakkawood.

Otherwise, Kazahana and Kanso are identical. Same blade design, same steel, same functionality. If you like the Kanso, but want something a little more elegant, then Kazahana may suit the bill.

Kazahana’s Key Features

  • Industrial-like design and construction
  • Solid AUS10A steel with (more typical) polished finish
  • Exposed full-tang, ebony pakkawood handle

Kazahana Paring Knife Specs

Blade Length: 3.5″ / Blade Height: .87″ / Overall Length: 8″ / Thickness: 1.9mm / Weight: 2.3 oz.

Shun Narukami Paring Knife, 4-inch

CHECK PRICE $150 @ Amazon / Sur La Table

Never mind Shun’s Narukami paring knife costs as much, or more, than a name-brand chef knife. We’re talking a core of bespoke carbon steel, tooled by a premium brand. It’s a brave statement. Like four out of the five paring knives above, the Narukami blade employs cladding. But in this this case, the cutting edge is carbon steel, not stainless.

In case you’re unfamiliar, carbon steel (not high-carbon stainless) hails back to the type of steel used in kitchen knives historically the world over. Before stainless rose to dominance in the last century.

Believe it or not, many serious cooks still swear by carbon steel. Why? Because it takes a terrific edge and is uber-easy to sharpen. The only disadvantage (and it’s a big one) is that it does a miserable job of resisting rust.

Narukami’s Key Features

  • Super high performance
  • Carbon steel core (Hitachi Blue #2)
  • Dark Micarta handle
  • Higher maintenance preventing rust

Micarta Handle

Micarta is created using a similar process to pakkawood. But instead of wood, linen is the favored material (or other natural materials such as paper, etc.). Like pakkawood, Micarta is incredibly durable and water-resistant. Perfect for knife handles. (Below: close-ups of Narukami’s Mikarta handle.)

Shun Narukami paring knife handle close-ups

Rust Control

So, if you can afford it, don’t hesitate to buy this high-performance beauty. But remember—every time you use it, you’ll need to wash and dry it immediately after. Otherwise, you risk ruining it with the red stuff. You should also consider rubbing a little Camellia oil on it once in a while as an added protection. Over time, the cutting edge of the blade will gradually develop a dark gray patina, which will protect as well.

Narukami Paring Knife Specs

Blade Length: 4.0″ / Blade Height: 1″ / Overall Length: 8.5″ / Thickness: 1.9mm / Weight: 2.6 oz.

• • •

Shun Paring Knives Recap

In six out of seven of its major knife lines, Shun offers a paring knife. The blade lengths vary—either 3.5 or 4-inches. If size is an issue for you, make sure to double check the blade length for the model you’re buying.

The quality is high in all Shun’s paring knives, but the ergonomics can differ considerably. Make sure to familiarize yourself with the specs and visuals, and, ideally, handle the knife in person, before buying. Have fun choosing which paring knife is for you!

Shun Knives:
a Buyer’s Guide

Haven’t had enough? Check out my comprehensive article—Shun Knives: a Buyer’s Guide—that covers all Shun’s lines and explains the differences between them.

2 Responses

  1. I truly appreciated the comprehensive and detailed review of Shun Paring Knives on your blog post. The extensive guide is both educational and interesting, tackling every aspect a knife enthusiast would want to know about these tools.

    From discussing the brand’s reputation, the different types of blade steel (I like VGMAX the best), to the knife handle’s material, your meticulous attention to detail is commendable. Your vivid explanations and easy-to-understand comparisons genuinely help in appreciating the Japanese artistry that goes into each Shun knife.

    Additionally, your tips about blade lengths and how to choose the right one for specific kitchen tasks, such as peeling, were quite insightful. As a reader, it’s clear that your knowledge and passion for kitchen knives is authentic, and that positively reflects in your writing. For anyone considering investing in a Shun Paring Knife, your blog is undeniably a go-to resource. Great job!

    1. Thanks, Steve! You’re making me blush. . . :)

      BTW, I wish I could take a trip to Australia to test out your JustKnives professional knife sharpening service (mobile, nonetheless!). It appears to be the real deal.
      –KKG

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