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Nov 11, 2009 01:51 PM

Shun Honing Steel

Just got a Shun classic chef's knife (and have the scars to prove it) and was wondering if I should be using a steel and, if so, do I need to use the Shun brand steel.


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    1. You can use a steel and it will help maintain the knife in between sharpenings. Using a steel is not as important as it would be with softer steel western knives, but it's still useful as long as your technique is okay.

      As for the shun steel - no you do not need this particular steel. In fact, and quite ironically, a shun steel is not a very good type of steel for shun knives. It is a grooved steel that will cause chipping - large, visible chips if you use it poorly and tiny chips even if you use it well. You want either a smooth steel, a glass honing rod (same function, essentially), or a ceramic honing rod (which sharpens instead of realigning the edge).

      1. I would never trust the sales clerks and marketing/distributor/importer people who say that you MUST use sharpener X to sharpen their brand X knives otherwise you'll RUIN the knives. Yeah, right. Most of the time I've found these knife-brand branded sharpeners to be pretty junky (drag through things, cheap gadgets, overpriced stones, etc.). The Idahone 10" fine ceramic hone (rod) is the tool of choice these days -- very fine and so not very abrasive, and I've found it works wonders on Japanese and German knives. But it's not as abrasive as a steel, so you have to perhaps use it a bit more often and if you let your knives get really dull then the hone won't do much. It's also quite cheap. I've now retired my German steel and just use the Idahone on all my knives. I find it odd that Shun, claiming to be Japanese, would even sell a steel (I've never found a real Japanese knife maker suggesting or making or selling a steel).

        16 Replies
        1. re: paulsfinest


          Agree. Since Shun knives are much harder, they tend to not roll as much and therefore need less honing. I honestly think the Shun honing steel is for marketing because many buyers demand it. Sometime, it is easier to give what your customers want than to explain to them. Afterall, you need money to launch message campaign, no matter how small it is, and you run the risk of (1) confusing them (2) driving them away.

          Paul, have you heard of legnd of the British-Indian dish "Chicken Tikka Masala"? It was invented in England. A customer ordered Chicken Tikka and when the dish came, he asked "Where is my gravy?" and sent the dish back to the kitchen Now, Chicken Tikka is not supposed to have gravy, so the chef didn't know what to do and simply add some random yogrut and tomato can soup, and this is the birth of the infamous Chicken Tikka Masala -- according to legend.

          Sometime you just give what your customers want, and I bet a lot of people ask Shun: "Where is my honing/sharpening steel?"

          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

            I think you're right.

            I suspect that if shun offered a smooth steel that was better for their knives, no one would buy it. It doesn't look like what people are used to. Even worse, it begs the question - "what's to stop me from steeling on any smooth, round, and hard surface? Why should I drop $50 for this?"

            But thousands of people will buy shun's grooved steel, cuz they see TV chefs using em, and there's gotta be something special about a shun brand steel.

            1. re: cowboyardee


              Yeah, imagine if Shun sells their knife sets without a honing steel, people would say "Hey, I paid $1000 for this Shun Elite knife set, where is my honing steel?" And if you give them a smooth steel, they would be like "What is this?" In fact, I am guessing that many people call it a sharpening steel than a honing steel. As such, a smooth "sharpening" steel makes no sense. At the end, Shun makes money from its knives and not honing steels, so launching an educational campaign on honing make no business-sense.

              Assuming the honing campaign message is successful (best case scenario), Shun will not sell one more knife because of that. Shun may convince many people to use the smooth steel, but so what? Shun makes just as money selling a smooth vs a grooved steels, so there is just not enough finanical reasons to do it.

              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                Hey guys, I don't think Shun needs to be excused for doing the wrong thing!! Plenty of knife companies sell and recommend the right tools for their knives... it's not rocket science. It also lends an air of distinction and exclusivity to your product. I now sell about 10 ceramic hones for every 1 steel I sell. If they make and sell steels because they're lazy and/or greedy, then no, it does not make business sense... doing the wrong thing never makes business sense in the long term. Selling the right product does indeed make financial sense (again, plenty of companies that sell as many or more knives than Shun do so). Well, my 2 cents... apologizing for Shun isn't necessary.

                1. re: paulsfinest

                  Exellent points, Paul. Though, I must say your sampling pool is probably among the more professional group, with chefs and all. I think the grooved steels still outsell the ceramic rods in the general population. No, I have not looked at any real hard data, but I think I am right on this. Afterall, I don't remember the last time I saw a ceramic rod or a smooth steel displayed in a typical store.

                  Paul, a bit off topic (but not completely off topic). Is your store front completely online? Or do you have a physical store and that website is just an extension?

                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                    Right, steels outsell ceramics and smooth steels in stores because stores also are generally completely ignorant... just because a store sells a wrong product also doesn't make it right. Although my sample may be small, it's not because I sell to chefs (they're a VERY small proportion of my customers... most are home cooks) it's because I try to give accurate and honest information and I don't make up things (or give half-truths) for the sake of a few extra dollars. It's not hard... by the way, customers do NOT ask "where's my steel", they ask "what's the best way to maintain these knives"...the old "the customer is always right" myth is just that and it's NOT an attitude most customers actually want or like -- they seek out honest and reasonable advice... they just rarely find it so they're left to their own devices and do their best.

                    I don't have a storefront, just the site. Allows me to concentrate on what I do best and focus focus focus.

                    1. re: paulsfinest


                      I don't think we disagree much. You are very knowledgable and I have much to learn from people like Cowboy, you and others. Somehow I got the idea that you mostly sell to chefs and culineary students.

                      I do agree with you that sometime people in department stores are not very knowledgable. Afterall, most department stores sell things from bedsheets to pajamas to cutlery. Although once I was at Williams-Sonoma (an upscale kitchen cookware store) and a sale lady there does not appear very knowledgable about knives. That kind of surprised me a bit because Williams-Sonoma focus on a much narrow range of products than a department store. I think we need more people like you with good knowledge and honest opinions.

                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                        Thanks... it's why I started my business. I went to a local store (specialty kitchen store, NOT big-box or even Williams Sonoma) and got bad advice, terrible service, and had to pay full retail price (and the knife was dirty and full of fingerprints). I thought it wouldn't be hard to do better!
                        Regarding ceramic hones and such: you also don't find such items much in stores because they're often made by smaller companies and are frankly a real pain in the butt to source... getting things from a domestic distributor (Global, Henckels, whatever) is a piece of cake (domestic shipping/returns, toll-free order placing, 30-day terms, etc.), but getting things from overseas and smaller manufacturers (with no big distributor representing them) is MUCH more time consuming and risky and frustrating... hence my niche... (I don't sell Shun, Henckels, Global, etc...)

                        1. re: paulsfinest

                          Now that you mentioned it. Yes, you do sell slightly more nichy brands, but only slightly Afterall, you have very well known brands like Wusthof and Messermeister. I am pretty surprised you know Williams Sonoma, since you don't live in US. I think (guessing)another reason big companies do not like to sell ceramic rods is that ceramic rods are fragile. And if a company want to have lifetime warranty or 10 years warranty on their knives, then it is probably easier to sell a honing steel which it can also back with a similar warranty. Just a guess, but I can see some complications if the knives are lifetime warranty and the rod is 1 year -- and then you want to sell them in a packgage like a knife set....

                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                            I just carry the sale-priced Messermeister because I'm not crazy about them and don't find them a good value at their full regular price. And I like Wusthof and can offer them at fair prices and I have a huge selection (stores never stock a very wide variety) so that's how I distinguish myself there. Williams Sonoma is in Canada too. And the ceramic rods aren't very fragile -- quite strong. And Wusthof makes ceramic rods too... same warranty. All those 10-year, 25-year, "lifetime" warranties are against manufacturing defects anyway... if you abuse whatever it is you have (knife, block, sharpener, accessory) it won't be covered... for example Wooden Blocks are wayyy more problematic than a ceramic rod (and they're still covered under warranty if they crack or warp and don't show signs of abuse).

                            1. re: paulsfinest

                              Well, guess I learn some more things today, in this post and others. I learnt that the ceramic rods can also have 10+ years warranty, which I didn't know. Of course, I also learnt Williams Sonoma exists in Canada.

                          2. re: paulsfinest

                            I saw an Italian chef on the Lidia's Italy program honing one knife on the spine of another. Convenient economical smooth steel, NO?

                        2. re: paulsfinest

                          ok so after reading all ur comments i just wanted to confirm i understand, smooth honing (rods) are the way to go for maintaining a shun knife's edge, and a sharpening steel is better for creating a new edge or taking metal off for a new edge, is that right?

                          1. re: bluerooster

                            I say a smooth honing rod is better for edge realignment for any knife, not just a Shun knife. A ceramic sharpening rod actually does a bit of both. It hones a bit, but it also sharpen the edge by removing metal. Because Shun knives are made of hard steel (VG-10 or SG-2), their edges won't roll as easily like those of typical European knives. Consequently, a smooth honing rod is more useful for a Wusthof knife or a Henckels knife than or a Shun knife.

                            I prefer an actual waterstone sharpening stone than a sharpening rod.

              2. re: paulsfinest

                I was looking at getting a Idahone 10" ceramic rod and was looking for suggestions as to where to get one. Any reputable websites to deal with?

              3. Keep in mind the Shun steel (VG10) is much harder than the softer steels and will hold its edge longer. Very long for most home cooks. That said, if you are going to use a steel, I'd get a ceramic or better yet, a Borosilicate rod. Dave Martel sells the ceramic rod here:

                The boro rod is supposed to be reintroduced by Hand American soon. You can actually shoot them an email or call and see if they'll hook you up.

                The boro rod is much more expensive then the ceramic. The Ceramic is more agressive, the boro rod more of a true hone.

                IF neither is what you want (the ceramic is cheap though!), look for a really smooth steel, no grooves.

                And if you do get one, learn how to use it properly. Don't go all crazy like you see on TV. Since the Shun has a more acute angle, you should approximate the angle (which is really low) and do it gently. I hold the rod pointing straight down on a counter, and slide it gently. Ill see if I can find a video

                4 Replies
                    1. re: deeznuts


                      Well, at least Gordon got the safety thing correctly (putting the fingers behind the guard), so at least he is not hurting people out there. Hurting knives maybe, people no. :D

                  1. re: deeznuts

                    This board gets a knife sharpening and steel thread every other week it seems. I wish people would use the search function...

                    That being said, seeing over-the-top steeling on TV is pretty annoying.